Spoiler Alert: There will be no specific Deathly Hallows spoilers in this, but if you're still working your way through the final volume, you may want to avoid it anyway because I refer to aspects of the entire HP series, including broad elements of the last book.
I was only a few chapters into the final book of the Harry Potter series when I started to wonder in earnest what the series would have been like if it had gone in an entirely different direction. It's something I've thought about before, as the books first started grow darker and more intense. But the Deathly Hallows, saturated as it is with epic danger and self-awareness of its impending end, takes the darkness and intensity to a new level. I enjoyed reading it, as I have the earlier books. But it made me seriously question if I wouldn't have enjoyed it even more if it hadn't gotten so, well, serious.
Perhaps it's because I don't take Harry Potter extremely seriously in the first place. I understand to many that's blasphemy, but the truth is that J.K. Rowling is not a fantastic writer. I do think she's a fantastic storyteller, which can be very different thing. Rowling's characters are often one-dimensional, her prose often uninspired. But her tales are still involving and fun, and they resonate a deeper, common mythology. I think there is a very good reason her books have mushroomed into the huge media empire they have - they're already written like blockbuster movies, already plugged into the way people think about and interact with modern media.
Which is fine. Who minds a little mass-media, merchandised entertainment? At least, as long as it doesn't try to be anything else. I have the impression that somewhere along the line, the popularity and importance attached to Harry Potter caused it to move away from its more humble and sincere beginnings. I have very much the same opinion about the most recent Star Wars movies, except they were more horrible than anything Rowling's done (so far).
I think that in the reaching towards epic greatness, the Harry Potter books lost a lot of their initial charm and originality. I think that I would have been perfectly satisfied with a series of stories about going to school at Hogwarts, unraveling wizardly and adolescent mysteries alike, and dipping into danger, but never drowning in it. I think I would have enjoyed more imagination and less angst, more characterization and less rehashing of themes.
But then again, it's hard to say that for sure, isn't it? I still did enjoy the entire Harry Potter series, and I'm certain I'll share them with my daughter as she grows older. I'll probably even re-read Deathly Hallows before the summer is done. I just know that as I do, I'll keep wondering what it could have been.