I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time I read a book this long this fast, although at a hunch I’d call it the sixth book of the same series. There’s something about being caught up in the flood of a cultural phenomenon that I really enjoy. For a few days (which basically predate this review), everyone has only this one thing on their minds. Well, maybe not literally everyone, but enough of everyone to annoy the holdouts. But at the end of all that, it’s still got to be talked about out of context as its own work, not merely as the reaction to the phenomenon. It has to be if you’re me, at least, since I do this thing.
I suppose the question is, does Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows live up to the hype of being the conclusion of a series worth billions of dollars that will eventually spawn seven movies worth additional billions of dollars and not incidentally the hype of being the fastest-selling book in history? Well. It probably doesn’t. I mean, come on, that’s an unreasonable amount of pressure, right? But does it live up to the expectations of a series that has purposefully set out to reflect the process of growing up, and maybe teach children a little bit about that, through the lens of a magical world under assault by an evil thought destroyed twenty years earlier but which had instead merely bided its time while its power slowly grew back under everyone’s noses, most people unwilling to believe it could happen again? And does it work as an England approaching World War II allegory at the same time? I’m gonna go with a resounding yes on that one.
I’m just saying, good stuff. It stopped being a children’s story books ago, but this one is probably a bit much even for some of the early teen set. It’s every bit as dark and as dire as it should be, to match with the stakes that Rowling has been implying for most of the series. And impressively, I found the conclusion satisfactory. That sounds like faint praise, but it shouldn’t be taken as such. I just wasn’t sure there would be any way that could happen, due to the unreasonable expectations I’ve mentioned previously. It’s not the great series of the age or anything, but, taken as a whole, it’s a really good fantasy series, and that’s not nothing.
Spoilers below the cut, not because I need them to finish the review: it’s pretty well done, I guess. But there are definitely things worth a mention. And when I say spoilers, I mean that I’m letting fly with plot-destruction of complete magnitude, here. Seriously.
First of all: wow, with the Christ imagery! Sure, there was no mention of sin, but Harry “dies” at the hands of the guy who looks like a snake and has a giant evil snake draped around his neck like a featherless boa in order to save everyone else, after which Voldemort can no longer harm any of the people for whom Harry made this sacrifice? And then Harry hangs out at the King’s Cross train station for his traditional Dumbledore infodump? And then he comes back and climactically defeats Voldemort, creating an eternal age of paradise? All I’m saying is, I’ve definitely read this story before. But I did like how it was accompanied with a matriarchal bent as well. Sure, the guy who saves everybody is a dude and all, but without a couple of mothers doing their things at the appropriate moment, it still would have been all for naught.
Second: wow, with all the killings! I know we get by now that Voldemort and his followers are bad people, and I know that a large portion of the book hinged on Harry being incognito. But killing his owl on page 15 or so? That’s just cold, man! And killing Fred 15 pages or so from the end? Also bleak for the sake of bleakness, although I guess it might have been a way to make it clear to younger readers who didn’t get it yet after Sirius and Dumbledore how high the stakes were, that even the kids would be affected by this war. And most of all, killing Lupin and Tonks and leaving Harry with an infant godson to raise at the age of 17, and not tossing us any bone about his feelings on the topic or the outcome? Well, okay, probably my complaint here is not with the killing itself in this case, but still. Come on!
Still and all, I’ll say again the same thing I said in the unspoiled final paragraph: you have to be impressed with a series that can juggle a Christian (and older) allegory, a rise of Hitler and the Nazis and Prime Minister Chamberlain allegory, a seemingly good take on growing up in a boarding school, an extensive race relations allegory, oh, and right, an entire invented world of magic to place it all in, and then have that series turn out at all well, much less quite well indeed, and enjoyable for those who don’t catch any of the above allegories. (And anyway, I might have missed some.)
I bet I don’t get to hand out this much praise when (if?) A Memory of Light comes out.