The Book Club

How Will the Harry Potter Series End?

Dear Polly,

If you’re looking for an emblematic example of how bewitched we readers have become by Harry Potter, and how eagerly we anticipate this weekend’s release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final volume in J.K. Rowling’s series, look no further than my wife and me. In preparation for P-Day, we are sending our toddler away to stay with her grandmother for the week, so that we may undistractedly devour the two hardcover copies of Deathly Hallows we plan to purchase Friday at midnight. That’s right! We’re spending our first weekend ever alone at home without our daughter, and we’re not hosting a dinner party, or throwing a kegger, or even speaking to each other. We are ridding our house of children in order to read a children’s book.

There will be time enough to talk about whether our passion for Potter—and that of the millions of grown men and women who will line up at bookstores this weekend, sans children, to make the first dent in Scholastic’s reported 12 million first printing—is a sign of the infantilization of American pop culture, or of the triumph of the nerds, or of the death of serious literature. (Or none of the above.)

There will also be time, I’m sure, to discuss the inevitable articles revealing that the kids who started reading because of Harry haven’t actually, as we’d all hoped, moved directly on to Thomas Hardy. We may even pause to consider Michael L. Kamil, professor of education at Stanford, who earnestly complained to the New York Times that all this emphasis on reading stories is misplaced, since “if you look at what most people need to read for their occupation, it’s zero narrative.” Jeez, how barren was your childhood, Michael L. Kamil?

Anyway, there’ll be time for all that later, when we’re joined on Monday by several other correspondents for a joyously spoiler-packed discussion of the book. For now, though, all I want to do is speculate, theorize, and predict. Most particularly, I want to hear what you think might be coming in Harry Potter 7, since it was you who, almost eight years ago in these very pages, predicted that the series’ deeper themes would revolve not around the corruptions of power but around love. And this was years (and thousands of pages) before the scene in which Dumbledore tells Harry that “the power he has that Voldemort knows not”—the true magic driving the spirit and the plot of this tale—is the ability to love. (Other predictions from that long-ago Book Club were less accurate, such as, sadly, A.O. Scott’s gleeful speculation that later volumes might explore the rich tradition of English boarding-school buggery. Only in slash fic, Tony!)

So, what do you think about the big questions surrounding Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? Rowling has said that at least two key characters will die. Who do you think they’ll be? Will Harry defeat Voldemort? What roles will Ron and Hermione play in the final battle? Is Snape really good or evil? Is Harry a Horcrux? Did Snape love Lily? What about the mysterious  ”gleam of triumph” Harry saw in Dumbledore’s eye? Oops, sorry, my nerd is showing.

Most of all, I’m curious to know what kind of book you think J.K. Rowling has written for us—for me and you and my wife and (someday) our daughter? (Tony’s observation, way back in your initial Book Club discussion of the young wizard’s adventures, that the books feel to readers young and old remarkably as if they’d been written especially for them—despite being, perhaps, the most widely popular books ever published—has stuck with me all these years.) A war story? A hero’s quest? A slowly unraveling mystery? A tragic tale of Christ-like martyrdom?

And, since you’re such a close student of children’s literature, I wonder if you have a model in mind for how a series like this might most magically end. The progressive darkening of the Harry Potter books, and Harry’s quest for knowledge both of himself and of his world, remind me of Lloyd Alexander’s five-volume Chronicles of Prydain, published from 1964 to 1968. The Prydain books similarly began with a light and almost childish touch but deepened by their finale, The High King, into an epic and wrenching tale of war—replete with honorable sacrifice, senseless death, betrayal, mortal peril, and true love. Most relevantly to Harry’s story, The High King offered each beloved supporting character a moment to shine; redeemed a character once thought irredeemable; and showed a once-humble boy growing into nobility. Alexander died this year, and I can think of no better tribute to him than to hope that J.K. Rowling’s series ends even more wonderfully than his did.

With love, natch,