Sea of Noise

Mon, 30 Jul 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Now that I've had a chance to recover from an intensive re-reading of the series and a marathon reading of the final book, it's time to write down a few thoughts while the details are fresh in my mind. I have the feeling I'll be thinking about this series for a long time, though...

Here's a spoiler-free review (save for the broad outline). (If you like it, please give me a thumbs-up on the LibraryThing page for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.)

Far more than any previous book in the series, Deathly Hallows is not for those who haven't read the preceding books. Indeed, I was happy I had resisted the urge to jump in before finishing my re-reading of the previous six books. For the devoted fan, though, Deathly Hallows wraps up the series quite well: masks are removed and accounts are settled.

Whereas each of the previous six books, especially the first four, had their own mini-arc that was satisfying in itself, the pleasure in Deathly Hallow comes from seeing Rowling weave together the threads of the backstory to bring the tapestry of the entire series into focus.

Having read a fair bit of Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces--as well as plenty of fairy stories, legends, and mythology--I felt confident that I knew the broad outlines of the conclusion to the Harry Potter story; and I had guessed the identity of the mysterious R.A.B. and sussed out which team Snape was playing on. My guesses were correct, but that didn't spoil the pleasure of learning the details. Nor did it keep me from being surprised occasionally, e.g. by Dumbledore.

In some ways, I found the story of the "deathly hallows" a bit of a distraction. On the other hand, the presence of a yoni/lingam symbol on the jacket of a children's book (at least in the UK edition) was amusing and got me looking more deeply at the other symbols in the story. Indeed, this was the first book in the series that I felt was solidly more mythical than muggle.

As expected, people (and other creatures) die. I don't fault Rowling for that, but I often felt that their deaths were "wasted"--that they were killed off with little meaning or chance to mourn. I was also disappointed that some characters who played a large role in earlier books were almost unheard from here, though to be fair we do a satisfying bit about other characters. I was pleased, though, that by the end of the story all of the characters were more human (even the ones who weren't, strictly speaking, human).

The final chapter was a shock at first, in that its tone was so different from the rest of the book. (I was reminded of the final chapter of A Clockwork Orange--the one that was left out of the US edition.) But as I lived with the story for a couple of post-Potter days, I realized that it was perfectly appropriate. The Harry Potter story has, at times, been delightfully subversive--even "queer". But, for the most part, the virtues of Harry Potter are bourgeois ones, and the boon he wins is an appropriate one.

Thank you, Ms. Rowling, for an immensely enjoyable seven books!

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