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“During the past few months, as my 11-year-old son was rereading the first six Harry Potter books, he often worried about what "Deathly Hallows" was going to bring. There was the question of which characters were going to die, of course, but he also worried about the general possibility of being disappointed—about the mysteries he had thought so much about not being answered, about nothing much being revealed in the end. “I hope J. K. Rowling won’t ‘pull a Snicket'”, he said on one occasion, referring to what he considered a less than satisfying finish to another of his favorite series.
Well, I’m happy to report that she didn’t: Book 7 has lived up to these two fans’ expectations. There is much sadness and sacrifice, of course, but that was to be expected when planning to defeat evil as powerful and momentous as Lord Voldemort. (As an ironic twist: while previously the fear people had of the Dark Lord’s name was purely superstitious, in this book it becomes more than justified. The Ministry is now controlled by Voldemort, and a trace is put on the use of his name to track down members of the Order of the Phoenix, who are of course the ones most likely to pronounce “Voldemort” rather than one of the cautious circumlocutions.)
The mood, of course, is quite a bit more somber than usual, and there is less time for the usual humor and the lighter side of the magical world: our heroes are under attack the moment Harry leaves Privet Drive. They are not going back to Hogwarts, either—after the brief interlude of a wedding, they have to go underground. Harry has a specific task to complete—one left to him by Dumbledore—and there are the usual cycles of self-doubt and conflict between him, Ron, and Hermione, all to be resolved in due time. We find out more about many of the characters, living and dead, and our understanding of them deepens. Look out for a couple of surprises from people we might have thought were all mean or all weak and clumsy. We also learn, of course, where Snape’s allegiance really lies and why. But perhaps the most important character who turns out to be more complex and thus more human than we have previously seen him as is Dumbledore (who is now dead, but whose influence on Harry remains very important). All throughout the first six book, Dumbledore represented absolute good and knowledge bordering on omniscience, but now we find out that as a young man he himself was not immune to the temptations of power and the Dark Arts. Through his story, we find out more about what I think is the main theme of the series: the often complex nature of evil, its unavoidable tragic consequences, and the difficulty but absolute necessity of opposing it. The desire of some to possess the “deathly hallows”—three immensely powerful but dangerous objects—underscores this theme at a mythical level, but closer to home, the parallels with fascism and racism, which have been present from the very first volume, are clearer than ever. The Voldemort-controlled Ministry now requires suspected “Mudbloods” to register, wizards are classified by “blood status”, and Muggle-born wizards have to go into hiding. (If that’s not enough, consider the details like the [Anglo-Saxon] Dumbledore defeating the evil [German-speaking] Grindenwald in 1945, Dumbledore’s original contributions to what became Grindenwald’s—and then Voldemort’s—twisted ideology, or the long period in which he hesitates to challenge the Dark Wizard, causing a lot of people to die.)
I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to reveal that good triumphs in the end, or that this victory comes about through the bravery and cooperation of many—wizards and other creatures alike. And the details are as rich and magical as we have gotten used to from J. K. Rowling, with perhaps the exception of the Epilogue, entitled “19 Years Later”. But whatever we’re not told, we’re probably expected to fill in ourselves—imagination is the main idea here, after all.