As I closed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I truly felt that I had been through the war with Harry and his friends. I was elated, shell-shocked, bemused, inspired, saddened and numb. It was apparent from the beginning that Deathly Hallows was going to be a very different roller coaster than we'd ridden before. It brings up so many thoughts and ideas I hardly know where to begin.
I pondered how I wanted to address the book here at Spinners End, and I have decided that it will probably take more than one article! I have just finished my second reading, and feel that its time to make a start unraveling Harrys triumph (and Jos) with all of you. This article will contain initial musings and impressions of the book and its creator.
It strikes me that JK Rowling had a monumental task before her with this book: legions of ferocious fans placing varying and contradictory demands on her, not to mention years of fan fiction, theorizing and dissecting of the plot. Also, let us not forget the interviews bordering on interrogations over several years, demanding answers and reading meaning and intention into every inflection, raised eyebrow and no comment that ever came from her. Fans with a strong devotion to a particular character, relationship or sub-plot in Harrys saga wanted detailed fulfillment of their pet plot point, whilst Jo had her own very intricately woven story to drive to its long-awaited conclusion.
The strength of character to bear all of that expectation and remain true to her story impresses me. It isnt surprising that she was able to create characters which face challenges with such determination and bravery. She is made of the same stuff as her hero. And though fans will always find something to quibble with, something missing, an unanswered question or twenty, she sewed the bits together with remarkable prowess.
Taking the Thestral-Eye View
My initial, general impression of the whole book, aside from feeling as though I had been ran over by a hippogriff, was of a well-spun and enthralling story which delighted me with every page even when it devastated me.
Chapter One, The Dark Lord Ascending, disturbed me more than most of what Jo has written in the past. Poor Charity dangling from the ceiling, Death Eaters, cowed and tense around the table, Voldemort holding court, Snape being his inscrutable self, Nagini slithering under the table and draping herself over her master, and poor Ollivander wailing in the cellar all combined to put a weight and knot in my stomach that carried on for some time after reading it. While we have heard of Voldemorts horrors for years and seen him in action more than once, there was something about witnessing the cold brutality of that scene and the complete lack of mercy or compassion that I found more chilling than the wildest of battles. The length of time Jo let us wonder in fear over who was dangling over that table Finally, we learn it is a woman, but who? Tonks? Molly? The fact that it was a character we did not know allowed me to continue the story with a bit less wand shock, if you will, but poor Charitys plight was still singularly alarming to me. It said to me that Jo was taking no prisoners this time. Where Voldemort was concerned we could expect that nothing would be considered too outrageous, too arbitrary or too cruel to perpetrate. It was exquisitely unsettling.
The move from Privet Drive established one of the other ground rules of the Deathly Hallows journey: expect the unexpected, dont assume deaths will be given the personal, drawn out attention they have in the past, and keep your hands and wands inside the car, because its going to be a very wild ride. Hedwigs sudden death shocked me and made me realize that nothing and no one would be sacred, and losses would happen without warning or sentiment just like a real war. In fact, the sadness I felt over Hedwigs senseless death alerted me to the fact that I was in for a very emotional experience. I remember putting the book down for a moment and saying, Come on now! If you are going to fall apart over the owl, how are you going to get through the rest of it?
Georges injury, the relentless pursuit by the Death Eaters, Voldemorts early appearance, Mad Eyes death and even the loss of the Firebolt which bothered my heart far more than it should have, given everything else that happened simply drove the point home: this is war.
Much like the state of the world today, the state of the Potterverse in Deathly Hallows somewhat numbed me to the loss at a certain point. I felt each death, often profoundly, but at the same time there was inevitability to all of it. I was reminded of my reactions upon hearing the world news these days. The atrocities and horrors happening every day in our own world rival anything Jo wrote, and yet we read them and then go on with our day. We say, How awful, but feel helpless or too concerned with our own lives to try to find a way to change things. I thought Jo captured perfectly the combination of ripping grief for those involved at each loss and the complete lack of leisure to stop and give the passing of a human life its due. Past books have culminated in one, particularly ripping loss for Harry. DH is about the gradual but relentless loss the intentional sacrifice of many in order to ensure that little Albus Severus and the others can climb on the Hogwarts Express nineteen years later with no larger worries than which house they will be sorted into.
Dobbys death was a profoundly sad moment in the book, and I loved that Jo chose to honor this wonderful character as she did. For Dobbys death was really the only death in the book that was attended with the full weight and response of grief. This is understandable, as she couldnt have written such a stop in action every time someone died not only because it wouldnt have made good writing, but because the fact is that Harry didnt have time to stop and grieve for everyone. If he had, there would have been many more casualties before he fulfilled his destiny. However, Dobbys death was written in a way that Harry could take the time to honor his friend. In doing so, I felt he honored all of the fallen that we have grown to love. Harrys actions honored both Dobbys life and his manner of death, along with the many services the loyal little elf had offered to Harry during the years of their friendship.
The loss of Hedwig and the Firebolt in particular represented to me the last of Harrys childhood. The comforts hed had with him for so long were gone. He was on his own and soon to walk into the depths of the forest, traditionally the place for dark-night-of-the-soul moments in the lives of heroes. In fact, slowly and over the course of the book, all of Harrys magical aids were taken from him. Hedwig, the Firebolt, his hidden home base, his wand Everything that appeared to give Harry power and magical ability was stripped from him, and he was left with his own mind, heart and gut. Even his friends, though still making loyal efforts on his behalf, were physically separated from him for much of the book. His triumph was a triumph of spirit over skill, courage over cowardice. Once again, it was Harrys heart that saved him and the entire wizarding world.
I insisted on hoping for Lupins survival these past years, despite having a nasty feeling that all of the Marauders would have to go before the saga ended. I cant help but wonder if Lupin and Tonks were Jos two who die who were not originally intended to. Their deaths were so sudden and so unspecific. We dont even witness them. Perhaps Jo intended for them to live, but then decided she wanted Lupin in the scene with Lily, James and Sirius as Harry uses the Stone to help himself through his final walk into the forest. Perhaps she decided, if she was to kill Lupin, she wouldnt ask Tonks to go on without him. Or perhaps, given the merciless quality of war, the completely unwitnessed manner of their deaths was intentional. Perhaps Jo wanted to illustrate how random and careless death really can be, even and most especially when the victim is a beloved friend.
I actually wasnt worried for Remus until Teddy was born and he made up with Harry and made Harry Teddys godfather. While Remus was still resisting his own happiness, still refusing to receive the love that could transform his life, I felt confident Jo wouldnt kill him. She isnt that cruel. He needed to make that leap in his life first. He needed to embrace life before Jo would take it from him, and for that I thank her. It is good to know that he had a bit of time, however brief, to realize his own fulfillment and take joy from life. It is a reminder that we dont have unlimited time to embrace the life given to us. It would be a pity to miss it entirely due to a sense of unworthiness.
I found Harrys anger at Lupin interesting. The personal punch of seeing a parent willfully walk away from his family surely would go to the core of Harrys being, so I do understand his rage. Yet, I also have to note that Harry judges and chastises Lupin for essentially making the same mistake that Harry makes through much of the latter part of the series: believing that he should leave his loved ones for their own safety. Harry is constantly feeling that he is a danger to those around him, that he cant have the same happiness as others and that he must be an outcast and loner for everyone elses good. Whether it was because he thought he was being possessed by Voldemort in OotP or because he knew that he was being hunted down in DH, or because he knew he had to undertake a dangerous quest at the end of HBP, Harry is always trying to get away from those he loves. Perhaps Remus was too much of a mirror for him at that moment. Those who are the most like us tend to bring up our greatest rage.
Far from diminishing Dumbledore in my eyes, Jos treatment of his past, his weaknesses and his early mistakes made me respect and treasure this character more than ever. A flawless Dumbledore wouldnt have been nearly as interesting to me as the Dumbledore Jo gave us. I say this not because there happened to be juicy flaws in his character for Rita Skeeter to chase down. Jo didnt just write flaws into Albus. She also wrote an extraordinary level of self knowledge. Socrates admonished his students to Know Thyself. This, he believed, was the key to real understanding and transformation. Albus sees his weaknesses and his temptations. He has the courage to stare them down, admit them, bear them, and choose the high road, not giving in to his lower ambitions. He makes the choices of the man he wishes to be, and in so doing, becomes that man. As he himself notes to Harry in CoS, it is our choices, far more than our abilities, that show who we truly are.
We all have flaws of great magnitude within us it is part of the human condition. However, were so conditioned to worry about what others think and to present a certain image of ourselves to the world that few of us ever look honestly at those parts of ourselves that we would rather not see. The strength, clarity and profound integrity that Dumbledore shows in relation to his flaws raise him in my eyes, if possible, to an even higher level of veneration. Not a veneration based on a misty-eyed image of his perfections, but one based on his mettle, his strength of character and his self-knowledge.
Some of you have written that Dumbledore must really not have cared about Harry since he raised him for slaughter, as Snape put it. I disagree. Dumbledore knew that Harry would have to willingly sacrifice himself, not only to defeat Voldemort and save the wizard world, but to save himself as well. Dumbledore knew that Harrys only chance was the road that he took. Yet he couldnt tell Harry this. Dumbledore clearly believes that if Harry had gone into the forest to face Voldemort with hopes of surviving, he would probably not have survived.
Dumbledore had to allow Harry to experience his own struggle, pain, fear and confusion. Why? Unless Harry could go through them and make an independent choice to truly die, he would have been killed outright and no return would have been possible. Harrys experience in Kings Cross, and the fact that he had a choice whether to go on or to return to the living and continue the fight, was at least partly due to the fact that he chose to die and did so in the full belief that it would happen. This is deep magic, to be sure, and it is magic of a kind that Tom Riddle would never have been able to comprehend.
It is the most painful thing in the world to allow someone you love to experience his or her own struggle, fear and pain. Love tends to make us want to smooth the way for our loved ones, and Dumbledore said himself in OotP that this was his struggle with Harry. He cared too much. Yet he finds the strength within himself to guide Harry up to and through this crucible to victory. It turns out that he was correct not to tell Harry certain things too early, because with a different perspective than Dumbledore gave him, Harry would probably be dead. Additionally, Dumbledore has to bear Harrys resentment, anger and impatience. How much easier would it have been, in a way, to try to keep Harry happy? And yet, how much more at risk would that have put him? Dumbledore cares. He cares so much that he ultimately finds ways to continue his guidance from beyond the Veil and even to attend to Harry at the moment of his crossing.
Dumbledores carefully constructed plans are nearly impeccable (the ownership of the Elder Wand does become a wild card despite Dumbledores efforts, which just goes to show once again that even genius can be tripped up) He ensures that Harrys needs will continue to be met by others after his own passing - a Phoenix indeed.
Master of Death
The complex idea of the Master of Death is so important, so crucial to the essence and core of the series that it must be acknowledged. We walk through our lives with Death at our shoulder. We are all on this earth for a finite period of time, and our relationship to that fact will dictate the majority of our actions in our lives. However, instead of accepting this most basic of facts and using it to inform and vivify our lives, the inevitability of our death is often ignored or denied, struggled against or the cause of gloom and misery. It is a rare person who can look at his or her death as Harry did: knowing that it is an inevitable part of life, a mystery of which we will all partake and which we cannot begin to understand from our current perspective. Harry defeated Voldemort principally because his deep love, courage and sense of duty helped him to attain that which Voldemort never could: acceptance of the necessity of Death. If ever there was magic beyond Voldemorts comprehension, this is it.
Of all of the things I was wrong about and there were many I am the most grateful that I was wrong about Hagrid. I was certain that Hagrid would die, and I am very pleased that he survived. I thought he would have a bigger part to play than he did and was rethinking my own alchemical theories a bit until Harrys resurrection moment. The red phase (or Rubedo) in alchemy is the final phase the attainment and who carried Harry to the site of his final attainment? Hagrid. Hagrid took Harry to Privet Drive as a baby, Hagrid took Harry, again on Sirius motorcycle, from Privet Drive to face his destiny, and Hagrid carried Harry out of the Dark Forest, away from death and to the site of his final trial and achievement.
Additionally, the red-haired Weasleys made a major contribution to the red phase Ginnys love, Rons many contributions, not the least of which include destroying the Locket and obtaining the basilisk fangs, Georges injury, Percys redemption, Mollys triumph over Bellatrix and poor Freds death. I dont know whether Jo intentionally used alchemy in her character journeys over the last three books, but the themes add up very interestingly.
Severus: Venomous but Vindicated
Though the details of my theories about Snape were a bit out of whack, the general idea was fairly close. As many of us suspected, Snape was no cupcake, but he did have a conscience, and he was loyal to Dumbledore and the side of right. The connection to Lily was a pleasant affirmation of my sense throughout the books that Snape and Lily had a friendship, and that she (and his feelings for her) were the source of his conscience. I never thought of the possibility that they were childhood friends, and I love the way this was woven together. Nor did I imagine their friendship to have been as deep as it was or the ending of it to have transpired as it did with Lily walking away from the darkness that she could not and would not abide.
The chapter of memories from Snape was beautifully written, and pulled together so much with such a graceful narrative. It drew us a clearer picture, not only of Severus, but of Lily as well. Snapes memories show us a Lily who was exactly as I had imagined her: strong, graceful, kind, brave, understanding and compassionate yet also a young woman who knew what she wanted and what she didnt want; a woman who would not compromise her principles for anyone or anything. I think there is a lot of Jo in Lily.
It was clear throughout the books that Snapes contempt for and loathing of Harry was no act. It was equally clear that he protected Harry on more than one occasion, that he was tied to Dumbledore in a deep and profound way, and that he had refrained from ever using insults against Lily as a means to torment Harry. Snapes lifelong love for Lily and his agreement with Dumbledore to protect Harry on Lilys behalf explain a great deal of Snapes behavior over seven years: his loathing for Harry as the son of James, his inability to see Harry as someone separate from James his refusal, in fact, to see Lily in Harry Lily, who was so profoundly present in Harry, as Dumbledore attests.
Snapes resentment, grief and bitterness over the role allotted to him by life destroyed any hope he might have had for fulfillment. Yet he met his duties, always and unflinchingly, and for that we must admire him. His bravery stands next to any Gryffindor we have met, despite his dark and rocky beginnings and his weaknesses and inconsistencies.
The role of reluctant Judas always seemed to fit with Snapes ultimate task for Dumbledore. The missing link in my theories about the planning of Dumbledores death had to do with the fatal nature of the injury to Dumbledores hand. It always seemed clear to me that Dumbledore knew he was going to die (see SE #2). I just couldnt figure out why he knew this whether he planned to sacrifice himself for some reason or whether he was actually ill, as the writing in HBP suggested.
I adore the way Snape turned out. He is a brilliantly drawn character one who, in many ways, is the opposite of a hero. Even his motivations for saving Harry and working with Dumbledore, though founded in love, were nonetheless selfish it was all about his feelings, his pain, his desire, his remorse. He wasnt concerned with saving James or Harry from Voldemort; wasnt concerned with how their loss would affect Lily. He wanted her saved because he loved her, not for herself per se.
In retrospect, Snape is a very sad character: a man who was unable to step openly and fully into the graces offered by love, friendship and duty a man tormented by his own mistakes and obligations a man always loathed, misunderstood and unappreciated for his contributions and a man unable to perceive how his own choices and attitudes shaped his life. Or, alternatively, perhaps a deep and very clear perception that he and no one else was responsible for his own life was enough to cement the bitterness, self loathing, cruelty and resentment that we saw evidenced throughout the series.
I am glad that Harry named his son for Snape. Though reprehensible in many ways, Snapes contribution stands next to anyones in terms of bravery, self-sacrifice and skill. And it took a heart like Harrys to be able to bury his own years of resentment and to take in and honor the Severus he had never known.
A Power the Dark Lord Knows Not
The ways that Jo used Love to weave together the conclusion of Harrys story were very touching. As I have said in past articles, some of Harrys connection to Love rests not only in his ability to love, which is very great indeed, but by the power he has to inspire love in others. The valor and love that came from everyone who opposed Voldemort was one of the major causes of victory for Harry and all of wizardkind.
Jo managed to create a beautiful combination of Harry needing to step up, act alone and be the leader, and many others making major and necessary contributions, without which the outcome would have been horrible to consider. Neville stands out particularly as someone whose trust in Harry and profound courage saved the day. Harry told Neville to kill the snake, and Neville was determined to kill the snake or die trying. I appreciated that Jo didnt suddenly make Neville a brilliant duelist after six years of telling us that he wasnt. Instead, his contribution came from his sheer Gryffindor courage in a terrifying moment when all seemed lost. Neville set out to sacrifice himself on the castle lawn, just as surely as Harry did in the forest, and if he hadnt, Harry would not have been free to finish the conflict when he did.
The DA members, the Order, teachers, friends, family, even the younger students who refused to leave (some of whom, like Colin, paid the ultimate price for their courage and love) all contributed to victory. Ron, despite his desertion in the face of the locket Horcruxs malevolent influence, came through and saved the day more than once, as did Hermione. Mrs. Weasley was simply splendid, wasnt she? Even Professor Trelawney leapt into the fray for the sake of victory. And did you just do a little dance when Kreacher led the house elves into battle?
Those who ultimately perished: Mad Eye, Dobby, Lupin, Tonks, Hedwig, Fred and even poor Charity all contributed something of huge value before losing their lives to the struggle. Perhaps the saddest of losses are the younger students, like Colin, who never had the time to make a major contribution, but whose bravery and spirit certainly would motivate others to stand firm in the face of battle. Those who survived will have to call on all of the love within themselves to help each other through the grief and to live their lives fully and in a way that honors their dead.
It took everyones contribution to win. Though Harrys role was largest and most center stage, he would not have succeeded without the bravery, skill and knowledge of all the others. The balance that Jo created between the hero who must go on alone and it takes a village was perfect for my taste: note that Harry himself actually only destroys one of the Horcruxes, and he did so back in CoS. Dumbledore, Ron, Hermione, and Neville all take honors - as do, albeit inadvertently, Crabbe and even Voldemort himself. And let us not forget a bow to Slytherin and reformed Death Eater Regulus, whose attempt was as brave and honorable as anyones, even though he failed. Our hero came fully into his own while simultaneously he evoked the finest in so many of his friends, who stepped up to the plate to do what was right all due to the power of Love.
And how Voldemort underestimated that power! I loved Harrys line, You still dont get it, Riddle, do you? No, Harry, he didnt get it at all. In fact, of the many kinds of love that Voldemort underestimated, one would think he would have at least wised up about mothers after his debacle in Godrics Hollow those many years ago. He saw Lilys sacrifice, saw what it cost him, even admitted he had been foolish not to have taken it seriously. Yet what does he do? He turns right around and assumes that he can control Narcissa by threatening her son. On the surface, he is correct. There are ways that Narcissa was very controlled by Voldemorts hold over Draco. Yet he lost any loyalty he might have hoped for from her the moment he threatened her only child. From that point on, Narcissas goals had nothing to do with Voldemorts, and he was a fool not to have realized it.
He clearly didnt begin to understand the depth of Snapes feelings either, and allowed himself to believe that he had a loyal follower for years when he was being played practically from the start, and for what? For the sake of Snapes broken heart and devastating loss a loss Voldemort could never hope to understand, a loss so meaningless to him that it never even occurred to him to try. As Dumbledore always says, what Voldemort didnt value, he ignored, and his dismissal of Love, over and over, in so many ways throughout the series was his ultimate undoing.
Voldemorts inability to perceive or appreciate value in others not only made love incomprehensible to him, but made him greatly underestimate the possibility that others might have knowledge or abilities that could challenge him. He never bothered to look into the powers of house elves; Snape used Occlumency successfully against him for years. And how could he possibly imagine he would be the only person at Hogwarts to have discovered the Room of Requirement, especially given the fact that in the form in which he himself used it, it was full to the brim of hidden objects? His cold separation from and lack of perception about others led to his downfall in more ways than one.
Harry never dismissed Love (and never disregarded the abilities of others). On the contrary, Harry experienced and acted from profound Love even trying to make Voldemort see his only hope for redemption at the end of the book. Harry never understood until he did how Love could help him triumph over Voldemort, but it was his driving force the essential core of his being, and it did, ultimately, save the world.
Nineteen Years Later
While I understand some of the protests over the epilogue, I also understand why it works as it does. Yes, we all wanted to know more. But truly, a list of facts about everyones life would have made for a very clunky end to a wonderful book. Those details are best brought out in interviews or the hoped for encyclopedia weve all heard so much about.
My biggest epilogue protest was over the absence of George. Having lost his twin, best friend and business partner, I would have been relieved to have seen George on the platform with a loving wife, seeing his little ones off to Hogwarts. His absence made me worry for him a bit, and I was relieved to hear from Jo in a recent interview that George does seem, despite his devastating loss, to put his life together and go on.
Though it could never satisfy the obsessive fan in me, I think the epilogue served its purpose beautifully. What was it all for, after all? The struggle, the loss, the fighting, the sacrifices and the years of effort? I would submit that it was all for exactly what we saw: the continuation of life; the next generation, free from the horrors that Harry and his friends experienced. I believe that what Jo was trying to say was simple, and required a simple epilogue: it was worth it. Life and Love prevail. All was well.
Now that the series is finished, and we know the outcome or most of it the wistful reflection has begun to set in. If we feel nostalgic, imagine how the author feels. The journey to bring her literary childs story to the page has been something closer to seventeen years for Jo. She has expressed some of her feelings in interviews since the books release, relaying how hard the first week was after completing the book; how devastated she was. She also experienced tremendous elation (how could she not?) over her accomplishment.
When Harry believes that he cannot bear the pain of losing someone he loved, Dumbledore reminds him that the ability to feel so profoundly is a measure of his humanity. The same can be said for Jo. If she werent capable of such a broad palate of feelings, could she have written the beloved characters whose story we have come to love so much? I dont think so.
I believe that the best way to honor JK Rowlings work is to infuse our lives with the magic that we all have available to us, every day. By pursuing that which enlivens and inspires us, no matter what, we take a stand for the kind of life that Jo has been living and writing for seventeen years. When confronted with the cold, hard fact that childrens book authors never make a living, Jo knew she had to write Harrys story anyway. With no job, no money and a new baby, Jo still found a way to write. With mounting pressure and fame over the years, when she came up against that within her which believed she couldnt continue, she faced it down and continued anyway. Jo is the ultimate can-do woman and a glorious example of someone who has remained true to her own vision, regardless what others have said or what obstacles rose to meet her.
In the process, she has woven her own magical spell over millions. Now that she has laid down her wand, we can only be grateful that we were here to enjoy her very special magic show. Even as we say a bittersweet goodbye to the loveable boy wizard, we can take with us what Harry and Jo know: that standing tall and facing your destiny is always the best course; that there are more things in this very magical universe than we muggles dream of; that Love is the greatest and most mysterious of powers; and that the quest itself is, after all, the whole point. Finite Incantatem, Jo, and thank you for the journey.
Natalie McDonald, who appeared in Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire, was based on a real girl Rowling knew who was dying of leukemia. She wrote to JK Rowling asking what was going to happen in the next Harry Potter book as she would not live long enough to read it.