HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS
by J.K. Rowling
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Scottish author J.K. Rowling finishes the saga she began in 1997 with the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.While that first book was released to no fanfare, the last book's release was a world-wide celebration including leaks of the text and portions of the text on line. While satisfying, the book is not as satisfying as could have been expected based on earlier books in the series, and many of Rowling's weaknesses as an author are on display.
At the beginning of the novel, Harry is spending his final days as his aunt and uncle's home, a necessity because he is protected there until he reaches his seventeenth birthday. However, actions outstrip plans when his allies, led by Alastor Moody, come to retrieve Harry early. This rescue sets into motion the events of the novel, although just as Harry doesn't know what is happening at this point, much of the activity Rowling has happening occurs outside the scope of her narrative.
Harry, Ron and Hermione quickly find themselves separated from all the supporting characters as they go on a quest to discover the horcruxes into which Lord Voldemort has secured his soul. Since Albus Dumbledore asked Harry not to tell anyone the nature of this quest, the characters are arbitrarily stopped from seeking help, even when it would be appropriate. As they attempt to find the horcruxes, whose nature is unknown to them, they acquire a second quest as they hear the story of the Deathly Hallows, three items of immense power that would let the wielder of the three overcome death.
The book suffers from major datadumps, at the beginning, middle, and end. This is information which Rowling has clearly been sitting on and needed to get out. Although important, the methods used to pass this information along to the reader, extracts from a biography of Dumbledore, letters, even a journey into a pensieve, can't hide that Rowling is simply trying to get her backstory out. These devices will probably work much better when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is converted into a film.
And parts of the book seemed clearly written with the film adaptations in mind. Aside from reading it thinking "Actor X will be happy they were included," some of the descriptions seem to be almost directions for the cameras, make-up people, etc. Many of those actors will also be happy. There is a strong sense of J.K. Rowling as stage manager shouting, "Everybody on-stage for the finale!" Minor characters and characters we haven't seen for several books are suddenly called on to make cameo roles as Rowling throws names around with abandon.
Characters seemed to have changed without regard for what has gone before. This can be characters suddenly showing backbone where none existed before to previously strong characters suddenly learning how to scream at the first sign of trouble. Ron and Harry continue to argue, which has been set up in previous books (see, notably, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), but it seems as contrived in Deathly Hallows as it did in previous books. In part, this may be caused by the fact that while many of her characters have aspects of archetypes built into them, all of those characters also have their own personalities, which seem to be fighting against what is expected of the archetypes.
Finally J.K. Rowling needs to learn how to write death scenes. While the majority of the death scenes were off-page, possibly to spare her younger readers the horror of seeing those deaths, none of the deaths in the book are really affective. This may be due, in part, to the fact that in most cases the protagonist doesn't have the leisure to mourn, but it tends to belittle the deaths. What is interesting, and, in fact, one of the book's strengths, is that many of the characters' eventual fates seemed haphazard. Random people die during a war and the way Rowling selected who should die and who should live seems almost gratutious to underscore the point.
For all its weaknesses, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is still a satisfying novel. Rowling successfully ties up the various (and many) loose threads she has left through the course of the six previous books. Part of the problem with the book is its very success and the hype which surrounded its release. With luck, Potter devotees will continue to read and look for other authors who write similar (or not so similar) novels now that Harry Potter's saga is at an end.
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