If you don’t want to know anything, stop reading. Big spoilers ahead! Apologies for any typos, but a girl only has so much free time at work. (Yes, this is a reprint from the other day. Just want to help technorati and others find it again 🙂 )
I can’t begin to say how impressed I was at how well all the pieces fell into place in Deathly Hallows. We’d already picked up on Rowling’s trend of making small objects or bits of dialogue come into play in large ways, sometimes years later, but I was still in awe, over and over again. I enjoyed many of the trips down memory lane, from the tent we first saw at the Quidditch World Cup, to Sirius’ mirror Harry pulled out while cleaning his trunk, to the reference to what Dumbledore saw in the mirror of Erised, and heaps of other things.
I loved the characters we got to visit with again as well, even if some encounters were brief. Viktor Krum dropped by! (And Ron showed that he learned his lesson by asking Hermione to dance before Krum got the chance.) Oliver Wood turned up to fight the good fight! Just seeing his name made me grin, mostly because I adored Sean Biggerstaff in the role. Even Trelawny’s brief appearance made me laugh as she proved how useful a crystal ball can be in times of trouble.
I also loved the theme of redemption, and the way Rowling let characters we loved to hate show some true growth and humanity. Dudley. Kreatcher. Rufus Scrimgeour. Percy (we knew he’d come around!). Wormtail. Even ex’s amours Cho, Lavender, and Dean set aside whatever personal feelings they might have had to join the fight. The one person I had expected to shock us this way was Draco, and so I was even more shocked that when presented with opportunities to redeem himself, he chose cowardice instead. Draco’s mother, however, proved that she cared more about her son than anything else, so even though she didn’t act solely to protect Harry, it’s still the case that for the second time in his life, Harry was saved by motherly love. (A healthy dose of which was also doled out by Mrs. Weasley, who came roaring out of nowhere to deliver possibly the best line in the whole book.)
And Snape. I remained firmly in the “Snape is good” club, but even I was suprised at his true motivation. I just figured that although he had been drawn to the Dark Arts as a young man, he, like Draco, never had the heart of a murderer, so after his role in the death of the Potters he set about making amends as best he could. I should have known that Rowling would never do anything so common.
Now we know that Snape was “that boy” Aunt Petunia talked about. (And while it doesn’t fully redeem her, it explains more about why she was so dreadful to Harry. She was scared of magic, and jealous and hurt that she was left out of her sister’s world, and maybe even afraid to get too close to Harry in case he died young too.) We know that although Snape may have hated Harry for being so much like his father, the man who won Lily’s heart, he also couldn’t stop trying to protect Lily’s son.
Which brings me to the benefits of the worldwide InterGoogle. After I finished reading I didn’t want to immediately hop online and read a million other opinions. It was too much of a personal experience and I wasn’t ready to share. But seeing as how I finished the book in the middle of the night, I thought someone more clear headed might have caught something I didn’t, so the next day I went over to mugglenet.com. Sure enough, I was wrong in thinking I had enjoyed the last twist Rowling had to offer.
One reader asked the question, “What was the deal for all these years about Harry having his mother’s eyes? I thought they were going to play a part somehow.” I had completely forgotten about that. Luckily, a little later someone much sharper than myself simply wrote: “Re: Harry having his mother’s eyes. “Look… at… me.“” Hot damn!
Rowling really didn’t do anything without a purpose. Harry’s eyes may not have had magical qualities, but they certainly played a role. How many times must Snape have come close to turning his back on his promise? How tempting must it have been to let the child of arrogant James Potter fend for himself? But he couldn’t, because Lily was watching him. He couldn’t look at Harry without being reminded of the woman he loved, the woman he had a hand in killing, the woman he was now sacrificing his life to serve. And with his last breath, after spending the last 17 years risking his life for Harry, he asked for just one small, heartbreaking thing in return: to see those eyes one last time. And here I was thinking he was simply instructing Harry to look at his memories.
It should have been clear then, with this theme of righting wrongs, that when Hermione says the only way to repair a torn soul is through remorse, Voldemort’s death was certain. He was given the chance, refused it, and sealed his own fate.
The characters who made good were inspiring, but maybe even better were the previously “perfect” characters who were allowed to show their human weaknesses. Dumbledore had his own troubled youth, which allowed him to identify with the mistakes Snape made, and trust that he would do all he could to atone for them. Lupin was wracked with self-loathing and guilt, and came close to tearing his family apart.
And after years in Harry’s shadow, Ron finally gave in to his feelings of inadequacy and doubt, and his fear that he may never get the girl he loved, maybe even losing her to his best friend. I think the Silver Doe chapter has to be my favorite for the way it turns Ron inside out, tears him down, and then allows him to build himself up again. We see Ron at his lowest, feeling insecure about his purpose and usefulness to the group, but we also learn that he’s been fighting those feelings for ages, and that struggle speaks to his even larger strengths. Plagued with doubts, but sticking by Harry despite them, Ron is an even more loyal and courageous character than we could have guessed. (And yes, I have a wicked crush on Rupert Grint and am praying they do that scene justice in the film. Sigh. Not bloody likely.)
I also loved that some characters didn’t fit into either category. Neville, for example, just got better and better; stronger, more confident, more courageous, he took on more responsibility than I think anyone could have predicted back in year one. As good as Rowling was about all the other little details she brought back, I half expected him to ram an old bubblegum wrapper down Bellatrix’s throat, but proving that he was a true Griffyndor by pulling the sword out of the Sorting Hat to kill Nagini was even better. Oh, and his grandmother was kick-ass.
Hermione, such the rule follower in the beginning, made some of the largest sacrifices. She not only left school and broke into a bank, but she went so far as to send her parents away, and fully faced the possibility of her own death by erasing all traces of herself from their minds, to save them the pain losing her. That had to be one of the most moving acts of friendship of all. (Although Luna’s paintings of her friends were heartbreaking as well.) Ron once said Hermione should get her priorities in order, and that she did.
Oh, and that kiss? The kiss heard round the world? Exquisite. And Harry’s reaction of, “Seriously? This has to happen now? Seriously?” was one of the funniest things in the whole book, especially as I imagined Daniel Radcliffe delivering it with the same tone he used in Goblet of Fire when Ron explained how he really was the one who warned Harry about the dragons and Harry, deadpan, says, “Who… who could have possibly figured that out? That’s completely mental.” Ron and Hermione just couldn’t be too sappy or sentimental, and they couldn’t have that scene without Harry there to witness it, just as Harry couldn’t have started something with Ginny without Ron’s stamp of approval.
Finally, I love that Harry never became a murderer, that he never used anything stronger than “Expelliarmus” against Voldemort, despite Lupin’s warning. Instead he used an even stronger curse, the two words Voldemort hated most: “Tom Riddle”. Harry reduced the Dark Lord to a mere mortal, stripping him of his title and making him small, just the way Dumbledore used to do.
Once Harry understood all the mistakes and missteps Riddle made, he got what Dumbledore had been trying to explain to him: by attacking Harry and killing his parents, Voldemort took the first step in his own undoing, and Harry just had to give him enough rope to finish the job. Vanquishing Voldemort by tearing his own soul in half would have only been a half victory, and I don’t think Rowling had it in her to say goodbye and leave Harry as anything other than happy and whole.