Comments on Dan H's Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Afterword

Dan concludes his series of articles and his Ferretbrain coup.

Comments (go to latest)
Wardog at 15:41 on 2007-08-10
I think you're being a little harsh on the Chekov's Gun (aka Puzzlebox) style of book. I'm not say it's great literature and I'm not actually sure who is claiming its great literature but one of the few things that DH Appreciators can actually sell me on is how fun it is to see the books fitting together. David, for example, loves that sort of thing. And apparently if you read back it's very rewarding. I'm just saying.
Dan H at 16:02 on 2007-08-10
I'm totally fine with the Puzzlebox style. I just find it annoying that people confuse it with literary merit (which I think they do).
Mystiquefire at 18:05 on 2007-08-11
I read all your DH reviews and I couldn't stop laughing. I agree with every single word. As much I used to love HP, I completely hate DH. I honestly think you're a 100 times better writer than JKR.
Dan H at 21:46 on 2007-08-11
That's very kind of you.
Wardog at 21:53 on 2007-08-11
Hehe, that's not saying much - a large portion of her fan community are better writers than JK ;)

My jumping off point was definitely the 5th book ... retrospectively I'm a bit peeved with the 4th but I remember just being hungry for more Potter at the time and not minding the length much beyond thinking "well, this is a wee bit indulgent."
Arthur B at 01:18 on 2007-08-12
I think the reason I tend to hold the 4th book in higher esteem than, say, the 5th is that a) something actually happens in it, and it is actually - while flabby - much leaner than book 5, and b) when blokey dies at the end it's genuinely striking and powerful, because none of the good guys have ever actually died in a HP book so far, so you had a sense that a line had been crossed.

The problem is, with the exception of Dumbledore, Voldemort and (arguably) Sirius and Hedwig, every death after that has been of a less important character, rather than a more important character.
http://lunabell14.livejournal.com/ at 04:56 on 2010-01-06
I hadn't thought about a lot of these points until I had read your reviews, and even then I was unwilling to completely side with your point of view. I did notice I didn't like the characters as much once it hit Half-Blood Prince, but I've also been reading the series since I was 8, and I'm currently 19, so I really, really wanted to continue loving the series. But I must admit, you are pretty much completely correct about Harry Potter, particularly Deathly Hallows.

The only disagreement I have is about the suicide cult. They truly, honest-to-God, believed that the only way to destroy Voldemort and save the Wizarding World was for him to sacrifice himself. They were proud of him for doing the right thing and making an ultimate sacrifice. I can see why you do think the mauraders and Lily encouraging his walk to death was creepy, though.

Dan H at 11:22 on 2010-01-08
I think the issue here is that I tend to engage with texts on a more (for want of a better term) "meta" level. Yes in the text Harry sacrificing himself is the only way to defeat Voldemort, but the reason it's the only way to defeat Voldemort is that Rowling chose to *make* it the only way to defeat Voldemort.

This is partially a personal, political preference, but I have real issues with the fetishisation of martyrdom, particularly when the martyrs are children. "Killing yourself in order to kill your enemies" isn't noble, it's suicide bombing.

There's also the simple fact that there was no actual reason to *kill* Voldemort other than the (again rather dubious) notion that it is desirable to slay one's enemies. His Horcruxes didn't make Voldemort all-powerful, or even indestructible. They didn't stop anybody from putting him in prison or even from simply taking his wand away (which would have rendered him entirely powerless). As I think I point out in the reviews, Harry's sacrifice very specifically *isn't* about saving anybody, it's about killing somebody.
Frank at 16:45 on 2010-01-08
"Killing yourself in order to kill your enemies" isn't noble, it's suicide bombing.

It isn't suicide bombing. It's just suicide, and Harry's attempt at it killed no one.


taking his wand away (which would have rendered him entirely powerless).

As for being wandless, Quirrel and the kids at the orphanage didn't find him lacking power.


Harry's sacrifice very specifically *isn't* about saving anybody, it's about killing somebody.

I agree. More specifically, it's about making someone killable. This would be cool if Rowling did more with it, making him more human, having Harry forgive Voldemort who would then experience different sort of love magic.
But alas, she limp-dicked it, made it an action movie lacking thought, heart or potency.
Shim at 17:09 on 2010-01-08
Sorry Frank, I have to go with Dan on this one. On a pedantic level (my usual level) it's not strictly actual suicide bombing, but I think it's a reasonable comparison.

On the other hand, I seem to remember people casting spells without a wand, so I'm with you there.

On a third, mutant hand, I'm not sure about the forgiveness bit - it's been done and is typically a bit nauseating and unlikely (especially given Harry isn't exactly the pure noble benevolent type who usually gets taht role). But taking away his power and locking him up, or indeed going through some kind of Due Process and executing him (the wizarding world being fairly brutal) - that'd work.
Sister Magpie at 20:01 on 2010-01-08
That makes me think of the mixed fan reaction to the finale of Avatar (the Last Airbender series, not the James Cameron film!).

Spoiler alert:

Ozai, the villain, is stripped of his powers and put in jail--this after the main conflict for the hero is how to succeed without killing, because he comes from a pacifist society (that was wiped out by these bad guys). A lot of people just couldn't accept at all that this was a victory because Ozai would still be a threat as long as he was alive.

Myself, I thought it worked. A guy without powers was neutralized and wouldn't get out of prison--and if somebody wanted to write him doing that in a fanfic that's fine, but it wasn't really a problem. But it just struck me how people didn't see "strip him of his magic powers and put him in prison" was a viable option.
Dan H at 01:46 on 2010-01-10
I suspect that part of this is just narrative neatness. If the villain doesn't die, then there's a lot of awkward questions to ask about what actually *does* happen to them. It's often the same with ex-lovers - better for them to die than for them to be hanging around spoiling the ending. Heck it's the same with mentors.

On the other hand, there's something more than a bit iffy about a mentality that says "no, just stopping them from hurting anybody ever again isn't enough, we need to kill them in public."
Robinson L at 15:00 on 2010-01-15
I'm not sure about the forgiveness bit - it's been done and is typically a bit nauseating and unlikely
Well, that's not to say it can't be pulled off, even in fiction (as my father is pointing out, there's a lot of stuff you can get away with in nonfiction that would be infinitely less credible in fiction). I do agree, however, that Harry was probably not the best candidate for that role.

I suspect that part of this is just narrative neatness. If the villain doesn't die, then there's a lot of awkward questions to ask about what actually *does* happen to them.
You're more forgiving than I am, Dan. I consider it lazy, often as not. Many times, I'll grant you, killing off the villain (as opposed to merely neutralizing them) is integral to the plot - but I've seen loads of other examples where the only reason for killing off the villain seems to be that it's the cultural default. (While killing off the mentor is even more cliche, it, at least, can often serve to advance the plot.)

On the other hand, there's something more than a bit iffy about a mentality that says "no, just stopping them from hurting anybody ever again isn't enough, we need to kill them in public."
I don't know about "in public," but yes, I am painfully aware of said mentality (it's practically a staple here in the US) and it's very, very disturbing.
Robinson L at 00:00 on 2010-01-20
Bugger! I forgot to point out that while an “all as forgiven” ending (as written by Rowling) would undoubtedly have been nauseating and unlikely, I question whether it would've been actively worse than the epic anticlimax she actually delivered.
http://deralte.livejournal.com/ at 07:04 on 2011-06-04
*wandering by very late after the fact* Thank you for these reviews. I was surrounded by Rowling fans after I read the book and never really had the chance to rant properly about the book so reading this was cathartic.

I think you missed out on a point that drove me insane about Rowling from Book 5 onwards. Namely, she started requiring Harry et al to be stupid for her plot to work. That was hard to forgive after she plotted her third book so well.

That and the fact that in each book, Harry acted exactly as a kid/teen at that exact age is supposed to act (in Rowling's mind at least) and never seemed to have a personality beyond that (capslock!Harry is a good example), were the two things that really drove me insane, up until the final book when interminable camping trips and illogical mcguffins were added to the list. I also like your three points above;)
Ashimbabbar at 20:02 on 2016-05-19
Just happened on this on http://listverse.com/2013/01/14/deleted-book-chapters/
"J.K. Rowling considered two possible endings for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. In the end she chose the version we all know: Voldemort dies and Harry saves everyone. The alternative ending was not so happy. Instead it is implied that Voldemort may have lived on as a statue in the grounds of Hogwarts.
Furthermore, Harry, now the headmaster of Hogwarts and an old man, wipes everyone’s memories of Voldemort and it is implied that Harry’s own great-grandson is to be the next great dark wizard. Rowling never intended for this to become public knowledge but her friend (the only one who knew about it) leaked it to the Internet."

Sounds way better to me…
Robinson L at 06:30 on 2016-05-21
Ashimbabar: Sounds way better to me…

Can't say I concur, on the face of it.

I mean, it sounds like it could be better, if it were handled with sensitivity and subtlety. It also sounds like it could as easily be as melodramatic and sloppy as the ending we actually got if mishandled. If, for instance, it was done in the spirit of "Look at me and how Dark and Grim I'm being here," I think it would be about equally aggravating - and given how much Rowling indulged in that kind of thing already with all the Serious and Important Points she was Making about Serious Issues like Death and Intolerance and such, it's no more than I would expect.

In general, I don't think sad or ambiguous endings are any better (or worse) than upbeat endings: it all depends upon how well the author handles them, and there's nothing in the two paragraphs you quoted which sounds to me any more intrinsically meritorious than the ending we actually got in its broad outlines.
Ichneumon at 07:33 on 2016-05-22
As usual, I'm going to be the one who goes, "I don't think it was really that bad, guys," but I'll refrain from the apologist route here and say that such an ending could only have gone well if Rowling had returned to the tone of the early books, which seems unlikely given where her writing has gone in general. The offhand mix of the whimsical and sardonic that marks the first few chapters of The Philosopher's Stone would be perfect, but the moodier, more involved style of the later books could make things excessively grim. And mind you, some of the best bits in the sixth book are in the flashbacks, which are consistently ominous, but it just wouldn't jibe with that sort of conclusion.
Arthur B at 12:04 on 2016-05-22
I am not sure how you spin "Harry's descendant becomes the next dark lord" in a way which is whimsical and sardonic rather than just grim, particularly when - as you point out - it comes at the end of the most densely grim books of the series.

It just kind of sounds... fanficcy, to me. Like it's an ending which in principle matches the facts but is entirely wrong for the tone and narrative arc.
Melanie at 20:50 on 2016-05-22
I am not sure how you spin "Harry's descendant becomes the next dark lord" in a way which is whimsical and sardonic rather than just grim


Yeah, that might've been why she didn't go with that ending.

Honestly, I don't find the-ending-that-could-have-been and similar things that significant. Any first draft or early outline might have all kinds of things the author later thought better of for whatever reason.

It feels more relevant if it's, say, a movie or tv show or video game and it's something like "we wanted to do x but we ran out of budget/couldn't make the effects work/something happened to an actor partway through and we had to work around it".

Though tbh you usually don't actually get the alternate ending to compare it directly (including whatever flaws it might have had if it'd actually been made) so even then it tends to just be relevant for purposes of critiquing the writing. E.g. it's a little unfair to criticize the fact that they killed off a character abruptly and offscreen if the reason was that the actor died--a factor they had no control over whatsoever.
Arthur B at 22:09 on 2016-05-22
Yeah, sometimes you have situations where an entirely alternate ending was filmed or something (First Blood is a classic example of this), but "We/I considered doing this but then thought better of it" by itself isn't very interesting.

I'm sure Rowling must have at least given a brief bit of thought to embracing the "Dumbledore is Ron from the future" theory, but that doesn't mean there was ever any serious prospect of it actually making it into print.
Sister Magpie at 21:02 on 2016-05-24
FWIW, you could totally read the ending of the book now and decide Voldemort lives on and Harry's descendant could be the next dark lord.
Janne Kirjasniemi at 09:20 on 2016-05-26
am not sure how you spin "Harry's descendant becomes the next dark lord" in a way which is whimsical and sardonic rather than just grim


Perhaps "the dark lord" part is a aesthetic and he is actually just a really fun guy. Then the sardonic part could be how a more capable candidate for the position of the Minister of Magic loses, because the Dark Lord is just so much more popular and wins every debate with well timed magical guitar shredding (he has put his wand into the guitar). A kind of a Salieri-Mozart dynamic. The whimsical part could do with grandpa Harry's disapproval of his descendants shenanigans, until he is able to remember a part of his rotten childhood, that actually brings back good memories and has something to do with muggle rock music he heard when he was a child. In a whimsical way.
Ichneumon at 12:54 on 2016-05-26
I am not sure how you spin "Harry's descendant becomes the next dark lord" in a way which is whimsical and sardonic rather than just grim, particularly when - as you point out - it comes at the end of the most densely grim books of the series.

I was thinking more of the other details, with that particular element being more of a sour, unsettling kick at the end. Which, again, wouldn't be entirely out of keeping with some of Rowling's earlier stuff: Consider how the first chapter of the first book begins with rather on-the-nose social satire and ends somewhere entirely different, all the while keeping roughly the same atmosphere. I feel like a sort of warped reprise of that same mode of writing would have been interesting, at the very least, but pulling off that sort of intentional tonal dissonance is quite the balancing act, and the last book makes a lot of... *odd* choices to begin with.
In order to post comments, you need to log in to Ferretbrain or authenticate with OpenID. Don't have an account? See the About Us page for more details.

Back to "Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Afterword"