David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”

Before I start, yes, there will be spoilers here. Don’t read on unless you’ve either finished, aren’t planning to read the book, or are a reasonable human being who understands that plot is only one element to a novel, and not the most important one either.

***

So the Harry Potter series is over, and I was pretty much right. (Read my entry What Will Happen in the Final Harry Potter?)

'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' coverI predicted that Harry, Ron, and Hermione would all live to the end of the series, though J.K. would keep us in suspense until the last minute. Bing! I predicted that Snape would reveal that he had killed Dumbledore and turned Death Eater on Dumbledore’s orders. Bing! I predicted that Harry would triumph over Voldemort at the expense of lots of secondary characters. Bing! I predicted that Harry would find some way to contact Sirius Black again from beyond the grave. Well, no bing! there, but I’d suggest that I deserve a partial bing! since Harry does manage to contact another dead mentor (Dumbledore) from beyond the grave.

Of course, you can chalk this up less to my amazing powers of prognostication than to the fact that J.K. Rowling made a lot of this fairly obvious. I think many of us knew that Dumbledore was going to die from the second or third book in. I mean, didn’t Obi-Wan Kenobi die on Luke Skywalker? Didn’t Gandalf die on Frodo? That’s simply the way these stories go: Our Hero receives instruction from a Wise Mentor, who later dies and leaves the hero to confront the Big Bad Villain alone.

I’ve heard a lot of people complain that the Harry Potter novels are “too derivative.” To which I say, Yes! J.K. Rowling is derivative! And that’s the entire point. One of the things that makes these books so terrific is the fact that the author is very consciously following traditional patterns. She’s taken something old and familiar, dusted it off, and made it seem fresh and new again. It’s harder to do than you think.

So how does Deathly Hallows rank? How good was the book? I’d say Deathly Hallows is the third best in the series, behind Order of the Phoenix and Prisoner of Azkaban.

I admit I was very worried about this book. L. Frank Baum got lazy a few books in to his Oz series and wrote a real stinker called The Road to Oz, which basically consists of Dorothy meeting up with all her pals and going to the Emerald City for a big party. (Baum even pulls in characters from his other books in a crass effort to draw attention to them and boost lagging sales.) Then in the sixth book, The Emerald City of Oz, Baum tried to wrap the whole thing up by making Oz invisible. C.S. Lewis had similar issues drawing Narnia to a close in The Last Battle. I dreaded the prospect of Deathly Hallows becoming a Road to Oz-type wrap-up with endless cameos by secondary characters.

So imagine my surprise that Rowling didn’t fall into this trap at all. There’s very little of that last-time-around nostalgia kick going on in Deathly Hallows. No last ride on the Hogwarts Express, no last trip to Hagrid’s shack, no last game of Quidditch. Hell, they don’t even make it to Hogwarts until the last hundred pages or so. About three-quarters of the book is focused exclusively on Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and there are quite a number of new characters here to sink your teeth into. Characters like Dobby, Neville, and Hagrid (the last of whom seemed in danger of staging a Fonzie-like takeover of the series two or three books in) only show up for short bits here and there.

That’s not to say that the book is perfect. Rowling does still indulge a number of her less-than-admirable habits in this book too. She makes too much of the plot revolve around obscure details and marginalia from several books back that we can’t be expected to keep track of. Remember how frustrating it was when Sherlock Holmes would bend to the ground at the scene of a crime, take notice of something that our narrator Watson couldn’t see, and then produce this insignificant thing at the conclusion as the final damning piece of evidence against the villain? Rowling’s got that affliction too.

Ralph Fiennes as Lord VoldemortWhy didn’t Harry die when Voldemort cast the Avada Kedavra curse on him at the end? Why did the spell rebound on the Evil Dude? There were a couple of long convoluted explanations about switched wands that I couldn’t really follow, nor did I think it really mattered that much. Ditto with the overly complicated back story for Albus Dumbledore. What mattered was that Voldy’s selfishness, arrogance, and shortsightedness did him in in the end, and Alby’s faith, patience, and trust in Harry won the day.

(And has anybody else noticed Rowling’s little joke here, that “Avada Kedavra” sounds a heck of a lot like “abracadabra”? Well, maybe it’s not so much of a joke, as Wikipedia explains.)

The other questionable tactic Rowling uses is her excessive killing off of characters. About a dozen characters bite it in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but it almost seems like the author chose them at random by writing their names on note cards and tossing them up in the air. I mean, really, Tonks? Crabbe? Anybody wonder what logic there was in some of these choices? (And anybody else find it peculiar that Mad-Eye Moody’s body was never found?)

So now that we’ve seen the whole Harry Potter saga from start to (presumed) finish, what can we say about it? Will the Harry Potter novels endure?

I say yes, but not necessarily because of the clever plotting and suspense. The primary virtue of these books is that they provide such an incredibly convincing portrait of a boy’s coming of age. So many other authors who write about children either gloss over the turmoiled adolescence or yank their characters from childhood to adulthood in one fell swoop. Harry starts the series as a cute kid who discovers a magical world, and undergoes a very gradual transformation through the seven books to a responsible adult. It’s an impressive achievement, made all the more impressive by the fact that Rowling is a woman. (Although once future generations finally shake off this irritating Puritanical streak that runs through our culture, people will start to wonder why Harry is the only teenaged boy in history to grow up without a sex drive.)

So if you’re one of those people feeling incredibly sad that Harry’s adventures are over, don’t worry — I’m sure J.K. Rowling will return to Hogwarts at some point. Even though we know what happens to Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny nineteen years down the line, there’s still plenty left to show. I’m betting that the lure of the four hundred zillion dollars the publishers throw at her will prove irresistible.

I’m betting on a collection of Potter-related short stories sometime in the middle of the next decade, and/or one or two novelties like Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them done for charitable purposes.

***

A side note: Perhaps I missed this in earlier books — but did anyone else notice that the death date on James and Lily Potter’s graves was 1981? Which would make the present day of Deathly Hallows 1997-98, not 2007-08. Rowling eschews the use of topical references and specific dates through most of the series, and this is the first time I noticed when the series was supposed to take place. It’s an insignificant thing, really, but I’m curious if there’s any reasoning behind it. Remember how in Superman Returns, if you looked at the dates closely, the Man of Steel turned out to have gone off on his little five-year hiatus right before 9/11?

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  1. Ellen on July 26, 2007 at 10:23 am  Chain link

    Rowling eschews the use of topical references and specific dates through most of the series, and this is the first time I noticed when the series was supposed to take place.

    The Lexicon has a fairly good timeline, which I think was originally based on Nearly Headless Nick’s death party (his 500th, and he was supposed to have been killed in 1492). However, there are apparently a lot of contradictions even within that timeline; days of the week don’t match up with dates exactly. My guess is that the first book took place in the “then” of the writing (didn’t she start around 1990?) and she stuck with that even when some books took longer to write.

    (And anybody else find it peculiar that Mad-Eye Moody’s body was never found?)

    Yes. I was sure he’d turn up alive later on.

  2. John League on July 26, 2007 at 8:07 pm  Chain link

    Anybody wonder what logic there was in some of these choices?

    You mean like offing Hedwig? Killing Lupin and Tonks offstage? Greyback not devouring Hermione at the first opportunity?

    I really liked this book, but as you say, it was not without disappointments.

  3. David Louis Edelman on July 26, 2007 at 8:20 pm  Chain link

    I have to say… I didn’t much care when Tonks and Lupin bought it, and Dobby’s death seemed to come out of nowhere. But Hedwig’s death really got me.

    The other thing that made me choke up a little (in a good way) was Kreacher leading the house-elfs into battle at the end. Don’t know why.

  4. Greg on July 26, 2007 at 9:01 pm  Chain link

    Maybe Lupin and Tonks were both killed off by Rowling in order to create yet another orphan for a later series of books 😉

  5. […] together is making sure the story doesn’t unravel at the end like a Michael Crichton book. As David Edelman notes that Rowling managed to avoid many of the pitfalls he’s seen in other fantasy series’ […]

  6. Wayne Basta on July 29, 2007 at 11:04 am  Chain link

    I really enjoyed it. I thought it was a fitting end to the series, though the epilogue left a lot to be desired.

    One of the appeals of the books was the complicated backstory. To me, its a hallmark of a well organized series when an interesting, though at the time, insignificant detail from one book turns out to be an important part of the story. It ties all the stories together into one story.

    Ditto with the overly complicated back story for Albus Dumbledore.

    I actually felt that this was very important to the story. As this book was Harry’s final transition into adulthood it was important for him to question his mentor. One of the major aspects of growing up is realizing that the world isn’t black or white, good or bad. With the back story of Dumbledore we were able to see Harry start to realize that Dumbledore wasn’t a saint. At first he thought this was incredibly important and that if Dumbledore wasn’t perfect maybe he shouldn’t follow his advice.

    But as the book went on Harry made the transition from childlike, “He did bad things he must be bad” to the adult, “He did bad things, but he also did good things.” Harry reached that point where he could accept that Dumbledore was human, not perfect, but not pure evil. He learned to judge based on actions AND intent, not just one or the other.

    To me it reminded me of when I first started really digging into history. I learned all this bad stuff about historical figures. At first I was disillusioned. But as I learned more and grew up some, I realized that they weren’t the heroes we had been taught they were, but nor were the monsters. They were people. They did some questionable things but also did some really good things. They don’t need to be idolized but nor do they deserve to be villianized.

    The other questionable tactic Rowling uses is her excessive killing off of characters.

    I thought that this was important…up until a point. Killing Hedwig and Mad-Eye right at the beginning set the tone for the book, No One is Safe! Anything Could Happen! That feeling started to abate when no one else died for awhile but the torturing of Hermione and killing of Dobby I think reignited it.

    As for the deaths of Lupin, Tonks, Fred, Crabbe….I dunno. In away they were kind of routine, lacked emotion. But at the same time were necessary. This was suppose to be a major battle. The idea that everyone would come through unscathed is just silly. I really don’t know how you could do it where the deaths had more meaning without shifting the focus of the story to be on that person at each death.

  7. Bellatrix Lestrange on December 5, 2007 at 10:19 pm  Chain link

    I love it!!!! though there so many character died like Moody, Hedwig, Fred, Lupin, Tonks,Dobby, and a lot more especially Voldemort….
    I felt sad because it’s already finish…the last book was finish….I want to say to Ms.J.K.Rowling that she should not stop writing stories because she’s really,really,really good….

  8. Hector Manriquez on June 23, 2009 at 12:46 pm  Chain link

    Well, I really enjoyed reading what you had to say on this book, which is my top favorite of the series.
    I felt you were truly objective and, to some point, wise. I read your predictions and I have to say, I wasn’t really that amazed with them (most hardcore Harry Potter fans had a lot of those predictions); what really amazed me was how you got to those predictions: not by fully understanding the whole plot, but by understanding the AUTHOR and the way she toys with her own story and what she has extracted from external sources, like classic stories and folklore.

    You know, I also felt that some deaths were very random at first, but I think that’s only because Deathly Hallows is a bit fast-paced (especially compared with Order of the Phoenix). Again, most hardcore Potter-fans would help understanding the deaths here, if only there was one close by… oh wait, there is! Yours truly =). If you will, I’d like to revise some of the deaths that took place in Deathly Hallows and I would be very very flattered if some readers would give me their feedback.

    Tonks and Lupin
    A huge and obvious clue of Lupin’s death was given since the Marauder’s Map appeared on the series. Messrs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs. Many Potter-fans guessed (correctly) that JKR was giving us the death order in this introduction. This theory was strengthened enormously with Sirius’s death, and later on with Pettigrew’s. The moment Pettigrew died, it became obvious that Lupin would snuff it too, and he did. I found the whole map names-death order relationship very clever. It was yelling us who was going to die, right from book 3.
    Tonks was some sort of rebel Auror who Bellatrix wanted to kill so badly, it would have been a disappointment (even for fans) if she (Bellatrix) hadn’t managed to (kill her).
    And of course, as Greg says, it was a way to create another orphan because of Voldemort’s war, just like Harry. With the exception that, unlike Harry, Teddy would have lots of people around him who would love him, including his godfather.

    Moody’s body
    I felt desperately hopeful that Moody would reappear in the end; you know, the tough figure, indestructible and rising again when everybody thought was dead. This hope, of course, was derived from the very fact that they never found his body. I kept telling myself “the eye doesn’t mean anything, he could have dropped it anytime, he’s still alive”. But no.
    I think the message JKR tried to send with his body not ever being found is that, war and terrorism are just like that. There are times when you’ll hear horrible things, times when you will witness them, and times when you simply won’t know. His body was lost, nobody ever knew of him. That happens in real life, the tragic and sad Air France plane crash that recently took place demonstrates it. Some bodies you will find, some… you won’t.

    Crabbe
    Well of course Malfoy wasn’t going to die, he was going to worm his way out of trouble again, just like his father did the first time Voldemort fell. But his minions weren’t going to come out unharmed. It would have been more… let’s toss some cliche words here like “tragic” and “poetic” if both Crabbe and Goyle had died. Draco Malfoy would have been left truly alone and friendless and serve him right, and he would have been more devastated still; he probably would grow up to be an entirely decent person, quite unlike his father. Now THAT would have been unacceptable for us readers, Malfoy had to keep some nastiness in him. So she only kills one (I think the effect would have been exactly the same if she had killed Goyle). It’s a death and Malfoy really feels it, but he still has Goyle, he’s not all alone, so he keeps some of his horrible self (as proved when he yells at the death eaters that he’s “one of them”).

    Fred Weasley
    This one really got me, because I didn’t expect any of the twins to die. But I think that it was the most… viable solution.
    You see, obviously not every Weasley was going to survive (Mrs. Weasley’s fears were founded). But Mr. Weasley couldn’t die, he had already been given a reprieve in book 5; Mrs. Weasley, I don’t know why, but I just never saw her dying… and I was right, though I have not a firm reason to back this hunch. Bill had just married and he, like Mr. Weasley, had already suffered his own aftermath (Some would say that this would also apply for Moody and he needn’t had died, but Moody’s scars, eye and leg were aftermaths from the first war, so… anyway, highly debatable, as everything in the Potter world). Ginny wouldn’t die, as stated in your article. Neither would Ron (again, your article makes the reasons clear). Percy, the repented son is too much of a poetic example to waste (parable of the prodigal son), so he wouldn’t die; besides, he gets furious with Fred’s death, so he also becomes an avenger. So who’s left? The twins. I don’t know if George’s death would have had the same effect (I think it would, but JKR explained something about Fred being just a tiny bit more reckless… besides, (again) George had already suffered some aftermath with his ear.

    Snape
    Oh boy… I’m going to keep this one short, because my comment is already too long… and I think I’d need at least three pages to say everything I have to say about Snape.
    “Poor Severus”, as Dumbledore said. I think, for dramatic effects, he had no reason to die (for plot effects, of course he was a goner). I think he could have lived, unlike Hedwig (She had to go because she was the last remainder of Harry’s innocence and childhood), unlike Dobby (he had to go because it was the perfect culmination to his life: a hero’s death, saving his very own hero, Harry Potter), unlike Bathilda Bagshot (the lure for knowledge in Godric’s Hollow). He could have died and still explained everything to Harry. But of course, there was Voldemort’s ignorance… it really was a shocking scene when Nagini killed Snape, not only because seeing a snake kill a man is disturbing enough, but also (as Harry reflects) WHY it happened. I think it was the very last and perfect example of how ruthless and evil Voldemort can be. “Just for a wand. Just because you’re there, standing in the way between me and the perfect mastering of this wand. I don’t care that you have served me so long and so efficiently, I don’t care you destroyed my enemy Dumbledore. This is something I want, so I destroy you.” Pure evil!

    Voldemort
    Well of course she wasn’t going to let Voldemort live (not even like Grindelwald). First of all, that would have left space for an eight book and she didn’t want one. Second of all, it would have been a mess, even worse than the mess humanity already is. He had to die because of symbolism. We see it everywhere. What difference would have Voldemort made if he had no followers? If he was completely alone? She exemplifies, with Voldemort, the power a person can get because other people allow them to. It is a powerful message that is still beyond my understanding, the damage a single person can do because he/she is able to persuade many others.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed your article, of course there is much more to say about it, but I think I’ll stop here… for the sake of sanity, mostly =P
    Greetings!

  9. Hector Manriquez on June 23, 2009 at 12:47 pm  Chain link

    I forgot to add my Facebook =P.
    Just in case XD

    Greetings!

  10. David Louis Edelman on June 23, 2009 at 1:42 pm  Chain link

    Thanks for the detailed commentary, Hector.

  11. Dona on December 8, 2010 at 3:02 pm  Chain link

    I can’t write as well as some of the others but I want to say that I feel vindicated with my feeling all along that Dumbledore was not what he seemed to be. Every book seemed to have a few sentences that made me feel that he wasn’t such a good guy and his reasons for helping Harry weren’t so pure. Everyone I spoke to about this would say I was crazy/wrong. Dumbledore was great.
    I too, believe these books will last because JK is a terrific writer. She writes literature, not just stories. I am a teacher-librarian and every year the books are borrowed by new and old readers, with new copies having to be purchased because books are falling apart, while the number of Twilight readers is gradually diminishing. I wanted to teach an English elective on Harry Potter but was told by the English head that the subject would be too restrictive/narrow. ???????? Good v evil, the Holocaust, books v movies, sound tracks, special effects, debates.
    Anyway, my battery is about to die. Thanks for the article. It and the replies were quite interesting and informative.

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