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

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling book cover
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007) is the final instalment of J. K. Rowling’s hugely popular series. Having lost his great mentor, Harry must now set out to destroy Lord Voldemort with but the small amount of information Dumbledore imparted before his passing. The world is an increasingly perilous place, and the supporters of the Order of the Phoenix and those opposed to Voldemort in general, are hunted and marginalised. With Ron and Hermione in toe, Harry chooses not to return to Hogwarts, but to go on the run, collecting and destroying Horcruxes in an attempt to end the reign of Lord Voldemort definitively. As the three pursue this quest they are introduced to the idea of the Deathly Hallows – a set of three objects that, in combination, make a wizard all but invincible. With Voldemort seemingly seeking these items, Harry must choose whether to chase down Horcruxes or Hallows. Conflicted and without support, the young hero will have to fight his way through numerous dangers to set up one final battle with He Who Shall Not Be Named.

Malicious lies, loose gossip, and orchestrated misinformation all distort any concept of truth that remains for Harry and he must turn inwards, trusting on his own instincts and the few people on whom he is still able to rely, to help him navigate his final adventure. But as Dumbledore’s memory is appropriated and corrupted by various parasitic elements, Harry struggles to retain faith in his fallen mentor. Where faith in one’s friends had been so important to the young hero in previous books, here Harry is faced with the possibility that his faith may have been misplaced, and that Dumbledore might not have been all that he appeared.

It is not only Dumbledore whose legacy lives on after his death; across the series characters have fallen and here the shadows cast by the departed stretch, crucially, across Hogwarts as Harry and Voldemort meet for one final battle. Dumbledore advocated the affordance of a second chance to those who do not always appear worthy of one. As the characters come together to define the fate of the world in which they live, this faith in the potential for redemption is never more important.

With Harry, Ron, and Hermione on the run for more than half the book, one feels very acutely the absence of the full cast of characters, which bring the world to life, and one realises quite how important Hogwarts itself is to the Harry Potter series. In the wilderness, both Rowling and her characters seem a little bereft of ideas. The author’s style too, further exposed by the plot, fails to develop into the more sophisticated style that the series deserves. However, what should never be forgotten is the speed with which Rowling produced her series, allowing a generation to grow with their beloved characters. This prodigious creative output cannot be disregarded when considering Rowling’s style as a whole.

The clues leading to this final instalment have been deftly inserted into the previous six books, and one must be impressed with Rowling’s foresight in this respect. The complex family histories and mythology demonstrate the work that was put into the plotting of the series at its inception, but nevertheless, one senses that the purity of this vision adapted as Rowling’s audience grew and demanded different things of Harry and Hogwarts.

There are few real surprises here, and even the finale feels undercooked and lacking in the real drama that could so easily have been created here. The Deathly Hallows themselves somewhat detract from the search for the Horcruxes and become, very rapidly, the central fixation of the book: a slightly jarring sea-change. More could have been made of the final book and of the ending, with a whole host of storylines left unresolved or unexploited to their full.

Death, which Voldemort and his followers seek to master, permeates the story, dished out by the villains without hesitation, and with little regard for human life. The ambition to master or reverse death is shown to be more than perilous. Indeed, the Deathly Hallows themselves are false treasures (in at least two cases), which offer no true protection from death and violence. Again, the consequences of death are dealt with only briefly, and for a series that has become increasingly sophisticated, this feels like a significant omission.

Harry’s generation are charged with saving the world for their adult counterparts, and it is clear that Rowling relishes the youthful exuberance and na├»ve readiness to do right that her young heroes demonstrate so regularly. The scene which sees Harry, Ron, and Hermione break into the Ministry of Magic, now a totalitarian nightmare, is particularly well done. So too is the deeper consideration of peripheral characters like Neville Longbottom and the Malfoys.

With the series drawing to a close, this addition sees a strange juxtaposition in J. K. Rowling’s style, in which she appears happy to flick from dark, adult themes to sugar-sweet junior fiction and stretching the reader’s credulity to breaking point with the simplicity of some elements of the story. However, while the ending might be a bit kitsch, it is happy and works perfectly well, considering this is junior fiction.

While not the finest writing available to the junior audience, the Harry Potter series and J. K. Rowling inspired a generation of young readers – exposing them to the wonders of literature and solid morals in the face of adversity through the actions of the series’ young characters. This service will benefit communities worldwide for years to come, and no matter what one has to say about the books, great thanks must go to Rowling for this gift.

Just a fantastic series that got children all over the world reading. Some of the later books became a little flabby, but it's hard to criticise works that have proved the value of literature to generations who have seemingly infinite alternatives.


Useful Links
Reviews of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on Amazon (UK)
Reviews of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on Amazon (US)
Film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on Amazon (UK)
Film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on Amazon (US)

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4 comments:

Heather said...

I have been watching the HP movies with a group of folks on Twitter, and they're making me want to reread the books. As soon as I'm done rereading Stephen King's Dark Tower series, I think I'll start in on these.

sandy said...

I read this book almost 5 years ago. Must admit the books earlier in the series were a lot more exciting to read. But I am happy to have experienced the potter world. You reviewed the potter series very justly Matthew.

Matthew Selwyn said...

Heather, I'm not sure if it's to my shame or otherwise, but I've not seen all the HP films! Reading the books has certainly made me want to go back and dig them out.

Matthew Selwyn said...

Sandy, thank you - I've actually found it really strange revisiting the books, and trying to write anything worth reading about them! Pleased to have got through it though, and even more pleased if any of my points are of interest. :)