The cloak of inevitability hangs on the final installment of the Harry Potter series. One must die, one will live. Friends will be distinguished from foes. All will be revealed. To Rowling’s great credit, she manages this finale with the flair and respect for her audience that have permeated the previous six novels, though the mood here is quite different. The story has a certain flatness that extends through much of the book. Rowling can no longer rely on diversions like Quidditch matches and trips to Hogsmead for relief; Harry has made the decision not to return to Hogwarts. Aided by Hermione and Ron, he will instead search for the remaining Horcruxes that hide pieces of Voldemorte’s soul. Danger and death are in the air, but Rowling skillfully deals both out in tightly controlled bursts that are juxtaposed against periods of indecision, false leads, and even boredom as the trio try to divine their next moves. Most startling are the new elements, including the not-altogether-successful introduction of the Deathly Hallows. These magical artifacts do shape Harry’s character, but they unnecessarily up the total of things that he is looking for by three. Also, the ownership of one of the Hallows, a wand, may lead to confusion for readers at a climactic moment. More successful additions, adding depth and weight, are the multilayered revelation of Dumbledore’s family history and the brilliantly handled answer to the question of Severus Snape’s allegiance. Throughout, Rowling returns to and embellishes the hallmark themes of the series: the importance of parental influences, the redemptive power of sacrifice, and the strength found in love. These truths are the underpinnings of a finale that is worthy of fans’ hopes and expectations.
Not everyone gets to live through a cultural phenomenon, but if you do, it is something you never forget, the sort of experience that bonds a generation. For baby boomers, lightning-in-a-bottle came in the form of the Beatles, who changed music and just about everything else.
Another British phenomenon began in 1997, when the first Harry Potter book was published in the UK under the title Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The buzz began immediately, and Scholastic’s bid for the American rights set a record high for a children’s book. Under the title Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the novelwas launched in the U.S. with plenty of fanfare, but it was the captivating story of the young wizard that made the book a hit. Early on, I overheard two boys talking in a bookstore. One pointed to the stack of Harry Potter #1 and told the other, “Read this. It’s the best book ever.” National advertising campaigns? Expensive. Hand-selling, one child to another? Priceless.
The success of Harry Potter was perhaps most surprising to author J. K. Rowling, who was told by her British publisher not to expect much money from a children’s book. Whatever dreams Rowling might have had for Harry, she could never have envisioned that her boy wizard would inspire love and loyalty far beyond what readers have felt in years past for such fan favorites as the Sweet Valley Twins or even the Wilder girls. The Harry Potter books have saturated the culture, inspiring costumed events, wizard bands, and numerous fan sites that speculate on What Happens Next.
And that’s the trouble with Harry. After Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, nothing happens next. All will have been revealed. How can the air not hiss out of this largest of literary balloons?
The most pressing question to be answered, of course, is who will live: Harry or Voldemort? We know it can only be one or the other—“Neither can live while the other survives,” Professor Trelawney has told us—and for those of us who have been following Harry for the last decade, this overarching issue keeps excitement at a fever pitch. But in a few short weeks, the fever will break.
As fine a fantasist as Rowling is, she is an equally good mystery writer. Her cleverly dropped clues, scattered throughout the books, have been analyzed by both children and adults. Her public statements about future events, many oblique but some surprisingly direct, have been pored over the way seers examine goat entrails. Deathly Hallows will provide all the answers, and some readers, desperate to know what happens, have vowed to read the last page first. As one child said in a recent Chicago Sun-Times article, “I just can’t wait!” Spoiler alerts notwithstanding, the public will find out almost immediately how the series ends.
Rowling commented recently that spoilers about the Deathly Hallows ending have already begun to appear, and though she notes, “That won’t stop children and adults alike from reading the book,” she also concludes that spoilers do diminish the pleasure readers will take from the experience.<
Dragonsdale. Drake, Salamanda (author). Illustrated by Gilly Marklew. May 2007. 288p. Scholastic/Chicken House, hardcover, $16.99 (0-439-87173-5). Grades 3-6. REVIEW. First published June 1, 2007 (Booklist).
Illustrated chapter books that don’t belong to cookie-cutter paperback series are increasingly rare; the same goes for light, straightforward fantasies for early middle-grade readers. This title, the first in a hardcover series by an author who claims to be a 16-year-old resident of its made-up world, fills both needs with unusual flair. Set in a land where dragons and their (mostly female) riders train to compete in equestrian-style tournaments, this will delight precisely the audience it’s meant to—young girls who find tame dragons captivating. The story centers on Caroline, who lives and works among dragons but is forbidden to ride. Smoothly folded-in elements include the intense bond she forms with a particularly obstinate, spirited dragon, and the mean-girl machinations of a snotty rival. A literary achievement? Of course not. But the intense emotions of flight and competition are well realized, and details of hoof and stable have been cleverly adapted to the fantasy context, from mucking out fireproof stalls to flying an airborne obstacle course. It’s also worth noting that these dragons don’t speak to their riders, who must rely on subtler cues, which sidesteps the overly convenient interspecies communication found in so many fantasies. Finished off with a die-cut cover and Marklew’s appealing pencil drawings, this one will soar right off the shelves and send readers wheeling around for more.