Monday, July 4, 2011

Drawing the Final Curtain on an Epic Story

Chapter Thirty-Six, The Flaw in the Plan

This is the first in a series of posts to analyze the final chapter, "The Flaw in the Plan," of Deathly Hallows.

(Spoiler Alert -- I truly feel this is not necessary as the books have been out for four years. However, if you're a fan of the movies who has not read the books, you have been warned!)

For any author, to end a story on just the right note is extremely important to the success of that book. However, to end a story that has spanned the course of seven long tomes is incredibly more complex and difficult to achieve. To draw the final curtain on Harry Potter, JK Rowling had to walk a very tight rope of wrapping up all loose ends of themes, metaphors, and character arcs, without dragging down the pacing of the plot.

To some extent, JKR was a victim of her own magnificent craft. She had created a vibrant world in such loving detail, with characters who lived and breathed so vividly in her readers' minds, that anything she did to draw it to a close was going to be somewhat lacking in her fans' hearts because they simply did not want the magic to end. Her rabidly loyal readers had been bewitched too long and too deeply by her story, their imagination engaged in the characters' lives beyond the story on the pages. They'd imagined (and written through their own fanfiction) the ending themselves in hundreds of ways. Thus, no one ending was going to satisfy every soul.

But it had to be done, and JKR did it true to herself, and true to the story she'd been telling all along.

Jo once said that she'd written the final chapter of the last book many years before and kept it locked up in a secret vault. I've often wondered if she meant the final chapter of the story with the defeat of Voldemort in the Great Hall, or the epilogue which tells of the characters' lives in the following years. Either way, while I know she has stated she remained true to the story she intended to tell, I'm sure some details changed along the way. We already know that Mr. Weasley got a reprieve and Lupin got the ax. But what else occurred, and how much of this will she reveal, eventually, in Pottermore?

However, for me, the crux of how successful JKR's final chapter was rested in the action off her hero, Harry Potter. As had been asked out loud since Dumbledore's revelation at the conclusion of Order of the Phoenix, but had been anticipated since the very first book -- would Harry have to kill to fulfill his hero's journey? How in the world would a woman who had treated death with such brutal honestly, and the killing of one's fellow human as a permanent blight on one's own soul, have her hero act heroically by taking another's life, even if that life happened to belong to a callous slayer of innocents?

The magical finagling which JKR went through to make this possible is simply mind-blowing, what with the complex quest for the Horcruxes and the incredibly detailed wand lore explaining how a wand pledges its allegiance. But in simple layman's terms, the final shootout came down to choice. Voldemort chose words to kill. Harry chose words to defend. Because Harry's "wand" was more powerful than Voldemort's, Harry won out, with Voldemort's killing curse backfiring on himself and doing him in. Harry's "wand," of course, represents the character of Harry himself, won by trial, temptation, and making the better choices. Even when given a chance by Harry during their final battle to repent and do the right thing, Voldemort could not choose the right. His soul was too wounded, his inner child too unloved. He could only recognize the power he hoped to gain, not the more potent love he had lost along the way.

From the very first placement of the Sorting Hat onto Harry's head, to Harry's choice to allow his father's betrayer to live, to his choice not to seek out the wand that he believed could save his life, to his final choice to walk into the Dark Forest to meet his death and lay down his life for those he loved, Harry had embodied JK Rowling's theme through her mouthpiece of Dumbledore: "It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." It is Voldemort's choice which kills him, and Harry's choice which insures his own survival.

Beautifully done, masterfully crafted.

But there is much more. In this final chapter, JKR managed to bring full circle her great work throughout the series. In the next few days, we'll break apart this final chapter in more detail and study how she crafted it via:

  1. concluding character arcs
  2. wrapping up plot point
  3. an epic battle of worldbuilding proportions
  4. fulfilling subtextual metaphors
  5. hitting home the main themes
  6. a word about the epilogue
Before reading Deathly Hallows, how did you imagine Harry would defeat Voldemort? How would you have done it differently?

I hope all those in the US are enjoying a fabulous 4th of July! And when you see the fireworks tonight, imagine Fred and George Weasley's Wildfire Whiz-bangs!


  1. You never cease to amaze me. I can't wait to see what you have to say about the last chapter. I'm sure I haven't seen half of what you have in there. Personally, I was very happy with the resolution. Though of course, I ache for another book. Maybe someday she'll write another novel...

  2. Nice analysis. You could be a professor of literature, or creative writing!

  3. The year before the 7th book came out, my friend and I each wrote on slips of paper how we thought it would end, sealed it in envelopes, and gave it to the other to open after we read the book. We both guessed that Harry would be the 7th horcrux unknown to Voldy, but he guessed Harry would have to die but I didn't think so! That was a fun way to ring in the final book. :)

    I love the emphasis Rowling placed on making choices and taking responsibility for those choices. It's something everyone needs to remember!

  4. Ha, ha Sharon! (Sharon is my sister). :-)

    Lisa -- You're not alone in that ache. I think most of fandom does. And thanks so much!

    Laura -- That is so cool! And so cool that you both guessed about the Horcrux.

    I had considered Harry as the Horcrux theory, but had allowed someone online who argued against it to dissuade me. However, I KNEW Harry would go through a death/rebirth experience because it's just so much a part of the Hero's journey, which she'd taken deeper and deeper with each story.

    The one theory I nurtured that went nowhere was that Ginny would be an animagus, training herself like the Marauders did so that she could help Harry w/out his knowing. I still think that's cool and JKR should have used it! :-)

  5. That quote of Dumbledore's about choices showing who we are more than our abilities (as well as Dumbledore's quotes on love and sacrifice) have long been my favorite. And that Harry chose such a lesser spell, "Expelliarmus," his old stand-by, was truly a beautiful thing. That Harry stayed true to himself was crux for me, that he CHOSE this was perfect.

  6. I totally agree, Barbara. The themes that JKR worked with her powerful and true, and I think one of the main reasons why her stories struck such a deep chord among her readers

  7. Okay, feel free to yell, but I didn't start reading or watching Harry until about two years. All the books were out, but I wanted to wait to read the last one. I really didn't think too much how it would end in detail, because I knew the battle was eminent, the fight between Harry and Voldemort HAD to end it. I loved it! I only wish Harry didn't marry Ginny... I don't know why!

  8. Norwegian PotterfanJuly 12, 2011 at 3:50 PM

    Firstly, I must bow in admiration for the owner of this blog! I just discovered it while looking for articles on J. K. Rowling's narrative style. This is exactly what I've been looking for: somebody who can explain the magic with which Jo writes her stories. Thank you, I'm definitely going to stop by again - and often. :-)

    I have always been positive that JKR was referring to the epilogue when she told she had written the final chapter of book seven long ago. At least we knew there was going to be an epilogue long before DH came out, didn't we? I might be wrong, however, because I haven't come across anything that proves my gut feeling yet. It would have been interesting to read those old interviews where she discussed the ending of the series to find out exactly what she said. If anybody finds anything on this, please tell! :-)

  9. Hi Norwegian Potterfan and welcome to the blog. Thanks for your lovely comments! :-) Please come as often as you can.

    You're absolutely right about JKR saying the last chapter she referred to was the epilogue. Your comment jarred my lousy memory and I went to look for it on Quick Quotes Quill. Here is what she said in 1999:

    "The final chapter of the seventh book is written. That's for my own satisfaction, so that I know where I'm going as I write the other books. And that last chapter deals with what happens to the survivors afterward. Because there will be deaths."

    Now, I think she also said more recently that the epilogue did change somewhat in the course of actually writing it as part of Deathly Hallows, but not overall.

    If you want to look up more of her quotes, Quick Quotes Quill is definitely the place to start:

    And so glad to have someone here from Norway. I so want to visit your country. My best friend and critique partner is 1/2 Norwegian and went back to see family last summer. She showed me the pictures and every single one of them was gorgeous! Looks like the place to be in the summer rather than simmering in North Carolina! :-)

  10. Bekah, I'm so sorry I missed your comment earlier. You're not alone in wishing another ship besides Harry/Ginny. There was quite a few upset fans when JKR sunk the Harry/Hermione ship.