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

Cover art by Mary GrandPre

Published by Scholastic Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

As we reach the end of the Harry Potter series, one of the first questions that comes to my mind as a reader is whether this book, which has been billed as the grand finale for the past several years, will live up to the expectations created by the previous volumes. Particularly when a book has been promoted as the Harry Potter series has, with enormous print runs and huge release parties, it is easy to raise expectations to the point that it becomes impossible for any mere mortal writer to meet the resultant expectations.

Thus I approached the final volume of the series with a certain amount of trepidation, concerned not only that I might be let down by a weak or inadequate grand finale (including the dreaded trick ending, which has marred more than a few promising series), but also that I might have raised my own expectations impossibly high. I am happy to state that I was not disappointed.

However, it should be noted that this book is significantly different from its predecessors both in structure and in tone. In particular, we have become accustomed to a significant portion of the action of each book to take place at Hogwarts, the wizarding school. Harry typically faces various obstacles that make his trip there difficult, but in each book he overcomes them and arrives at the school for yet another year of study. But in what should be his final year of school, he decides that it has become simply too dangerous to attend, and thus we have none of the usual classroom adventures that we have grown to expect.

Instead we have a quest in which Harry, Ron and Hermione search for the answer to a puzzle that may prove the key to Voldemort's power. Ever since Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire the books have grown increasingly dark in their tone, as Voldemort goes from a bogeyman who lurks in the shadows to a brooding menace whose malice becomes a very real and frightening force in the lives of Harry and his friends. The menace of Voldemort continues to become more concretely threatening in this volume, but at the same time we see a shift in the nature of both his menace and the defenses by which Harry hopes to not only protect both wizarding and Muggle worlds alike from him, but end his reign of terror for good. While earlier volumes relied on a sort of "cookbook" or "gadget" form of magic,Deathly Hallows delves steadily into more abstract philosophical underpinnings of the nature of not only magic, but life itself.

Furthermore, the epilog not only provides us with a satisfying sense of closure, but also makes it clear that there really, truly will be no more novels about Harry Potter. If J. K.Rowling should choose to write further novels in the Potterverse, she will almost have to set it in an earlier or later era, dealing with another generation of wizards.

My one major concern is that, now that the entire seven-volume series has been published, young people who are discovering it for the first time may be in for an unpleasant surprise if they read all the books in rapid succession. That is, while the first two books are suitable for pre-teen readers, the later books really require a certain level of mental and emotional maturity that only comes from the life experience of going through puberty and of facing squarely such painful emotions as grief and loss. As the books were originally coming out, each new one was doled out as its original readers reached an age at which they were ready to deal with the events and concepts being presented in it. But now it will be necessary for parents and other adults responsible for guiding the reading of younger students to encourage them to wait to read the later volumes, because otherwise there is a very real chance that they will blame the book, or even the entire process of reading, for their inability to process what they are reading, and may well never come back to the later volumes when they have the necessary mental and emotional tools to truly appreciate them.

Review posted January 4, 2009

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