Monday, July 30, 2007

Review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I


For those who haven’t gotten their hands on a copy or finished it yet and do not wish to be spoiled – TURN BACK NOW.

I am now going to pontificate on my reactions to not only this installment, but the series as a whole.

To help avoid ruining the surprise for anyone who came to my blog prior to finishing the book, I’ll try to help by putting in a spoiler message.

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Okay, that ought to suffice.

Overall, I liked it.

Book 7 was different from all its predecessors, if for no other reason than the Trio didn’t go back to school. The normal structure of the book was played out as if it was a distant echo. We knew when the Hogwarts Express took off, but it would have been dangerous for the Trio to try and return to school. So they didn’t.

It kind of reminds me of graduating from a school and feeling a sense of loss when you aren’t enrolling in the next term’s classes. As if something is missing from your life.

A sense of loss.

That is what Harry was feeling throughout the book; a loss of his childhood as he was transitioning to adulthood.

There were many things that I really enjoyed with this book. One was Dudley’s being decent to Harry as the Dursley’s departed from their home on Privet Drive. It changed Dudley from being this horrible caricature of a character and made him human.

I teared up at their exchange.

It gave me hope that possibly in the future, Harry and Dudley might be able to sit down at a pub and knock back a few pints together without having hostility towards one another. They’ll never be best mates, but having a civil relationship is something that should be in the realm of the possible.

The structure of the series required that Harry not like living with his relatives, otherwise he would have willingly given up living in the Wizarding world since every year he faced threats on his life.

The cartoonishness of the Dursleys seemed a bit out of character from the rest of the encyclopedic cast of a thousand, but it brought out sympathy for Harry. If only Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had treated him as a second son. He could have grown up playing with his cousin who was close in age and they could have thought of each other as brothers.

That isn’t what happened, and if Harry had had a normal early childhood, the longing for another world where he was treated as a valued and important person wouldn’t have existed.

So, while Vernon and Petunia seemed to be unchanged at the beginning of Book 7, at least Dudley acknowledged that his gratitude for Harry having saved his life. Huzzah, growth in Dudley’s character!

The first chapter where Voldemort was surrounded by his minions while allowing the slow twisting in the wind of a victim hanging upside down was very creepy. I do not profess to know much about Tarot, but this is clearly an allusion to the Hanged Man in the Tarot deck.

It was a powerful way to start out the book, showing the callous manner in which Voldemort kills and that Snape stood by and witnessed the murder of one of his colleagues and did nothing to interfere. It made him an accessory to murder.

Obviously it was not the first time that he had been put in such a situation if he had voluntarily signed up to serve Voldemort and had been initiated into the inner circle of Death Eater status.

It helps demonstrate that Snape allowed the torture and death of others and did nothing to stop it. He may have shown courage in following Dumbledore's orders, but I still do not view him as heroic. However, Snape is a topic in and of itself and I should expand on those thoughts later.

One of the deaths that really surprised me in this book was the death of Hedwig.

Back in 2002 when I wrote my fifth year fic, I had proposed having Snape kill a messenger owl from Voldemort’s minions as it approached Harry. My beta readers reacted so negatively, that I softened the act and changed it so that the owl was blasted with a memory charm. It would not return to its point of origin and would never be suitable for delivery of magical messages ever again.

On the flip side, I had beta read for another fanfic writer and he killed Hedwig. I told him that of anything in his story that would generate the most flak.

And Jo killed Hedwig right at the starting gate. My son is going to be devastated when he hears that part of the book. Right now, he’s in the middle of Order of the Phoenix and most of the big surprises have been spoiled for him. He knows Sirius dies in Book 5, he knows Snape kills Dumbledore in book 6, and he knows Harry lives at the end of Book 7.

He doesn’t know that Harry’s pet owl gets killed.

Of all the deaths in Book 7, the one that hit me the hardest was the death of Dobby.

Brave Dobby.

I was glad that Jo had Harry dig a grave for him and have a funeral for him. The only thing I would have changed was to have Harry say words on behalf of the elf rather than Luna. I mean, why was it that Luna was the only one to say anything? That inclusion marred the scene for me, but overall it was emotionally fulfilling to have Harry mourn the loss of a character that truly cared for him.

HERE LIES DOBBY, A FREE ELF.

A wonderful epitaph.

I’m still miffed that Jo Rowling didn’t have a funeral or memorial service for Sirius Black, but at least she had a decent send off for Dobby.

I also adored the character transformation of Kreacher. The mentally twisted elf of Books 5 & 6 showed that he was truly a loyal character. He was loyal to the memory of Regulus Black, and through the testimony of Kreacher we learned how brave and noble Regulus had been.

The gift of the locket to Kreacher was a gesture to transfer the elf’s loyalty to Harry. It was no longer a compulsory thing due to inheritance, but rather one of respect and honor.

Harry was showing respect to Kreacher and in turn the elf equated Harry with Regulus as his rightful master. Harry earned Kreacher’s loyalty.

Kreacher was transformed into a fussy old man who loved to cook and clean for Harry.

Later, during the climax of the story we saw Kreacher leading the house-elves in their attack on Voldemort’s forces. I loved that. Even though we didn’t have a full scale house-elf rebellion throughout the Wizarding world, we did have Kreacher saying, “Fight! Fight! Fight for my Master, defender of house-elves! Fight the Dark Lord, in the name of brave Regulus! Fight!”

The image of the locket bouncing on his chest as he led the charge of angry elves is one that I adore.

The interweaving of magical species being treated with disdain by the ruling class of wizards is something that I think adds a marvelous layer of complexity and meaning to this series. The final climax showed that the acts of one person can help to bridge those barriers and to unite people. A few lines that show that idea of unity that the Sorting Hat called for in Book Five was,

“McGonagall had replaced the House tables, but nobody was sitting according to House anymore: All were jumbled together, teachers and pupils, ghosts and parents, centaurs and house-elves, and Firenze lay recovering in a corner, and Grawp peered in through a smashed window, and people were throwing food into his laughing mouth.”

Everyone had been through an ordeal and they no longer allowed artificial barriers to keep them apart due to their differences. They were all survivors, and they all fought together.

That is a wonderful meaning of this book and this series.

I have more thoughts on the book and the series, but this post is getting long, so I’ll continue with more later.

Let me know what your thoughts are.

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