Well, laughter is dead.
It had a good run. Let’s assume laughter was invented shortly after the advent of homo sapien. That’s what, about 200,000 years? Not bad at all. I had a goldfish once, and it only lasted about a week. So 200,000 years, more or less, is a nice long life. But now we can pack up and move on to other emotional responses. Like crying, of course. Maybe yelling. Sneezing. Is sneezing an emotional response? I don’t even know what I’m saying. Too distraught.
ohbytheway, J.K. Rowling killed Fred Weasley.
On some level, I knew that exactly this was going to happen. For one, I promised in my last Phoenix post to do a Weasley twin tribute at some point, and multiple people mentioned I should do it before Hallows. That seemed like a sign, but I convinced myself they just thought I should finish my HP writing with Hallows. That probably didn’t even make sense, but it was more pleasant than considering other reasons.
Then there was the fact that Rowling has telegraphed many of her deaths pretty clearly. I mentioned when discussing Dumbledore’s death how there was plenty of foreshadowing. The deaths in Hallows seem to largely be set up to try to maximize the tragedy angle. For instance, if you and your wife just had a baby boy, that’s not good for you. But more on Lupin and Tonks later.
The Weasley family just had to have at least one casualty; there’s too many of them for the group to escape with just one lost ear. It felt inevitable. So when Percy returned, it felt even more obvious that one of two things would happen: 1) Percy would complete his redemption by sacrificing himself to save one of his newly un-estranged family members (WHY COULDN’T IT BE THAT?!); or, more likely, 2) Whoever Percy is with during the fight will die, and Percy will try to avenge him.
What’s more, it seemed likely that the person in Option #2 had to be one of the twins. The twins were easily the hardest on Percy during his shunning of the family, so it would make sense that he would lose one of them shortly after getting forgiveness. What’s more, it was even fairly clear which twin. George had already lost an ear in an earlier battle, so this had the makings of a classic Pearl Harbor situation: one of them almost dies early, then the other actually does die late. George was fated to be Ben Affleck, Fred to be Josh Hartnett, and just like in real life, you’d much rather be Affleck. Does that mean Rowling is Michael Bay? You’re right, that’s going too far. I apologize. I’m still learning to deal with life after laughter.
Anyway, as with Dumbledore, you can be forgiven for misreading or just ignoring the signs when it came to Fred’s death. A lot of carnage was inevitable, but hey, maybe Rowling would just rid us of Percy instead. Or maybe it was just me, and maybe I was just in denial. I like laughter. I didn’t want it to die. Apparently Rowling disagreed. To each her own.
Also, this is something I wrote before starting Hallows:
Fred and George Weasley: As you may have seen in my last post, I love these guys. I know one of the Weasley Twins loses an ear early on, but I have no memory of what happens later. Let me just say: they better both survive. Because I’m going to be in London in a little over a week, and if even one of them dies, I will burn that mother down in retribution. I don’t want to have to do that. BUT I WILL.
I’ll be there in 48 hours, London. You’ve been warned.
This post covers the first 690 pages, or 33 chapters, of Deathly Hallows.
When I decided to use classical music tracks for the soundtracks to Hallows, I did so in part because I thought I would enjoy looking through somewhat lesser-known pieces for good accompaniments. Plus, Prince doesn’t allow his music to stay up on YouTube for very long, so he was drying up that well. Oh Prince, you beautiful purple pixie. Anyway, the link above is to “O Fortuna,” hardly a lesser-known work; it’s been used in movies, shows, ads, plus influenced or derived into similar pieces. But it’s also freaking epic, and I feel like I need the big guns to capture Hallows down the stretch. Only that explosion of awesome at the 2:45 mark can match the excitement that begins from Harry’s return to Hogwarts.
- And you’ll remember how our main trio is greeted back to school: with the unveiling that NEVILLE IS THE GREATEST. To some extent, we already knew this. But not like this; never like this. Neville has grown more confident and able throughout the series, but you never saw him be a leader. But with Harry gone and Hogwarts under tyrannical rule, Neville suddenly becomes Che Guevara. You can beat a man, but you can’t beat his spirit. Or something like that. Anyway, bloody and bruised but not broken, Neville is truly the man now. And he still hasn’t even had his big shining moment. But already, he’s still the one who’s kept resistance alive in Hogwarts, marshaling the forces that Harry needs to complete his mission. McGonagall takes over as the opposition leader as the Battle of Hogwarts goes viral, but Neville has still been a field general among students. I think this was his destiny all along.
- And McGonagall! When she got taken out without a fight in Phoenix, I hoped for her to have a chance to unleash in this book. And holy crap did she do exactly that. We only get glimpses of her during the main battle, though she has some of the best build-up to that fight: students, Hogwarts teachers, Order of the Phoenix, and Dumbledore’s Army all unite under her leadership. But her biggest moment is probably just before that, when she gets to duel Snape. We know Snape had cause to not win that fight, but I don’t think it would have mattered; McGonagall is a force.
- So by the transitive order in which I seem to be going, that takes us to Snape. The big moment for his redemption finally comes, and we find out that Dumbledore was right all along (of course he was) and Snape could be trusted, even when he was being trusted with playing an awful part. It was a wonderful sequence, at times quite poignant. But I wish Harry doesn’t name his kid, in part, after Snape. Because I know he’s going to do that, I couldn’t just enjoy Snape’s backstory; I kept thinking about how each part of it related to his redemption, and how fully he really was redeemed. I mean, after reading the chapter, it sure seems like Snape’s dislike of Harry was pretty genuine, though understandably colored by his experiences with James. I want to remember Snape as a tragically flawed hero who did things both great and awful; I feel like that’s his true legacy,, and how he’s most interesting as a character. But there’s an implication, at least to me, that we’re just supposed to remember him as a surprise hero, like Harry seems to. I wrote before about wondering how their relationship would have been if Snape lived, and I still wonder that. What we saw in the pensieve was fascinating, but not enough to convince me that the relationship would have worked as well as the martyred memory.
- Ron and Hermione finally kissed, acting on the feelings we know they’ve had for years now. Rowling might have struggled with pretty much all the other romances in the series, but she rocked this central one so well that it almost doesn’t matter. I’ve rarely ever rooted for a fictional couple as much as I’ve rooted for them. Seeing them together at last was glorious.
- The Gringotts break-in was fun and exciting, and I’m glad we got one more dragon for the road. But seeing it made me wish even more that Rowling had found a way to involve a dragon in the final battle. The giants and centaurs get involved, even the giant spiders and the ghosts. But there’s a Weasley brother who’s a freaking dragon trainer, and he doesn’t bring one to the most important battle in wizarding history? Boooo. Sure, dragons seem so uncontrollable that it might have hurt some good guys too, but this seemed like a moment for any hail mary. Plus it would have given Charlie something to do; he kind of became the Lost Weasley in the series.
- Aberforth is pretty awesome, as were the final pieces he revealed of Dumbledore’s backstory. I love that Aberforth was the bartender at the Hog’s Head all along. It continues a theme of the the book: namely, that important things were right under our nose all along.
- After getting through the series and seeing Rowling’s full treatment of all the Houses of Hogwarts … I still stand by what I said about Slytherin way back in Book 2. I know, we’re supposed to think all the houses have their good and bad, but Rowling really never did develop the supposed good of Slytherin well enough to justify its existence. When McGonagall says any students who are of age may stay and fight, we’re told that some Ravenclaws stay, more Hufflepuffs, and about half the Gryffindors; but the Slytherin table is “completely deserted.” The only redemption Slytherin gets is that the Malfoys are too gutless and/or self-interested to be pure evil, that Slughorn seemed so likable (though he still screwed up and gave Voldemort the information he needed to become nearly immortal), and that Snape was ultimately on the good side (but was still a genuine Death Eater until Lily was threatened). I think Rowling did a pretty crappy job of making that house redeemable or relatable.
- Finally, since laughter is indeed dead, let’s end this installment with more death talk. Lupin and Tonks both go down. Tonks never quite hit a cord with me, but Lupin was a near-favorite. He was one of the better parts of Azkaban, which in turn was one of the better books in the series. I can forgive Rowling for marrying the duo and giving them a kid for the seemingly sole reason of making their deaths all the sadder, even though it was a fairly cheap way to increase the tragedy. It would have helped if she’d given us more reason to believe in their romance, but it seemed too cobbled together, like she was mostly interested in building them up just so she could tear them down more emotionally; like I said, Ron and Hermione were really the only relationship she knocked out of the park.
What was actually harder to bear was that she killed them off-screen. To some degree, I get that too. Harry was already emotionally exhausted, and seeing even more people he was close to, but hadn’t yet realized were dead, was a good way to push him to the brink. But it still seems like a shame that we didn’t get to see them go down fighting, especially Lupin.
Really, I echo Nick’s comment from a prior post: it would be awesome to see this whole book from other characters’ points of view. Neville would absolutely be first on that list, as I think I would enjoy his chapters as underground resistance leader the most. But the Battle of Hogwarts is so undeniably epic, and our titular protagonist is a part of so little of it, we really need several POVs to get the full effect. There must have been so many epic duels going on all over the place.
Next time: the conclusion.