Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. Review by Gordon Long

Book Cover

In Print
I just sat down and read the last (I hope she can keep to that promise) book of the Harry Potter series, and I find I have grown out of Harry Potter. In fact, I probably grew out of him about halfway through the series, but my enjoyment of the characters and my insatiable desire to see what happens in the end of any story kept me going. Ultimately, I was disappointed.

I confess to being optimistic at the end of Book 6, when it became quite clear that Harry would have to cut the apron strings and leave Hogwarts. At the opening of Book 7, I was hopeful that, for once, we wouldn't be subjected to that old 'Harry did magic, he's going to be thrown out of Hogwarts' conflict. Sure enough, we weren't. This book hit the ground running with the main conflict. So far so good.

In keeping with the maturation of the characters, and presumably the readership, Deathly Hallows is a book with a more serious tone. This is a different Harry Potter from the break-all-the-rules type we know and love from Hogwarts. He is no longer in the safe confines of the school, and there are fewer rules to break. This would seem to give him the freedom to act as an adult, and make his own way in the world.

However, set loose in the real world, Harry seems lost. He wanders through a black-and-white cartoon of English winter, where it is always raining, snowing, or sleeting. He meanders, and the middle part of the book meanders with him, spiced only by the odd good action sequence, an area where Ms. Rowling excels. Because it is the last book of the series, Rowling' true talent, that of creating interesting and likable (or hateable) characters, is missing. This book reads like the interminable credits of a Hollywood blockbuster, especially in the final chapters, where everyone who was anyone gets a mention, if only to get killed in the final battle.

About death. There has been a great deal of PR noise made about death, and the opening quotations continue the charade. Without revealing the story, I can tell you that death is a non-issue, except for the usual disaster movie technique of killing off a well-liked character now and then when the plot is in need of a boost. The only event that would have satisfied the hype would have been the death of one of the three main characters, and Rowling cannot pull herself out of the children's book genre far enough to allow it.

Rowling is obviously a genius at creating characters and conflict that appeal to a twelve-year old, and to the twelve-year-old in all of us. When she moves into an older world, she too is lost. The black-and-white morality of a child's book suddenly seems simplistic and pale. I confess to being confused about the theme of this whole series. It seems, throughout, that regimentation is evil, and that to get anything done, you have to break the rules. Then, in the end of the last book, in the final crunch, Harry obediently does what he is told, because there is really no other choice. It seems his fate has been set in stone all along. Even the father-figure, Dumbledore, with all his coaching and advice, was only preparing Harry for that end. So he trots off as dutifully as any other little soldier, and submits to his fate without a fight. And guess what? That's right. Happily ever after.

Dumbledore tells us that what is important is love and trusting, but Harry, angst-ridden teen that he is, spends the whole book pushing people away, presumably for their own good, but away nonetheless. He doesn't trust anybody, always playing the lone hand, right to the very end. He shuns the girl he loves to protect her from evil, or some such paternalistic crap. He does little to deserve all that love and trust that people keep heaping on him. Harry is caught in that old struggle between being an interesting and believable character (which he is), and doing what the author wants him to, which is to shoehorn himself into the theme of the story.

In the end, Harry is not given a chance to grow up. He is not given the adult responsibility of making his own choices. Like a child, he is buffeted by the twists and turns of his fortune, and his only choice is to put up with it. Likewise, Rowling, as a writer, has not demonstrated the ability to move out of the children's genre. She seems incapable, or deems her readership incapable, of understanding a more complicated view of the world and its people.

I don't like to be too critical of someone who has probably done more to influence children to read than any other author in the English language, but this is a review for adults. If you're a 'finish it off' fanatic like I am, read the book. If you don't feel like plowing through 600 pages of the same old same old, wait for the movie.