Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

So Long, Hogwarts!
New books dissected over email.
July 26 2007 1:37 PM

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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Illustration by Charlie Powell. Click image to expand.

Dear Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, Slytherins, and Hufflepuffs,

Dan Kois Dan Kois

Dan Kois is Slate's culture editor and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.

Before I begin, a few words. Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!

Will, you worry that those who judge the book as children's literature give short shrift to Rowling's work. I disagree with you a bit; I'm judging Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as children's literature, but in doing so, I'm putting it up against some of the greatest stories I've ever read, stories that inspired, educated, and exhilarated me as a boy and as an adult. (Our daughter isn't named Lyra for nothing, after all; as the rest of America will discover when the film of The Golden Compass comes out this winter, Lyra is the intrepid heroine of Philip Pullman's spectacular children's fantasy series.) I hold children's literature up to high standards, higher in many ways than literature exclusively for grown-ups.

Rowling herself seems to wink at those who consign her novels to the margins with the introduction in Deathly Hallows of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a kind of Brothers Grimm of the wizarding world. In his will, Dumbledore leaves Hermione a copy of the book, which Ron can't believe Harry and Hermione have never heard of. But because they grew up in Muggle families, instead of such popular wizarding children's stories as "The Wizard and the Hopping Pot" or "Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump," Harry and Hermione read "Cinderella." ("What's that, an illness?" asks Ron.)

And when, naturally, Beedle's tales end up helping our threesome through their quest, the disregard some have for stories for children does not go unnoticed. Dumbledore, speaking to a not-dead, not-alive Harry in King's Cross, points out one of the Dark Lord's great weaknesses (emphasis mine): "That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend," Dumbledore says, as the stunted, scalded soul of Voldemort squalls on the floor behind them. "Of house-elves and children's tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. ... That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped."

Whatever my quibbles with Rowling's decisions in this or any of the Harry Potter books, I cannot deny that reading them has been one of the most pleasurable, imaginative experiences I've ever had. I'm eager to read them to Lyra, and to Lyra's sister, due just two weeks from now, and to see both of them swept away, as I was by so many books as a child—and am by so few as an adult. We have no idea what we're going to name Lyra's sister yet, by the way. Maybe we'll name her Hermione. Maybe we'll name her Eilonwy. Maybe we'll name her Turtle. Hell, maybe we'll name her Jo.

Thanks, all, for joining in the discussion.

Best,
Dan

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