With the penultimate novel in the saga—Half-Blood Prince—we know that things must become much worse before they can become better and reach resolution in the seventh and last novel. We should thus expect that it will be chilling in unmatched fashion, and I shall argue that it’s the scariest of them all! Let’s take an eerie walk through the dark corners of Half-Blood Prince, to places seemingly devoid of light or hope . . . .
Saw this short article and brief video the other day. To commemorate the 15th anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone J.K. Rowling made a few brief comments on Good Morning America.
In answer to a question about who she would introduce Dumbledore to, if she could chose anyone in the world, she would actually chose herself. She says Dumbledore is the character she misses the most. Rowling also offers a bit of insight into the writing process. She notes it felt she wrote Dumbledore from the back of her head. That is, oftentimes Dumbledore would tell Harry things that she never knew she herself knew or believed until she saw them in Dumbledore’s words.
A few quick questions for you. One, can you believe it’s been 15 years since Harry Potter has been released? How has Harry affected you and primarily your reading habits? Two, if you could have Rowling bring back any one character from the books so that they could have a chat with you, who would it be and why? Thanks in advance for your thoughts and answers.
(Oh, one more thing struck me as I watched the video clips. In all the shots of Dumbledore, they always used Richard Harris’s portrayal.) 🙂
Here is a special guest post by Dr. Joel Hunter, who teaches in the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University. His post discusses
the context and content of his article “Kierkegaard’s Mirror (of Erised)“:
My article in Reason Papers is a follow-up research paper to the general argument I presented in the essay on technological anarchism published in Travis Prinzi’s collection Harry Potter for Nerds. The gist of my approach to the HP saga in the previous article is to draw a close correspondence between magic in the world of HP and technology in our world, with particular attention to its social effects. Once that close connection is established, we have a basis to compare how magic affects the HP world with how technology affects our world.
The Mirror of Erised presents one of the most suggestive magical devices in the series because its primary effect is precisely anti-social. It amplifies any narcissistic moral defect that might be lurking in the folds of one’s heart. A sociological analysis, therefore, seems less amenable to exploring the Mirror’s meaning.
For a while now, I’ve been thinking about what the Harry Potter series might be able to teach us about justice. What does justice mean? How should it be carried out? One of the reasons I started thinking about this was because I assisted with a course at Boston University this semester on Restorative Justice, which is considered to be an alternative to our current justice system.
Our current justice system is rooted in something called Retributive Justice, which is punishment-based. So if you murder someone, you get punished in proportion with your crime, usually by going to prison. Hence, an accidental killing gets less time than a premeditated crime because the premeditated crime is seen to be more duplicitous and therefore more punishable.
Or here’s a more concrete example, and I know it’s a sensitive one for me and for others: When Osama bin Laden ordered the September 11th attacks, our country responded with the understandable response: He killed our people, therefore we will kill him. (This event, alongside the course I mentioned above, was actually the reason I started thinking about justice and Harry Potter because I think that, for those of us in the United States, at least, bin Laden is the closest equivalent to Voldemort we’ve had in this millennium).
Found in the papers of Albus Dumbledore, written longhand on a piece of foolscap
You would understand, I think, the words
I never thought I’d want to say. And yet
the want itself is deathly. I can’t forget
the weeping nights, silence screaming, absurd
ideas of words to say—as if you heard.
How much could you still understand?
As you watched us laughing, as we planned
to change the world for good—for those preferred—
you kept the frightened silence that now rings
thundering inside my every dream,
to warp with magic stronger than my own
the words I still can’t say—a thousand things
that weren’t—or were they?
How do these words seem?
Words and silence die unheard, alone.
Professor Minerva McGonagall, the estate’s executor, entrusted this manuscript along with other personal effects to Aberforth Dumbledore, the next of kin. The manuscript was rediscovered after Aberforth’s death, when it was found sewn into the lining of his jacket.
In this chapter, we have:
- the escaped Trio’s discussion of the Lovegoods, Harry’s affirmation of Luna’s toughness, Hermione’s brilliance and compassion, and Ron’s budding optimism and leadership
- the inspiring and hilarious Potterwatch, in which we learn of the heroism and deaths of magical martyrs, and Remus’ grace toward Harry; also that “Muggle slaughter is becoming little more than a recreational sport….” (Royal/Kingsley also neatly of sums up some opinion here about Voldemort: “The air of mystery is creating more terror than actually showing himself.”)
- the Trio’s capture due to Harry breaking the Name Taboo
- Hermione’s steadfast faith in Dumbledore. Often pegged as rationality personified, her unwavering faith in Dumbledore and his Horcrux mission is inspiring. You could say that she (rationality) and Harry (faith) have switched places since Godric’s Hollow.
But, most importantly, we have the Deathly Hallows.
Many don’t care for the Hallows, feeling that they were introduced too late, weren’t adequately built up, or are a distraction. However, the Hallows are the climax title and title of this chapter, which is at the center or heart of the book. Harry has had the Cloak from the beginning, though with no explanation of magical origin, and we get some foreboding in HBP, with the destroyed Horcrux ring Dumbledore wears and then mysteriously leaves to Harry in his will.
Throughout the series, we’ve seen the power of magical objects, literally and symbolically. The Hallows are freighted with both symbolic and personal meaning. Actually, the Hallows are the most critical factor in Harry’s character development and moral growth, in his victory over himself and Voldemort, and in his becoming “the better man” at King’s Cross. As both object and crucible, the Hallows lead to Harry’s finest hour and his triumph as Gryffindor/Slytherin androgyne.
In his book Harry Potter and Imagination, Travis Prinzi writes that, with the Hallows, “Rowling has taken up Arthurian themes of the flawed hero and the battle for worthiness.” In Harry Potter there are seven powerful Hallows or “sacred things” – the sword, cup, locket, diadem, stone, wand, and cloak – with only the last three labeled as deathly. Each Hallow parallels a specific Hallow in Arthurian lore (see HPI for details). “In Arthurian Hallow lore,” writes Prinzi, “one does not simply find a Hallow and use it. The hero must be worthy of the Hallow. In Harry Potter, unworthy people do possess and use the Hallows – but neither well nor successfully.” Like Sir Gawain who “held onto “a magical item that would protect him from death,” Harry, tempted by the Elder Wand, is a flawed hero searching for a physical object (a wand) to overcome a spiritual problem (a multiply-split soul). “[Gawain’s] temptation here,” writes Prinzi, “is key because it strongly parallels Harry’s most important temptation in the series.” Grindelwald, Dumbledore, Voldemort and Harry – all are seized with this temptation, and only Harry overcomes it unscathed.
In the context of Arthurian lore, Harry must be virtuous to succeed. “One must be worthy of a Hallow, or the Hallow will not unlock the fullness of its power for the possessor,” writes Prinzi. “Hallows must be acquired by the virtuous for virtuous ends.” And Harry must also need courage, the virtue Rowling most highly prizes (Edinburgh “Cub Reporter” Press Conference). “In Harry’s attempt to defeat evil, “writes Prinzi, “the great paradox is this: the only way Harry could possibly be worthy of the Hallows was to forget about them, and to choose to pursue and destroy the Horcruxes. He does this only when, in the crucible of Dobby’s grave, he finally realizes that ‘no magic could defeat Voldemort,’ only the sacrificial love he had earlier scorned.” HPI (88, 90-96).
In answer to the question “Why does Rowling mix in the Hallows Temptation with Harry’s Horcrux hunt?” John Granger, author of The Deathly Hallows Lectures, writes “The books are largely about the corruptive influence and temptations of power on the hero’s journey to ‘corrected vision’ and theosis (see chapters 5-7). For Harry to complete the journey he began in Philosopher’s Stone, in which ending he was able to get the Stone because he didn’t want to use it, he would have to become the Master of Death by overcoming the temptation of immortality available to him in possessing all three Hallows” (253-4).
Both books mentioned above are outstanding for understanding themes and symbolism in Harry Potter, including the Hallows and their triangular eye symbol.
How did the Hallows impact Harry? Throughout the series, we’ve seen Harry’s disgust over the Dark Lord’s obsession for power; throughout this book, we’ve seen his disgust over Dumbledore’s obsession for power in his youth (“He was our age,” Harry fumes). To his credit, Harry has never lusted after raw power (having often been the victim of it, or seen others victimized) and has thus never experienced the slavery of obsession for it. Therefore, with all the arrogance of youth, Harry the boy considers himself superior to Dumbledore the man.
But once Harry grasps the potential of the Elder Wand, he becomes consumed by the same obsession for power that gripped his predecessors, becoming exactly like those he’s previously scorned. This “weird obsessive longing” (378-9) is described as possessing, consuming, and swallowing him, and as a flame lit within him. He’s lost in feverish contemplation, agitated thinking, self-absorption, a preoccupation with opening the Snitch, a descent into listlessness, distance from Hermione and Ron, and idleness on guard duty. He abandons leadership to Ron and joins in the Horcrux hunt only to stop Hermione’s “pestering.”
Hoping to get a lead on the Elder Wand, Harry ominously begins to seek connection with Voldemort, “because for the first time ever, he and Voldemort were united in wanting the very same thing.” He dismisses Hermione in Lovegood’s terms (limited, narrow, close-minded) and labels her opposition to seeking the Hallows as fear. He forgets about Luna’s suffering on his behalf. He blames others – Ron, Hermione, his adopted blackthorn wand – and is impervious to “veiled criticism.” Similar to Gawain, “He felt armed in certainty, in his belief in the Hallows, as if the mere idea of possessing them was giving him protection,” and his “certainty remained absolute.” He targets the wrong enemy (death rather than Voldemort). He isolates himself and seeks solitude. “He would have been happy to sit alone in silence, trying to read Voldemort’s thoughts, to find out more about the Elder Wand.” But, “the fiercer the longing the less joyful it made him,” which he blames on Hermione and Ron’s “obsession” with finding Horcruxes.
Most alarming, the visions “he and Voldemort were sharing” become “blurred” which “disconcerted” Harry. “He was worried that the connection had been damaged, a connection that he both feared and prized.” Yes, the lines of distinction are certainly blurring between Harry and Voldemort. They are now alike in coveting a powerful magic weapon to defeat the other “for the greater good.”
The result? Harry’s obsession causes him to break the Name Taboo when he blurts out Voldemort’s name, thus bringing about the Trio’s capture.
Harry snaps out of his obsession while digging Dobby’s grave by hand, eschewing magic. With Dobbly’s example of faithful service in blind trust, Harry also eschews pursuing the Hallows. He begins to understand that the problem is really the Dark Lord’s evil soul, and no weapon, magical or otherwise, can overcome it.
Through experiencing for himself how powerful obsession can be, and overcoming the lure of the Hallows, Harry becomes an adult: one who can faithfully complete the Horcrux mission given him to defeat Voldemort; one who can finally close his own mind to Voldemort intrusions, yet easily read his enemy with intuitive understanding; one with humility and superior moral character who can offer a last chance to Voldemort and comforting forgiveness to Dumbledore at King’s Cross. As with the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry has passed the test and is the virtuous man worthy to have possession of the Hallows, because he doesn’t wish to use them for his own gain.
Last summer I came up with a simple equation to explain the Hallows and Horcruxes:
Hallows/Horcruxes Test/Quest Equation:
Horcruxes = Quest – Character – Mastery of Voldemort = Defeat of the Dark Lord
Hallows = Test – Faith – Mastery of Self = “Better Man”, Gryffindor/Slytherin Androgyne
The Horcruxes are Harry’s QUEST:
Through completing his given mission to find and destroy Horcruxes, Harry masters and defeats the Dark Lord. (The Horcruxes refine Harry’s character)
The Hallows are Harry’s TEST:
By choosing to not pursue the Hallows, or use them for personal gain, Harry masters himself and proves himself “the better man” of King’s Cross who unites the Wizarding World. (The Hallows refine Harry’s faith)
Chapter 18 of our Deathly Hallows Read-Through is brought to you by Red Rocker.
Like other great novels, Deathly Hallows is about how human beings try to love one another. Chapter 18 shows different kinds of love: the love Harry and Hermione have for each other and which makes itself known in every word they speak to one another. The problematic love of Albus Dumbledore for one Gellert Grindelwald. And more importantly, for one Harry Potter
This is how matters stand at the start of chapter 18.
Harry has lost his parents, his godfather, and his mentor to Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Dumbledore has set him on a mission to destroy the remaining horcruxes, but has not given him a clear idea of where they are or how he is to destroy them.. Ron has walked out on him. His last good idea of where the Sword of Gyriffindor might be has backfired in a grotesque ambush. And his wand – his right arm – has been rendered impotent. As in broken and bent, hanging together by a strand of phoenix feather. So useless that he has to borrow a girl’s wand to protect himself. Continue reading