Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I finished the final Harry Potter book a couple weeks ago. I figure I’ll add my insignificant review to the Internet. I will probably say things that other people have said, and a few things that no one has said. The short summary is that I like it, but I feel like I’ve lost a good friend. The knowledge that there won’t be any more makes it a bittersweet parting.Not quite her largest in the series, the

Deathly Hallows weighs in pretty hefty at 759 pages. That’s about 150 pages more than the British version of the book. Apparently they have better eyes than we do and are willing to pay for the book even though it isn’t huge. Remember: in America everything is bigger and bigger is better.

SPOILER ALERT

I will freely discuss anything and everything from the book from this point on. It may contain spoilers. Don't read farther if you don't want to know how things end.

Good:

I really love the character development. The kids are really coming into their own. Ron’s not just a prat and a foil for Harry. He’s been gradually stepping out of Harry’s shadow over the last couple books, and this one really does him credit. Hermione is amazing. She’s no longer a know-it-all annoying kid, but instead she puts her knowledge to work. She’s not putting it out in everyone’s face. She’s learned some humility. I love her character. Harry really turns out to have wisdom and intuition which is just awesome.

Bad:

The whole middle of the book really dragged for me. A few important plot points were established: Ron leaving, the whole story about the Deathly Hallows, retrieving the locket, etc. They just took so long to get there. A friend of mine said he thought it was to emphasize time passing so that certain things could happen in the book: Tonks having her baby, etc. There’s a difference between time passing in the story and pages passing in the book. I think time could have passed differently.

Disappointing:

I don’t care for the ending very much. One of the problems that many books like this face is the “You just saved the world. Now what?” problem. If you just saved the world, you don’t get to go back to normal the next day. There’s serious adjustments and life-altering decisions to be made. Life has been turned upside down and inside out—not only for the main characters, but for the whole wizarding world. You don’t just show up for work on the following monday and say “I read in the Prophet that you-know-who is dead. That’s nice, isn’t it?” Nor do you say to your business partner “I guess we need to take out want ads since half our staff was killed and the other half carted off to Azkaban.” Life is so NOT as we knew it. The ending of the book is just too short and too glib on this point. I crave a good, happy ending as much as the next reader, but this was just too disconnected. A lot of interesting life decisions got made in the weeks, months, and years immediately following The Dark Lord’s Return (or whatever the wizarding world would have called it, for it would certainly have earned a name as a historical event). It’s all glossed over, and everything’s happy.

You know who got this “you saved the world, now what?” thing right? Tolkien. When you read the end of The Return of the King, there’s like 150 pages of stuff that happens after the ring is destroyed. It was a real problem for the film makers, because it just doesn’t fit our concept of a feature film, but I found it tremendously satisfying to watch all the ends tied up and to learn how people came back from fighting a world-altering war and try to make their lives normal again.

Outstanding:

There were a few choice events that were just outstanding. Dobby’s death was handled superbly. I really felt for Harry and for all of the characters who liked Dobby and who mourned his loss. Goblins and their relations with wizards were fascinating. I thought she really created a vivid and unique interaction there.

“I’m Basil Exposition”

If you watch any of the Austin Powers movies, you’ll know there’s a character whose name is Basil Exposition. His whole purpose in the movie is to fill the role of narrator. His name mocks the various spy movie characters that have had to do the same thing: deliver long monologues whose whole purpose is to fill the view in on details that won’t be shown on screen. (“Dr. Evil has built an underground lair in a hollowed out volcano”“). So what does Austin Powers have to do with Harry Potter? Well, Rowling left herself a lot of loose ends to tie up in the final book, and the only way to tie them up was to do long expository dialog in places. You can spot the exposition coming in situations like p. 406 when Hermione asks “But what are the Deathly Hallows?” For the next 10 pages, Xeno Lovegood goes into excruciating detail and very helpfully explains the Deathly Hallows to the kids. Remember: he’s just sold them up the river when he starts the explanation. He’s only buying time to keep them occupied. Yet he goes to great lengths to put them carefully on the right track. It makes little sense. You can chalk it up to his being eccentric, silly, or actually diabolical (consciously putting on friendliness so as not to spook them), but none of those explanations is really satisfying to me.

The whole Exposition thing happens again with Snape’s death and his memories. It’s vital that we understand some of what happened to Harry’s parents’ generation, but it becomes pretty much exposition. I wonder if there was a way to learn those things without it being so blunt.

This isn’t for my kids

You pretty much have ought to be Harry’s age to read the books about him. A 10 or 11 year old can read book 1, a 12-year-old can read book 2 and so on. Although young kids can read the books, I’m not sure they should read the later ones. I say this because the books get really, really dark as the series progresses. Book 7 opens with torture and death in the first scene, and characters that you’ve grown to know and love start dropping like flies. By the end of the book you’re seeing really important secondary characters dying, and it’s just too much to imagine a 12- or 13-year-old reading something this dark I worry about how young kids might be affected by reading something so dark. My kids are a long way from being old enough to read any of them, so perhaps my opinion will change with time. When I understand what my 10- or 11-year-old is capable of understanding, maybe I’ll see it differently. But my intuition says ‘eek! this is dark, evil stuff we’re talking about here, and I’m not sure a young kid can handle it.” That makes it tough to introduce a kid to book 1, which is such great fun and accessible and essentially happy. If I do, then I have to get into a really difficult and tricky process of determining when the kids are ready for the next book, even though they’ll be sure they’re ready immediately after finishing the first.

Alas, it’s over

So I know she’s said there will be no more HP. That’s fine. End a good thing while it’s still a good thing. I just wish there was one more half a book called **Harry Potter and the Stuff that Happened Next.

I feel pretty unsatisfied at how it all got pulled together really quickly.

[Revisions]

You’ll notice that there is some text with a line through it above, and some italicized text near it. I got a bunch of good comments from young readers. There’s a lesson to be learned here about writing what you mean and being clear. I changed my original review to make it clearer about what I meant. I left the original words, though, so you could see how it changed and why people were saying what they said.

Originally, I used the term “can” (which really implies being able) when I meant “should” (which implies a value judgment on doing something). Several readers wrote to remind me that they were perfectly capable of reading the book. Of course. My real point is that, although they can, I’m not sure they should. There are lots of things that one can read, but perhaps one should not read until one has reached a certain level of emotional maturity. Now, I bet the same people who wrote to tell me that they were capable of reading it at a young age would also assert that they were mature enough to handle the material. That’s fine. I can appreciate the disagreement. I don’t think I have the skills to persuade a 12-year-old that he or she shouldn’t read it. When I was 12 and was sure of something, I was pretty hard to persuade. Heck, I’m not even sure I’m right. (Notice that I point out that I’m not yet a parent of a 12-year-old, so I really don’t have a good idea what a 12-year-old can handle emotionally).

So I write this amendment to the review as a tip of the hat to my readers. I hear you and I’m glad you’re reading.