The epic adventure ends where, and as, it should in this long-awaited heart- (and, predictably, door-) stopping closer. With the entire tale now laid out, it easier to see the themes and qualities that not only bind it into one coherent, humongous saga, but have also so strongly bound millions of readers to its decade-long unfolding.
Many of those themes—the Hero’s Journey, the wonder of magic-working, the cluelessness of grown-ups, the sweet confusion of adolescence—are standard fare in stories for young readers (or readers who remember being young), but Rowling has shown uncommon skill in playing them with and against each other, and also woven them into a darn good bildungsroman, populated by memorable characters and infused with a saving, irrepressible sense of fun.
In The Deathly Hallows, she opens with a vintage, riveting escape scene, then sends Harry, Ron and Hermione into a months-long flight from the ascendant and hotly pursuing forces of Lord Voldemort—this journey also becomes a desperate search for the remaining horcruxes that make him unkillable. Allies both known and unexpected gather to help, but it is strength of spirit and character that, particularly in Harry’s case, blossom here after developing throughout the series, carrying these “three teenagers in a tent whose only achievement was not, yet, to be dead,” past hopelessness, sharp divisions and other challenges to a decisive faceoff against a seemingly unconquerable adversary.
There is a slow stretch toward the middle as the trio, having passed through a succession of refuges, hides out in the wilderness for some soul searching, but Rowling kicks up the pace in the second half. Strewing the plot with dueling spells, narrow squeaks and multiple corpses, lightening the load with well-placed humor and casting a sharp light on the flaws and graces of her characters, she builds to a suitably huge, compelling and, like illustrator Mary GrandPré’s chapter-head vignettes, stylish climactic battle on the grounds of Hogwarts.
Following the lead of its six preceding episodes this one may be sprawling, untidy and, particularly in its treatment of race and class issues, sometimes disturbingly simplistic—but, taken as a whole, it gives the author’s brilliantly imagined fantasy the grand finish it merits. And along with her recent suggestion that she may, someday, produce a sort of “Hogmarillion” to tie up all the loose ends, a provocatively sketchy epilogue (presumably a version of that Final Chapter that she claims to have written at the very beginning) here hints that she may not be ready to let go of her creations, just yet.