This is it. The final chapter. Michelle and I have finally finished our Harry Potter read-through with the seventh and final installment of the series, and what a journey it was. With heavy hearts, we discuss Harry Potter one last time this summer:
V: Oh man. This book was very difficult for me. This is the 13th time I've read it, but it still completely broke my heart to read it again. In fact, I cried so hard over the last page that my tears have smeared and bled the ink of my underlines and notes. Finishing this book left me with this deep and undefinable sadness and pain. This is my absolute favorite book of all time, and it's because 7 years and 13 reads later, it still holds so much meaning for me.One of the things that still affects me every time I read it (and it's something we've discussed before, too) is the absolute tear-down of Dumbledore we see in this book, particularly in Harry's eyes. Before Book 7, Dumbledore shines in Harry's eyes. It's not necessarily that he can do no wrong, but he's the one you can always trust, the one who will always be there to save the day and to make things right. Dumbledore always has a plan, and Dumbledore's plans will always work. Of course, the tear-down obviously began happening much earlier than Book 7. In Order of the Phoenix we are forced into the realization that Dumbledore does make mistakes, and his mistakes are very, very costly. But no matter what happened before, Harry still always trusted Dumbledore and held him in incredibly high esteem, so watching that image of perfection and trust shatter right before his eyes is quite heartbreaking. The scene after they read the chapter in The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore where Harry finally screams out all his horror and frustration with Dumbledore and the mess into which he's thrust Harry just hurts me to read. However, one thing that does come out of this is that we finally see the trio - and especially Harry - figuring things out completely on their own. The chapters at Shell Cottage, where Harry finally comes to terms with everything that's happened, starts to put all the pieces together, and learns how to trust again...this section and its follow-through to the end of the book is one of my favorite things to read in the entire series. What are your thoughts on Dumbledore's fall and Harry's development in response to this?
M: We've written time and again about just how impressive the character development is throughout this series. You've mentioned that the trio are still clearly written as kids (especially early in the series) despite being our heroes and heroine. We've talked about the development of Tom Riddle/Voldemort. The last character to be fully fleshed, to become fully human in all that that entails is Dumbledore. Had Rowling not chosen to dismantle Dumbledore's pedestal in the final book I don't believe that Deathly Hallows would have been nearly as emotional. By this time in Harry's development his reliance on Dumbledore has trumped his reliance on himself - having to question all of that really brought emotional heft and increased the stakes for both himself and the reader. It's about becoming an adult, making your own decisions, and realizing that there will not always be someone there to come to your aid - Harry comes into his own power and it's really impressive. This idea moves from Harry's decisive actions at Shell Cottage all the way in to his final decision in the forest (though these choices, made by Harry, were still in many ways manipulated by Dumbledore but they are finally on Harry's terms).On of the big things I wanted to talk about with this book is the idea of trust. Frankly, everyone trusts Dumbledore and Ron and Hermione trust Harry but no one else trusts anyone else and that often leads to problems. In book 5 Dumbledore sees how dangerous keeping the whole truth from Harry can be but after an "I won't keep any more secrets" conversation we get book 6 and it is an entire book of secrets! I feel like a big theme here is both the necessity of trust and the importance of not giving it too freely.
V: I agree completely. Voldemort, Dumbledore, and Harry all employ different opinions about and kinds of trust, and they all meet with mixed results. Voldemort does not trust because everyone else is lesser, and to an extent, this is also Dumbledore's view. If he tells people things, his plan will fall apart. The difference is that 1) Dumbledore is doing things to help those people he won't trust rather than things for his own benefit like Voldemort and 2) Dumbledore expects people to put their faith and trust in him in ways that he is unwilling to do for others. Harry comes in the middle of all this and has to learn that trusting even Dumbledore isn't always wise and has to learn to trust himself and his own instincts. At the same time, he has to also learn that though trusting other people is always a risk and always involves putting yourself out there, it can be worth it, and there are definitely times when you need to trust other people to do the right thing. Reading through the destruction of Harry's faith in Dumbledore is very hard, especially because the books naturally encourage the reader to feel this same faith, only to take it away when the real trouble starts. Harry's pain and desperation and his realizations that they are just teenagers who are barely scraping by in their attempt to save the world...this breaks me, especially when you hold it up next to 11-year-old Harry's belief in possibility and wonder. It took 7 books to break Harry down to rock bottom, and I think once he gets there, he's surprised to find that he's more capable of dealing with these things than he originally thought.
M: Your points about Dumbledore make me think about his own words, "for the greater good." That's such a dangerous idea, which Dumbledore clearly realizes in his later years. One thing that I really love about this series is how cohesive it is. Everything builds to this epic conclusion, and I enjoy thinking about just how complex it all is. Much like life - many decisions have lasting repercussions and we will continue to return to them. This book doesn't break me down emotionally in the way that it does you, for me it's more of an opening. While reflecting on character and depth and complexity of narrative I'm also thinking about myself and how I've grown/aged/changed as a reader and a human. The Harry Potter series stands, for me, as a symbol of everything books can do. And that's pretty amazing.
And with that we end our final review in the Harry Potter series. We can't really let it end there...we'll be posting one final wrap up to celebrate our summer of CHBPotter, or trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and the all the ways the series continues even after you turn the final page. Keep checking back on our Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook for our final thoughts. Also, don't miss our first podcast, Jiggery Pokery or second and final Potter podcast will go up later this week.