4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful
The seventh and final installment of the Harry Potter series is a whirlwind of great turmoil and great joy. There has been criticism in terms of how many fatalities Rowling employs, without much time for reflection or mourning. My retort would be that, this is war – plain and simple. In this last book, one really feels that each day could be the last, and there just is not much time for some of the things we (and the characters) would normally take for granted. Even a wedding is disrupted by the events happening in the world, which infiltrate this most intimate of ceremonies. One of the greatest achievements for this installment of the series is that much of the action takes place outside of Hogwarts School, the setting for the vast majority of all the action in the first six books. This is important because it allows the readers to identify with the world-at-large, to see how all the spreading evil and danger is impacting society as a whole, and not just the students and teachers of one small school. It is also beneficial as it allows the readers to further grow and develop with the three main characters: Ron, Hermione, and Harry. They strike out on their own, for this one, and must rely on themselves and each other, without assistance from parents, guardians, teachers, or their beloved gamekeeper, Hagrid and, most importantly, no Dumbledore to protect them. When their final task returns them to Hogwarts, where the last great battle develops, the atmosphere is incredible – the pace is brilliant and, upon reflection, one realizes why the upcoming movies are due to be released in two parts, as the first 400-500 pages of the book seem to follow one theme and pace, whereas the latter part of the novel moves much more quickly, has much more action as opposed to back-story and investigation (think an on the road detective story). The strength of self, the bonds of friendship and family, and the importance of education coupled with instinct – these themes are all further developed from the first six books and, here, accumulate masterfully towards a final purpose, which Harry must realize in the final moments.
4 – Characters extraordinarily developed.
The three main characters, Harry, Ron, and Hermione all get an extraordinary amount of development and attention in this novel. Watching Harry and Hermione interact as a twosome (whereas normally the group is always together in three) is fantastic, as it allows the reader to see a different side of both characters; we also learn much more about some of the minor characters, including Luna, Neville, Mrs. Weasley, and Snape – all of whom have outstanding growth and resolutions, worthy of the time Rowling has put into developing them throughout the previous books. We meet new characters, such as Mr. Lovegood and Gellert Grindlewald, who, though present for the first time and relatively minor in comparison, get the perfect amount of attention – enough to explain why they are important and to help advance the plot, without feeling like time was ever wasted on characters who would not matter much otherwise. The D.A. (Dumbledore’s Army) makes a return, as does The Order of the Phoenix – the interaction between the two groups, and all of their members, is exhilarating and powerful. Also, Harry and Ginny’s relationship continues to grow and develop, getting more intense as the book progresses, though they spend most of the year apart. Even some of the antagonists, like Draco Malfoy and his mother, Narcissa, are further examined and explained, so that we begin to understand them and appreciate them more than might have been possible in earlier books in the series. Voldemort, of course, gets more examination. His past – as well as Snape’s and Dumbledore’s – is further disclosed, including his flaws and failures. For those who care, Rita Skeeter and Dolores Umbridge both return full-force as well, in all their wickedness.
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.
Rowling has stepped up her prose once again in this final installment; she increases the vocabulary level of the work overall and she does a masterful job of weaving in and out of flashbacks. She also manages to incorporate many different settings, without bringing stress to the overall structure of the novel. As with previous installments of the series, Rowling breaks from the monotony of regular prose by including things like letters and newspaper articles; also, in this book, she includes excerpts from “biographical” books relating to characters in the novel. She manages to distinguish between characters by emphasizing dialect, slang, and inflection – so, for instance, when Mundungus Fletcher speaks, we know it is not Lucius Malfoy; when Hermione speaks, we know it is not Luna or Ron. In a novel with so many characters, interacting on so many levels, this is not an easy feat – but Rowling does it quite well (though she does start to overuse the word “Alas” when the adults are speaking – one minor obnoxious failing, barely worth mentioning, but I have to be fair). Overall, the style is well suited to this brand of fiction, the prose is whimsical yet serious enough to be realistic, and the language/dialogue is clearly and consciously distinguished.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.
“I’m going to keep going until I succeed – or die. Don’t think I don’t know how this might end. I’ve known it for years.” Thus, we come to the first and the final theme of the Harry Potter series – sacrificing oneself for the well-being of others. Complete, unerring, selflessness for the triumph of good. This is what Rowling has been getting at for seven books – what Harry’s mother died for; what Dumbledore died for; what Snape died for. It is, as the song goes, “all for love.” What I cannot help but smile at, sardonically, is the fact that all of the extremists out there, who refuse to read or to allow their children to read this series because it includes witchcraft and witchcraft is “of the devil” – what they are missing out on is perhaps the greatest modern literary example of the idea that love and generosity are the world’s greatest strengths. This is a text which examines the bonds of family and friendship, and what it really means to serve “the greater good” – nobly and honestly. We see characters stumble and struggle; we watch as the greatest role models of the series painfully evaluate themselves and turn from the temptations of power and immortality and riches, instead to humbly serve those around them – to help others grow, achieve personal greatness and awareness, and defeat the evils of the world. What you get at the end of the series is the feeling that evil comes in many forms – fantastic or not – and that only through strength of character and bonds of common decency and humanity can it be overcome. As the world stood up and said “enough” to the Nazi oppression of Jews and other minorities, so too did Harry and his friends stand up and say “enough” to the persecution of the “dirty” or “half” blood, as well as the “lesser” magical creatures of the world. This relationship became clearest in Deathly Hallows, but though the prominent example might be Nazi oppression, Rowling makes it quite clear that what she hopes for is the awakening of responsibility in all people, at all times, to the benefit of serving others before serving one’s self; of protecting the helpless; of lifting and caring for the meek and the unable. And, though after my first reading of this novel I was a bit disappointed in the “Epilogue,” I now realize and appreciate its purpose as a type of proof that change is possible, and not just in the short-term. One small choice, one single voice can echo around the world and through the ages. Job well done, Ms. Rowling.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Adult, Teen
Interest: Education, Friendship, Magical Realism, Coming-of-Age, Family, Love, Fantasy, Good/Evil
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
“I’m going to keep going until I succeed – or die. Don’t think I don’t know how this might end. I’ve known it for years.”
“We’re all human, aren’t we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.”
“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love.”