Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Posted on July 22, 2007


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JK Rowling gives her deservedly celebrated series a rousing – and very satisfying – sendoff.

JULY 23, 2007 – IT IS OMINOUS, but perhaps not entirely unsurprising, that JK Rowling prefaces Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with a couple of quotes about death (one of them from Aeschylus – “… the stroke that hits the vein, the haemorrhage none can staunch” – that makes you wonder if the wily old Greek actually knew a thing or two about the aftereffects of the Sectumsempra spell). Ever since Professor Trelawney glimpsed the Grim around Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Prisoner and Azkaban, death has stalked our young hero – and those around our young hero – in increasingly unanticipated ways, and if there’s one question on everyone’s lips before opening this most awaited of adventures (other than, of course, Am I going to be able to resist the temptation of flicking to the last page?), it’s this: Does Harry Potter survive his inevitable wand-off with Lord Voldemort?

But a more pressing question would be this one: Does Harry Potter have what it takes to survive his inevitable wand-off with Lord Voldemort? After all, he’s merely seventeen a few chapters into Deathly Hallows, and he’s barely had six years of magical school education, while his nemesis is not only much older but also with far more – now, how shall we put this politely? – real-life experience. No less a wizard than Professor Dumbledore himself appears in awe of the Dark Lord, for he confides to Harry during his customary post-climactic-battle chat in the Headmaster’s office, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, “I knew that Voldemort’s knowledge of magic is perhaps more extensive than any wizard alive. I knew that even my most complex and powerful protective spells and charms were unlikely to be invincible if he ever returned to full power.”

Professor Snape minced far fewer words in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when he spat out, “[Harry] has fought his way out of a number of tight corners by a simple combination of sheer luck and more talented friends,” and Voldemort himself sneers, in Deathly Hallows, “That Potter lives is due more to my errors, than to his triumphs” – and our overriding concern for Harry, as we plunge feverishly into his seventh and last adventure, is our sinking feeling that Snape and Voldemort are right. Even with Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger beside him, however is he going to acquire, in such a short time, the knowledge and the skills to complete the task that Dumbledore has set for him, which is to first unearth the remaining Horcruxes – those magical objects that house splintered parts of Voldemort’s soul, and which need to be destroyed if Voldemort is to be destroyed – and finally go mano-a-mano (rather, boyo-a-mano) with the greatest Bad Wizard of all time?

It’s to Rowling’s credit that, for a significant part of Deathly Hallows, she does absolutely nothing to alleviate our apprehensions. (It’s surely no coincidence that the very first time we meet Harry, we find him at his most vulnerable: “Harry was bleeding.”) Harry, Ron and Hermione appear, more than ever, three silly kids in over their heads – bumbling across the countryside, stumbling into the right people, lucking into crucial magical objects, chancing upon important information at just the right moment. But the magic – and yes, this is sheer magic – of Rowling’s narrative design is that her story could exist, could function no other way. It’s just right – and by the end of it all, by the time we absorb the inevitability of the final revelations, even sceptics may find themselves staving off a fighting urge to slap their foreheads hard and cry out, “But of course!”

While the verdict is still out on Rowling’s literary gifts – rather, the apparent lack of them – no one who’s followed the series can fault her facility for spinning one heck of an involving yarn, and Deathly Hallows proves, yet again, that this author is nothing if not an expert puppeteer of audience emotions. Slowly, surely, she manipulates us – interspersing fond remembrances of what we already know with teasing snatches of what we are dying to know. Saying farewell to his home on Privet Drive, early on, Harry pulls open a door under the stairs. “And under here, Hedwig,” he exclaims to his snow-white owl, “is where I used to sleep! You never knew me then – blimey, it’s small, I’d forgotten…” We haven’t – but that’s hardly the point. We know what our loved ones looked like ten years ago, but that doesn’t prevent us from pulling out albums of old photographs from time to time, and that’s the effect that Rowling creates here. Harry’s nostalgia – along with the reappearances of everyone and everything, from Sirius Black’s motorcycle to the snitch that Harry apprehended in his very first Quidditch match – is a sentimental reminder of a magical world that we’ve known for a decade, that we’re now saying goodbye to forever.

What’s new in Deathly Hallows, however, is that this is the first time it’s all-out war – and while the rousing arc about a small group of rebels fighting to bring down an unstoppably evil regime isn’t exactly new to pop-culture storytelling (think Star Wars or Terminator 2), Rowling hints at real-world underpinnings. It’s impossible not to think of Anne Frank when Harry and his friends are holed up in a desolate house to escape the stalking Death Eaters, just as Voldemort’s pure-blood obsession harks back to Hitler – and these parallels bring about some inevitable dissonances in a book written with children in mind. When Hermione runs over her checklist before launching into a particularly dangerous offensive, we note, with some alarm, that her ammunition consists of the Invisibility Cloak, Polyjuice Potion, Decoy Detonators, Puking Pastilles, Nosebleed Nougats and Extendable Ears (although, later, Rowling does acknowledge these preparations as “laughably childish”). Another factor that eats considerably into the element of danger is that practically every move of Voldemort’s is sensed comfortably ahead-of-time by Harry, thanks to his psychically-connected scar.

That’s not to say Deathly Hallows is anything less than a nail-biting read. A rescue operation inside the Ministry of Magic is thrillingly written, and the climactic battle is a real rouser, what with the magical creatures of the world uniting against a common enemy the way they did in another fictional universe, many decades ago, when another fantasist wrote about a quest to destroy a near-indestructible magical object. (Harry’s mission to eliminate the Horcruxes parallels Frodo’s journey in other respects too, particularly in the revelation that a Horcrux has the power to cloud the possessor’s mind.) Along the way, there are nods to the Arthurian legends (a sword is retrieved from a lake), Gothic romances like Jane Eyre (an embarrassment to the family is locked up inside her own home), and perhaps even our own Ramayana (a magical deer that may be trap for three people living in a forest, go figure!) – but then, Rowling has always been an equal-opportunity appropriator.

And these appropriations, in Deathly Hallows, come together as well as you could wish for. Rowling may leave you dissatisfied with the surprisingly slapdash way her villain goes about his nefarious business, and she may leave you quibbling over her seemingly inexhaustible stock of narrative coincidences, but you brush aside these concerns because you care about the characters. You care for Harry when he gets hold of a letter written by his mother, and you care that she made her g’s the same way he does. (“He searched through the letter for every one of them, and each felt like a friendly little wave glimpsed from behind a veil.”) These relationships – between friends (Harry and Ron and Hermione), between whether-or-not boyfriends and girlfriends (Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hermione), between parent and child (Lily Potter and Harry, Molly Weasley and her brood, Narcissa Malfoy and Draco, Xenophilius Lovegood and Luna, the Grangers and Hermione) – are the reason we buy, yet again, one last time, into Rowling’s writing. Spells, enchantments, jinxes and curses all have their place, but as the wise Dumbledore once put it, the greatest and most powerful magic is love.

Copyright ©2007 The New Indian Express

Posted in: Book Reviews