Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
by J.K. Rowling (Bloomsbury,2007)
Concluding a series that has generated so much interest around the world, translated into many languages, been made into computer games, movies, merchandise, cannot have been easy. Taking all the loose ends and tying them together must have been an incredible creative feat. For me, one of the most spectacular and courageous conclusions was Jonathan Stroud’s Ptolemy’s Gate, the last of the Bartimaeus Trilogy, and it will possibly be a while before any author can scale that.
At worst one could call Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 600-odd pages of beautifully written tripe; at best the rousing culmination of a saga that raised an entire generation of teenagers. But priced at a ridiculously high Rs 975, readers may be justified at nitpicking about the storyline, which swings from edge-of-the-seat action to incredulously lame plot developments. The dark and suspenseful atmosphere of the Deathly Hallows is second only to that of Azkaban. But though the thrill-a-minute story coupled with Rowling’s flawless narration makes the book a page-turner, it leaves the reader dissatisfied. After months of anticipation, the story is predictable and nothing particularly spectacular happens. As my friend Marie puts it:
DH was disappointing in that the battle scenes were great and exciting and then…Ginny had lots of babies! Yay! And Harry and Voldy giving speeches while fighting?! So Hollywood.
It is difficult to find a more succint summation!
Left with the seemingly impossible task of finding and destroying the Horcruxes in which Voldemort has hidden parts of his soul, Harry, Ron and Hermione sacrifice their final year at Hogwarts to undertake the quest. The story rattles along at a dizzying pace right from the start, where an elaborate plan to escort Harry from the Dursley’s goes horribly long, as a group of Death Eaters, led by Voldemort himself, join the party. The death of Hedwig at the hands of Voldemort in that chase is just a prelude to the grim and bloody battle that has just started.
Danger dogs Harry & co. at every turn, as they keep moving, running both to escape the Death Eaters’ clutches as well as to hunt down the Horcruxes. Most annoyingly, Dumbledore, instead of leaving explicit instructions, has chosen to communicate in the most obscure of clues. His legacy is a golden Snitch for Harry, a Deluminator for Ron, and a book of fairytales for Hermione. But exactly what they are supposed to deduce from that remains unclear. Even when the finale is done and dusted, their place in the story is unclear.
The final battle between Harry and Voldemort takes place at Hogwarts, of course. The twin face-off is actually a bit of an anti-climax, and Harry’s in-limbo meeting with Dumbledore seems a cheap trick to explain why he’s not dead rather than a believable plot device. Neither is it clear what precise role the Deathly Hallows performed in the taking the story forward? Was it just to explain the presence of the Elder Wand? Or was it to bring out Harry’s bloodline? Or was it just to allow Dumbledore’s story to be woven in?
In the final equation one of the most annoying characters turned out to be Dumbledore! As to why he chose to leave the vaguest of hints when he clearly had all the answers is not clear. He came across as a rather pompous prat at the end of the day. In one of the final chapters when a dead Dumbledore meets a near-death Harry, his detailed explanation of his own follies, of Voldemort’s failures, and about the Hallows leaves one unimpressed. What did Dumbledore’s greed for the Hallows have to do with Harry and Voldemort anyway? If defeating Voldemort was so important—and it was important enough that Dumbledore’s original plan was to raise and prepare Harry only to sacrifice him “for the greater good”—then the excuse that he had to figure things out for himself just does not hold water. It appears highly irresponsible of Dumbledore to have been playing games when the future of humankind hung in balance.
Despite tantalizing hints that major characters would die in this book, none did. A number of side characters got knocked off the list, but our heroes all survived. Strangely, whereas there is a long-drawn-out mourning sequence for Dobby, we don’t even get to know how Tonks and Lupin died. Even Hedwig is hardly grieved, and it is only Fred’s needless death that momentarily brings Harry’s world crashing around him.
On the bright side, Neville Longbottom emerges as a true hero, wielding the sword of Gryffindor to chop off Nagini’s head, leaving Voldemort defenceless. Luna Lovegood shows that underneath her dreamy personality lies a very courageous person. Percy Weasley is another surprise. Hagrid’s giant brother Grawp has a little cameo, though Hagrid himself is disappointingly absent. And though one expected the inferi to make an appearance in this book, there is no sign of them.
The biggest disappointment is Voldemort, who comes across as a blithering idiot. Even with his soul fractured into over half a dozen pieces, it is difficult to digest that a man of his intelligence and a wizard of his skill could be so disorganized and clueless. His followers seem intent on their own agenda—which is to establish the superiority of pure-blood wizardkind over Muggledom, attempting to attain the sort of social order Stroud’s magicians had over the commoners in the Bartimaeus books.
To be honest, the Dark Lord shows a distressing lack of class. Dumbledore, in his final I-me-myself speech, describes Voldemort as greedy, cruel and ignorant. Yet it seems untenable that could have been all of that. Greedy and cruel maybe, but ignorant? Obviously, he must have had some sort of charisma to have sustained his reign. (And why does he need to show off and fly around broom-less when can just as well Disapparate?)
It all makes his death quite an anti-climax. If he was indeed a stupid and ignorant fool, Harry’s victory is quite hollow. In fact, it wasn’t actually Harry’s victory. Voldemort brought about his own downfall and his wand backfired on him. What is a nice touch is that even when Voldemort throws the killing curse at him, Harry’s last word to him is “Expelliarmus!”
Other touching moments include Narcissa Malfoy lying to Voldemort in exchange for news of her son Draco. I found the chapter about Snape rather sad as well. Of course, Dudley’s change of heart Harry-wise could go either way, but I did like it.
(There is a certain amount of confusion among readers I have spoken to about why Harry faced and survived yet another killing curse from Voldemort. Was it the fact that he was the true owner of all three Hallows and therefore conquered death? Or was it the fact that Voldemort, having taken a bit of Harry into himself [by taking his blood in Goblet of Fire], had tethered him to life with the same protective charm Lily Potter had put on her son, and thus Harry couldn’t die while Voldemort lived? It seems it was the latter, which again begs the question about whether the Hallows could have left out of the story, making it a much tighter and thinner—and, please, cheaper?—book!)
Another matter that bothered me was the shabby treatment of Hermione. While Ron has usually been the one to throw tantrums, Hermione has remained streadfastly loyal throughout. Yet at the end of the day, Harry emerges as the hero, Ron as the faithful friend—his temporary betrayal forgotten—leaving poor Hermione as an also-ran. It is also forgotten that she was the one who never lost heart, the one who never gave up thinking, looking, finding after Ron took off and Harry moped. Significantly, when Ron walks out on them, Hermione chooses to stay with Harry despite the fact that she and Ron are sort of… well… together. (JK is perfectly hopeless in the romance department, but more on that later.)
Not surprisingly, Severus Snape finishes up as one of the greatest heroes of this series. With Harry all good and Voldemort all evil, Snape was one who seemed the most human. Flawed, disturbing, closed, even though sometimes he was too nasty to be obviously “evil”! It was not hard to guess that it was his enduring love for Lily Evans (Potter) that decided his loyalties. Snape the most difficult and dangerous of jobs of all—to worm himself into the inner circle of Voldemort and become one of his right-hand men, while remaining in truth faithful to Dumbledore, and thus to Harry. Snape stuck it out till the end, and even in his death Voldemort never realized he had been continuously hoodwinked!
(To sidetrack a bit—this is something else I’ve been discussing with other readers, and we are all puzzled—what did Lily actually see in James Potter? Even though James has mainly been portrayed through Harry’s eyes in the books, and as an indisputable hero, he and Sirius always did come across as arrogant, reckless brats. I rack my brains, but cannot recall why someone like James should in fact be a role model, apart from the fact that he was a skilled wizard. Or was he? Didn’t he die too young for us to know that? Or was it just his Quidditch skills that made him popular and part of the “in” crowd? One can understand that that sort of superficial charisma can greatly influence a teenager, but honestly, surely Lily matured at some point?)
Sadly, Rowling spoils the entire book by including the very forgettable epilogue, a conclusion worthy of a Bollywood tear-jerker. Thankfully there is little or no fluff-stuff in the Deathly Hallows otherwise, though whatever little there is leaves one cold. Anyway, two decades later, it seems “half the wizarding world has married the Weasleys” (as one of my friends puts it!), and all the teenage romances have culminated into happily-ever-afters. Everyone has two or three kids, who are all off to Hogwarts together! As for Albus Severus Potter (or should it be Albus Severus Weasley Potter?)… words fail me!
In all, the epilogue makes you want to cry out: EXTERMINATE, EXTER… oh sorry, wrong series… AVADA KEDAVRA!
Nah, I’m only joking! For even with the holey plot, I more or less enjoyed the book. And when all is done and dusted, Harry Potter was certainly a brilliant creation, and J.K. Rowling remains a fantastic storyteller. So, as the curtain comes down on Potter and his friends, leaving some of us satisfied, some disappointed, let us close with the very apt words of Sir Doctor of TARDIS: “Good ol’ JK!”