Yes, there are spoilers here. Consider yourself warned.
Once — I don't remember where or when — I read a quote talking about how you know if an ending is right for a book. The gist of it was that by the time you get to an ending, no matter how surprised you are, no other outcome should seem possible. That is the trick of a satisfying ending. The idea stuck with me, and over time I have come to believe it to be true. A good ending is the only ending that the story will allow.
And so, what of the ending of the Harry Potter saga? It's all anyone has wanted to talk about lately. Everyone knows I am a fan of the books; everyone knew how quickly I planned to read the last one. Everyone is asking me how I feel about the fate of the "Boy Who Lived." Did I like the book? Did I like the ending?
It's both an easy and a complicated question. JK Rowling managed to write a novel that left me feeling satisfied, feeling like the story of Harry Potter's discovery of himself and his world — his coming of age — was complete. I felt by the end of the book that Harry had grown up well, that he had survived the difficulties he had encountered and made the right choices. Harry grew up, and in doing so he defined himself as a hero.
From a storytelling point of view, the saga is fittingly, satisfyingly and conclusively complete. I know everything I need to know about Harry Potter, son of James and Lily, and his two closest friends. I couldn't ask for more than that. (I still want the encyclopedia, though.)
Yet Deathly Hallows, maybe more than any other Potter book, drove home for me the problems with the series. Clunky flashbacks full of story-critical exposition play a part in almost every pivotal scene in the book. Letters, memories, articles — incidental discovery is a key to the unfurling of the plot, and sometimes one wonders how anyone as unlucky as Harry Potter can be so lucky as stumble on the necessary information. As with past books, adverbs are dropped onto the dialogue like anvils; Rowling should trust her readers' knowledge of these characters by now and save the adverbs for special occasions. And all-caps anger makes a cameo, a reminder that these are hormonal teenagers undertaking a monumental task, in case the rest of the writing doesn't make that clear.
None of these complaints are new complaints, though, and anyone who is reading the seventh book in this series has come to the same compromise as I have: Sometimes a story, a world, is so rich that the writing itself can be workman-like while the product is still an art. I never wish I could write like Rowling, but I often wish I could tell a tale like she does.
Deathly Hallows offers up relentless storytelling. From Harry's last goodbye to the Dursleys (and the first of the book's surprises) to his final confrontation with the malevolent being formerly known as Tom Riddle, the book has the pace of a broom under a hurling hex. There is no moment of the book where you can lose awareness of the fact that the hard end will come soon. Among all this, Rowling nods at loyal readers, referencing plot points that have been frequent sources of fan discussion and speculation. (Sirus's motorbike. Dumbledore's correspondence with Petunia. Aberforth. Goderic's Hollow. The list could go on.) Still, other storylines raised in the earlier books seem to never quite payout: SPEW and the Hagrid's overtures to the giants — plotlines bemoaned by some fans — don't pay out with the Battle of Helm's Deep that many had been expecting.
The popularity of Harry Potter is unprecedented in the book world. Out at midnight to pick up my copy, I was amazed by the diversity of the customers. I can't think of any other cultural phenomenon that I have shared with millions — literally millions — all around the world. As I was reading my book on the subway, as I was walking down my street past people clutching bags from Chapters, from Book City, from Mabel's Fables, it gave me a Capraesque glow to know that we were all in this together.
That is the strength of Rowling's books, a strength that I touched on when I talked about my anticipation for the final volume. Rowling takes the ingredients of countless fantasy stories — magic, dragons, soulless evil, loyalty, powerful objects, quests — and she uses them as a common language as she creates her world. Then, she fills it with moments like Harry's long walk with his parents, his godfather, and his teacher, moments that speak to everyone's feelings of loss and longing. Rowling says she wept when she wrote that; most readers will have, too, I'm sure.
The best moments in this book are the moments of triumph that Rowling gives to her characters. Hermione is forced to choose between what she loves and what is right, and she chooses right each time, each choice breaking her heart more. Ron is given a ladder and finally gets over himself, after the usual dithering. Luna is as strange as ever, but she rewards the friendship that has been shown to her. And Neville, once-bumbling Neville, the other boy who could have been the bee in Voldie's bonnet, has what might be the biggest moment in the whole book.
It is, right up to the epilogue, a perfect ending.
(About the epilogue, as far as I am concerned, the less said the better. It is a fannish wet dream, something that's a little embarrassing to look upon. I like happy endings, but it reduces the messages of the series to offer up a fairy tale of marriage and happily ever afters. Albus Severus might have made me cry in spite of myself, but I didn't need to know, didn't want to be told, that everything is now perfect. There's no such thing, Rowling has made clear for over 2500 pages, so she can't sell it to me now.)
So when I am asked about Deathly Hallows, what do I say? What stays with me? Is it the adverbs and the cloying epilogue? Or is it the way Harry grew up, the way Rowling made me cry, the answers that were there all along in a careful reading? The books could never have ended any other way. They will be carried somewhere inside me, in some corner of the soul where stories live on, forever. Like all of Harry's trials and actions, that is enough. More than enough.Powered by Sidelines