Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Written by J.K. Rowling
Published by Scholastic
The most anticipated book of the last decade perhaps — certainly the most talked about of the year — the final Harry Potter book hit the stores two weeks ago, breaking sales records left and right (although not before pictures of each of the American version’s 759 pages had been leaked online). That it tops the best-seller lists should come as no surprise, but how does the book itself measure up?
The seventh and darkest book in J.K. Rowling’s popular fantasy series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows follows the title character’s quest to bring about the downfall of the Dark wizard Lord Voldemort. Harry must search for Horcruxes, objects housing pieces of Voldemort’s soul, and destroy them before the Dark wizard himself can be killed.
Meanwhile, war rages on in the Wizarding world (though we only see glimpses of it throughout most of the book), characters — some we hardly know, others whom we have grown to love — meet their deaths, and a few not-so-polite words make it past the censors for the first time in the series.
I flipped open the cover of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with a few questions I desperately wanted answered. Is Harry going to die to save the world? Just whose side is Professor Snape on anyway? And is the Horcrux hunt Harry was set to go on at the end of the last book going to be as boring and tedious as it sounds?
While I dare not give away the answers to the first two questions for fear of potential backlash from the few fans who have not yet finished reading (and I consider myself quite the Harry Potter fan, so I know just how scary we can be), the answer to the last question is, Well, sort of.
Though I wouldn’t describe the first two-thirds of the book as boring — it is certainly filled with enough adventure and life-or-death struggles to keep even the most casual reader mildly entertained — the Horcrux hunt does drag on. If not for the promise of the inevitable and likely explosive showdown between Harry and Voldemort at the end of the book, much of the exposition and build-up would be difficult to plod through.
Almost every bit of that exposition is necessary, however, for the conclusion to work as it is written. Information and details have to be introduced that will become important later, not the least of which is the lengthy backstory of Albus Dumbledore and the explanation of the Deathly Hallows.
The isolation of Harry and his two friends, Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley, from the rest of the Wizarding world, while necessary for the plot, is also limiting in many ways. As a result, we do not get to see as much interaction between Harry and other characters, though the friendship and interactions between the Gryffindor Trio are wonderfully written and realistically portrayed in this book.
The reader also keenly feels the absence of the magical school where most of Harry’s adventures in the past six books have taken place. The heart of the books has always been Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and it isn’t until Harry finally returns to the school and is reunited with his classmates and professors that things really get interesting. I would even say the final third of Deathly Hallows makes up for everything that may have been wrong or lacking in the 500 or so pages previous. (Everything except the spelling errors. There is no excuse for those, not in the most anticipated book of the decade.)
The final battle breaks out at Hogwarts with everyone and his mother joining in to fight. There are genuinely heart-wrenching scenes and shocking deaths (I admit it: I cried like a baby). Answers to questions that have plagued fans for years are finally given, and plot threads — some originating all the way back in the first Harry Potter book, which was published 10 years ago — are woven together to form a most fitting conclusion, even if it is a predictable one.
As with each of the previous Harry Potter books, Rowling’s creativity, imagination, and attention to detail are impressive. Each new location explored by the Trio is well developed and replete with the magical quirks that readers have come to expect from Rowling. (In one scene, wizards and witches line up to enter the Ministry of Magic by flushing themselves down enchanted toilets.) We see fleshed out stories for characters that were only mentioned in passing in previous books: the Dark wizard Grindelwald, Luna Lovegood’s eccentric father, Dumbledore’s goat-loving brother Aberforth, and Harry’s mother Lily Potter, among others.
What may be surprising to some readers is the level of character development seen in this book. The characters in the Harry Potter series have long been somewhat two dimensional and black and white. But as the series ends and Harry himself grows up and begins to see shades of grey, the characters start to show some depth and become infinitely more interesting. Harry’s journey in Deathly Hallows is as much a philosophical and moral one as it is a physical quest. We see Harry, now an adult, finally grow into the role of the hero that he has been groomed for; he is someone who refuses to accept comfortable lies and half-truths, someone who isn’t afraid to look Death in the eyes.
Another surprise for readers may be just how dark and depressing the book is. While Harry Potter may have started out as a children’s book series, it hasn’t ended that way. Rowling doesn’t shy away from describing the horrors of the war and of the new regime, strongly reminiscent of Nazi Germany during World War II. And did I mention that a lot of people die?
As a whole, Deathly Hallows does what it sets out to do: it provides a fitting conclusion for one of history’s most popular series of children’s books. But although Harry’s story is now closed, Potter fans can still look forward to an encyclopedia of the Wizarding world that J.K. Rowling has said she will write, a compendium that may answer some of the many questions that remain and will allow us to visit the world of Harry Potter once more.