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Rowling spells it right, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


26 July, 2007:

It's time for curtains. And as promised, all the mysteries open at the close. We are at the final frontier where the denouement is played out between the light and the dark, between the "Chosen One" and the "Dark Lord." And like in every timeless tale in history, this final, fight-to-the-death saga too is imbued with pain and the burden that the good must carry, alone. Rowling's tale, in its essence, is pretty much the same as the folk tales that have been handed down to us over centuries, told and retold around fire sides, stories from our mythologies and literature. (If you must know, the concept of Horcruxes or storing part of one's soul in another object has always been part of the Hindu mythology.) The contexts are different, the paraphernalia may not be the same, but the kernel is always about the triumph of good over evil, and the price that the good must pay.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and last book in the Harry Potter series races towards its inevitable end at a blistering pace. Voldemort is back and he knows that at the end, it has to be either him or Harry. "I must be the one to kill Harry Potter, and I shall be." Voldemort is playing for the highest stakes, and he knows that he is running out of time. Harry is going to be seventeen and the protective spell cast by his mother around the Dursley House will expire. If Voldemort has to destroy Harry, he has to strike as soon as the magical protection is lifted. And from that moment on, Harry is on the run. Slipping and sliding, with friends Ron and Hermione, he barely escapes Voldemort's death-eaters by the skin of his teeth on more than one occasion.

The earlier books very often moved at a leisurely place exploring the psychology of the characters, gently turning over the budding sexuality of the young protagonists with much dwelling on adolescent angst. Compared to the first six books, this is one is like riding a Nimbus 2000, weaving and dodging through events that zoom at you. There is no time to think, much less feel. Characters fall like ninepins, but no one has the time to spare more than a twinge of pain at the loss, as the story moves inexorably towards the finale.

While the last two books in the series were darker compared to the first four, they were not as satisfying as this one, largely because there were so many loose ends. In this final book, Rowling has tied up all the loose ends beautifully. There is really no thread that does not tie in to the story. Every nuance in all the previous books has a part to play. Which is why all the spoilers that reveal the end do not really make a difference. Because to really get the story, you have to sift through occurrences and cast your memory back to previous events. Rowling's books, much like grande dame Agatha's books, don't make any sense unless you work it through. Which is why all those who peek at the end of Agatha's books to see who is the killer, almost always have to go back to reading the book to understand why or how the killer is the killer.

Deathly Hallows also differs from the previous books in that it moves completely away from the joys of childhood. Young fans may find it difficult to appreciate the grave tone of the book. In comparison, the first few books were warm and sunny, the harsh realities of adult life too far to worry about. In this one, Harry, Ron and Hermione step into the vicissitudes of adult life. Harry - no time for love - picks up the mantle of the Chosen One earnestly, albeit reluctantly. Happy days at Hogwarts are a dim memory. The small skirmishes with death-eaters are now a full-blown war, and with Dumbledore gone, Harry finds himself the leader of the Resistance.

The Ministry of Magic has fallen, and Voldemort and his bunch have taken over Hogwarts. Members of the DA (Dumbledore's Army) at Hogwarts - Neville, Ginny, Seamus, Dean - are routinely tortured. Meanwhile, Harry and Ron have their own internal goblins to battle. Harry is frustrated and angry. He knows he has to find and destroy the Horcruxes but he has no idea why or how. In the meantime, he is faced with stories of Dumbledore's dark past. Harry is angry with Dumbledore for keeping him in the dark. His blind faith in Dumbledore is now fraught with doubts. "Look what he asked from me, Hermione! Risk your life, Harry! And don't expect me to explain everything, just trust me blindly...trust me even though I don't trust you! Never the whole truth! Never!"

Ron, on the other hand, is losing patience with the ambivalence of the mission and the discomforts of life on the run. He is irritated with Harry's obsession with the Hallows, the three objects that makes the owner the master of Death, even though the mission that Dumbledore gave them was to look for the Horcruxes. He also resents playing second fiddle to both Harry and Hermione. Loyalties are tested and friendships are put on the rack, in the harsh assessments of adult life. Life is no boarding school.

In the process, Harry learns to accept that everyone has foibles, even the wise and upstanding Dumbledore. He comes to terms with his own Achilles heel -- his need for purity in himself and his loved ones as also his inability to take from others, probably because he is an orphan and has been dependent on other people for a large part of his life. Harry learns that those who have weaknesses are not necessarily incapable of being strong when tested. Like Snape, easily my favourite character in the book, is someone who is emotional and thin-skinned and that is why he is more scarred and bitter than others. But Snape is essentially honorable and in some ways even naive.

Harry learns that good people do not necessarily have unblemished lives. That even good souls experience jealousy, anger, hatred and envy, but the difference is that the ones with integrity choose to be good.

So all in all, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows delivers. In terms of the plot, vivid imagery (Rowling definitely seems to have been affected by the movie versions and acquired marketing savvy), complex characters, Rowling manages to create a world that is complete and rich. Many feel that Rowling's work does not compare to that of Tolkein and CS Lewis, and while Rowling is very inspired by Tolkein and other classics (to the extent that quite a few of the character names, Dumbledore, Hagrid are borrowed from Thomas Hardy's Mayor of Casterbridge, the others derived from Latin and mythical characters) she does hold her own. Her world is more true-to-life, with more occurrences of the humdrum mixed with the whimsical than the classics.

It's a world that rests on hope, where even though death takes away even the best and the beloved, love grows in unlikely places, courage blooms in the weakest of soils, and all is well in the end. Protego totalum.




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