Wands and Hallows
It was predictable that something about wands was going to be important in the final chapter of the Potter saga. In the very first book, we find out that Harry and Voldemort have twin wands. In the fourth book, where Voldemort returns, we have the wand connection saving Harry’s life. This connection, at a minimum, had to be broken in some way during their final confrontation. And then Ollivander turns up missing with no explanation given; it is even hinted at in Half-Blood Prince that he may have joined the Dark Side willingly (though this turned out not to be the case).
The Elder Wand is, in my opinion, a neat plot element. I wish Rowling had just gone with the legend of the Elder Wand instead of the legend of the Deathly Hallows, because I think the other two objects are either superfluous (in the case of the Stone) or unimpressive (in the case of the Cloak). I’ll get to that later. But unfortunately, the Elder Wand subplot itself wasn’t really handled properly. The way Rowling says it happened simply does not make sense. She is asking us to believe that Harry became the wand’s master because he had taken a different wand from Draco Malfoy, who in turn had disarmed Albus Dumbledore without any intention of keeping his wand! And that Voldemort, who did want the wand, never became Master at all. This is just not well-written, and frankly, I don’t buy it.
Moreover, it doesn’t make sense to say that every wand “recognizes a new master” when it is taken from its original wielder against that person’s will. Ollivander says that the manner of taking matters, which I would agree with, but we are never given a hard explanation of how it matters. Based on the manner in which Draco Malfoy took the Elder Wand from Dumbledore, Neville should have become Master of Harry’s wand in Order of the Phoenix when the D. A. were practicing Expelliarmus! Every wand there should have changed ownership during that exercise, and they didn’t. How many times has Expelliarmus been used against various characters in the books, and successfully? I think that, if such a rule can be said to apply to “ordinary” (non-Elder) wands, then the intent of the one doing the disarming is of paramount importance. If that person intends just to disarm his opponent, then the wand doesn’t change ownership. If the person does intend to take the wand and keep it, okay. But that should still only apply to the actual wand that was taken, not other wands that the one disarmed happened to own.
This does help to explain some of the screwiness of the Elder Wand’s back story. When Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald, the wand was beaten. (So much for it being an “unbeatable wand.” The only thing that wand is good for is to keep someone who happened to hold it from using it against its true Master.) Allegedly, its first owner, Antioch Peverell, was murdered in his sleep and the wand was taken from him without a duel. Additionally, Grindelwald stole the wand from Gregorovitch without a duel. However, the common denominator here is that all three people intended to take possession of the wand. Draco Malfoy did not care one bit about having the wand. He just wanted Dumbledore to be wandless. He also didn’t really want to kill Dumbledore. His intentions in casting Expelliarmus were to disarm an opponent, not take possession of the wand. Draco Malfoy has no more right to be Master of the Elder Wand than Neville has to be Master of Harry’s wand.
Voldemort, who did take the wand with the full intention of owning it, has more right to have legitimately been a master—because I do not buy that the wand’s power dies if its last owner dies undefeated. If the only real power of the wand is that it cannot be used against its true Master, what difference does it make if that Master dies without having the wand taken from him or her? Why couldn’t the wand recognize a new master if the previous (deceased) Master’s intentions were for the wand never to be stolen, and yet it was stolen post-mortem? I don’t see why the mastery must die permanently as long as the wand itself is not destroyed. We are talking about an artifact that has passed through so many hands and conducted so much magic that it is the next thing to being sentient. (I didn’t go there first; Rowling herself did by making Harry’s perfectly ordinary, single-owner wand sentient and going on autopilot against Voldemort.) Why couldn’t it be on the lookout for a new Master after Dumbledore’s death?
I’ll grant that Snape couldn’t have been a Master if we assume that intent to take the wand is required for mastery. If this had been my book, I would have written it so that Voldemort did become a legitimate Master of the wand when he stole it (and that it did work as expected for him, which would have enabled Snape to survive, making countless fans happy), but that by casting a Killing Curse that wiped out part of his own soul, he lost the mastery. It would have been transferred to Harry, who survived the curse by means of the blood charm and thereby defeated the wand (and who did want the wand himself). Straightforward, sensible, and it makes Voldemort completely responsible for his own demise.
And speaking of which, Harry made himself even more of a target for greedy Dark wizards than before, by announcing that he owned the Elder Wand. Honestly. Then again, this is Potter, so what can we really expect?
Now, the (sigh) Deathly Hallows.
I don’t have a particular problem with the Resurrection Stone. It doesn’t operate in a screwy way, and since it was not introduced beforehand except as a stone in a ring, there is no contradictory behavior to explain away. I don’t think such a thing was necessary to have in the story when the Veil of Death is right there in the Ministry, but it doesn’t really throw us a curve. I do wonder whether other people, in the past, had recognized it for what it was, and that was why Marvolo Gaunt in Half-Blood Prince claimed that he had been offered a lot of gold for the ring. But it would be hard to believe that these people would just walk away from it upon his refusal, either, if they knew what it was. Maybe they were just Hallows Questers who wanted to collect anything that they thought might be a clue.
I am among the many fans who cry foul at the idea that the Cloak is a Hallow. It is a literal Invisibility Cloak, but that it is all it is. It does not protect against, say, magical eyes or feline senses. Or the Homenum Revelio spell. Or the perception of a poltergeist. Or the Marauder’s Map, or the emotion-sniffing Dementors. Hallow, my foot. I will accept that this particular Cloak is different from the usual cloaks in that it does not wear out with time, but that’s it. It’s a unique Peverell family heirloom, not a sacred object.
That much should be obvious anyway. “Death” gave the objects to the three brothers? Who, exactly, is meant by “Death”? One of the various gods of death? I think not. Contrary to the opinions of various fundamentalist groups, Paganism has virtually no place in this series unless one counts the folklore elements as Pagan (which I do not). And, even before the blatant Christian references in the final book—particularly the Godric’s Hollow chapter—we had the big, flashing, outlined-in-neon Christian metaphor of the hero being saved from the Bad Guy by the willing sacrificial death of a parental figure in his place. We also have the rather obvious Calvinism of Rowling, which, frankly, is the only way to explain her blasé attitude toward bullying and misdeeds on the part of the Elect... erm, Good Guys. So maybe it was the Angel of Death that she meant. But I’m more inclined to take Dumbledore at his word and assume that they are objects created by the Peverell brothers, especially since two of the three artifacts behave in ways that are more consistent with the objects being human inventions.