Rowling Leaves Her Fans Behind

Critique of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows below the fold. Spoilers ahead.

I think it's important to get one thing straight right off the bat: I am a fan of the Harry Potter series. I think Rowling is a great storyteller, and I have enjoyed the series so far. I think she has seriously dropped the ball with her last book, and cheated her fans out of an equally engaging novel as well as a satisfying conclusion for the characters they have loved and followed for 10 years now.

Overall, I think Rowling is tired of writing about the gang. Her strengths - quaint descriptions and character development - are nearly absent in this book. It's almost like she felt she had done the job in the previous six and left us to fill in the blanks. I have a number of points about the book that I think might best be addressed separately.

Wandering Prose. There were long stretches of useless, boring exposition, especially in the middle of the book, where Harry and Ron and Hermione were popping around England under the pretext of escaping detection. She is at her most aimless here. It is almost like Ron's reaction to Harry before he leaves - "'We thought you knew what you were doing! [...] We thought Dumbledore had told you what to do, we thought you had a real plan!'" - was a reaction to her obvious problems with crafting a framework for the story. Rowling probably could have eliminated 200 pages or so in the middle or converted them into actual active participation from her characters. They sit around and argue and make mistakes for the entire center of the book without finding out anything significant on their own. This problem only reinforces Harry's static role as the passive "hero", which I will get to later.

Needless Death. This was one of the bigger problems with the story. Rowling seems to enjoy killing the good guys. Hedwig, Mad Eye, Dobby, Fred, Lupin, Tonks and Snape all bite it, plus a load of the more obscure characters, for no seemingly no reason at all. In epics, it is essential for characters to die defending what they love and draw the reader in, but loss at this level is hardly effective. When Hedwig was killed, I stopped caring about all of them, and when Dobby was stabbed, I just snickered.

I think in this case she faced a technical problem. She has crafted so many characters over the past seven lengthy books she couldn't address them all effectively when bringing them together for the final showdown, and she had to eliminate a handful just to fit everything into one book. They became afterthoughts in that sense, serving a final role for Harry Potter and kicking off so that Rowling didn't have to delve into their characters anymore.

Treatment of Lupin. Was it necessary to turn the disheveled, powerful Lupin into a caricature of bratty angst early in the story, have a child, and die at the end just to provide some sort of Hindu-esque generational theme at the end? Forced and a total injustice to one of her more engaging characters.

Neville's Revenge. It didn't happen, did it? Neville was never given the chance to avenge the deaths of his parents by piecing up Bellatrix. Lame. Beyond that, why was Mrs. Weasley the only good guy shooting to kill?

Unspoken Spells. At the end of the last book, we were given the impression that unspoken spells would play a big part in Harry's mastery of magic. However, no spells were cast without words in this book, now even the so-called Dark Lord's killing spells.

The Problem with Voldemort. Voldemort was an entirely ineffective and nonthreatening entity in this book, unaware that his soul was being shattered, unaware that Harry could sense his thoughts and unaware of the Deathly Hallows. I thought the only things he was ignorant of were friendship and love; you would think the greatest wizard of all time would have heard rumors of the Hallows somewhere. He certainly was able to find two of them.

I'm Not Dead Yet. Because Voldemort used your blood and your mother's safety was in him, so you were protected, and he is not, but you are one of his Horcruxes, so if you die, he dies, but you've already died, so that eliminates his Horcrux, but you can live again and that won't bring back his Horcrux, plus, since you love everyone that's fighting him, he can't kill them either now. Got it?

The Final Duel. In a word: Snore. One spell? That's it? No lengthy match between great wizards? No craftiness? No danger? Nope. Just a backfired killing spell and another lame line of reasoning.

Harry as Candide. I was hoping that in this book, Rowling would finally give Harry the chance to make his own decisions about how to defeat Voldemort and to stop being a pawn in Dumbledore's plans, but she only reinforced it. Once again, Harry does exactly what is expected of him, with a healthy dose of "you're so brave" from Dumbledore. He is a passive character in this entire series, a dupe, merely eyes for the reader to see through, no mind to follow.

He is Candide, allowing the world to happen to him, without ever making any conscious decisions of his own. Harry remains static throughout the series, always lost, hopelessly dependent on others to tell him how to save the day. He is merely a tool; Dumbledore's confused, accommodating golem.

As a final note, I've always felt that Rowling breaks her own rules within HP Land too often, relying heavily on Divine Intervention to solve problems and push the story forward. She is at her most inept in this book: Lost, bored, inconclusive and unclear, seemingly unaware of the emotional investment her fans have made in these characters. Nothing is resolved beyond Voldemort's death, which itself is unreflective of how powerful she has been telling us he is. Perhaps she should have taken another year and hammered the plot out with another editor.

I'm hoping the movie will be able to do a proper editing job, and spruce up the parts that need work. It's a sad day when you hope the movie will be better than the book.

P.S. - Grrl is having a fine discussion about the Epilogue.


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Not all the deaths were needless.

Dobby's death, and Harry's subsequent dealing with it, was a significant plot device: it helped motivate the goblin into helping Harry. It also allowed JKR to revisit the racial inequality theme that had been present in other books.

Moody's death also provided some plot fodder when his eye showed up later in the Ministry of Magic.

I don't think either of those deaths should be downgraded to "pointless", since they ended up playing a role in the story.

Tonks and Lupin, however, I agree with.

Fred I'm ambivalent about at the moment.

I thought the deaths weren't pointless; I thought they were necessary. One of the major themes, a part of growing up, is that people die - even good people - and I also think that it reinforced the seriousness of the battle. Should they have had nobody die in the final big battle? Just some Star Trek redshirts?

I also don't see Harry as being quite so passive. He made decisions. That whole long stretch in the middle wasn't just needless boring stuff, it was Harry getting to deeper, more unsettling truths and deciding for himself how he wanted to act based on them.

Voldemort killed himself. That pretty much sums up the whole series, doesn't it? Evil destroys itself. It's not a new message, but I thought it was actually quite a nice touch for it to happen in a story for real. The good guy just decides to do what's right and evil destroys itself, like it's destined to do.

And if Dobby's death made you snicker, I think that says more about you than the book.

It is with a certain pleasure that I can say that I do not understand a single thing that you have written here.
There are still a few people on this planet who have not read a "Harry Potter" book or seen a "Harry Potter" film.

By Ian Findlay (not verified) on 25 Jul 2007 #permalink

After "meeting" Dobby in one of the movies, I was ready to kill him, and to me the character was a lot like Jar Jar Binks.

I appreciate your review, and I am eternally glad that my 13 year-old son refused to be drawn into the HP series, so I can continue to blissfully ignore the books in the future.

Hasn't there been enough trouble in the world brought about by "sacred" books that claim to have all the answers?

I actually haven't read any of the books myself (I've only seen the films) but it was interesting listening to my wife read the book last Saturday. Every now and then I'd hear a gasp, an "Oh no!" or some other sign of what was going on, and she essentially told me everything as it happened to share it with me. I've got a stack of my own books to read though, so it'll be a long while before I'd even get an opportunity to read an HP book, so for now I'll just stick to the films.

The series is a hero's quest. The hero is challenged, matures, and returns.

In all the earlier books we saw his many challenges. Throughout the series Harry matured - he went from idolizing his father and Dumbledore to seeing how they were human, for example. He made decision after decision, the next-to-last one, choosing to destroy horcruxes vs. finding the hallows, was an incredibly important one. Rather than being Dumbledore's pawn, he chose not to chase after power but to get rid of the evil one. His final decision was to be willing to die to do that.

Rowling would not have made Harry a killer in order to get rid of evil. One of his early important decisions was to prevent Lupin and Sirius from killing Wormtail - so that his father's best friends would not become murderers. It was important that Harry himself not become a murderer.

Whatever any of us think about the epilogue, it shows the life that Harry longed for throughout the series - a normal family.

First of all, let me clear this up: I didn't snicker because I relished Dobby's death (in fact, I liked Dobby). I snickered because that was the moment I realized Rowling's blunder.

I have to disagree with you miconia. Potter did exactly what Dumbledore wanted him to do for the entire series. If he had chosen to pursue the Hallows, he would have been breaking protocol, but he didn't, he just stuck with Dumbledore's plan. The headmaster wanted him to destroy the Horcruxes, and Harry did just that. Dumbledore wanted him to sacrifice himself to Voldemort and Harry did. I think there's a big difference between the protagonist being decisive and acting from sense of personal morals and justice, and submitting to the will of the omnipotent teacher, walking the path of obligation.

It's all personal preference, of course. I was most peeved by Rowling's transparent technical problems with cinching up her story.

Oh and to the folks that wear the fact that they don't read/watch Harry Potter like a medal of honor - your loss. It's a nice escape, a fun adventure and perfectly harmless. Don't get all "indie" on me.

I liked the book, but I wanted her to wrap up the story more fully at the end. I was so mad she killed Hedwig! And Fred! I did think that killing off some of our favorite characters was necessary, but she did go a bit crazy. I did just read an interview with her that gives more detail about what happens to some of the characters (evidently the original epilogue had lots more info):

Plus, more good news for die-hard fans... Rowling says she's "probably" going to write an encyclopedia with lots of detail about many of the characters:

Though I disagree with your review, you bring up some interesting points. I think she rushed it a bit personally, but it still was a fantastic story.

hedwig's death was SO pointless.

tonks' death was SO pointless.

fred's death was pointless, unless you consider the fact that molly used the AWFUL WORD "BITCH" in response to that horrible event. but still, molly could have said that without fred dying, in my opinion, and been completely excused.

It's odd; I disliked the way this story went too, for different reasons. You think she killed too many characters; I think she killed too few. (Maybe they were the wrong ones.) Seemed to me the logical person, in a hero's story, to be killed is the one the hero needs most -- which would be Ron.
Also in my list of complaints is the fact that Dumbledore, even dead, keeps showing up in the story and correcting my (or Harry's)impressions of the total picture. It's really annoying, I'm sick of being told what's what by that dead man.