Monday, July 27, 2015

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

JK Rowling
Completed 7/10/2015, Reviewed 7/13/2015
5 stars

At last I am done.  This was quite a ride reading the whole series in two months.  I think I had a much better experience overall reading them all together.  There were some tears this time, and not where I expected.  But just like my first attempt, getting through “Deathly Hallows” was tough because I was both excited that it was finally reaching the conclusion, but also sad that it was the conclusion.  There are a lot of naysayers about the series, citing Rowling’s heavy use of adverbs, that it was derivative of the boarding school genre, and that it had no literary value or moral complexity.  Sure there were lots of adverbs, sure I thought of “A Separate Peace”, sure it was no “Grendel”.  But who cares?  I think it was fun, scary, and terrific storytelling.

Warning:  There are spoilers in this review.

“Deathly Hallows” is a direct continuation of the “Half Blood Prince”, feeling more like the second half of “Prince” than simply another installment in the series.  The story picks up with Voldemort successfully overthrowing the Ministry of Magic.  The Death Eaters are running the wizarding world, including Hogwarts, they’re rounding up of all Muggle-born wizards and witches, and the search is on for Harry.  Harry doesn’t return to school.  Instead, he, Ron, and Hermione go into hiding to continue their search to destroy the remaining hoarcruxes, which was begun in the previous book.  This of course leads our heroes to a near apocalyptic showdown between Harry and Voldemort.

There are more deaths in the march to apocalypse.  None hit me quite as hard as Dobby’s.  The first time we come across him, I could only imagine him as he was depicted in the movies, irritating.  But somewhere through the series, perhaps because of the introduction of other house-elves, and Harry and the gang’s trials and tribulations with all of them, I found I loved him.  When he dies and Harry digs his grave, I had tears pouring down my face.  This scene and the little funeral are perhaps the most touching in the whole series. 

My favorite part of the book is when the gang returns to Hogwarts before the final battle, only to find Neville leading the resistance.  Neville’s growth through the series is perhaps the greatest arc of any of the supporting characters.  And no, it’s not because Matthew Lewis, the actor who portrayed him in the film just posed in his underwear a few months ago.  It’s because he starts out as inconsequential comic relief with no talent, and ends up being a leader in his own right.  It’s more satisfying than Hermione and Ron’s growth from stereotypes to personhood.  I think it’s more dramatic for Neville because you only see him in a few scenes per book and then suddenly, he has a pivotal role in the plot.  It’s like that uncle from the other coast who only visits every ten years catching glimpses of his nieces and nephews turn from babies into fully realized men and women.

I only had one complaint with the book.  The chapters where Harry and the gang are going from forest to forest, hiding while they search for the hoarcruxes, dragged in places.  One can say it’s the calm before the storm.  I found it to be lacking in energy.  The pace rather went like:  low, low, low, HIGH, low, low, low, HIGH.  These low spots lacked a growth of tension that was I thought needed to create a more fluid buildup to the apocalyptic denouement.

Despite this one complaint, the pursuit of the hoarcruxes is exciting and imaginative, and the twist after twist with Snape is simply tremendous.  And while an ultimate battle between good and evil has been done before, Rowling’s seven novels worth of character development make the details of the battle gripping.  Before Harry Potter, I hadn’t read much YA lit.  It opened me up to a whole subgenre of YA SF, Fantasy, and Horror that I never knew existed, let alone realize was worthwhile reading as an adult.  Five out of five stars.  

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