Saturday, July 28, 2007

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathy Hallows by J.K. Rowling

I actually finished the final chapter of Harry Potter on Monday, but hestitated to post a review immediately. My feelings on the book that afternoon were not the same as my feelings that night, or the next morning. It was a big, bold, busy story that demanded some reflection.

[spoiler alert - you've been warned]

Overall, this was the most mature of all the Harry Potter novels. Rowling has clearly taken advantage of his aging fanbase to raise the level of drama in her writing. While Harry himself may not be dead, the story saw the death of nearly a dozen recurring characters - and I think that's where most of my issues with the book lie.

With a few notable exceptions, all the deaths happen off-stage. We don't get to share their final moments. We simply hear from other characters that so-and-so died, or from the narrator that somebody else did not survive. Sure, it adds some instant shock value, but robs us of a valuable experience. There's no suspense, no tense moments of anticipation as we wonder whether the character will survive the scene.

The notable exceptions? Even they were a mixed bag. The early death of Hedwig, I felt, was very poorly handled. She simply falls to her death, trapped in her cage, and that's the end of it. Beyond a few early questions from the Weasley's, nobody even remarks upon the fact that Hedwig is gone. I fully expected her to reappear later in the book but, alas, it was not to be.

In contrast, the sacrifice of Dobby the house elf is handled beautifully. His timely appearance in Malfoy Manner is a welcome surprise, as is his last-minute rescue of Harry from Bellatrix. His death comes as a shock, and the depth of Harry's grief represents one of the high points of the book.

The final notable exception is the death of Fred. As the scene develops, you know a Weasley is going to die. The simple fact that the entire family has been reuinited suggests that something momentous is in the works. The suspense could have been dragged out a bit more, but the final image is powerful - all those mops of red hair surrounding the fallen family member. There is an instant of anxiety as you wonder who it might be, but the answer comes far too quickly.

Now, that's not to say I didn't like the book. On the contrary, I thought it was a fitting addition to the Harry Potter saga, and an (almost) fitting conclusion to the story. There were definitely some exciting moments to remember:

- the wild broomstick escape from Privet drive, with Death Eaters and heroes swapping spells around a handful of Harry Potters

- the goblin assisted break-in and dragon assisted escape from Gringott's

- the epic battle of Hogwarts, complete with giants, spiders, ghosts, and spells

Also, there were some key plot developments that (in hindsight) may have seemed obvious or expected, but were truly wondrous to discover. I'm speaking here of the revelations concerning Dumbledore's childhood, and those concerning Snape's love for Harry's mother.

As for the end of the book, I would have been much happier, much more content to have stopped with the scene in Dumbledore's office. That wrapped everything up nicely, and provided some much-needed closure. The whole "19 years later" trick, with the new generation of Potters and Weasleys just seemed tacked on -- an attempt to set up the potential for another series later on.

Overall, it was not the best of the seven books. The story lacked some of the humour and wonder that made the earlier volumes worth reading again and again, but that was to be expected, given the seriousness of the situation. Having said that, I think Rowling did a masterful job of wrapping up all the key plot points, of providing closure on our favourite characters, and of ending the threat of Voldemort. I was truly afraid she'd opt for the Disneyfied ending, with Harry redeeming Voldemort, and everybody living happily ever after. Kudos to Rowling for making the hard choices.

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