Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

hpandthedeathlyhallowsFor a moment after reading this, I felt elated that it was over. No more crying. And I think that this is one of the most enticing things about the whole series: it challenges us emotionally. Following Harry Potter’s life at Hogwarts is rewarding in many ways but the best thing about it – at least as far as I’m concerned – is that it makes you feel. A lot. There are not many books I cry over but I feel that the last two books of this series will always accomplish that. And that’s good to know.

Harry and his friends, Hermione and Ron, don’t return to Hogwarts for the new school year. They set out on the mission of finding and destroying horcruxes into which Lord Voldemort has infused parts of his soul. But the mission is a dreary one at first since Dumbledore has given them few clues to work with. The strain on the friendship gets overwhelming and Ron leaves the other two after a fight – only to return and save Harry’s life. The friends gain insight into the myth of the Deathly Hallows, are being taken captive by the Malfoy family and barely escape – losing a friend in the process. The return to Hogwarts, finally, brings on a showdown that will cost even more lives but results in the Dark Lord’s death.

I hope that last one wasn’t too much of a spoiler. It’s how all stories must end – evil dies, good endures. Endures because there is no real victory in war, and Rowling knows that. Too many lives had been lost but, for once, the wizarding community actually comes through for Harry Potter as he and his classmates are joined by family and friends. It is not the great assemblage one might want to fight with against a powerful wizard but considering how Harry had been left fighting for everyone for most of the series it is a pleasant surprise.

If there is a weakness in this last book, it is the long passages where things are being explained. I am not saying that it wasn’t necessary, it was – and Rowling makes sure to cover all unanswered questions – but these passages can be a little tiring because they are bulky. Especially the scene with Harry and Dumbledore in King’s Cross and Harry walking through Snape’s memories. As I said, they were necessary but they still make for slow reading.

One thing that I only just realized – or maybe I had only forgotten – is that with all the fear the wizarding world has of Voldemort, he really isn’t that great a wizard. He is cruel, certainly, but he is not as clever as he thought himself, as others thought him either. Seeing his whole story revealed, he is more cunning than clever. And seeing how Grindelwald struck up a friendship with Dumbledore because of a kinship in character, he might have been the stronger opponent.

There are always those small doubting voices in the back of one’s head, asking questions like: why didn’t Dumbledore kill Voldemort? He was the most powerful wizard ever, why give the job to a teenage boy? These questions are certainly valid and I’d say that people should seek for their own answers. I, personally, wouldn’t have wanted to read a story about a very old wizard defeating a younger one who probably never had a chance against him in the first place. The story wouldn’t have had the same appeal. It might make us think less of Dumbledore that with all his power he did not stop Voldemort’s first rise to power, that he didn’t prevent the Potter’s from being killed, but a vengeance story makes for better reading.

About the epilogue Nineteen Years Later. As many have agreed, I could have done without it, too. Especially from the point of view of a fanfiction writer, it would have been nicer if the story hadn’t been closed off this way. It’s a very sentimental piece of writing, assuring the reader that twenty years later all is well still, that even Draco Malfoy can be part of a community that lives just as before. Because what the epilogue does not do is: show progress. Muggles are still looking strangely at progressions of wizarding families, the Hogwarts Express still leaves from platform 9 3/4. And this is where I would have liked to see change, if only a little. It would have been nice to see that after the crises, wizards/witches could have come out to muggles. But Rowling decided that the wizarding community just went back to normal – opening the field for another story just like Potter’s tale where a teenager has to solve the problems of a community that never changes.

There are a lot of things one can praise and criticize within the Harry Potter-series but that makes for even better reading. Harry Potter is a great story, it changed our world.

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter returns for another year in Hogwarts. Things got heated during the summer since everybody now knows that Voldemort is back and as dangerous as ever. Cornelius Fudge got booted from his job as Minister for Magic, and his successor Rufus Scrimgeour seems a rather more stern fellow but not anymore able as it turns out. While the ministry shuffles around in the dark, Harry gets the suspicion that Malfoy is now a Death Eater and has evil on his mind – but nobody agrees. Dumbledore does shady business and leaves the school for days. And then there are a lot of feelings who get hurt when Ron starts snogging Lavender, Ginny Dean, and Remus not Tonks.

I chose “romance” as a tag for this Potter-book because there is a lot of falling in love going around. The most unexpected revelation is probably the one of Harry falling in love with Ginny, Ron’s sister. A lot of fans were never happy about this, and as a romance writer I can see why: Rowling does not give this romance enough room to grow. All of a sudden, Harry is in love with Ginny and fans look at this page and say: what? why? I am not saying that Rowling did not write some lovely scenes from during the summer where Harry and Ginny had some lovely times, yet they did not make the editing process and the reader is lost in a daze as to what happened when and why (this could be a hole for fanfiction writers to fill, and there may be some of that out there – then again, as I understand it, Harry and Ginny are not really a favorite with fanfiction writers).

It is no wonder that the relationship between Ron and Hermione is much better, it grows over several books, is never front and center but always palpable. And there is a lot of jealousy in this installation of the series when Ron freaks because he is the only kissing-virgin of the foursome and starts wildly snogging Lavender Brown who is a willing participant but never gets over the fact that Hermione knows her “Won-Won” a lot better than she does. The love theme gets a lot of attention in this book with Bill and Fleur engaged and Tonks heart-broken because Remus shuts himself off from her. As a natural phase of the coming-of-age-process, these scenes certainly make sense but they seem to crowd the plot which is already multi-layered.

And it is not coming along as smoothly as in the other books. There are a lot of references to things that have already happened – not surprising considering how long this story has been going on. But Rowling adds flashback into Voldemort/Tom Riddle’s life to the mix and it gets a little confusing and I think there may be some continuity mistakes somewhere in there though I could not put my finger on any particular spot.

The main weakness of the book, in my opinion, are the inconsistencies in some of the characters for plot’s sake. Especially pronounced in Dumbledore in this book. Sometimes he is overly stern, then kind and playful as ever. The demand he makes of Harry to retrieve the memory he himself was not able to retrieve seems out of character. Why would Harry have more power than the one wizard Voldemort fears and all the Ministers for Magic want to be best friends with? For someone who surrounds himself with the most powerful, Slughorn seems wholly unaware that Dumbledore himself is probably the most powerful person of his acquaintance. The more annoying plot-device, however, is everybody’s blind eye when it comes to Malfoy’s shenanigans. It makes sense that Dumbledore does not want to draw attention to Malfoy so as not to endanger him but Hermione and Ron were always willing to give Harry credit on any far-fetched suspicion he had but the idea that Malfoy was a Death Eater suddenly raises disbelief? As I said, for plot’s sake but still highly unlikely.

As a declared Hermione-fan, I am not happy with the representation of my favorite in this book. While I get her jealousy where Ron and Lavender are concerned, and even her suspicion toward the potion-book, her character is decided by these instances. Her character does not develop during this story.

Reading this over, one could get the idea that I did not like it at all. I did, though. There are a lot of good ideas, the plot how Malfoy is getting the Death Eaters into the school is very good, the small detail of how Ron failed his Apparition-test is glorious, and the idea of the potion book is excellent. On the whole, though, I must say that I enjoyed the first four books more than either book five or six. But I know that the whole story is more valuable and fantastic than its parts – Harry Potter is a phenomenon of a whole generation (maybe even of future generations), and I cherish it as such and as a good story.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

The things you remember about a book, set the tone for re-reading it. What I remembered about HP and the Order of the Phoenix was mostly Dolores Umbridge, that toadlike woman with the high-pitched voice who was cruel beyond measure. And the killing of Sirius Black by his cousin Bellatrix LeStrange. What I forgot about was the disturbing tone of malice and self-pity in it.

Of all the Potter-books this can easily be called my least favorite and I think that many would agree with me. All through the book, the main character is moping and screaming and feelings sorry for himself. The premise of having a likable character is for the first time in the series broken. Other than others people, though, I see a reason for it: Voldemort has high-jacked Harry’s mind and though he might not be conscious of it from the beginning, his evil persona is leaking into Harry. While this is an explanation, it does not change the fact that Harry becomes a brat. The parts in which he is thinking about his situation become tiresome, he is self-centered and becomes obsessed with his own well-being. From the narrating standpoint this is understandable but still rather annoying.

It does not help the story that Ron is pretty much ignored throughtout the book. While Fred and George and even Ginny Weasley all get their moments to shine, the one book in which Ron supercedes his best friend it happens mostly on the sidelines and is overshadowed by his remarkably clumsy and self-conscious performance during Quidditch-practice.

Hermione, on the other hand, is one of the brighter spots in this book. On the whole, it offers us more insight into and great “performances” of the female characters. Hermione has grown from a know-it-all (a very likable one) to somebody who is knowledgable and brave and quite feisty. She is the hero of the book (which should probably make it my favorite) without being the hero at all (if Rowling had put her focus on Hermione instead of Potter’s wallowing it might have been). It is Hermione’s idea to practice Defence Against the Dark Arts, she is the one who silently protests Umbridge’s desastrous teaching methods while Harry screams his head of and gets detention. In the end, Rowling has to bodily harm Hermione just so that Harry can shine. She is also the glue that holds the friends together and expands it to Ginny and Neville. She shows compassion where noone else is even capable to understand the problem. The one weak point in her story is all the times Harry has to push her out of harm’s way – it happens three or four times in this book…

Hermione develops into a younger version of Professor McGonagall. And finally the question we all asked ourselves (well, at least I did many times) is posed by a Ravenclaw: why is Hermione not in Ravenclaw? Hermione answers that the Sorting Hat contemplated about it but finally put her into Gryffindor which would mean that her bravery is greater than her intelligence… and Harry Potter is the hero of the books? It is hard to follow this line of reasoning. I guess, the standard male hero overruled the better-suited female hero because he sells better. And yes, I am annoyed by this and have been ever since I watched the first film and read the first book.

But let’s not dwell on this and get back to the Order… there is a lot of information in the book. We finally get a look into the realms of the Ministry of Magic but also learn that it is lead by a weak character and thus useless in the fight against Voldemort. The whole magical world becomes suddenly bigger through new settings like St. Mungo’s Hospital and 12, Grimmauld Place. Rowling tells us about giants and criticizes the various forms of discrimination that the wizarding world constitutes, something that can actually help Voldemort regain power.

What makes the Potter-books such a success are the chapters, or scenes, that stay with you after you closed the book. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a very dark novel with a hero that loses a lot of his charm and momentum. The stress is wearing him down. Here is a boy who has been through a lot and the stress is finally getting to him. This should make him more realistic but ultimately estranges him not only from his peers but also from the readers. So, maybe it is the lack of memorable, enjoyable scenes within the book, or maybe it is the overwhelming presence of evil and stupidity that even infiltrates Hogwarts – a place that has so far been a sanctuary. One things, though, is made very clear: this book has been written for an older readership than the ones before it. The books seem to grow with Harry and his coming-of-age is approaching in the form of his worst enemy.