Friday, August 17, 2007

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I've been meaning to write my own review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for a few weeks now, having finished the book a few days after it came out. I'm always staying up too late, and I'll admit staying up til 3 and 4 in the morning a couple nights to finish Harry Potter. I know there are about a million reviews of this book here, there, and everywhere (my favorite (if you ignore the bizarre illustrations) by Stephen King is here), but what is a blog for if not to add your own two cents to an already talked-over topic? Warning - this post will contain spoilers, so if you don't want to know anything about the book, stop reading now.

I started reading the Harry Potter books when book 3 came out - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I hadn't heard much about them - my pastor actually recommended them. I loved them. The first thing I heard in the media about them was that some Christian groups were condemning the books. This baffled me, first, because The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis, which are generally beloved in the Christian community, certainly have magic and spells and witches and wizards in them, and no one (that I know of) accused Lewis of promoting Satanism among children, and second, because the books seem to ooze with themes that seem quite, well, biblical. Sacrificial love? Selfless love? Ring any bells?

Any lingering doubts should be eliminated with Deathly Hallows. I could preach a sermon series with themes from this book (maybe I will!) In fact, Rowling quotes the Bible twice, although she doesn't cite her source :). "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." A good review focusing on these themes is here.

I won't rehash all the details, but here's a few highlights for me:

- I think it is great that Rowling doesn't have any 'saints' in these books, if by saint you mean 'perfect person.' Dumbledore is as close as the series came to having a saintly sage figure, and Deathly Hallows gives us so much more about who Dumbledore is and how he came to be the man Harry knew as headmaster. I like this added complexity. Dumbledore isn't perfect - in fact, his past is very troubled. In the end, Harry is able to respect him more and learn more from him because of it. And hardly anyone is simply 'evil' either - there is room for redemption for almost everyone. Even Voldemort gets a chance, Peter Pettigrew tries for it, Percy Weasley, etc. Severus Snape is certainly no all-admired hero by the close of the story, but he too experiences repentance, because of his love for Lily. I'm so glad Rowling didn't leave Snape to just be a 'bad guy' as many wondered after book 6, but I'm even happier that she also didn't make him simply a 'good guy' who was just misunderstood. Her characters are deeper and more layered than that.

- I've read many laments about the epilogue, readers unhappy with the lack of detail about exactly what happens to everyone. I understand, I guess. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I want to know exactly what's happened to everyone in my real life too - what happened to so-and-so who moved away in fifth grade? What happened to my best friend from camp? Where'd that person from college end up? But I know I will never know. Life isn't all neatly tied up like that. I thought the epilogue said what was important for Harry: All was well.

- The whole book (series, really) is about confronting and handling loss. I missed the book being set at Hogwarts and tied up with school life. I missed the professors and the other students. I'm glad we stayed focused on Ron, Hermione, and Harry, but I longed for the 'good old days' sometimes too. But, I think this longing, missing the 'good days' was actually a key part of the story and plot. Harry longed for that. Ron tried to recreate that when he left the group. Some of the leaders in the magical world tried to delude themselves into that. But Harry grew up. He had real life to face (real life for a fictional character, that is!).

- I'm sure Rowling had quite a task in writing book 7, but I also admire her writing because the plot seems like it had to happen that way. I heard an interview with an author recently who talked about the story taking over - he was just writing what had to happen. That's how I felt about Deathly Hallows - not that Rowling was choosing to write the book a certain way, but that based on everything that had happened in the series so far, the story was unfolding as the story had to unfold. I think that's a great quality in a book.
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