Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

by J. K. Rowling. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2007. I said I wouldn't review this because so many other people are doing it. Today I decided I have something to say about it anyway. I waited a while to let things sink in and to give folks a chance to finish it. If you are still in the middle here is your warning: Spoilers!

I love these books. I really do. Rowling is a master storyteller. I am awed by her mind; that she created such a complex, compelling world and that she carried on with the story for over ten years. She is genius. The stories are amazing, entertaining, thoughtful and beautiful. I just have a few problems with them, now that the series is finished.

I tried to ignore these thoughts and let go of them because of the really wonderful aspects of the books, as I said above. I just can't get them out of my mind. Am I the only person wondering:

  1. Harry is an orphan. He lost his parents at the age of one year. He was raised in a foster home by people who hated and feared him. He was shoved in a tiny closet under the stairs. He was abused emotionally and physically. His greatest gifts were the things his care-takers hated the most. No one loved him between the ages of one and eleven. He was very aware that no one loved him. So how does he turn out to be such a great guy? Where does he find the wisdom, the compassion and the courage to love others selflessly? His mother's sacrificial love saved his life and protected him, granted. But that kind of magic happening once in babyhood is not enough to raise an ethical, moral, secure, compassionate, generous, grounded person. Good parenting makes good leaders. It doesn't just happen. It is not realistic. Even magic has to make sense on some level after all.
  2. Hermione's little beaded bag. OK, at first I thought how clever. It solves the problem of how they will find all the things they need to survive and maintain their quest. After a while I started thinking Oh Please. Extra robes every time they need them? The sword for crying out loud? And when she gets taken by Death Eaters and tortured she manages to hold on to it by hiding it in her sock? Give me a break. That is stretching it too far.
  3. I don't quite understand how Harry died and came back to life. Where was he when he had that heart to heart with Dumbledore? Purgatory? How is it he had a choice of going back into life? Did everyone have that choice or just him because he died willingly as a sacrifice? That whole section is a little hard to swallow. If he died, he should have stayed dead or his resurrection should have been explained as remarkable and significant. Characters don't just get to die dramatically and then pop back to life for a happy ending, even in stories. And WHO the heck was that miserable baby shoved under a chair? Voldemort's soul?
  4. The epilogue. It brings to mind that 80s TV show called "thirtysomething". Do you remember it? Ron is Timothy Busfield. I used to love that show, partly because Buster was a baby right when Hope had her baby and I could relate. But now it just seems so trite. So yuppie. Harry turned out to be a boomer yuppie?
The things I liked about the book are the way the house elves developed and contributed to the final victory, the goblins playing an important role and having their own culture revealed a bit more, Neville's' final heroism, and the way Ron and Hermione's friendship made Harry's quest possible. I am sad to have finished the last book in the series. I guess I can look forward to watching the movies still, as I have only seen the first two.

What did you think of Deathly Hallows? What do you think about Harry's remarkable character traits, given that he grew up in bad foster care?


Andrea said...

i have wondered a bit about this, how harry and voldemort both were unloved orphans, but turned out so differently. the only thing i can think is that harry did have some unknown memory of his mother's love, unlike v, and simply *chose* to love, *chose* kindness and goodness. i have heard a few stories in real life (very few, to be sure) of people severely abused and/or neglected as children who also chose love. it's rare, but not impossible.

the beaded bag...well, it was a device, i guess :) but yeah, perhaps a little too convenient.

i think harry's "death" is meant to be ambiguous. could be purgatory. maybe a "near-death experience". and yes, i took the orrible baby to be v's soul, the part trapped in harry's scar. i think the scar/blood connection is partly why harry was able to come back, because v was still alive.

i was glad on one hand to know what happened to everyone in the end, but it did seem a little contrived. i read one person compare it to fan-fiction. i can see how it would be difficult to conclude with a truly satisfying epilogue that didn't take up another 100 pages...if not another book. it seems to have been written more for her younger readers, maybe.

i'm hoping to see movie#5 this week!

mama k said...

OMG! I could have written this review. I had the exact same issues when I was reading the book.
I too thought that beaded bag was cool at first, but fresh robes and butter beer? Come on!
And I was disappointed by the whole christ/messiah/death-resurection turn at the end. Really, was that the only thing she could come up with? It's like she killed off all those other characters just to temper the sugar-sweet happily ever after ending.
I had to remind myself that this is a children's book after all. So she can't get too complicated. But the whole ambiguous "just because this is happening in your head doesn't mean it's not real" conversation with Dumbeldore was hard for me to follow... let alone a 10 year old!

Overall, I enjoyed it for all the reasons you mentioned. However, it was my least favorite book in the series and kind of a let down after all the anticipation.

AMY said...

About the abusive foster care situation: I think some kids are really that resilient. I've met a few. I've had the honor of teaching a few. I don't even like HP that much, the character, or the series, but I'm happy to defend the integrity, resiliency, and courage of many kids who've survived far worse, and not only survived, but become compassionate, loving adults. I agree, that kinda neglect and abuse would destroy many of us, but not all of us.

Beth: said...

First off, I love HP. The series and the attendant online community have been a big part of my life for the last ten years. I still can't quite believe it's over ... *sigh**

So, HP & DH. In many ways, this book was the best. Her writing and the telling of the story held together really well. What frustrated me the most was how Snape died: the fact that there was no reconciliation of any sort between Snape and Harry was a cheat. And, Arthur was cured of his bite from Nagini but Snape couldn't be? Ticked me off no end, the way she wrote that. And then the ending (pre-epilogue): no resolution, no gathering of the survivors? There's a missing chapter there, at the end. And the epilogue itself -- it not only reads like fanfic, it is a huge amount of fodder for the fanfic writers! How long will it be before the stories about young Albus Severus being sorted into Slytherin surface? lol

Anyway. Regarding Harry's childhood -- this is JKR: she simply doesn't go there with that sort of darkness. She's not Tamora Pierce, who most certainly would have. It might have been more realistic to have Harry be a bitter and difficult or depressed teenager, drawn to darkness, but on the other hand, not all children who had abusive and neglectful childhoods end up evil. I, for one, did not. Still, it would have been nice if Harry hadn't been quite so saintly perfect (in terms of choices etc), it would have made his characterization richer.

I read his death as a near death experience, and as such, it was ok (with me) that he had a choice as to whether or not to come back. The whimpery creature was Voldemort's devasted soul bit.

But overall, as I say, I really loved it.

Kohana said...

I was wondering if I wasn't getting the whole baby under the chair thing because it was 1:30 am and I was bleary eyed, trying to finish the book so I could return to parenting sans Potter. It really didn't make sense to me - especially that in every other circumstance Harry has stopped to help people in need, and Dumbledore was always so kind. Yet here there is a helpless crying child and Dumbledore tells him to ignore it, and Harry does. That just threw me.

cloudscome said...

Maybe I am hypersensitive to the whole orphan fantasy. I am learning so much about the trauma that adopted and foster children live with and the deeply challenging parts of parenting that it makes me a bit angry to see a majorly important writer present Harry's character coming to him so easily, without obvious effort or dedicated parenting. I want desperately for my boys to grow up as fine as Harry, but it doesn't just happen without my daily struggle to be the best I can be and then some. Perhaps it's just another example of the literary orphan fantasy; it's exciting to be a child loose in the world with distant but loving parents.

Years ago I remember my priest saying why she disagreed with the Christians who ban HP from their kid's reading lists. She said the central idea of the story is this ultimately important truth: that sacrificial love is the greatest force in the universe. That is a very Christian teaching. I think the strongest magic in the books is the magic of Harry's mother's love protecting him. His father sacrificed life for him too, but Dumbledore doesn't seem to mention that as much. It's Lily's sacrificial love that makes Harry what he is. So I guess Snape and Voldemort also had miserable, lonely childhoods but didn't have the same mother's love to work the magic. It seems like that might be one of Rowling's themes.

I also am thinking about how Petunia loves Dudley and Narcissa loves Draco, but it is a twisted, selfish type of love compared to Lily's love and it doesn't help them become good strong men. I am beginning to see the whole series as an exploration of mother's love. That feels a bit threatening actually. Is there a formula and am I measuring up? LOL It's all about me, of course.

Genevieve said...

I also think that having 15 months of parental love could have taught baby Harry to trust and love back. Snape and Tom Riddle never had that.