Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The Most Unlikely Killer in the Final Book
New books dissected over email.
July 23 2007 6:54 PM

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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Illustration by Charlie Powell. Click image to expand.

Dear Will and Polly,

Dan Kois Dan Kois

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

Wow, and I thought I would be a lone grumpy voice in the wilderness! I can't say I strongly disagree with any of your points, except perhaps one. Will, you expressed your dissatisfaction that it was Mrs. Weasley, and not Neville, who killed Bellatrix Lestrange. I didn't mind that choice in the slightest, for two reasons.

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The theme of parents' fierce and protective love for their children has always been present in Rowling's series, of course, but it came to the fore again and again in this book, in ways I found thrilling and touching. Consider poor Xenophilius Lovegood and Narcissa Malfoy, who both betray their beliefs at crucial moments in the desperate hope of keeping their children safe: Lovegood drops a dime on Harry and his friends because his daughter, Luna, has been kidnapped, while Draco Malfoy's mother lies to Voldemort and the assembled Death Eaters about Harry's death in exchange for his whispered assurances of her son's continued survival.

In that spirit, I thought the transformation of Mrs. Weasley from hausfrau to Death Eater Killing Machine was stunning and near-miraculous, especially as it's one of the only moments when we're meant, as readers, to cheer the use of deadly force in battle. Mrs. Weasley faces off against the crazed, careless, evil-to-the-core Bellatrix, whom I could no more imagine caring for a child than I could imagine myself escaping from Azkaban; it was nice to see the long-suffering mom strike a blow against evil. My only regret is that she didn't take out child-assaulting Fenrir Greyback while she was at it.

And I'm glad that Neville's contribution to the fight was saved until the very end, and at the moment of greatest crisis. Not just because, though he'll never know it, the fabled prophecy could just as well have been about him, but also because—as a friend pointed out to me today—Neville functions in the books as sort of an anti-Wormtail. Like young Peter Pettigrew, he arrived at school a similarly unskilled and awkward wizard, who through chance became friends with a group of much more popular students. But Harry, Ron, and Hermione were kinder friends to Neville than Sirius, James, and Remus were to Pettigrew, and at least partially as a result Neville grew into heroism rather than villainy. When Neville pulled the sword from the Sorting Hat (ah, right, Polly—magic!) and chopped Nagini's head off, rendering Voldemort mortal at last, I confess I was so happy my Patronus could have cleared an entire forest of Dementors.

But back to the gripes. I am grateful to Rowling for ending the book on an epilogue, showing us Harry and his friends 19 years later. But I dearly wish that epilogue could have been much longer—perhaps some random tent-pitching scenes could have been cut from the middle—and much more detailed. We learn that Harry and Ginny are married, as are Ron and Hermione, and that children abound, including Harry's three and Ron and Hermione's two. We learn that orphaned Teddy Tonks is alive and well and romancing Victoire, the child of Fleur Delacour and Bill Weasley whose hilarious name suggests she was conceived the night Voldemort was defeated. We learn that Neville is teaching Herbology at Hogwarts, and that Draco Malfoy is also married—with a son, whom Draco has named not Eric or Bob or Goodly or something else that will distract attention from his family's sordid past, but Scorpius.

As comics blogger Heidi MacDonald points out over on The Beat, this chapter—which Rowling has always said she wrote years ago and, presumably, only revised slightly this time around—reads poorly and feels awfully bourgeois in its concern with little other than our heroes' marriages and children. I would have much preferred a longer scene, more carefully written, that offers not only the happily-ever-after but a larger picture of the ramifications of the war we've just seen the wizarding world go through. Did George, with his twin dead, continue on with Weasley's Wizard Wheezes? How was Hogwarts affected by the great battle that took place on its grounds? What do Harry and Ron and Hermione do for a living? (Ron has learned to drive a Muggle car, but that doesn't count.) And is there some memorial to those who died in the Second Wizarding War, as the cold and quiet remains of James and Lily's house serve as testament to those lost in the first?

Or maybe what I'm actually asking for is, you know, a sequel.

Sadly,
Dan

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