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Monday, May 19, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling (Reviewed by Achala Upendran)

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Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harry Potter and The Chamber Of Secrets
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harry Potter and The Prisoner Of Azkaban
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harry Potter and The Goblet Of Fire
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harry Potter and The Order Of The Phoenix
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The close of an epic fantasy series brings with it a great deal of heartache, some amount of despair and a certain portion of good old denial. We’ve stuck by the characters through thick and thin for so many books, after all, whether through the thirteen volumes of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, seven Narnia books or even the less-weighty but no less emotionally hard hitting (arguably, more hard-hitting) The Lord of the Rings. The seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, brought in its wake all three of the aforementioned emotions. In fact, the ‘denial’ factor took visual form, with the movie being split into two parts. Just to draw out the heartache a little longer, you know?

With the fall of Albus Dumbledore, the bastion of the ‘good’ side seems to have come crashing down, and no one is able to stop Voldemort and his minions from sweeping into power. Harry, Ron and Hermione have opted out of attending Hogwarts and are on the run, hunting for the remaining Horcruxes. With only two accounted for and five still out there, it looks like a tall order and one they have little hope of fulfilling, especially given that the forces of the government and Voldemort’s Death Eaters are out to get them.

The thing to remember about the Harry Potter books is where their enduring power lies. It is not, entirely, in the plot. It is not even in the intricacies of the world Rowling built. It lies, instead, in her characters. Even with this, the final book in the series and one where (most readers will assume) she is unlikely to surprise us, Rowling pulls out her stops and serves a delicious buffet of human emotion. This is it, the wizarding war we have been awaiting for six books, the moment Harry is expected to step out and shine at the forefront of battle. Rowling, however, opts not to walk down that tried and tested road. Instead, she sends her three young heroes on a lonely quest, out of the ‘main action’ and thus tests them in ways they never imagined.

I won’t lie; leaving Hogwarts out for a great duration of the seventh book was a big gamble for Rowling to take, and there are many of us (me included) who would have ideally liked to have seen more of the school that’s become, for us as well as Harry, a second home. But I do respect her artistic decision to push her hero’s limits rather than send him back to the predictable grind. Besides, given how events pan out, it’s probably a really good thing he didn’t go back after all.

Another thing that might get to you (as it did to me) was the lack of screen-time for many of our most beloved characters. This is the product of not-being-in-Hogwarts, but after six years of knowing them, it’s still rather sad that we didn’t get to spend many chapters with the Weasleys, the various professors or even, admit it, our favourite bully, Draco Malfoy. Instead, the book focuses almost solely on the trio and their adventures as they ricochet around the country, searching desperately for the means to destroy Voldemort. We also get to see Harry at his broody best, something we’d missed ever since Order of the Phoenix. That’s right, did you think Harry was going to be completely noble and silently suffer his heroic torments? He is a seventeen year old boy.

The tagline of Deathly Hallows: Part 1 reads: ‘Trust no one’. That’s a maxim readers should sear into their brains. You can’t trust anyone in this book to behave as they have before. Characters reveal shades that you’ve never suspected them of harbouring, once-trusted allies turn out to have hidden streaks of selfishness, perhaps some long-loathed villains will show unwitting decency. Even Dumbledore is not safe from Rowling’s intense scrutiny, and many of the former Headmaster’s secrets are nastily revealed to the wizarding world. Again, like most events in the series, these revelations serve as a profound test for Harry Potter. Again, readers have to wait and see how he deals with it and whether they leave him with the strength to continue his appointed mission.

Rowling’s stretching of her characters’ limits is, I think, a brilliant, brilliant stroke. Considering how on edge the wizarding world has been for the duration of Half-Blood Prince, considering the terrible blow that shook it at that novel’s close, it seems only natural that now with ‘evil’ so ascendant that the fighters seem to collectively fray at the edges. These are people who are undergoing severe stress, who don’t know who or what they can trust, and like normal, everyday people everywhere, they can snap and bend in ways you never thought possible.

I keep trying to imagine what it must have been like to be J. K. Rowling on the eve of Deathly Hallows’ release, to know that children and adults around the world are waiting at bookstore doors, dressed up in homage to characters you created, terrified to know who would live and who would die at your command. Imagine what a sense of power that must have given her, but at the same time, what kind of helpless fear weighed at her. To know that you had created a universe filled with people so complex, so loved and hated that they seem real to millions around the world; to know that millions still read and watch and live in the world you created.

The lure of Harry Potter is impossible to describe, define or contain. Even now, seven years after its close, I can’t put my finger on what exactly it is about this world that keep me and millions like me hooked, returning to them time and again whether through the books, movies, fanfiction, role playing games, whatever. Through these reviews I’ve tried, scraped the surface perhaps in an attempt to lay out what it is that is so compelling about each one. In each volume, Rowling works on a little detail of her world, fleshes it out just a tiny bit more. And yet, through all the magical ups and downs and in-betweens, she retains her focus on what really, in my opinion, makes her books magical: Harry Potter and his fellows.

That’s it for me, really. It’s not the spells or the monsters or even the classic good versus evil fight. There are plenty of fantasy authors who have done those, and done them better. But find me a writer whose characters have inspired the kind of lifelong devotion and sense of immediacy that Rowling’s have. Even now, a decade later, you’ll find people sitting around and debating the merits of Dumbledore’s decisions, whether or not Sirius’s ‘prank’ could ever be excused, if Ron and Hermione really made a better couple than Harry and Hermione.

CONCLUSION: For the truly crazed readers (and there are many of us) these are almost real people, not just characters who close the covers on at the close. Harry and his peers are a part of the everyday for most Potterheads in a way that few other characters from any book can claim to be. And it’s for that reason that Harry Potter, no matter what befalls him, will always be the Boy Who Lived.


GUEST REVIEWER INFO: Achala Upendran is a freelance editor and writer based in India. She blogs about fantasy literature, with a special focus on the Harry Potter series, at Where the Dog Star rages. You can also follow her on Twitter at @AchalaUpendran

NOTE: This ends Achala's massive undertaking of reviewing the entire Harry Potter books, we at Fantasy Book Critic would like to extend our thanks for her detailed analysis & fascinating insight into books that will stand the test of time.


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