(Spoilers, yes, there will be spoilers. You have been warned. Read on at your own risk.)
This is going to be long and a little rambly. I don’t really expect anyone else to read it or care much, but I confess to having developed an emotional attachment to the characters in these books, and now that it is all over, I want to babble on for awhile about what I think.
Here’s a spoiler photo of my cat, so you can bail out now without seeing any of the giveaways below.
It is done. I have finally finished (three weeks after the rest of the world) the last of the Harry Potter books.
The book ended pretty much like I expected. I hadn’t guessed the details, but I had the general idea right: Harry would save the day and live to win the girl; Snape would turn out to be a good guy after all but have to pay the price for his ambiguity by dying to save Harry.
Overall, I’m satisfied with the story and the whole series, but more than just the fact that it is now over makes me a little sad about it. In the last book, I was sorry to miss out on life at Hogwarts. A good deal of the entertainment value in the first books came from adventures at the school, and although the escape from Gringotts was deliciously exciting, all the days pitching tents here and there across the country lacked some of the spice found in the wonderful setting of the school.
Also, the book lacked some of the humor of earlier books. Like book five (my least favorite of the set), the topic was simply too serious to allow for much humor. There were a few little gems, but overall, drama reigned supreme. J.K. Rowling did an excellent job with the drama, in any case. Reading the book aloud to my husband, I struggled toward the end to keep my voice from choking up long enough to get the words out. If I had been reading alone, I’m sure I would have been weeping. I am the perfect sucker, like that: I fall for every emotional trap an author sets me. It doesn’t bother me much, though it would have been embarrassing to have a breakdown while reading aloud.
One of the things that really seems to impress people about J.K. Rowling is the way she grew the books along with her readers. As her readers became more mature, so the characters and themes in her books matured. This is not the Babysitters’ Club. I’d rate the last book PG 13 for readers. I would not be comfortable reading it to a ten year old kid who had really enjoyed the first three books. And I find that a little disappointing. While there is definitely something to be said in favor of this increasing maturity, I miss some of the innocence and simple fun found in the earlier books.
And perhaps that is my biggest disappointment in the last book, is how terribly heavy it became. Though her revelations about Dumbledore’s past probably cemented him in literary history as one of the most multi-dimensional characters ever (my assessment), I – like Harry – would have been happier for him to stay less blemished. Confessions of his foolish past, regret over his lost family, tears as he recalled his own selfish ambitions. I would rather he had stayed strong, would rather have left him on a pedestal.
That isn’t realistic, you say? Real people have flaws and dark histories and evil thoughts, even the best of them? Be that as it may, a sturdy, idealized character has its place in the literary world, I think. One of my own characters in my nerd club is such a man. When I created him, I gave him a fully detailed past, complete with rocky moral moments. Like Dumbledore, he became a teacher and became important as a source of stability for his students. I discovered, in writing him, that to draw out his past – so important to making most characters interesting – felt awkward and counter-productive. The very fact of his stability makes drama and twisted plots possible for other characters, and though he may not be the most interesting character to write, being a pillar is an important roll nevertheless. It makes everyone else’s writing easier for his secrets to remain buried.
I never found Dumbledore boring. I loved him as the brilliant wizard with all the answers, who knew just the right time to make revelations known. Sometimes his timing wasn’t so good, but that’s a perfectly acceptable flaw because it was always an error made with the best of intentions. With the exception of the fifth book, his attitude was always light even in the face of dire circumstances. You always knew he had the answers or was working for a greater purpose. His stability allowed Harry to go wild, to have crazy adventures and terrible angst, while you knew in the back of your head that in the final chapter, Dumbledore would explain it all and you will understand and feel much better.
Which is what makes it so wonderful to find out that his death was planned well in advance, that it was necessary and in everyone’s best interest. I was not as broken up about his death as many of my fellow rabid fans were, I think. His death seemed to me to be the ultimate in good plot devices: the mentor gives his life to save the hero, even if you don’t understand why right away, leaving the hero to find his way to final victory on his own, forcing him to realize that he can do it without help. And we always knew we’d hear from Dumbledore again, if only through his portrait. Mm, very nice.
And then there is Snape. I found the revelations about Snape’s past to be truly perfect. Along with my idealization of Dumbledore came the utter certainty that he was right about Snape, so I never doubted for a second that he would turn out to be a fighting for the cause of good. When we finally learn his motivations, they fit so very perfectly with everything else laid out in the story – namely, the impossible-to-overestimate power of love. The thing about his situation I liked the very best, though, was the fact that knowing his motivation didn’t change anything else about what you knew of him. He was not simply pretending to dislike Harry, he truly disliked him after all, but it didn’t matter a bit because his motivation was outside his personal feelings for the boy. He was, in the end, a character you could both hate and love in equal measure, for good and satisfying reasons. His death, in light of this, was inevitable and also perfect. An attempt to tie off his role in the story any other way would have been awful.
Which leads me to the other deaths: Fred, Lupin, Tonks, Colin Creavy, Ted Tonks, Dobby. Those are the names I can recall after a first read-through. It would have been dopey to save all our heros’ lives, but I confess to rather wishing she had anyway. I am not like my friend, Stephany, who thinks an author’s willingness to kill of main characters is wonderful. I’m of a Tolkien persuasion, where I’m just as happy if all the characters we’ve grown attached to are still alive at the end. In the end, if Lupin or Tonks had to die, I’m just as glad they both did; it’s a little less heartbreaking that way, even if you know they left a child behind. I guess that opinion comes of being fairly newlywed myself, and imagining the pain of losing my husband.
I am terribly sad about Fred’s death, almost for the same reason, since he was a twin. I suppose it was inevitable that one of the Weasleys had to die, though I rather wish they’d called Charlie back from oblivion to fill that duty. I think the most disappointing aspect of Fred’s death is that we didn’t get any closure on it. Other than a brief scene with his family weeping over his body, there is no indication of how they planned to get along without him. Of course, this is primarily George’s concern, seeing how he lost not only his brother, but his partner in business and crime. Nothing was said about them even in the “Nineteen Years Later” chapter. I find it just a little satisfying to imagine that George went off and became a kind of mad scientist, making up for the loss of his brother with even more outrageous contraptions and pranks. Maybe he’s that guy that lives down the street, funny lights dancing through the windows at all hours of the day and mad cackling clearly audible if you get close enough.
Which leads me to “Nineteen Years Later.” When I reached the conclusion of the almost-last chapter and saw that heading, I actually squeaked out loud in some combination of shock and horror. “What?” Dustin asked. “I don’t think I’m ready for nineteen years later,” I said. And that was true. I wanted more wrap-up in the present. I wanted to see the Weasleys coping without Fred. I wanted to meet Tonks’ mother again, and find out how the baby was doing. I wanted to hear about them rebuilding Hogwarts and see the kids going back to the school the next year, feeling safe and free once again. I wanted to know what happened to Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the others who completely skipped their last year of school. I wanted to see the relationship between Harry and Ginny rekindled. What happened to the Dursleys? Is McGonagal the new Headmistress? What are Harry’s new plans for his life?
We miss all that, but we do get a glimpse of nineteen years later. This mainly seems to serve the purpose of reassuring us that everyone will be all right, but I still am sorry not to know some of the items above.
And of course, everything we learn in “Nineteen Years Later” is reasonably satisfying. Everyone marries the right person. Harry’s children are all named for just the right people. I was glad Ron’s son was not named Fred. That would have been heaping it on too thick. I was glad to bump into Draco and to hear about Neville. But my very favorite bit was Victoire. We are left to figure out for ourselves that she is the daughter of Bill and Fleur, and that she’d be just 18. What do you bet she was conceived the night of the battle at Hogwarts? I just love that.
But so many other questions are left unanswered! What are they all doing now? The only one we know about is Neville. I’m glad he’s a professor. That’s perfect. But what is Harry doing? He obviously didn’t become an Auror, with Voldemort vanquished. Does he work at the Ministry? That’s horribly unsatisfying. He’s not a professor, which is almost a pity, but not too much, because that wasn’t a great fit. Quiddich champion? Did he write a book about his life and is living in luxury off the royalties? What about Ron, Hermione, and Ginny? I’m especially curious about Hermione. She obviously would have been a great professor. (On that note, has anyone else noticed that all the professors are single? That doesn’t seem very fair.)
Leaving all that to our imaginations is probably just as well, but I think I’d still have been more satisfied if she’d left us in the present – left us with the situation as is so that we could all entertain ourselves imagining the many possibilities for the future. Something is just a little disturbing about trying to put this boy hero into the shoes of a 36-year-old man. A wife and kids? I dunno… we expect it, but somehow it wasn’t my ideal ending.
I suspect maybe Rowling did it to eliminate some of the temptation of trying to write more books about Harry. She’s already bridged the gap between his victory over Voldemort and his Happily Ever After. We know how it turns out, so why bother fill in the details? And she’ll be wise, if she sticks to her promise never to write about Harry again. She has written the ultimate tale of good versus evil. Anything else she would write about these characters would be dull and superfluous.
But Tolkien wrote the ultimate tale of good versus evil too, you say, and he got away with writing LOTS of other stuff about his world!
Yes, that’s true, but I still think it is somehow different. Would I be interested to hear more about Flamel and his Philosopher’s Stone, for example? Maybe. But the universal appeal is gone, and I think that trying to add more would just dilute the wonderful books that stand so well on their own.
Leave the elaborations to the millions of fanfic writers out in the world. It will keep them busy for a long, long time.