Google ‘Deathly Hallows review’ and you get over 6 million hits, so anyone who wants to know how it ends can soon find out without spending the £5 it cost me to buy the book in Asda, but if they do they will miss out on the fun of reading it. Over the past 10 years I have read all the books and seen all the films. Some American Christians have warned off potential readers with suggestions that this will lead children into the occult. For a community that invented the annual ritual of children dressing up as witches and going out tricking and treating on the evening of October 31st, this is a bit rich. The magic is just a literary device and is completely harmless.
The books have has many elements that make them readable for children. There are strong characters, a fantastic world, gross inventions of the Roald Dahl sort (vomit flavoured sweets), a new and exciting sport, teenage romance, monsters, a cracking pace, easy language, heroes and villains and silly jokes. They are not written as literature and there are plenty of clichés for critics to get their teeth into. Then the critics hated Enid Blyton.
As Harry Potter has grown older, so the characters have become more complex and the narrative darker. In the final book we begin to see shades of grey in even the most saintly and most evil individuals. Dumbledore flirted with fascism. Voldemort had a deprived childhood.
For JK Rowling, the love of a mother for her child is perhaps the most powerful force in the universe. It was that which protected Harry from Voldemort’s murderous attack right at the beginning, and Mary Weasley is motivated by it to become a fearsome warrior in the final battle. Even for Narcissa Malfoy its power is greater than Voldemort’s hold over her.
‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’. Rowling quotes from the Sermon on the Mount. She might also have quoted from John’s Gospel, ‘Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends’, for this is very much the theme of the novel.
Like all good fantasy books there is a quest at the heart of it. Ron, Hermione and Harry are searching for the Horcruxes, the artefacts where Voldemort has hidden pieces of his soul, but with Dumbledore dead and Hogwarts in the hands of Snape, all the world seems against them. Each of them has been left a clue by Dumbledore in his will: a strange silver cigarette lighter that absorbs all the light in a room to Ron, a book of children’s fairy tales to Hermione and a Quidditch Snitch to Harry, as well as the sword of Godric Gryffindor. All are to have important roles in the story, though the sword is withheld by the Ministry of Magic.
Rowling gives us a clue in that the book of fairy stories contains the moral of the tale, just as her books of fairy stories contain the moral she wishes us to absorb. In an oblique way it tells of the Deathly Hallows, objects of immense significance: a wand of enormous power, a stone with the power of resurrection and a cloak of invisibility. Which one would you desire?
The heroic trio fall out. Should they seek the Horcruxes or the Hallows? There are jealousies, arguments, sulks and angry words. We see old characters put in cameo appearances, including Rita Skeeter who has written an expose of the Hogwart’s headmaster, ‘The Life and lies of Albus Dumbledore’. Doubt overwhelms Harry as he reads extracts from it.
There are plenty of deaths, as promised. Rowling casts off familiar and well-loved characters right from the very beginning. In the previous books we were so used to her creations making miraculous escapes that when we first lose Hedwig, we are not sure that the owl is really dead, but as the body count rises and individuals that we have become attached to are summarily despatched we begin to realise that this is no game. No-one is invulnerable. It comes as no surprise that Harry eventually realises that Dumbledore had planned all along that he, Harry, would have to die in defeating Voldemort. Dumbledore was not the soft, cuddly uncle we had grown to love.
In the end all the threads come together. We understand. The best leaders are those who have it thrust upon them. Integrity will out. Those who seek power are not qualified to wield it. Blessed are the pure in heart.