Pt. 7 of The Harry Potter Readstravaganza
When I opened this book, I had a strong feeling that I’d already seen the best this series has to offer. But I was wrong, because this book contains what I believe to be the best joke in the entire series.
This book is the first (and therefore only) one in the series where the characters are allowed to curse. The character who throws the first (and only) “bitch”: none other than Mrs. Weasley.
…Yeah, just kidding, that wasn’t the best joke, but it was a pretty good one, on a meta level. So my point still stands: the previous books already gave me the best Things in the series. But that doesn’t mean *Deathly Hallows* can’t be cracking good stuff.
In my opinion, there are three great and amazing and totally fun and fairly unique and notable elements of Harry Potter, besides the obvious magic and setting details.
The Three Great Harry Potter Things (In My Humble Opinion):
- Searching for the true history. What is the story of the Saucophone Stone, and why are people hiding it from us? If all our sources are obviously spinning a story, how can we find the truth?
- Solving the mystery.
- Underdog espionage.
Deathly Hallows has got all of that plus about as good a conclusion as can be asked for. I may poke holes in it, but look…from a functional writing standpoint, Rowling’s got her shit together. All the slimier plot elements are caulked well enough (note the phrase: well enough) that I trusted her to pull through in the end, and lo and behold, we got a cohesive whole with brilliant moments and some nice catharsis.
That being said, there was a point when I just closed the book mid-chapter in frustration.
So, uh, let’s get to it.
The Story This Time
This book is advertised as “The Seventh Year at Hogwarts,” but that’s bullshit, they don’t even go to school. Oh, wait, maybe that’s a spoiler.
The Story This Time (SPOILERS AHEAD!)
Okay, so the first time I got to writing this post, I wasn’t into it. My recap was bouncing back and forth through time – which I’ve been doing all along to some extent, but never like this. For this seventh and final (…final?) go-around, I’m gonna take my time, step by step. However, I’m not gonna hit every plot beat or even touch on how Ron’s family has a vaguely Harry-shaped attic troll slave creature (oops! Skipped ahead again).
…Also, full disclosure: I finished Deathly Hallows months ago and had to give back the copy I borrowed. I’m using a combination of my months-old notes, my months-old memories, and a handy Harry Potter Wikia summary to cobble this post together. I’ve been super-tardy!
As Hallows opens, Voldemort is taking over Britain and sending dementor smog everywhere. He’s straight-up wrested control of the Ministry of Magic and is beginning to institute racist – I mean, uh, blood-ist laws. (Now is a good time to mention: I keep equating blood-related bigotry to racism, ignoring the similarities it has to a bunch of other -isms, like colorism, classism… I keep going back to what I’m used to. I think this is a bad habit of mine. It blinds me not only to other aspects of Rowling’s message, but also to other stereotypes Rowling is playing into…but we’ll get to that.)
These new laws don’t just favor purebloods; they punish anyone with “suspicious” mixed or Muggle ancestry, or Muggle sympathies, or anything like that. We’ve got trusty newspapers, untrusty newspapers, underground resistance movements – all that good stuff. It’s immersive and tense. For most of the book, I think the danger level is suitably high.
Meanwhile, Harry has a heavy burden on his shoulders. Dumbledore entrusted him with a world-saving mission, and he was superbad at his job as a personal tutor so Harry has NO idea how he’s gonna pull this off. To stop Voldemort, he’s gotta find all seven Dragon Balls. I mean, Horcruxes. But that’s what they are. Dragon Balls. Macguffins. Collect-a-things. Seven things in hand, speed through nights with feet in sand.
You know I fuck with the Privet Drive scenes, and this one is no exception. Not their strongest outing, but not their weakest either – and Dudley has as touching a moment as he could muster. We have a parting scene between Harry and the Dursleys that’s neither sappy not rudimentary. And They Were Never Seen Again In This Series . . . Much To Everyone’s Relief.
But Harry’s gotta leave Privet Drive pronto. Something-something the magic on the house that kept Voldemort out has worn off, so the remnants of the Order of the Phoenix all transform into Harries (long story), pick him up, and whisk him away to Ron’s house. Along the way, they get shot at by a bunch of Death Eaters, Hedwig dies pretty unceremoniously (yeah yeah, I know, not much time to mourn), and the following scene almost literally happens: one of the Death Eaters summons Voldemort, who fires a spell at Harry, but Harry’s wand jerks up on its own and fires a double-power spell at Voldemort’s wand and destroys it. Voldemort howls, “NNNOOOOOOOO!”
One of the casualties was Hedwig. Another was that Auror dude with the wacky eye – who was he, Wacky-Eye Willy? Oh, sorry, Mad-Eye Moody — and the last one was George’s earlobe.
Act 2: Settling Down, Setting Up Mysteries
Not long after that, Harry is shipped over to the great Weasley hovel, and everyone around him hopes to keep him hidden and protected.
Y’know, Harry and Ginny sounds like a cool pair in theory. Ginny is gutsy and tomboyish, not tough in the same way that familiar ol’ Hermione is, and if she were the fourth part of a true foursome, she could be the no-nonsense type cutting Hermione’s anti-Ron speech short while Harry just stands there and goes “d’uhh…” (Am I selling Harry short here? Maybe.) Ginny also has a unique history with Harry. As a girl she was dazzled by him; now that passion has cooled, but it could still affect her. If this series ever got out of Harry’s head for more than a chapter, maybe we’d have been able to see that.
I also think this series missed opportunities for Ginny to do more problem-solving – to prove herself valuable in more interesting ways than as just another fighter in the resistance.
When Harry goes back to the dilapidated Weasley cave, it’s the perfect opportunity to make Harry and Ginny a less boring couple and Rowling knows it. In the brief snatches of free time between household chores and plot dealings, can these two link up and, perhaps, do something interesting together?
Pretty much all that happens is, they kiss.
I can feel the sparks flying.
I’m Not A Shipper, BUT my first-choice pairing for Harry would’ve been Luna because I think she’s great and nice. However, I have to admit that the canon pairing of Luna and Neville is way better, so I’d have to go with my second choice: Harry and Hermione. Way better than Hermione and Ron. Less chance of domestic abuse.
Moving on – during this Weasley house stuff, Harry, Ron, and Hermione receive a mysterious inheritance from Dumbledore. Hermione gets the Tales of Beedle the Bard, which you can buy at Barnes and Noble; Ron gets the Put-Outer and thinks it’s kind of a rip-off; and Harry gets a Golden Snitch that says “I open at the close” on it. Lemme tell ya, for hundreds of pages I was telling him, “Put it in your mouth! Yes – now close your mouth!” And when he finally did it and the thing didn’t open, I felt…so duped.
Dumbledore wanted to send them the Sword of Gryffindor too, but that’s a whole other thing that involves a fake sword and a real sword and a debate of ownership about the sword and how the Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour wants Harry to work for him but Harry stands up to him and says he’s not gonna work for anybody, and then Rufus leaves, and honestly I have shit-all to say about Rufus, or Pius Thicknesse, or Draco’s mommie, because I’m kinda bored by them. They’re alright. …Oh, wait, was I talking about a sword just a moment ago?
Anyway, now we have mysteries going. Why did Dumbledore send these items to Harry and two other doofus Hogwarts kids. Why these particular items. How can they get the sword. Where and what are these dang Horcruxes.
Added on top of that is another mystery, and the one I find most compelling: to what extent was Dumbledore an asshole? The smartass in me has a really long answer for this ready, but if I want to find a way to suggest that Dumbledore was a lifelong supporter of genocide, I’ll have to read on!!
For readers, it’s quite obvious that Old Vicious Woman At The Wedding Party isn’t telling the whole truth about Dumbledore and his friendship with the infamous genocidal war criminal Grindelwald, or his hushed-up dealings with his own family, but I was still hooked and, honestly, glad Rowling didn’t 100% chicken out and say Dumbledore was misblamed.
Act 3: Whoops! Gotta Go To Grimmauld Place
The wedding between Ron’s Brother #3 and the French Jerk is interrupted – now Harry and co. have to go off on their own to escape capture by Volde-cronies. They end up in a diner in the middle of the night. A brief battle with magic dudes ensues. A glimmer of what could have been: a city-hopping tale verging on urban fantasy. I don’t know if it would have fit or would have been a great, or even good, option, but isn’t it fun to think about?
They take shelter at 12 Grimmauld Place, where they meet Kreacher again. Kreacher is the MVP of this book. I know some of you are gonna say it was Dobby – no. Dobby’s not the MVP. Dobby had his best time in the limelight long ago, in my view. Hallows is where Kreacher’s tale comes full-circle and we decide that yes, he’s spiteful and yes, he still deserves better than to be thanklessly wandering around his old blood-ist master’s things. In fact, he deserves to be thankfully doing that exact same thing. (Am I being sarcastic? I’m not sure anymore.)
Basically, they scratch his back and he scratches theirs. Then he cooks for them. It warmed my heart, although it basically boils down to “alright, fellow Gryffindors, we gave him whatever Black family heirlooms we don’t want, and that’s all it takes to make him happy – now to get back to what WE want – ooh, free food.” Justice for elfkind has never been the priority of these books, and they are not aging well because of it (and other stuff).
A bunch of plot-relevant stuff happens in Grimmauld Place – this book is kind of like being on twenty trains at the same time, which is fun and satisfying on one hand and hard to summarize on the other – and among them is the day Lupin storms in wanting to join Harry Potter’s Kid Resistance.
The instant he walked through that door, I thought he was a fake Lupin, a plant Voldemort sent in disguised as the real thing. His behavior made me more suspicious. He recently had a child with Tonks, and that child is very likely a werewolf entering a world that hates his kind. Rather than stay with the family and give both Tonks and baby Teddy the support they need now more than ever, he wants to shut his eyes to it and play hero? What a low point for him. And he’s got the gall to raise his voice at Harry, who’s like a billion years younger than him. Only when he started crying and realizing how cowardly he’d been toward the end did I think, “Oh…that really IS him. Damn.”
I don’t think his character has ever recaptured the casual, mildly sloppy cool he had for me in Prisoner of Azkaban — honestly, I’ve been bored with him ever since.
After a long and well-planned stake-out, the gang bounces from Grimmauld to the Ministry of Magic. Yay! A raid! A scene of underdog espionage! The resistance lives! And it goes on for two juicy chapters. Probably my second-favorite part of Hallows. Whenever Harry and pals have to hide and run around in the midst of a bunch of wizards who could one-shot them, I am on board.
Then, after collecting plot-relevant information and items, they escape in the nick of time, warping themselves into…
Act 4: Eternal Camping
…some field. And they go camping, forever.
What happens is, since they’re on the run from Voldemort’s groupies, they have to warp from campsite to campsite. It’s implied that you can only Apparate to places you know. So the entire plot hinges on the fact that Hermione’s family is a group of serial campers. We’re so, so lucky that Hermione’s dentist family is a bunch of big-cabinless-field-campground aficionados. Thank goodness for the boundless free time of Muggles.
Look, I’m happier than anyone that they got out of Hogwarts for this book. It lets a lot of things happen more organically than they would have otherwise. We can overhear people talking outside of our tent; we can basically just happen to bump into a Patronus deer; we can explore people’s pasts and memories without resorting to the Pensieve; we can, most importantly, avoid rehashing the School Rebellion plot from Phoenix.
But there’s a consequence to all this. Yes, it’s not entirely a bad consequence; in fact, it’s useful, plot- and pacing-wise. This camping goes on for so long. The characters know how long it is. The book knows how long it is. And what makes it feel twice as long is how hopeless the heroes feel. They’re not sure what all the Horcruxes even are, let alone where they’ve been hidden. They’re following false leads, or tracking them down to the wrong places, and more often than that, they’re following hunches. Obviously, none of these destinations are truly useless – this isn’t the tightest novel in the world, but it’s tight enough for that – but they progressively drain the spirits from our camping heroes.
This brings a huge benefit but comes at a huge cost. The benefit is that when the heroes find something useful, it’s a glimmer of hope in a vast and desolate bog – you feel it and you’re as amazed and pleased as the heroes are. The cost is that if you’re not utterly hooked by their adventure, you’ll probably feel a mounting urge to put the book down. It is almost as if you were Ron and this book were the surlifying locket…
There are a few stories from this Eternal Camping segment that I want to highlight. They may be out of order, but that’s fine, it suits my needs here:
- Harry goes with Hermione to Godric’s Hollow, where he was born and his parents’ gravestones lie. This was quiet and touching – a really powerful point in the book. After visiting the graveyard, they go to the house of a famous wizard, who was actually dead and hollowed out so that Voldemort’s snake Nagini could sit inside and wait to ambush them. I thought this part was pretty loopily written, in the bad way, and the action was hard to follow. Right after that, we flit into Voldemort’s head for a moment, which I thought was borderline goofy. But really I find Voldemort borderline goofy in general. …Or maybe just plain goofy.
- Harry and Hermione question Phineas Nigellus Black’s portrait – that’s the portrait that sneered about pureblood greatness back in Grimmauld Place. I don’t like their attitude toward him – let me explain. He’s a totally unrepentant, unbudging blood-ist. He hates Hermione for being a mudblood and Harry for being a sympathizer, and he takes EVERY opportunity to put the kids down about it. He’s an annoying prick.
What would you do if you had to question someone who hates you for the way you were born? If you had to milk them for life-saving information? And if you knew that that person had the smallest possible impact on your reputation? One option I can see is, you’d butter him up, really flatter him. You might play an “Uncle Tom.” It’s not like he’s going to tell all your friends that you agree with his sentiments – he’s confined to a couple of picture frames and he’s not some reputable top dog of the Hogwarts headmaster’s quarters. The other option I can see is, you’d hold your ground by staying stern and quiet. When he says “mudblood,” you just don’t take his bait, and you move on to what you’re actually interested in: having your own questions answered.
The worst possible option I can see is, every time he brings it up, you scream, “SHE’S NOT A MUDBLOOD! HER NAME IS HERMIONE!” Like, what battle are you fighting here? He’s a dead man! In a portrait! You know who you are, Hermione, you can be secure in that – you’ve been secure in that for pretty much as long as readers have known you! STOP SCREAMING, HARRY!
- Gotta talk about the night Ron comes back. Harry’s runnin’ around in the woods because he sees a mysterious Patronus deer. He follows it to a lake, at the bottom of which is the Sword of Gryffindor. He dives in, but nearly dies – but then Ronaldo Weaselton saves him! Then he uses the sword to destroy the Horcrux in the locket. I’ve gone pretty sour on Ron since the first few books, but by golly by gum, it is cool to see him come back waving a sword around. He returns to exactly the right place because Dumbledore’s Put-Outer led him there, which is, uh, extremely convenient and doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the first power (y’know, to put out lights) but…okay.
After that, Harry and Ron go back to the tent. When Hermione sees Ron, she…punches him in the face. This isn’t a couple I want to fight for. We’re supposed to accept that he deserves to get punched in the face, even if it was a little harsh. I don’t accept that! Their relationship feels so…retrograde. Yes, they are like an old married couple, and that’s not necessarily good! They’re like a couple that stays together because it’s already been sixty years. One of them occasionally punches the other, but the good times are just frequent enough to drown out the “do the dishes! you never do the dishes!” – or so they might claim. And then, of course, if Ron punched her, we’d be calling someone.
- Liked seeing that Lovegood house. Always happy to have me some Lovegood action. Luna is a trooper. And aside from the name itself, “Deathly Hallows,” I like the mythos behind the Deathly Hallows, the simplicity of the idea and symbols. Even though it only showed up seven books in, it feels integral to the world for me, and it makes sense that it didn’t come up before (like Horcruxes) (like Grindelwa—wait, is Harry that bad at history class? So bad that he didn’t know who caused Wizard World War Two until a few months ago?)
Act 5: Fun with the Malfoys (My Favorites)
SARCASM, that’s sarcasm, I don’t like any of the Malfoys. I do agree, though, that Draco had such wasted potential. There’s a Draco vs. Harry part in this book, but…I don’t think it’s what any of us wanted.
Before that, though, Potter and his merry gang end up going to Malfoy Manor. This is the part where I felt so bogged down, and the plot felt so artificial, that I kept inwardly groaning. Oh joy, Bellatrix is here. Yaaay. My faaaaavorite. I guess I can appreciate how tense it was, how high the stakes were as they tried to hide Harry’s identity, got tossed into a little prison. But there were lots of plot details and plot trinkets flitting in and out, and then these boring, boring…bbbbbOOOOOring Malfoy villains.
You know what gets them out? That’s right, it’s Dobby. Dobby warps in. Dobby’s gonna save the day.
At that point I closed the book.
Okay, FORTUNATELY the scene doesn’t just end with Dobby linking hands with everyone and Disapparating them somehow. FORTUNATELY there is more of a bloody struggle after he arrives. But I don’t think his appearance was ever explained beyond him getting a vague sense that Master Harry needed help. Correct me if I’m wrong. Even if he has a better reason, it doesn’t save his appearance from feeling so contrived. I’m sure I’ve swallowed other plot contrivances before, and done so gladly – I have a strong stomach for it. But this is too much for me. Too rich for my blood.
And anyway, it still ends like a sack of shit. Everyone ends up warping out, safe…except Dobby! Dobby, who had just craftily killed Bellatrix (who, as you know, is my faaavorite)! Now he is dying! Oh no how touching he just death-moaned Harry Potter’s name!!!!!
This is why he doesn’t get to be this book’s MVP: because he leaves as soon as he enters and he enters in what I consider to be the crappiest way possible. I mean…at least Luna helps make his funeral as nice as possible. (And Harry’s over here doing his half-assed job.)
(Note: as theredsheep says below (have you been checking out his comments? they’re insightful, funny, and pick up on stuff I miss), I forgot where Dobby came from in this scene, bu they actually foreshadow it here and reveal it later. It’s unfair of me to act like this Malfoy Manor stuff was so many random things thrown in a cauldron.)
After that, they start staying at this cottage with some Weasleys, some other wizards, and this goblin named Griphook.
Act 6: Griphook Griphook Griphook
Note: now that I’ve re-read my Chamber of Secrets review, I realize that I DID notice a bunch of this stuff already. I even made a spookily-similar Watto reference. Apparently I just…forgot all about that. I think that as I read Deathly Hallows, I just wanted so badly to give Griphook’s character the benefit of the doubt all of a sudden? Whatever…
We’ve got a lot of antisemitic caricature /stuff happening here. It’s been talked about elsewhere on the internet in depth, more intelligently than I could do it here. Even beyond his physical appearance, the fuckin’ name “hook,” and the way he makes other characters uncomfortable when he stands on their shoulders, there’s the fact that…this is a fantasy race of people whose lives revolve around handling money. The money of others, at that. Anyone making a fantasy race that exclusively handles money should stop right there.
While I was reading, I kinda liked how he has his own pride that won’t budge. He’s not just gonna cede to the heroes’ demands, but we’re not going to call him a villain for it either. But on reflection, doesn’t that just make him a noble savage? He’s still a caricature of a man. It suggests that he has his own world – so does the presence of goblin traditions – and I think that’s Rowling’s attempt at being even-handed. So is the fact that elves, who are normally portrayed in fiction as handsome devils, are also considered ugly and undesirable. But the only way the portrayal of goblins was gonna be any good was if they did…well…first of all if they weren’t described as tiny ugly weird men who only had value because of how they handled human money.
I didn’t pick up on this very fast, and I didn’t even think about it back in the first book. I’m less familiar with antisemitic caricatures, their history, and their insidiousness. So I picked up sorta quickly on the slave stuff and questioned their accents (albeit through an American, Americanizing lens), but – let me put it this way: I got bothered by Jar Jar Binks far quicker than I got bothered by Watto, is what I’m saying. That’s not good because they should bother me pretty much immediately.
While Harry and the gang are hanging out at this nice cottage, they learn that the sword has been claimed by goblins. Goblins not only made the sword, but also still rightfully own it, and while it remains in a vault at Gringott’s, the goblins are beyond bitter about it and want it back. Meanwhile, Harry needs to use the sword for his Horcrux business or whatever. Putting all else aside, this is a great set-up for some good-hearted interracial tension because it means Harry’s going to have to negotiate for the sword. I’m sure he’ll also have to stay on good terms with goblinkind by honoring the traditions of both wizards and goblins while taking special care to honor those of any exploited groups involved (i.e. goblins), by only making promises he’s prepared to keep, and by not using any weaselly words or tactics. Yes, I’m sure he’ll do all of these things throughout the story.
…Yeah, okay, I get it, desperate times at Gringott’s call for desperate measures. Such things can be forgiven. Good thing Harry’s going to ensure that the Sword goes back to goblinkind. Yeah, he’ll definitely do that at the end of the story. Yeah, that will definitely be considered important.
This Review Is Running So Long I Decided To Split It In Two Parts
Here is the final, conclusive, ultimate part of this review, of this book, of this series: The conclusion to my thoughts on Deathly Hallows!
By the way, make sure you’ve read all the rest of the Readstravaganza, including the time I looked at pretty much every special edition cover and ranked them…and then BOTH times I looked at all the beautiful and wacky-ass international covers!