Deathly Hallows Discussion Point #20: Disappointed?

I put up three “sure thing predictions” this time last week at before posting my more speculative guesses using the Five Keys in my Book ( Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader): (1) Deathly Hallows would sell well, (2) We would see spoiler books by the time of release, and (3) a lot of folks were going to be disappointed in how Ms. Rowling ended this series. I got the first two pints right (duh). Are you disappointed with the finale? Scratching your head about which person late in life does magic? Confused (and upset) about the mechanics of Harry becoming a Horcrux (“only living object nearby”?)? What questions do you still have or faults do you see in how it all turned out?


  1. I loved the book overall and loved the themes of redemption and forgiveness. I also love that she gave us great characters. I was disappointed that Snape had to die but then I’m a Snape fan. I wanted more from the epilogue but then I guess that’s just because the series is ending. Overall though I thought it was a great book. I don’t think an author can ever meet everyone’s expectations though.


  2. Karl–
    I was talking about the Lord of the Rings, not the Silmarillion. And I’m not so sure that Tolkien did the job as effectively as you think he did. Merry and Pippin are sad, sure, but they’re not really affected deeply; by the time they return to Hobbiton they are singing. And Frodo’s sacrifice is not comparable to anything that happened in the Deathly Hallows. If anything in DH was comparable to Frodo’s sacrifice it would be Snape’s life. You couldn’t put that into a memorial.

    There’s nothing in the Lord of the Rings proper that tells you anything about the bittersweet nature of Arwen’s choice–or even that she made one. In LotR Arwen is a phantasm, a cypher–Tolkien was so eager to keep the secret of Arwen and Aragorn’s love that he left us with nothing to go on. Her character is revealed in the Appendix, not the story itself.

    yes, people celebrate the end of war. People who die are remembered–but that’s not really part of the story. THEIR story, yes, but not the story being told. It need not be any more than implied that the dead would be honored, and knowing Harry’s character we can be sure that they would be. It’s Harry’s story, no one else’s. I believe the ending was right.

  3. Trish, Russell Arben Fox has a good post on his blog in which he discusses Deathly Hallows and how in his mind it differs from LOTR. Several responders discuss disappointments with the book – so I think a link to that post in this thread is germane. Russell’s aside that Tolkien was charting the passing of an age is significant when discussing whether Tolkien went easy on his characters – or for that matter, on the world that he had sub-created. I don’t think Tolkien meant the reader to find the passing of the Third Age an inconsequential cost for either the reader or the characters. Certainly not if one is an elf, but neither for the whole of Middle Earth. The link to Russel’s piece, and then a couple of quotes from it, are below:

    “I must admit it–I finished Deathly Hallows at about 9:45am Saturday morning (got home from the bookstore at about 1am, read until 4am, tried to sleep for an hour, then got back up and read until I was done), and the very first coherent judgment I could come to was “Huh. A children’s story after all.”

    “Please note: I am not saying “children’s story” with anything like a sneering or condescending tone; I am not saying that Deathly Hallows reveals the story of Harry Potter to be simplistic or childish or immature. Far from it! But I am saying that, somehow or another, over the last two years–led along, I suppose, by my own outrageously detailed predictions, which of course proved to be almost entirely wrong–I talked myself into seeing these books…differently than I had any right to. I read too much that was epic into them, too much that was mythological and psychological, too much that was adult.

    “And so, of course Harry would live; of course he would go beyond but then come right back again. He’s the young hero, the one who by being willing to accept his own death, by growing up, surprisingly (or is it, really?) undoes the last sure magic keeping Voldemort, the enemy of all life, himself alive! No tragic, overarching, transhistorical doom here–Harry is not Frodo, a man who must unknowingly ruin himself for the sake of something larger than himself. Neither is Dumbledore Gandalf, an awesomely powerful agent of those larger things, who is nonetheless himself also in the thick of the battle. No, Dumbledore is the father figure who plans and hopes and risks the best way he knows how, the teacher who must plot and trick and sacrifice so his students can learn what they may and then teach themselves the rest. But also unlike Gandalf, Dumbledore is like an ordinary father and teacher in other ways: a man whose knowledge is limited, who is haunted by his own past, his own failures, his own pre-occupations, who is, at best, only guessing (though his guesses are usually good!). Gandalf could never have a brother like Aberforth, and why would he need one? J.R.R. Tolkien was charting the passing of an age; such stories do not require wizards with existential dimensions. But Rowling has charted the arc of a boy as he grew to become a prophesied hero. His most proper parallel (and this has been noted by many, though never, I think, to my embarrassment, by me) is Taran, from Lloyd Alexander’s classic Prydain stories.

    This is Karl again: Note – I agree with some of Russell’s contrast b/t Potter and LOTR, but not all. I actually agree more with Alan Jacobs’ comment down the page, where he says:

    “Alan Jacobs said…
    I know what you mean, Russell, in saying that “it’s a children’s story after all,” and I understand perfectly that that’s not in any way a dismissive comment. But the books — especially this last book — do all sorts of things that children’s books just don’t do. One death after another, each more painful than the last, plus exposure to every sort of horrific cruelty. I think we may have something here that it truly sui generis.”

  4. trish, you wrote:
    “There’s nothing in the Lord of the Rings proper that tells you anything about the bittersweet nature of Arwen’s choice–or even that she made one. In LotR Arwen is a phantasm, a cypher–Tolkien was so eager to keep the secret of Arwen and Aragorn’s love that he left us with nothing to go on. Her character is revealed in the Appendix, not the story itself.”
    Actually, in Rivendell, we see Aragorn and Arwen talking to each other, shortly after she is introduced into the story. In Lothlorien, we learn from the conversation between Aragorn and Galadriel that Aragorn loves Arwen, but that Galadriel cannot give him what he seeks. Galadriel gives him the stone as a token from Arwen. And, honestly, we’ve known since the beginning that elves are immortal and men are mortal, so how hard is it for the reader to figure out the dilemma here? Aragorn and Arwen get married in the chapter “the Steward and the King,” NOT the appendix. Obviously if the get married, she has made the choice.

    You also wrote:
    “yes, people celebrate the end of war. People who die are remembered–but that’s not really part of the story. THEIR story, yes, but not the story being told. It need not be any more than implied that the dead would be honored, and knowing Harry’s character we can be sure that they would be. It’s Harry’s story, no one else’s. I believe the ending was right.”
    If the entire book is about a war, how can celebrating the end of it not be “part of the story” ?!
    Similarly, what do you mean “It’s Harry’s story, and NO ONE elses”? If you took out all of the information, background, feeling, choices, actions, friendship, loyalty, love, etc of the supporting characters, there wouldn’t be much story, would there?

  5. EmmaReader says

    Rab: I agree with your points about the ending of Lord of the Rings, and I, too, wish there had been more of a denouement for the HP series. I hold those LOTR ending chapters very dear, not only the ones you’ve mentioned, but also the Scouring of the Shire. That chapter lets us see the effects of war on the Hobbits’ little corner of Middle Earth, and how the hobbits who stayed behind and our heroes who returned from the major battle dealt with it. I think John quoted someone as saying (and I’m paraphrasing), ‘to understand the ending, go back to the beginning.’ After spending so much time letting us get to know Hobbit characters and culture, Tolkien did take us back to the beginning to see the changes on individuals and on community wrought by war. Compared to the length of the rest of LOTR, it didn’t seem to take that long to give the readers closure.

    I think part of the issue here might be that some people have a need for that kind of closure when they read and others don’t. I definitely do!

  6. rab–
    Arwen and Aragorn get married in the book, but there is so little told about her in the story that we have no idea about the real nature of the choice she has made. In fact, there is no real idea that she has made a choice at all.
    As to the rest, I have obviously not made my points clear–and quite frankly, I don’t wish to bother. It really isn’t relevant.

    This isn’t a discussion of the virtues and failings of the Lord of the Rings.
    This is a discussion of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
    I think the ending was perfect. But then I don’t buy the idea of “closure”. There is no “closure”, ever. I’m glad the ending wasn’t dragged through a lot of dull exposition. I understand that many people are not. I’ll take the book that Rowling has written, not the book that some people wish Rowling had written. If you don’t, that’s fine, but it is not a flaw in the book itself.

  7. katssirius says

    My severe disappointment in HBP prepared me for DH. So I was not surprised that JKR did not realize that Severus Snape was her most compelling character. Her surprising, unnecessary focus on Voldemort’s backstory in HBP and Severus’ absence HBP and again in DH reminded me this is her first story and I think her characters got away from her. Severus’s struggle and the conflict between him and Harry should have been the main character conflict of DH. We did not need reruns of Ron’s and Hermione’s blindsides or a Lupin/Tonks side story. I found the trip to the ministry to be reminded Umbridge was evil was also unnecessary. Dumbledore’s backstory with brother, sister, and Grindelweld was not well developed and should not have appeared in this book without a much better build up in the rest of the books. HBP was a shock to me and its failings prepared me for DH. In DH, she threw away Severus. It is odd to think an author did not understand a character she created. I wonder if the problem is she realized she would not be writing a children’s book if she followed Severus. That and the excuse of a first time author is all I’ve got. Her fans certainly knew Severus was the point the story was moving around. I remain at loss, only mourning JKR’s lack of appreciation for one of her character’s. She was unable to unify the four houses in DH and reconcile herself to the presence of complex feelings and conflicting loyalties. The books promised this unification as the path to overcoming evil and redeeming/understanding Snape is part of this struggle. Having Harry face his (and the author’s) prejudices and old grudges, hurts, and the slanted stories he has from Sirius et al was important for us to see. Instead this was dueling, dueling, bickering, and dueling with a couple of compelling scenes shuffled together into far too little space.

  8. Frankly, I don’t get all the Sev Luv that’s out there. I never saw him as a central character. Harry has been Jo’s hero from the start. Voldemort has been the primary foe. Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Snape, Hagrid, etc. were all just supporting figures — some more attractive or interesting than others, depending on your taste. When it comes to Snape, I don’t get the attraction. Maybe it’s not so much that Jo doesn’t understand her character as it is that she doesn’t understand why so many fans have been attracted to this nasty git.

  9. Travis Prinzi says

    I’d take a middle road between the two comments. Trudy is correct: Harry is the hero, and Rowling’s removing us from Snape in Book 7 established that. The attraction to Snape isn’t just hard to understand – it’s appalling.

    But the fascination with him as a character is not hard to understand. Snape is the Gollum of the HP series. Orson Scott Card’s essay explained this well – Snape is the character that sort of took on a life of his own, that took over the series because he became so intriguing. I do wonder if Snape got away from Rowling a little bit; but then, it’s not that hard for a character to get away from her author a bit, for him to take on more than the author planned in her outlining. There are so many of Rowling’s influences rolled into Snape, and many of them are the more fascinating characters of literature.

    But it is true – Rowling seems a bit exasperated by the attraction to Snape. He is a vile, bitter, sadistic person. Even in that, there is hope – that the worst among us can do something brave and change the course of history.

  10. Travis Prinzi says

    Hmmm…there was a glitch when this page loaded, and I only saw the last 2 comments. So my comment refers to just the last comments by TrudyK and katssirius, and I apologize if I said anything that’s already been covered in the 100+ comments before this one!

  11. Trudy, there are many, many reasons for the “sev luv” as you call it, but the most important was stated quite clearly in a review in the “Christian Science Monitor.” Severus Snape is a sinner who has repented. As such, he is the only person in the entire saga who *has* a moral arc. A story should focus on a character who changes and grows. Because Snape seemed (up to DH, anyway) to have done so, he was automatically more interesting than all the other characters who were mere types (Dumbledore up to DH; Voldemort, Hagrid; the Dursleys; even Harry himself, who’s something of an Oliver Twist sort.)

    As to Voldemort being Harry’s main antagonist – no. It didn’t feel that way to me when I was reading the books. Again, Voldemort is merely a bogeyman. He is disgusting and cruel enough, but he’s not particularly interesting, IMO. Harry himself said, at the end of DH, that he hated Snape more than he hated Voldemort, and was eager to confront him. That confrontation seemed absolutely essential to the plot – and it never happened. I’m sure I’m not the only reader who feels cheated by that. Personally, I see the way Rowling dealt with Snape as an artistic failure, and also morally questionable. But that’s just me.

  12. On the topic of whether a final confrontation or revelatory conversation between Harry and Snape was needed: there was an interesting discussion of this on professor Russell Arben Fox’s blog in the days immediately following the release of DH. Like you Mary, Russell initially felt cheated by the lack of such an encounter. Alan Jacobs (the Wheaton College literature prof who has positively reviewed Rowling’s books) chimed in, basically asking “what would they have said to each other?” I agreed with Jacobs, and posted the following:

    “I agree that a final conversation with Snape would have been pointless. As Alan rightly points out, Snape never stopped hating the son of James Potter. Snape’s love for Lilly and continued devotion to that love was and remained “the best of him” as Dumbledore said. But the REST of him was much closer to the Malfoy/Voldemort crowd than the Dumbledore/Evans crowd. A final conversation, if true to the characters as they have been revealed, would have been awkward, unpleasant and depressing. I think Snape was as “redeemed” as he was going to get.”

    Link to Russell’s blog entry and the ensuing discussion:

  13. Well, frankly, I can imagine what they would have said to each other. How about “I’m sorry,” and “Thank you”? The “I’m sorry” should ideally have come from Severus, though I do think he would never, in the course of the books, have attained that level of spiritual maturity. The “thank you” should have come from Harry.

    The fact remains that, throughout the books, Severus Snape is Harry’s main antagonist. The failure to have any sort of confrontation between them is one of many things that made me dislike the conclusion of the book. I don’t really want to go into greater length here, as there is an essay nagging at me, which I need to get written down.

    As to Snape being closer, in the end, to the Malfoy crowd than to the Dumbledore crowd, two things:
    1. I absolutely hated the way Dumbledore (and Lily Evans) treated Snape throughout. IMHO, both of them were abusive, but Dumbledore especially so.
    2. The conclusion you have reached is the one Rowling wants you to reach, but not the only one her text supports. More on that in my essay.

    Basically, Rowling is very gifted, and has produced a very mixed work. Parts of it, i think, are truly inspired and inspiring, and parts are shabby, poorly written, and even (IMHO) wrong-headed. Up to DH, (even though I didn’t really like HBP) I had considered her a better and more enjoyable writer than Pullman, but I don’t any more. I do like her philosophy a little better than his – but only a little, and I think she is more muddled in expressing it. I know you don’t agree, but let’s not argue. Getting back to Snape-

    Up to and including HBP, Snape was, in my eyes (and not mine alone) the moral center of the books. By this I mean that he was the sinner redeeemed, the (hidden) central character, the only character – as the “Monitor” reviewer said – who even *had* a moral arc. That was what Rowling had written. In DH, she made it quite clear that it was not what she intended. With only minor changes, (and I’ve said this elsewhere, too) she could have written Snape as one of the greatest heroes, and one of the greatest redemptive figures, in all of English literature. She chose not to do so. That is – absolutely – her right as an author, but I don’t have to like it.

    You’ll be glad to know that’s really all I have to say until i get that essay written.) No offense, I hope.

  14. hadrianwall says

    I so agree with you Mary, Snape imo, is the true hero of the series, he grew to be a much better person and I take offense when anyone says Snape was more inline w/the Voldemort crowd.

    Rowling didn’t seem to get it and that is a huge disappointment, but I hated the enitre book, it just shows how many plot holes she really had and it isn’t a fully realised world.

    She seemed to completely forget the bullying thread and James and Sirius are still heroes? Sickening! What about all the Snapes in the world who are bullied everyday? Where was Dumbledore then? Maybe Snape wouldn’t have been tempted by his own housemates, but when your treated better, of course your going to go with the people who aren’t being rude to you. I found myself really not liking Lily very much and to me, it took a very big man to look past the fact that a childhood friend marries the boy that tormented him, and try to do right by her even when the friendship ended badly. He was a true friend and therein lies the tragedy….but then again it is still circumstancial and thrusted upon and I was not fullfilled by it. I like my Snape sarcastic!

  15. I hope it’s possible to discuss the interpretation of a book without taking offense.

    Snape the moral center of the books? I hope not. I agree with Alan Jacobs when he says “JKR wants to suggest here is that love is the one truly redeeming force. Voldemort never loved anyone, and Snape would have been just like him except that he loved one person, and that love ended up giving him courage — courage worthy of Gryffindor House — and determination. But I think we have to agree that it was a very limited kind of love, and not just because Snape never loved anyone else. After all, Snape did not love Lily enough to break with the Death Eaters — even when that caused her to turn her back on him. ”

    Snape treated Harry like dirt not as a means of maintaining his cover, but because he truly loathed him. His childhood grudge turned into a blind hatred that made him unable and unwilling to listen to the truth, as seen in the ending of Prisoner of Azkaban, where we see him shout down Hermione, Ron and Harry’s attempted explanations re. Pettigrew and Black, and then “accidentally let slip” that Lupin is a werewolf. The examples of the fact that Snape is still a nasty piece of work are legion. Yet there is this other, redeeming side that we don’t see until the end. That does make him a complex character and, as Harry says, perhaps the bravest person in the series. This was my final post on the subject to Alan Jacobs:

    I agree with you there Alan, that Snape’s love was of a very limited kind. I think the final judgment on Snape when he appears in the place Harry briefly met Dumbledore may remain a bit of an open question. Does Rowling believe in Purgatory? (j/k).

    Leaving that kind of final judgment and what JKR might say about it aside I do agree, as I mentioned, that the rest of Snape remained a pretty nasty person. One who Dumbledore remained saddened and often disgusted by, although he eventually grew to admire and perhaps even have affection for Snape due to his 16 years-long demonstration of courage and fidelity to Lilly’s memory. Witness Dumbledore’s weary sigh when he asks if Snape wants to give Harry detention yet again. He is under no illusions about the nastiness that remains. Nor, I think, is Harry. Yet Dumbledore and Harry are both aware of less-than-desirable actions and motivations of their own, and may judge others less harshly as a result. And they know of the lonely wounded child that Snape was. Harry, once cruelly bullied by Dudley, empathizes with Snape who was bullied by James and his gang – and understands how one could have a hard time not carrying lifetime bitterness toward the bully. Objective readers can see the enormous differences between Harry and Snape. Snape was incapable of the kind of empathy toward others that Harry has toward him. As JKR has reminded us it is our choices, more than our abilities, that make us what we are, aftter all. But within the confines of story and the characters in it, Harry’s embrace of the memory of Snape and his noble sacrifice (Harry doesn’t have to live with the nasty actual person anymore, after all) makes sense to me.

  16. katssirius says

    When I read comments about Snape not being a hero or the central character I sometimes feel there is confusion. No one is suggesting this guy would make a great dinner companion or does not need alot of therapy. But then Harry could stand a few years on the couch before I would date him as well. Interesting stories are about the struggle and Severus is the only character with a struggle. Sure there were other candidates but JKR did not go there either. At best Remus is moody and fails to show up for his family until a 17 year old sets him straight. Sirius is moody and dies. Draco is tormented and moody. But JKR cannot get her characters beyond the action or set dressing and into their emotional struggle. This is a first author’s failing. By the time she wrote books six and seven who was there to guide her? She had a monster story that was supposed to be a children’s book but the compelling parts were all adult themes. At least these are my excuses for her. Severus has all of the faults mentioned as reasons he could not be a hero, that is the point. These are humanizing instead of flat carictatures. Harry could have been this character but JKR did not give him a personal struggle. She shows him arising from the Dursley nest undamaged (we have DD’s word on this). An impossibility in the real world. He overcomes every teenage hurdle: looks, love, self-esteem. Who was she expecting us to be interested in? Harry is not a mystery. DD has only the mystery of an adult doing things kids do not understand. I think JKR’s blindness in regards to Snape is similar to her treatment of the Sytherins from the awarding of final house points in the first book until the epilogue of the seventh book. JKR does not believe Snape or any Slytherin is redeemable. Why didn’t the Slytherins return to fight against Voldemort at the end. What Slytherin benefitted from their relationship with Voldemort? As much as her books support that Slytherins are not necessarily bad clearly she did not redeem them and they are still the house no one wants to join. Voldemort was a psychopath, no moral center, killed without reason, we did not need his backstory. Snape could never have been Voldemort. Psychopaths are created as very young children by horrific abuse or neglect or mental disorder. Even then they are rare. This is not Snape. JKR made Voldemort someone we could not relate to in any way. Snape had all of Harry’s unfinished business with his past. He held all of the answers except for the Deathly Hallows. Snape dedicated his entire life to Harry. Grudgingly, bitterly, angrily and successfully, this is the great sacrifice not dying but living and suffering with the reminder of your greatest love and worst memory right in front of you every day. Harry’s need for confrontation and emotional struggle with Snape should have been book 7. The clearer picture of his parents and biased views of DD, Lupin, Pettigrew, Weasleys, his growing up and maturing given to him courtesy of understanding Snape. Harry owed Snape apologies as well as Snape owing Harry apologies. Instead we saw escape from incompetent villan after incompetent villan? A hero’s journey is slaying the monsters within not without. Monsters such as judgement based on whether or not you have a wand, pure blood prejudice, and so on. Early on JKR set these up as the point and then did not follow through. Do any of us really think there is a chance one of Harry’s children will be a Slytherin? Prejudice is still alive and well whether or not Harry’s scar is bothering him. I am sad JKR did not notice her own.

  17. Many readers of “Deathly Hallows” have expressed disappointment with the Epilogue, often complaining that not enough information is given about the characters’ deeds or careers after becoming adults. Such complaints are misplaced: an author must resist the urge to bloat an epilogue with too many details and instead must focus on the most important information. Appropriately, Rowling emphasizes the importance of kinship. Each book in the series, including the last, provides lessons about courage and other virtues. However, of all the moral virtues promoted in the Harry Potter series, the overarching message in the final book, and especially revealed in the Epilogue, is that Family comes First.

    The need for kinship is a timely issue for Western societies, where work groups are seldom based on kinship and people have less frequent and intense contact with their relatives. Rowling stresses the importance of maintaining the bonds of kinship, even when one’s kin may be distantly related, unappreciative, or disliked, and even if when it means breaking trust with non-kin. Rowling also recognizes the values of integrating non-relatives as kin, affirming kinship ties through naming practices, and upholding good family relations.

    While many readers may see the Harry Potter Series as being about “good vs. evil” or “love vs. hate,” they would be correct insofar as these basic conflicts move the plot and provide entertainment. However, the main lesson of the series is not that Harry and his friends are good, or that Voldemort and his followers are evil. These things are presented not as lessons, but as accepted facts. Nor does the series really teach the reader that it is good to love, which is more of an observation than a lesson—something the reader already knows. The series’ lessons are revealed, rather, in the choices that the characters make. As Dumbledore explains in Book 1, “It is our choices Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” And in “Deathly Hallows,” many significant choices center on kinship.

    In the world of Harry Potter, kinship is not limited to biological relationships. Kinship is shown to embrace genealogy, consanguinity, affinity, friendship, god-parents, name-sharing, the living, and the dead. Family relationships are created when individuals choose to regard a nonkin relationship as something similar to a family link. Examples include Sirius Black being chosen as Harry’s godfather, Harry being chosen as Teddy Lupin’s godfather, and Harry naming his son Albus Severus, thereby assigning kinship status to Professors Dumbledore and Snape. Kinship ties with the deceased are also reaffirmed as Harry names two of his children after his biological parents, James and Lily. Also, friends become kin through marriage.

    The Epilogue’s emphasis on family relations and naming practices is not surprising, as throughout “Deathly Hallows,” kinship is central to the choices that characters make. In particular, “Deathly Hallows” shows the importance of maintaining the bonds of kinship and concern for one’s relatives even if they are disliked or unappreciative. For example, near the beginning of the book, when Harry finally parts ways with his cousin Dudley, who has bullied Harry his whole life, they reconcile. Dudley shakes Harry’s hand and offers belated thanks for saving him from a previous attack. In turn, when Harry says goodbye to Dudley, he calls him “Big D,” suggesting the cousins are both willing to let bygones be bygones. Likewise, in “Deathly Hallows,” Neville Longbottom’s domineering, disapproving grandmother, of whom Neville has always been terrified, appears at the Battle of Hogwarts fighting for her grandson.

    In “Deathly Hallows” there are several occasions where characters make difficult ethical choices in favor of kinship. Xenophilius Lovegood, who is an outspoken supporter of Harry Potter, chooses to betray Harry and his friends to their enemies, because Xenophilius believes it might free his daughter, Luna, who has been kidnapped by Death Eaters. Harry appears to hold no ill-will toward Xenophilius for the betrayal, as Harry thinks about how his mother had given her life to protect him. Likewise, even after learning that Xenophilius had betrayed her, Hermione risks her own life and limb in order to protect Xenophilius.

    Also choosing to forsake her comrades in order to protect her kin, Narcissa Malfoy lies to Voldemort by telling him that Harry Potter is dead, even though she knows he is alive. She betrays her leader and her army because Harry has told her that her son, Draco, is alive in the castle, and she knows she will be able to search for her son only if the Death Eaters return to the castle “as part of the conquering army.”

    Even the matronly Molly Weasley is willing to engage in otherwise unacceptable behavior when it concerns protecting her kin. When Bellatrix Lestrange tries to kill Molly’s daughter, Ginny, Molly responds with uncharacteristic profanity and an “unforgivable curse,” a Dark Arts spell that is typically used only by villains.

    So if Dumbledore is correct that it is “our choices . . . that show what we truly are,” then the repeated, difficult choices that characters make in “Deathly Hallows,” and the choice of information the author chooses to reveal about the characters in the Epilogue, provide important lessons in kinship, and no cause for disappointment.

  18. I agree Snape is the most complex character in the books, and for that reason perhaps the most intriguing. More complex and intriguing in some ways than either Voldemort or Harry. But that is different from saying he’s the central character.

    Rowling wrote Harry’s story, not Snape’s. That’s why Harry is less of a mystery than Snape – you see things from Harry’s point of view. If the first chapter of the first book introduced Severus Snape and laid out in a chapter or two everything you know about him by the end of book 7, and then slowly revealed this kid Harry Potter who you see only from Snape’s point of view – then Harry would have been the mystery and Snape much less of one. That’s not a fault of the author – it’s just a function of who the central character is. The series is among other things, a bildungsroman, with Harry as the protagonist: “Bildungsroman (IPA: [ˈbɪldʊŋs.roˌmaːn]/, German: “novel of personal development”) is a novelistic form which concentrates on the spiritual, moral, psychological, or social development and growth of the protagonist usually from childhood to maturity.”

    I disagree with the idea that Snape is the only character with struggles. We learn in book 7 that Dumbledore was much less of a 2 dimensional character ethically and emotionally than we had been led to believe, for example. And more importantly, the entire 7 book series is a bildungsroman about Harry’s struggle to grow up, his dealing with normal adolescent struggles along with the weight of his abusive past and the burden of his prophesied future. The fact that he makes better choices on the whole in dealing with these struggles than most would, doesn’t mean they are easy choices nor that the struggles leave him unaffected.

    Dumbledore may have said Harry emerged remarkably unscathed from the Dursleys’, but Rowling shows throughout the series that the experience of those early years marked Harry greatly, for both good and ill. Harry’s choices in response to an abusive childhood (and perhaps a better genetic predisposition – the whole nature/nurture debate) enable him to emerge from abuse and loneliness a much better person than did Snape. Unlike Snape, Harry has made the choice of love in spite of an abusive past. Not just the narrow, obsessive love of one other person but the choice of a life marked by a genral, though not perfect, outlook of love. He is thus able to allow those experiences to expand, rather than narrow, his character. He is able to have empathy for Snape and even Voldemort when he (who understands abuse and the loneliness of being unloved) sees what their childhoods were like. But he’s not perfect. He is human, and a teenager, and can be sulky, selfish or snarky at times. As for Harry’s wholeness being “an impossibility in the real world” anyone who has worked with abused or foster kids knows that while all of them are marked by their experiences, different kids react very differently to similar circumstances. There are kids, even siblings, who experience very similar things but whose eventual life paths and choices look very different from one another. Some become criminals or sociopaths like Voldemort. Others become cramped and bitter like Snape. A few defy the odds and in spite of their wounds make choices for love and life, like Harry in these books. The “success stories” of kids who transcend early abuse and turn out to be loving and whole people are the minority – but they do exist.

    Mutual apologies? Harry may owe Snape an apology for having a snarky attitude but the great weight of wrong in that relationship lies on Snape’s side, IMO. The lonely 11 year old arrives at school and is greeted by an adult who for no apparent reason hates him, treats him with nasty unfairness, and the child is supposed to be “the bigger guy” and treat Snape with kindness, understanding and respect? There is plenty of evidence that by the end Harry’s character has grown to the point where, if Snape had levelled with him, Harry would gladly be reconciled to him. Albus Severus IS Harry’s “apology” to Snape. If one wants, one can read the giving of Snape’s memories as Snape’s “apology” to Harry – although I think that is better understood as Snape’s final act of love for Lily. But a real face to face reconciliation is implausible, in light of the type of person Snape had chosen to become. Harry would have been willing and able to have such a reconciliation, with the knowledge gained from the penseive. There’s no evidence that Snape could have endured such a conversation, or would have even been interested in it. In fact there is substantial evidence to the contrary.

    Snape is in some ways the anti-Harry. In this bildungsroman, he is often the example of how NOT to allow one’s character to be shaped by events and the choices that follow in the wake of those events. Yes, he is intriguing and complex, and he is brave and noble in one narrow, all-consuming area of his life. His love for Lilly and sacrifice for her (for Lilly I would argue, not for Harry – he would gladly see Harry and James dead if he could have Lilly back and for himself) redeem him in the end because in Snape and to a lesser extent the Malfoys Rowling wants to say that the ability to love, even a little, gives us hope for someone. But that narrow, cramped and consuming secret love, while making him an interesting character, does not make him the moral center of the books. He is an essential, intriguing, complex and deep character who add immeasurably to the richness of the story. He’s not a two dimensional villian. I pity him. I admire his bravery, but deplore most of his life’s choices. But that’s where it ends for me.

  19. John,
    You’re right about point 3 as well. Deathly Hallows isn’t a perfect book (and there are quite a few issues to discuss) but it doesn’t really matter what Rowling wrote and even if it is a perfect book some people will always be disappointed or annoyed that the book didn’t go in their expected direction.

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