Monday, February 3, 2014

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

In the final installment of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling puts our favorite hero face to face with death and he must learn to truly make the choice that Albus Dumbledore taught him so many years ago - to do what is right or do what is easy.  Harry is now seventeen and supposed to be attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for his final year of magical education but the situation at hand forces him (and his best friends Ron and Hermione) to let go of his childhood school days and finish the mission Dumbledore assigned to him at the end of his sixth school year - to find and destroy all of Voldemort's horcruxes.  With Dumbledore's untimely death, Harry is now lost and confused.  Not only did Dumbledore not give him all of the information about finding and destroying horcruxes but Dumbledore also did not confide in Harry about his own personal life and with all of the gossip going around about Dumbledore's dark past, Harry feels betrayed and mislead by one of the greatest wizards he ever knew - or thought he knew.  When the ministry is taken over by Voldemort and his Death Eaters, the trio are forced to go into hiding, moving from one forest to the next everyday in hopes that they can use their brains and figure out where the remaining horcruxes could be.
I want to state right away that I love this book!  It is by far my favorite in the series.  The complexities of the plot and Rowling's writing are superb.  Harry's journey is an intensely spiritual one as he tries to unravel his feelings about Dumbledore and the past he was never told about, sits in utter agony as he and his friends are constantly running into brick walls about where to find and how to destroy horcruxes, and fights to decide what is more important - hallows or horcruxes?  The story is a coming of age tale as well as a redemptive tale, showing the reader that even the characters we believed to never be redeemable have light sides.
I have to be honest when I say that this sixth time around reading these books, I felt a bit weighed
down by them rather than excited by them like I did reading them the second, third or fourth times.  That being said, every time I read these books I discover something new about the plot or the characters.  This sixth read gave me a much better perspective and understanding of Albus Dumbledore, especially with this book.  With all of this talk about the Fantastic Beasts movie and the play about Harry before he discovered he was a wizard, I really wish J.K. Rowling would write a novel about the Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore!  I would read that book in a heartbeat, that is how much I love Albus Dumbledore's back-story. 
While many people complain about the dragging camping scenes in the first half of the book, I personally love them.  The restlessness and sense of hopelessness really gives for nice character development and poetic stillness.  So often in fantasy literature we expect for the final book to be this violent smash where the drama never ends and Rowling totally defies that when she leaves Harry alone in his thoughts, partially alienated by his friends who expected him to have more information and to be a better leader.  The poetic stillness continues when Harry and Hermione go to Godric's Hollow and see the statue of Harry's parents and their grave stones, the chapter following when Harry's wand breaks and he reads some of the Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore and feels angry and hurt thinking about the Dumbledore he never knew, and then continues when Dobby dies and Harry must come to terms with his mission rather than gaining power and he must be okay with that.  Then, Harry sees into Snape's memory and learns that he is the final horcrux and that he must give himself over to death rather than defy death, just like the young Dumbledore and Voldemort tried to do.  Finally, Harry walks to his death and visits Albus Dumbledore in the in-between where he can choose to take a train, the same train that connects him to the Wizarding World every September and brings him back to the dull muggle world every summer, back to life or to ultimate death.  Harry chooses life and to continue fighting.
Harry's self sacrifice so obviously makes him a Christ figure that I fail to see why Christians hate these books now that all seven are published.  I understand that witchcraft is wrong and that the fact that Harry, along with the bad guy, is a wizard means he isn't supposed to be a hero but a bad guy as well however, this is a work of fiction.  If anything, Harry's position as a wizard should not be feared but viewed as a metaphor - that magic cannot solve all our problems and that love is the most important virtue.  Not only are love and self sacrifice two key themes in this novel and both outright Christian themes, but this novel also includes the theme of redemption (Dudley, Kreacher, Snape - to name a few) and the idea that no one is perfect or ultimately good.  As Sirius Black said - we all have both light and dark inside of us.
I guess I should also comment on Snape since he is such a huge character in this book.  I love Snape.  I don't love him in the sense that I believe he is perfect in every single way.  In fact, my opinion is quite the opposite.  Snape's bravery clashing with his distinct hatred for James Potter and love for Lily Potter makes him the ultimate complex character.  He isn't 100% good (he can be a huge jerk in the earlier books) but three dimensional and real.  What I love about these books are the small hints Rowling drops throughout them, hinting the truth to certain mysteries.  Rowling is a particular artist at this - she did it with Barty Crouch Jr. in Goblet of Fire, Sirius Black in Prisoner of Azkaban, Gildery Lockhart in Chamber of Secrets...the list goes on and on.  She doesn't make things obvious but leaves hints so that when you return to the books for another read, you see things clearer and yet you still don't know the entire tale unless you read again, again, and again.  In my opinion, that is what makes a book great - that when you return to it, you always learn and discover something new.  Harry Potter is the idle read for something of that nature.
Finally, I want to quickly comment on the story of the Three Brothers, or the Deathly Hallows.  I have read the Tales of Beedle the Bard and none of the stories quite compared to this one.  Perhaps I feel this way because the Three Brothers is a tale I am familiar with but regardless, I still feel that this is Rowling at her best.  Not only was she able to write a credible short children's morality tale but did so incorporating in the wizarding culture she created while also keeping it solid enough that adults can read the story to their children even if they aren't unfamiliar with Potter.  The story encompasses this book's lesson in just a few pages, teaching the reader that death is not the worst thing in life and that we should not fear it but embrace it when the time comes.  It reminds me very much of Death, the narrator, from the Book Thief.
I feel like this book review was a bit unstructured but that is okay.  I have been wanting to write this review for the longest time and just never knew exactly how to write it.  I have so much more to say but that may just mean I will have to write a novel about Harry Potter!  Time will tell.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a must read!  It is truly a literary and fantasy classic!

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

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