Death Done Right

by Ian T. McFarland on July 26, 2007

in Books & Magazines

  • Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  • Wikipedia: link

I’ve been reading the Harry Potter series for just over nine years now.  I’ve spent countless hours reading and rereading the books, discussing them with my friends, and even protesting a radio station for ruining the last book’s ending on-air before I finished it.  With all of my history with the books, is it even close to possible for series author J.K. Rowling to end this story that I’ve grown up with to my satisfaction?

The book starts out in line with the other six entries into the series.  Harry gets picked up from Number Four, Privet Drive and is escorted to the Burrow for another half-summer spent with the Weasleys.  The only difference is that on the way there, Harry is nearly murdered and one of his friends actually is.  Rowling makes it fairly clear from the beginning: this is war.  People are going to die and they won’t stop dying unless the enemy bites the dust himself.

What ensues is a dangerous journey for all of our favorite witches and wizards from the past six years, one that far surpasses the label of ‘children’s book.’  Frightening sequences are sure to keep the younger readers up with nightmares for the rest of the summer, and when Rowling puts a character a situation where a death is a risk, you’ll get on your knees and you’ll pray to Jeebus that J.K. doesn’t off Hagrid.  The book is that tense, and you know our author won’t hesitate to write what she has to write.  Chapters like one where a snake erupts out of a dead women and tries to murder Harry ensure that if the movie is made right, it would maybe just barely scrape by with a hard PG-13, but it would be one of the more disturbing movies with that rating since Surviving Christmas.  This is a movie about three people setting out to murder the Hitler of a Fantasy world, how does that seem like a book you buy for your third grader?

Through all of the previous books, Rowling has been successful in making Harry a believable adolescent boy, albeit one destined to save mankind.  It’s a difficult task to balance ‘realistic teenager’ and ‘chosen one’ in a character, but she keeps it up in this book as well, something worth commending.  There’s no way anyone could believe that Harry would be a fair match for Voldemort, yet Rowling is sure to give us a justifiable reason that Harry has a chance against the powerhouse dark wizard, without ever making this 17-year-old suddenly just as powerful as the most accomplished wizard known to this fictional world’s history.

All that said, this Pottermaniac does have a few complaints.  For one thing, the book gets dull for about 200 pages after the first eight chapters, when Harry and gang spend months searching for a lead to find and destroy Voldemort’s horcruxes (note to newbies: these ’ being the devices that keep the Dark Lord invincible.)  I’ll excuse Rowling for this because the reader is supposed to be just as bored and frustrated as our leading characters; but nevertheless that’s a third of the book that isn’t all that fun to read.  I’ve also got complaints to voice about the final showdown between the-boy-that-lived and the-guy-who-tried-to-kill-the-boy-that-lived.  After thinking about the resolution to the series for a while, I don’t have as big a problem with it; but I still can’t help but think the outcome of this battle askews just a smidgen on the cheesy, afternoon special side of things.  On the other hand, the way it goes down really does make sense in the broad context of the series, and it’s hard to claim a lack of hokeyness for a series where the secret weapon is Love.  All that said, the only real compliant I have is with the epilogue.  At a scant seven pages, it gives us little information on what happens to the characters post-Wizarding world Apocalypse, and what little information we do learn is exposed in a short story that sounds like a piece of fan-fiction.  The only upside – Rowling gives you an impossibly hardcore first name for the next-generation Malfoy.

I can forgive the mistake though, because this book is impossible to put down most of the time.  When Harry narrowly escapes the grips of Voldemort it’s fucking tense.  And when he escapes his wrath another five times before they meet for the final showdown, it’s even more fucking intense.  Rowling gives you scenarios that really do seem impossible to flee from, but when they do dodge the enemy, it feels perfectly believable.

With the wide cast of supporting characters, it might seem difficult to take advantage of all of them.  But Rowling does it, after building them all up over the course of the past 3,000+ pages she’s able to reap every one of them to their full potential.  Filch finally gets some comeuppance, George still can’t pass up a chance to make a joke (even in the direst of situations) and Mrs. Weasley’s final line is one for the books.  At times, it feels like the previous six books were just set-up for this last book, like when Harry is forced to scramble throughout Hogwarts to find a Horcrux, or when they have to hold a heist out of Gringotts Bank.  Rowling deserves credit for making this series all-encompassing and giving us a series of seven books that could easily (though heavily) be wrapped up behind one very fat book spine.

And on top of being the book that has to wrap up everything set up over the last decade, Rowling even manages to give this book a theme, and she does it well.  The Deathly Hallows is one about death, a book that says dying sucks, but eventually we just have to embrace it and hope that we lived our lives to their potential.

I’m not going to get any man-points for saying this, so I’ll just come out and plainly say that I cried.  I cried, and I cried hard at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  The ending didn’t touch me – in fact I would go so far as to say that I highly disliked the last seven pages, and that I’ll join a friend of mine in discounting it from our personal Harry Potter canons.  No, the reason I sobbed was that after nine years, it was over.  Previous generations had The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, but this generation grew up with Harry Potter, and every other Summer, we were Harry Potter for a few hundred pages, and we loved it.  I was (and will continue to be) sad that it’s over now, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t one hell of a ride.  Thank you so much, Ms. Rowling.

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