WARNING — SPOILERS!
Well, sort of.
I don’t actually talk much about the details of the book in this post. But if you havenât yet read “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” and want to read nothing at all about it until you do, I suggest that you not read it — especially since we might talk about the book in the comments.
Once upon a time, back in the old days of this blog when we were debating the relative merits of Harry Potter versus Lord of the Rings, I hit upon an analogy that I thought was very apt. I said that Harry Potter was like the Beatles and Lord of the Rings was like Wagner… and that, while I acknowledged that Wagner’s music was certainly greater than that of the Beatles by whatever objective standards might exist, I still didn’t personally like it. I still found it bombastic and heavy and humorless. I still enjoyed the Beatles more, by several orders of magnitude. And I believed that this was a reasonable and defensible position.
I still do, by the way.
Since then, I’ve carried this analogy quite a bit further. I think the Harry Potter books are, in fact, a lot like the Beatles — something that started out as a well-done, tremendously fun, significantly-better-than-average bit of pop fluff that somehow tapped into a deep and wide vein in the culture, and that over time evolved into something more than that, into something that approached art — often awkwardly and clumsily and with a reach that exceeded its grasp, but nevertheless exploring interesting deep waters with pleasure and skill, and worthy of serious attention and consideration. (While at the same time still hitting that deep vein of pure pop culture fun.)
I even had specific books matched up with specific Beatles albums (although not one-to-one, obviously, since the Beatles made more than seven albums). The first three books are the happy, poppy, early Beatles, with Book Three, “Prisoner of Azkaban,” being the pinnacle of that period in the same way that “A Hard Day’s Night” is. Book Four, “Goblet of Fire,” is the tired, fallow, grinding-it-out, “Beatles for Sale/Help!” low-point.
And Books Five and Six, “Order of the Phoenix/Half-Blood Prince,” are the “starting to evolve and come into its own, as something new and worth paying serious attention to” books, a la “Rubber Soul,” “Revolver,” “Sgt. Pepper,” and “White Album.” (Ingrid points out that the analogy isn’t perfect, since the musical equivalent of the long, rambling, confusing, self-indulgent battle scene at the end of Book Five would be a 17-minute guitar solo from Rush or Yes or Spinal Tap, something the Beatles never did… but on reflection, I think “Magical Mystery Tour” might count).
So ever since I read Book Six, I’ve been waiting for Book Seven with some trepidation. Would it be “Abbey Road” (the last Beatles album recorded) — a beautiful, inspired, nearly flawless example of the band at its best, and a grand and fitting note to go out on? Or would it be “Let It Be” (the last Beatles album released) — a messy, sloppy, kind of sad anticlimax with a few high points?
I’m happy to report that “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” is Abbey Road. All the way.
It’s not quite flawless, to be sure. It’s certainly heir to many of Rowling’s usual foibles, including long awkward exposition passages, important plot points that are confusing or poorly thought-out (the whole thing with the wands at the very very end I thought was total bullshit), and obvious sops to the audience.
But on the whole, I think it’s an extremely strong book. It’s got action, romance, politics, philosophy, moral complexity, humor… all well-executed and in good balance. It’s a serious page-turner — I pretty much didn’t do anything from the time I started it to the time I finished it except sleep, eat, and read. Itâs even reasonably tight… well, for a Rowling book, anyway. And while the basic arc of the book is very much what you might expect, there are some serious surprises and shocks along the way.
I want to reserve final judgment until I’ve had time to let it gel (and until I’ve re-read it at least once). But right now, a day after finishing it, my initial assessment is: Best book in the series.