Just finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. My reaction can best be summed up as, “huh.” Genuinely compelling in a few places, tedious in many others, and the ending just … fell flat for me.
Dobby’s death, which I didn’t see coming and yet which was believable, well-handled and genuinely moving.
The use of the house-elves in general. And of the goblins, too.
(Hmmm. If I were critiquing this book for a friend, I’d likely begin with, “There are some good moments here. In particular, I really enjoyed your use of the house elves, which has been set up nicely over the past few books. Unfortunately, some of the other elements of the story were less successful for me …)
The fairy tale about death and the three wizards and the deathly hallows–it felt very like a fairy tale to me, and I believed it. (Though more about this later.)
The importance of the invisibility cloak, which has been so present from the start, without us realizing it’s true nature until now–good setup there.
Neville’s getting to slay Nagini. Neville’s character in general. (Okay, so my critique would read, “I really enjoyed your use of the house elves, as well as of Neville, both of which have been set up nicely over the past few books …)
I liked the action returning to Hogwarts at the end, as it needed to. Once we returned to school, once we began rallying the troops, the book turned more compelling, and the pacing improved somewhat. And drawing on the help of Hogwarts showed that Harry understood, at last, that he didn’t need to–and shouldn’t–go at any of this alone.
What I didn’t like:
Unfortunately, we didn’t get back to Hogwarts to rally the troops until around page 600. And until then, we spend a lot of wandering around wondering what to do. In a sense, even though we’ve left Hogwarts, the plot is still constrained by its school year structure.
Much as I liked the fairy tale about the deathly hallows, it really should have been set up much sooner. Sometime during the first three books, say–mention it briefly, perhaps, make it seem unimportant; but book 7 was too late for it to come up for the very first time.
The pacing. There’s way too much time, even in the final scenes, for characters to stop, reflect, think, wander about. This bothered me throughout, but it especially bothered me during Harry’s final scenes with Dumbledore’s spirit, and with Snape’s memories. Some time was needed for both of these things, and both were well done in other ways, even interesting, but they went on long enough to stop the action cold. Cold enough that by the time I got to Harry and Voldemort’s final battle, I was easily able to put down the book to resume reading in the morning–and I shouldn’t have been able to put it down, not 15 pages from the end.
No Dursleys in the final scenes? No closure for Harry’s relationship with his family, for him or for them? Admittedly, there was something like closure when the Dursleys went into hiding and Dudley acknowledged Harry saving his life–but really, I expected them to play a more critical role by the end.
I liked Ron, in books 1 to 6, in spite of his flaws. In this book, he’s a twit. What part of saving the world don’t you understand, boy?
Actually, I’m sometimes not sure Harry understands, either. I mean, he forgets he’s looking for the horcrux in some of the final scenes! Forgets, because he’s distracted by being back at Hogwarts and seeing his classmates; and McGonagal has to remind him. “Oh, yeah,” Harry says, and returns to the quest. Sometimes I wondered if he was really taking this seriously. (And, you know, Harry, if you’re not up for saving the world, I’m sure Neville and Mrs. Weasley would be happy to do it for you. Just saying.)
In spite of Ron’s acknowledging elves are people too by the end, I don’t know that he ever really comes to respect Hermione and her beliefs and her general hard work. I can’t help thinking she can do way, way better than Ron.
Hermione remains the only character who truly knows what she’s doing in these books. Harry and Ron would have been toast without her. Which would be something I kind of liked, except no one ever seems to truly appreciate this. She’s never really considered particularly heroic, because unlike Harry and Neville (and even to some extent Ron), she saves the day in a million small ways, rather than with a couple of big moments. This is fine in and of itself–it is the million small things that save the day in the real world; but it would have been nice if the narrative had acknowledged this.
Hermione, she recovers from being tortured awfully quickly. I didn’t believe that, not if the spells cast at her were as painful as they were supposed to be. (Neville, on the other hand, struck me as someone who’d suffered and come through the other side–but then, all of his suffering is off-screen, and so easier to make believable.)
Snape’s death. He had to die, but there was something … anticlimactic about the way it happened. Something was missing there; I’m not entirely sure what. Maybe it was that in the end, he was mostly a passive victim, which was something of a let down, given his character until then.
Harry’s relationship with Ginny–it’s pretty much non-existent in this book, and we don’t even really see them getting back together at the end, or even get a passing moment or three between them as things are wrapping up. We need a hint or two of their relationship at the end of the book in order to believe the epilogue.
Ah, the epilogue. I found it mostly harmless enough, except for this: it clearly tells us that even after the world has been saved, very little has changed: the school goes on as before, the kids are sorted into houses as before, and so on. Which probably is actually comforting to most readers. Probably for most readers, the whole point of saving the world is that things get to go on as before. It’s probably my bias that when the world is saved, I want it to be changed as well. Because saving the world is like that. And there were clearly flaws in this world, so it wasn’t like it didn’t need changing.
At the very least, Harry and Ginny and Hermione and Ron should be changed by the end of the book. Because even if the world doesn’t change, those who save it are touched and changed by the act of saving it. (This is something Lord of the Rings gets very right, when the hobbits return to the Shire. If the ending of LotR were like the ending of HP7, Sam would cheerfully resume his role as gardener, Frodo would take up management of Bag End and have lots of children, and they would all put the unpleasant memory of the ring behind them.)
The use of capital letters for emphasis in dialogue. Pretty minor in the grand scheme of things, but it bugged me every single time I saw it.
What just plain didn’t make sense:
What was up with Harry’s half-death the first time Voldemort tried to kill him? Was that because the first stroke only destroyed the horcrux, not Harry? Fine, but the locket and tiara were broken right along with their horcruxes; what made Harry any different? Shouldn’t he should have been broken, too?
And why did Voldemort have to try to kill Harry a second time before the spell rebounded onto him? Why didn’t it rebound the first time? Could it only rebound once Harry was no longer a horcrux, or once Harry’s willing sacrifice weakened Voldemort’s magic? (More on Harry’s sacrifice later.)
How did the sword of Gryffindor wind up with Neville? Did I miss something? I mean, cool that it did, but huh?
What I saw coming:
One, but not both, of the Weasley brothers dying.
The silver doe being Snape’s patronus. Snape really being on Dumbledore’s side after all. Snape’s needing to die, in the end.
Lupin dying. Because there’s a certain sort of tragic, troubled, noble character I’m always drawn to in fiction, and that sort of character always dies. I’ve known this to be true ever since Joshua’s death in Madeleine L’Engle’s Arm of the Starfish.
Tonks dying. Okay, I didn’t see this coming she became pregnant with Teddy and she and Lupin named Harry godfather; then I realized she and Lupin needed to both die, orphaning their son as Harry had been orphaned.
Actually, that’s one more thing that didn’t work for me–the use of Teddy. I was assuming that, once Lupin and Tonks died, Harry was going to have to raise Teddy, and give him the home his aunt and uncle never gave him, and thus succeed where they failed, and make everything come full circle. Thinking about it, the epilogue would have been better spent on showing Harry and Teddy’s relationship, and how it had evolved, and how Harry had managed to be the parent to Teddy that he himself never had. As it is, we never even see Teddy as anything but an infant, and we don’t even know who raised him. It’s as if Teddy only existed to make his parents’ death tragic, nothing more.
What I didn’t see coming:
Hagrid surviving. Seriously–surprised by that. It worked fine; he didn’t particularly need to die; but still, surprised.
What I’m mixed about:
I think maybe letting Harry be willing to die, but not actually having to die in the end, was a sort of flinching away from what the story wanted, but I’m not sure. Doesn’t it cheapen the sacrifice Harry was willing to make that he gets to not really make it after all? Maybe not–I do get that the point was his willingness, was what matters–and the idea of a willing sacrifice getting off the hook at the last minute is hardly new–but I couldn’t escape the feeling that Harry’s coming back, for no reason that made any sense, was a sort of cheat. Maybe if there’d been a better reason Harry survived Voldemort’s first attack, I’d buy this more.
And given that Harry’s sacrifice protected all of Hogwarts from Voldemort, I’m not sure mere willingness, however noble and touching and moving, was enough. I think maybe the sacrifice needed to actually be made.
And yet, would killing Harry have felt any more right? I don’t know. It would have strengthened the book’s mythic overtones, but maybe the book didn’t want that, either.
All in all, I’m content with my decision to borrow this one from the library; and I still think Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was the strongest of the seven books; but I probably will get a copy of Deathly Hallows when it comes out in paperback, so as to complete the set.