Tuesday, July 31, 2007

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I was fortunate this month to enjoy two excellent reads: first, Stephen King's The Stand ... and now, the latest and last Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And what a great piece of fiction this one is!

Set in Harry's seventh and final year at Hogwarts, surprisingly little actually takes place at the renowned School of Wizardry as Harry, Ron, and Hermione engage in a series of adventures to fulfill Dumbledore's final directive: locate each remaining Horcrux hidden by Voldemort in his attempts to scatter his power and, in so doing, defeat him. Although the school itself becomes the setting for a final showdown, the reader is gratefully spared the boring class projects and Quiddich matches that encumber the previous six books; instead, the reader is here treated to adventure after edge-of-your-seat adventure ... the magic is darker, death is a realistic threat (as several characters we've come to know and enjoy actually perish), and the stakes are at their highest!

Among Pott-heads, however, I'm going to guess that this book is the most fulfilling of the series. For me, I especially enjoy the ways in which Rowling alters her style with each successive book, and Deathly Hallows is simply a piece of expert storytelling, bringing the reader through each adventure with superb pacing. For my money, "The Muggle-Born Registration Commission" and "Gringotts" are two chapters that best exemplify the way in which Rowling has developed as a writer of suspense.

And in addition to the subtlety of the humor, I also enjoy the social commentary that Rowling has made a staple of the series, addressing such topics as racism, sexism, education (both in terms of effective teaching strategies and the perils of politicized educational systems), war propaganda, the media, and (most directly in this book) the functions of fear within a society. As a good author of fantasy or sci-fi must, Rowling avoids becoming didactic and merely leaves the characters themselves to work thru the issues, permitting the reader to form judgments within the comfort of the "wizardry" context.

And like Stephen King's The Stand, Rowling likewise gives us a mammoth narrative that in so many ways is indebted to both Tolkien and Dickens. Like the best of Dickensian fiction, Deathly Hallows brings together many different characters and components of the earlier novels (e.g., the various spells, the Sorting Hat, the Chamber of Secrets, the Whomping Tree, Dobby and Grawp, etc.) to make its resolution all the more satifying. And anyone who has ever read The Lord of the Rings will detect elements of the Lady Galadriel's "gifts," the Grey Havens, the siege of Gondor, and any number of other Tolkien influences.

But ... when everything is said and done ... this was a fun and thoroughly satisfying conclusion to the Potter series, and (in my opinion) it solidifies the entire saga within our literary canon. A great, great book!

* For the record, I am one of the few readers I know who chose to not read the whole darned thing in the 24-hours immediately following its release. I wanted to savor this last drop of Potter vintage. ; )

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