Goodbye again, Harry

It’s ended now. But it will never really end.

One of my earliest reviews here – back in July 2007, when about six people knew this blog existed – was the seventh and final book in Harry Potter’s story. After seeing the eighth and final movie installment this weekend, and saying goodbye to Hogwarts all over again, I thought I’d revisit and re-post it (with some minor edits and changes, but still in the format I was using at the time).

For me, this is a series in which the books will always come first. I like most of the movies, and I appreciate the way they’ve helped me visualize the world J.K. Rowling created, but she created that world in books. I’ve read all but the last book at least twice, and I think I need to make a full series re-read a priority during the next year.

If you’ve only known Harry Potter’s world through the movies, there’s a lot you don’t know. Read the books, or listen to them – all seven are on audio CD, all except Book 7 are available for download (my futile attempt to find it in downloadable format was what led me to my recent exploration of audiobooks), and the narrator is supposed to be outstanding.

Of course, that narrator was working with some great material, all the way to the end.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
J. K. Rowling
Arthur A. Levine Books (2007), Hardcover (ISBN 0545010225 / 9780545010221)
Fiction (children’s, fantasy), 784 pages
The major event of this weekend was reading the grand finale of this saga, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. As I’ve done since …Order of the Phoenix, I pre-ordered the book as soon as they started taking orders, but this time I bought two copies – Tall Paul wanted his own. The package landed at our front door at around 1 PM Saturday, and since we didn’t have the kids this weekend, we each grabbed a copy and staked out a comfortable seat in the living room to hunker down for the next 759 pages. I read faster than Tall Paul does, but I also took more breaks from reading (just to get up and have change of scenery, or do some chores, or for some other reason), so he got ahead of me and ended up finishing the book about an hour before I did. It was a great way to spend the weekend, and I’m glad we’re both done so we can actually discuss this topic around the house now!

I’m not really sure I want to discuss it in too much detail right here, though, since I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone. I stayed away from reading blog posts about the book until after I’d finished reading it, and I suggest that approach for anyone (unless you don’t plan to read it anyway – and honestly, then why would you read the blog posts either?). But having said that, here’s the framework…

This would have been Year 7 at Hogwarts, but Harry Potter is making good on his vow at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – after the death of Albus Dumbledore, he declared his intention to leave school. He has a final mission from Dumbledore – to find the remaining Horcruxes created by Lord Voldemort and destroy them. As of his seventeenth birthday, which opens the book, Harry is officially “of age” as a wizard and can legally practice magic off school grounds, as can his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, who won’t let Harry undertake this task without them. (The idea that Hermione, probably Hogwarts’ finest student, would voluntarily not return to school for her final year is one of the more minor shockers, but Harry and Ron are very fortunate to have this book-smart witch accompanying them.) They undertake this mission without much direction, and Harry frequently finds himself frustrated by what Dumbledore never told him. They’re also operating under increasingly dangerous conditions, as Lord Voldemort and his followers have gained power in the Ministry of Magic and in other institutions of the wizarding world, including Hogwarts itself. It’s hard to know who to trust, and Voldemort’s own mission to find and kill Harry in order to save himself has become more urgent, as Harry knows through his scar and its connection to the Dark Lord.

While there are light moments and episodes scattered throughout the book – a wedding, reunions with old friends – the overall mood here is definitely tense and dark. And rightly so, since there are literally matters of life and death at stake here, and lives are indeed lost. The general sense of oppression in a world where the bad guys seem to be winning feels very modern and uncomfortably familiar.

There are some elements in this book that are less familiar, though, particularly the lack of structure around the school year. We do eventually make it Hogwarts, but it’s only in the last quarter of the book that we encounter old favorite characters like Professor Minerva McGonagall and Neville Longbottom – but it’s worth the wait. Some old non-favorite characters reappear too (hello, Dolores Umbridge!), and of course we meet others that are new or previously mentioned mainly in passing, such as Albus Dumbledore’s younger brother Aberforth. And even those we know best – Harry and his closest friends – are growing and changing through the course of this quest.

While most of the Potterphiles I know are adults, there are a few things that I like about Rowling’s writing that relate to the fact that these are “officially” considered children’s books. She’s very strong at physical descriptions of people, places, and objects, which kids often want to know so they can picture the story in their minds as they read. She also does well with recapping information from previous books in a way that doesn’t interfere with the narrative, since there are probably things that the reader has forgotten by now. Because kids do tend to want and need to be given answers and have things explained for them, she does that – you just have to be patient and wait till she’s ready. And perhaps most importantly here, she not only writes a fantastic plot (in more than one sense of the word), she tells it through characters you truly engage with. This is one heck of a page-turner, and there are plenty of surprises.

I think this was a very satisfying finale, and that Rowling has done a remarkable job of answering the many questions raised over seven books – I can’t think of any major loose ends left untied. I teared up over some of the characters who didn’t make it to the end, and cheered the outcomes for others. I think I need to make time for a re-reading of the entire series pretty soon (or at least everything from …Prisoner of Azkaban forward, since the first two really do feel more like kids’ books to me at this point). And I know I’m going to miss Harry, the Weasleys, Hermione, and Hogwarts very much.

Rating: 4.5/5

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