Sunday, September 28, 2003

Grim Possibilities:

Harry Potter and Sacrificial Love

Harry Potter is another character that is on the edge between death and life. At the ripe age of one, Harry was made an orphan when he survived a deadly curse. For 10 years, he lived with his aunt and uncle in less than desirable conditions. Now 15-years-old he has already witnessed two deaths (while conscious of what he was seeing), that of Cedric and Sirius. Harry has a number of lethal enemies including Lucius Malfoy and Voldemort.

Yet, not all has been bad for the young hero. Harry has made the special friendships that many people can only dream of attaining. Harry has excelled in a number of classes, including Defense Against the Dark Arts, and has even acted as a teacher to those willing to learn. His love and courage has led him to save lives and continue to speak the unpopular truth. Harry has even been mentored by Albus Dumbledore. Harry is special, and so is his life.

It is because Harry is so special that his life or death will be the key to what the reader takes away when all is said and done. For this reason, I feel it is important to examine the different possibilities in store for Harry. As with the Ron Weasley article, I will divide the different auguries into a number of categories. I will also include some categories dedicated to good omens.

The Epic Story

Many epics follow a specific formula. There is usually some good force fighting some bad force. There is a hero that contains at least one significant flaw. There are usually a number of prophecies to guide the way, though not all prophecies come true. And, perhaps the most significant piece of the formula, the hero dies in order to defeat evil. A good example of an epic hero meeting this final fate would be Beowulf. Often, when an epic fails to kill the hero in the final battle, the author will scroll to the future in order to show the hero's death. For example, Alexandre Dumas forwarded to a new battle to show us D'Artagnan's death (which was brought about by his fatal flaw, greed).

For the most part, Rowling has followed the traditional epic formula. Harry is the good force fighting the bad force. Harry contains a number of flaws, including what Hermione deemed the "heroic complex". Harry has also been guided by prophecies, but has also been warned that prophecies do not always come true. Will Rowling finish the formula with having Harry die in order to defeat Voldemort? It is highly probable. Remember, the prophecy only says that neither can survive while the other lives, not that they both can't die at the same time.

While I do think that this formula must be kept in mind, I do not think it is a wise course to assume that Rowling will follow the formula for the formula's sake. Rowling does not allow her audience to dictate how the story will go, why would she allow a formula to? However, Rowling is an epic fan and to discredit this piece of information is also not wise. Her books are innovative in how they tell the story, but the story itself is not original. The fight between good and evil, the heroic angst, and the coming-of-age story have all taken a number of different forms. The possibilities that Rowling will inadvertently follow the formula are high. Why? The greatest hero that someone can write is a hero willing to either die for good or be willing to give up everything they hold dear. I have no doubt that Harry is going to be faced with some decision when fighting Voldemort. Maybe it will be the decision to not save Ron in order to fight and kill Voldemort; maybe it will be the decision to give up his magic; or maybe it will be the decision to sacrifice himself as his mother once sacrificed herself. After all, Harry is only alive because of his mother's sacrifice. Isn't it fitting that Harry dies sacrificing himself for the world? Love is what protects Harry, and sacrificial love is the strongest love known to man.

Harry's Wand

Harry's wand can be taken as either a good or bad omen, depending on how one interprets the Holly and Phoenix significance. Holly is often associated with Christmas or Christianity because it is one of the few trees that has life in winter. For this reason, Holly is symbolic for life even in death. It is a Christian symbol because Christ's death brought life to the world. If one takes this idea of Holly, the tree of life is a bad omen for Harry and a good omen for the world. This goes back to what was said earlier about sacrificial love.

Holly, however, was not originally seen as a Christian symbol. Many other religions associated the tree with life in death as well. Some religions even saw it as the tree of rebirth, which fits well with the phoenix which is born again from the ashes. (I'm pulling most of this from memory so please excuse the lack of refrences. I'll look it up later.) Does this mean that Harry will live through even the darkest winters and through all of his experiences be reborn? Not literally reborn, but more like a coming-of-age story. The experiences will have changed him.

I personally think, that the Holly and the Phoenix are both examples of life in death and the hope of a new world. Harry's wand shows that Harry contains the hope for life in a world surrounded by Death Eaters and Voldemort. It does not necessarily mean that Harry will die, but it does contain that possibility.


There are a number of foreshadows in the books for both Harry living and dying. I think Rowling does this in order to throw us off the scent. When the scarecrow points both ways, one still has no idea if left or right is the correct choice.

One foreshadow that stands out to me takes place at the end of Book 1. Harry uses his hands to try to keep Quirrell off of him and away from the stone. Quirrell, meanwhile, tries to strangle Harry in order to get to the stone. By the time Dumbledore comes to the rescue, even the headmaster is worried that Harry might be dead.

"I feared I might be too late."
"You nearly were, I couldn't have kept him off the Stone much longer-"
"Not the Stone, boy, you - the effort involved nearly killed you. For one terrible moment there, I was afraid it had. As for the Stone, it has been destroyed."
Book 1, 297 US

Did you notice the foreshadow? Harry was using love to keep Quirrell back, and the effort involved almost killed him! Harry will probably have to use love in order to defeat Voldemort when Voldemort is at his strongest. If using love against Quirrell almost killed Harry, what will it do when using it against Voldemort? Once again, this goes back to the idea of sacrificial love.

The Coming-of-Age Story

Despite all of the omens for Harry's death, there is one large part of the story that cannot be ignored. This story feels like a coming-of-age story. It doesn't do to have someone grow so much and then kill him and take it all away. It would be just cruel! We're seeing Harry grow into a man, and Rowling is doing a magnificent job of showing his transformation. The formula for coming-of-age stories actually requires the opposite of the epic, the main character has to live.

Which formula will Rowling choose to follow? Will she choose a third, not yet considered route? I don't know. Somehow, I think that this can still be a coming-of-age story and still show Harry's death. Why? For seven books the reader has learned to love Harry, the most powerful ending would show Harry's death. I personally don't even think reading his death will be as sad as expected. It is one way to show us what is beyond the veil, and Harry reunited with his parents. Perhaps, however, the best way to combine the coming of age story and the epic is to play Dumas' card and fast forward to Harry's future when he dies of something non-Voldemort related. All of these are probable options. However, I do think that the books have to end with some feeling of life, that hope has won even if things seem dismal. For this reason, I think it may not be Harry who dies, but someone close to him.

This leads to another foreshadow. The beginning of the first book is done from a different perspective than Harry's. A good author often rounds the end of a story to the beginning of a story. Does this mean that the last chapter will be from a different perspective? Perhaps, Ron and Hermione will show the life and hope that lives on after Harry and Voldemort are dead? This would also be a strong ending. In fact, Hermione and Ron are the two opposites of Harry's character and therefore their union in marriage would be a symbol of Harry's continuation.

Another foreshadow shows that Harry will live.
In years to come, Harry would never quite remember how he had managed to get through his exams when he half expected Voldemort to come bursting through the door at any moment.
Book 1, 262 US

Did you notice it? "In the years to come..." Every year so far, Harry has had this worry. Does this sentence mean that there will be a time when Harry is alive and learning, but Voldemort is no longer a worry? If so, than Harry will live after defeating Voldemort. However, it is also possible that Rowling wrote that sentence without thinking about its implications. (Yes, Rowling does make little errors. We've seen that a number of times.) Maybe it just means that Harry will come to forget his fear about Voldemort, but I don't think this is likely while Voldemort is still alive. It's a small foreshadow, but it might have major significance.

Centaurs and Prophecies

The centaurs' comments at the end of book one make it sound as if they expected Harry to die. Their comments can be taken two fold, either they expect a new war or they expect a new war with Voldemort rising and Harry dying. Rowling makes it a point to tell us again and again how the future is unpredictable and that our choices decide whom we will become. Firenze chose to save Harry's life that night and therefore held back Voldemort's return until the end of book five. Does this mean that he also stopped Harry's death from a premature end? The prophecy Trelawney gave us doesn't say that Voldemort couldn't have killed Harry before his return, only that Harry was the only one with the power to save him. If Firenze had not chosen to save Harry, the prophecy would have been fulfilled in a much darker way.

Yet, there still seems to be some importance to the cenataurs' comments. The planets may not tell them about the smaller course of events, but they do give some information on the larger course. They knew that mars meant a second war was coming and very likely that Voldemort would rise again. Does this shift also suggest Harry's death? Or does the fact that Harry has lived so far suggest a good end for the war and a good war for Harry?

I know this isn't making much sense. I kept trying to write it more clearly, but the words wouldn't come. I figured I would just type it out and everyone could just make out of it what they will.

Another important message: Don't pay too much attention to the prophecy. A prophet is one that gives a warning that if the world continues in one direction this is what will happen. The most successful prophets are the ones that prophesize that which doesn't come true because people listened to the warnings. While this may not be as much the case in the Harry Potter books, it is something to keep in mind. Babylon 5 had a great quote from Vir: "You can put a gun to your head tomorrow and the dream is just a dream and the prophecy is just a metaphor." Rowling seems to me a large fan of choices over predestination. If this is the case, perhaps the prophecy is just a metaphor. I still think we need to heed it's words, but perhaps the prophecy won't come word for word. I.e. back to the idea of only the personas dying and not Tom Riddle or Harry. It's not likely, but possible.

I spent so long trying to find the words for that which I was never able to say, I forgot everything else I wanted to say. Therefore, I'm going to just skip to the conclusion. The evidence for Harry dying is equal to the evidence for him living. While the idea of sacrificial love makes for a strong ending, I think the coming-of-age story ending is more fitting. We have all come to love Harry, to kill him off at the end just seems wrong. Although the scarecrow is pointing both directions, I'm going to give more emphasis to Harry living. Sacrificial love will probably still enter the picture, just in a form other than Harry's death.

70/30 living dying ratio.