If you’re a Potter fan, you’ve been waiting for this book for a very long time, and, if you haven’t read it yet, you may be wondering if its worth the wait. The short answer is: yes. As final books go, The Deathly Hallows wraps things up quite nicely indeed.
I’m not going to try and summarize the plot here, you can find that else where. I will say that in The Deathly Hallows, Harry returns to many places we’ve seen in earlier books: Gringots, The Shrieking Shack and The Ministry of Magic, among others. Each of these places plays a small role in the Harry’s quest to defeat Voldemort. We also get to visit the house where Harry lived when Voldemort attacked his parents. This visit gives us some more insight into the events that happened that night, and show how prepared Voldemort is to find Harry and his friends. Rowling does a nice job of weaving all these places into the story, as Harry, Ron and Hermione try to find all of Voldemort’s Horcruxes and figure out what the Deathly Hallows actually are.
As far as the plot goes, its basically a quest, with Harry and company running from encounter to encounter, trying to stay ahead of Voldemort and his cohorts. In fact, the first 2/3 of the book is basically Harry on the run, trying to figure things out while staying out of sight. Unfortunately, while there is some action during this period (the infiltration of The Ministry for example), this section tended to drag quite a bit, as it takes quite a bit of time for Harry and friends to figure out what they want to do, and how to do it. Once the siege of Hogwarts begins, however, the last part of the book is all action, and moves quite quickly toward it’s satisfying showdown between Harry and Voldemort. Rowling obviously took some time to figure out how this showdown would occur, and weaved the pieces needed throughout the earlier parts. The twist that occurs is obvious in hindsight, but was executed quite well. I’ve heard some people say they didn’t like the ultimate battle, but I felt it fit the story perfectly.
Where Rowling really shines in this book is with respect to Harry. She has grown as a writer over the years, and she uses all of her skills to make Harry a full fledged, sympathetic character in The Death Hallows. In earlier books Harry might have tried to quit, gotten angry and then whined quite a bit. But here, Harry shows he is growing up. He accepts that things are the way they are and he has to deal with them. He doesn’t whine or complain, instead he tries to do what he thinks is right. In fact, Harry grows into a competent adult-like figure, who becomes quite a leader. His comprehension of events leads him to accept what he must do at Hogwarts to defeat Voldemort, and shows how much he is willing to sacrifice to save his friends.
For how well Rowling wrote Harry, the rest of the characters suffer in comparison. As The Deathly Hallows is basically the story of Harry, the rest of the cast gets less time devoted to them. Ron and Hermione are basically just along for the ride. Snape is barely in the book, and the ending to his story is quite abrupt, but we do learn where his loyalty lies. Voldemort really never rises above being just a bad guy that needs defeated. And Dumbledore gets quite a bit of attention via information dumps on his history. Here we get to see a side of Dumbledore that isn’t even hinted at in the earlier books, and that I felt was put in solely to knock his reputation down a peg or two. With such a big book, I think a bit more could have been done with some of the other characters, even given the large cast used.
I mentioned the plodding pace earlier, and one other thing bothered me somewhat, and that is the use of ‘magic’ in the book. Perhaps I’m too grounded in science fiction, but the way magic is used seems to be at the whim of Rowling and without any internal logic. At one point, a magical ‘alarm’ is placed on the word ‘Voldemort’ (which is forbidden to be said), knowing that only Harry or his friends will say it. When they do, the Death Eater can quickly find them. Alright, why doesn’t the resistance get people to say that as often as possible? There aren’t an infinite number of Death Eaters, overuse of the word would quickly show the futility of doing this. And if you’re going to ‘alarm’ one word, why not other words the resistance group might say? There is a pirate radio broadcast called Potterwatch run by people in the resistance. Why not alarm the word Potterwatch as well? And with the ease that Harry and his friends were able to use polyjuice potions and confusion spells to gain entry into heavily magically defended areas, whats the point of even trying to defend them? The magical system just bugged me.
And while the book isn’t as light and ‘magical’ as the early Potter books are, I do think the ending leaves the series on a high note. We’ve seen Harry move from innocence and naivete into a competent, self-assured adult. And this change gives us hope for the future of Harry and of world Rowling has created. I’m not ready to anoint the Potter series, or this last book, as a ‘classic’, but I will say that Rowling has created a very enjoyable book and conclusion to Harry’s story.