Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)

Reviewer: Jake Beal

Author: J.K. Rowling

Published: 2007

Reviewed: 2007-10-07

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books

Brace yourself, because I'm about to commit heresy. I think that
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" was a terrible book. I had
such a hard time forcing myself to finish it that people started
teasing me about it: I was stuck somewhere around page 200 in the
absolute doldrums of the book for several weeks. Finally, I took to
reading whenever I was waiting for something and, in 5 or 10 page
bursts, I finally managed to push my way through to where the story
began to sputter back to life.

Well now that I've said it, I'd better explain what it is that's
driven me to this conclusion. After all, I've eagerly devoured every
previous Harry Potter book the moment I laid my hands upon it---I even
pulled an all-nighter reading "Half-Blood Prince." But even so, a
seed of disillusionment was already growing for me. When I first
discovered Harry Potter, I read the first three books straight through
and found I thought of them as effectively "The Hardy Boys" but with
magic and a well-developed world. Then "Goblet of Fire" came out and
the books shifted gears from a children's story to an adult story and
it blew me away. J.K. Rowling had just upped the stakes and delivered
masterfully. This promised to be one of the rare, great stories that
successfully transitions from light and funny to serious and dramatic.

In "Order of the Phoenix" she followed through with the promise, but
something a little bit odd began to nibble around the edges. The
side-plots started to take on a life of their own, growing extra bits
and pieces that drew attention away from the core of the story. In
"Half-Blood Prince" the phenomenon ripened, and we get more house-elf
follies, Quidditch minutiae, and the Slug Club. All interesting, all
reasonable, all things that the main characters would care about and
the reader as well, but slowly swelling in size and elaborateness of
description. It feels as though Ms. Rowling has decided that at this
point, all of her readers are fans, and so any additional exploration
of the world will be welcomed, no matter its effect on pacing and
story-telling craft.

Finally, we come to "Deathly Hallows," nearly 800 pages of tedium.
Maybe my problem is that I haven't crossed that invisible boundary
and, as the MITSFS saying goes, "I'm not a fan, I just read the stuff"
and so I'm judging this book in the same cold, hard light that I judge
the rest of the titles I read. All that said, I have three major
bones to pick with Ms. Rowling.

First, the wizarding world is huge, yet tiny. Sometimes it feels as
though some sort of inverse Chekhov's Law is at work: no character can
be allowed in the final book unless they have appeared in a previous
book, no matter how trivial the character. Thus we have things like a
character in hiding coincidentally observing five other characters
randomly encountering one another, and four of them are familiar
characters. On the other hand, when there is an incredibly important
new character introduced, it turns out that they've actually been
there all along living right next door. In fact, everybody important
lives right next door, except for the ones that live in interesting
exotic locations.

Second, all of the previous story conventions were broken, much to the
detriment of the book. Most of the book does not take place at
Hogwarts, so the conventions of the school year are lost. My previous
complaints about the side-plots, remember, were not about their
existence but about how they fattened at the expense of the central
story. In fact, the framing of the story in the school year is one of
the things that gives Harry Potter its most powerful appeal,
particularly the mixing of the mundane and the epic in a way
consistent with the realistic cares of the characters. That is all
lost in this story, though towards the end we are given a summary of
all of the really fascinating-sounding things that happened at
Hogwarts that we missed simply because the camera had to be focussed
on Harry Potter. The smartest thing I have heard anyone say about the
book is that it would have been ten times better if the main character
had been Neville.

Finally, there is simply a breakdown of editing and the story-telling
craft. Given the high quality of the previous books, I really should
not have to make these complaints, but "Deathly Hallows" is definitely
a cut below the others. Just because the characters are bickering
doesn't mean there is any character development going on. Just
because you can add a plot twist doesn't make it interesting. You can
only build tension and make the reader jump if sometimes the monster
isn't there. Never, ever take the attention of the reader for
granted. I should not have to write these things, but somewhere the
system broke down.

All told, "Deathly Hallows" is a disappointing end to a fantastic
series. All of our questions are resolved, the plot thread binding it
all together comes to a clear conclusion, and various couples are
married off into fan-pleasing combinations. The spark that made the
earlier books great, however, has guttered out.