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September 19, 2007

Rowling wraps up series with most serious volume yet

I am not going to tip-toe around the garden gnomes. Any self-respecting Harry Potter fan has already read Deathly Hallows…twice. So if you are worried about spoilers, stop reading now.

Who has purchased action figures and T-shirts from Hot Topic? Who attended a midnight book release party and read straight through the night? Who spent most of that night quaking and trembling from Rowling’s fast-paced and suspenseful plot? Who couldn’t help screaming out, “I KNEW IT!” with every correctly predicted outcome? Who cried like a baby for essentially the final third of the book, particularly regarding certain characters’ fates? Who joined the Official Mrs. Weasley Appreciation Group on Facebook? Who was left with a hollow feeling in one’s stomach upon completion?

I can raise my hand to each of those questions. I will proudly wear around campus my shirt showing Alan Rickman as Severus Snape; if you remember my preview article for the book, you will recall that I correctly predicted Lily Potter and Severus Snape’s relationship; and yes, upon completion, I was left with a massive void in my stomach as a feeling of detachment and unhappiness began pouring into the emptiness. It was a deathly hollow. Had a dementor invaded my home?

Foremost, the reader understands from the opening chapter that very little whimsical fun will be had as Rowling’s final story unfolds with an oppressively grim and disheartening tone. Rowling plunges the reader into consecutive centerpiece plot events that sink the reader into absolute dread as Harry, Ron, and Hermione put what they’ve learned about magic to the test in the real world. Can they do it with both Voldemort and the corrupted Ministry of Magic extending their magical might toward capturing Harry?

The trio experiences a single bit of fun and happiness at the Burrow for Bill and Fleur’s wedding, though a sense of anxiety hangs above the festivities as the death toll has already begun its climb. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are immediately forced to strike out alone on their quest to destroy Horcruxes, the job Dumbledore left them from Half-Blood Prince. Their journey takes them to the Ministry of Magic, to camping around parts of Britain in hiding, to Godric’s Hollow (one of the highlights of the plot, I feel), to a break-in at Gringotts Bank, and finally on to Hogwarts. There are other locales visited, new and old, as Harry, Ron, and Hermione learn of Voldemort’s intent to uncover the location of the Elder Wand, a famed wand considered unbeatable in a duel, which is one of three objects known as the Deathly Hallows.

Rowling uses this story arc about the Hallows along with the Horcruxes to create further character growth for Harry, Ron, and Hermione, as well as to substantially emphasize the gravity and scope of Harry’s task. Although various sections of the book drag under the evolution of these plot lines, they are nevertheless completely necessary for the book to maintain a sense of pace and legitimacy. Otherwise, if the trio arrived at the perfect conclusions for everything, the story would feel more contrived than Rowling’s ability to stretch Deathly Hallows across a full year at Hogwarts.

While the novel is not perfect, Hallows is still remarkable as the concluding installment of the Harry Potter series. Rowling does a brilliant job illustrating the peril and immense dangers of Harry’s world in the midst of open war against Voldemort, and provides a masterful finale with the Battle of Hogwarts. The novel is unlike any of the previous books in the series as Rowling abandons her typical plot formula for a whirlwind adventure, taking the reader on a journey through Harry’s world. As the reader closes the book, he feels he has come full circle, which is a clever yet risky move; the book ultimately feels lacking in a small way due to the fact that the bulk of the plot revolves only around Harry, Ron, and Hermione and some of our favorite supporting players receive mere cameos. Because fans were expecting so much, there are places where it would be easy for one to feel unfulfilled by this weakness. However, we have the promise of an encyclopedia from Rowling that will satisfy our cravings.

The true strength of the books has always been the cast of characters, and this strength is made evident more than ever in the final novel. Having read the series since I was 11, I am guilty of developing an emotional attachment to the books as many fans have, and suffice to say, the loss of characters as well as the survival of others truly hit me harder than the Whomping Willow could ever manage. Although I expected the fate that awaited my favorite prince, I could not help but leave watery teardrops on page 658. Nor could I help going to pieces knowing he and Dumbledore would live on in a new way, as the epilogue illustrated.

While some may snort with laughter to hear that fans bawled their eyes out during the chapter “The Forest Again” or when Dobby was given true liberation, and others may be worried or baffled by such displays of empathy, the fact remains that the fictitious characters of Rowling’s world have forever reached the hearts of millions. To many, they are as real as one’s own family and friends, and the knowledge that we shall never again encounter the people to whom Rowling has introduced us produces a grief that is equally real.

As such, I cannot fathom the idea of Harry Potter fading out and falling into obscurity on bookstore and library shelves. The charm of the Potter books is such that it would be impossible for coming generations not to find themselves captivated by the series.