I know many fans find Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows disappointing. In one sense, I understand the feeling. The book differs drastically from its predecessors in both structure and tone. This is not simply “year seven” at boarding school. Harry, Ron, and Hermione have left Hogwarts to embark upon a more traditional epic fantasy quest to find magical artifacts.
Although Deathly Hallows probably could never have satisfied the fevered expectations of fans in 2007, the book does suffer from introducing too much plot too late in the series. Almost everything the heroes needed to do in order to defeat Voldemort they learn and accomplish in this book. It makes the book and the series as a whole feel unbalanced.
In Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore discovers that Voldemort created seven Horcruxes in order to preserve his soul. One – Tom Riddle’s diary – was destroyed in Chamber of Secrets, while Dumbledore destroyed another – Marvolo’s Ring – sometime before Half-Blood Prince. That means Harry, Ron, and Hermione still have to find and destroy five additional Horcruxes in this final book. In theory, the Horcruxes could be anywhere and anything. That alone would pose a huge obstacle, enough for most epic fantasy novels.
Because the task is so daunting, Deathly Hallows – rightly – tries to make the process of searching for Horcruxes seem difficult. We needed to see Harry, Ron, and Hermione wandering in the woods at a loss for what to do. Yet, because none of the previous six books featured Horcruxes, Deathly Hallows bears this burden alone. In other words, this one book – which supposedly finishes the series – also acts as the beginning, middle, and end of the Horcrux subplot. Thus, it feels like a cheat when Harry, Ron, and Hermione manage to destroy all of them (with an assist from Neville Longbottom) so quickly. It’s quite convenient that Voldemort hid all five Horcruxes in the greater London metropolitan area rather than, say, in a junkyard in China or in a deep ocean trench.
On top of that, halfway into Deathly Hallows, the book adds yet another artifact quest.* Harry, Ron, and Hermione must not only destroy Horcruxes, but also stop Voldemort from obtaining the Deathly Hallows. I actually like the concept behind the Deathly Hallows. In my discussion of Order of the Phoenix, I said Harry still needed to learn to truly accept death as a part of human life. However, you’d think that by book seven in the series the characters would basically know what they have to do and have already started doing it. Because the book needs to spend so much time on exposition for these additional quests, it has less time to spend exploring the implications of these plot developments.
For example, there’s a moment when Harry briefly considers pursuing the Deathly Hallows for himself. He already has the Resurrection Stone and Invisibility Cloak, and he knows where to find the Eldar Wand. With these three, he would become master over death and supposedly have the power to bring the dead back to life. Even with everything Harry has learned up to this point, I still think this was – or should have been – a difficult choice. Wouldn’t he have been tempted to bring his parents back? Even Dumbledore couldn’t resist trying to use the Resurrection Stone to resurrect his sister. Harry’s decision should have been a crucial moment for the character, but the book barely touched upon it. I felt that we as readers needed to see Harry struggle at least a bit to make the right choice.
And yet, even if the denouement feels rushed, emotionally Deathly Hallows works as a story about accepting death. “The Tale of Three Brothers,” with the youngest brother who wore the invisibility cloak and then welcomes death as an old friend, is a beautiful metaphor for passing on gracefully. Harry’s walk through the Forbidden Forest to meet his own death at Voldemort’s hands reflects a mature acceptance and acknowledgment of the human condition (a far cry from “I don’t want to be human!”). I’m sure many readers cried when the ghosts of James and Lily Potter, Sirius Black, and Remus Lupin appeared to comfort Harry.
I wouldn’t consider Deathly Hallows to be the greatest book in the series, but I’m also not disappointed. It has some good ideas and the slower parts – the character development, exposition, even the wandering in the forest – were necessary to obtain the emotional payoff at the end. I just wish J.K. Rowling had spread a bit more of the plot and exposition amongst the other six books. Deathly Hallows doesn’t feel like the final installment of a seven-book series building to a climax. In fact, taking the Harry Potter series as a whole, I’d say Deathly Hallows contains around 80% of the crucial plot and character development, making the previous six books feel like glorified backstory.
The epilogue of Deathly Hallows has become infamous. Deservedly so. The final book in a series should provide a sense of closure. The Deathly Hallows epilogue really only reveals the marital status of the main characters, which readers probably could have guessed (Ron and Hermione, Harry and Ginny). It does not resolve the many remaining questions. Did Hermione succeed in promoting Elfish welfare? Did Harry ever become an Auror? Did Draco Malfoy find redemption – or is he still a shady Slytherin? How did wizarding society achieve peace and reconciliation after such a bloody civil war? After all, many wizards, such as Dolores Umbridge, willingly supported Voldemort’s anti-muggle policies.
Apparently, the Pottermore website has short stories about the lives of the main characters after Deathly Hallows. I’d like to check it out. At the same time, readers shouldn’t have to do extracurricular homework just to get a sense of closure.
Next week, I review The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a spinoff book based on “The Tale of Three Brothers”…
* Not to mention major revelations about Dumbledore and Snape, which also required additional exposition.