Reading by Ear: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
read by Jim Dale

On one hand, I can’t believe it’s been five years since the last Harry Potter book came out—on the other, I can’t believe it’s only been five years. The films make that gap seem smaller, especially since they went into greater detail than the other films in the series. I remember, after getting the book at midnight, being driven home (I was fifteen). In the light of the headlights of the car behind me, I perused the table of contents and immediately suspected that the chapter entitled “The Seven Potters” was about Harry’s family. That, of course, was untrue, but it was the last time I was able to theorize about the books with the possibility of having my theory validated in the book. Ah, memories.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows finds the wizarding world at war. Entrusted with the task of destroying Voldemort’s Horcruxes, Harry sets out on his quest with Ron and Hermione after the Ministry of Magic falls. Outlaws in the new and tyrannical regime and without any leads, the trio is racing against time to give Harry a fighting chance in the final showdown between good and evil.

Something very odd happened while listening to this audiobook. As I listened, I began to experience a nostalgia that began to obscure my critical facilities. This has never happened to me before; I’m very lucky that my surefire nostalgia bombs—Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings—are, in fact, amazing and without rival. (Although not without flaw!) Throughout this revisitation of Harry Potter, I’ve been able to evaluate each book in much the same manner as a book that I’d pick up now. But something about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows just made me glow. My main problem with the series, spotty worldbuilding, persists, but I just didn’t care. Neville was being amazing! Dobby was dying a tragic, but heroic death! Hermione and Ron finally get together! But as much fun and relief all that was, I think part of it was all the themes of Harry Potter finally coming together—love, family, and death.

What I’ve always liked about Harry is that he’s not particularly scared of death. I mean, he is as naturally scared of the process of dying as anyone else (well, anyone else sane, Lord Voldemort not withstanding), but even at his darkest, he’s not irrationally terrified by it. When he and Hermione (in disguise) visit his parents’ graves, his internal monologue gives us a sense of an almost atheistic view of death, despite his encounters with ghosts who know there’s something more—but what depresses him is not the fact of their death, but the fact of their separation. He wants to be with them. Harry’s need for a family motivates a lot in the series, including his relationship with Sirius, Dumbledore, and the Weasleys. (Note that Mrs. Weasley, although rendered as a human being, is the only parental figure that never fails Harry by dying.) It’s the reason why we have the epilogue; to see Harry in a good place, with a family that loves him and he loves back. The epilogue still smacks of fanfiction, of course, but I think it is important that we see Harry has married into the Weasleys to the point of trying to pair off his unrelated godson with one of the various Weasley children. In the universe of Harry Potter, love wins the day—but it’s familial love that’s the most important and shapes you the most. It’s important that Harry, Voldemort, and Snape are all men without families (or nurturing ones, in Snape’s case) and that shapes them hugely—Harry wants a family desperately, Voldemort wants to divorce himself from humanity by divorcing himself from death, and Snape fixates on Lily Evans for his entire life. (How much I hate Severus Snape will go in a different post, but in short—move on, man. Although the Harry Potter universe presents high school as the end all and be all of life, so it’s not just him…)

I think my loathing for Snape and his fixation on Lily was compounded by the fact that this is the first book where we encounter Lily as a human being on her own terms. Early in the novel, Harry discovers a letter Lily wrote to Sirius; in the middle of the novel, Harry enters Voldemort’s mind as he relives the night he murdered the Potters; late in the novel, we encounter her spirit. True, we’ve met her before briefly in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but this is the first time she’s presented on her own terms (although we also see her through Snape’s eyes once more). She’s calm, loving, and strong. She doesn’t drop Snape like a hot potato because he insulted her in the heat of the moment; she drops him because she knows exactly what he and his friends think—and will do—about Muggleborns. (Sure, James is an ass, but he’s an ass with his heart in the right place, and that’s why Lily ultimately chooses him.) This revisitation, I was truly touched by Harry’s relationship with his mother; I teared up when he noticed their handwriting was similar. Harry may look a lot like James, but he’s ultimately his mother’s son most of all, shaped as he is by her sacrifice for him. How beautiful.

Jim Dale finishes out the series on a strong note. The name pronunciations have been changed to mesh with the films—which, admittedly, occurred beforehand, but is more noticeable here—and both he and Stephen Fry broke a record for the number of characters given distinct voices in an audiobook production. Even the music has been changed; someone finally noticed that the annoying and chirp theme song from the other books is wildly inappropriate for the last few books. Alas, it’s still annoying. Well, I guess we can’t have everything…

Bottom line: All the themes of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series come to beautiful fruition in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—love, family, and death. A fine end to a good series.

I rented this audiobook from the public library.

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