Anyway, I'm a little hesitant to comment, because as usual, I'm fully aware that JKR is really not a great writer, that the thing was flawed in too many places to list, and that ultimately it was all rather absurd and contrived. And yet I liked it. For all that, I really did like it, from start to finish. I even found the epilogue amusing.
So what the hell. Let's comment anyway.
My absolute favorite exchange in the whole book is between Harry and Ron, just after Ron does his king-Arthur bit and pulls the sword up out of the lake, and apologizes for being a total prat.
"You've sort of made up for it tonight," said Harry. "Getting the sword. Finishing off the Horcrux. Saving my life."I can't explain why, but to me that sums up pretty much everything I've liked about the theme of the series, and about Harry himself. All that epic stuff isn't so epic up close. It's all well and good to talk about courage and heroism and perseverence, but when you're really the guy stuck in the forest with no food and no idea whether your friends are alive or how to help them, all that talk starts to sound rather trite. Harry got a taste for glory in his early years at Hogwarts, but lately he's been learning what it means to plod on without even knowing the way, when glory has become an empty prize. I liked that.
"That makes me sound a lot cooler than I was," Ron mumbled.
"Stuff like that always sounds cooler than it really was," said Harry. "I've been trying to tell you that for years."
I liked Harry better in this book than in any of the other six. He doubted himself, and when he did believe, it wasn't with the blind faith of adolescence, but resignedly, because he knew he had no other choice. All his former teenage angst seemed to have been replaced with a kind of lingering nostalgic regret, and all his former passion in the fight and the fame had turned to sheer desperate momentum. He was genuinely humble, more like Dumbledore than like his father, I thought. He's still not my favorite at all, but it was nice to actually like him for a change, rather than simply tolerating him.
I liked Ron best in this book too. He was still a bit childish sometimes, but then, his whole family seems to be always that way. He was believable. Hermione, meanwhile, seemed to have been reduced to a kind of sidekick's sidekick, or some sort of walking, weeping deux-ex-machina, with her endless store of knowledge and spells and charms, and her magical purse which was always just far too convenient, and which at one point she apparently somehow stuffed down her sock... which leads me to infer that either her "purse" was the size of a single knut, or else her socks are so capacious as to make the purse rather superfluous. But whatever.
Let's see. Some random things. For some reason, I've really wanted to like Rufus Scrimgeour ever since he first appeared in the last book, so I was very glad that he had the chance to somewhat redeem himself before his sudden, unceremonious death. He was interesting, as grim and dangerous-looking as an Auror, and with an air that reminded me rather of Moody; and yet he talked like a politician, played a politician's role. I think he meant well, in his own way, though his methods were mistaken and he never really understood. At least it sounds like he showed some real courage, some unexpected loyalty to a cause rather than mere ambition, before he died.
And since I've mentioned Moody: egad. I'd expected him to die; in fact, I might have been disappointed if he'd lived, since his whole character seemed to be an embodiment of supreme willingness to face the greatest risks and make the ultimate sacrifices for the Order. It's just that his death seemed so offhanded, so unmourned. I get the feeling that nobody in the novels liked Moody as much as he deserved, or appreciated him as much as they should have. I even feel like JKR underestimated his worth, which is ridiculous of me, I'm sure; but it just seemed like he was always either absent or an imposter or dead, and only rarely had the chance to be anything. I wanted to know more about him. But she just dropped him and stuck his eye under a damn cross.
I did acquire another favorite character in this book, though: Aberforth. I'm skipping ahead a bit, but Aberforth was most interesting. A new pair of eyes through which to see Dumbledore, with all the judgment and disappointment a solitary, overshadowed brother would be expected to feel. Albus was the better man, after all, because he recognized his errors and set out to amend them, change, and move forward, and his past made him humbler and wiser, whereas Aberforth just let his tragedy and blame consume him, and gave up too easily. But he did fight well at the end, and though he seemed bitter about everything, he never really gave up.
As to Remus and Tonks. Their relationship never made any sense to me; I don't see them having anything in common at all. The only thing I can imagine is that Remus was a very lonely man, and there were probably times when he would have latched willingly and rather pathetically onto anyone who would have suffered him to do so; and Tonks was, after all, a kind woman, and may have taken pity on him and wanted to help him, and tried to make it work. To me, it seems they both knew it was a mistake. To begin with, what business did any member of the Order have thinking of relationships and weddings at such a time as this? And what business did Remus, of all people -- not because he was a werewolf, but because he was such a destitute and ravaged man -- have bringing children into the world?
Harry was right: Remus wanted his martyrdom. How could he bear to be the last? To carry on doggedly clinging to his miserable life, in spite of having always felt that James and Sirius were worthier than him, even before they made legends of themselves by their sacrifices -- how could he? I don't call him a coward for that, as Harry did. I think Remus was ready to die, and I think Tonks knew; and I think they were both sorry. They had made a mistake.
I liked Remus' explosion at Harry, though. It was nice to see him show some spirit for once; he was almost like Sirius there, defiant, defensive. Of course, it was the same fears as ever, confessed again: self-hatred because he's a monster, and rage at the rest of the world for holding it against him. But it was different, more fiery this time. I liked it.
Voldemort was as stupid as usual, which is disappointing. His character had improved, I thought; but his ability to develop plans without gaping holes had not improved at all. To begin with, why on earth didn't he set up some charm to inform him whenever the Whomping Willow ceased its whomping? That would have been the obvious way to know when Harry arrived. And then, how convenient that he chose not to use his wand to kill Snape, but rather to use his snake, and then to leave the room while Snape was still alive and capable of oozing memories all over Harry. One may wish to make the excuse that he used the snake because the wand wasn't obeying him; but that's not true at all. He said the wand was working fine. It just wasn't doing anything superpowerful, which was what he'd wanted from it. He still could have killed Snape with it.
(Edit: On second thought, it occurs to me that although the wand was working fine for Voldemort, and he could undoubtedly have killed someone with it, he probably made the smart decision in choosing not to try to kill Snape with it, seeing as he believed the wand had developed a special affinity for Snape. So, all right, one point for Voldemort for being less stupid than usual. But that point gets immediately reneged when Voldemort leaves the room before confirming that Snape is really thoroughly dead.)
Voldemort's death was not very dramatic, but I guess I knew it would go that way. Again, how convenient that in fiction it's never necessary for the "good guys" to commit real crimes; Harry never had to bear the stigma of murder, because naturally Voldemort managed to accidentally vanquish himself. Just like Gollum. Justice is the business of some higher power; mercy is the mantra of the heroes. Killing is never part of the hero's role in fiction these days -- not even killing the utterly, irredeemably evil. If only reality were so accomodating to our morals, no?
And speaking of unsatisfactory deaths, Pettigrew's was not much to my liking, either. I mean, of course it had to happen in approximately that way... but it was just so damned predictable. We've known for four novels how it would be. I was hoping JKR would surprise us somehow, make it interesting or meaningful. But no. Just more of Voldemort's mercilessness backfiring on him, depleting his own support. On page six, he says, "That Potter lives is due more to my errors than to his triumphs." And I said, YES, thank you for finally noticing! But he just went on erring, imbecilic as ever.
The Malfoys were intersting in this one. I've never liked or understood them, and even in the previous book, all Narcissa seemed to be concerned about was protecting "My only son" -- as if she didn't love Draco, the actual boy, but rather the idea of an heir, her only heir. In this book, however, I got the impression that the Malfoys really did prize Draco, as a person, above everything else in their lives, even including their allegiance to Voldemort, though they could not have dared to say so. They're still despicable people, but at least there was some small spark of humanity in them.
Draco was Draco, still too proud to forgive or apologize or even regret, or to be grateful. I liked that. I was expecting some cheesy redemption for him, and I was most pleasantly surprised to find that instead of becoming good, he simply remained as he was, a vain and petty, but not an evil, boy. And whatever anyone may say about the epilogue, it was worth it to me for that glimpse of him, nearing forty, with thinning hair and his black coat buttoned to the throat, aware but too proud to confess that he had been wrong -- probably desiring to ask forgiveness, but bitterly knowing he would not deserve it.
Hagrid! I'm so glad he lived. Twice I was quite certain he was dead, and was delighted to find that I'd been wrong. I don't care what the rest of fandom thinks, I love Hagrid. He was my favorite in the first book, unwieldy and warm and naively trusting, with his pink umbrella and his tragic inability to ever do anything right, no matter how hard he tried. He's a favorite still. I'm very glad he made it through.
Am I running out of characters yet?
The Weasleys. Well, let's get the first thing out of the way: to me, the single most terrible death in the whole series was Fred's. I don't know why, but that just... I wasn't expecting it at all. I mean, I'd considered it, how awful it would be, but after Snape went and blasted off George's ear, I figured they were safe; what was the point of disfiguring one of the twins, making them non-identical, if you were going to kill one of them off later anyway? I thought they were safe. They were so... Fred and George seemed to absolutely embody and define the Gryffindor spirit, all reckless courage and bold humor and insuppressible frankness, all laughing fidelity and brotherhood. But what is George by himself? What are any of the Weasleys, without Fred and George together?
I haven't much to say about the rest of them. Molly was pitiable at the beginning, and most commendable at the end. As far as I remember, she's the only "good guy" we've actually seen use a killing curse. I was surprised that the honor of offing Bellatrix went to her; I'd expected Remus to do the job, since he had the most personal vendetta against the woman. But it was nice to see that Molly deserved her place as a Gryffindor; that she was really part of this war, a soldier and not merely a supportive wife.
I still adore Arthur, though he wasn't around much. And I liked Bill. He seemed to have grown up a lot, even though he's been an adult the whole time. Something about him reminded me of his father. Percy... I still couldn't quite forgive. It just seemed like too little, too late. Him clutching at Fred's body was something. I do pity him. I just don't see how he could ever forgive himself. And I don't think he ever belonged in Gryffindor.
Ginny has never interested me, and she continued not to interest me. I don't hate her, and I think she and Harry make a reasonable couple; she's a lot like Molly, and that's probably what Harry needs. I'm rather indifferent to her, and to their relationship, but I don't mind it.
This post is getting preposterously long. I wanted to say a lot more, about loving Sirius' Muggle bikini posters, about McGonogall, about Neville, about poor cracked Xeno Lovegood, about Kingsley who seems to be perpetually offscreen, about Kreacher, whom I was very surprised to come to like. I was very pleased with Dumbledore's backstory, though I couldn't understand why it was supposed to be so shocking and horrible to everyone else. I loved that Dudley had changed, realized he was wrong. I'd been waiting six books for that to happen.
I was, I'll confess, rather indifferent to Dobby. I could understand why Harry was so affected by his death, but I'd never found the character at all interesting myself. Still, Harry's revelations during the digging of Dobby's grave were some of his best in the series: he seemed to grow up a great deal that night, to gain some perspective, some real humility, at last.
I think Griphook got royally cheated. I liked him, and I think the sword ought to be returned to him. All that talk of fairness and how cruelly the wizards have dealt with the goblins, and how Harry wanted to change that... and then the whole goblin plot just got dropped, and everyone went on as though it was Griphook who was in the wrong. Agh.
Am I missing anyone else, or can we talk about Snape now?
I don't know whether Snape is my favorite character from the series, but he's certainly the one who has always intrigued me the most. I've always been thoroughly convinced that he would turn out to be on Dumbledore's side somehow, and I've also always suspected it would be for reasons that were not entirely redeeming. I was right about that. Even his love was selfish, built on illusions, impervious to truth. The fellow was actually quite mad, and rather pathetic.
He was not a hero in disguise, but simply a miserable and friendless man, clinging to a faith in the only thing he had never come to hate. He sought redemption for all the wrong reasons, and he was never truly good, never truly cared about anyone -- not even Lily, as she really was, though he cared a great deal about the image of her he had wishfully invented. He was never likable. It simply was not in his nature. He made grave mistakes, and he paid for them, perhaps no more than he owed. Was he brave, as Dumbledore said? Had he been sorted into the wrong House? I think not. I think his courage was little more than the resignation of a man who has no further reason to live, and is simply waiting for a worthy reason to die. He found one.
It surprised me that Harry forgave him so readily -- that rather than being creeped out by Snape's inscrutable "love" for Lily, Harry seemed to find it pitiable; and that rather than being boggled by Snape's grudging devotion to preserving Harry in Lily's name, he seemed to be suddenly grateful, suddenly forgiving and sorry that he had never realized. I suppose it shows how much Harry had grown up, and how much the better man Harry was. I don't think Snape ever did grow up, or ever could have forgiven.
It's a bit unbelievable and yet a bit endearing to me that Harry named his second son Albus Severus. Mostly, I consider it unfortunate that Snape would one day be not merely forgiven, but honored; that his own name would come to crop up in Lily's line -- and he would never know.
I suppose I've said enough.
There were many absurd things, as I mentioned. Especially grammatically. On page 144, "music swelled from what seemed to be the golden balloons." Oh yes? They seemed to be the golden balloons, did they? And what were they really, then?
On page fifty-one, "Altogether, then..." Um. I believe you mean "all together," as in "everyone at the same time" rather than "entirely; utterly." No?
"Pius Thicknesse" is possibly the worst fictional name ever. And JKR should perhaps find an editor who knows at least the rudiments of German before she goes trying to mistranslate it herself. "Er wohnt hier nicht mehr" looks all right to me (not that I actually speak German, mind), but then we get, "He no live here!" And seeing as German does not use "no" and "not" interchangeably, I find this an unlikely line for a German to utter. "He lives here not more" or "He lives not here" or even "He live here not" might have worked. Save that "no" for the romance languages, thanks.
But the plot wasn't bad, and I liked the convoluted business about wand ownership, and Snape's and Draco's roles therein. I liked the story about the three brothers; it had the ring of a real folktale, symmetrical and improbable. I liked Snape and Dumbledore's histories, and I liked seeing the kids in the future, too, just for an instant, though I seem to be in the minority there. All in all, I think it was an appropriate close for the series. Not amazing, not profound, not envelope-pushing or mind-opening -- but not preachy or constricting, either. It was all I could have asked it to be, given the canon already in place. And I liked it.
Right. Shutting up now.