Wednesday, July 6, 2011

An Epic Battle of Worldbuilding Proportions

This is the second 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!)

We knew it was coming.  The winds of war had been howling stronger with each successive Potter tome's release.  When it finally came, the battle for Hogwarts mobilized all the magical creatures and beings named before in the series -- giants and centaurs, thestrals and Hippogriffs, Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws, and even Slytherins led by Slughorn. Most touching of all was perhaps the site of the house-elves, stabbing at the Death Eaters' knees, led by Kreacher, with Regulus' locket bouncing on his chest.

Throughout her first six books, JK Rowling had created an immense empire of magical items, creatures, and people. To truly pull off an epic battle of good against evil, it was imperative that she bring all these worldbuilding elements together in her final battle plan.

Let's see how well she did.

Beings and Creatures:
  1. Acromantula -- Not present in last chapter, but were used by Death Eaters in the first stage of attack.
  2. Dementors -- Eyes sealed in feigned death, Harry can still hear the "rasping breath of the Dementors that patrolled the outer trees." But they have no effect on him.
  3. house-elves -- Armed with knives and cleavers, and led by Kreacher, they fight the Death Eaters, hacking and stabbing at their legs.
  4. giants -- Two giants fight alongside the Death Eaters. Grawp joins the battle and attacks the Death Eater giants.
  5. werewolves -- Fenrir Greyback is brought down by Ron and Neville. And we won't discuss what happened to Lupin. (sob!)
  6. centaurs -- Hagrid blasts Bane for not helping in the forest, but the centaurs show up during the battle and rain arrows upon the Death Eaters. Bane, Ronan and Magorian burst into the Great Hall. Afterwards, Firenze lays recovering in a corner.
  7. Thestrals -- Soared above the heads of Voldemort's giants. scratching at their eyes.
  8. Hippogriff -- Buckbead joins the fray with the Thestrals.
  9. snakes -- Nagini is beheaded by Neville.
  10. Peeves -- Drops giant worms on Death Eaters' heads, and gives his rousing victory song, which according to Ron, "Really gives a feeling for the scope and tragedy of the thing."
  11. phoenix - Phoenix song fills Harry with peace when gazing upon the beaming face of Dumbledore in his portrait
  12. ghosts -- While not in the final chapter, we cannot forget the crucial role The Grey Lady played in informing Harry about the Ravenclaw Horcrux.
  13. portraits -- The applause they bombard Harry with in Dumbledore's office is heartwarming

Magical Organizations:
  1. Ministry of Magic -- Kingsley is present, as well as Macnair for the Death Eaters. At end, Kinglsey is named temporary Minister for Magic
  2. Azkaban -- News comes that the innocent are released after the defeat of Voldemort.
  3. Order of the Phoenix -- Most surviving members of the Order fight at the battle.
  4. Death Eaters -- Present and accounted for.
  5. Gryffindors -- Too many to name.
  6. Slytherins -- Horace Slughorn, in emerald pyjamas, leads family of students and people from Hogsmeade into the battle. Malfoy and his mother especially play a huge role, acting as the Death Eaters capable of allowing their love for their son to overcome their hatred of others.
  7. Hufflepuffs -- Hannah Abbot
  8. Ravenclaws -- Luna Lovegood

  1. Room of Requirement -- Provides the portal to the castle for the battle.
  2. Kings Cross -- Where Harry journeys to his innermost cave and receives new life.
  3. Dark Forest -- Where Harry meets Voldemort with his Death Eaters. The place of crucifixion.
  4. Hogsmeade -- Shopkeepers and homeowners join the battle.
  5. Dumbledore's Office -- Where Harry claims his peace, his own personal elixir from his mentor.
  6. Gryffindor Dorm -- Where Harry plans to head to sleep.

Magical Elements:
  1. Sorting Hat -- Voldemort uses it to torture Neville.
  2. Godric's Sword -- The Sorting Hat gives Neville Godric Gryffindor's sword, which he uses to behead Nagini.
  3. Horcruxes -- Nagini, the final Horcrux, is killed, and Voldemort realizes he has lost them all.
  4. wand lore -- The import of wand lore is explained by Harry as he tries to bring Voldemort to repent.
  5. Deathly Hallows -- The stone is dropped, but the invisibility cloak and elder wand are used.
  6. branches of magic -- Most forms of magic are represented in the final battle from crystal balls to mandrakes, to transfigured suits of armor, to many spells, curses, and jinxes.
  7. Quidditch -- Although no game is played, it is references as Harry, "with the unerring skill of the Seeker," catches Voldemort's wand in his free hand.

A few missing elements:

If I can list 34 important included elements to only 3 missing, then I think JKR deserves an A+. Also, remember that it was a dragon which provided Harry's ride to the battle, and the dragon was "given" to him courtesy of the goblins.

Why was it important to have all these world-building elements present in the final battle? While most of them are not true Chekohv's Gun elements, the same principal applies -- when an important element has been introduced in the beginning of a story, the reader expects it to execute before the ending. For a satisfactory read, fans needed to see all these individual roles play out fully toward the final culmination.

But HOW these world-building items are woven in must make sense, must contribute to the whole, and must do so in a natural way. If you'll go back and read each of these elements in their place in the final chapter, you'll notice that rarely does JKR give more than a phrase or a sentence to each. The details are briskly interwoven into the adrenaline-filled pacing that pushes ever forward toward Harry's confrontation with Voldemort. She doesn't pause to cameo each item in loving detail...that would slow the pace.

Even if you're not writing fantasy, you've created a unique world for your characters to inhabit. Have you considered the full-import of each of your world-building elements and how each one will play out in your final confrontation? And who can't wait to see McGonagall's army of suits of armor join the battle? (In my head I'll be singing Subsitutiary Locomotion. :-)

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Photo Credit: You must check out this fabulous fanart series depicting the final battle.


  1. OH MY GOD I cannot wait to see the Battle of Hogwarts in action. It's supposed to be a full 30 minutes of the film.

    The last chapter was such an emotional roller coaster for me. I think the moment Neville whips the sword from the Sorting Hat and cleaves Nagini in two is my absolute favorite part of the entire series. I was always rooting for Neville, from the very beginning. It's amazing how Rowling brought all of those elements together in one epic showdown, especially the house-elves led by Kreacher.

  2. Beautiful! I have tears just thinking about it. So yeah, she did a great job bringing it all back together. My husband asked me at some point about never bringing all three hallows together at once. I said that the point was that it wasn't necessary. That Harry was stronger for choosing not to pursue using all three at once. But he did use them all. He used each in its time.

  3. I totally agree with you, Brooke. I think one of the things I look most forward to in the movie over the book is that we'll get to see what's going on in Hogwarts more. While I understood why JKR couldn't show Neville, Ginny, and the rest of the DA, I still missed it!

  4. Thanks, Lisa. And your point about the Hallows is so beautifully put! :-)

  5. Yes and bringing everything together in a way that makes logical sense is one of the hardest things to do! Great post!

  6. I loved the last part of DH, because of the fact that JKR was able to bring so much of the world she created into one place. The entire world folded together then. Excellent post, and thanks for sharing the fanart! They're amazing!

  7. Thanks Laura and Jenna. And I quite agree with you, Jenna, about the fanart! There's some real talent out there.

  8. Reading this post brought tears to my eyes both in awe of JKR and her brushstrokes, and the waterfall of emotions I felt when I finished the 7th book. This post is a wonderful reminder of why I love all things Harry Potter.

  9. This post is amazing and so detailed. Your critique partner's novel about 3-day eventing sounds wonderful. I'm slowing working my way towards doing my first event, too. You'll have to let me know what the novel is called so I can read it sometime.

  10. Mindee -- I'll let you know when it comes out. She's an extremely talented writer, very knowledgeable about the horse world, and brings that world fully to life. You'll love it!

  11. Aww, thanks, Leslie! I'm so glad you liked it. :-) JKR's an amazing talent.

  12. Susan, even though I'm not a fan of these books, I still admire JKR's world-building brilliance. This post was amazing.

  13. Thanks so much, Julie. Maybe one day Lisa and I will convert you. :-)

    Seriously, though, I never believe that one book should be loved by all. Diversity in taste, as in people, is an awesome thing!

  14. Man, I have tears just *thinking* about that last battle scene. :)