In case it wasn’t obvious from the title of this post, I’ll be spilling the beans here, in toto, so if you haven’t read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows yet and don’t want anything spoiled — then bail out now!For those on the edge of their seats to read my thoughts on the final installment in the Harry Potter heptology (yes, I stole that from Jon Stewart — and no, I don’t think it’s a real word :), I apologize for the delay in the promised post(s). Of course, I may be flattering myself to think there’s anybody out there at all, but just in case there is, I’m going to take a crack at putting down some reactions. I’ve been jotting down notes for the last week, and so let’s see if I can make sense of any of them ...
There’s so much to say, really, that I’ve decided to start by offering a rebuttal to some of the criticisms I’ve been reading since the book came out. Rowling herself was well aware that she couldn’t possibly please everybody with her last Harry Potter novel — that it was the last was already a strike against her! — but I have still been rather surprised at the number of mixed, or even outright negative, reviews. As I’ve perused them, I’ve noticed that the same complaints seem to crop up again and again.
This, that, or the other death was pointless or unnecessary. Hedwig and Colin Creevey are most often given as examples of the “gratuitous” murders rampant in the book, but I’ve also seen the same complaint made of Fred, Lupin, and Tonks. And even some of the other characters, like Mad-Eye Moody. I have a couple of responses to this complaint. First, I’m not sure these deaths are pointless or unnecessary. But second, and more importantly, if they are, well, isn’t that the point? Isn’t that war? By definition, death is part of all life-and-death struggles, and very often, the innocent die ... often unexpectedly, without fanfare, and even without “taking the bad guy with them.” Such murders may even underscore the wanton evil that is Voldemort better than so-called “meaningful” deaths, I think.
Speaking of deaths, Snape’s was lame, and he didn’t get to do enough in the book. Again, I disagree with this gripe. Snape’s death was another of those moments of lurid violence that only Voldemort is capable of, and the suddenness of it emphasizes Snape’s sacrifice all the more. Some readers have been grousing that Snape “ought to have had something more important to do.” Well, he may well have — it seems that Dumbledore expected Snape to be the inheritor of the Elder Wand, with which he would presumably have “had a job to do” in facilitating Voldermort’s downfall — but the unexpectedness of his demise makes it all the more tragic. And another related complaint I’ve read is that Snape’s portrait ought to have appeared in the headmaster’s office at Hogwarts. I even thought the same thing when I read the book. Well, in an online chat with J.K. Rowling that I participated in yesterday morning, she answered this question, saying “[i]t was deliberate. Snape had effectively abandoned his post before dying, so he had not merited inclusion in these august circles. However, I like to think that Harry would be instrumental in ensuring that Snape’s portrait would appear there in due course.” That’s good enough for me.
Speaking of Snape, what was with his being in love with Lily? And it was lame that we learned about this through a long series of memories viewed in the pensieve. It wasn’t lame at all. I liked that method of revelation because Snape was gone. It was done, all in the past, fait accompli. There could be no debating, no discussion, no questions, no recriminations. It was just revealed, purely on Snape’s terms. And I especially liked seeing a snippet, once again, of “Snape’s Worst Memory,” which we now learn was not the humiliation he felt at James and Sirius’s mistreatment of him; his worst memory was calling Lily a Mudblood and driving a permanent and irrevocable wedge between them. I found his feelings for Lily completely unexpected (though I understand many readers saw this coming), and I loved that choice. It was touching that the silver doe was Snape’s patronus, because it had been Lily’s. Snape’s feelings of love for Lily and guilt over her death were indeed sufficient cause for Dumbledore’s never-wavering trust. And that Snape wanted to leave his life with his eyes on Lily’s (in the face of her son, Harry) is a testament to his enduring love and loyalty to her memory.
Why did we need yet another magical object, in the form of the Hallows? Weren’t the Horcruxes enough? No, because the Hallows represented temptation for Harry. If he simply had his mission (to destroy the Horcruxes), then the plot might have been one-dimensional indeed. Besides, if you complain “not another magical object,” then you may as well get rid of Sirus’s mirror, the deluminator, the Vanishing Cabinet, and the pensieve, among many other such objects, that have appeared in each book. Pretty much every one of the seven introduces some new magical object, often more than one. But returning to the Hallows, hasn’t Dumbledore always said that it’s an individual’s choices, more than any particular abilities, characteristics, or birthright, that determine whether he is good or evil? And that the ultimate character-defining dilemma comes down to doing what is right or doing what is easy. Harry needed the Hallows to offer him something “easy”, a temptation not unlike Satan’s temptation of Jesus for forty days in the wilderness. And speaking of those forty days, ...
What was up with the boring, plodding, dragging mess in the middle? I didn’t think it was a mess, myself, though I will allow that it certainly did slow down the pace of the book. But wasn’t this just the calm before the storm of the Battle of Hogwarts, which more than made up for it in excitement? I think this was an important period in the narrative because it gave Harry the chance to catch his breath and really think about his next move, as opposed to merely reacting to events outside his control. It introduced the Hallows and offered Harry a temptation, one that Voldemort would certainly have taken in Harry’s place. The fact that Harry, in the end, turns his back on the promise of the Hallows proves him worthy to destroy (rather than replace) Voldemort. Some readers suggest that the middle “400 or so pages” should have been collapsed down into about 100 or so (just three, maybe four chapters). Frankly, I think that’s much too severe. We had to have time to see how the Locket horcrux was eroding Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s resolve; we had to have time for Ron to leave, to learn about the Snatchers and the deluminator, and to return — just in time to be instrumental in the destruction of the Locket; and we had to have time to take a deep breath before plunging back into the action. I found the “pause” in the middle to be pretty effective, overall, and I don’t think I’d presume to suggest any changes. At least, not on the strength of my one reading.
And finally, the Epilogue sucked! It was twee, treacly, superficial, and we didn’t even learn nearly enough about what everybody is doing now. I liked the Epilogue, and I don’t consider myself overly susceptible to emotional manipulation either. The focus is on the core group, which I think is appropriate. It’s on family, which bookends the lack of a strong, loving family with which the series opens. It’s on unity and reunion, and it’s on the return to Hogwarts. Some readers wanted to know all about Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s jobs. But while we can all be curious (and Rowling has since answered all these questions and many more), it’s not important to the end of this novel. Harry, who’s always been so uncomfortable with his fame, is now a father, husband, and all around “normal” guy. Some readers complained that Luna should have been mentioned in the epilogue, as well as George, and any number of other characters. I don’t think that was necessary, myself. After all, this isn’t the coda to the movie Stripes, where you see a cheesy snapshot of each and every character with a goofy curriculum vitae of the rest of their lives. Personally, I felt that the balance between what was made clear and what was left unsaid was just right. Moreover, Harry’s praise of Snape (whose name, Severus, he gave to his second son) brought a heart-swelling and very satisfying closure to his combative relationship with the man. That revelation made even me cry — which is not an easy thing to do!
So, your turn! Anything you really didn’t like? Anything you’ve heard others complain about that you want to rebut? Agree or disagree with me on any of the points I’ve made here? Bring on the comments!