Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. RowlingI have complained a lot about the Harry Potter books and I still feel that my complaints are valid. Most of the plots of these books make no sense whatever unless you assume that the characters are either idiots or the adults are. The most dangerous object ever is hidden at a school behind some startlingly simple traps that an 11-year-old who knows very little magic is able to defeat no problem, the less said about the hopeless cluelessness that takes place in and around the Chamber of Secrets the better. With the advent of poorly conceived time travel and the return of Voldemort as a moustache-twirling cartoon villain things got rather silly.

Through it all the stories remained entertaining. There are a lot of loose threads that, if you tug too hard on, the entire thing unravels but it was an adventure that kept moving. Never mind that Harry, Ron and Hermione endanger the lives of fellow classmates, drug and assault other students, blatantly disregard rules and are rewarded for it at every turn (even when they are punished it’s by giving them detention in super secret forests where they will discover important plot things). Never mind that I kind of feel like Dumbledore was a terrible headmaster (mostly stupid, timid and way too secretive) and Hagrid should never even have been hired with his direct unconcern for safety and his general inability to do much of anything except divulge plot secrets at the right time. Never mind that every single adult at Hogwarts is a fraud who plays favorites with students to the point of overlooking actual torture. Never mind that Umbridge is so violent and nasty and somehow able to get a behemoth bureaucracy to move at the speed of Harry getting in trouble to make new rules. Never mind that WHERE ARE THE PARENTS.

Having my own children I can guarantee that I would be there repeatedly throughout the year and the safety at this school would be a very large barrier, I don’t care how good the education is (which it isn’t — none of the students can do any magic until Harry teaches them and they never have to learn things like math, grammar, or basic sciences). Students are poisoned, petrified, pummeled, maddened, diseased and can miss the entire school year without any consequences.

I really did enjoy the stories and I have to admit that with the glaring size of the plot holes and the temptingness of the loose threads (which I have to tug on, I really do) I really enjoyed these books anyway. I think it is in the strength of the writing. Rowling is not a prose artist but she is very good at filling up the world with language and names and sounds that feel like they belong. The people and places and creatures and silly situations all seem to fit so seamlessly together that Rowling makes me believe even when it makes no sense. It’s a world (mostly just a castle) that I can get lost in for the few hours it takes to read each book.

With each book Rowling’s style and skill improved so that we went from the first book which was a bit of fluff puffed out on the breeze with very little actual meaning to the sixth which shows Harry dealing with actual emotions and growing up. It even shows Dumbledore admitting that he’s kind of an idiot.

Then we get the seventh book which is a mess and a disaster at the same time. As a way to end the series I suppose it had to be something and with the kind of buildup this book had it couldn’t hope to live up to everybody’s expectations but I was really hoping it would actually tie things together in a way that made sense. It did tie things together, mentioning things that happened as early as the first book and building on those things as stepping stones. However none of it makes any sense.

There are the Deathly Hallows which haven’t been mentioned until now, ever, by anybody even though they are beloved children’s tales (and it isn’t until now that Harry’s Invisibility Cloak is thought to be special). Then there is the final conceit of the whole book, that defeating somebody in a duel makes their wand change allegiance to the winner. Students and teachers alike have disarmed each other all across the entire series up until now and no other wand has ever stopped working for it’s owner just because it was knocked away by somebody else. There are also the horcruxes which are apparently made by killing somebody, which fractures your soul and part of it can be stored in another object. Until now killing another person has had no ill effect on anybody, including Snape who did it in the last book.

Then there is the magical tent of nothing-is-happening-yet. I know from looking back that the camping in the tent parts are not actually that long but it felt like it would never end. Of course we have to have characters fighting with each other, horcruxes are basically the One Ring, and three teenagers camping in a giant tent for months so that the story can have a climax at the end of the school year just like always.

Many of the plot holes could be overlooked if not for the camping that dragged on for so long with Harry and company not knowing what to do that it became tedious to say the least.

The final battle at Hogwarts was supposed to have a powerful emotional impact but most of it was easily predicted. Tonks and Lupin have a baby which means they’re going to die, one of the twins had to go, etc. All the people who died were specifically set up earlier to have emotional connections. No surprises. It was a very confusing battle which might have been on purpose, and if so then well done, battles are confusing. However much of it didn’t really make sense. The spells being thrown around are disarming and paralyzing spells, except for the Death Eaters which I assume are casting death and torture curses everywhere. So where are the explosions coming from? There’s rubble and bursting walls everywhere, stones falling about and stairways exploding. Where did all that come from?

Rowling takes the easy way out by letting Harry come back to life — this is mostly disappointing but not really unexpected.

Luna Lovegood is probably my favorite character. Hermione is great but she backs down and helps Harry and Ron cheat too much. Luna is shockingly clear-headed for somebody who is so misguided. I hear a great deal about Neville and I hear he has a huge fan base and I can see why, he has a great character arc.

One of the fascinating things about Harry Potter is that he is mostly uninteresting as a character. The genius of Rowling is the people that she surrounds Harry with. Nearly every one of them is more interesting than Harry who is kind of bland and doesn’t really change much from day one. The Deathly Hallows is basically a showcase of all those characters coming together to be amazing so that Harry can save the day by revealing the plot twist that wasn’t true until this book.

I feel like I need to talk about Snape. I didn’t for a moment believe that Snape had killed Dumbledore out of malice or an attempt to prove himself to Voldemort. Snape has never been a bad guy and it seemed immediately obvious to me that he was acting on Dumbledore’s orders. He’s proven himself so many times before this that it really wasn’t a question and I was glad that Rowling kept his character consistent. Snape has been the only teacher at Hogwarts who expects students to perform at an acceptable level and receive actual punishment for breaking rules.

In the end I think I could have done without the epilogue that showed Harry being a terrible secretive father who never tells his children things that might actually be useful and Ron saying really insensitive things that make no sense.

This seventh book was not as good as the ones before it. It was a confusing mess of new information that seemed to only apply during this book. Rowling says she has known the ending since the beginning but I call that bogus. If she did then she did a terrible job of letting the reader know early in the series what could happen. Each book stands alone well enough but each one seems to be ignorant of all the others for the most part. As a whole the series lacks cohesion that a more skilled author might have brought.

There are many beloved works of literature. Most of them, when viewed from a distant lens have holes, loose threads or just plain troubling problems. The fact is that sometimes a series of books, a story, a character can be strong enough to make readers forget those things or not care about them. Sometimes an author is attempting something new and, by pioneering the way, must also make some mistakes. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time is one of these. Before Jordan nobody had ever attempted long form storytelling on such a grand scale before. He pioneered a fourteen book epic with some hiccups along the way and at least one pile of excrement (depending on who you talk to). Long form stories since he started have gotten better and better with fewer slogs and less bogged down prose. Rowling seems to have done something similar to youth fantasy series. Before Harry Potter young adult novels tended to be short, simple and rarely had lengthy series of books that were intended to be read as a single story in multiple volumes. There were some hiccups along the way. Rowling is a master at character and milieu. She struggles with making plots that actually make sense. Given those skills and weaknesses she turned out some books that are filled with characters that millions of people love and talk about. People want to see Hogwarts, they want to meet Luna and Neville and that is enough to make this an enduring work of literature.

I enjoyed the Harry Potter series. The last book less than others but it was far from the worst. I am left wondering, however, what could it have been like with a truly skilled outline set out form the beginning?

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