The Trademark Three Part Harry Potter Ending

November 7, 2010

I’ve just finished reading Order of the Phoenix and I’ll be posting about it soon (when I’ve gathered my thoughts a bit but I had to kick off by celebrating that J.K. Rowling classic, the three-part ending which comes standard in each book.

Part 1: The Action Set Piece

The dramatic climax in which Harry, Ron and Hermione (and occasionally someone else) rush headlong into danger with the best of intentions.  Through some twist of fate everybody else falls behind and Harry ends up taking on Voldemort (or a troupe of dementors) on his own.  Deep sighs of relief all around.  But its not over yet …

Part 2: The Hospital Wing Tell All

Rowling must be a fan of Agatha Christie (I’m not) because she just loves to use this ending style in which the smartest person in the room sits everybody down and re-explains the entire plot, adding in key pieces of information which re-frame everything in a way the reader could never have predicted.  The Hospital Wing Tell All usually involves Dumbledore sitting by Harry’s bedside (although sometimes the scene is moved to his office or someone else’s) and telling Harry (and us) all sorts of things that would have been useful to know a while ago.

Part 3: The Hogwarts Express Pick-me-up

Since the Tell all phase often contains some pretty bleak news (Harry is destined to battle Voldemort to the death, e.g.) we need a little pepping up before that chime-y cheerful music kicks in at the end of the audio book … and to keep us waiting eagerly for the next installment in several years time.  So we always get a little bit of humor and often a little bit of revenge on the school train.  This often involves hexing Draco Malfoy (which is effective but a bit unfair) or intimidating the Dursleys (who totally deserve it).

Here’s how the formula plays out in the first five books.  Spoiler Alert: if you don’t already know the endings to each HP book, you should stop reading.  But in that case why are you reading this in the first place?

  • In Sorcerer’s Stone, the brave trio battle first the professors’ enchantments and then Quirrell/Voldemort under the third floor corridor.  Ron gets knocked out, there’s only enough potion for one to get to the final chamber and so Harry goes on alone … and ends up taking on Voldemort for the first time at eleven.  We get a classic Hospital Wing denouement in which Dumbledore explains a bunch and tells some spectacular lies.  Then the train: Harry is sad to be leaving Hogwarts but mischievously announces that he intends to get his own back with the Dursleys: “they don’t know we’re not allowed to do magic over the summer.”  Cue the music.
  • In Chamber of Secrets, Hermione is already down for the count.  Ron and Harry (and Lockhart) set off together but this time a giant pile of rubble sends Harry off to … battle Voldemort alone.  For variety’s sake we get our Dumbledore explanation in Lockhart’s office rather than the Hospital Wing.  The school exams are canceled.  And then on the train we find out from Ginny that Percy has a girlfriend and Fred and George intend to torment him endlessly for it.
  • In Prisoner of Azkaban, we actually get the whole action climax twice, courtesy of Hermione’s time turner, and both versions end in the Hospital Wing!  And we actually get our Dumbledore explanation in between the two adventures.   On the train home, Ron gets an owl of his very own and Harry realizes he can tell the Dursleys that he has a serial killer for a godfather.
  • Goblet of Fire shakes up the formula somewhat, in that neither Ron nor Hermione is with Harry when he goes into the third task.  He does, however, have Cedric with him (both in the teamwork at the end of the maze and physically when they both touch the portkey) and then loses him and has to go on alone to (drumroll, please) battle Voldemort.  In this ending there is a tell-all rehash of the books events by Barty Crouch Jr and then (is it a sign of improving writing quality?) we get a show-not-tell style confrontation between Dumbledore and Fudge in the Hospital Wing.  On the train we get the satisfaction of learning that Hermione has outsmarted Rita Skeeter and of seeing the trio (plus Fred and George) hex Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle into near oblivion.
  • But with Order of the Phoenix, we’re right back on formula.  Harry, Ron and Hermione, this time with Ginny, Neville and Luna as well, set off for the Ministry of Magic.  Even though most of the Order of the Phoenix shows up during the fight, Harry ends up going toe to toe with Voldemort alone when even Dumbledore can’t protect him from being possessed by the Dark Lord.  The explanation Dumbledore gives Harry in the hospital wing this time is worthy of Hercule Poirot in its long winded rehash of most of the last four books.  And then we get a classic Hogwarts express ending with the Hufflepuff/Ravenclaw contingent of the DA hexing Crabbe, Goyle and Malfoy into slugs and then most of the Order of the Phoenix showing up at the train station to intimidate the Dursleys (“Are you threatening me?” “Yes, I am.”) into not being horrible to Harry.  Cue the music.

Some people might complain that these endings are formulaic and maybe they are.  But I find them delightful and was laughing out loud to the end of Order of the Phoenix yesterday.  The really amazing thing is how new and fresh each one manages to seem.  Now on to the next book!

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2 Responses to “The Trademark Three Part Harry Potter Ending”

  1. denisedthornton Says:

    That is the beauty of compelling writing. Every story is the same old story – just an updated version of what we used to tell each other around the fire circle in prehistory. But a good storyteller can always make it fresh and leave us wanting more.
    And that is why I have to take my hat off to J.K., she said admiringly.

    • dihansmann Says:

      Well, it obviously appeals to me. I was going for a walk and listening to the book on my ipod when this struck me. I was grinning like a loon when I started doing a mental tally of how many times this ending sequence has been used.

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