I cannot believe I’ve finished this series. The previous six reviews can be found here. There will be extreme spoilers in this post.
This review was a bit of a struggle. Like all my previous reviews, I feel like to even begin to talk about The Deathly Hallows I would be leaving out huge facets of Harry’s world. I’ve wanted to talk about Hagrid being half-giant (how the hell did that work?), Peeves and Filch, the ghosts of Hogwarts, Arthur Weasley at the Ministry, Dumbledore giving the Dursleys some home truths; but there simply hasn’t been room so far.
Rowling has packed so much into the Deathly Hallows. It ties up many of the loose ends of the previous seven books, as well as bringing our three leads back to many familiar places. Harry, Ron and Hermione end up the Gringotts vaults (“Yeh’d be mad ter try and rob it” as Hagrid said seven books ago, and boy was he right). Harry learns the real reason Snape hates him and why Dumbledore trusted him; he visits his parents’ graves and the house they died in; he says goodbye to the Dursleys and makes his peace with Dudley; they hide out in Grimmauld Place for a while and forge a friendship with Kreacher; Ron and Hermione even end up in the Chamber of Secrets at one point.
In this, the final book, Harry, Ron and Hermione go on the hunt for Voldemort’s Horcruxes. Voldemort’s in charge now, killing Muggles and wizards alike. Under the new Ministry regime- Rufus Scrimgeour is killed by Voldemort- Muggle-borns are rounded up, stripped of their wands and jailed, or possibly given to the Dementors. Harry steals a Horcrux right from the foul neck of the vile Dolores Umbridge, who is now head of the Muggle-Born Registration Commission, a kangaroo court where Muggle-borns are accused of ‘stealing’ magic.
Following this raid, Grimmauld Place is no longer safe to hide. Our three heroes go on the run, hunting Horcruxes. On the way, Harry learns some unpalatable things about Dumbledore’s past. He becomes fascinated with the ‘Deathly Hallows’, three mythological items that, when unified, make the owner the master of death. In the end though, he focuses on killing Voldemort in stages by capturing and destroying the Horcruxes.
It leads back to Hogwarts of course, and an epic battle. Harry dispatches Voldemort, Peeves composes a dignified anthem for the occasion (“We did it, we bashed them, wee Potter’s the one/And Voldy’s gone mouldy, so now let’s have fun!”) and Harry retires to his four-poster bed in Gryffindor Tower and wonders whether Kreacher will make him a sandwich.
Such a cosy ending, reminiscent of the early books, is a major contrast to what has come before. The Deathly Hallows is bleak, depressing almost. On my count at least twenty named characters kick the bucket; there are probably more that I missed. Fred Weasley is the most devastating, by a country mile. We have been seeing the Weasleys through Harry’s eyes for so long; Molly and Arthur are his substitute parents and the Burrow one of his favourite places. To imagine them losing a son, Ron and Ginny a brother and George a twin is completely heart-breaking.
The sheer volume of deaths gets a bit overwhelming. Minor characters are dispatched with at an alarming rate; during the Battle of Hogwarts especially, we are given no real space to mourn (or gloat, in Bellatrix’s case). And then there’s Dobby and Hedwig. Killing off Harry’s two most loyal non-human friends seems unnecessarily cruel, and left me wibbling in a corner for a while.
The wartime atmosphere is well sketched. The persecution of Muggle-borns, the underground radio ‘Potterwatch’ and the ‘Snatchers’ who patrol the country searching for ‘Mudbloods’ to hand over for bounty money; Rowling has set up this wonderful, well-organised world and brought it in to chaos.
The magic in this book, too, is less wondrous, and used far more for evil than good. Apart from riding a blind dragon out of Gringotts (which, let’s face it, is pretty spectacular) there are no huge set-pieces like in previous books. Instead, scenes are often creepy and unnerving; Wormtail being strangled by his own artificial arm and Ron being tormented by the Horcrux are pretty disturbing. The most unsettling scene of all has to be when Harry and Hermione visit the magical historian Bathilda Bagshot on Christmas Eve. Turns out Bathilda’s been dead for weeks, and the thing talking to Harry is actually Voldemort’s snake. It’s using her corpse as a marionette. I still have nightmares.
Our three leads grow a lot throughout the series and here we see them as adults. Ron falls out with Harry (again!) but, of course, he comes back. In destroying the Horcrux that taunts him over his perceived insecurities, he finally overcomes-or at least, controls- the jealousy that has consumed him for years. He also grows into a kinder person- it’s his uncalculated remark that they should save the house-elves of Hogwarts that finally has Hermione kiss him. (Funnily enough, both of them are so consumed with shifting that they completely forget about the house-elves, who we next see marching into battle against Voldemort).
Hermione, too, is a million miles from the swot in The Philosopher’s Stone. Who could imagine that the girl who once thought expulsion from school worse than death would ever go on the run from the law? Of course, of the three leads, she has the most to lose. Harry is well aware he may die fighting Voldemort and Ron is a pure-blood, but as a Muggle-born Hermione faces persecution and death, just for her parentage.
Her resourcefulness- the little enchanted handbag she carries all their equipment in a stroke of genius- save their lives more times than they can count. There’s also her inheritance from Dumbledore, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, which lead them to the Deathly Hallows.
Albus Dumbledore, though dead, is as much a character as Harry in this book. We learn some unpalatable things about his past. There’s that marvellous scene where Harry dies briefly, and Dumbledore makes an appearance. “Of course it is happening in your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
He was once best friends with the dark wizard Grindelwald, even more a wizard Hitler than Voldemort. (Seriously, Dumbledore even got rid of him in 1945. What the hell, JK?) Their friendship led to the death of his little sister Ariana, who got in the way of an argument between them and Albus’ brother, Aberforth.
The back story is brilliantly done, with all Rowling’s usual dark implications; three Muggle boys attacked Ariana and permanently destroyed her mind. Like so many things, it’s never spelled out exactly what happened, and it’s all the more disturbing for that. It also shows a different side of Dumbledore to the wise-wizard archetype that we were all familiar with. Here was a man who was not perfect, who could be in thrall to power and dangerous ideas. Dumbledore was not exactly who we thought he was, and neither was Severus Snape.
Firstly, Harry was always supposed to die at Voldemort’s hands- he is the last Horcrux, something that Dumbledore always knew. Despite being raised like a “pig for slaughter” as Snape so memorably puts it, Harry is not angry at Dumbledore. (I’d be furious, and back through Diagon Alley to Muggle-dom as fast as my legs could carry me).
As for Snape, he was on the side of right all along; he loved Harry’s mother deeply and worked for the Order of the Phoenix following her and James’ deaths. However he was deeply resentful of James and by proxy, Harry. Snape’s emotions towards Harry were far from noble- resenting a kid just because his mother happened to marry someone else is fairly appalling- but to his credit, he always kept Harry safe. Even his tenure as Hogwarts principal during Voldemort’s reign keeps the students safe from the worst excesses of the Carrows, the truly vile brother and sister combo who install themselves in the school. He killed the already dying Dumbledore at the latter’s request; he ensures that Harry and Ron get Godric Gryffindor’s sword during their time on the run. In the end, Snape is- and always was- one of the good guys.
I don’t know if the same can be said of Draco Malfoy. The Malfoys are relieved that Voldemort is gone, but none of them are truly brave enough to stand against him. Malfoy is a case in point. The battle is going badly for the Death Eaters, and Harry, Ron and Hermione have saved his and Goyle’s life from the massive fire caused by Crabbe. Even then, Malfoy insists that he’s a Death Eater when attacked and does not have the courage to fight. “And that’s the second time we’ve saved your life tonight, you two-faced bastard!” Ron says, as Harry stuns his opponent. It sums up Draco Malfoy for me and the main reason I’ll never see him as noble Byronic hero. He’s a cowardly little git.
Finally, Voldemort. Harry goes on a long chat with You-Know-Who instead of killing him. This gets a bit tedious, and when Harry finally dispatches him, the reader thinks “About time!” The reader also may have her suspicions about Voldemort throughout the series, but by the time he realises his Horcruxes are gone and starts to think that maybe he’s underestimated this Harry Potter, I came to one inevitable conclusion. Voldemort is as thick as a thick rice pudding that’s passed its thickness exam. Sure, he’s good at magic and menaces, but he still dismisses a kid who has managed to defeat him practically every summer for seven years. I mean, say you’re an all-powerful evil wizard who gets foiled by a baby. Would you not think to avoid said baby when it grows up a bit? Dare I say, Voldy himself- apart from the backstory- is one of the least interesting elements of the series.
So that’s the end of Harry, who later marries Ginny and has a brood of kids. Ron and Hermione too get married and have kids. Rather cutely, Ron does a Muggle driving test. The epilogue is back to Philosopher’s Stone-like innocence, and as a result it does feel a bit lifeless to what has gone before. I’d have liked it if Rowling had given us a shock; Harry married to Luna or someone unexpected, or divorced, but then it is a children’s book. Despite the fact that I would not let the previous six hundred pages anywhere near a pre-teen without having a counsellor on speed-dial.
How to feel about The Deathly Hallows? It ties up the loose ends nicely. It’s a happy ending of sorts. To quote Oscar Wilde, “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.” However, an awful lot of good people end up dead in the final book. The death toll is literally overkill, and it can be even difficult to remember who lives and who dies- I had totally forgotten she killed Mad Eye Moody until I reread this. It’s also bleak, and the muddy fields where our trio camp are far from Hogwarts’ cosiness. Some of the magic described- especially that which allowed Harry to survive Voldemort’s killing curse again– can lean towards deus ex machina, which is a general fault of the series, but is especially evident here. However, again, Rowling has written a compelling tale with incredible characters. I would read a book about almost every one of these people and their situations; Luna and her dad, Neville’s unlikely rise to rebel leader, Dumbledore and Ariana, Snape and Lily and James, Petunia and Lily. Now, how many other series could you say that about?
Notes on My Copy: I remember nothing about buying this. It was released not long after I finished my final school exams, the Leaving Cert, which makes the NEWTs look like a Senior Infants spelling test. The summer between school and college was an incredibly boring one, and it rained almost every day. With no summer job, and therefore no money, all I did was read all day. The Deathly Hallows was one of many books that summer, and I don’t remember much about getting it, apart from the tears and recriminations when JK killed off Fred… and Dobby… and Hedwig…
I’ll leave it up to you to decide. Should I review Fantastic Beasts etc? Let me know in the comments!