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Culture: Hallows, goodbyes; Alison Jones offers her verdict after reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling, published by Bloomsbury, pounds 17.99.

Byline: Alison Jones

It ends like it began, with a train journey.

JK Rowling always claimed that Harry Potter and his friends one day walked fully formed into her head on a journey to Kings Cross, and so it seems fitting that the should depart the same way, with a train leaving the famous platform 9%.

The question to be answered in the meantime was whether JK had been able to bring a killing curse to bear on her most famous creation, both fulfilling the gloomy prophecies she made about him in her novels but also ensuring other authors could not pick up the story in this spectacularly lucrative series.

She had already shown no mercy to two favourite characters, ruthlessly dispatching orphaned Harry's recently discovered godfather, the charismatic Sirius Black.

Then at the conclusion of Half Blood Prince, she sent Dumbledore, the saintly headmaster, tumbling from the tower at Hogwarts, apparently dying at the treacherous hands of one of his staff, Severus Snape.

With a face off between Harry and his nemesis Voldemort an inevitability, there has been much speculation about who was going to get caught in the crossfire.

Fans' fears for Harry and his best friends Ron and Hermione were not much assuaged by JK appearing on chat shows and describing the finale of the seventh book as a "blood bath".

Indeed barely 100 pages in there have already been three deaths (albeit one of them an owl), the rising body count only offset by the fact that JK also squeezes in two weddings.

The pretence of these being just children's books has long since been abandoned.

The first in the series were light, boarding school-based adventures that could be breezed through in an afternoon.

Parents and children together could enter a new, yet familiar world of swots and cheeky chums and of being the house hero because you are unexpectedly good at games.

It was the story of a lonely boy who lived in a cupboard under the stairs finding a family. But all mixed with a heady dash of unreality due to the fact this was a universe that moved in tandem with our own, where magic existed and was accepted.

Here there was delight in discovering bizarre and amusing creatures, sweets that tasted of everything - even bogies, of still photographs where the subjects could move about freely, of books that could bite, strange charms and enchantments and household objects that could fly.

However, Harry has always been a boy with a destiny.

His enemies were never completely defeated by the end of the first few books as it became clear that he would have to confront the all-powerful wizard who had tried to kill him as a baby, leaving him with his distinctive, lightning-shaped scar.

As the danger grew more acute so the books have grown bigger.

Whereas the earlier novels were guilty of repetitive plots, the later ones felt flabbier, padded out with adolescent angst, teenage crushes and snogging.

The Deathly Hallows is different yet again as the action has moved far from the comfort of the school.

Harry, Ron and Hermione are on the run from Voldemort and his Death Eaters as they seek out and destroy the Horcruxes, objects that contain bits of the evil wizard's soul.

They are sidetracked by the Hallows, three thought-to-be-mythical objects of great power, one of which Harry already possesses.

The action sags somewhat in the middle as the three fugitives spend much of the time hiding out in a tent in the woods, bickering and floundering about on a treasure hunt without clues.

Meanwhile, Voldemort has seized control of the magical world and JK has seized inspiration directly from history, putting in place a totalitarian regime complete with Nazi ideology based on creating a master race of "pure bloods" and weeding out the "mudbloods" of non-magical lineage.

Back at Hogwarts la flamme de la resistance still burns as Dumbledore's Army of students goes underground and starts a covert fightback.

It is here that Harry and his friends come together to make their final stand. Some fall. Yet another proves that a mother's love trumps sociopathic tendencies as homely Molly Wea-sley, enraged by the loss of one of her own, seeks revenge.

Following the slackness of a middle section that is only occasionally enlivened by some narrow escapes, JK does manage to work things up to a feverish pitch for the battle itself, while also taking a time out to neatly tie up all the loose ends.

An epilogue concludes things in a way that would make it virtually pointless for other authors to try and continue the character arcs, and a quite incredible literary journey is over.

Though it may not be the most elegantly written series, nor carry such intellectual weight as, say Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy, Harry Potter has touched a chord within both adults and children in a way which few, if any, other books have.

There have been churlish mutterings that it encouraged youngster' 'interest in witchcraft and dark arts, but children have always believed in magic, just as they have faith in fairies or Father Christmas.

They are mostly innocent exercises in imagination.

What has always lain at the heart of JK's writing is a belief in love, compassion friendship and self sacrifice, and in the loyal pillars of Ron and Hermione, the need for fun and importance of education.

It may not be particularly deep or profound but it is a worthy epitaph.

CAPTION(S):

Decan Rowlands, aged 10, can't wait to take his copy home after buying the latest Harry Potter novel at the Kingfisher Centre, Redditch; JK Rowling: Harry Potter has touched a chord within both adults and children in a way which few, if any, other books have
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 23, 2007
Words:963
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