Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head?

As if it Matters how a Man Falls Down – Thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”

with 3 comments

(Ed note: if you’re looking for the “As if it matters” quote, see here.)

As Harry Potter comes of age at 17, the magical protection under which he has lived at the oppressive Dursley household since arriving on their doorstep at the age of one threatens to lift.  Therefore, the Order of the Phoenix attempts to remove Harry to a safe location.  Just as they lift off, a throng of angry Death Eaters circle above, ready to pounce.  Thus begins the tumultuous final volume in the epic of The Boy Who Lived.

The conclusion of the Half-Blood Prince left Harry with the quest to seek and eliminate the remaining portions of Voldemort’s soul—those last anchors that keep the Dark Lord tethered to life.  Of the six believed created, we know two have been destroyed.   Therefore, Harry sets out to vanquish his foe forever, culminating in a final battle that threatens to leave Harry’s world in ruin.

As J.K. Rowling has touched upon various themes throughout the fifteen years she has spent writing about Harry, death and immortality, sacrifice and love have become the touchstones of his journey.  In this volume, the theme brings the narrative to its final act, resulting in a full, complete, and satisfying saga, even if we are left with some minor plot threads hanging, noticeable to only to those most ardent and committed readers.

Her narrative, while brilliant in concept, still falters somewhat in the quality of her prose.  The read suffers from an excess of adverbs, and the frequent use of an out of place colon.  But this is Jo Rowling.  She can misplace an umlaut for all I care.  The beauty of this novel lies in its content, and here at the end, her characters, always delightfully rounded, face life and death with surprising results.

The subject of how we face death has weaved its way into creative works since Eden.  One of my favorite examples (supposedly) comes from a scene in The Lion in Winter in which two men face execution.  One says to the other, “You fool!  As if it matters how a man falls down.”  To which his companion replies: “When the fall’s all that’s left, it matters a great deal.”

Watching a person (or persons) battle against the insurmountable remains one of the more stirring facets of great storytelling.  The charge of the Rorhirrim in The Return of the King, for instance, would never have read as dynamic if Théoden and his men were not outnumbered thirty-to-one, knowingly marching straight into death.

In his trials, Harry has learned how to fall well.  While many heroes prefer to battle by skill and wit, his courage and strength grow from his love for his friends, and his willingness to lay down his life for them.  Some of the greatest moments in this story come not in when characters meet their ends, but in how.

As Rowling writes it, Harry possesses power the Dark Lord knows not.  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends, said Jesus Christ.  Rowling even found a way to insert more of His words into her story, as well as St. Paul’s.  (If you don’t already know, read the epitaphs on the grave stones at Godric’s Hollow)  John Granger posits that Rowling’s tales of the boy wizard resonates so well with so many because it evokes the Great Story.  Rowling used to skirt around questions about her faith, telling those who asked to let her finish the story, that we’d have our answer then.  As you turn the final page, the message rings loud and clear.  I don’t want to spoil it for you, because Jo was right.  If you knew just what she believed, you really could guess the ending.

The narrow and caustic perspective of those in the church intent on branding this series as a tool for Wiccan practice and recruitment have missed an extraordinary opportunity to share in the joys of epic storytelling; have missed the chance to share the Great Story with young readers.  The story of a heavenly creature that sought power over all, and the One who took the curse of death in our place, so that we might not have to endure it ourselves.

Written by taj

July 31, 2007 at 10:26 am

3 Responses

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  1. Because you made me read Douglas Adams recently by mentioning it so often….

    I misplaced an umlaut once. The result was Ted Kennedy. For this, I blame Bush.


    August 1, 2007 at 2:06 pm

  2. Great review.
    I agree completely about the ending…However I’m surprised Harry didn’t die 🙂


    April 30, 2008 at 6:01 pm

  3. […] Aaron Sorkin paraphrased it twice–once on Sports Night, and again on The West Wing.  I’ve used it before too, once in describing Harry’s role in Harry Potter and the Deathly […]

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