Monday, July 23, 2007

The Almost-Safe, Nearly-No-Spoilers Review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Okay, for those of you who didn't get to your seventh volume yet:

The story begins, as we expect, with the hoopla surrounding Harry's turning 17. This means he will no longer have the protection that has been his via the Dursleys and the house on Privet Drive. This means, he will be attacked. How? When? Where? Well, let's say there is a huge urgency. The Dursleys are taken away to be protected.

A rather clever plan is hatched to get Harry out of the house, but there are casualties in the ensuing chase. We know right off from these losses that Rowling has taken off the gloves. No beloved character may be safe, we realize. Anyone's life is up for grabs, because it's war. Voldemort and the Death-Eaters are about to take utter control of the ministry, and we know that Harry is prime target #1, and Hogwarts will not be safe. Nowhere will be safe.

As a result, there is much geographical change. Harry and Ron and Hermione, who are on the quest for the Horcruxes, must stay on the run. Unlike in earlier volumes, they simply cannot stay at places that are familiar, even with serious magical shields. Not for long. Wherever they stay, they put people in danger or the precautions cannot stand long.

And yet, they can't just hide. There is too much to do, and they must take huge, huge risks to accomplish their mission: destroy the Horcruxes, take Voldemort down. It feels like reading a spy-novel/thriller with all the undertakings. Very exciting.

Fortunately--and making life more complicated at the same time--they have been bequeathed objects from Dumbledore in the old man's will. Ron, Hermione, and Harry each get one thing that will prove important in their quest, and which will lead them to discover what the titular term Deathly Hallows means. The inheritances complicate the plot, while also melding with what's going on with Voldemort and with the Horcruxes. (Which, this being a non-spoiler zone, I will not divulge.) It's a credit to Dumbledore's skills of observation and understanding of his students' personalities and characters, that what each receives is best handled by its owner, used by its possessor.

Events such as the breakout from Privet Drive and the wedding of Fleur and Bill allow us to meet once more characters from the previous books. I was very happy to see Luna again, and to meet Luna's just as loony, maybe loonier, father. Dobby shows up later, too.

The pace is rather relentless. Being on the run, with a big reward on Harry's head, with DeathEaters able to summon Voldemort as soon as Harry is glimpsed, with mercenaries on the trail, with the government under dark command, without a safespace, the trio has to tap into their strengths more than ever and find deeper wells of resourcefulness in order to survive.

Fortunately, there are always allies, even if they can only help for bits at a time.

When the climactic event comes for Harry (which actually precedes the climactic event for Voldemort's), we love him all the more for it.

One thing that I appreciated so much in terms of characterization is that Rowling doesn't allow people to be one-dimensional. We saw Malfoy's hesitation in Half-Blood Prince, and we guessed he wasn't like Bellatrix or Volemort, even if he was hardly a good person. In this book, we learn things about Kreacher and Dumbledore that puts new light on both. We learn a bit more about Severus, too. Even the trio doesn't behave perfectly, and they wouldn't be anywhere near as interesting if they did.

Plus, we finally realize what it is that Dumbledore saw when he looked in the Mirror of Erised, and it wasn't stockings. I had wondered.

Voldemort ends up being less fearsome than he might have, much more ridiculous and simple-minded and shallow and unworthy, because those arrayed against him are so noble and well-rounded in comparison. We realize ever so clearly at the end that what is important is what we knew in the beginning of the tale to be important: friendship, mercy, self-sacrifice, courage, loyalty, generosity, endurance, trust, family...and, above all, love.

Although "Love conquers all" may be the overarching theme of romance novels, it may well be the clearest theme of Harry's saga.

For a very good non-spoilery review, check out Snuffles the Dragon's post at Sci-Fi Catholic.

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