Classic review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
What better way to prepare for the movie than to read the book again?
[This review from the Monitor's archives originally ran on July 23, 2007.] In the end, no one plays Quidditch.
That's about the only spoiler I'm willing to reveal about the final chapter in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," Book 7 and the close of J.K. Rowling's wonderfully entertaining series. If the review seems a little vague as a result, well, tough. I'm not ruining this for fans who have waited 10 years to learn the outcome of the final showdown between the Boy Who Lived and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and wanted to savor the last time they would ever pick up a new "Harry Potter" book.
Much has been made of whether the books represent cultural infantilism on a mass scale, with some august personages arguing that not only are they not art, they're bad for literature. (I'm guessing Harold Bloom has never read the "Gossip Girl" series.)
While I don't personally believe Harry Potter represents the acme of children's literature, I've had an absolute blast reading the novels and thoroughly enjoyed watching a high-tech generation fall in love with something as old-fashioned and out of date as a book. Cracking open a cover and being so transported to new worlds that I wasn't aware of turning pages was one of my greatest pleasures growing up.
And while some of the Potter fans may never develop a lifelong love of reading, I'm so glad they had that experience at least once.
Picking up where we left off
When last we saw our hero, it was at Professor Dumbledore's funeral, vowing to go on a quest to find and destroy the remaining sources of Voldemort's immortality, seven objects in which he had deposited pieces of his soul. (Ron and Hermione were vowing to go right along with him, of course.)
There were so many plot threads dangling, you easily could have weaved a magic carpet. Happily, in 759 pages, Rowling manages to answer the most nagging questions (is Professor Snape really evil?), and provide at least a moment in the spotlight for most of the players in her vast cast.
Finales are a tricky business, and the higher the expectations, the tougher it can be to stick the landing. Happily, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" is less frustrating than "The Sopranos" and far more satisfying than "The End" of "A Series of Unfortunate Events," to cite two recent high-profile examples.
Harry's quest is made more dangerous – and more imperative – by the fact that, with Dumbledore gone, Voldemort and his Death Eaters have a free hand. Rowling has been clear for years that fighting evil shouldn't be easy and would require sacrifice.
The books really stopped being for younger children sometime around "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," and I can't underscore that point strongly enough with "Deathly Hallows." (Parents, just read the opening chapter: It's chilling.)
As he's matured, the challenges facing Harry have grown correspondingly more terrible. This time he's facing all-out war. The body count hits the double digits (including two of my favorite characters) and the Cruciatus curse is in heavy rotation.
In addition to their search for Voldemort's horcruxes, Harry, Ron, and Hermione find clues that may help in the battle in fairy tales and from a distinctly nonmagical source: the New Testament.
It's the first time that I remember Rowling quoting directly from the Bible, but it's apt, since the central theme of her series can best be summed up by a verse in John: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
That's been true since Book 1, when Harry's mother, Lily, sacrificed her life to save her baby son, thereby giving him a powerful protection against the ultimate embodiment of evil. But Book 7 underlines this several times at various stages in the novel and then adds an exclamation point.
Rowling's worldview has always seemed in tune with the moral outlook of British writers such as Charles Dickens and J.R.R. Tolkien, and the finale confirms her place in that tradition.
Of course, Book 7 is also ready for its Hollywood close-up – with set pieces so cinematic, you almost don't need a camera. For folks craving action, there's plenty of it, and for fans hankering after closure, you'll get that, too.
That's not to say there aren't a few hiccups, such as a falling-out Harry has with one friend that feels manufactured. Romantic moments still aren't Rowling's strong suit and some exposition-heavy passages loom like boulders. More important, I feel as if she gives too short shrift to Severus Snape, the series' most intriguing character. But there's nothing as egregious as in Book 5, when she altered her characterization of Harry's godfather, Sirius Black, in order to kill him off. (Frankly, I'm still a little peeved about that.)
The magic of imagination
Harry and Rowling rally their troops so successfully, it's almost painful to be stuck on the sidelines. As always, Rowling's greatest strength is the ability to whisk readers away to a fully imagined world. As Dumbledore once told the boy wizard, "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"
For one last time, fans will be longing to grab a wand, hop on their broom, and join the fray.
• Yvonne Zipp regularly reviews fiction for the Monitor.