The Story: [from GoodReads:]
Harry is waiting in Privet Drive. The Order of the Phoenix is coming to escort him safely away without Voldemort and his supporters knowing – if they can. But what will Harry do then? How can he fulfill the momentous and seemingly impossible task that Professor Dumbledore has left him?
My Take: [Just a quick note before I launch into my review: while I won’t reveal spoilers related to Deathly Hallows, I may inadvertently drop spoilers from previous books. I assume most folks have read books one through six, so I’m not going to conceal spoilers from those. But in case you haven’t finished Half-Blood Prince in its entirety, please be forewarned – there may be spoilers!]
So we come to the end at last.
When news first broke about the confirmed release date for Deathly Hallows, I immediately placed my pre-order for the deluxe hardcover edition. (I call it my super-deluxe-happy edition.) That was in February 2007, so come July of that year, I got my box (marked with special tape instructing Muggles to not open it until midnight!) on its official release day.
So naturally, I was like…
and I immediately sat down to read it. I even made a deliberate effort not to go online for the whole weekend in order to avoid spoilers. (I had been spoiled about a big bombshell in Half-Blood Prince, so I was determined not to let that happen again.) I started it Saturday, the same day it arrived; stopped at chapter 27 (because I was having a hard time finding a good place to stop but knew I needed to); and finished it that Sunday.
Thus, my reaction upon finishing it can best be summed up as this:
Because if I ever felt the need to hug a book, Deathly Hallows was it. As a whole, Harry Potter was a book series that captured my adult imagination from the start and retained my interest for the long haul. It was equal parts happy, sad, and bitter-sweet, but in the end the emotional roller coaster was totally worth the ride and price of admission.
One thing that is immediately striking about Deathly Hallows on a narrative level is that it completely subverts the cyclical story formulas utilized in books one through six. Each of those novels starts out the same way: Harry spends his summer with the dastardly Dursleys only to eventually be whisked away into the wizarding world, return to school, solve a mystery or face a confrontation, and return to his relatives for another not-fun-filled summer vacation. It’s a comfortable pattern and one that I think works in these novels as such a formula grounds each book and allows it to come full-circle.
Granted, the novel opens with Harry at the Dursleys but it’s not like old times. Then, rather than heading to Hogwarts, Harry, Ron, and Hermione eventually venture into the wild, battling evil forces, the elements, and even each other. The stress and strain of open warfare in the wizarding world combined with the vague task Dumbledore commissioned Harry with at the end of Half-Blood Prince wears on everyone and their frustration and desperation bleed from the page. From the very beginning, this has been the Terrific Trio, so to see them out of their element and facing danger in an unpredictable world really makes you feel for them and fear for their friendship.
Some readers have criticized the various camping scenes in this novel that comprise much of its middle act, but I really enjoyed those parts as, for me, these chapters work on two levels. First, they serve as the complete opposite of what a typical Harry Potter story feels like based on how the other novels have gone. In the past, the characters (and, by proxy, the readers) were used to a slightly pampered and relatively safe and controlled environment behind Hogwarts’ walls. But this time around, at least for the Terrific Trio, the walls are gone and there is no safe haven. Hence, these characters are more exposed and the stakes are keenly felt. Yes, there were dangers inside of Hogwarts but it was a considerably more secure place, no matter what threat Harry was facing, and there were people there who had his back. But here, out in the open, Harry, Hermione, and Ron are essentially adrift and left to make their own way.
Secondly, I like to think that these chapters symbolically represent Harry’s journey, from being protected from the outside world to now being prepared (or at least as prepared as he can be) to tackle his greatest foe. I don’t think his evolution in this novel would have worked if it had followed the same structure as the past six books, so for that I was glad Rowling decided to switch things up by changing the setting and, hence, setting higher stakes. Harry isn’t confined to one or two locations here; instead, he’s constantly on the move, which makes for better action and greater tension as these environments often have no set parameters on how to handle a given situation. There are so many great scenes here and I think part of that is due to the fluidity of the environment. In theory, Rowling could have played it safe and followed the same recipe she had used in the previous novels; instead, she broke her own mold and I think this novel serves up a stronger finish because of it.
On that note, one thing Rowling does not do here is play it safe when it comes to her characters. When I read this novel the first time through, I mentally likened it to a “24” season finale. Absolutely no character, no matter how beloved, is safe. Most, if not all, of the character deaths here came as a total surprise though one I secretly suspected might occur and one I was fairly certain would happen (but I’m not saying which!). Naturally I’m not going to dive into a list of casualties as that most certainly would count as a spoiler, but I will say that nearly each one stuns on some level. While killing off characters for shock value or because the author honestly couldn’t think of any other plot twist to use just comes across as cheap, Rowling avoids this by making each death count for something. There are no senseless deaths as most of them make Harry more determined to see his perilous quest to the end, thus they serve more as catalysts rather than simply being added for sheer shock value alone.
Speaking of characters, this feels like a big reunion and I loved that! Seeing as this is the last book, there really aren’t any brand new characters save for some minor players and one slightly significant figure (who, technically, was introduced in an earlier book but remained nameless, and at the risk of revealing spoilers I won’t say who it is). Basically everyone you love and hate-to-love is back. However, the novel never feels overstuffed as it helps that we already know these characters, so their presences here serve to give this last story its final respects.
Another rather unique aspect to this novel is the personal history we get to learn regarding Albus Dumbledore. As painful as some of this was to uncover, I’m glad Rowling chose to include it as it turned Dumbledore from this nearly perfect grandpa figure into a severely flawed human being. Harry, like us, gets the proverbial rug yanked out from under him when he learns some of the darker moments of Dumbledore’s past. Essentially, Harry has his faith tested as the very man who sent him out into the world to destroy Voldemort’s magical protections was the same man who failed those closest to him and made some bad choices along the way. Harry suffers from a barrage of emotions, from disbelief, to anger, to eventually forgiveness; and just as he experiences these sentiments, so do we as our view of Dumbledore is reshaped as well. So much in Deathly Hallows is centered on subversion and shattering misconceptions that, for a time, it can get a little uncomfortable, especially when we’re forced to mentally confront the way we viewed some characters. But in the end, it’s all for the best: Harry’s test of faith proves to be a great smelter in which his less than admirable qualities are stripped away so he can become a true hero.
Usually when it comes to series’ final novels, I harbor trepidation regarding how the major questions will be wrapped up or what type of resolution will be granted to the main characters, especially the hero. In most cases, I’m left either disappointed or wanting more. From a writing standpoint, I think final novels are tough because closure is relative. While some readers want to see every single plot thread wrapped up (I, personally, fall into this camp), others don’t mind if some minor threads are left to dangle. In the same way, I appreciate happy endings and I prefer to see protagonists get a good ending of some sorts: not to say every sorrow should be erased but at least their final chapter should make those trials and sufferings worth it and the world is shown to be a better place to some degree. Again, some readers don’t care for happy endings, which is why I say final novels are the trickiest to compose. Not everyone is going to agree that the story ended the way they thought it should, so an author really can’t try to make everyone happy in that regard. Instead, the goal is to compose a story that best suits the characters within, not so much what fans want to see. And I feel that’s what Rowling accomplished here with much aplomb.
For Deathly Hallows, I was beyond pleased with the way all of my major questions were answered and how main characters’ stories were finalized. Do we continue with the horcrux hunt that was set up at the end of Half-Blood Prince? Yes, and it does come to an eventual close. Do we ever learn what side Professor Snape was on? Absolutely, and being a fan of Snape all throughout, I loved this sense of closure. Does Harry fulfill the prophecy (that was introduced in Order of the Phoenix)? Yes, but Rowling delivers some twists that make it not quite as straight-forwarded as you might initially imagine in terms of how it gets wrapped up. And do we finally discover what really happened the night Harry’s parents were killed by Lord Voldemort? Yes, and this is one of many genius moments in the story. I say it’s genius because, rather than serving as just a flashback for flashback’s sake, it enables Harry’s story to come completely full circle and see how it connects to everything he has endured.
There are actually a lot of moments here that are full circle moments, including intentional Easter eggs from the other books (such as Sirius’ motorcycle and the Sword of Gryffindor) to subversions of scenes from earlier books (such as one particular showdown and another moment that takes place in Gringotts). These are nice touches and help the novel feel like it’s closing out a completed cycle. Even the epilogue gives a sense of closure as we see that life continued for some of the characters and it gives a glimpse into the state of their world after the events of the principle story. While some readers hate epilogues, I loved this one and I was deeply touched by the end as it felt like I was saying goodbye to some very beloved characters just as they, too, were delivering some fond farewells.
Some of the other decisions Rowling made here, especially regarding Harry’s showdown with Lord Voldemort, were unexpected and I appreciated the fact that pivotal moment wasn’t just reduced to a single paragraph and that’s it. Yes, we get a combat scene but it goes deeper than a mere fight sequence. Voldemort isn’t just confronted in combat, he’s confronted about other matters, too – matters I won’t delve into because they enter spoiler territory. But I can say that Harry gives Voldemort an ultimatum of sorts that I wasn’t expecting and I loved that. In the same way, seeing how the prophecy plays out demonstrated some creative twists. Many times when prophecies are used as plot devices in fantasy stories, they either eventually fade into the background and no one remembers them or they become predicable story arcs. And while you might be able to predict that Harry and Voldemort do end up facing off, what leads up to it is not at all how I would have imagined and, again, without unleashing spoilers, it’s a deeply touching moment that elevates the Potter series from “just kids’ books” to truly epic fantasy that has deeper symbolic significance.
I do want to pause here and briefly address the matter of the script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as serving as the eighth Potter story. I’ve already touched on my opinions regarding this in earlier posts (here and here), so I won’t repeat myself. All I care to say is that, for me, Deathly Hallows serves as the proper final story as it was written exclusively by Rowling, which, for me, carries more weight than works penned by someone else (with or without her blessing). Thus, I don’t feel Cursed Child adds anything to Deathly Hallows or the Potter canon, but that’s just my opinion. Some fans love it and feel it gives them even more closure. But for myself, Deathly Hallows provided sufficient closure and served as the best ending to the series as a whole regarding Harry’s heroic arc.
Content: Content-wise, this novel is still fine for its middle grade target audience and anyone older though it does possess a dark tone at times and is rather lengthy, both of which might deter the very youngest of middle grade readers.
Language – There are minimal, PG-level profanities (along with some British profanities) though they’re sporadically dropped. One female character, in a fit of righteous anger during a fight, calls another female character a b__ch.
Violence – Violence falls chiefly into the fantasy violence lane where magic is used as opposed to weapons for the most part; however, there is some bloodletting that occurs with the aid of blades but nothing even turns gory. Be aware though that there are multiple battle sequences where characters fight to kill. There are also numerous character deaths, both on page and off, and many are set up to be emotionally shocking albeit not gory or graphic. That being said, some of these deaths or injuries are caused by stabbings and creature attacks as well as magic. Characters are tormented and tortured through magical means though this comprises a small portion of the novel as a whole. One character loses an ear but only the aftermath is mentioned without graphic details (as the character just has a hole on the side of the head so we never actually see the ear being removed). Another character is nearly suffocated by a magical object. One character recounts how some Muggle boys attacked a family member but the actual scene is only recounted in flashback and the character talking about it never goes into detail as to what the attack consisted of (though the character reveals the family member was left emotionally, mentally, and magically scarred). Some good characters use illegal spells but not with evil motives. Lastly, there are many tense moments where characters are put in danger but escape with their lives. So, as a whole, while Deathly Hallows isn’t quite as dark as some of the novels leading up to it, it still remains a tense, emotionally-charged book though it isn’t openly frightening or depressing.
Sexual Content – None. Some characters kiss but nothing turns sexual or even remotely sensual.
Overall, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is easily the best final book in any series I’ve ever read. Most final books tend to leave some story threads dangling, don’t take chances with narrative or characters, or take too many chances and end up being a self-parody. But I was so glad Deathly Hallows committed none of these sins. It ties up every character thread in emotional ways, some sad, some joyful, and some bitter-sweet. It answers the big questions, from how Harry became the Chosen One to answering, once and for all, which side Severus Snape was on. It takes chances by not playing it too safe and putting beloved characters in genuine danger and some don’t make it out unscathed. It also introduces some very intriguing Messianic imagery that I deeply appreciated and I was moved by several scenes, especially towards the end. So, overall, Deathly Hallows (for me) serves as the perfect send off to a truly magical series.