With the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling concluded her seven-book series that set publishing records, made her one of the richest people in the world (number 891 on the Forbes 2007 billionaires list), and made millions of children avid readers.
Also at an end is speculation about what kind of world Rowling had wrought. Early in the series WORLD reviewers expressed interest in but concern about an author making her hero a juvenile sorcerer and teaching children to imagine themselves practicing sorcery. We also wondered about Christian parents uncritically embracing the series without knowing how it would end: "The Harry Potter series forms a ship that children are climbing aboard, with the destination known only to a captain who has a very different worldview."
Because of the first concern, some Christians will never read the Potter books-but those who have embraced the series will read Hallows with relief. They'll see echoes in this volume of Lewis, Tolkien, Star Wars, and westerns. They'll see a clear delineation between good and evil, with good triumphing in the end. They'll see a familiar genre-the hero's quest-used to teach the importance of courage and self-sacrifice. They may come to understand better the redemptive power of love and the corrupting effect of absolute power.
As Rowling wrote further into the series, and as the books began to focus on the inevitable clash between Voldemort and Harry, some elements of the earlier books gave way to new emphases. Gone: the day-to-day activity at Hogwarts school, along with Harry's muggle relatives and his snarky attitude toward them. That loss may bother some fans who particularly liked Rowling's depiction of boarding school life and her ability to bring to life a whole imaginary world. But this last book also left behind some of the most obnoxious aspects of the earlier books.
In Hallows, Voldemort's unchecked power threatens both the muggle and wizard worlds: Imitating the Nazis, he has set up a racialist regime that requires "mud bloods," those of mixed muggle and wizard ancestry, to register and be rounded up. Anti-racialists are at risk, Gestapo-like spies are everywhere, and even saying Voldemort's name invokes a curse that allows rebels to be found.
As fascist gloom descends, Harry and his friends continue on their lonely, often clueless quest for the horcruxes, those seven objects into which Voldemort has put part of his soul. Often lured into traps, the good guys more than once barely escape from Voldemort's clutches-but they do escape, once on the back of a blind dragon. In the final battle, reminiscent of the war scenes in The Lord of the Rings or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, all kinds of creatures using all kinds of spells fight it out. As the armies of Voldemort and Dumbledore are concluding their grand action, Harry faces Voldemort one-on-one.
Younger children especially will find parts of this book a real slog. Rowling weighs down the 759-page book with pages of explanation as she tries to wrestle meaning into the series. Parents who are reading the book aloud will have to do some quick paraphrasing to explain what's going on. But just as some endlessly discuss the meaning of Star Wars films, so the search for spiritual meaning in Hallows will go on. Why did Rowling quote the Bible on two gravestones? Is Harry a (Mahayana Buddhist) Bodhisattva when he chooses to come back from the dead to save his friends and reduce suffering?
One Potter fan, quoted by the Associated Press, mourned the end of the series: "'That's it,' she said. 'It's all over. I feel like I just said goodbye forever to my oldest, dearest friend. All I can do is re-read, and in the future when I have children, I'll get to share these books with them. I look forward to that day.'"