As a 17-year-old, I feel immensely proud to say that I have, in a way, grown up with Harry Potter. I was 11 when Harry escaped Privet Drive and fought You-Know-Who for the very first time. I was 12 when he rescued Ginny from the basilisk's underground lair. By the time I turned 13, Harry Potter had a godfather and a newfound sense of purpose; we were both 14 in 2003, when his world turned decidedly darker and rumors of war began to fly. Now Harry and I are 17, and I think we are both somewhat nostalgic for those blissful days of Quidditch matches and house rivalries and little field trips to Hogsmeade, for Harry's universe has changed.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" is simply not as sunny as its six predecessors, and anyone who labels it a mere "children's story" has clearly been on the receiving end of a strong Confundus Charm. This last book may be fantastical, but it's about the real world. Harry Potter and his readers have learned they must grow up.
From the book's opening pages, it's clear that Harry's world has been irreversibly upended. Besieged by grief for the late Albus Dumbledore and charged with the quest of destroying You-Know-Who, Harry decides to drop out of Hogwarts and pursue the elusive Horcruxes that protect shards of Voldemort's soul. This is not "The Sorcerer's Stone," however, and a quest can't be concluded after one trip to the library. Confusion, treachery and empty plot fillers intervene, and our beloved heroic trio spends the first 400 pages of the book rambling around the British countryside, bickering among themselves and feeling very sorry as B-list characters get killed off. In the words of Harry himself, his quest had become a "meandering, pointless journey" with neither end nor means in sight.
Yet while Rowling's verbose exposition is anything but thrilling, it represents a change, rather than a flaw, in her work. Plot has taken backseat to characterization; Rowling is determined to lend substance to many of her more archetypal or two-dimensional characters, no matter how many chapters it takes. People like Albus Dumbledore are no longer purely good, and even Malfoy and Snape show the potential for heroism. Rowling has distanced herself, very purposefully, from the fairytale genre, and each character now has the definite back story to prove it. Ultimately, each of these individual stories, along with hints from previous books, culminate in the final battle between Harry and You-Know-Who.
Of course I won't tell you who triumphs, or who else lives or dies, but I will say that, in the end, it really doesn't matter. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" has moved beyond the cookie-cutter themes of good and evil to embrace thematic upwellings of fate, love, the nature of humanity, and the inexplicable workings of the universe in general. Potter's youngest fans may not fully understand the significance of Snape's Pensieve, Dumbledore's past, or Rowling's veiled analogies to the real-world Holocaust, but adult readers will quickly recognize the subtle duality that has surfaced in this latest work. There are neither true heroes nor villains, and each character -- from Kreacher the house-elf to Voldemort himself -- has the potential to be either. The theme may not be a novel one, but it had me sobbing like Moaning Myrtle by the time I'd reached the end.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" has, in short, grown up. For years we have followed Harry's triumphs and tragedies, our imaginations bound -- as if by magic -- to the completion of his quest. Now the series has ended, but the spell cannot be broken. Harry Potter has grown up with us, and he has grown into our hearts. As Dumbledore might observe, this means he can never really leave us.
Caitlin Dewey will be a freshman at Syracuse University.