Big honking multi-pronged spoiler alert. But you knew that anyway, did you not?
I’ve known Harry Potter for eight years now. Eight years is a long time to know anyone, fictional or not. Since I first met him, Mr. Potter has remained a fixed point in my life. He’s been more real than passing acquaintances. His stories, coming out as they have every couple of years, were always something to look forward to. And now he’s gone. Rowling has finished her series and as I write this I just finished the book a scant five minutes ago. I won’t tell you the ending. I couldn’t if I tried. But finishing this book, and officially ending my acquaintance with Harry and his world, is an odd experience. It doesn’t feel as if I’ve lost someone so much as I wish they hadn’t left me behind. I read the last sentence of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" just six minutes ago now and it’s going to be one of the better remembered last sentences I carry with me from here on in.
The end has come. Usually at this time of year, Harry would be looking forward to going back to Hogwarts to finish out his final year. Now he finds he can’t. His birthday is looming and any day now Voldemort is going to personally see to it that he finishes the job he started many years ago. Harry has a quest of his own, however. Before Dumbledore died he saw to it that Harry know that his goal in life was to find the horcruxes that contain pieces of Voldemort’s soul and destroy them one-by-one. With Ron and Hermione by his side, Harry sets out to do just that, but finds his path is not an easy one. The world as he has always known it is coming to ruins. The Ministry has fallen under Voldemort’s sway. The good guys are dying, the bad guys surviving, and Harry and friends are losing hope. Fortunately, help is always available to those who seek it. The end is most certainly near.
Satisfying. That’s how I’d describe it. A satisfying, death-filled, torture-happy, magnificent read. I always felt that with Harry Potter, as he grows up, so too grow his adventures. "Sorcerer’s Stone"/"Philospher’s Stone" was always the kid-friendliest of the books, followed closely by "Chamber of Secrets". Really, it was when "Azkaban" hit that Rowling felt free to go as dark as she dared. Turns out, she dares quite a lot. The near simultaneous release of this book with the filmed version of "Order of the Phoenix" meant that I found myself accidentally comparing the two. In the book of "Phoenix" there’s a scene where Umbridge comes mighty close to torturing someone close to Harry. Reading this, I figured that this meant that none of the our two best buddies of Harry would ever suffer in the same way. Well I figured wrong wrongdy wrong wrong. It’s not like Rowling doesn’t prepare you, of course. The opening sequence of the book contains enough nastiness to scare away anyone who sees these books as cotton candy light kiddie affairs. There’s some mature stuff going on here. I mean, how many children’s books get away with having an older male character with an inordinate (unhealthy?) love of goats? I ask you.
The most impressive aspect of this book, to me, was that it never did what you expected of it. Rowling has had to hear and digest more predictions regarding her book than anyone should have to deal with. In spite of that, the story is not the predictable little package you expect it to be. Rowling goes back to every previous book, digging up facts and characters and details that we, the readers, have probably forgotten. I got the definite sense that of all the Harry Potter fans in the world, Rowling is probably the biggest. She MUST have reread everything she wrote prior to writing this title, right? Even if she didn’t, her sense of story is so developed that innumerable details were prepped and prepared long before they became important in this final tale.
I was fond of all the little details as well. The fact that James and Lily were 21 when Harry died makes a lot of sense. I was just amazed that Rowling decided to put actual years on her tombstones. That certainly anchors the series in time, does it not? As a Snape fan (yes, I am the biggest fangirl nerd dork in the known universe) Rowling definitely delivered in the unrequited love department. Somehow I suspect that the Snape fan clubs out there have possibly expired from sheer delight and joy. Come to think of it, Rowling seems to have decided to give the public what they want in a very tangible way. You wanna see Neville stand up and beat down the bad guy? Check. You wanna see Mrs. Weasely kick some nasty Bellatrix butt? Check. Stand up and cheer moments do not lack here.
Admittedly, some people are a bit pissed off that Lupin and Tonks end up dead without so much as a by-your-leave. And some would have preferred not to see the dead rise up and do a walkabout. None of this bothered me in the slightest. In battles, people die. I would have been much more upset if we hadn’t seen how Fred had died. I did wish that Rowling spent less time skulking about in the woods with her heroes. For an interminable amount of time these three just sit around doing nothing but kvetch. I understand that Rowling feels a need to let things get worse before they get better, but about the time Harry’s wand broke I was so depressed that I could hardly read any further. I had to keep glancing at the cover of my book (British edition) to reassure myself that things would have to get better later.
There are questions left unanswered too. What, for example, is the deal with Harry’s ancestry? The guy has no living relatives and a huge inheritance for some reason. Wherefore? I was hoping for some background on this one, but I guess Rowling will answer such concerns in that encyclopedia of Potter knowledge she’s promised to make. I’d also like some confirmation that Severus got a big old funeral with lots of attention and maybe a wing of Hogwarts named after him. At the very least.
(CONTINUED IN PART TWO)