Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Many years after I first started reading Harry Potter (about 6 years) the 7th and final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has been released. I got the book on opening day and I ended up reading through the entire book inside a day, starting at around 10:30am and going until 8pm with only quick breaks in between. Whilst the rest of this post will details some of my initial analysis and thoughts I will say straight up that I thoroughly enjoyed this book and think it the best in the series (although the later books are all really good). It's also a perfect end to the Harry Potter saga (although I am suffering from [Post-Potter Depression]). If you haven't read the book yet then you should stop here and go read it as there will be spoilers coming up!
The Book In General
This book was always going to do well but … holy crap – 8.3 million copies sold in America in the first 24 hours of release? That's 96 copies sold every second! I haven't been able to get Australian figures but the publisher was expecting something approaching half a million books to go in the first day. There's of course a rather detailed page on the Wikipedia already.
On to the book itself. I think with this book, J.K. Rowling has firmly cemented herself as a master storyteller. I thought the plot development and pacing of this book was fantastic. The final third of the book, in particular, has events happening at an unbelievable breakneck pace that doesn't let up until everything is over. The device used to achieve this – Harry's ability to connect to Voldemort's mind – is brilliant and the race against time that the trio face was made all the more desperate with Harry's visions of Voldemort checking his Horcruxes; it all had me on the edge of my seat!
Apart from the pacing the story was immensely satisfying. One thing I noticed is that I practically shut down my usual "Harry Potter clue detector" when reading it. For example, I didn't really think too much about who sent the patronus in the Forest of Dean. I guess this is because I knew that I'd find out everything in a few hours anyway so there was no point thinking too hard about it.
I highly doubt another book is going to happen. Whilst it's certainly possible, it would be kind of … crap if another one was written anytime soon. I think Deathly Hallows ended very well, if not perfectly, and the epilogue was J. K. Rowling's way of placating fans: "See, all the couples get married and have kids, old differences are settled, the next generation is moving out into the world. It all ended well, so please don't pester me for another book!"
That said, I can't say that I wouldn't welcome another Harry Potter story, or even a series. After that epilogue, I definitely don't need one but I'd still like to read more about Harry and everyone. I'd like to know whether Harry continues with his goal of being an Auror. Or whether anyone goes back to school. Who did Draco end up marrying? (Oh God, please don't let it Pansy Parkinson.) I guess all of these are things that might get answered in future interviews.
It's funny how so many of Snape's motivations were predicted by fans. I guess not all of them were put together but a prevailing theory after Half-Blood Prince was that Snape killed Dumbledore on Dumbledore's orders. Another, quite old, theory is that Snape was in love with Harry's mother. Both were right. I would never have guessed that Dumbledore's "ironclad" reason for trusting Snape was that he loved Lily though.
I must say that Snape being a childhood friend of Lily caught me off guard. I did not see that coming at all. Hell, Snape being in love with Lily wasn't something I'd thought too much about. Of course, it's now fun to go back and revisit some of the things we thought we knew about Snape with this new information. Some examples:
- Snape's dying wish, for Harry to look at him, makes perfect sense – and is quite sad – when we know that he loved Lily. After all, we are told repeatedly throughout the series that Harry has his mother's eyes.
- Snape's loathing of Harry makes even more sense. Harry must have been a constant reminder of Snape's dead love, but also of the man who "stole" her from him. At the same time Snape feels guilt for having lead to her death and possibly sees protecting Harry as a way to redeem himself. Or maybe he protects him out of loyalty to her memory (I don't buy this though – he did ask Voldemort to take Lily's child but not Lily herself).
- In Prisoner of Azkaban Snape seems determined to make sure Sirius is kissed by the dementors, or at the very least thrown back in Azkaban. When Hermione and Harry try to reason with him he is described as being "quite deranged". I think that might have something to do with Snape, like everyone else, believing for twelve years that Sirius had indirectly caused the death of Lily Potter. And here we thought he was pissed off about a trick that was played on him and that he was just evil.
- In Order of the Phoenix, we are led to believe that Snape's "worst memory" is of being humiliated by James Potter. Not really. Being humiliated in front of the woman you love can't be thrilling but the actual worst part is when he calls Lily and mudblood and effectively kills their 5 (or 6?) year friendship. (Although it seems to have been on a downward spiral since he started aspiring to be a Death Eater and hanging out with a bad crowd.)
Now, I would like to say that Snape's character is interesting because he's definitely not a "good guy". He's a nasty, loathsome bastard in fact. He delights in punishing Harry and his friends, show favouritism to his own house students, says extremely hurtful things (especially to Hermione), etc, etc. One has to question how much of this he did because he needed to convince people he was a Death Eater. For instance, I'm still trying to decide if he allowed students at Hogwarts to be tortured for this reason. Snape doesn't seem to be someone who would condone torture but who knows. I like that a character like this exists in the Harry Potter story. You have someone of dubious morals who, despite being largely a bad person, does have his good points (few though they may be). Perhaps the fundamental thing that we are meant to get out of Snape's story is that he is, at the core, human – something Voldemort was quite definitely not. He is also the "gray area" of the moral spectrum that forces us to not think of him in terms of good vs. evil absolutes.
Dumbledore shows us more of his human side in this book. We see his deep faults: he's arrogant and desires power. He also, understandably, seeks the friendship of someone as brilliant and ambitious as himself so his friendship with Grindelwald, and Dumbledore's seemingly strange letters about ruling Muggles "for their own good" makes a kind of sense. I get the impression that Dumbledore wouldn't have been able to come up with such an idea himself but, when it was presented by Grindelwald, he tries to justify the plan by telling himself that it's for the greater good. Of course, Dumbledore's actions at this time, which inadvertently result in the death of his sister, haunt him for the rest of his days. I think it is this remorse that is the primary motivator for many of his actions.
Overall, it's great seeing Dumbledore portrayed as incredibly human and flawed. I especially like the way Harry compares Dumbledore's desire to conquer death with Voldemort's: "Hallows, not Horcruxes." So, basically, Dumbledore was not willing to murder others to conquer death. Hell, he didn't even want to conquer death for himself, but rather for his mother and sister.
So … Harry turned out to be a horcrux. Seems as though 50% of Harry Potter fans were right. I admit I fell into the "no, that couldn't be possible because that would mean horcruxes can be made by accident" camp. This is explained by infanticide being the most damning of acts, something so evil that the soul is always torn. I guess normally when a wizard uses the Killing Curse on a child the child actually dies so the horcrux creation is rather useless.
The Power of Love
Ah, love. The force that Dumbledore told us would bring down Voldemort. And how right he was! Although many fans had ideas that this might be taken in some literal fashion (a spell that is powered by love or something) it is really just a lot of little things that culminate in Voldemort's demise. As Dumbledore says, love is something that Voldermort doesn't feel, doesn't think is important and therefore ignores. Perhaps the two most obvious examples of love doing Voldemort in are Snape and Narcissa Malfoy. Snape was obviously in love with Lily, whom Voldemort kills, yet Voldemort never considers that Snape may not be loyal to him. Narcissa was still a mother, and cared more for her son than her "master", whom she betrays at the most critical of junctures. Interestingly, her sister Bellatrix seems to be somewhat like Voldemort in that she cares nothing for love, although whether or not she loves the Dark Lord is anyone's guess. Personally, I think she's obsessively devoted to him, rather than actually loves him.
Of course, the most important manifestation of love comes from Harry himself. Love is what truly drives Harry. At the end he even sacrifices himself because of it, because of his selfless love for others that makes him give up his own life, rather than risk someone else's.
Another aspect of the love theme is the comparison between human and inhuman characters. Voldemort is shown as the only truly inhuman character – he is incapable of love and he's willing to commit the most heinous of acts to ensure his immortality. Bellatrix might fit into the inhuman mold as well. I think Harry's attempt at the end to get Voldemort to feel regret is his way of trying to make him more human, to try and avoid his fate in the afterlife. I think the moral here is that true evil is something that is reserved for the inhuman characters.
Really, the whole series can be seen as an examination of the power of love and its effect on us all. It is always contrasted against death and the fear of it. Harry, who displays love, willingly gives himself up and survives; Voldemort, who displays fear, is ultimately brought down. We are shown that love is the stronger if only we are willing to accept it.
Well, it took almost the entire book (502 pages in) but we were finally, finally given what we've been waiting 7 books for: some Ron/Hermione lovin'. Ron, except for a small hiccup when he leaves, showed how much he's matured. The influence of the book Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches is rather obvious but welcome. One of Ron's greatest faults in his relationship with Hermione is that he just never says the right thing. It's then at the end, in the middle of a war, that Ron shows truly how much he has become the man of Hermione's dreams. It does make me wonder if she'll rope him into joining SPEW.
The Harry/Ginny kiss near the start was great too. From what Ginny was saying it sounded like she planned on a lot more than just kissing! I was initially upset at Ron for barging in on them but he instantly redeems himself by proving what a good brother he is. I was rather expecting another kiss at the end but I guess with all the death going there wasn't much of a romantic mood.
The Body Count
Can I just say … holy crap! Some of the deaths in this book took me by complete surprise. I will say that the first was possibly the most shocking: Hedwig's. Don't ask me why this is. Possibly because Hedwig is the one character who fits into Harry's Hogwarts and Muggle lives, a character who seems to be a constant presence in the story. The deaths of Tonks and Lupin caught me off guard, although not as much as Fred's death. After these I was unwilling to think anyone was safe and had to keep hoping that one of the others wouldn't be offed as well. Ginny, Hermione and Ron were my biggest fears.
Harry's sacrifice I did not see coming until it was right there. I will say that I did then seriously believe that Harry might die for real. All the things that fans had been waiting for (Ron/Hermione action, Snape resolution) had occurred so it seemed as though Harry's demise was entirely possible. I will also admit to almost crying when he started his march to meet his fate, especially when he is escorted by his parents and friends. I'm glad he survived!
This is a new term I'm going to coin: Post-Potter Depression. It's the numbness I feel now that I realise Harry Potter is actually over. Don't get me wrong, the series ended very well but it doesn't take away the fact that this is it. The epilogue taking place 19 years later just makes this even worse. I don't know why.
This is why I wouldn't mind if J.K. Rowling writes another book or ten. I guess fan fiction might fill some of the void (I'm going to wait a few months for someone to start writing a truly great fic) and the movies may help … at least until they finish. Maybe in ten years someone will turn each book into an 8 hour mini-series and I can be brought back to the world of Harry Potter. I do see myself re-reading these books over and over again. Of course, I have to do that now since I'm sure I'll discover lots of little things that fit into the overall puzzle, now that I know what that puzzle is.
Anyway, if you're feeling a general malaise after the end of the Potter saga, you now have a name for it. Feel free to spread it around (the name, not the feeling). Maybe PPD will inspire another story, or at least the release of a Potter-verse encyclopedia.
I'll probably be adding some more thoughts in a few weeks (or months), once I've gone back through all the books again and re-read Deathly Hallows. Whilst I might not be as thorough as some fanatics I'd like to think I go into the books a bit deeper than the average person.
Overall, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is fantastic and a fitting end to the series. It does leave me with PPD and a bunch of unanswered questions (how did Gryffindor's sword get back into the sorting hat?) but I'm willing to forgive those since it was so good. Truly, Harry Potter is one of the greatest fiction sagas of my lifetime, if not all time. It's a magical fantasy, it's an edge-of-your-seat thriller, a subtle analysis of humanity and hope, an escapist's dream, a daring adventure and a brilliant examination of morality. Harry Potter is all of these but it is, at its heart, a story about a boy who becomes a man, a boy whose greatest strength is love – the most powerful magic of all.