Thursday, 29 October 2009

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the last in the Harry Potter series, describing Harry's quest to seek the Horcruxes and his growing realisation that he and he alone has the means to defeat Voldemort. Harry begins to worry that trusting Dumbledore was a mistake, and loses heart in what he has to do. Everything leads to the Final Battle that takes place - where else? - at Hogwarts.

So here we are - the climax of the Harry Potter series. The book to beat all books. The one that people anticipated and queued for and devoured as soon as it became available. This one was supposed to tie up the loose ends and show us how the fight against Voldemort ended. It was known to be darker and bleaker than the others, and Rowling let slip on the run-up to the release that not all of our favourite characters would make it through.

Did this book achieve, in my mind, everything that I expected? Well, sort of. Of course, it was exciting and exhilarating and scary and full of compassion for these characters that so many of us followed eagerly. However, reading parts of the book I was... bored! This was something I certainly did not expect!

We start with an explosive escape for Harry from the Dursley's house - there is a distinctly odd and very touching scene between Harry and Dudley as they say goodbye for the final time. There is a massive sense of danger and Voldemort is really closing his grip around the wizarding community - with the death of a couple of characters, we (the reader) learn that no-one is sacred in this final book, and that really heightens the gloomy atmosphere.

However, there is then a few chapters which are a little dull concerning the wedding of Fleur and Bill. I can understand that Rowling is setting up a few things here, such as the sign of the Hallows, but it meanders somewhat. From here we have another escape scene that sends the pulse racing, but once Harry, Hermione and Ron are ensconced in Number 12, Grimmauld Place there is another period of slower time. During this I did love the way that Kreacher is redeemed - and certainly Hermione gets her opportunity to say I told you so.

The book continues in this vein all the way through - I found the pacing decidedly off. There were moments of pulse-pounding terror and huge excitement (such as the escape from the Death Eaters in the Malfoy mansion; the robbery of Gringotts; and, of course, the final battle) but these were small moments in a tapestry that included the Camping Trip of Doom (tm); planning in minutiae the trip to Gringotts; and many other quiet moments that seemed put in for no apparent reason. By this time, of course, the books had started being filmed for the big screen and I half-wonder whether Rowling wrote some of the Deathly Hallows with an eye for the film that would be made from this novel.

By far my biggest complaint about this novel is the rapid switch in concentration from the Horcruxes to the Hallows. I can see that Rowling wanted a comparison between dark and light, and the Horcrux idea did run out of steam a little, but the Hallows idea came straight out of left field. There has been not a hint or a tip that these would be important - they have never been so much as mentioned in the previous six books. Even the kid's tale that the Hallows are introduced in has not been used before this! And, with their introduction, Rowling suddenly has an awful lot to do and tell in the space remaining to her (which is why I object so vociferously to the period Harry and Hermione spent camping and trying to work out where they were supposed to go next - this was essential space that could have been used to flesh out the plot a little better and make it run more smoothly).

I also HATED the way that Dumbledore's back story was filled in during this novel, and how clumsily Rowling tried to bring in an element of doubt against the wonderfully strong character that has been the mainstay of the series. If we had seen this Dumbledore in prior books, then maybe there would not have been as much heartbreak evident at the end of the sixth book! Sure, Harry needs to feel conflicted about his quest and whether he would succeed, but does Dumbledore have to become so different?

My final issue is a more personal complaint - oh, how I missed Hogwarts and the characters we had come to know so well over six books! I believe there is a huge amount of mileage in Rowling writing the story of Hogwarts during that seventh year whilst Harry et al were elsewhere - I would love to have seen more of Snape in the role of headmaster, and the rise to power of the Carrows, and the way that Neville really came into his own and led Dumbledore's Army in revolt. I think this would make an amazing book and really fill in the gaps that were, of necessity, in the Deathly Hallows.

Obviously, there are moments of pure brilliance where Rowling really succeeds in writing a fitting finale to the series. The best of these by far is the chapter where Harry finally learns the truth about Snape. This is my favourite extract of the entire series:

" 'But this is touching, Severus,' said Dumbledore seriously. 'Have you grown to care for the boy, after all?'

'For him?' shouted Snape. 'Expecto patronum!'

From the tip of his wand burst the silver doe: she landed on the office floor, bounded once across the office and soared out of the window. Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears.

'After all this time?'

'Always,' said Snape."

I was moved to tears when I learnt the true motivation behind Snape's behaviour towards others in the books.

Of course, the last few chapters where Harry faces Voldemort are excellent and fulfilling (although Rowling keeps in the big reveal between Harry and Dumbledore for one final book!) I also liked the contentious Epilogue of the Deathly Hallows as well, although I know a number of people who refuse to accept that it even exists.

Altogether and overall, my review of this book can be summed up in three words: a little disappointing. I was expecting fireworks and got a damp Squib (geddit?) However, this doesn't change my opinion of the series as a whole, and my opinion is thus: I have just finished reading a modern classic; a series that deserves read after read, and should be handed down to our children in the same manner as C S Lewis' Narnia books have done. They are no less than brilliant.

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