In this post, my aim will be to contrast what I see as the dramatic success of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows as a book, and the dramatic failure of the film adaptation. Chiefly I shall focus on what I should like to call the 'quiet climaxes' of The Deathly Hallows; three moments in the book the importance of which to the plot are pivotal, but which are not spectacular, so to speak.
Of course The Deathly Hallows is a book the pacing of which is excellent, and which is also tense, exciting, and literally spectacular; the menace of Voldemort and of death leavens the whole work. Critics who disparage the part of the book in which Harry, Ron and Hermione travel fruitlessly across Britain seem to forget that it consists of but two chapters and just over thirty pages, just over one-twentieth of the book; this suggests that, far from the pace flagging, Rowling's use of pacing is masterly given that she is able to create such an impression with so small a segment of the work.
To return to the 'quiet climaxes', there are, I believe, three such moments in the book; I shall describe them in greater detail below. As I said above, these three moments are pivotal to the plot of the book, and, what is more, are immensely important in terms of developing or representing the character of the agents. They are also, in addition, aesthetically excellent. The film version, on the whole, does not adapt all of them uniformly well, and it is my contention that the films suffer dramatically as a result. I should note that I will be providing any details I deem necessary to explicate my point, so you may wish to avoid reading this post if you have not read The Deathly Hallows in its entirety.
On we go! Or, as Dumbledore said in The Half-Blood Prince (HBP3, 59), 'let us... pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.'
The first 'quiet climax' in The Deathly Hallows occurs when Harry and Hermione go to the village of Godric's Hollow. I would claim that this pivotal point takes place in the churchyard, but it could be extended to cover their struggle with the snake Nagini and Harry's dream (or vision) in which he sees the murder of his parents from Voldemort's point of view, in which case the adjective 'quiet' hardly applies. For my purposes, let's go with my take on Harry and Hermione's visit to Godric's Hollow being a 'quiet climax' and see why this is so.
After Ron's abandonment of Harry and Hermione, the two of them spend many days moving from place to place, with no idea of where to turn to find the sword of Gryffindor. Harry considers how he feels:
There were moments when he did not know whether he was angrier with Ron or with Dumbledore. We thought you knew what you were doing ... we thought Dumbledore had told you what to do ... we thought you had a real plan! [italics original]Harry is reflecting on Ron's parting shot. His character is such that he is able to reason, to see that it is the case, that Ron, despite his abandonment of his friends, was right. Harry has a truthful disposition, and under the circumstances in which he finds himself (on a 'meandering, pointless journey') it is necessary, or at least probable, that he should be able to acknowledge the truth in what Ron said to him, despite the fact that Ron spoke under the influence of a Horcrux and at the point of his departure. Harry doesn't know what he is doing. Dumbledore hadn't told him what to do; in fact, 'had left him with virtually nothing.'
He could not hide it from himself: Ron had been right. Dumbledore had left him with virtually nothing. ... [Harry] was staggered, now, to think of his own presumption in accepting his friends' offers to accompany him on this meandering, pointless journey. He knew nothing, he had no ideas, and he was constantly, painfully on the alert for any indication that Hermione, too, was about to tell him that she had had enough, that she was leaving. [DH16, pp. 256-7]
Without any leads on the whereabouts of Gryffindor's sword, and having long had the desire to return to Godric's Hollow, you might say according to intuitive rather than intellectual reasoning, Harry at last broaches the topic with Hermione. (He has been hesitant to do so until some time after Ron's departure because of Hermione's prior insistence that they not go to Godric's Hollow; see, e.g., DH6, p. 87.)
Hermione agrees, reasoning (as she would, by referring to A History of Magic) that Dumbledore might have left Godric Gryffindor's sword in the village that bears his name, and that he might have left it with Bathilda Bagshot, a family friend. Harry is keen to return, so he assents to her reasoning, even though he himself finds it very doubtful that Dumbledore would have done anything of the sort. (DH16, pp. 260-2) His own motives are spelled out quite clearly:
He was about to go home, about to return to the place where he had had a family. It was in Godric's Hollow that, but for Voldemort, he would have grown up and spent every school holiday. He could have invited friends to his house ... he might even have had brothers and sisters ... it would have been his mother who had made his seventeeth birthday cake. The life he had lost had hardly ever seemed so real to him as at this moment when he knew he was about to see the place where it had been taken from him. After Hermione had gone to bed that night, Harry quietly extracted his rucksack from her beaded bag, and from inside it, the photograph album Hagrid had given him so long ago. For the first time in months, he perused the old pictures of his parents, smiling and waving up at him from the images, which were all he had left of them now. [DH16, p. 263]Harry yearns for what might have been, even as he recognises that it cannot be so, as the final, poignant sentence shows: '[H]e perused the old pictures of his parents... which were all he had left of them now.' He accepts Hermione's reasoning for why they should go to Godric's Hollow because it allows him to leave his unsaid: more than anything, he wants simply to go and see for himself the life that he lost.
After disguising themselves with Polyjuice Potion, Harry and Hermione depart for Godric's Hollow. It is remarkable that none of Harry's friends thought to bring him here before, but it allows us with Harry to see for the first time the ruins of the life he might have had, under circumstances which could hardly be more poignant. Imagine how different the emotional tenor of the visit would have been, for example, if the Weasleys had taken Harry to Godric's Hollow instead of the Quidditch World Cup before the start of his fourth year at Hogwarts.
Ron's absence, I should like to point out, adds to the emotional resonance of the scene. He is not there to share in Harry's deeply felt grief; on the other hand, his absence probably frees Harry to grieve more fully.
No sooner do Harry and Hermione enter the village but Rowling begins building up the emotional tension of the scene:
[T]he little lane along which they were walking curved to the left and the heart of the village, a small square, was revealed to them.It is not quite clear, at least to me, why Harry's and Hermione's visit to Godric's Hollow is on Christmas Eve, but it strikes me as having something of the same significance as the fact that the date of Sauron's fall and the beginning of the Fourth Age in The Lord of the Rings is March the twenty-fifth, the Feast of the Annunciation. That is, there is no precise (say, allegorical) correspondence between the one event and the other (in either case); rather, the events in the books imbibe, drink in, something of the character of the feasts on which they happen (indeed, are meant) to occur.
Strung all around with coloured lights, there was what looked like a war memorial in the middle, partly obscured by a windblown Christmas tree. There were several shops, a post office, a pub and a little church whose stained-glass windows were glowing jewel bright across the square.
The snow here had become impacted: it was hard and slippery where people had trodden on it all day. Villagers were criss-crossing in front of them, their figures briefly illuminated by street lamps. They heard a snatch of laughter and pop music as the pub door opened and closed; then they heard a carol start up inside the little church.
'Harry, I think it's Christmas Eve!' said Hermione.
He had lost track of the date; they had not seen a newspaper for weeks.
'I'm sure it is,' said Hermione, her eyes upon the church. 'They ... they'll be in there, won't they? Your mum and dad? I can see the graveyard behind it.'
Harry felt a thrill of something that was beyond excitement, more like fear. Now that he was so near, he wondered whether he wanted to see, after all. Perhaps Hermione knew how he was feeling, because she reached for his hand and took the lead for the first time, pulling him forwards. [DH16, 264-5]
Meanwhile, Rowling's description of Harry's emotional state is masterful. Although understated, it delicately suggests something of the grief Harry intuits that he shall be facing shortly. I would say that one of the excellences of The Deathly Hallows (if not of the series as a whole) is Rowling's description of the characters' emotions.
A couple of notes before we proceed. First, Rowling cleverly avoids alienating us from Harry and Hermione, despite the fact that they do not look like themselves (due to Polyjuice Potion) by not mentioning that their voices sound different and by eschewing mention of their appearance. One can hardly blame the producers of the films for their decision not to have Harry and Hermione disguise themselves.
Second, despite referring to Christmas Eve and having Harry and Hermione witness villagers go into the church, Rowling carefully avoids mentioning any specific carols, which would have risked tearing our attention away from what was going on. In the film they wisely avoid having any specific carols sung (this appears to be the piece the composer, Alexandre Desplat, wrote for the scene), although appropriate choices could have been Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming or the Coventry Carol or Unto Us is Born a Son (the latter two most appropriate, in fact, given Voldemort's Herodian response to Harry's birth), even if these are not exactly what one usually sings on Christmas Eve.
Rowling ratchets up the emotional tension in the scene by having Harry recollect memories of Christmas at Hogwarts as he hears the carollers and approaches the graveyard, trailing off, appropriately, when he recalls Ron wearing one of Mrs Weasley's hand-knit jumpers [DH16, p. 265]
Interestingly, it is Hermione, not Harry, who finds all three of the gravestones germane to the plot; she finds the graves of Ariana and Kendra Dumbledore (p. 266), the grave of Ignotus Peverell (p. 267) and with it the mysterious sign found in The Tales of Beedle the Bard, and, at last, the grave of James and Lily Potter. Before Harry can grieve for his parents, he must first grieve for what could never be in his relationship with Dumbledore:
Seeing the grave was worse than hearing about it. Harry could not help thinking that he and Dumbledore both had deep roots in this graveyard, and that Dumbledore ought to have told him so; yet he had never thought to share the connection. They could have visited the place together; for a moment Harry imagined coming here with Dumbledore, of what a bond that would have been, of how much it would have meant to him. But it seemed that to Dumbledore, the fact that their families lay side by side in the same graveyard had been an unimportant coincidence, irrelevant, perhaps, to the job he wanted Harry to do.'Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also', is, of course, a saying of Jesus (Mt. 6.21; Lk. 12.34); that Harry does not know this is unremarkable, given that, until The Deathly Hallows, only that there are holidays at Christmas and Easter or the occasional utterance of 'oh God' or the like is there any sign of religious custom. In fact, so far as I can tell, the only other mention of a church is in The Goblet of Fire, which is somewhat ironic, for of course Harry's experience in the graveyard in Little Hangleton was hellish. Many readers of The Deathly Hallows may themselves be unaware of the saying's origin, although that wouldn't be hard to discover. What it means to Dumbledore we can probably guess, based on what we learn of his history later in the book, but for the time being it acts as a poignant touch; Dumbledore's heart, like Harry's, is with (as it were) his loved ones lying beneath the cold gravestone.
Hermione was looking at Harry, and he was glad that his face was hidden in shadow. He read the words on the tombstone again. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. [italics original] He did not understand what these words meant. [...]
'Are you sure he never mentioned-?' Hermione began.
'No,' said Harry curtly, then, 'let's keep looking,' and he turned away, wishing he had not seen the stone: he did not want his excited trepidation tainted with resentment. [DH16, pp. 266-7]
Harry is still feeling his 'excited trepidation' despite the disappointing discovery of the graves of Kendra and Ariana Dumbledore. That feeling is sustained by his fervent wish to find the graves of his own parents, and it is not disrupted even by the grief and resentment he feels over the fact that Dumbledore never told him of his own lost loved ones in Godric's Hollow. Harry imagines himself visiting their grave with Dumbledore, much like those whose loved ones have died imagine themselves doing things with them.
At last, Hermione calls Harry to the graves of James and Lily Potter (just as the service in the church ends, in fact):
Hermione's voice came out of the blackness for the third time, sharp and clear from a few yards away.Harry has not read his St. Paul (1 Cor. 15.26), but no matter; the emotional impact of the scene would have been cheapened by reference to the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the dead (beyond Hermione's hesitant and halting suggestion in that direction), however powerful and moving it may be sub specie aeternitas. Harry's grief is so powerful as to be almost inexpressible. Indeed, I would argue that it is at this point that, for the first time, Harry is able to accept his parents' deaths (I mean, to accept that they are dead, not to shrug his shoulders at the manner in which they died). So strong is his grief at their loss that he almost wishes to share with them death, when he has almost never shared with them life. The process begun when Harry looked at the photos of his parents has come to an end; he has seen their place of rest at last.
'Harry, they're here ... right here.'
And he knew by her tone that it was his mother and father this time: he moved towards her feeling as if something heavy were pressing on his chest, the same sensation he had had right after Dumbledore had died, a grief that had actually weighed on his heart and lungs.
The headstone was only two rows behind Kendra and Ariana's. It was made of white marble, just like Dumbledore's tomb, and this made it easy to read, as it seemed to shine in the dark. Harry did not need to kneel or even approach very close to it to make out the words engraved upon it.
James Potter, born 27 March 1960, died 31 October 1981
Lily Potter, born 30 January 1960, died 31 October 1981Harry read the words slowly, as though he would have only one chance to take in their meaning, and he read the last of them aloud.The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
'"The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" ...' A horrible thought came to him, and with it a kind of panic. 'Isn't that a Death Eater idea? Why is that there?'
'It doesn't mean defeating death in the way the Death Eaters mean it, Harry,' said Hermione, her voice gentle. 'It means ... you know ... living beyond death. Living after death.'
But they were not living, thought Harry: they were gone. The empty words could not disguise the fact that his parents' mouldering remains lay beneath snow and stone, indifferent, unknowing. And tears came before he could stop them, boiling hot then instantly freezing on his face, and what was the point in wiping them off, or pretending? He let them fall, his lips pressed hard together, looking down at the thick snow hiding from his eyes the place where the last of Lily and James lay, bones now, surely, or dust, not knowing or caring that their living son stood so near, his heart still beating, alive because of their sacrifice and close to wishing, at this moment, that he was sleeping under the snow with them.
Hermione had taken his hand again and was gripping it tightly. He could not look at her, but returned the pressure, now taking deep, sharp gulps of the night air, trying to steady himself, trying to regain control. He should have brought something to give them, and he had not thought of it, and eveyr plant in the graveyard was leafless and frozen. But Hermione raised her wand, moved it in a circle through the air and a wreath of Christmas roses blossomed before them. Harry caught it and laid it on his parents' grave. [DH16, pp. 268-9]
The emotional intensity which Rowling gives the scene is not matched until Harry learns he must die and uses the Resurrection Stone to bring his lost loved ones to his aid (the which scene, incidentally, is the third 'quiet climax' of The Deathly Hallows); these two scenes are the emotional peaks of the work, however rightfully happy the ending.
Aside from the emotional impact of Harry and Hermione's visit to the graveyard in Godric's Hollow, and its effect on Harry's character (and upon Hermione's, although I am not sure how visible that impact is), the scene also moves the plot forward by the discovery of the Dumbledore grave and of the grave of Ignotus Peverell, and more immediately by the retrospective implication in the following chapter that somebody (presumably Nagini in Bathilda Bagshot's body) has seen Harry and Hermione in the graveyard and is following them.
The graveyard scene impinges upon the plot in ways which reverberate throughout the rest of the book. The Peverell grave is one of the clues which leads Harry, Ron, and Hermione to seek Xenophilius Lovegood and discover the significance of the Deathly Hallows, and also leads Harry to understand that he is a descendant of the Peverells and that his Invisibility Cloak is the third Hallow (whence he realises that the Resurrection Stone is inside the Golden Snitch left him by Dumbledore). The grave of the Dumbledores has a less direct impact, but it confirms (as Harry notes when he finds the grave) some of what Rita Skeeter has said, and all of Harry's encounters with Dumbledore's past, and his reflections upon the subject, are what lead him to be able to confront Aberforth in Hogsmeade.
In any case, this is more than enough to go on, but I think it suffices to show how important the graveyard scene is; important enough to be a climax of sorts in the work.
Not much need be said about the adaptation of this scene in the film. While I didn't much care for the song played during the scene (a link to which was provided above), I understand that the producers, like Rowling, might not have wanted to draw attention away from what was going on by having recognisable carols sung. Probably the only real failing of the scene in the film adaptation is that, other than Harry and Hermione, there is almost no one to be seen; the village appears abandoned and it is obvious that there is, in fact, no one in the church. The only other noteworthy change is that Harry doesn't weep, although I felt Daniel Radcliffe communicated Harry's sadness well. It is characteristic of the films that the expressions of emotion tend to be understated, almost to the point of woodenness.
We'll move on to the third 'quiet climax', the scene in the Forbidden Forest when Harry uses the Resurrection Stone to call his parents, Remus Lupin, and Sirius Black, to stay with him as he ventures into the Forest to find Voldemort, in order to die.
The Forest Again
It would be almost worth quoting the chapter in toto, providing, as it does, so excellent a reflection on death (which a society so pathologically afraid of death, such as ours, needs to hear). But the climax of the chapter, of Harry's lonely, brave funeral march through the Forest to meet (what would appear to be) his end is, of course, the point at which he can go no further and calls upon his parents and their friends by means of the Resurrection Stone.
[H]e reached the edge of the Forest, and he stopped.I want to get my comments about the treatment of this quiet climax in the film adaptation (the second of two parts of The Deathly Hallows) out of the way first. The scene is adapted faithfully in the film, and is, I think, responsible for much of the film's affective power. There are few scenes in the films whose emotional strength is anything like their equivalents in the books, but this is one where the producers and director got it just right.
A swarm of Dementors was gliding amongst the trees; he could geel their chill, and he was not sure he would be able to pass safely through it. He had no strength left for a Patronus. He could no longer control his own trembling. It was not, after all, so easy to die. Every second he breathed, the smell of the grass, the cool air on his face, was so precious: to think that people had years and years, time to waste, so much time it dragged, and he was clinging to each second. At the same time he thought that he would not be able to go on, and knew that he must. The long game was ended, the Snitch had been caught, it was time to leave the air ...
The Snitch. His nerveless fingers fumbled for a moment with the pouch at his neck and he pulled it out.
I open at the close.
Breathing fast and hard, he stared down at it. Now that he wanted time to move as slowly as possible, it seemed to have sped up, and understanding was coming so fast it seemed to have bypassed thought. This was the close. This was the moment.
He pressed the golden metal to his lips and whispered, 'I am about to die.'
The metal shell broke open. He lowered his shaking hand, raised Draco's wand beneath the Cloak and murmured, 'Lumos.'
The black stone with its jagged crack running down the centre sat in the two halves of the Snitch. The Resurrection Stone had cracked down the vertical line representing the Elder Wand. The triangle and circle representing the Cloak and the stone were still discernible.
And again, Harry understood, without having to think. It did not matter about bringing them back, for he was about to join them. He was not really fetching them: they were fetching him.
He closed his eyes, and turned the stone over in his hand, three times.
He knew it had happened, because he heard slight movements around him that suggested frail bodies shifting their footing on the earthy, twig-strewn ground that marked the outer edge of the Forest. He opened his eyes and looked around.
They were neither ghostly nor truly flesh, he could see that. They resembled most closely the Riddle that had escaped from the diary, so long ago, and he had been memory made nearly solid. Less substantial than living bodies, but much more than ghosts, they moved towards him, and on each face there was the same loving smile.
James was exactly the same height as Harry. He was wearing the clothes in which he had died, and his hair was untidy and ruffled, and his glasses were a little lopsided, like Mr Weasley's.
Sirius was tall and handsome, and younger by far than Harry had seen him in life. He loped with an easy grace, his hands in his pockets and a grin on his face.
Lupin was younger too, and much less shabby, and his hair was thicker and darker. He looked happy to be back in this familiar place, scene of so many adolescent wanderings.
Lily's smile was widest of all. She pushed her long hair back as she drew close to him, and her green eyes, so like his, searched his face hungrily as though she would never be able to look at him enough.
'You've been so brave.'
He could not speak. His eyes feasted on her, and he thought that he would like to stand and look at her forever, and that would be enough.
'You are nearly there,' said James. 'Very close. We are ... so proud of you.'
'Does it hurt?'
The childish question had fallen from Harry's lips before he could stop it.
'Dying? Not at all,' said Sirius. 'Quicker and easier than falling asleep.'
'And he will want it to be quick. He wants it over,' said Lupin.
I didn't want you to die,' Harry said. These words came without his volition. 'Any of you. I'm sorry -'
He addressed Lupin more than any of them, beseeching him.
'- right after you'd had you son ... Remus, I'm sorry -'
'I am sorry too,' said Lupin. 'Sorry I will never know him ... but he will know why I died and I hope he will understand. I was trying to make a world in which he could live a happier life.'
A chilly breeze that seemed to emanate from the heart of the Forest lifted the hair at Harry's brow. He knew that they would not tell him to go, that it would have to be his decision.
'You'll stay with me?'
'Until the very end,' said James.
'They won't be able to see you?' asked Harry.
'We are part of you,' said Sirius. 'Invisible to anyone else.'
Harry looked at his mother.
'Stay close to me,' he said quietly. [DH34, pp. 559-61]
In terms of the plot, the scene confirms what we already knew, that the Resurrection Stone was indeed concealed within the Golden Snitch Dumbledore left Harry in his will. It also provides Harry with the means to pass through the Forest undetected. Even if he had had the strength to cast the Patronus Charm, he would have given himself away.
But the scene (and its continuation as the 'presences' of Harry's parents, Sirius, and Lupin accompany him through the Forest) is a quiet climax not for its contribution to the plot alone (important though it is). It is the character of quiet sadness, of longing, of love, of courage, of facing death, which give the scene its strength. It is also that (so far as Harry and first-time readers know) it serves as a coda to Harry's life. How brave Harry is, despite the fact that his courage fails him at the end! How poignant, that his last words addressed to loved ones are to the dead! How loving his parents, Sirius, and Lupin are, to come to his side and accompany him at his darkest hour, when his living friends cannot. The dialogue, moreover, is heartbreaking, and heartbreakingly simple. Rowling does not need to put grand statements on the lips of her characters, for the words, the looks they give each other, say more than can be effectively communicated explicitly.
I do not think I need to argue for the place of this scene as one of the peaks of the work. Its climactic nature is also fairly obvious; indeed, arguably Harry's slow, brave march to lay down his life is the true climax of not only The Deathly Hallows, but of the canon as a whole. Here is how Rowling makes visible how to face death. Here is where the prophecy is fulfilled ('Neither can live while the other survives'). Here is where Harry truly comes into his own, becomes a man. Without Harry's decision to willingly embrace death at Voldemort's hands, to lay down his life for his friends (no greater love, that), the whole scheme of the Harry Potter books would have been a grand lie.
The Missing Mirror
The second 'quiet climax' (and third as I am looking at them) is the scene from which I have taken the title for this essay. It is the scene when Harry, Hermione, and Ron confront Aberforth Dumbledore at the Hog's Head over his brother's character.
You wouldn't think an argument over what another man was like would be so crucial, but of course, in this case, it is. Had Harry not been able to convince Aberforth that (whatever else he may have been) Dumbledore truly did care about what happened to his sister, Ariana, Aberforth would not have agreed to open to them the passage to Hogwarts, instead sending them on their way in the morning, as he planned, the which would have ruined their chances at finding the Horcrux concealed at the school.
What is critical about Harry's clinching argument is that it is not a dispassionate display of rhetoric, in which he coolly convinces Aberforth of the truth of his point, or of the urgency of his need. Rather, it is that, although he knows Dumbledore so little, he has been able to grasp the measure of his character, and all that he has learned about Dumbledore's past in The Deathly Hallows has given him understanding; he knows now what was happening at the cave, when he was giving his Headmaster the vile potion. Let us turn to that scene to refresh our memories.
Dumbledore screamed; the noise echoed all around the vast chamber, across the dead black water.At the time, of course, we cannot make anything of Dumbledore's pleas; so far as we can tell they have to do with Harry's actions, although astute readers might see the incongruity in some of Dumbledore's cries with what is going on. It is only when Harry confronts Aberforth with what happened in the cave that we understand the significance of Dumbledore's maddened pleading (again; astute readers may have already guessed that Dumbledore cared about what happened than he let on). With respect to the second part of the film adaptation of The Deathly Hallows, it is a wonder why the producers and director did not decide to include a flashback to this scene, which would have been easy to do.
'No, no, no ... no ... I can't ... I can't, don't make me, I don't want to ...'
'It's all right, Professor, it's all right!' said Harry loudly, his hands shaking so badly he could hardly scoop up the sixth gobletful of potion; the basin was now half-empty. 'Nothing's happening to you, you're safe, it isn't real, I swear it isn't real - take this, now, take this ...'
And obediently, Dumbledore drank, as though it was an antidote Harry offered him, but upon draining the goblet, he sank to his knees, sobbing uncontrollably.
'It's all my fault, all my fault,' he sobbed, 'please make it stop, I know I did wrong, oh, please make it stop and I'll never, never again ...'
'This will make it stop, Professor,' Harry said, his voice cracking as he tipped the seventh glass of potion into Dumbledore's mouth.
Dumbledore began to cower as though invisible torturers surrounded him; his flailing hands almost knocked the refilled goblet from Harry's trembling hands as he moaned, 'Don't hurt them, don't hurt them, please, please, it's my fault, hurt me instead ...'
'Here, drink this, drink this, you'll be all right,' said Harry desperately, and once again Dumbledore obeyed him, opening his mouth even as he kept his eyes tight shut and shook from head to foot.
And now he fell forwards, screaming again, hammering his fists upon the ground, while Harry filled the ninth goblet.
'Please, please, please, no ... not that, not that, I'll do anything ...' [HPB26, p. 535]
Returning to the 'quiet climax' in question, I would like to suggest that, despite the fact that the other two such climaxes possess greater affective power, it is this climax which, of the three, has the greatest significance with respect to the plot and to the development of character.
If I may state my case by means of analogy, the third quiet climax is like a door, the first like the doorframe, and the second like the hinge. Looking at the whole affair, the door is most noticeable, the frame next most, the hinge least. But the hinge is what makes the whole thing work. So it is, I contend, with this quiet climax with respect to the other two, and to the work as a whole.
Put another way, the first quiet climax does not possess the same degree of necessity which the other two do with respect to the plot; the connection between Harry and the Peverells and the datum that Ignotus Peverell's grave is marked with the sign of the Hallows could have been made (albeit less effectively) in some other way. Admittedly, when one takes into account the broader scope of events at Godric's Hollow, one has to account for other things (Hermione coming into possession of a copy of Rita Skeeter's book, Harry's wand breaking), but it would have been possible, if perhaps improbable, for Rowling to find some other means by which those things occurred. The importance of the third quiet climax to the plot we have discussed, but it follows that it could not have happened without the events of the second. There being no way into Hogwarts other than the hidden passage in the Hog's Head, it is necessary that Harry, Ron, and Hermione convince Aberforth to help them, or else the book would have ended much differently (e.g., the trio is captured trying to sneak into the castle, Voldemort returns, kills Harry, the septet ends tragically, &c.).
The second quiet climax, Harry's confrontation with Aberforth following his revelations about Albus Dumbledore's character, is also the point where Harry's and Dumbledore's characters are summed up; ther mettle is tested. To a lesser extent the same could be said of Aberforth, whose character is also proved by events in which he is suddenly called to take part.
The second quiet climax, then, is one of the hinges of The Deathly Hallows and, as such, I would suggest that its having been diminished to a brief encounter in the second part of the film adaptation (it is overshadowed by, e.g., Harry's persuasion of the Grey Lady, a scene whose emotional resonance is limited to heightened dramatic tension due to the circumstances under which it takes place, and to the conjuring in us feelings of pity for the ghost and all those who suffered due to her actions) is one of the key reasons why the second film, despite having one of the most powerful scenes in the whole canon, as we have seen, is comparatively weak as a follow-up to the first part. Put another way, the second part suffers from an over-emphasis on spectacle, but that is the subject of another discussion.
It is worth quoting the passage at length to get an idea of what I mean:
'Right then,' said Aberforth, when they had eaten their fill, and Harry and Ron sat slumped dozily in their chars. 'We need to think of the best way to get you out of here. Can't be done by night, you heard what happens if anyone moves outdoors during darkness: Caterwauling Charm's set off, they'll be on to you like Bowtruckles on Doxy eggs. I don't reckon I'll be able to pass off a stag as a goat a second time. Wait for daybreak, when curfew lifts, then you can put your Cloak back on and set out on foot. Get right out of Hogsmeade, up into the mountains, and you'll be able to Disapparate there. Might see Hagrid. He's been hiding in a cave up there with Grawp ever since they tried to arrest him.'I have quoted the passage at such length so that my following comments may be seen clearly in the light of the preceding text.
'We're not leaving,' said Harry. 'We need to get into Hogwarts.'
'Don't be stupid, boy,' said Aberforth.
'We've got to,' said Harry.
'What you've got to do,' said Aberforth, leaning forwards, 'is to get as far from here as you can.'
'You don't understand. There isn't much time. We've got to get into the castle. Dumbledore - I mean, your brother - wanted us -'
The firelight made the grimy lenses of Aberforth's glasses momentarily opaque, a bright, flat white, and Harry remembered the blind eyes of the giant spider, Aragog.
'My brother Albus wanted a lot of things,' said Aberforth, 'and people had a habit of getting hurt while he was carrying out his grand plans. You get away from this school, Potter, and out of the country if you can. Forget my brother and his clever schemes. He's gone where none of this can hurt him, and you don't owe him anything.'
'You don't understand,' said Harry again.
'Oh, don't I?' said Aberforth quietly. 'You don't think I understood my own brother? Think you knew Albus better than I did?'
'I didn't mean that,' said Harry, whose brain felt sluggish with exhaustion and from the surfeit of food and wine. 'It's ... he left me a job.'
'Did he, now?' said Aberforth. 'Nice job, I hope? Pleasant? Easy? Sort of thing you'd expect an unqualified wizard kid to be able to do without overstretching themselves?'
Ron gave a rather grim laugh. Hermione was looking strained.
'I - it's not easy, no,' said Harry. 'But I've got to -'
' "Got to"? Why "got to"? He's dead, isn't he?' said Aberforth roughly. 'Let it go, boy, before you follow him! Save yourself!'
'I -' Harry felt overwhelmed; he could not explain, so he took the offensive instead. 'But you're fighting too, you're in the Order of the Phoenix -'
'I was,' said Aberforth. 'The Order of the Phoenix is finished. You-Know-Who's won, it's over and anyone who's pretending different's kidding themselves. It'll never be safe for you here, Potter, he wants you too badly. So go abroad, go into hiding, save yourself. Best take these two with you.' He jerked a thumb at Ron and Hermione. They'll be in danger long as they live now everyone knows they've been working with you.'
'I can't leave,' said Harry. 'I've got a job -'
'Give it to someone else!'
'I can't. It's got to be me, Dumbledore explained it all -'
'Oh, did he, now? And did he tell you everything, was he honest with you?'
Harry wanted with all his heart to say 'yes', but somehow the simple word would not rise to his lips. Aberforth seemed to know what he was thinking.
'I knew my brother, Potter. He learned secrecy at our mother's knee. Secrets and lies, that's how we grew up, and Albus ... he was a natural.'
The old man's eyes travelled to the painting of the girl over the mantelpiece. It was, now Harry looked around properly, the only picture in the room. There was no photograph of Albus Dumbledore, nor of anyone else.
'Mr Dumbledore?' said Hermione rather timidly. 'Is that your sister? Ariana?'
'Yes,' said Aberforth tersely. 'Been reading Rita Skeeter, have you, missy?'
Even by the rosy light of the fire it was clear that Hermione had turned red.
'Elphias Doge mentioned her to us,' said Harry, trying to spare Hermione.
'That old berk,' muttered Aberforth, taking another swig of mead. 'Thought the sun shone ought of my brother's every orifice, he did. Well, so did plenty of people, you three included, by the looks of it.'
Harry kept quiet. He did not want to express the doubts and uncertainties about Dumbledore that had riddled him for months now. He had made his choice while he dug Dobby's grave; he had decided to continue along the winding, dangerous path indicated for him by Albus Dumbledore, to accept that he had not been told everything that he wanted to know, but simply to trust. He had no desire to doubt again, he did not want to hear anything that would deflect him from his purpose. He met Aberforth's gaze, which was so strikingly like his brother's: the bright blue eyes gave the same impression that they were X-raying the object of their scrutiny, and Harry thought that Aberforth knew what he was thinking and despised him for it.
'Professor Dumbledore cared about Harry, very much,' said Hermione in a low voice.
'Did he, now?' said Aberforth. 'Funny thing, how many of the people my brother cared about very much, ended up in a worse state than if he'd left 'em well alone.'
'What do you mean?' asked Hermione breathlessly.
'Never you mind,' said Aberforth.
'But that's a really serious thing to say!' said Hermione. 'Are you - are you talking about your sister?'
Aberforth glared at her: his lips moved as if he were chewing the words he was holding back. Then he burst into speech.
'When my sister was six years old, she was attacked, set upon by three Muggle boys. They'd seen her doing magic, spying through the back garden hedge: she was a kid, she couldn't control it, no witch or wizard can at that age. What they saw scared them, I expect. They forced their way through the hedge, and when she couldn't show them the trick, they got a bit carried away trying to stop the little freak doing it.'
Hermione's eyes were huge in the firelight: Ron looked slightly sick. Aberforth stood up, tall as Albus, and suddenly terrible in his anger and the intensity of his pain.
'It destroyed her, what they did: she was never right again. She wouldn't use magic, but she couldn't get rid of it: it turned inwards and drove her mad, it exploded out of her when she couldn't control it, and at times she was strange and dangerous. But mostly she was sweet, and scared, and harmless.
'And my father went after the bastards that did it,' said Aberforth, 'and attacked them. And they locked him up in Azkaban for it. He never said why he'd done it, because if the Ministry had known what Ariana had become, she'd have been locked up in St Mungo's for good. They'd have seen her as a serious threat to the International Statute of Secrecy, unbalanced like she was, with magic exploding out of her at moments when she couldn't keep it in any longer.
'We had to keep her safe and quiet. We moved house, put it about she was ill, and my mother looked after her, and tried to keep her calm and happy.
'I was her favourite,' he said, and as he said it, a grubby schoolboy seemed to look out through Aberforth's wrinkles and tangled beard. 'Not Albus, he was always up in his bedroom when he was home, reading his books and counting his prizes, keeping up with his correspondence with "the most notable magical names of the day",' Aberforth sneered, 'he didn't want to be bothered with her. She liked me best. I could get her to eat when she wouldn't do it for my mother, I could get her to calm down when she was in one of her rages, and when she was quiet, she used to help me feed the goats.
'Then, when she was fourteen ... see, I wasn't there,' said Aberforth. 'If I'd been there, I could have calmed her down. She had one of her rages, and my mother wasn't as young as she was, and ... it was an accident. Ariana couldn't control it. But my mother was killed.'
Harry felt a horrible mixture of pity and repulsion; he did not want to hear any more, but Aberforth kept talking and Harry wondered how long it had been since he had spoken about this; whether, in fact, he had ever spoken about it.
'So that put paid to Albus' trip round the world with little Doge. The pair of 'em came home for my mother's funeral and then Doge went off on his own, and Albus settled down as head of the family. Ha!'
Aberforth spat into the fire.
'I'd have looked after her, I told him so, I didn't care about school, I'd have stayed home and done it. He told me I had to finish my education and he'd take over from my mother. Bit of a comedown for Mr Brilliant, there's no prizes for looking after your half-mad sister, stopping her blowing up the house every other day. But he did all right for a few weeks ... 'til he came.'
And now a positively dangerous look crept over Aberforth's face.
'Grindelwald. And at last, my brother had an equal to talk to, someone just as bright and talented as he was. And looking after Ariana took a back seat then, while they were hatching all their plans for a new wizarding order, and looking for Hallows, and whatever else it was they were so interested in. Grand plans for the benefit of all wizardkind, and if one young girl got neglected, what did that matter, when Albus was working for the greater good?
'But after a few weeks of it, I'd had enough, I had. It was nearly time for me to go back to Hogwarts, so I told 'em, both of 'em, face to face, like I am to you, now,' and Aberforth looked down at Harry, and it took little imagination to see him as a teenager, wiry and angry, confronting his elder brother. 'I told him, you'd better give it up, now. You can't move her, she's in no fit state, you can't take her with you, wherever it is you're planning to go, when you're making your clever speeches, trying to whip yourselves up a following. He didn't like that,' said Aberforth, and his eyes were briefly occluded by the firelight on the lenses of his glasses: they shone white and blind again. 'Grindelwald didn't like that at all. He got angry. He told me what a stupid little boy I was, trying to stand in the way of him and my brilliant brother ... didn't I understand, my poor sister wouldn't have to be hidden once they'd changed the world, and led the wizards out of hiding, and taught the Muggles their place?'
'And there was an argument ... and I pulled out my wand, and he pulled out his, and I had the Cruciatus Curse used on me by my brother's best friend - and Albus was trying to stop him, and then all three of us were duelling, and the flashing lights and the bangs set her off, she couldn't stand it -'
The colour was draining from Aberforth's face as though he had suffered a mortal wound.
' - and I think she wanted to help, but she didn't really know what she was doing, and I don't know which of us did it, it could have been any of us - and she was dead.'
His voice broke on the last word and he dropped down into the nearest chair. Hermione's face was wet with tears and Ron was almost as pale as Aberforth. Harry felt nothing but revulsion: he wished he had not heard it, wished he could wash his mind clean of it.
'I'm so ... I'm so sorry,' Hermione whispered.
'Gone,' croaked Aberforth. 'Gone forever.'
He wiped his nose on his cuff, and cleared his throat.
''Course, Grindelwald scarpered. He had a bit of a track record already, back in his own country, and he didn't want Ariana set to his account too. And Albus was free, wasn't he? Free of the burden of his sister, free to become the greatest wizard of the -'
'He was never free,' said Harry.
'I beg your pardon?' said Aberforth.
'Never,' said Harry. 'The night that your brother died he drank a potion that drove him out of his mind. He started screaming, pleading with someone who wasn't there. "Don't hurt them, please ... hurt me instead." '
Ron and Hermione were staring at Harry. He had never gone into details about what had happened on the island in the lake: the events that had taken place after he and Dumbledore had returned to Hogwarts had eclipsed it so thoroughly.
'He thought he was back there with you and Grindelwald, I know he did,' said Harry, remembering Dumbledore whimpering, pleading. 'He thought he was watching Grindelwald hurting you and Ariana ... it was torture to him, if you'd seen him then, you wouldn't say he was free.'
Aberforth seemed lost in contemplation of his own knotted and veined hands. After a long pause, he said, 'How can you be sure, Potter, that my brother wasn't more interested in the greater good than in you? How can you be sure that you aren't dispensable, just like my little sister?'
A shard of ice seemed to pierce Harry's heart.
'I don't believe it. Dumbledore loved Harry,' said Hermione.
'Why didn't he tell him to hide, then?' shot back Aberforth. 'Why didn't he say to him, take care of yourself, here's how to survive?'
'Because,' said Harry, before Hermione could answer, 'sometimes you've got to think about more than your own safety! Sometimes you've got to think about the greater good! This is war!'
'You're seventeen, boy!'
'I'm of age, and I'm going to keep fighting even if you've given up!'
'Who says I've given up?'
' "The Order of the Phoenix is finished," ' Harry repeated. ' "You-Know-Who's won, it's over, and anyone who's pretending different's kidding themselves." '
'I don't say I like it, but it's the truth!'
'No, it isn't,' said Harry. 'Your brother knew how to finish You-Know-Who and he passed the knowledge on to me. I'm going to keep going until I succeed - or I die. Don't think I don't know how this might end. I've known it for years.'
He waited for Aberforth to jeer or to argue, but he did not. He merely scowled.
'We need to get into Hogwarts,' said Harry again. 'If you can't help us, we'll wait 'til daybreak, leave you in peace and try to find a way in ourselves. If you can help us - well, now would be a great time to mention it.'
Aberforth remained fixed in his chair, gazing at Harry with the eyes that were so extraordinarily like his brother's. At last he cleared his throat, got to his feet, walked around the little table and approached the portrait of Ariana.
'You know what to do,' he said. [DH28, 452-9]
First, I think it is possible that Aberforth's speech is the longest continuous speech in the entire canon; Aberforth, whose appearance in the series had been limited to cameos on the rare occasions Harry had cause to visit the Hog's Head, or to offhanded remarks by Albus Dumbledore. Not Dumbledore or Voldemort, two wizards who would be natural choices for eloquent, motivating speeches; not Harry, from whose perspective nearly every event in the series takes place; nor anyone else. Not even Dumbledore's speech at the end of Order of the Phoenix (OP37), though longer, is as continuous as Aberforth's is.
Second, despite Aberforth's brushing off the idea that Harry knows Dumbledore well, it turns out that, in at least one important respect - perhaps the most important respect of all - Harry knew Dumbledore better than his brother did. Of course, Aberforth grew up with Albus, knew all of the details of the family's sordid past, and of the events that cost Ariana her life (save what remains a mystery; that is, who struck the killing blow), knew more facts than Harry did; but in the end, Harry had a better grasp of Albus Dumbledore's character after all. 'He was never free' of guilt for what happened to his sister. 'Never.' Harry could not have understood that truth, of course, without Aberforth's revelations, but he was able to make that connection once he'd heard what Aberforth had to say.
Third, this passage serves as a summing up of the history of the Dumbledores, heretofore known only by means of Doge's or Muriel's recollections, and Rita Skeeter's book. It likewise sums up Albus Dumbledore's character, as well as that of his brother Aberforth and, finally and most important, that of Harry. Even after Harry learns that he is himself a Horcrux, and feels betrayed by Dumbledore, he does not recant the position he here states to Aberforth: ' "[S]ometimes you've got to think about more than your own safety! Sometimes you've got to think about the greater good!" ' He goes, as we have seen, to his own death.
More than anything else, the three 'quiet climaxes', and above all the second, reveal or display what is essential about the character of two (if not more) of the most important people in the Harry Potter books; that is, of Harry himself and of Albus Dumbledore. Even the final duel between Harry and Voldemort is really more of a literally rhetorical battle of character, of whose vision, Harry's and Dumbledore's or Voldemort's, of what constitutes good character, will prevail, than it is a magical battle (something which the makers of the film adaptation neglected, to their cost, in favour of spectacle). Put simply, if Harry and Dumbledore before him did not have the character that they had developed, by the choices they made under the circumstances they faced, then Voldemort would have won. If Dumbledore had proved to be as unburdened of guilt in the matter of Ariana's death as Aberforth believed him to be, if he truly was merely cunning rather than wise, there is no chance that Harry would have willingly followed the path Dumbledore had set before him; whereas, because Harry knew Dumbledore's character, he was prepared to see his Headmaster's plan through to the very end, even though it would cost him his life, and even though he felt betrayed. If Harry's own character had not been so well formed, by the example of his parents, over whose grave he wept, and by the example of Dumbledore, who carried the guilt and remorse for his part in abetting Grindelwald's wickedness, then he would not have had the strength to withstand Aberforth's factual, yet untruthful, attack on Dumbledore's character (and, by extension, his faith in Dumbledore's character), nor the strength to go on once he knew, at last, that he must die.
I hope, then, that I have shown the importance of these three points in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, points which I have described as 'quiet climaxes'. Their importance to the story is demonstrated by their effects upon the film adaptation. The neglect of the second 'quiet climax' in favour of spectacle was ruinous to the second part of the film adaptation, to the extent that even the most emotionally affective scene in the entire canon, the third 'quiet climax', could not save the film from being a comparative disappointment.
I am also confident that this essay has demonstrated Rowling's skill in writing scenes of real power, real import. I would contend that Rowling's literary power has been evident throughout the series, but, fittingly, she saves the best for last. I do not think the moniker 'children's literature' is something to be held against a writer, but even if it is, by such a standard Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is anything but. It may not be a work of such experimental daring as, say, Ulysses, or the work of a Virginia Woolf, or of a Franz Kafka (although there is no logical or necessary connection between liking one kind of writing and disliking another; one could, surely, be a fan of the work of, say, Rowling and Joyce both), but it nevertheless possesses merits worth praising and enjoying.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, then, is a work of real literary merit, whose treatment of character is skillful and powerful both. If my thesis is correct, the effects of the three 'quiet climaxes' redound upon the rest of the narrative; on re-reading their reach can be seen to stretch in both directions. Indeed, they are the result, the fruit, of painstaking work on Rowling's part through all of the six previous books. Such power as they have comes from the countless connections they have with the rest of the canon, from the echoes to so many previous events, both in The Deathly Hallows and in other books - and, ultimately, as the quotes on the gravestones of Kendra and Ariana Dumbledore and of James and Lily Potter demonstrate, from a set of writings, a world-view, and a way of life which are centred around someone else, another man who, like Harry Potter, displayed that love of which kind there is none greater, the love of one willing to lay down his life for his friends.