In “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows,” Harry and friends blow off their senior year (didn’t we all?) to hunt horcruxes. The death eaters take over the ministry and Hogwarts, making the fugitives increasingly desperate. Eventually, they realize that Voldemort is on a quest of his own, to get three magical items called the Deathly Hallows. Finally, the two quests converge in a big fight at Hogwarts. Voldemort seemingly kills Harry, who has a ghostly talk with Dumbledore, then resurrects and kills Voldemort. Years later, we see him as an auror married to Ginny.
Some Strengths of the 7th book:
- The posthumous revelation of Dumbledore’s many flaws is a masterful touch. A beloved but idealized character is belated granted all of the complexity he deserves.
- Rowling suddenly remembered that the villain shouldn’t just be trying to stop the hero’s plan, he must have a desire of his own, so she whipped up a delightful new mythology around the Deathly Hallows. It made the plot of the book dizzyingly complex, but she somehow pulled it all off.
- Rowling also pulls off one of her classic “plot meets theme” reversals: One of her major themes for the series is the power of naming and/or refusing to name. Until now, Voldemort’s opponents have drawn moral strength from their unique willingness to say his name, but now that he is in charge, their great strength ironically becomes their great weakness as he curses the word that only they will say.
- For the most part, Rowling does a great job rounding up dozens of old characters and locations and giving almost all of them a fitting emotional send-off. The scope is epic and the emotions are intense.
- The action scenes are absolutely breathless, which explains why most of the book-reading world was able to devour this brick-sized tome in a day.
Some Weaknesses of the 7th book:
- All that endless waiting! Why do they wait all summer to begin? Why do they procrastinate so much like Achilles in their tent? We get multiple passages that say “they spend the next month reading that book for clues,” or “they spent weeks going over their plan…” Why should this process take so long? It’s presumably because Rowling felt that she was tied down to the structure of the previous books, but here it makes no sense and it creates massive character inconsistencies: Hermione never even seems to care that she’s missing school!
- They blew off their seventh year—so why are they done with school at the end? No matter how grateful the teachers are, they can’t really give them anything but honorary degrees if they don’t come back and actually do the classwork, right?
- There is a massive overreliance on the same few magic tricks, all of which had already been exhausted in previous books. Rowling has gotten too logical in her plotting when she should be inventive. This is fan-like thinking: “Gee, if I were in that world I would use polyjuice potion all the time so that nobody would ever know who I was, and I’d never take my invisibility cloak off, and…” Sure, that makes sense, technically, but it’s Rowling’s job as storyteller to take those tools out of their hands when they’ve lost their novelty for the reader. How hard is it to write “Oh no! Voldemort has now got polyjuice and invisibility cloak sniffing dogs!” After six books of constant invention, she spends too much of this last one coasting on old ideas.
- I’m all for keeping kids’ books relatively sexless, as long as you don’t flaunt the sexlessness in our faces. This book has coed pairings of seventeen year old high school drop-outs spending month after month camping in a tent with nothing to do, fearing for their lives. And they never have sex? Nope, that’s not the way the world works. She should have avoided this awkward situation.
- I understand that she was going for a “war is hell” vibe and she wanted to get pitch black before the dawn, but the grimness at times becomes ludicrously exaggerated. In addition to all the death, Lupin turns into a crappy husband and father, then he and Tonks both die offstage, orphaning their baby?? That’s just an undignified end for two beloved characters. What a relentless bummer!
- But the biggest problem was that, in the end, it really was just all about killing Voldemort. Maybe I was spoiled by the Star Wars trilogy, but I’ve always had a marked preference for stories about heroes who find a more spiritually redeeming goal than revenge. Harry doesn’t even feel bad that it had to end this way!
- Even worse, Harry is merely fulfilling the prophecy, which cheapens his achievement. Is that really a fitting reward for Harry? Doesn’t he want something different than to simply become what everybody expected him to become?
- In the epilogue, I was also disappointed that Rowling fell for the classic flaw of so much children’s literature: implying that getting the job you wanted as a child and marrying your childhood sweetheart is a good thing. It usually isn’t a good idea to get shackled for life by the limited perspective you had as a teen. I would hope that Harry would learn and grow as a result of his quest, or as a result of his subsequent freedom from responsibility, and form new goals.
My fixes for the 7th book:
- Harry and friends reconvene two weeks later (Let’s include the wonderfully sad scene that the movie added of Hermione’s parents forgetting about her.)
- They reconvene for the wedding (which happens earlier in the summer) and the plot goes pretty much as it did in the book, just much faster. They try to finish their quest in time to be back by senior year, but they realize that they’re making slow progress…
- …When the time comes, Harry and Ron both expect Hermione to go back for school, but she won’t leave them, which gives her a little “how much I’ve changed” moment (though her constant grief at playing playing hooky should provide running comic relief)
- Continuing through the events of the book at a doubletime pace, we get to the climax before Christmastime.
- Let Harry actually speak to the dying Snape, rather than have Snape clear his name posthumously, as he did in the book (As I’m sure you guessed, in my version of book 6 from yesterday, Snape had already whispered to Sirius that he couldn’t save him, only ease his pain, so when the death eaters arrived Sirius surreptitiously grabbed and drank another poison to save Snape’s cover, which earned Snape’s appreciation, which is why he smiled…)
- Harry does not get everything explained to him again by Dumbeldore at the end (death should have consequences!) but that’s okay because he knows what Dumbledore would have said to him anyway.
- In the finale, Harry comes to a dawning realization…. He begins to suspect that there are actually eight horcruxes, the last one is one of the objects from Voldemort’s miserable youth at the cabin, which he has around his neck.…
- Sure enough, they destroy the seven horcruxes but Voldemort doesn’t die. Harry is about to destroy the last one he’s discovered, when he realizes something pitiful: the last Horcrux was the first part that Voldemort split off from himself, because it was the small part of him that was good. It’s the only part of him that’s left now, so he is left small, wretched and wracked with guilt at what he’s done.
- Harry suddenly loses his bloodlust. He tells the small circle of friends within earshot that they should let him live out his days, coping with the guilt of his crimes in Azkaban. Most agree, but Neville (who was always shown to be more traumatized by his own parents’ deaths than Harry was) is horrified by the thought, so he impetuously picks up Gryffindor’s sword and shoves it through the horcrux and Voldemort, killing him permanently. The gathered forces of good, unaware of what was said at the end, see this deed and suddenly remember that the prophecy could have applied to either Harry or Neville. They instantly switch their idolatry and begin a massive celebration of the true chosen one, Neville.
- At first Harry is incensed, but then he realizes that this is the greatest reward he could have won: the chance to be a normal wizard for the first time, freed from the burden of history and expectation. He is disappointed in Neville’s act of vengeance, but happily lets him take the credit.
- The teachers invalidate the death eater-run semester and agree to give everybody credit for a foreshortened school year crammed into the second semester. One chapter breezily sums up this happy, uneventful semester.
- They graduate, Hermione gives the valedictory (taking the place of Dumbledore’s words of wisdom at the end of the other books) and they all go their own ways. Harry tells Ginny that he’s sick of violence and no longer wants to be an auror, so he’s got to go out in the world and decide what he wants to be. She says that he should make sure he really wants to come back to her too, and they agree to re-evaluate their relationship when or if he comes back. They sadly part…
- But, in the final chapter, twenty years later, Harry is revealed, after much suspense, to be married to Ginny after all (after years apart) and acceding, after fifteen years as Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, to be the new Headmaster of Hogwarts. Ron and Hermione, who work for the now insufferable Neville at the ministry, attend the ceremony.
(Okay, okay, I couldn’t let the ‘shippers down, but at least let them make the final decision as adults, not kids! Those who get married at eighteen regret it!)
So thats it! This was supposed to be a quick storytelling exercise, but it quickly descended into epic vainglorious fan fiction. It’s a testament to how real and wonderful these stories are to me that I’m still running them over in my head all these years later, greedily trying to take this wonderful story away from Rowling so that I can make it my own.