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 . . . .
One of the most emotionally charged passages in the Harry Potter books (for me anyways) is Harry at Godric’s hollow. It is at once beautiful and serene, yet full of anguish and bitter grief. This scene, along with all chapter 16 and 17, highlight a major theme in the entire Harry Potter story line: dying well. This is ultimately what Harry has to learn to defeat Voldemort (precisely because Voldemort refused to learn the value of a good death), and through the memory of his parents and their sacrifice, it is a lesson that Harry has been learning since his first year at Hogwarts.
In addition to the echos of Christmas in book one and Christmas in book seven Kelly addressed in her A Christmas Ring Composition post, the links of an immortality quest can’t be overlooked.
In book 1, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are trying to uncover the identity of Nicolas Flamel, the alchemist who created the sorcerer’s/philosopher’s stone. With his elixir of life, Nicolas Flamel staved off death. In book 7, they are faced with the riddle of the Deathly Hallows, three pieces that united would master death itself. Both books lay out a story of one man trying to master death (Voldemort), and one boy learning to live with meaning because others died for him (Harry). Continue reading
Halloween marks the occasion of the death of Nearly Headless Nick (a.k.a. Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington), which was caused by having been “hit forty-five times in the neck with a blunt axe” (CoS p. 123).
We find out in Chapter 12 of Chamber of Secrets that October 31, 1992 is Nick’s five hundredth deathday. Hoping that Harry will attest to Nick’s being impressively frightening so that he might be allowed to join the Headless Hunt, Nick invites Harry and his friends to his Deathday Party. Ron skeptically asks a good question: “Why would anyone want to celebrate the day they died?” And Hermione characteristically looks forward to what she can learn from the experience: “A deathday party? . . . I bet there aren’t many living people who can say they’ve been to one of those—it’ll be fascinating!” (CoS p. 130).
With Hermione’s inquisitive spirit, let’s have a go at wrestling with Ron’s question. Is there something more going on here than a chillingly gothic setting for the horrors to be unleashed by the re-opening of the Chamber of Secrets?
The third essay in the Imagining Better: Philosophical Issues in Harry Potter collection, is “buy viagra in uk href=”http://www.reasonpapers.com/pdf/341/rp_341_3.pdf”>Harry Potter and Humanity: Choices, Love, and Death,” by Shawn Klein, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Rockford College, PA. (He’s also a co-editor of Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts.)
After discussing the central role played by choice, which is best captured in Dumbledore’s famous quotation that it is “our choices . . . that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities” (CoS p. 333), Prof. Klein explores how Harry’s humanity is best shown in his recognition of his mortality. Harry’s acceptance of his mortality enables him to love and to be a whole person; having a limited life span allows one to realize just how precious and valuable life is. On the other hand, it is Voldemort’s rejection of mortality that undermines his ability to love–either others or himself.
(Coming soon: A guest post by Prof. Joel Hunter on his essay about the Mirror of Erised and existentialism.)
Almost everyone has them, whether in your wallet or safely tucked away at home. I’m referring to pictures. We take them, treasure them, show them, longingly look at them, tell the stories behind them—and yet are more often than not dissatisfied with them. Why don’t we ever look like our pictures (especially our driver’s license photo, which could often be mistaken for a mug shot)? How come when we go to put a picture of our favorite person in a special frame, it’s not easy to select the one that looks like the person, I mean really looks like him. And none of them ever quite does….
Wow, it is so great to be back at the Hogshead—I always love your reading comments about my posts; they’re not only insightful but they get me thinking about what to write next.
Which is exactly what happened last week when Red Rocker wrote:
“Enough listening to us, Professor D. We’re eager to listen to you share some topic and themes – and hopefully reactions.
“What are the highlights of your course? What is the stuff that makes the kids look up from their cellphones or iPads or (worst case scenario) Gameboys, and actually listen and think? When they put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard), what insights stream from their brains? What surprises them? What delights them? What makes them go ‘Whoa, I never thought of that!'”
So, Red Rocker, today’s post is for you! First off, let me say that I have been blessed with students who overall do not tune me out to their computers or iphones….though I did catch one student texting in the first row and a few others surfing the web. Three thoughts go through my head when this happens:
1. Come on folks, this class is so fun! You can tell the facebook friend you haven’t seen in ten years that you like their new Farmville truck later, and breaking news about Charlie Sheen will have even more ludicrousness to it by the time we’re done, so really, really, what could be more important than our class?
2. Oh wait…they think I don’t notice. They actually think I don’t notice. Even though I can see the cell phones in their hands under the desk and their fingers typing, even though I see their eyes sneakily moving left to right across a laptop screen, they really believe I’m paying attention to something other than, well, them.
3. Should I tell them their secret is out, read that metaphorical note-passed-between-friends to the class? Or should I pull them aside quietly during the break? Or just let it go (my default to date)?
Always a struggle. I’ve thought of banning laptops for this reason, telling students I will record the course if notes are that important to them. Like I said, this is a very small number of students, but nonetheless, Red Rocker, this post is for you, so, in the spirit of honesty (and venting), I just had to share.
But continuing on to the question of what surprises and delights students most: I would say that students are most surprised by is the fact that there is not just one cookie cutter for Christian thought. They’re surprised by the variety of thinkers and priorities among Christian theologians and how that plays out in the series.
Let me give an example: Last week in class, we talked about salvation in the Harry Potter series, and I asked them whether anything like Christian salvation exists in the books. Of course, the first piece of information they need to answer that question is a definition of salvation. Anticipating this, I assigned an article that outlined several different understandings of Christian salvation. One of them, called the Christus Victor model, states that Jesus saved humans from evil by dying on the cross, engaging in a cosmic battle with the devil in hell post-death, and then rising in triumph after defeating the devil. This salvation model makes sense because it’s rooted in the idea that the problem for Christians is the existence of evil. From a different perspective, they also read about Anselm’s theory of atonement, which says the problem is that because humans sinned against God, they owe God a debt so large that only someone who is God is capable of paying it. Unfortunately, God can’t pay a debt to Godself, so a human has to do it. Hence, it’s convenient that Jesus is both God and man. When he dies on the cross, Jesus can offer the human side up as payment because he is also fully God and therefore capable of paying the debt. In this construction, the problem is the debt to God brought about by human disobedience and sin and the answer is a way to pay the debt.
Different problems, you see, need different answers.
When we apply this to the series, we see that salvation also takes many forms. Harry, for instance, might be seen as procuring salvation by paying a debt through death that only he is uniquely capable of because he alone is a Horcrux. In contrast, Dumbledore or Neville might be seen as characters who participate in salvation by fighting against evil. I think that in this way, we see that salvation can take many forms because many different ailments plague us. This both reflects our diversity and our reality. But unlike in Christian thought, in Harry’s world, many people participate in that salvation (not just one), which makes the whole community responsible for it. How empowering is that? It seems to say that if we all work together under the power of love, then we too can accomplish something transformative on our world.
Wow, I’ve written a lot here, so I think it’s probably a good place to stop. But don’t worry, Red Rocker, as Arnold says, “I’ll be back!”
This chapter is the crux of the entire series, answering the most important questions that remain, summing up a lot of what the series is about, and packing just about as much symbolism as Rowling could possibly fit into so many pages. It all starts with the title.
King’s Cross: The Name and Place
From Rowling’s Bloomsbury chat post-DH release:
Don’t cry for us, we’re free and we’re young
Our troubles are behind us, and our journey’s done
The moon doesn’t burn, there are no scars to conceal
And Azkaban’s a nightmare that was never real
What goes through your head when you know you’re about to die? Rowling gives us Harry’s thoughts as he takes ‘this cold-blooded walk to his own destruction’—which phrase, we might suggest, is a reasonable metaphor for mortal life.
For him it is imminent. He doesn’t get a sudden death like Hedwig, a quick hit in battle; he doesn’t even get to make a split-second jump in front of a wand to save a friend. He has time to consider his own life, time to consider running away—but he doesn’t consider that. He doesn’t even consider breaking faith with Dumbledore, who, in his “Finally, the truth” moment (partly wrong, as Harry not infrequently is) he thinks has betrayed him. The love he learned in Dobby’s grave is still there, and lives depend on his choice. He puts on the Invisibility cloak and walks out of Hogwarts toward the forest.