29/07/2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (by JK Rowling)

Yes, finally the book arrived - nearly a week after publication - and after my son had whizzed through it in about seven hours, I spent rather longer, with a few breaks for eating and sleeping.

JK Rowling has done it again. In a nutshell: a very well-crafted tale, exciting and also moving in places, with a superb ending.

My first rather obvious thought is that 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' is a very different story from the others. The scene was set at the end of the sixth book - Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince - for a darker tale, not set in Hogwarts School. Instead, Harry comes of age, and embarks on a quest. It's a quest that may result in his death, but he has no choice: Dumbledore, his wise headmaster, set him the task of finding and destroying several magical items, and then facing the evil Lord Voldemort in a final confrontation where at least one of them must die.

The first few chapters are as dramatic as the climaxes of previous books. Voldemort is gradually seizing power in the entire world, and nobody is safe. Harry's childhood protection with his non-magical relatives will end very soon, so he needs to move from their home, without being spotted by the enemy.

I found myself reminded, more than once, of JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings as I read. After the first battle - Harry's dramatic escape to a safe house - there's a more relaxed, pleasant interlude including a family wedding... which is immediately followed by more high drama and the start of Harry's quest. Some critics have said that the middle part of the book is dull, but I didn't find it so for a moment. Harry and his friends keep moving from place to place, away from populated areas, as they try to find what they are looking for. Rather like Frodo and friends on their way to the Mountain of Doom.

At any moment we know that Harry may be discovered, or find himself in some other danger. Or he may come across one of the items he's looking for. The writing in the exciting parts of the novels is fast-paced, crisp and clear; in the slower parts of the book, it's more thoughtful. Harry learns a great deal about himself and those he cares for, including discovering that some of his heroes are not as perfect as he thought.

Harry isn't alone. His loyal friends Ron and Hermione are going on the quest with him, and he has many well-wishers and supporters, although most of them have little idea of what he hopes to do. And it's a tense book. People die - lots of them, some quite unexpectedly. I'd have preferred fewer deaths, but I suppose they were a necessary part of showing just how dangerous the world had become. They are, on the whole, treated sensitively and there are some moving moments as Harry mourns those he has lost. The book is sprinkled with Christian metaphors and principles too, particularly the ending.

JK Rowling really knows how to weave a story. Her imaginary world may not be as complex as JRR Tolkien's, but it's consistent, and it works for me. It's fantasy, in that we have to accept a world populated with wizards and giants and centaurs and so on, but it's also a clear battle of good and evil. It's primarily a story of friendship, loyalty and courage - particularly Harry's - and of growing up. And this book, the grand finale that was planned from the beginning, according to Rowling, answers several questions from previous books: Why hasn't Voldemort been able to kill Harry up to now? What is the link between them? What motivates Snape?

It also concludes the series, as the author said it would, ensuring that she really won't be writing any more about these characters. She does this effectively, giving us an epilogue at the end which takes us nineteen years into the future, showing how life moves on for a few of the characters, as the world has settled down to peace again. I thought I would be disappointed to come to the end, but instead found it satisfying, encouraging, and hopeful.

Highly recommended for anyone from about twelve and upwards - including adults - but do read the other books first, particularly the sixth, or it won't make much sense. Many younger readers will no doubt enjoy it too, but may miss some of the subtleties of the subplots; more sensitive ones might find the repeated battles and deaths disturbing.

For a much longer article about my thoughts on this from a Christian perspective, see 'Harry Potter as a Christian allegory' on my Abstractions blog.

1 comment:

Steve Hayes said...

Also satisfying in that some of the questions raised in the earlier books are answered. From book II, for example, where Ginny has her pre-teen crush on Harry, is whether Harry would end up marrying her or Hermione, and live happily ever after. I suspected it would be Ginny, so that was a satisfying plot resolution, and not all that minor. Love, marriage and family are important parts of life, parts that the Voldemorts and Saurons of this world (and not just of Middle Earth or the wizarding world) insist on disrupting. So Harry's exploits (and those of his friends) help to make those things possible, like the scouring of the Shire in Lord of the Rings.