The Deathly Hallows, Chapters 34-35: Valar Morghulis

So I’m just straight up going to tell you that when I went to start my post for these chapters — almost two weeks ago — I panicked. Utterly.

It seemed like such a great idea six months ago to assign myself two of my favorite chapters in the entire series, the chapters that probably mean the most to me personally, and the chapters that cemented my love for this series not just because they represent the beginning of the end of something that I love, but because they hit me in a place I normally hide even from myself. And they hit me there hard.

I also questioned my decision to put these chapters together (a decision I made more than six months ago), but when I remembered that I had done so because both are pretty short, it made sense. Unfortunately for Present Ashley, Past Ashley wasn’t thinking through the emotional implications, and Present Ashley is having to deal with the fallout.

All that is to say: bear with me if I start blathering.

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dh.c34--the-forest-againCHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR: THE FOREST AGAIN

In many ways, the internet is a wonderful place. But it’s also a very large place. When I went looking for a couple of interviews I’d read or seen with JK Rowling in order to properly write this post, I couldn’t find them. Not even evidence that they ever really existed anywhere except my head. So I guess you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you these things (and as Dumbledore says in the next chapter, just because it’s in my head, why on earth should that mean it’s not real?).

When I first started reading Harry Potter back in 1999, I was drawn to it against my will, and once I was in — sucked into that very special imaginary place only really great books can bring you, where you actually and truly forget that what you’re reading is not real, forget that you’re even reading in the first place — I never really questioned the experience. It was only years later when I was called upon to put into words just exactly WHY I had taken this story so far inside of myself that I’d essentially spliced it into my DNA that I realized I didn’t actually know why it was that this story about an orphaned boy who discovers he’s a wizard was so important to me. I’m the kind of person who takes stories way more seriously than most people to begin with, but my feelings for this story a kindhearted and sassy British woman thousands of miles away pulled out of her mind are seriously beyond the pale. And it’s really a hard thing to express to someone, that kind of love that is so strong it turns the thing being loved into something else, something that can’t really be expressed, but begs you to try anyway.

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The Deathly Hallows, Chapter 33: The Half-Good Prince

I pre-ordered my copy of Deathly Hallows, thinking I was being smart because it would be delivered a bit early and I’d get the jump on everyone. I was already planning on staying away from the internet until I’d finished it, for fear of spoilers, and this was six years ago. Can you imagine the spoilers you’d have to avoid if it came out now? Impossible. I can’t even watch a TV show with any sort of delay without being spoiled while innocently scrolling through Facebook.

Because I am me, I somehow missed the delivery, even though I’d been home all morning, practically glued to the window in anticipation. I found a “sorry I missed you” note on the front door from the mailman, stating that he’d left my package in the apartment complex office. I sprinted to the office, but, alas…just as I got there, I saw the leasing agent driving away on a golf cart. My Harry Potter dreams were dashed before my eyes.

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The Deathly Hallows, Chapter 32: That Which Lies At The End of the Path

Goodness. This is my last post. That’s sad. And exciting. Because it means the archive is coming and the archive will persist. It’s not the end, though (it’s never the end!) because we still have that wrapup post coming OOPS SPOILERS.

Today, again, I only get to discuss one chapter, though. So let’s see if we can pull it all together and make something that’s truly magical. I shall miss everyone’s many and varied thoughts that are many and varied. It’s been a real wonder to go back and look at this series again and see how well it holds up, because it does hold up and hold up well. And stuff like that. Also critical brain being critical still loves this series. Possibly more.

To start this, I should mention, I suppose, how I read this book, because it was most peculiar.

I started around two in the morning because Borders was a total madhouse. Got home, started reading. Read for maybe three hours and passed out around five (as I am wont to do). It was only going to be a nap. I had plans to wake up at seven in the morning so I could finish in time for a work/errand thing I had to do at 5:30 later that day. The plan was to be done by the work/errand so I could worry about work.

Surprise surprise, I overslept (probably woke up around nine), realized that I wouldn’t have had time to finish before the work/errand, and spent the rest of the day not speeding through it, but taking my time. I didn’t STOP reading, of course. But I took my time. I even got a text message at seven thirty in the morning from my best friend saying she’d finished and she didn’t cry (fascist).

I read all day. And when I had to stop to go to work, I looked at how long the next chapter was (it was pretty long) and closed the book. Went to the work/errand (thinking about where I had stopped) and hurried back soon as I was done with the work/errand so I could finish. Which, for the record, was me alone in my childhood home, crying, sobbing, and screaming at the events that unfolded in the very next chapter. It was, to my recollection, the hardest I have ever cried at anything and is still the hardest I have ever cried at anything.

And the chapter that I ended on? When I closed the book for the first time that day and went off to go do my work/errand? The hour or so long break I had between chapters?

Guess what that chapter was. Continue reading

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The Deathly Hallows, Chapter 31: Goodbye, Fred Weasley

I’ve only been to one midnight release of Harry Potter, and this was the one. I left that Barnes & Noble feeling both excited and a little sad. In just a little while I would be turning new pages for the last time. Sure, there’s always rereads, and sometimes I even forget things and can be surprised again. But that initial reaction as you read a book for the first time is so special. After hanging out with my friends in glow-in-the-dark Harry Potter glasses, taking covert pictures of the guy dressed up as Hedwig, and grabbing my precious book, I promised myself one chapter before going to bed. The next morning felt like Christmas: I set my alarm for 6am and had set aside the entire day for reading. I’d had this planned right down to food and work schedule. And apparently this was back when I only needed a couple hours of sleep to function? Ah, to be twenty-one!

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Honestly, I’m surprised that I didn’t cry through the entire thing, but I remember being so emotionally drained by the end. I’d had this decade-long relationship with these characters and here was the end of our journey together. I’m sure it doesn’t help that I’m an incredibly sentimental person who hates endings, whether in books, TV shows, or life, but reading this book felt so important and so devastating.

Anyway, thank God I’ve only got ONE chapter this time, because this one is a doozy. It’s enormous. Everything happens and it’s simultaneously thrilling and soul-smashing.

So, please forgive me for the following. I’m late and not so great at action scenes. Plus, the end of this chapter just hurts.

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The Deathly Hallows, Chapter 30: Minerva McGonagall, HBIC

Act 1, you put the hero up a tree. Act 2, you set the tree on fire. Act 3, you get him down.

This is the basic storytelling structure that was explained to me a few years ago, and while I’ve had a fair amount of instruction in narrative writing in my life, this is the one that stuck in my mind the most.

Sometimes I think that our generation’s childhood1 was the best childhood because the late 80s and early-to-mid 90s had some of the best stories for us to choose from. The first Disney Renaissance began in 1989 with The Little Mermaid, and in 1992 we had Batman: The Animated Series. 1994 gave us two great seasons of Gargoyles, Toy Story started our Pixar craze in 1995, and Animorphs came around in 1996.

What’s the common denominator here? These were stories and franchises that not only knew how to captivate their target demographic of school-age children but also understood the fact that kids could handle deep storylines, dark situations, and disturbing connotations.

I mean, let’s take a look at Animorphs. Much like Harry Potter, it begins with a homicide. The books are mostly light-hearted romps in which the kids experience the joys of being animals, but they never let us forget that War was happening. People die. They kill people, they watch people die. They see loved ones be enslaved before their very eyes. They even explore how animals aren’t just cute and cuddly. One of the most resonant lines from one of the Cassie books goes something like, “And then I knew that the color of nature wasn’t green. It was red. Blood red.”

I re-read the entire series just a couple years ago, and it holds up surprisingly well. A lot of the references are dated (which the reprints tried to update to varying success) and the descriptions are very 90s and colorful, but the message holds even more true today, as we grew up into a world where war really was real, and just around the corner. The series ended right around 9/11, and the U.S. went into rally-and-response mode, which we’re still feeling the effects of even now.

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