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.