Top critical review
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on June 18, 2011
**** SPOILERS AHEAD . . . if you haven't read the book, please be warned! ****
JK Rowling's final installment in the Harry Potter franchise is a clunky, over-stuffed opus that's ultimately disappointing. One gets the sense, in reading this novel for the second time, that Rowling found herself having great difficulty concluding her saga in one volume - after all, the previous six books have each focused on one school year in the lives of Harry, Ron, and Hermione as they prepared themselves for the expected war between the forces of Good and Evil. The war itself, as compressed into this one book, feels rushed, bloated, summarized at times, and unsatisfying.
Basically, `Deathly Hallows' is a novel about choices - should Harry spend his time seeking Horcruxes (magical objects containing parts of Voldemort's evil soul) or Hallows (magical objects purported to give their possessor dominion over death)? Dumbledore has instructed Harry to go after the Horcruxes, since finding and destroying all seven is the only way to finally destroy Voldemort. But the lure of the Hallows is great, and Harry finds himself obsessed with finding the Elder Wand. Searching for Horcruxes isn't particularly glamorous (and it keeps the trio out of the battle for most of the novel), but it does bring our heroes closer to their ultimate goal (destroying Voldemort). Searching for Hallows would be more fun (and probably more exciting for readers of this story). In the end, Harry must make the ultimate choice - self-sacrifice or self-preservation. The search for the Horcruxes symbolizes that self-sacrifice (especially since one of the seven Horcruxes ends up being inside Harry), while the search for the Hallows symbolizes personal power and self-preservation. The final show-down between Harry and Voldemort puts it all into perspective - Voldemort has put all his hopes into the Elder Wand, which he believes will protect him and give him dominion over death; Harry offers himself to death willingly. Harry's willingness to sacrifice his own life for the greater good is what gives him the power to defeat Voldemort.
OK, that's what the novel is about. Unfortunately, to get there Rowling has to throw in a ton of exposition as she explains what Hallows are, what Horcruxes really mean, and how wands really work. Her characters jump from action scene to action scene, spending the time between explaining to each other (and the reader) what actually happened and why it's important. It feels a bit like an action film that stops every 15 minutes so that the director can step forward and explain things to the audience. In the end, we discover that the Hallows really aren't important to the story at all (other than as a symbol), and even the Horcruxes end up feeling anti-climactic once that ghostly Dumbledore starts in on that long and confusing explanation of how Harry himself is a Horcrux (OK, OK, it's all a bit ridiculous). Add to all that the convoluted "rules" Rowling sets up in this book surrounding the use of wands (none of which were part of the previous 6 books) and you get a book jam-packed with "stuff" that gets in the way of the story.
And that's what's lacking here - the story. Most of the actual war takes place elsewhere, as we readers are stuck with Harry, Ron, and Hermione (who are hiding out in the country-side, thinking about Horcruxes and Hallows). We hear (in passing) that things are happening at Hogwarts and at the Ministry, but we see little of it until the novel's climax. Major characters (Snape and Ginny, especially) have very little to do in this novel. We never get the Snape-Harry scene I've looked forward to since the first book, nor do we get any resolution between Harry and Ginny. The final show-down between Harry and Voldemort is disappointing - too much talk and too little real action. In the end, Harry wins because of those wand "rules." He doesn't beat Voldemort - Voldemort's mistake about the Elder Wand ends up undoing him (it really wouldn't have mattered at all what Harry did or didn't do).
To make matters worse, Rowling ends her novel two and a half pages after the Harry-Voldemort showdown. After hundreds of pages about Horcruxes, Hallows, and wands, we get nothing about how these characters handle the aftermath of this epic war. How does Harry deal with the deaths of his friends? How do the Weasleys deal with Harry? What happens to little Teddy . . . or Luna . . . or countless others mentioned only in passing? What is it like for epic heroes to come home from the war and face life again? What has been lost? What has been gained? This is the heart of this series of novels - the quest has always been to find a way to live in peace and love and harmony. Rowling gives us none of that, however.
Except in that awful Epilogue. She gives us seven pages on Platform 9 ¾ set 19 years after the battle at Hogwarts. We see Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hermione, and even Draco and his wife . . . all with children of their own ready to begin their magical education at Hogwarts. We learn that Teddy is fine (orphaned but resilient), Neville is a professor at Hogwarts, and Harry has given his oldest son Snape's name (well, as a middle name anyway - the boy is called Albus Severus). We're supposed to be happy about all this suburban bliss, all these comfortably complacent families waiting together for the Hogwarts Express. But what has changed in this world? What was all that Good vs. Evil stuff all about? Is the magical world still hidden and separate from the Muggle world? Wasn't it part of the fight to bring those two worlds together once and for all? Is Slytherin House still a bastion for bigots and racists? Little Albus Severus worries that the Sorting Hat might put him in Slytherin - and Harry tries to tell him that one of his namesakes, Severus Snape, was a Slytherin and the bravest man he has ever known. If that's true, then why, after 19 years, are children still labeling Slytherins as dark and evil? If Voldemort is gone, if the war has been won, why aren't all of the Houses at Hogwarts united for the common good? I guess we'll never know.
Overall, `Deathly Hallows' isn't a bad read. All of us who love these characters will enjoy immersing ourselves in their world one last time. It just isn't the book it could have been . . . or the book it should have been. It's a disappointment, and since it's the last book we'll probably ever read about Harry's world, that's a shame. So I give it 2 ½ stars - rounded up to 3 because it's Harry, after all.