In the interest of sharing other books I love with you, and so this blog doesn't just become an advert for my own stuff, I have decided to start posting reviews of some of my favorite stories, typically things that have greatly influenced me. We start with Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, the final installment in J.K. Rowling's seven-part fantasy series.
Deathly Hallows is unquestionably the best of the Harry Potter series. This is not just the 'finale' to one of the greatest stories of all time--this is a thematic masterpiece that perfectly encapsulates Rowling's greatest obsessions as a writer: the confrontation of death, and the struggle to carry on when all hope seems lost. One only needs to poorly know Rowling's background--the traumatic loss of her mother, and living in veritable squalor as she struggled to finish the first Potter novel--to easily see Harry's struggle as her own.
Having reread this book recently with older eyes, I was struck by the nuance with which Rowling depicts Harry's paranoia over his friends' growing mistrust that he knows what he doing, a paranoia that proves largely correct. This is next-level storytelling at work, and Rowling's ability to give characters extremely primal and familiar hopes, fears, and feelings amid outstanding circumstances may be her greatest ability as a writer.
Another great touch in this story is the deconstruction of the wise old man, as Harry learns a lot of dirt about Dumbledore in the wake of his death. By midway through the book Harry no longer believes Dumbledore ever even gave a damn about him, and that the old professor left Harry with some halfassed plan with little chance of succeeding. Deconstruction is all the rage nowadays, and one could easily see a modern writer handling Harry's frustration with his late mentor in broad, clumsy strokes, much like how the depiction of a burned out Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi feels rather hackneyed (not to mention contrary to the character). But Rowling handles the demystification of Dumbledore adroitly, for Harry's frustration over what the great wizard never told him is coupled with his sorrow that there was so much he never bothered to ask him. Again, regrets and death pervade Rowling's prose.
Rowling's skillful deployment of deconstruction is also at play with how she handles the death of major characters, such as following an early battle in the book, when there is an awkward discussion over who will go find a fallen hero's body. There is a almost an element of Clint Eastwood's western film Unforgiven here: for Rowling, death is never a sad reaction and a quick cut to a new scene. Burials are planned, blame is bandied about, and the fallout is always palpable.
Finally, there's the showdown between Voldemort and Harry. Without giving anything away, I will say that for me this is the most masterful part of the book, and it's a great pity that the movie strayed so far from it. There is a deconstruction of Voldemort himself, who at one point no longer feels like an unstoppable pillar of terror, but instead a cackling Saturday morning cartoon villain--a moment that is coupled perfectly with Harry's 'return from the dead' and his unstoppable march to victory, at last. After fighting a losing battle for many books, to have this swift turn of the tides, and to have the dismantling of Voldermort's mystique play out rapidly before his unceremonious death, was joyful to read.
Many discuss the epilogue and whether it was poorly handled. To me it's of little concern. The greatness in Deathly Hallows lies throughout the tome. It is an absolute triumph, both as the capstone to Harry Potter, and to the greatness of the woman who penned it.