'Potter' finale blurs good, evil

Author knows life has no easy answers

Special to the Journal Sentinel
First Published, July 22, 2007

In the earlier Harry Potter books, the distinctions between good and evil were obvious, choices were generally clear-cut, and a drop of mercy was evident in the final consequences.

In "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," author J.K. Rowling blurs this vision and readers are faced with ambiguity and doubt, with heroes more flawed than we were led to believe and villains more good than we knew. "Deathly Hallows" conjures up some surprises and dispels some myths. The result is a gripping end to this acclaimed series.

Celtic myths have run through the entire series, but this time Rowling explicitly embraces the Arthurian legend. Harry may be Arthur, Bellatrix Lestrange may be Morgan le Fay and Dumbledore, Merlin, and instead of a quest for the Holy Grail, Harry, Hermione and Ron are on a search for the deathly hallows, objects that when wielded by a powerful wizard give that wizard the ability to defeat death. The quest for the destruction of the Horcruxes becomes subsumed in this new quest, and though the two are clumsily connected at times, it doesn't matter. We'll follow Harry anywhere.

In intriguing ways, this final book is Dumbledore's story as much as Harry's. We learn that Dumbledore is not the wizard we thought he was, and, much to Harry's consternation, Dumbledore actually has more in common with Voldemort.

Dumbledore is not the only character to confront his secret self. In a pivotal scene, Ron, the most loyal of all Harry's knights, once again saves Harry and in doing so retrieves the sword of Gryffindor from the lake. With this action, Ron must then confront the psychological baggage he's carrying, and when he finally succeeds in using the sword, he kills his own self-doubts.

Hermione has been just as worthy a knight. She's the one to unscramble clues, to decode symbols and to cast the best spells, and in this book she performs no less heroically. However, when they are wandering in the wilderness lost and alone, Hermione fails to come up with answers when Harry needs them most.

This is a dark book. After only a few chapters, a major character is dead, a Weasley has lost a body part, Harry has lost a companion, and we've witnessed a particularly gruesome death at the hands of Voldemort. And Rowling doesn't let up. When Harry finally realizes the nature of the quest he's pursuing, a lot of damage has been done that can't be undone.

Whether it's the result of the heightened drama in our world or Rowling's literary skill, "Deathly Hallows," more than any of the other books, resonates allegorically. No imaginative stretch is needed to see Azkaban as Guantanamo Bay, to read the Snatchers and their inquisition against Muggles and Mudbloods as the pogroms that terrorize parts of our world.

Readers who have paid attention to Rowling's foreshadowing about the true nature of Harry and Voldemort's relationship will not be disappointed in their literary scavenging. When Harry and Voldemort finally confront each other, Harry marches toward his doom surrounded by all those he's loved and lost. Then Rowling does something magical and we see things differently. Perhaps the way they've meant to be seen all along.