Regina Doman wrote an essay in 2005 called “Harry Potter for Catholics?”. This eloquent defense of Ms. Rowling’s books, coming as it did in the wake of the supposed condemnation of Ms. Rowling’s books by the Pope, was a watershed event in keeping Harry off many parishes’ unofficial but very real list of Proscribed Books. Now she has written an intensely personal review of Deathly Hallows for Sean Dailey of the Blue Boar weBlog. Knowing that I was eager to read what she thought of the last book, Mrs. Doman sent me a copy of this letter to post here as well.
Ms. Rowling said in an interview post Goblet of Fire that she was gratified to learn that her books had become some comfort to those grieving the death of a loved one. I had forgotten her comment but, after reading the finish of Deathly Hallows and Mrs. Doman’s note of her experience reading the book, I doubt I will ever neglect the importance of grief, solace, and Ms. Rowling’s faith in the creation of Deathly Hallows specifically and the Harry Potter books in general.
I’d heard before that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are a reflection on death, and that the author had suffered the loss of her own mother suddenly while working on the writing, an event which influenced the books’ subject and death. But I guess I wasn’t expecting to find the last book healing to me, having lost my son.
As you know, I lost my son Joshua last year on July 8th, a few weeks before his fifth birthday on July 26th. So coming up on the one year anniversary, I was partially glad that Deathly Hallows was being released on a day poised almost exactly between those two dates. I thought it would be a nice distraction.
I bought the book at a midnight book sale hosted by our local bookstore, and it was well past one in the morning when I got home. I thought I would go right to bed, as soon as I looked at one page…
Several hours later I was still on the couch, reading and weeping and reading, experiencing that peace that comes from being in the grip of a master storyteller.
I cried when Hedwig died. I cried when Moody died. I cried when Fred comes into the living room and halts in shock at the sight of his bleeding twin. Roughly about every three chapters, I put down my head and sobbed.
And it was cathartic for me to cry. It’s hard to feel loss at times, especially when you are bracing yourself for an anniversary: sometimes you just feel numb inside. But grieving for these other, imaginary characters whom I loved just helped assuage the grief: it helped me feel again.
Dobby’s unexpected and noble death was the one that moved me the most: as well as Harry’s digging the grave, without magic, feeling his disordered and distracting cravings for control of the Hallows burn away with his grief. I understand how death can rebalance your focus: how it can make you recognize what’s truly important, what your true mission is. I loved how true and how real that entire scene was, particularly how Harry is, for the first time, able to shut his mind to what Voldemort is thinking and feeling. There was so much in this book that rang true from a spiritual point of view.
Harry’s walk to his death in the company of his parents and Lupin was another moving moment. The vulnerability of Harry was so real for me. But by far the best scene was King’s Cross. It was just enough of a foretaste of heaven to comfort me: it reminded me in many ways of C.S. Lewis’s Great Divorce. The solace of that scene was the *purpose* of it all. It’s hard to see the reasons for things. But at King’s Cross (as JKR said, wonderful name) Harry begins to get an inkling of how things might begin to make sense. That scene, more than anything else, confirms to me that Rowling is indeed a true Christian. With suffering and death, it is only in the presence of the King’s Cross that there is any consolation or hope of redemption at all.
I am so grateful to Rowling for finishing the series in a way that satisfies the demands of plot as well as the desires of the readers. But in an odd way, I am also so grateful that she gave me the chance to grieve for my son. And to point us in the direction of the only hope for sorrowing hearts. What a great story. What a great read. I feel privileged to live at this moment in history when such a book is released.
I couldn’t say that this book had a special allegorical meaning for me: I can’t say I “saw” my son in any of the characters. But then again, I can’t see Rowling’s mother in any of them either. But the sense of loss and the hope of redemption definitely imbues the entire series and particularly this last book. I don’t know that I can quite explain it, but that’s what I took away with me from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
“Of course it is all in your head. But why on earth should that mean it isn’t real?” – Dumbledore
Peace and good,