Review and Reflection: Harry Potter (6-7)

I finished reading the Harry Potter series on Kindle, finishing The Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows in pretty rapid succession. It’s been almost a week since I finished reading the latter, so I’ve had some time to gather my thoughts.

I know that I’ve already talked about how I considered the Harry Potter series quite good (for more see my previous posts on the first three books and fourth and fifth books) when I went to read it. I was part of the target audience back when it first came out, but just never got around to reading it for a variety of reasons.

As I mentioned earlier, I read The Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows on Kindle (affiliate links above); they’re free to read with Kindle Unlimited, which is nice.

Combined they’re just about a thousand pages long, which is quite a bit of material to cover, but as I’ve mentioned in my earlier reviews of the series Rowling’s prose is good enough that you won’t feel like you’re slogging through that much reading as one might during some other young adult books: while Harry Potter is simple enough for young readers, there are enough plot twists and deep characters to make it satisfying even for someone first experiencing the book as an adult.

Review

The Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows go much deeper into the conflict between the good guys–Harry Potter, Dumbledore, the Order of the Phoenix, and so forth–and Voldemort and his Death Eaters.

It’s higher stakes, more tense action, and it takes a distinctly darker tone than the earlier parts of the series. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I don’t think that this makes it unfit for kids; rather, I think it may actually be important: the conflict between good and evil is actually an important thing to contemplate and discuss, especially in a day and age when such things are rarely talked about.

The development of the core protagonists–Harry, Hermoine, and Ron–is a key part of the story, and plays a large role in making the novels so effective. By this point, not only had I developed a strong personal connection with them and with it an interest in what happened to them, but also a greater understanding of their cosmic role in the universe.

The storyline of each book is significantly meaningful. The Half-Blood Prince restores Dumbledore to Hogwarts, and is a welcome change from Dolores Umbridge’s reign of terror in the prior novel. However, the triumphant return of Dumbledore is complicated by the increased influence of the Death Eaters outside of his part of the world.

The Deathly Hallows takes place largely outside Hogwarts, as Harry prepares for a final confrontation with Voldemort. It’s a change from the formula in many ways, and I think that the isolation of Harry from most of his former compatriots leads to some potential weakness, but this is overcome by the novel being significantly shorter (Rowling’s strengths lie largely in the interpersonal links that she develops, which is harder when Harry and company are out on an adventure instead of in a school environment), and it doesn’t suffer too much.

In fact, The Deathly Hallows contains many of the most emotionally powerful moments in 21st century literature so far. I don’t want to go too far into details and spoil the book yet (though I will do so in the Reflections section), but it’s seriously good.

If Rowling had not included an epilogue at the end of The Deathly Hallows, I would be rioting for a sequel. It’s that good. I haven’t really followed up on any of the other books that Rowling has written since the core seven-part series (I’ve heard mixed reviews, though I’ll check them out at some point), but I’ll just say that Harry Potter is fantastic and the final two books of the series do not disappoint.

Wonderful prose, deep characters, an intriguing setting, and a real conflict that doesn’t feel cheapened by artificial motivations drive one of the best young adult books: one that is good enough to be a classic for all ages

Reflections

I’m going to split this into one section for each book this time, so I can keep my thoughts neatly separated.

The Half-Blood Prince

I really enjoyed The Half-Blood Prince, but I don’t think I did as much thinking during it as I could have.

The sacrifice of Dumbledore and Snape’s seeming betrayal is a key element of the story, and it helps to create a powerful emotional moment and define Harry’s motives going forward.

It’s something of a lesson about chaos and order, and the eventual end of order. Even though Snape is still acting on Dumbledore’s instructions when he kills Dumbledore (as is revealed in The Deathly Hallows, though an astute reader may surmise as much due to what we have learned about Snape and Dumbledore’s relationship), he morphs into a representation of the negative fruition of chaos: the creation of a tyrannical order and the eventual usurpation of Dumbledore’s good fatherhood with Voldemort’s tyrannical, fascistic, oppressive fatherhood.

The Deathly Hallows

The Deathly Hallows (in-universe) are interesting objects because they reflect talismans. By unifying them, one becomes theoretically immortal, but it is actually Harry’s process in finding and uniting them that gives him the strength he needs to sacrifice himself.

Indeed, the power in The Deathly Hallows lies in the fact that Harry offers himself up as sacrifice. This is a key heroic theme: the Hero as offering to the universe.

By confronting Voldemort, but doing so in a sacrificial manner, Harry confronts evil by refusing to repay it in kind. Voldemort having tarnished and destroyed his soul (and the soul is the most important thing in the universe) in the acts of trying to destroy Harry, has no comprehension that he has poured some of himself into Harry in his attempt to destroy the innocence.

In this light there’s a powerful and archetypal fall from Eden that occurs in Harry’s backstory; the evil that befalls him taints him and permeates him, but the counter-point to this is that it makes him strong enough to challenge the death and destruction that comes with a tragic universe.

It’s the most powerful moment in the story, and one that moved me to tears (Yeah, I’ll admit it. I’ve got a long enough beard that my masculinity isn’t challenged by emotional outbursts.), because in accepting the heroic need to sacrifice he also becomes one with his dead parents and Dumbledore in a metaphorical (and, since he has the Deathly Hallows, a near-literal) sense.

I don’t think there are as many moments in literature that as clearly capture the essence of the Hero as Harry’s sacrifice, and when he returns from his quasi-death to life when Voldemort’s soul takes the weight of the killing curse directed at him, it’s a tremendous redemptive motif that ties into the archetype of the Hero who confronts the Abyss and returns to save the world.

Wrapping Up

Harry Potter is one of my new favorite book series (if not maybe my favorite). I don’t know that I could name any of them individually on my top ten books (since I feel it would be cheating to put The Deathly Hallows on, since one would have to read a whole series to benefit from its depth), it’s certainly a fantastic and deep read, full of both meaning and significance and masterful prose, characters, and setting development.

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