Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

September 2, 2007

I finally finished reading the last of the Harry Potters. Warning: Plenty of spoilers ahead, and, moreover, if you’ve not read the Deathly Hallows, what follows will probably not make any sense at all.

(By the way, does anybody else think that Deathly Hallows was not the most suitable or the most exciting title they could have selected for this book?)

I have been slowly doing a deep dive into Harry Potter over the last three weeks, what with re-reading all the previous books in sequence. This, I think, was essential to a full appreciation of the last book; unlike the earlier books, I’m not sure how well the last book stands on its own for readers who haven’t read any of the foregoing books. Not that this is a very serious complaint; not that I think such readers are very many.

Of course, once I started reading the last book, I read it straight through the day with only a half-hour break to rest my tired eyes. There is, of course, a lot of suspense and excitement in reading a book in bits and pieces over a period of several days (or longer); but there is another kind of thrill in just immersing yourself in a book and letting that world be the only world for a few hours, when nothing else matters except. As a consequence, my head today is full of Harry Potter and I can think of nothing else. (This book must be banned!!!)

Anyway, the book does get off to a thrilling start, I’ll say, with the escape of Harry & co followed by a bevy of Death-Eaters. I found that the action died down a fair bit later on, though, with long periods when nothing happened except that the three heroes bickered and squabbled and went on innumerable camping trips. I really enjoyed the dragon-back escape from Gringotts, though. That and the escapade in the ministry with the three of them disguised as three different people were in some ways the highlights of the book, for me.

I liked the way JKR works out the “logic” of a lot of the magic stuff – for instance, the business about who earns which wand and why and, most importantly, why not. I like the logic of the whole Voldemort/Harry battle, where Lord V can’t kill Harry simply because Harry is willing to die, is less scared of death than Lord V is. I liked the fact that Harry’s last conversation with Dumbledore is essentially in his head.

But then, there’s that confusing bit of logic about the splinter of Lord V’s soul lodged in Harry, which enables him to read Lord V’s thoughts. I’m not sure that little bit of Dumbledore’s logic was required there at all. I think it would have worked just as well to just say that the very fact that Harry was prepared to die for the sake of all the others, made him invulnerable to Lord V, who, after all, was fighting with only one-seventh of his thoroughly rotten, evil soul; and made the others also pretty well protected from the power of Lord V’s curses. But well, since JKR wrote it that way…

The great thing about JKR is though, that she managed to bring in this “love” angle, the concept that selfless love for another, love to the extent of being willing to die for the sake of another, essentially self-sacrifice, is all-powerful, a sort of protection, (which has, doesn’t it, echoes of Christianity?)… – she manages to build on this concept without ever making it overly sentimental, overly sanctimonious or pious or self-righteous. It could so easily have gone wrong, to bring this soppy concept of love and self-sacrifice into this work, but she manages it and it’s none the worse for it.

And then, of course, there’s that other concept, so very lightly touched upon – that remorse, true and deep and painful, can redeem even Lord V’s hopelessly lost soul.

The other greatness about JKR is the way she builds the people. You can feel how real many of the characters are – you just know what they would do, what they wouldn’t do, and what they might do. Like, you know when Ron leaves, that he will be coming back. You know that when Ginny is waiting outside the Room of Requirements, she’s not just going to stand there and wait. You know that Lord V will punish people who fail him; Harry never would, even though Hermione destroys his wand! When Mrs Weasley jumps into the fray with Bellatrix, when she sees her daughter under threat, there’s no surprise. When Narcissa Malfoy lies to Lord V, the one who always knows when people are lying, there’s no surprise. Even when Xeno Lovegood tells Hermione that she needs to open her mind a little, you feel yourself nod along, smiling.

Many of these personalities are carefully built over the entire series. I had mentioned earlier that I liked the development of Ginny and the Harry-Ginny relationship through the series. I have to add that the role Neville ultimately takes on is also, somehow, very believable. Percy’s return to the fold also is not surprising. Ron’s irritation with Harry and departure from the team is sort of realistic – three teenagers cooped up for several months together, something’s got to give. I must say that I had expected the Deluminator and the Snitch to play a bigger role though. Of course, since the Snitch, along with its il-lethal contents, was ultimately left in the Forbidden Forest, it has laid the groundwork for a sequel at some later date, similar to the Lord of the Rings.

Speaking of which, the bit about the effect the Locket had on all of them was strangely reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings. Luckily it did not play a very pivotal role in the tale.

The various aspects of Dumbledore’s past and personality that are revealed in this book are also very illuminative. Perhaps like any child growing up, they help Harry to see Dumbledore no longer as something of a God, but a person with a real history, with some mistakes, with some weaknesses – essentially human, and wise.

Snape, of course, is done just beautifully. It is not really surprising how Snape turns out – I had guessed some of it; right up to the start of this book, I never believed that Snape was definitively on Voldemort’s side, though in this last book it became rather impossible to hold on to that belief. But the beauty of Snape is that he never does a volte face; he never becomes a nice person; he and Harry never begin to like each other; but at the end Harry at least understands Snape and respects him – and so does the reader.

So many morals in the story – I think I need to read the whole series again just to focus on the many, many morals that emerge. But JKR’s skill is that the morals are rarely in-your-face; rather, they lie sublimely just behind the fabric of the story. How people who are hateful are not necessarily evil (Snape); people who are good are not necessarily likeable (James); how trust and teamwork can conquer mistrust and fear (Harry versus Voldemort); how important it is to have mercy (Harry with Wormtail and with Malfoy and Goyle); how kindness and consideration can win you friends where rough and inconsiderate behaviour can just as easily turn potential friends into enemies (Dobby, Kreacher); how much a person can do for the one they love (Snape for Lily more than any other instance in the book); how even shallow, evil people essentially care for their children above all else (the Malfoys) and how this makes them human, as opposed to Voldemort, who cares for no-one but himself and remains sub-human; how loyalty won by fear and intimidation is essentially no loyalty at all (the Death-Eathers versus Dumbledore’s Army); how some people you just can’t trust, specially if you’re not really so trustworthy yourself (goblins); and how evil is ultimately self-destructive.

It is worth noting that Harry & co very, very rarely use the unforgivable curses and that even though he is laughed at for using Expelliarmus against the Death-Eaters at the start of the book, it is Expelliarmus that Harry uses at the end, and that alone is sufficient to destroy Lord V.

It is also worth noting that Harry himself destroys only one of the Horcruxes – the diary, in book two (with, of course, much help from Fawkes). Of the other six, Dumbledore (the ring), Ron (the locket), Hermione (the cup), Crabbe (the diadem), Neville (the snake), and Voldemort himself (himself) destroy one each. In other words, both sides do their bit.

I must say, I wish the last chapter, the post-script, as it were, had been different. I would have liked to know what happened the next year. I’d’ve wanted to see Hogwarts restored, McGonagall the Headmistress, Harry & co back at school to complete their NEWTs, Slytherins and Gryffindors rebuilding some broken fences following the leads of Malfoy and Harry, maybe Malfoy and Hermione as head boy and head girl (!), and Harry, at the end of the year, electing to stay back as the Defence Against Dark Arts teacher, now that the curse on that position is broken. Anyway, it was what he did best.

Oh well, I suppose one just has to assume all that and settle for the picture of happy domesticity…

Meanwhile, I have a question: At the end, Harry returns the Elder Wand to… where, exactly? Where did it come from? Does he put it back in Dumbledore’s tomb???

I’m sure that as the book rattles around in my head for a few more days, I’ll think of more things I want to say about it. That is the greatness of JKR. It’s certain, also, that the English language will never quite recover from this assault on its vocabulary – some words, I think, are here to stay.

PS: I have lately taken to stepping forward with determination, destination and distinction (or whatever) and trying to Disapparate from one spot and Apparate at another. Somebody please stop me before I end up splinching myself!


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