In this classic book review, Tony Lazlo sounds an extended dirge for the disappointing final chapter in the Harry Potter book series.
The empress is naked.
After 10 wonderful years of books whose release dates arrived with the anticipation of fresh boxes of Wonka bars, we’re left with the disheartening reality that J.K. Rowling couldn’t write a Harry Potter novel set beyond the walls, curriculum and classes of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a stunning disappointment with a great ending — and let me stress: The novel itself has a great ending. The seven-book series doesn’t.
After four masterful novels – I’ve argued before that the first two lackluster entries in Rowling’s series don’t count toward the greater whole – Rowling bungled the final chapter in her epic tale by wasting time, falling into cliché and delivering on only one of the promises she had tacitly made in her previous novels.
And let me clarify what I mean by “promise”: The “promise” Rowling made over the course of the books was simply to deliver a final chapter that at least matched the craftsmanship of the previous, stellar entries. To do this, she simply had to throw a series of levers that she herself had installed over the last four books.
Somehow, she missed all but one of those levers. Let’s go down the levers and talk about how she missed them – and don’t worry, I’ll praise the one lever she managed to pull.
MISSED LEVER ONE: Petunia Dursley. The novel started promising enough, with the loutish Dudley thanking Harry for saving his life, but after the fifth book, when we found out that Petunia Dursley was more wrapped up in the magical world than we thought, I found it disappointing that she didn’t play a larger role in the closure of Harry’s time with the Dursleys. That was the smallest of my disappointments.
MISSED LEVER TWO: The quest for the Horcruxes, aka “Harry, Ron and Hermione spend 200 pages doing nothing in the woods.” Now we’re getting into serious pooch-screwing territory here. Rowling made a bold choice to have Harry drop out of Hogwarts at the end of book six, Half-Blood Prince, and she managed to resist the temptation to send him back to school there.
By doing this, she set herself up to write a truly striking Harry Potter novel – a traditional hero-quest set beyond the walls of Harry’s cozy prep school and in the myriad wilds of the magical world.
Rowling attempted to do this and failed. Instead of giving us more of the focused narrative she proved herself capable of in books three and four (and parts of books five and six), Rowling stranded her three lead characters in a tent for 200 pages where they essentially did nothing.
My objection to this has two prongs:
First, Rowling could have very well left Harry and the gang with a clue or two to start them on their quest. Or, she could have used one of her own (and Joss Whedon’s) favorite devices to launch her story: the library. Led by Hermione, Harry and Ron had found the answers to previous mysteries in books, and even though accessing the Hogwarts stacks would have been near-impossible at the start of book seven, why not make up another library and send them to it? I mean, she has the cheek to make up a “Room of Requirement” – why not hook up her kids with some fucking books?
But instead of doing either of those things, Rowling made Harry and the gang apparate from one random place to another, hoping to find a clue, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, she actually had them stumble upon some characters who gave them their first clues. Within the walls of Hogwarts, it was easy to believe that Harry (or whoever) would overhear important plot points all the time, but – and here’s where the “empress has no clothes” thing kicks in – for Rowling to employ the same cheesy device while the gang randomly teleports from one part of rural England and Europe to another was simply insulting. (Eventually, the trio gets captured — a slightly more credible plot point, given the police state that Voldemort had made of the magical world.)
But that’s not even the worst part, and here I get to my second prong. I would have been delighted for Rowling to strand her three magnificent leads in the wilderness for an aimless 200 pages as long as something had happened. (Harry, Ron and Hermione, despite my disappointment with book seven, will hold proud places in my personal pantheon of great characters from pop-culture, right up there with Frodo, Sam, Luke, Han and all the rest.) George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan and Irvin Kershner stranded Han Solo and Princess Leia in an asteroid field for half a movie, and that extended caesura gave them time to develop one of the great onscreen romances. Rowling, by contrast, put an extended caesura in her climactic novel, and she wasted it. Over six novels, Rowling had established several worthy conflicts among her three leads, and any one of them would have been great to explore during this passage. To wit, Rowling could have explored any of these conflicts:
• Ron’s jealousy of Harry’s celebrity.
• Hermione’s contempt for Ron and Harry’s lackadaisical study habits.
• Ron’s grudge against Hermione for going out with Krum before going out with him.
• Hermione’s grudge against Ron for going out with Lavender Brown to “get back at her” for going out with Krum.
• Hermione generally calling Ron out for being a fuckbrain who couldn’t express his feelings for her until Dumbledore got waxed.
• Ron’s anger at Harry for getting involved with Ginny. (Side note: Why was this even an issue for Ron in book six? Didn’t he spend the whole damn fifth book trying to hook these two up?)
To be fair, Rowling did explore one conflict: Ron’s suspicion that Hermione was in love with Harry, not him. Unfortunately, Rowling only explored this lackluster conflict during the magically heightened scene where Ron destroyed one of the horcruxes. Why does this choice suck? For two reasons:
• One, like I said, Rowling hadn’t established this as a legitimate love triangle. I have never gotten the impression that Hermione felt anything but sisterly affection for Harry. On the other hand, she essentially spent the better part of two novels wanting Ron to jump her bones. Listen, I’m a huge apologist for Ron, having been an idiot like him myself, so I can imagine how inadequate he could feel around a budding legend like Harry – but Rowling had simply taken the time to establish so many other, richer conflicts – why not explore them?
• Two, as a fantasy and sci-fi geek, I am sick of the tired old device of having a specter of evil tempt or taunt a good guy. This hoary cliché reached its zenith in The Exorcist. Let’s put a moratorium on this for a few decades.
Oh, I’m sorry. Rowling did explore how Harry, Ron and Hermione got tired and hungry on their quest. During this, Ron left because he was angry about being tired and hungry. Then he came back. At just the right time. Snore.
But enough about the quest for the horcruxes. Let’s move on to …