J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

by J. K. Rowling, 607 pages

Finished on 29th of March
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An energetic finale to a wonderful book series. Fast-paced action, a complex narrative, and strong character developments. Rowling’s ability to create hopelessness and despair, conjure up a big plot twist, and leave us with a warm feeling is unparalleled.

🎨 Impressions

First off, this is a great and highly enjoyable book in itself, as well as a worthy conclusion to the seven book spanning saga that is the Harry Potter canon. Another solid 5/5 stars fun and exciting read. I don’t regret starting this series in my late 30s in any way, which is not to say that there’s any particular age at which it’s more enjoyable. I read the final chapter on a flight to London with my whole family, where the two oldest daughters (10 and 12 years old), my wife and I visited the Warner Brother Studio Tour of the Harry Potter movies. Of which I had seen two, about twenty years ago. My wife has been a fan of the story and my two oldest daughters have read all books during the past few months for the first time. Visiting the studios has been a perfect way to end this three month long Harry Potter phase of my life for now.

Now, the book. One of the exciting things of the series is to witness how Rowling’s writing skills have improved over the years. Some criticisms I had for the earlier books have disappeared, e.g. the often rather slow openings. Deathly Hallows gets right into it after a short nostalgic closing chapter at the Dursley’s, and we witness the first huge fight. A number of Death Eaters attack seven different Harry’s, who are his polyjuice-potioned friends, accompanied by the Order of the Phoenix members. Not even ten percent into the book, two characters already die. First, Harry’s poor owl Hedwig is just obliterated by a Death Eater curse. And the tough old fighter and planner of this escape, Mad-Eye Moody is hit as well and falls to his demise. That’s a big blast against our heroes and a sure sign of the things to come. This book won’t be a walk in the park for them and the people surrounding Lord Voldemort clearly present a bigger threat than anticipated. Their powers seem unmatched.

I couldn’t help but think that especially this opening fight scene on brooms in the sky was written with the idea of making it into a huge block buster movie afterwards. Even tough a couple of the former books were also written while the movies were already being produced and released, they didn’t feel like movies as much as this one to me. This is okay, and the confusing way in which the fight evolves does work in a written form, too. My heart rate was clearly elevated as I rushed through the pages trying to find out how this scene will unfold.

Afterwards, there’s some needed room to breathe in the book. Harry, Ron, and Hermione try to find out more about Voldemort’s Horcruxes, which they need to destroy first in order to finally defeat him. The late Professor Dumbledore left them each an ominous item somehow connected to finding out the truth without giving away too much of what they already know about Voldemort’s secret. What a thin line to navigate! The most valuable currency in this book clearly is information. There is so much secrecy involved, and strategies of what to reveal to whom at which point are deployed by so many characters, it’s at times hard to keep track. I find myself often wondering why certain leads weren’t just explored earlier, leaving me with a feeling of having discovered a sort of plot hole I couldn’t put my finger on perfectly. At times it seems constructed, is what I’m trying to say. Like the scaffolding of the story breaking at a certain point and being repaired with duct tape in a haste. But, it’s not enough to kill the illusion for me. I’m still highly invested.

This all made me realize that I identify most with Hermione in this book. She is the only one who really has a strategic way of navigating through this entangled mess of conflicting interests. And that is prioritizing acquiring knowledge. Knowledge is power, especially so in the Harry Potter universe. It seems odd that this isn’t the main focus of the characters who are in even more dire situations. And after six years of magic school, how can the others all know so little? For example, Ron is practically useless as a wizard. At the end of every book they had these apparently quite difficult exams and were spending so much time revising what they had learned, but what exactly is that? They still know nothing about the most relevant bits of history, they know just a handful of spells and curses, and many of those still fail or go wrong anyways. What have they been doing?

After about a quarter of the book we get the Harry Potter version of the Red Wedding, known from the 2000 book “A Storm of Swords”, the third book in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series which was the basis of the popular HBO show “Game of Thrones”. Seven years later, Rowling published this story, and it’s honestly nearly as gripping as the impressive storytelling of that George R. R. Martin scene, even though there are no violent deaths. It’s a major turning point, because now the Ministry of Magic, which is the de facto government of the Witches and Wizards, has been overrun and taken over by Voldemort and his Death Eaters. The previous Minister, a person named Rufus Scrimgeour, has been killed and the wedding party at the Weasley’s place, where the nucleus of the people actively involved in the resistance are located, is stormed by an army. Our protagonists suffer a huge blow and the situation is looking very bleak.

Voldemort and his people have now gone fully Nazi Germany. So-called Muggle born and “half-bloods”, who are people who have a mixed descent of magical and non-magical ancestry, are treated like the Jews were treated in the beginning of the Third Reich and now have to register first before getting an unfair and biased trial and then being sent to prison just for not having what they consider to be full-blood. The main newspaper called The Daily Prophet is used purely as a propaganda device from now on. Lies are spread, doubts and fears are nourished. Voldemort wants to do a sort of ethnical cleansing of the whole Wizarding world. It’s still not sufficiently explained how he came to this idea and conviction, but then again, it’s also very tough to actually pinpoint how Hitler and other evil dictators arrived at their plans which then lead to all this unnecessary suffering created for so many people. Is it just a blind desire for unlimited power, nothing more?

Quite possibly there’s some underlying fascination with this evil behavior hidden somewhere in all of us. So many popular stories follow a similar development which seems to be based on Hitler’s rise to power. The Lord of the Rings (Sauron) and Star Wars (Emperor Palpatine) come to mind.

How is the Hogwarts school still open? I’ve been wondering this for the past three books. Who in their right mind would still send their kids there? And now that it’s openly in the hands of the people who clearly are planning a genocide? I would have expected a bigger Fight or Flight response from the normal folks. More people uniting to build a resistance and also more people to flee the country. But both doesn’t really happen, apparently. People are just still sending their kids into the school which is now being headmastered by a murderer. Granted, many people don’t believe Harry’s account of the killing of Dumbledore due to the propaganda released by the authorities, but Snape’s affiliation with the Dark Lord is known just as it is known he has risen again.

As the plot moves on and our three heroes try and move forward with finding those Horcruxes, I was amazed at Rowling’s idea to have them get frustrated with each other. While it may not be a classic plot device, its fitting nature adds a layer of bleakness to the entire endeavor. Harry’s lack of leadership leads to the hopelessness arising in the others and they start fighting until Ron even leaves them, causing Hermione to cry for weeks. They visit Harry’s parents’ graves, get attacked by Voldemort’s snake Nagini, narrowly escape that villain and in the process get Harry’s special wand destroyed. No plans left, no one to help. That is such a sad low point and Rowling created this situation so perfectly. They just seem so lost at going at this insurmountable task. It drags you in. At times they are spending literal weeks in their hidden tent somewhere in the countryside without doing anything. Not following up on any leads, not trying to talk to anyone or ask for help. This strikes me as odd, but since they can’t give away any information about what they’re trying to do, it’s in line with the constructed plot.

We learn a bit more about Dumbledore’s character in this book. He isn’t the God-figure he seemed like. This adds a nice touch to his previously one-dimensional character. In the end it’s still clear that he learned from the mistakes he made early in his life and spent the largest part of it trying to make amends for it, but I was wondering if some of the strategic information-withholding towards Harry was a type of sinister chess move on his part. It doesn’t seem likely to me that being surrounded by this much danger for so many years would make a headmaster into a person which would be careful to tell people who could step up to the challenges how they should go about it. Maybe this is another bit that was constructed afterwards by Rowling so everything kind of fits together.

Harry Potter. What exactly is his motivation? Is it still revenge on Voldemort for revenge’s sake? He doesn’t mention it, but does he feel like he needs to kill him to bring justice to him because of the murder of his parents? Harry keeps saying that he needs to do the things Dumbledore wanted him to do. Like a godly plan he just has to follow and can’t question. Obviously, it’s for the greater good if Voldemort is stopped, but it doesn’t clearly seem to me that that’s Harry’s motivation. Is he even interested in the wellbeing of others that much? It seems questionable to me at times. I find it hard to identify with him in this book.

I was also contemplating why Slytherin still seems so attractive to many people, both in the story and also in real life. Is it maybe because they have a clear goal and are active and passionate about reaching it? The good guys are always just reacting, resisting, trying to keep the status quo as it is. As bad and evil as the plans may be, they are the ones who try to shape and change the world. The others are merely existing, not unlike plants. Maybe that’s it?

This book echoes the previous books’ tendency to have a long build-up during the middle part of it, but here it’s often punctured by exiting scenes, such as the protagonists getting captured and brought into Malfoy Mansion, which happens after about 60% of the book. It’s fun to see how the selfishness of the Death Eaters gets in their way, and their collective fear of their leader nearly paralyzes their ability to make decisions about this new prisoner situation. Oddly enough, bratty Draco isn’t so bratty anymore. He refuses to identify the transfigured Harry, thereby playing a role in saving Harry’s life. Is he afraid? Is he pitying Harry? He spent the last book trying to live up to his master’s plans for him and kill Professor Dumbledore, but wasn’t able to go through with it in the end – has he lost his evil drive or maybe even gained a conscience? Clearly there’s been something of a character development, but it’s not on the nose.

During the escape from Malfoy Mansion, another two deaths happen. The sneaky traitor Wormtail and the beloved little house-elf Dobby both lose their lives because they wanted to help Harry, even though in Wormtail’s situation it was just a flicker of an idea to do the right thing that brought him down. It isn’t openly stated, but the death toll of people who tried to further Harry’s cause is mounting. He is leaving an actual trail of dead. You feel it in the words though, how heavy this weighs on Harry. Brilliantly done by Rowling.

By 70% of the book we have now had four side quests. All of them are separated by weeklong breaks, sometimes even monthlong ones. Is this engineered so as to have the whole story arc again span a full school year? Because there doesn’t seem to be a reason for Harry and the two to be planning a rather simple heist like the Gringotts break-in for more than a few days. It might be the breather we needed, though.

Coming back to those four side quests. The first one’s objective was to safely move Harry away from the Dursley home. It succeeded but resulted in two deaths, Hedwig’s and Mad-Eye’s. Second, we had the trip to Godric’s Hollow, where Harry’s wand got destroyed and there were no gains. Thirdly, at the Lovegood’s place we learn about the Deathly Hallows but the protagonists get imprisoned right after, Wormtail and Dobby die. And lastly, the Gringotts heist, where they succeed in attaining the Horcrux but at the price of getting their accomplice Griphook killed and revealing their plan of getting and destroying all Horcruxes to the previously oblivious Lord Voldemort. Every advance comes with little gain if any, but always at a heavy cost. It still feels like they are mostly stepping in the dark and it’s really easy to empathize.

Now we’re getting to the ferocity of the finale. Something I have loved in every previous book, and this one turns it up to eleven. It has been a blast to read the Battle of Hogwarts. Many more loved ones dying makes the stakes even higher, and again this is another passive and reactive move by the good guys. They are getting violently attacked, Voldemort is prepared to kill everyone in order to get to Harry. By now he has figured out that Harry has been finding and destroying Horcruxes and Voldemort is fearing for his own life, the most important thing to himself, more important than the countless lives of other people he freely risks and sacrifices to keep his immortality. Death is at the center of this story, everything revolves around it. So we suffer Tonks, Lupin, Fred Weasley, and poor tiny Colin Creevey leaving the realm of the living.

Still it’s been hard to come to terms for me how the Slytherin children in the school were prepared to just hand over Harry to Voldemort. Harry later spares and saves the life of Draco twice, in what can be interpreted as friendly pay-back for Draco’s unwillingness to identify him back at the Malfoy Mansion. I found this heartwarming.

Then we finally reach the point of the huge plot twist. Snape dies and Harry finds out that Snape was tasked with killing Dumbledore to spare him a painful death he mistakenly afflicted on himself by foolishly putting on the one cursed Horcrux ring. Some more memories of Snape reveal him to having been a good guy all along, which is very hard to believe given the full history we’ve read in the books. All his petty behavior, the bullying, the attacks, the malevolence, just for show? Did Rowling maybe make this up as she went along? I do like the twist to a degree, though. Snape was a tragic figure suffering from the pressure of the secrets he had to keep while staying a trusted double agent in an intensifying situation. But did he really care about Harry, “always”, as he stated? I find this hard to believe. He shows so much contempt for him in the early books, and I feel like the story could have gone either way even after the sixth book. Rowling may have deliberately sent mixed signals to make the surprise and pay-off greater, but to me this has only worked to a degree. But it still makes it heartbreaking that Snape now has to die at the hands (or teeth) of Voldemort’s snake Nagini and sees no way out of this. Maybe there’s even a sort of relief in him that the playing of both sides now ceases. Which brings us to Harry.

Harry realizes he has to die in order to defeat Voldemort. Sacrifice himself for the greater good. A prominent theme in the book. This ideas has been planted in us throughout the whole book and I think this is a worthy conclusion, although a bit on the nose in the way it resembles the crucification of Jesus. Harry willingly accepts this. Dumbledore and Snape previously did so, too, and Lupin also just said something about his own death helping the world after him improve.

This is dark, especially so for a children’s book! Him reuniting with his several patronuses by using the Stone of Resurrection before sacrificing himself as a way of showing he’s on the correct path here by killing himself is grim, but also heartwarming. The love he has in his life, even though it’s partly towards people who are already dead, giving him strength and protecting him in a way.

Then it happens, Harry dies by Killing Curse from Voldemort and wakes up in a purgatory type of situation, talking to Dumbledore. Jesus has joined God. While the conversation is odd and abstract, I really like how it ends. Harry asks, “Is this real or in my head?” to which Dumbledore replies, “Of course it’s in your head, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real!” – the whole of reality is a creation of our minds, a constructed simulation of oscillating bits of energy reaching us via our biological sensors, i.e. eyes, ears, and so on. Not many people realize this. This doesn’t change much except that reframing it gives us more agency, in my opinion. We get to choose how to interpret the signals coming in. We don’t just have to react, we create our own worlds. Harry realizes this and comes back to life.

A bit later, we have the final confrontation. Harry versus Voldemort, pointing wands at each other, surrounded by everyone who’s still alive. It’s very nice that it’s semantics and knowledge and not violence that wins this battle. It’s a tasteful ending that no one has to kill Voldemort, he does it himself by accident and arrogance in the end. It was very well laid out and following the reasoning behind Harry was alright, too, in my opinion. Sure, it all coming down to whose wand now follows which master because of what technicality is a bit questionable, but I’m personally okay with it. Well done.

There’s a short closing chapter depicting the situation 19 years later. The three heroes have aged and became parents, the kids go to Hogwarts again, the cycle of life continues. I loved it. A wonderful ending to an exceptional book series. It seems to me it’s a timeless story and I’m keen to find out if my grandkids will enjoy it as much as my kids and I did.

📔 Highlights

Chapter 6 – The Ghoul in Pyjamas

‘Yeah, why tell the public the truth?’ said Harry, clenching his knife so tightly that the faint scars on the back of his right hand stood out, white against his skin: I must not tell lies.

Chapter 24 – The Wandmaker

And he thought of Wormtail, dead because of one, small, unconscious impulse of mercy … Dumbledore had foreseen that … how much more had he known?

Chapter 25 – Shell Cottage

The enormity of his decision not to race Voldemort to the wand still scared Harry. He could not remember, ever before, choosing not to act.

‘It is true?’ Harry asked Hermione. ‘Was the sword stolen by Gryffindor?’ ‘I don’t know,’ she said hopelessly. ‘Wizarding history often skates over what the wizards have done to other magical races, but there’s no account that I know of that says Gryffindor stole the sword.’

Chapter 28 – The Missing Mirror

I’m going to keep going until I succeed–or I die. Don’t think I don’t know how this might end. I’ve known it for years.’

Chapter 34 – The Forest Again

‘We are part of you,’ said Sirius. ‘Invisible to anyone else.’ Harry looked at his mother.

Chapter 35 – King’s Cross

That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.

I had proven, as a very young man, that power was my weakness and my temptation. It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.

You are the true master of death, because the true master does not seek to run away from Death. He accepts that he must die, and understands that there are far, far worse things in the living world than dying.’

‘Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?’

How do you feel after reading this?

This helps me assess the quality of my writing and improve it.

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