MINOR SPOILERS: I won’t be revealing major plot developments, but if you haven’t read it yet, you might want to skip this.
Overall I quite enjoyed the book. One section of it dragged, though, and I thought I’d consider why.
Throughout the seven books of this series, most of the focus has been on the magical world of the wizards, witches, and various fantastic creatures, with Hogwarts Academy and its surroundings being the setting for most of the action. Our main view of the mundane world has been in the opening section of each book at the home of Harry’s aunt and uncle, and it is made to seem very mundane indeed, a place Harry and the reader are always glad to be out of. In this final volume, Harry, Ron and Hermione spend some time on the run in the mundane world, for the most part making little use of their magic, and this is the part that dragged for me. It seemed that the author had very little good to say about the real world locations her protagonists were visiting, as if, without the gloss of magic, that world held little charm. Maybe it’s a given in a book where magic is the draw, but I thought that was rather unfortunate.
Once the story returns at last to Hogwarts, with new magical events and settings at every fast-paced turn, the charm is back. Why is that? Well, certainly the magic itself is fun, though perhaps a bit too easy sometimes, but more than that it’s the school setting that I think appeals to Rowling. Reading her bio on Wikipedia, she mentions that Hermione is modeled after herself at age 11, so I think she must have been a good student who thrived best in school, and that’s why she writes about Hogwarts with such affection.
In a recent TIME article online, Neil Gaiman says of the books, “My biggest problem with Harry Potter is that I went to an English public school and hated it.” (By “public school,” the English mean what Americans mean by private school.) “I would have rather lived under the stairs.” This is a sentiment also found in the beginning of C.S. Lewis’s third Narnia book, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” I suspect Neil’s early love of Lewis might have something to do with the fact that he found a kindred spirit there. Rowling is very much in the opposite camp, and it shows most in this final volume.
A smaller, but to me significant, second example of Rowling’s lack of interest in the real world involves the fate of Harry’s owl, Hedwig. Unlike most of the other final fates in this book, hers is barely acknowledged at the time it happens, or afterward, as if owls, or other real animals, serve no purpose other than to assist the people in the story, if they have a purpose at all. Taking C.S. Lewis again as a contrast, his animals, though anthropomorphised, retain enough of their animalness and dignity that, as a reader, I can see how Lewis cared about them.
These are minor points in an otherwise good read. I wouldn’t put the Harry Potter books in the top rank of my favorite novels written for children, but they’re certainly entertaining and have a lot of good things in them. I imagine if they started coming out when I was a child myself, I might have put them up near the top. But even then, I don’t think they would have surpassed Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”, T.H. White’s “The Sword in the Stone,” or L. M. Boston’s “The Chldren of Green Knowe,” to name just three excellent fantasy novels by British authors. To me, the best thing about the Harry Potter books is that, while waiting for the next one, and now even moreso, it will lead kids to other fine books with perhaps even greater rewards.