Do not read this post if you do not want spoilers about HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS! I am serious! NO JOKES.
You have been warned. Proceed at your own risk. (Although I will put the worst spoilers in white text just for the sake of propriety.)
As I had planned, I purchased HPaTDH at midnight, and stayed up until 4 am reading it. I stopped at the point where Harry and Hermione wander alone, defeated at Godric’s Hollow, and Harry’s wand is snapped. It was a dark, bleak moment. Ron’s perfidy was as if Sam had suddenly deserted Frodo on the banks of the Ephel Duin. “Sorry, Mister Frodo. I’d rather marry Rosie, see you later.” Although he was bound to return and redeem himself, it was the kind of moment that showed how bold a writer JK Rowling really is. Her characters are flesh and blood; weak and then strong. Not all can stand up to the pressure.
The blanked out word in the title of this post was “Redemption.” I wrote earlier about the Christian themes of the Harry Potter books, and thankfully, Rowling stuck with the Tolkien model rather than the Lewis model: the faith in the Potter-verse is always implicit. There was no religion mentioned directly because the true one was just off screen.
While the promised “bloodbath” was delivered, with many heartbreaking and shocking deaths, (the ones in the first 20 pages let us know this is no kiddie picnic) every bad character was redeemed: Snape, of course (could anyone have ever doubted his true allegiance?), Kreacher, Dudley, the Malfoys, Pettigrew. All were saved by love of one kind or another– the Malfoys as wretched as they were, had real love — Narcissa and Lucious love Draco and thus are spared the final holocaust. If there was anything shocking about the book, it was that so many characters could be redeemed by the tiny shard of goodness within them.
For the rest, it was a fantasy apotheosis of answers and long simmering plot threads redeemed that satisfied on every level: everyone from McGonagall to Neville to Bane the Centaur has a role to play in the last battle. Rowling even answer my criticisms about her female characters by having them all achieve greater deeds than any would have suspected — even Mrs. Weasley turns out to be a hero of the finest order.
In particular, Harry’s long lonely journey with Hermione is one of the most touching adventures I have ever read: desperate and isolated. Some people have said that this part of the book is needlessly drawn out, but to me it was entirely necessary to see Harry stripped of almost everything, cut off from all news or succor, truly on his own. All great heroes must go to the mountain, or the underworld, and Harry Potter is no exception.
In the end most of the questions were answered in a way that seemed inevitable in hindsight. There were few shocks in the plot in the larger sense. The death of Snape and the chapter “The Prince’s Tale” — although much had been deduced by faithful readers — was still stunning and touching in its humanity and well it fit in with the overall mythology, especially the dying words “Look…at…me…”
My tiny gripe, if you can call it that, is the final chapter, the one written 10 years ago or such. It is simply inferior to the rest of the book — Rowling is a much better writer now than she was before. From a textual standpoint I can see why leaving in it works, but from an internal standpoint it rockets the characters to a previous middle-class existence — one that is the very antithesis of what the books have been about since then. On the one hand it’s as close to happy ever after as we might get. On the other, it seemed needlessly bourgeois.
While Potter won my heart over fully, Tolkien is still my favorite. Harry seems to have come through his ordeal unscathed, according to the epilogue. In Tolkien there’s more long term damage. I admit, I was a little disappointed that Harry seemed to have triumphed with no real loss or sacrifice. Then I realized that his crappy upbringing had been its own damage. Still, Tolkien’s appendices take you back in time and forward to show that not everyone retires to a comfortable fireplace after heroic journeying. Potter’s epilogue does no such thing.
Still, I feel that is a quibble. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS is a wonderful book, one that speeds off into uncharted territory from the very first words, and takes the reader on a voyage of danger, heroism and noble struggle. Rowling has succeeded on every level.
And now, if only Alfonso Cuaron will direct the movie version!