This is a spoiler-free post.
The Southerner betrayed me, opting not to buy his own copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in favor of waiting for some precious boxed set. The literary Judas. Well, at least I update my website, unlike some people I could name, or grant funny pseudonyms.
In any case, the power of Book 7 proved overwhelming. I saw dozens of copies while I walked to a friend’s apartment on Saturday, opened on laps or swinging heavily in bags. When I passed the Barnes and Noble, I knew that there was no resisting. I went in, grabbed one of the heavy hardcovers from a huge display rack, paid, and left in under five minutes. As I thought, waiting in line was unnecessary. Barnes and Noble is selling the book with a massive 40% discount. Why would they throw away all that money? Are they trying to undercut Borders? In any case, twenty bucks for a book this huge, and hugely anticipated, is a steal.
I believe that anyone who finishes the book will leave satisfied. Deathly Hallows gives the series the closure we’ve been promised for years, and does it well (though I wish the Epilogue was a little more thorough). Perhaps because this is finally it, Rowling once again hits the balance of epic and approachable that was somewhat lacking in Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince. Taking in the series as a whole, I am hugely impressed with the consistency of the books’ themes. I think I can explain what I mean and still keep things spoiler free.
J. K. Rowling has really been writing two stories in parallel for the past ten years. One is what you might call the Potterverse, containing all the details of Rowling’s wizard world and the rules of magic that govern it. The other is the story of an orphan who finds a loving family. At the end of Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone, Dumbledore tells Harry that Quirrell was defeated because of Lily Potter’s love–that the power of her sacrifice was a kind of magic that Voldemort and his minions would never be able to understand. The ending of Book 1 is, essentially, that Harry was never really alone in his long, lonely years at the Dursley’s, and that a mother’s love can conquer even the most awful darkness.
So, as the books progress, you’ve got this little problem. Rowling is writing a story that gradually progresses from Harry discovering a magical, whimsical world to one of epic magical battle. The rules of Rowling’s magic grow ever more nuanced, and the tale ever darker. It would seem trite, even patronizing, to continually claim that “Love Conquers All” could bring down the greatest evil that the wizarding world has ever known. It’d be like Tolkein bringing about the destruction of Sauron through Frodo’s tears instead of the obliteration of the Ring.
Rowling’s writing has both its boosters and detractors. On the one hand, it is fun and approachable, while being flexible enough to pull off the epic. On the other hand, it is at times clunky and too straightforward, with a maddening tendency to tell instead of show (and personally, there are way too many points of ellipses in Order of the Phoenix for my taste). The final book will, I think, end most of the debate over the quality of Rowling’s writing and the ingenuity of her magic. In this book, this final chapter, she not only upholds the Power of Love, but does so within the rules of the world that she has created. It does not feel forced, trite, or convenient. It just works. Harry Potter has attracted a worldwide cult because of its singular blend of emotion and meticulous worldcraft, and it is a testament to Rowling’s inspired writing that this final chapter brings the two together so perfectly and convincingly.