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)