Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling (Book 7)

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

Hardcover, 784 pages
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009
Price: $34.99
ISBN: 0545139708, 978-0545010221

I’d read all six of the Harry Potter series long ago, and yet I held off longer still to finally open the covers of the massive final volume in this remarkable series. For young adults, it’s said, yet I wonder that just as many adults haven’t delved into this magical tale of wizardry and a hero’s quest. Who of us doesn’t enjoy such grand storytelling of adventure and challenge met? I’d put it off, no doubt, because I didn’t really want to be done with it, but curiosity finally reeled me in.

J.K. Rowling is a literary phenomenon, bringing readers of all ages back to the bookshelf. In a time when we hear that children no longer read for pleasure, and even adults today will rarely pick up a book without some career obligation driving them to it, Rowling has created a stampede of those newly hungry (or with renewed appetite) to read. To be drawn in by a good story, well told, is as ancient as gathering around the campfire among humankind. Since time, we have sat around our fires to listen to tales. If they are told today in different venues, in sensational movies or electronic games, the elements are still there—the journey of the hero, the quest, the driving conflict and the battle hard-won to its conclusion. Potter has it.

So it happened to me again. Slipping the book in between my many book review stacks, literary novels and books of poetry and nonfiction to enlighten, I was lost the moment I opened to the first page. Lost, I tell you. Just as when I was a girl in braids, lost in the magic of a book, racing alongside the hero in my imagination, transported. Suddenly, I was back in those summers of my childhood, when Mama would chide me for sitting inside all day reading, driving me outside to at least have some sunshine spill over me as I read. I’ve always adored books, always, and childhood games did not entice me nearly as much as a summer of losing myself in stack of books, uninterrupted by school and other trivialities.

Potter, no, Rowling had me reading in that same manner now. Every chance. First thing in the morning, holding the book open with my coffee cup in my other hand, wishing I didn’t have to leave the book to go to the office. Reading through my lunch. Reading while I prepared dinner, book propped open with a zucchini or a row of beefy tomatoes. Carrying it through the house with me as I did my chores. Bumping into walls. Sitting down in the middle of the room to finish the page.

For all its nearly 800 pages, I’d read it in little over three days. How does he, she, do that? Is it a literary spell? It is. (And for all those who have pummeled and pelted this series for some odd and misbegotten religious criticisms about wizardry and witches and dark magic, oh pshaw, all folklore in any culture is filled with such! Including that holiest of books.) Rowling has started with clear talent, then over the series, kept a steady climb in her level of expertise. Each book is better than the one before, and this final tome is storytelling epitome.

Is her writing on a high literary level? It’s for kids, and for the kid in all of us. Yet maybe there is something Hemingway, if you really want to go that route, with unadorned but straight to target writing, clear dialogue, and for all its fantasy, a most believable realism in character and circumstance. Her descriptions are alive and tantalizing, unfolding new worlds in our mind’s eye. All the elements of a classic are here. Life in all its beauty and brutality, yes, and love and the loss of it, birth and death, the great struggle against the enemy and with oneself.

Harry Potter, that little orphan boy we met seven books ago, with a slash of lightning scarring his forehead, the mark of the chosen one for this odyssey of saving the good from the greatest evil, has now grown to near adulthood. Boy now young man, he must deal with the grief of his past, but also make hard choices for the future, and consider the greatest sacrifice of all. Magical creatures abound to both help and hinder as he hunts down the Horcruxes, each containing a part of the soul of the most evil one. He must destroy or be destroyed, but more, potentially lose the world he knows, to be taken over by him who we will not name.

“What is right and what is easy,” these are the choices and lessons the old wizard Dumbledore has taught him. He must choose. These are, after all, the choices and lessons of all time, unchanging, and perhaps we’ve never been more in need of relearning them. To do what is right, even when no one is looking, and to be a person of honor, even when there is no reward in it. Either this, or be seduced by the Death Eaters, who so easily can lull one into a sleepy death state, giving up the fight and floating away into nothingness, our very spirit sucked out from our hearts.

Rowling never lets loose, not once. From first page to last, her story twists and twirls, surprising us when we think we’ve got it all, and keeping us always on the thinnest edge. My tallest witch’s hat is off to her for her grand tale, constructed by the magic of hard work and dedication. Well done. Now more …

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