Readers beware! Significant details, including the end, of the recently released Harry Potter book are discussed below. –The Editors
When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the eagerly anticipated conclusion of J.K. Rowling’s seven-part saga, was finally released on July 21, the critics weren’t disappointed. The New York Times‘s Michiko Kakutani praised the “epic showdown” as “deeply rooted in traditional literature and Hollywood sagas–from the Greek myths to Dickens and Tolkien to ‘Star Wars.'” But great battles in fiction, especially of the caliber name-checked by Kakutani, are epic not merely in scale but also in moral content. Whether aimed at adults or children, they speak directly to the nature of good and evil and what is at stake when we choose between them. Most critics this past week didn’t seem to notice that Rowling fails entirely to meet this key requirement. What we get instead is a moral fuzziness that parades as realism, innumerable references to a post-9/11 world coupled with throwaway and often derivative insights that never add up to a coherent moral vision.
In Deathly Hallows, we get a good look at the ultimate embodiment of evil, Lord Voldemort, who turns out to be essentially a Hitler wannabe with a penchant for racial purity, mass graves and general totalitarian mayhem. Painted in broad strokes, his brand of evil–revealed early in his habit of torturing, what else, rabbits–doesn’t add up to much more than a rehashed, cartoonish version of tyranny that the reader can safely be relied on to despise. For all his cutting-edge terrorist strategy in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Voldemort finally reveals himself to be a cardboard imitation of an old-fashioned kind of baddie, like Tolkien’s Sauron.
Rowling’s ham-handed characterization of Voldemort is in stark contrast to her depiction of a far more insidious and contemporary kind of evil, one captured so brilliantly in the bright-eyed malice of Dolores Umbridge, the Grand Inquisitor in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. In the Ministry of Magic–originally led by Cornelius Fudge, who is later replaced by Rufus Scrimgeour in Half-Blood Prince–Rowling points her finger at elected officials hellbent on preserving their power at the expense of their citizens, wresting basic rights, eroding freedoms and manipulating information, all in the name of maintaining order. But in her final book, Rowling simply sweeps aside the multitude of the Ministry’s sins in the wake of Voldemort’s bloody coup. His far more spectacular crimes offer a good excuse to turn Scrimgeour into an unlikely hero of sorts. He’s just one of the good guys, though a little unsavory in his methods, Rowling assures us.