review (and comments) originally written in 2007. Spoilers for the whole series!
1. the mood of the book
This novel just felt perfect in its hopelessness, in the way the trio feel like they are up over their head in proceedings they have little control over. And I actually loved the way the "real" story ended. Harry won, he was exhausted and in shock - a beautiful ending. Unfortunately, there's still the epilogue that, while a nice glimpse into the future, took quite a bit of that numbness out of the end. I realize that perhaps JKR felt it necessary to end this series with a positive note but it just didn't fit in with the mood of the main story at all.
2. Harry as horcrux
Again, I always said Harry was a Horcrux. It just was so obvious with his scar, his connection to Voldemort, his abilities that he's somehow miraculously gained from Voldemort etc. In fact, this portion of the book appealed most to me - Harry marching to his death, resigned and alone, just the spectres of his dead loved ones as company. Though, I wonder why Voldemort didn't make more of a spectacle of killing Harry. I mean, he hunts him year after year, he *knows* that people are beginning to wonder how a mere boy can continuously oppose him, and still he kills him more or less in secret in some forest with no witnesses to the ultimate humiliation of the light side? Granted, Hagrid bore witness to the act, and that's maybe save for Hermione and Ron Harry's strongest supporter, but it's kind of an anticlimax to just throw the body of the hero at the feet of the light side instead of killing him in front of them. But, again, this sequence, the pensieve, Harry's realizing what he is, his concluding what has to be done - and his actually doing it, was the highlight of this entire book, perhaps the highlight since the end of GoF when Voldemort came back to power and Harry witnessed his rebirth. Wow, indeed.
3. Snape and his role in the war
Of course, he was Dumbledore's (or rather Lily's) man up till the end. But there are inconsistencies I can't quite cope with. What about Quirrell? I mean, Quirrell had Voldemort inside his head for a year, or at least a good portion of a year, and Snape actively opposed him when he tried to curse Harry during the Quidditch match - and still Snape is welcomed back into the fold of Death Eaters? Granted, there are doubts, mentioned at the beginning of HbP, but given the unforgiving nature of Voldemort, would he really accept someone back who he isn't and can't be sure of? Perhaps Dumbledore's death ultimately convinced Voldemort of Snape's apparent sincerity but this whole issue leaves me wanting for more of an explanation than we got.
The same goes for his friendship with Lily. I mean, I get the notion that he loved her with all his heart (as I mentioned before, this wasn't quite what I had hoped for as an explanation why he would defect to Dumbledore because it's so filled with clichés...), but the last we see of this friendship happens at the end of year 5 - what happened in the years between then and Lily's death? Did he never try to approach her again? He strikes me as an insecure boy in those memories, who's not sure of anything but his skills in potion and perhaps dark arts - but who is definitely not well versed in any kind of friendly relationship which isn't surprising given his upbringing. It paints a really sad picture to see him pining for her from afar, and not being able to let got of her memory even 16 years after her death - on the other hand, we do know already that Snape tends to sort of live in the past, holding on to grudges for more than a decade. The more I think about it, the more compassion I feel for him. His was a really doomed existence from the beginning, an existence he apparently couldn't escape from whatever he tried to do. And I do kind of understand in a twisted way his hatred of Harry. It reminded him of everything he never could have. Just imagine staring at your loved one's eyes looking at you out of the face of your rival who stole the only thing that brought pleasure and friendship into your life. I would have liked a last conversation between him and Harry, but given his words at the end, Harry recognizes Snape for what he really has done and sacrificed. Still, I think calling his son after Snape is a bit much, because even if Harry cherishes Snape's actions, it doesn't mean he *likes* the guy, after all.
I'll readily admit that I have a soft spot for Snape. He is the real hero of this war, a real Gryffindor at heart - but it's kind of fitting that he isn't around to get the recognition he deserves. On the other hand, the way Snape dies is a bit too simple for a potions master of Snape's calibre. I mean, wouldn't he have a bezoar somewhere hidden in his robes? Or perhaps a vial of anti-venom and blood-clotting potion? *I* certainly would whenever I'm around that madman and his poisonous pet snake. Actually, what exactly did Snape die from? Was it the venom - if so, then why didn't Harry die when Nagini bit him in Godric's Hollow? Or was it the blood loss? If so, then why didn't the trio interfere after Voldemort was gone? What about Hermione? Didn't she learn healing charms? And didn't she pack blood clotting potions in her bag? Didn't anyone ever hear of first aid - are there no such spells taught at Hogwarts?
Well, for what it's worth, I really loved the way Snape asked Harry with his dying breath to look at him. Even though we didn't know for sure about Snape then, it later became quite apparent that he just wanted to look at *Lily*'s eyes for one last time, maybe pretend that he wouldn't die alone and in vain. I think that in the end, Snape and Sirius weren't so different after all. Both were never quite able to let go of the parents to really see the son.
4. Remus, Tonks and Pettigrew
First of all, Pettigrew's death was quite anticlimactic. I imagined a fight against Remus (why did he have that silver hand after all?), but not just him dropping dead because he couldn't kill Harry due to the life debt. Well, at least he didn't outlive Remus which has to count for something.
On to Remus and Tonks then. I'm not sure what to think about that plot thread, maybe because it appeared so suddenly in HbP. Of course, I realize that the books are written from Harry's point of view and that *he* isn't privy to everything that's going on at Grimmauld Place when he's at school. But still, I could have done without that couple. Because, at the end, what purpose did it serve? They get properly married, rapidly produce an offspring - and then drop dead and leave said offspring as orphan. The more I think about it, the more I realize that the one book I love most of this entire series is actually the one book that has least impact on any of the proceedings afterwards.
"Prisoner of Azkaban" introduced us to the idea of the Marauders, to two adult figures Harry finally can turn to for help and/or advice. But does that idea actually come to fruition in the later novels? Sirius is introduced as Harry's would-be saviour only to turn into a drunkard and die. Remus knows his way around the dark arts, he is the only one who actively helps Harry learn magic against dark arts and beings - and what happens to him? We only see him dance around Tonks, have qualms about having children in such uncertain times (how about contraceptive spells?), and finally be killed off screen. Actually the only truely important fact is that Pettigrew escapes to bring Voldemort back to life - that's it. That tiny little bit is everything this fantastic novel contributes to the whole story, because frankly, Grimmauld Place and the Black Family (and thus, Kreacher) could have been introduced differently just as well. And that thought leaves a very sour taste in my mouth.
I read somewhere that JKR actually planned on killing Arthur Weasley back in book 5 - and since she didn't that another father had to die in the course of book 7. Perhaps that's why the whole storyline surrounding Remus and Tonks feels so contrived and hurried. She had to think of another male adult who she could turn into a parent and then kill off. I wonder why she got stuck with that idea in her mind. Granted, Arthur's death would have made an impact, not only on the Weasleys individually but on the story itself because, quite frankly, the Weasleys are the *only* working family of any importance in this series, at least on the light side. Killing him off could have really changed the course of the storyline - again, not because he, Arthur, is so important, but because of the impact his death would have on those around him. So, in keeping him alive, did JKR have to conjure up another family just to have the parents drop dead and leave the child an orphan? What purpose is served with this? We don't really know Teddy Lupin enough to actually sympathize more with him than we would with any other orphan that's mentioned throughout the series. I'd say that Remus and Harry establishing a closer paternal relationship, and then killing off Remus would have made much more of an impact. But this opportunity was once again wasted, as it was with Sirius before.
5. the deaths
Well, I got the impression that JKR felt the need to make up for the "quality" of the deaths, i.e. the importance of the people she killed off, by the sheer number of them. Let's face it, none of the victims were essential to the plot save for perhaps Snape - and I'm not even going to mention Voldemort because it was obvious from the start that *he* would die, the question was rather if he would take Harry with him. So, forgive me for saying so, but it could definitely have been worse. The trio came off unscathed, relatively speaking of course. The death that hit me hardest was surprisingly Dobby's, perhaps because that was the only one Harry showed any kind of overt reaction to. Granted, he grieved for the others as well, but I felt they didn't have as much of an impact as having someone really die in Harry's arms. When Fred and Remus were killed during the battle, Harry already was in over his head, dealing with Snape's pensieve and doing what's been expected from him all along. But for the first time in the entire series, Harry was allowed to grieve after Dobby's death, it gave him focus for what was ahead of him.
As I never felt much for Moody, I wasn't overly touched by his death - he died in the line of duty, and I guess that was the best death he could have wished for. And Fred... well, the twins were fun, but I was certain that one of the Weasleys needed to die. What I said earlier on applies here as well. Theirs is the only family we get to see during the series, and, of course, they can't remain untouched by this war, especially since they are right in the middle of it. My bet lay with either the twins or Molly, and Fred got dealt the short straw. So, I wasn't overly surprised by these events, nor particularly shocked. At least his death sort of allowed the lost lamb, i.e. Percy, to return into the fold without too many questions asked.
6. Dumbledore and the Deathly Hallows
Actually, the more time passes between my reading the book and now writing this review, the less the whole plot appeals to me. As I said before, I enjoyed this novel a great deal, no question about that - but looking at the series as a whole, was it really necessary to introduce major plot points within the last 200 pages of the last part?
First of all, while it's interesting to know that Dumbledore hasn't always been that holier than thou character who benignly watches over everyone else, I wonder at the purpose of the revelations about him. What purpose does it serve to see darker shades to a character that isn't even around anymore? Granted, Dumbledore got addicted to his powers until something terrible happened - and it certainly formed his character, but does this revelation actually change our perception of him? Of course, he was powerful, of course, he manipulated his little pawns - but the one memory of Snape's of him realizing Harry's true role in the war at last would have sufficed to reveal that. In itself, of course, Ariana's story is a tragic one, but it would have made much more sense to include it when Dumbledore was still alive and had to actually face his failures.
The same applies to the Deathly Hallows. Actually, the way the idea of those 3 items and their purpose to evade and/or defeat death bothers me a lot. Frankly, I even feel sort of cheated. I realize that Harry wouldn't have stood a chance against Voldemort in a real duel, but the Elder Wand just seems like a quick fix to a problem that went unsolved for 7 years, namely Harry's practically nonexistent knowledge about duels, spells and curses. Granted, he taught the DA, but we saw in OotP that he was quite ill equipped to handle a real life and death duel. So, JKR just hands him a practically invincible wand in quite some mysterious ways, and one little "Expelliarmus" finishes off Voldemort. While I'm glad that, at least in this instance, Harry doesn't use any Unforgivable, it still feels... well, like cheating in a way.
Even if the Elder Wand has its purpose (which I'll be coming back to), why create that subplot about escaping death via those deathly hallows at all? I realize, of course, that with the Invisibility Cloak you can escape death unseen, with the Resurrection Stone the dead can keep you company, and the Elder Wand renders you invincible - but what's the big deal about it? You'd still die of old age. And while I readily understand Dumbledore's pain about his sister, I just don't see him pining away for those deathly hallows. One or two of them, granted, and I do understand about his putting on the Gaunt's ring just to see his sister again, but all 3? Why would he want to be the master of death? Not even Voldemort put any credit into the Deathly Hallows. Granted, he was after the Elder Wand, obviously, but he wasn't interested in any of the other items. And we know that *he* longed for immortality after all. So, what does it actually mean to own all 3 items? For a short while, Harry was the master of death, but it still didn't prevent him from dying - and his escaping death actually wasn't explained away via those deathly hallows, either. It was Voldemort's horcrux dying inside of him that saved *him*, nothing else. I think that as interesting as this premise sounds at first, JKR ultimately fails at actually delivering this idea.
And that brings me to one of JKR's more recent interviews. She stated that Harry joined the Auror squad after Hogwarts, like he said he would in book 5. But, again, I think that she failed to think things through. Wouldn't that sort of defeat the whole purpose of having Harry die undefeated as master of the Elder Wand? We know from the way Draco disarmed Dumbledore and Harry gained Draco's wand, that Harry just has to lose one duel for him to lose the mastery of the Elder Wand. And it should be common knowledge after the final battle just *why* Harry defeated Voldemort at the end - and it wasn't because of his superior magical skills. Additionally, it wouldn't be hard to figure out just where the actual Elder Wand is hidden... Harry wouldn't just be at risk from stray Death Eaters, but now even from his fellow Aurors during training duels. I'd really appreciate if JKR just shut up and let her writings do the story telling. Sorry, if that comes across as harsh, but there's little I dislike more than thoughtless comments.
7. the use of Unforgivables
Actually, that's a point that bothered me even while reading the book. Throughout the books it was stated that it took a certain malicious intent to cast the Unforgivables - and suddenly the trio starts casting them left and right? Even if there are other options available? I mean they didn't have to take that Death Eater with them via the Imperius, they just would have to cast a Confundus and put him in a corner or something like that.
And having Minerva cast a Cruciatus on Snape, or attempt it... that went a bit overboard, I'd say, especially for the overly correct McGonagall. I realize of course, in what difficult position she found herself again, but this just feels so wrong I can't even put it into words.
Perhaps is naive to think that the light side should be above using Unforgivables, but to me the line was crossed by the trio starting to cast Imperius at everyone who didn't fit into their plans.
8. the situation at Hogwarts and the Wizarding World in general
I would have loved to learn more about what the students at Hogwarts faced during that year. On the other hand, I wonder why students like Neville who openly opposed Voldemort's lackeys weren't just killed. And I do wonder why it takes until the Easter holidays for the Weasleys to remove Ginny from school. I mean, had I known that known Death Eaters had taken over Hogwarts I'd never have sent my daughter back there at all but sent her into hiding.
Presumably, there were only 3 Death Eaters (including Snape) at school, with wanna-be Death Eaters from Slytherin - but why didn't McGonagall, Flitwick and the others not interfere earlier, save for perhaps rescuing students from even harsher detentions? Again, I do realize what difficult position they were in with Voldemort seemingly taking over everywhere - but practically staying quiet until finally Harry appears... I don't know but that seems awfully passive behaviour.
Additionally, I can't believe Dumbledore didn't leave some kind of message for McGonagall regarding Snape. That would have explained why she kept quiet and accepted Snape appointment as headmaster - but that possible explanation was rendered void by her trying to curse him and forcing him to leave.
At least, we finally got an explanation of why people are afraid to say Voldemort's name. What a frightening thought to turn a mere name into a way to track people.
Do we know what happened to Draco right after the final battle? I mean, he did want to take Harry to Voldemort, after all - did all that go unpunished only because the Malfoys changed sides right at the end, as the epilogue suggests? Do again known Death Eaters like Draco's parents escape punishment just because they realized the truth before the end?
Ironically, once again, a mother's love saves Harry, but this one act shouldn't redeem all the atrocities the Malfoys comitted in this war and the last.
As much as I sympathized with Kreacher's story, I can't help but think that this puts another dark mark on Sirius. Ultimately it wasn't Kreacher's maliciousness that killed Sirius but his own disregard for the houseelf. Just one little act of kindness would have earned him lifelong loyalty - loyalty beyond the grave, loyalty that Harry learned to use for his own purpose.
11. a book for children?
To me, the Potter series ceased to be a series created for children with Voldemort's return at the latest. I can't fathom why parents would let their children, especially young children, read these books, that deal with quite a lot of bigotry, violence, prejudice and death, unsupervised. Children with vivid imaginations will be haunted by nightmares of snakes coming out of a woman's mouth or Neville practically being burned alive. Well, I nearly was anyway. I'm not even mentioning all the deaths because they, interestingly, were toned down since none of the favourite characters were involved.
There's also the vision of the Wizarding World JKR is creating. Well, what exactly do we have:
a ministry that's totally corrupt, that reinstates Umbridge (what happened to her after the Centaurs got to her anyway?), that bows to Voldemort instead of resisting, that puts 15 year olds on trial for minor transgressions, that puts people in prison without trials, that detains people for supposedly being Death Eaters but lets known Death Eaters go free... shall I continue?
a society where women are relegated back to the more traditional role of rearing children and supporting husbands - just look at the role Hermione plays in book 7.
a boy who's practically without a support system and has to figure out on his own he's just a pawn on someone else's chess board, a boy who has everything taken from him is expected to save the whole Wizarding World that alternately puts him on a pedestal and sneers at him, who actually dies for said Wizarding World... how pathetic is that?
12. Potter's legacy
I didn't start with the first book until the first movie was launched, so maybe I had the advantage of experiencing the first 4 books back to back. And what an experience that was. Those books brought magic and vivid imagination back into my life and for that will always have a special place in my heart.
But somehow, the thread that held those 4 books together somehow got lost with books 5 and 6, especially during the gap between GoF and OotP. I don't know the reason but I could hardly recognize the characters when OotP finally came out. Too much had changed with Voldemort's return and the Ministry's resistance to the truth. Harry was turned into a choleric adolescent, Hermione even more into the insufferable know-it-all - and suddenly Ron was the only one that I could bear. Not to mention the unnecessary loss of Sirius and the way Snape and Malfoy became ever more 2-dimensional bullies. Perhaps I was spoiled by the masses of good fanfiction I read in the mean time, but there's no denying the fact that none of the later 3 books reached the quality of PoA or GoF - at least for me.
I wonder what would have been if JKR had written the whole story before the publication of the first one, before even considering how many books she'd actually end up filling that story into. I wonder how much she included just to fill up those self-imposed 7 books, I wonder how much she left out because her editors urged her to. Especially book 5 feels disjointed and lacks the wordplay and attention to detail that the first 4 books excelled in - maybe the 3 years between GoF and OotP were too long and her editors pressured her into a premature release, but somehow the magic just got lost. And I'm not even talking about darker mood the story takes on as it progresses. That was to be expected, considering the events at the end of GoF.
But it wasn't only the mood that changed, it was as though ultimately JKR lost track of her aims. She introduces characters, but doesn't follow up on them any more than to let them die (Sirius). She admittedly abandons ideas and creates situations that "make up" for that, such as with Arthur's not quite death and Remus. She fills one half of a book with snogging without actually arriving at some kind of plot and crams in new plot details halfway through the last book... why? The idea of having Voldemort as heir of Slytherin, and Harry as heir of Gryffindor and the reveal of Harry's scar being a horcrux, therefore linking them together in the present, would have sufficed for a satisfying confrontation - no deathly hallows needed at all. She lets a teenager fill up his mentor with poison. She sends back said teenager year after year to at least an emotionally abusive environment - even after such traumatic events like Voldemort's return, Sirius' death, Dumbledore's death... without an explanation that makes remotely sense (remember Voldemort has gained Harry's blood). And that's just to mention a few inconsistencies throughout the books.
I'd say the Potter universe right after book 4 was a well of ideas and potential. JKR had such a talent of creating a universe and characters that I could sympathize with, emotions that were heartfelt and had me in tears at one page and laughing out loud at the next. After the disappointments of books 5 and 6 where this potential got somehow lost, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" fortunately regained a little of what made the first 4 parts so special and ultimately managed to lead the series to a still very satisfying ending.
And yet, I can't help but wonder what could have been...