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Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling

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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.

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  • DC

    Overall, I give DH a grade of B+ (it is MUCH better than its Half Prince predecessor) and it does successfully bring the saga to a generally satisfactory close.

    That said, there were definitely some real slooowwww stretches in the middle of the book and JR once again failed to develop many meaningful story lines beyond what occupied the activities of The Big Three. Let’s face it, if Ginny was indeed the love of HP’s life she deserved a LOT more attention in the story than she got.

    And I think that all the attention given to Griphooks (who did EXACTLY what HP wanted in lying to the Malfoys) in regard to the break-in at Gringotts and his subsequent taking control over the Gyrffindor Sword ended up as a BIG DEAD END when later the sword suddenly appeared in the sorting hat at just the right time. You note that Neville’s beheading of Nagini with the sword was indeed one of the key moments in the story (Nagini was the LAST Horcrux and his destruction set up Voldemort’s death in the climactic duel with HP). So what happened with Griphook (and all the other goblins for that matter) and how did the sword get into the Sorting Hat?

    This is no small plot point and JK definitely dropped the ball big time in not addressing it. After all, she made a big point about the issue when Ron’s brother counseled them on trusting goblins and making deals with them. So what happened with Griphooks and the sword after The Big Three made their escape from Gringotts by dragon? BIG PLOT GAP as far as I’m concerned and one that JK could very easily have addressed and incorporated into the story. Seems to me she got kinda lazy… And none of her editors had the gumption to say “hey, you need to take care of this issue if you want to use the sword to kill Nagini!”

    If you think I’m being churlish, so be it, but she’s a billionaire and I think it’s reasonable to expect her to not to take cheap short cuts on the plot….

    There, now I feel a wee bit better…


  • Hey DC,

    Thanks for the comment. I’ve seen this concern about the sword, but I just assumed this was the same Sorting Hat magic we saw in Chamber of Secrets. The Hat will bring help to those who need it, giving the sword to a true Gryffindor, etc, etc, etc.

    But you know what they say about when you assume….

  • DC

    Hey, the “Sword in the Sorting Hat” conundrum is something I’ll just have to take a deep breath about and say “so it goes…”

    The absence of Ginny as a meaningful presence in the book is, upon reflection, a far more serious deficiency IMHO and detracts from the story really packing an emotional punch. Oh well, I guess JR wanted to keep things G-rated or somesuch… And wow, you’ve got a bunch of 17 year olds sleeping together out in the wilderness for months at a time and I never caught the slightest allusion to any – hmmm, how should I phrase it – “hormonal stirrings” that might have arisen during those long nights in the tent… They were 17 going on 7 as far as I could tell in this regard…. Yeah, yeah, HP said H was like a sister to him but that only goes so far…

    And on this issue it is also interesting to note that (according to the Epilogue) HP and Ginny didn’t have kids until 7 years after Voldemort’s demise while his parents “got busy” not much more than a year after leaving Hogwarts… What does it mean? I dunno… But the Epilogue was so suburban and sacharine sweet that I guess we’re supposed to believe that HP and G went to ice cream socials for six years or so before engaging in “relations.” Yes, I am fairly cynical but I hope you will forgive me.

    I guess that I never really understood Tonks to be such an important character that I needed to get all worked up over her passing. Her death was not described so much as it was simply reported (after the fact), so why should reader’s care about her demise if JR herself didn’t want to devote any energy to it… In fact, none of the (many) deaths in the book really resonated with much passion or emotion. And as far as I was concerned no real “Major” characters (other than Voldemort!) died.

    Truth be told, I had anticipated that Mrs. Weasley would die protecting Ginny (mimicking Lily and HP) so that that there would be a maternal symmetry binding HP and G together in the post-Voldemort world. But clearly that was a little to heavy a trip for JR to lay on her younger readers… Sigh. So it goes…


  • The point of Griphook getting the sword was so that the trio would have to think of other ways to destroy Horcruxes…which lead to Ron and Hermione returning to the Chamber of Secrets to collect some Basilisk fangs. In Chamber of Secrets, the Sorting Hat summoned the sword from Dumbledore’s office, so it’s not such a great leap to assume it summoned the sword from whatever goblin party Griphook was celebrating in at the moment. Imagine how the goblins might have reacted: “Darn that Griffindor and his bloody cursed hat!” 😛

  • DC

    Yes, it is certainly possible for readers to concoct an “explanation” for how the Sorting Hat got the sword but this is something that I think JR should have directly addressed in the (very long) book. Just my opinion but this is one of those “loose ends” that should have been resolved directly by the author…

    Yes, the Sorting Hat did finally show up in an important (but poorly explicated) role in DH and this was good. The Sorting Hat was one of the great ideas/characters that JR developed in the early books and I thought that it was VERY WEAK that in the Half Prince book the Sorting Hat was pretty much ignored.


  • Lizzie Lark

    The words,Deus ex machina,
    sprang to mind several times during this book!!

  • Tanuki

    I had no problem with there being an epilogue, but would not have made it a “happily ever after”. What I would have been tempted to do: first, at least hint that one of Draco’s children turned out to be a squib (which would be worrysome for the child in question but suggest Draco has some serious questioning of his philosophies ahead of him); and, perhaps more importantly, have Dudley there — with his wizardling child. And I would have had Harry go off with Dumbledore — the actuality of his death muted in a Frodo going across the seas fashion.

  • Ginevrafan

    I agree with dc about the slow stretches in the middle of the book and the lack of emotional scenes with Ginny. However, I have gone back and read the book again now that my fever to get to the climax fast has past,and have found some more subtle interactions between Harry and Ginny that I didn’t notice before. Still, could have been better, though I expect when the movie is made they’ll make more of it then. The last 100, 150 pages were truly outstanding and I could feel the immense emotion in Harry’s “Protego!” when finally chooses to emerge from the cloak to save Mrs W.

    Overall, a pretty good read. Makes up for the fact that I thought that Order of the Phoenix at the theatres was simply flat and lifeless.

  • Ginevrafan

    oh yes and the epilogue? I’d gladly cut out that syrupy sweet yuck and chuck it in the fire if I didn’t feel guilty about destroying books.

  • Mike

    The sweetness of the epilogue doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is that the epilogue reveals nothing the average reader wouldn’t already imagine about the future. The epilogue seems pointless.

    The sword and the sorting hat are something of a non-issue for me.

    My main issue is that too much of the book is filler. It is really difficult to truly concoct a masterpiece that ties it all together when you have a series as long and complex as this. To me, Rowling concentrated most of her thinking into the ending and didn’t really work as hard on the rest of the book. It seems like too much of the story is there just to get us to the end. To a certain extent, it feels like Rowling was going through the motions. While the book does do a nice job of tying up the main struggle between Harry and Voldemort, it leaves out many other aspects of the previous six volumes which might have greatly enriched book seven. Deathly Hallows is an (mostly) entertaining read, but it’s not a literary masterpiece.

  • Concerning the epilogue, I agree with the person who observed that the fate which unfolded for Harry and company was nothing unexpected. Ron would of course hook up with Hermione; Harry with Ginny; they’d have kids and be long time friends. Nothing new there.

    What I wanted to know, and one of the big questions posed in the earlier books was “What kind of career would Harry go into?” Would he be an Auror? A muggle ambassador? The only Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher who remained in their position for over a year? And for that matter, what did Hermione do with all her smarts and um, Ron, who seemed to forget that he could do magic at times? What kind of work is HE doing?

    I am a huge fan of J.K. Rowling and I think the story she has meticulously and fantastically woven over the course of 7 books is nothing short of amazing. So hearing me make my own comments and reading other criticisms is like poking pencil holes in a fabric so large it would cover a mountain. Yet we poke because we’re writers, readers and dreamers and I guess we would like everything, even in a world of wizards and witches, to be perfect.

    Sure, the HP series isn’t everything WE want it to be (whatever that may be), but for this reader, it’s so damn awfully close. Thank you Ms. Rowling.


  • Carol

    Hey, “Albus Severus” saved the epilogue for me. Very touching.

  • shae

    I loved Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I read it 3 times and it never got old. It’s so amazing and I don’t know how J.K Rowling does it? She is a truly amazing author. I know it seems like you want more books from her aside from the harry potter series, but when you think about it the series couldn’t go one forever and she ended it perfectly. Nothing could ever compare and why do we need anymore, when the series is so phenomenal. You would always imagine it to be harry potter and compare it to harry potter and I don’t think anything could be written better. However, the movies are very good but the books just blow them away, and theres room for your own imagination. I just want to say that if the 7th movie is not just unbelievably amazing that I have to go back and buy another ticket to watch it again, then I will be so furious, and I can imagine how hard it must be to make the movie compare to the books. But especially for the last one it really needs to be over the top. I heard the other day that they were doing the movie in two parts over a period of two years, something like part one of the deathly hallows will come out in 2010, and part two in 2011. Which I think is a good idea. I found this out on IMDb.com

    anyways I hope this really turns out well,


  • shae

    also i wanted to add that, i know this seems crazy but this is my explanation for the harry potter series.
    i feel that J.K Rowling knows about this “wizard World” and she wrote these books in hopes of them somewhat hinting the fact that it could be real, and that we are just blindly missing the message.

    but anyway i would like to think so.