Published: Bloomsbury, 2007
This blog entry is not so much a review as a reaction as I read the early chapters (the first ten or so) of the most eagerly anticipated novel of all time. So there are not going to be spoilers for anything later than these chapters. I may return to this post later and add a comment about the later sections of the novel.
Over eleven million copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were ordered in advance of its release. The only literary events I can think of that rivalled the publication of The Deathly Hallows are the appearances of the serial parts of Dickens' novels in the nineteenth century. While there are obvious differences (Dickens released his novels in a large number of individual parts, rather than Rowling's complete novels making up a series; and Dickens' plots were a lot more predictable in broad outline, so there wasn't speculation about, for example, whether the hero might die). Does the fanaticism mean that Rowling's work last as long as Dickens'? Plenty of old bestsellers have gone completely from the public consciousness - Marie Corelli, for example, was one of the biggest sellers of the early part of the twentieth century, but it would be unusual to see her books even in second hand shops. Will Rowling turn out to be the Corelli or the Dickens of our time?.
All three have social themes in their books which make them more than just escapism, though Rowling's concerns in the Harry Potter books - racism and the rise of Neo-Nazism, and the excesses of the press and its manipulation by government - are more like the social campaigning of Dickens than Corelli's theme of the relationship between spiritualism and Christianity. The first is more explicit from the beginning of The Deathly Hallows, as Voldemort and the Death Eaters are described in ways which show them to be closer to Hitler and his followers than was seen in the earlier novels. Rowling's other major social concern is more modern and is unlikely to have occurred to Corelli at all. Dickens, on the other hand, was extremely upset by attacks on him in American newspapers after he published articles critical of some aspects of life in the United States, just as Rowling has indicated that she feels that press interest in her personal life was unwarranted. So this too is a similarity to Dickens.
Speculation has been rife about how the series will end, and an intensive security operation was (more or less) successful in keeping details from getting out before the release date. Even following this, spoilers have generally (as far as I have seen) been well signposted; it's quite remarkable on today's Internet how polite people who have posted something about the novel have been to those who are yet to read it. The main information that was widely disseminated, revealing that at least two major characters would be killed, came from Rowling herself, and this left a lot open (the ending could have the rest of the cast living happily ever after, or a bloodbath on the scale of a Jacobean revenge tragedy - or anything in between).
More important to me than the issue of what might happen in the novel is whether it would be a satisfactory ending to the series as a whole. I found Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince the least involving novel in the series so far, and I was almost expecting to be disappointed by The Deathly Hallows.
And then I read the first chapter, which describes Voldemort plotting with the Death Eaters. This seemed to confirm my worst fears - dull, predictable, lacking in any kind of atmosphere. One thing it does make clear (even if Rowling's revelations about character deaths hadn't) is that The Deathly Harrows is going to continue with the darkening of the series that's been apparent since the arrival of the Dementors in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
But then, in the second chapter, Rowling seemed to return to her best form. Harry's relationship with the Dursley family is an integral part of the whole series, and has gradually been revealed as more subtle than the bullying and abuse which characterised it at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. The chapter also indicates that no matter how dark things become, the humour of the series will still be part of the final volume.