Potter finale thrills, disappoints
August 29, 2007
This review of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” will contain spoilers. I’m sorry, but that’s how it must be. And honestly, do you really need to read a review of the final installment of what is arguably one of the most popular book series of all time to decide whether or not to read it?
p. There is a lot to enjoy in the last novel. For starters, the use of magic really received the Emeril treatment; Rowling really BAMMED it up a notch. Every page was ripe with quasi-Latin spells flying to and fro. Frankly, this book will make the best movie. The special effects, I can say now, will be spectacular.
p. Humor is also a major part of the book; there were many occasions in which something that could only happen in the Harry Potter universe would send me careening into laughter. The first time this happens is when Harry is escaping Privet Drive; he is separated from Hagrid, and casts a spell, “Accio Hagrid!” (It doesn’t work.) It was ironic because, while waiting for the book to come out, some friends and I were discussing if magic had limits. We decided that there are limitations on the Summoning Charm; for instance, “Accio Norway” wouldn’t work. Summoning a whole country would probably have some drastic consequences. I also laughed when Harry, looking for a Horcrux, asks Professor Flitwick about the history of the Ravenclaw house in the middle of a battle: “A little extra wisdom never goes amiss, Potter, but I hardly think it would be much use in this situation!”
p. Pride is also prevalent throughout the book — there are moments when I wanted to yell out my support before realizing that I was reading a children’s book alone in my room. One of my favorite moments was when a Death Eater spits on Professor McGonagall and Harry tortures him with the Cruciatus Curse in retaliation.
p. The other major point of pride is Luna’s painting of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Ginny and herself, ringed with gold chains formed from the word “friends.” Of course the interesting thing about the painting is that the portraits are inanimate. In the wizarding world where it is commonplace for people in pictures to wave and in paintings to travel from one frame to another, Luna’s art creates a paradox that makes the normal abnormal, and therefore particularly moving and especially poignant.
p. It was inevitable that good people would have to die in the pursuit to destroy evil. Sadly, we never find out who most of those people are. Of the more than fifty mentioned deaths, we know of only Fred Weasley, Lupin, Tonks and Colin Creevey. One of the saddest lines comes after Harry sees Colin has died: “He was tiny in death.” This paltry list of the dead leaves one wondering who else died for Harry. Probably no other major characters, as they would have been mentioned. But what about the volumes of characters mentioned once or twice? Did Romilda Vane or Hannah Abbott kick the bucket? Was Professor Sinistra there to fight? And what happened to Neville’s grandmother?
p. This dissatisfaction extends to the epilogue. We learn very little about the characters, and only a few characters at that. What do Harry, Ron and Hermione do nowadays? Where is Luna? Why on earth would Malfoy propagate the inherent evil in his family by not naming his son something nice like Bob or John, but instead Scorpius?
p. The weightiest problem is that, in what is certainly the greatest epic story of the last several decades, a crucial element that makes a story successful is missing. A story is about a changing character, one who suffers a moral struggle but ultimately ends up making the right choice.
p. For Harry there is no struggle. From the moment he told the Sorting Hat he didn’t want to be in Slytherin until a flash of green light dropped Voldemort like so many Wingardium Leviosa spells gone bad, there was no doubt that Harry would fulfill his destiny and destroy the personification of evil.
p. In fact, it’s difficult to identify with Harry for this very reason; moral struggles make good stories because we ourselves go through moral struggles all the time. It’s also the reason it was shocking that Harry was an accidental horcrux. He literally had a lamprey of evil stuck to his soul — and he was still straight as an arrow?
p. It is equally disturbing to learn of Dumbledore’s troubled past, even after getting the real story from Aberforth. We all envision our heroes and role models as perfect (or as close as one can come), and when we learn that the man who was responsible for leading the fight against evil, the greatest living wizard, had a rather sordid past, it sullies his image in the Pensieve of the reader’s mind.
p. Instead, Snape offers what is one of the most complex characters in literature, at least in contemporary fiction. The complete trust held in Snape by both Voldemort and Dumbledore provided no means of distinction, and, even though he killed Dumbledore, it was unclear whether it was merely Voldemort’s order or if it played into a complex and long-term plan of Dumbledore’s. In a society in which moral relativism is becoming more and more important, Snape is truly the genuine hero of the series.
p. I was struck at a release party I attended for the seventh book by some of the young children, dressed up in robes, waving wands, downing Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans; at 10 years, the Harry Potter series was older than many of its most intense fans. I felt sad for those too young to read, and for future generations; they may never know the immense anxiety associated with waiting for the next book that so many have known. After all, without Harry Potter, we’d all still be ignorant Muggles.