Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1880
In the art of magic, seven is a sacred, mystical number, which symbolizes perfection and completion. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows , the seventh novel released in the seventh month of 2007, J. K. Rowling concludes her monumental series, and her main character, Harry Potter, completes his task...
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In the art of magic, seven is a sacred, mystical number, which symbolizes perfection and completion. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh novel released in the seventh month of 2007, J. K. Rowling concludes her monumental series, and her main character, Harry Potter, completes his task of ridding the wizarding world of Lord Voldemort and his followers.
More than the six previous Potter novels put together, this volume sparked a firestorm of discussion in the media and online about what would become of “The Boy Who Lived” and his cohorts. Prepublication rumors ran rampant in the press, and spoilers, both accurate and fraudulent, abounded on the Internet. The publisher alternately tried to take advantage of the hype to aggressively market the book and, at the same time, keep a lid on false yet tantalizing revelations concerning the plot on blogs and in chat rooms. Such tight security surrounded the publication that even reviewers had a difficult time obtaining advance copies of the embargoed novel. Meanwhile, at the witching hour on July 21, eager readers camped out in front of bookstores worldwide in order to make sure they secured their copies.
Expectations for the book were unquestionably high. Throughout the series, Rowling proves to be a masterful storyteller who carefully lays the groundwork leading up to the grand climax in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. When Harry is first introduced in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997; published inthe United States as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, 1998), he is an abused eleven-year-old orphan who discovers he is a wizard. When he enters Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he is targeted for death by Lord Voldemort, a renegade dark wizard who has murdered Harry’s parents. Harry also learns that not everything is as it seems. At the heart of each book is a mystery that Harry must solve in order to uncover more about his identity, his relationship to Voldemort, and his mission. Often, Harry misjudges situations, as well as people. For example, in Sorcerer’s Stone, he believes Severus Snape, the duplicitous Potions (later Defense Against the Dark Arts) teacher, has set his sights on the stone, which confers immortality on its owner. Harry believes Draco Malfoy is the heir to Slytherin in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998), and in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999) Harry is sure that escaped prisoner Sirius Black betrayed his parents to Voldemort and is set on killing him, too. Similar mysteries occupy Harry in succeeding books. In each case, Harry not only perceives that many of his first impressions are wrong but also learns from his mistakes. His realizations lead him to a fuller knowledge of his own history and purpose.
As Harry journeys from boy to man, the plot of each successive novel grows darker, the behavior of some characters becomes more baffling, and new questions are posed while existing mysteries deepen. Finally, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the enigmas Rowling has so carefully developed in the previous six books crystallize into five key questions: Who will live and who will die? Is Snape good or evil? Is Albus Dumbledore really dead after Snape apparently murders him? Is Harry a horcrux, host to one of the fragments of the Dark Lord’s soul? Will the two couplesRon and Hermione and Harry and Ginnyever get together? Book seven poses three more questions: What are the deathly hallows, where are they, and where are the horcruxes? As obsessed readers combed the first six books for clues in the run-up to publication of the final volume, they no doubt expected that Rowling would tie up loose ends. She does just that, but perhaps not in the way her fans anticipated.
Rowling once commented that she views Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as two halves of a whole, and the final book does indeed read less like a stand-alone novel and more like a continuation of the sixth book. At the close of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore lies in his white tomb on the grounds of Hogwarts, Snape has become headmaster under the watchful eye of Voldemort, and Harry mentally and emotionally prepares to confront Voldemort in a life-and-death battle.
Two quests confront Harry and his friends, Ron and Hermione, who choose to accompany him on his mission: the continuing search for Voldemort’s horcruxes and a new assignment given by Dumbledore, the reunification of three magical objects known as the deathly hallows. The hallows were passed down to their descendants by the Peverell brothers, who lived in Godric’s Hollow, where Dumbledore was raised and where Harry’s parents were murdered. The invisibility cloak, originally owned by Ignotus Peverell, was left to Harry by his father, James. The resurrection stone, the centerpiece of Marvolo Gaunt’s ring, was inherited by Voldemort. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore destroyed the ring, also thought to be a horcrux, and kept the stone. The final object, the elder wand, is still missing. The wizard who reunites the objects will be master of deatha position eagerly sought by Voldemort, who has pursued immortality since the first book.
The narrative begins with a thrilling chase as Harry is met by an Order of the Phoenix guard, who is sent to escort him from the Dursleys’ house to the Burrow, where his best friend, Ron Weasley, and his family live. Shortly after they take to the air on their broomsticks, Harry and his compatriots are attacked by Voldemort and his Death Eaters in the first of several dramatic and fatal confrontations. During the melee, Mad Eye Moody and Harry’s pet owl, Hedwig, are killed. The demise of Mad Eye and Hedwig foreshadow the deaths of more beloved characters as the plot progresses.
Harry’s cinematic escape is the first of many action-packed scenes that will no doubt play well onscreen when the final title is translated from print to film. Sandwiched between the frenetic and fatal chase at the book’s beginning and the final climactic duel between Harry and Voldemort are revelatory chapters that include less action and more explanation about persistent questions raised in the series. For example, one question readers have raised concerns Dumbledore’s background. How did he become such a powerful wizard?
The eighteenth chapter, “The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore,” a book ostensibly written by muckraking Daily Prophet reporter Rita Skeeter, reveals that the younger Dumbledore was far from the wise and good wizard Harryand readersthought he was. His brief but intense friendship with dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald gave birth to their plan to rule both the wizarding and muggle worlds. After a disastrous episode that results in the death of Dumbledore’s sister, Grindelwald abruptly leaves town, and the guilt-ridden Dumbledore makes no effort to contact his former friend and fellow conspirator. Five years after the incident, Dumbledore and Grindelwald duel, and Dumbledore wins, resulting in Grindelwald’s imprisonment. The wizarding community has such faith in Dumbledore’s superior skill that he is repeatedly asked to become Minister of Magic. He turns down the requests and instead decides to accept the position as headmaster at Hogwarts. In a later chapter titled “King’s Cross,” the deceased Dumbledore, meeting with Harry in the afterworld, admits to his former student, “I had learned I am not to be trusted with power.” Dumbledore’s confession is ironic, coming from a man many consider the most accomplished wizard of his time, but it also highlights one of Rowling’s recurring themesraw power untempered by wisdom and love is a danger not only to the person who wields it but also to the world at large.
Another frequently debated issue is whether Snape is good or evil. It is evident throughout the series that Snape intensely dislikes, or even hates, Harry. However, Dumbledore never wavers in his belief that Snape will protect the son of James Potter, Snape’s former schoolmate who bullied and humiliated him. In “The Prince’s Tale,” Snape lies dying on the floor of the Shrieking Shack, where Voldemort’s huge snake, Nagini, attacked him. As Harry kneels next to him, Snape bequeaths his memories to Harry, and just before he expires, Snape looks into Harry’s green eyeseyes that resemble Harry’s mother Lily’s eyes. When Harry pours Snape’s memories into Dumbledore’s pensieve, he discovers that the former Death Eater was deeply in love with Lily for years. Just as she gave her life to save her infant son from Voldemort’s attack sixteen years before, Snape risked his own life to protect Harry and bring about the downfall of his former master, the Dark Lord. Despite his shadowy past, Snape is nonetheless redeemed by love.
It is that same love that motivates Harry to allow Voldemort to attack him when he finally confronts the Dark Lord in the forest. In an epigram at the beginning of the book, Rowling quotes a passage from William Penn’s More Fruits of Solitude (1682), which is a commentary on the permanence of true friendship, even in the face of death. Harry is certainly devoted to his friends, and they to him. In the light of Harry’s willingness to sacrifice himself for “the greater good,” Rowling could just as easily have quoted John 15:13 for the epigram: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Voldemort’s ultimate undoing is rooted in his failure to understand that love trumps magic. Love protects Harry from temptation to misuse the deathly hallows when he briefly reunites them, and love prompts him to destroy the horcruxes, one of which is himself.
In addition to including an epigram for the first time in the series, Rowling also includes an epilogue that reveals what happens to Ron and Hermione and to Harry and Ginny. Nineteen years after Voldemort’s destruction, the two couples have children of their own and are sending them off to Hogwarts, where Neville Longbottom is professor of herbology. After the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, reviewers and readers debated whether the happily-ever-after epilogue was necessary. Fans and critics speculated that Rowling wanted to lay to rest any false rumors concerning the future of Harry and his friends so that any would-be authors would be discouraged from publishing unauthorized sequels of the book.
It seems, however, that Rowling could not stop herself from spinning more Potter tales. On her Web site and on her postpublication U.S. book tour, Rowling revealed that Harry and Ron become aurors; Ginny plays for the Holyhead Harpies quidditch team, leaves to have a family with Harry, and then works at the Daily Prophet as a quidditch correspondent; Hermione works for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures and then moves on to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement; and Dumbledore was in love with Grindelwald, which is why he went along with the dark wizard’s schemes. True to form, Rowling will no doubt continue to tantalize readers with insights into the lives of her characters, thereby ensuring their immortality in literary historywithout the aid of deathly hallows or horcruxes.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 45
Entertainment Weekly, no. 948 (August 17, 2007): 30-34.
Horn Book Magazine 83, no. 5 (September/October, 2007): 551-553.
Kirkus Reviews 75, no. 16 (August 15, 2007): 810.
The New York Review of Books 54, no. 14 (September 27, 2007): 32-35.
The New York Times Book Review 156 (August 12, 2007): 1-11.
Newsweek 150, no. 5 (July 30, 2007): 60.
Publishers Weekly 254, no. 30 (July 30, 2007): 83.
Weekly Standard 12, no. 45 (August 13, 2007): 35-37.