Monday, July 18th, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Epilogue

The last Harry Potter movie is a pretty beautiful thing, just in terms of flickering pictures on the cave wall and tableaux. It's very good! As a non-Harry Potter book-reader, it wasn't even that confusing, despite its having to wrap up 10,000 plots, though I did realize halfway through that I literally had no idea why the guy with the scary face was trying to kill our hero, and vice versa. Why were they so mad at each other again? No clue! Also I was slightly frustrated that the minor characters weren't allowed to speak very much, if it all. You put Helena Bonham Carter in all that hair and corset and then she gets to grunt two words? That's like letting the snake out of the cage and not tossing it a rat. (Although perhaps that's just what she looks like now? Like maybe she wasn't supposed to be in the movie at all, and Mrs. Tim Burton just rolled up and kept wandering into the shots.) But even Hermione, at last, doesn't have that much to say, for once. This is quibbling! Things blow up, a Lord of the Rings siege is made, the Big Reveal occurs, people die, and the flummoxing inability of a wizard to use magic to dry out wet clothes is presented to us once again. (Sure, you can stop time and go invisible, but you can't remove water from fabric with a simple spell? Magicians, stick to thy casts.) So yes, A+++! And then there's the epilogue. Which: OH NO. We will now drop down some white space so that those who have somehow not yet seen the movie may run away.


With the great menace murdered, with the fascist magical government apparently somehow completely undone, presumably after a series of magical Hague trials convicting the thousands of murderous collaborators (not to mention whatever remains of all the traitorous Jews goblins, and sorry, I know this debate is long retired, but the short hook-nosed bankers, really, it's just hard to look at), life plainly goes on in great peace and prosperity.

For the epilogue, we skip forward 19 whole years, and there they are: Harry and what's-her-ginger coupled (Ginny! Thank you, Wikipedia), Hermione and Ron coupled, and between the two couples they have five offspring, who now, in these post-terrorism decades of calm, are beginning to schlep off to Hogwarts for their own undocumented and uninteresting adolescences in the New Age of Calm. Even our childhood nemesis, Draco Malfoy, is doing the same. Ho hum. More like Larry Potter, some aging schlub looking for a good place for a pint in Fitzrovia, am I right?

Now, book readers inform me that this epilogue totally works in book form, and is greatly satisfying. The movie just totally, totally biffs it.

Who rules now? What radical changes have undone the ages of terror and slaughter? What does Harry do for a living? Why do they all look so clean and boring? The great and corruptible Ministry of Magic, so recently a cross between Nazi Germany and the American DMV, is apparently a far less invasive thing, and it seems, from the teenage offspring, that at least a decade has gone by in which our heroes have filled their days with nothing but changing diapers and clocking in at the office.

What sort of grand result is that for England's Greatest Wizard? Clutching a briefcase on the Tube. Coming home to dull Ginny. Raising a milquetoast who's scared to go off to magic school. It's enough to make you not want to grow up—or to at least turn a tiny bit evil. The problem with adventures is that nothing ever happens after, there's just life and diapers and bedtimes, and looking for something good on the television, and that's no happily ever after at all.

56 Comments / Post A Comment

It was just as dispiriting in the book, actually.

@erin kissane@twitter I think I am the only Harry Potter fan alive who actually LIKED the epilogue. I know everyone else hated.

Rowling claims she wrote that epilogue back in the beginning, when she was still writing the first book. So maybe it was the jarring mismatch in tone/simplicity between her writing style in the beginning vs. the end of the series that grates on people so …?

metoometoo (#230)

@MisterHippity Good point about the tone mismatch. I bet it would work better if she had rewritten it at the end.

I don't think it's great but I don't mind it that much, either. For some reason the thing that I find most irritating is that it's 19 years later instead of a round 20. That 19 really irks me!

Dan Kois (#646)

Well no it doesn't exactly work in the book. A lot of those same questions are really annoying in the book as well.

But I do think that the normalcy that feels so blah in both iterations of the story is a bit more touching when viewed from the perspective of JK Rowling, who has seen both ends of a life lived abnormally — first the hand-to-mouth dole existence she was on when she came up with the idea, then the Potteresque celebrity she was enduring when she wrote book seven. It seems clear from the book that to her, a normal life is what she dearly wanted for Harry and for herself, and I can respect that.

That doesn't mean I'm not so annoyed that she can't even tell us what job Hermione has, of course. (We do learn that Neville is Herbology teacher at Hogwarts.)

cory dodt@twitter (#12,071)

Harry spends most of the books longing to blend in and have a normal life where nobody picks on him or cares about him. I don't see what's wrong with showing him to have finally received that reward.

Ari (#17,531)

But the mundane quality of the ending is the point: the fight against Voldemort was basically a fight to just live their lives in peace. The movie loves the idea of peaceful domesticity, because that's just how people are. Harry just wanted to be normal, the wizarding world just wanted to live free of terror, and everyone gets that in the end. So yeah, changing diapers in peace is about as happily ever after as can be.

Myrtle (#9,838)

@Ari You've nailed it when you said, "The movie loves the idea of peaceful domesticity" it seems to me. If you got your start writing in cafes because the heat's turned off at home, normal would sound pretty good.

jaimealyse (#647)

The epilogue DOES NOT work in the book. For me mostly because all these people marrying the first person they ever dated? But also the things you said. Pat pat pat.

@jaimealyse In fairy tales, people always marry their one (first and only) true love.

And these books are just one extremely elongated fairy tale, after all …

@jaimealyse Ahem! Viktor Krum! Cho Chang! Lavender whatsername! And also I think Ginny had a bunch of boyfriends in the books (as mentioned in other comments, she's a bit more badass in the books). So mostly the SECOND people they ever dated. Except Ginny, who sowed her wild oats.

nogreeneggs (#12,239)

@jaimealyse Hermione should have ended up with Krum. And Harry could do better than Ginny. I think my main problem is that it's just so tidy. Groups of friends don't generally pair off and marry each other, especially when some of that group is related.

Also, according to JKR George marries Angelina Johnson…does anyone else find it extremely odd for him to have married his dead twin's girlfriend?

Yeah, the version in the book reads like an aggressively awful fan fiction.

Moff (#28)

Well, also, besides just Harry longing to live a normal life — or more specifically, at least:

More than anything else in his particular case, the greatest gift he can give his kids is A MOM AND DAD WHO ARE ALIVE.

I recall one week in Gawker's history – during the period in which a managing editor whose name rhyms with "Mory" was in charge – when admitting you read the Harry Potter books got you instantly "executed" as a commenter.

I recall that the explanation for this was something like "You're an adult for God's sake. Stop reading children's books!"

Well I remember the great Harry-Potter-reading-Gawker-commenter massacre! It seems like it was only yesterday … So many fine commenters, cut down in their prime!

hazmathilda (#839)

I'll throw another "epilogue sucks in the book too" on the pile

lauren_llc (#17,536)

The epilogue is even worse in the book than the movie, I think. At least in the movie, you can pretend that Hermione goes on to do something befitting her intelligence and strength – like, ooh, maybe she's the Minister of Magic! or Headmistress of Hogwarts! or even maybe owns her own book shop! Instead, if memory serves, she's some sort of middle-manager at the Ministry of Magic.


(I've clearly been mad about this since the book was released.)

jfruh (#713)

@lauren_llc Hermione I believe has actually gone on to follow her political passion — improving the lot of sentient non-human magical creatures. You can either read this as "Hermione turns her back on traditional career paths to make the world a better place" or "The little woman takes her low-paying social services job while her husband is a badass" (I think Ron ends up an Auror, even though repeatedly in the book they say you need to have really good grades to be an Auror and Ron was always a middling-to-awful student?).

InfoMofo (#505)

Yeah I thought it was less cloying in the movie than in the book. The book is obsessed with telling you the names of their children and babies, which is honestly even less interesting in a movie epilogue than when your co-workers from westchester tell you their baby's name. At least in the movie there was a strong visual connection to the scenes from the first movie which brings the whole cycle full circle in a way that the book didn't really seem to.

@InfoMofo There was a reason they focused on the names. The middle name of one of Harry's kids was the key to the whole epilogue.

metoometoo (#230)

@InfoMofo I think this is partly because Rowling was interacting with her most obsessive fans online while working on the later books, and for whatever reason those obsessive fans tend to be particularly obsessed with babies and marriages and dates and extensive family trees.

cherrispryte (#444)

Ginny a milquetoast?!!????!!!!!!

You have not read the books. Your arguments are invalid. Though the epilogue sucks in the books too, but for different reasons.

And for the record, Mr. Old, I was 13 when I started reading this series, was I just supposed to lose interest when I hit 18? Pah.

saythatscool (#101)

@cherrispryte Wait, I thought he died in the end. He doesn't die? Why isn't he dead?

I don't read these books btw or watch the movies.

So why am I asking?

I really don't know.

But I thought he was dead, no?

girlwearingglasses (#16,056)

@cherrispryte that milquetoast line drove me crazy too! in the movies she doesn't say much, she just has this far away stare. you see her in movie 5 showing a little bit of strength but they never really show you her personality.

for the record choire, in the books, ginny in smart and lively and outspoken. plus, one of the more talented witches/wizards at hogwarts. she also makes the quidditch team (as a seeker replacement for harry and then as a chaser) and is really good. she is also attractive and funny. and harry is lucky to end up with her.

metoometoo (#230)

@girlwearingglasses Ugh, Ginny is hella milquetoast in the movies. It's basically the only unsuccessful casting choice in the whole series, which makes it seem so egregious.

oudemia (#177)

@cherrispryte But OMG Ginny's terrible mumsy hair in the movie epilogue.

jfruh (#713)

Re: Goblins-as-Jews: the book does a better job of showing that goblins have their own set of motivations which, though not necessarily in line with the protagonists', are not invalid! The Goblins think that objects they make for wizards — like the sword in question — are really only on loan to the wizard they make them for, and ought to be restored to goblin possession after the owner dies. There's also a lot of talk in that scene at the cottage about all the extremely good reasons why goblins and other non-human magical creatures distrust even the "good guy" wizards, and a suggestion that there will be a reckoning on this after Voldemort is taken care of. (This is all glossed over by him saying "it's complicated" in the movie.)

But in the book as in the movie, a lot of this complexity is kind of negated when he just turns into a dick a leaves them to die in the vault in the middle of their heist.

jfruh (#713)


(Honestly, I am interested to hear that you enjoyed the movies w/out reading the books? I like the movies as a sort of hyper-realistic reminder of why I liked the books but every once in a while I think "Man, if you hadn't read the books, this must make exactly zero sense.")

Moff (#28)

@jfruh: My wife hasn't read the books, but loves the movies. We sometimes watch for as long as fifteen straight minutes before having to pause so I can explain what's happening!

ericdeamer (#945)

@Moff @jfruh: Yeah I too cannot fathom how or why anyone would watch the movies without reading the books. The movies are at best a clankingly literal reminder of the books as you say. In and of themselves I'd imagine they'd be terrible.

stinapag (#10,293)

@jfruh My sister went to see Deathly Hallows 2 on Saturday having read none of the books and having seen none of the other movies. She thought it was the worst movie she'd ever seen. We kept on asking Why? Why? Why would you spend money on something you know you'll Not Get? Guy asked her out was the only response we could get out of her. Why…..?

caitlinkl (#17,550)

Urgh, a million billion shudders, the epilogue rid all mystique of ~what could have been!~ both in the book and the movie. It's awesome that Harry retreated to a life of blah, since it was his ambition, but what about all of the other once-interesting characters, huh? Instead of that weird speech about justifying-renaming your kid after the guy who was your mum's stalker, what about throwing a bone in the way of "And then Draco and Ron like, killed the bad guys! That's why they're all cool at the train station, btw! It was just like "Inglorious Basterds", or something, ha ha! Justice served. And Hermone fucking rocks now, too. Check out her Ph.D and like, the Nobel Prize she won. Oh yeah, Fred came back from the dead because wizards can do that now."

@caitlinkl The movie also emphasized something I found strange about the epilogue: Harry's celebrity status. Like how could it possibly be that everyone is just very "whatevs" about him at the train station? Especially all the children running around, who probably grew up learning about how awesome and famous he was from their parents! Like there was not a single, "Look Mum, it's Harry Potter! OMGGGGG!"

Harry is like Sully Sullenberger times a million. He may not be interested in being famous, but as a complete and total hero, he doesn't really have a choice, does he? "Oh, he totally saved the entire world – wizard and human – but now he's living a life of anonymity wearing Dad khakis." So that made no sense to me in the book, and even less sense in the movie.

metoometoo (#230)

@HeyThatsMyBike In the book epilogue people are staring at them and Ron jokes that it's because he is so famous.

@metoometoo Oh yeah! But still – like dude should be getting bumrushed, right?

metoometoo (#230)

@HeyThatsMyBike You would think, but maybe the wizard community is small enough that people are mostly over it, because they already know Harry and because he hasn't done anything buzzworthy for 19 years.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Azkaban and this one. The rest are Harry Potter and the Tedium of Exposition. That is all.

tn; dr

(too nerdy; didn't read)

MyName (#10,197)

Okay, so the ending to the book wasn't that great for the movie. It was good in the book, mainly because you need something simple after all those essplodie thingies going down. Also because it basically ruins any hope of anyone being able to write more "new adventures of harry potter, as an old guy" since the author is like "nah, he just goes off and does normal things, and it's just cool like that".

Also, I think people forget that the wizard dating pool is rather shallow. Maybe they could pair off with someone from abroad, but they'd be like, not British… Ah well that doesn't bother me anyways.

@MyName the wizard dating pool can't be that small: Rowling alludes to numerous villages that are wizards only!

On the otherhand, Hogwarts is a small school (how many students in each house in each class? about a hundred per grade level?) but then again look at the size of the British wizard infrastructure. Where are the extraneous wizards coming from?

metoometoo (#230)

@happymisanthrope Hogwarts is supposed to be prestigious, so there must be wizards that are either home-schooled or went to less prestigious schools.

Also, Hogsmeade is the only all-wizard village in Britain, and it's small. There are villages like Godric's Hollow, which are a comfortable mix of muggles and wizards. And there are squibs and non-human magical creatures (hags, vampires, etc.) who can't go to Hogwarts but can't live in non-magical society, either.

Mr. B (#10,093)

Well, if the heroes are the World War 2 generation, we can project that they've raised their kids in a '50s of stultifying conformity, and that, given a few more years, these same awful children will be staging sit-ins in the Hogwarts mess hall, horrifying their parents with freakish hairstyles and loud music, and burning their bras, or wizard hats, or something.

metoometoo (#230)

@Mr. B Hermione will be pleased, in her old age, when S.P.E.W. finally catches on.

In most fantasy literature, victory in the big war comes at a price. Merlin ends up in a tree. The elves leave for the west. The world is changed.

The ending of Harry Potter just proved A.S. Byatt right in her criticism that it was all about the school yard.

Moff (#28)

@happymisanthrope: What I think I'll miss most about Harry Potter is all the snide comments from geniuses!

I was in an extremely clap-happy showing of the movie. They clapped and cheered at everything! We were all very happy about and enjoyed the movie. But two of the three biggest laughs in the entire movie came from "Look at old Draco" and "Look at old Ron." So even if I did like the idea of the epilogue, the aging effects would have ruined it.

Also, Ginny was so great in the books, until she didn't get to do one cool thing in the entire last book. I thought the movie was going to fix this (after watching Half Blood Prince I was sure that the director was going to mix things up and let her destroy the diadem) but nope! Total waste.

daemonsquire (#9,523)

Without having read the book or seen the movie, I can't say how the epilogue plays for me, but your last paragraph, Choire, makes it sound like the tepid sort of "happily ever after" that must resonate throughout (my mind's eye view of) the bedroom communities and flyover states that fed the phenomenal success of this whole series.

I'd say "deeply resonate", but then, the whole notion of "happily ever after" is a way of arresting any sort of depth, no? It's like the ripples of waves soaking into the sand at the sea's edge: maybe there was a lot of depth somewhere out in the middle. Or hints of it, anyway? That people could dive into, or not? At least, I hope so. Friends I respect seemed to love this series as more than (whatever constitutes) escapist fluff…

daemonsquire (#9,523)

I guess what I mean is that "happily ever after" does that for every fairy tale. Are you complaining that the epilogue ruined your joy in imagining a "happily ever after" of your very own, for these characters? Or that it squelched any possibility of fitting yours into all the years before and after the few minutes of screentime that this epilogue took up? Or is it… well yes, I guess, it is: just disappointing that, ho hum, turns out everyone in this story just wanted a model family with a house and lawn in the burbs, in the end.

Moff (#28)

@daemonsquire: One might entertain the possibility that starting a family and finding work you enjoy could actually be satisfying — deeply fulfilling, even. And that knee-jerk condemnation of same as "ho-hum" is about as shallow as it gets.

One might.

daemonsquire (#9,523)

Of course, Moff, one might, it's true. Hell, I might. Apparently, even England's Greatest Wizard might. Others might, without jerking any knees, conflate those satisfactions with "diapers and bedtimes, and looking for something good on the television", and suggest "that's no happily ever after at all".

But I take your point, that the shallowness of the sea at its edges was a weak metaphor for "happily ever after"… Although, thinking about the beach now…

Or I guess maybe your point was just that I'm a shallow jerk. Sorry.

Moff (#28)

@daemonsquire: No, sorry. I bristle a little at your mind's eye's view of bedroom communities and flyover states as behind the series' success, because Lord knows Manhattan was as abuzz as anywhere else when each new book came out. I think the metaphor is fine; I just also think the people who have problems with the epilogue weren't paying very close attention to the whole story that led up to it. And that Choire's criticisms are, I dunno, exactly what you'd expect from a New Yorker. I'm underwhelmed, and I patronize this site to be whelmed, at the very least.

Moff (#28)

@daemonsquire: (That is to say, my own knee-jerk reaction notwithstanding, I didn't really have a problem with your comments so much as with the post that inspired them.)

daemonsquire (#9,523)

Cheers, Moff: I think we were somewhat on point together, then, while you were somehow both more tactful and direct, at once.

Pleasure commentsversating with you. God grant you many whelmings.

Mike@twitter (#17,602)

Stumbled upon a site, where already tell about the creation of eight books about Harry Potter

Does the epilogue say whether Hurley lives?

Turboslut (#1,036)

The theater I was in found the epilogue intensely funny. Probably something about the movie laboring under the delusion that changing your hairstyle makes you appear 19 years older.

hypnosifl (#9,470)

I hope in 2030 they pull a George Lucas and reshoot the whole scene with the same actors for a "special edition"

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