Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The full wraparound illustration of the seventh Harry Potter book. Harry Potter and Voldemort, with their hands extended towards an orange sky, surrounded by archways and wreckage.

It’s done. And it’s great.

Spoilers warning: while I do not give any true spoilers or plot specifics, I describe the book in a general way. And for some, even that’s too much.

The Amazon box for the book, with Harry Potter designs and a warning that reads 'Attention Muggles - Do not deliver or open before July 21!'

The US hardcover edition of the book itself.

On the 21st, at around 4pm (much later in the day than we had hoped), our copies arrived. We were, perhaps, a bit too swept up in the moment, particularly since we went into Chestnut Hill earlier in the day where the entire stretch of Germantown Ave was participating in ‘Harry Potter Day’. Children dressed up everywhere, stores offering themed goods; we were pumped for this book when it arrived. I was almost too excited to actually read it. Almost.

Bravo, Ms Rowling. As a fan of the series, I was swept up into the last installment of the series and not let go until the end. Deathly Hallows is the well-executed capstone on structure that Rowling has clearly (now that we know all there is to know) been building since the start. The novel is dense with developments, turns, and revelations. As Alisa and I sat together reading (with her typically out-pacing me), discussing the book required a measured step, to ensure we wouldn’t spoil anything for each other, since even a gap of 8 pages was brimming with crucial and exciting developments. But, remarkably, the pace never overwhelmed. Rowling builds the story with enough varying rhythms to avoid exhaustion on the part of the reader, who she takes on a whirlwind ride.

Of course, while Deathly Hallows is the most interesting and gripping in the series, it’s still a Rowling book. Many of her typical lengthy expositions, and the narrative trickery to fit them nicely in, are present in spades. If her style bugs you, this novel will drown you in it (though how you got this far feeling that way is a mystery). However, if you’re invested in the characters or the fantasy epic (we can call it an epic now, I think) she’s brought into full being, then you’ll likely revel in the gush of connections and revelations. I found this installment profoundly satisfying; with no more tales to tell, secrets are laid bare.

The title page of the book, which has faint grey a diamond pattern covering the page, sits in a spread with a vibrant red sheet that also serves as the inside covers.

The design of the books has only gotten better with time, particularly since the Harry Potter juggernaut requires absolutely no sales copy whatsoever. It’s refreshing to actually see how elegant a book’s jacket design can be without that stuff. Deathly Hallows’ has a nice mix of muted green, vibrant red, and golden yellow for the book’s cover, which was surprising but well executed. I anticipated a darker design, more in line with the prior book, which was black paired with deep purple.

Deathly Hallows, staying true to the arc developed across the novels, is certainly the most adult as well as the darkest and most mature. The characters speak in a more adult manner, the violence is unflinching, and the darkness reaches all corners. But, as any storyteller of any depth knows, the events that motivate the characters are far less important than the characters themselves and their interactions in the face of those events. Their existence as beings with emotional dimension and hidden currents can trump the most spectacular set pieces. Rowling hammers the world of witches and wizards with more than one dark instrument, to crack open not only Harry’s last illusions, but also our own. And in doing so, she liberates more than one character from their archetypal chains. It’s a bold move, particularly for a series with its origins as a children’s novel, and it threatens to bloat the book to bursting with details and back stories. But she pulled it off.

In fact, Deathly Hallows represents a coming of age not just for Harry (17 is an auspicious year for witches and wizards), but also for the larger arc of the novels themselves. One of the series’ greatest strengths is its steady maturation from a more standard-form ‘discovering a hidden world’ fantasy tale, into a multi-layered one addressing the disillusionment of adulthood, the fallibility of man, and the complexities of love, power, fame, and memory. Summing it up as a coming-of-age tale (‘bildungsroman’ thank you NY Times) is to reduce the fullness of the novels to a single thread.

The book’s interior design strikes a nice balance between its unique fantasy and illustrative touches, and the calm, completely tried-and-true Adobe Garamond setting. David Saylor (art director) and Brad Walrod (typesetter) did an excellent job of adding touches of whimsy and character while honoring the text and reader with a solid, easy layout. The line lengths are comfortably short, and the type is accessible at 12 pts without getting horsey. Younger readers will likely benefit from these decisions. I normally shudder a bit at the typeface used for the titling and pagination (T-26’s Able), but the Harry Potter series has taken ownership of it through consistency and gentle application.

The illumination of unkown secrets is always a pleasure, but perhaps more satisfying is Rowling’s handling of her characters’ tendencies to falter and stay true to their own emotions and personalities, while still moving forward. These character dynamics created eddies and flows in the plot, preventing the tale from trickling to a long-foreseen close. In spite of its consistent adherence to stylistic form, the structure itself surprised me and left me impressed. With such a clear path ahead at the end of Half-Blood Prince, the series’ close could easily have become a dramatic formality with a great deal of empty pomp and circumstance. Rowling took my expectations and confounded them entirely through a well-paced telling, more than a few dramatic bombshells, and the relationships between characters who we’ve seen grow together.

Even with the end in sight, the story moved with a steady stride of unexpected steps. I’m pleased with where the book went, given the possibilities. There a few stones I wish she’d kicked over for us, but the plot was threatening to burst as Rowling closed a seven novel series, brought her many characters’ relationships and lives to a head, introduced multiple new plot structures into the mix, and shook the foundations of the world she’s built since Harry’s first year at Hogwarts.

A fitting end to a rich tale. I can’t wait to read it all over again.