Joie (hymnia) wrote,

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Does Harry have to die? Part II

In Part I, I talked about the meaning of the prophecy and the possible impact it might have on the end of the series. In this part, I will be addressing the issue of Harry’s experiences with death, and why I believe he will survive the series.

There are three reasons I believe Harry will be alive at the end of the series.

1. The true meaning of the prophecy

As I said in Part I, I believe the prophecy could accurately be interpreted two different ways, one meaning Harry or Voldemort will die at the other’s hand, the other that Harry and Voldemort will die at the other’s hand. I believe Harry may come to believe that the latter interpretation is the correct one, which would explain why JKR worded the prophecy so carefully, as she recently claimed on her website.

But what does the prophecy really mean? I think it will turn out, in the end, that the first meaning is the true one. First of all, Dumbledore certainly thinks the first is the true meaning, and though he is not infallible, his word is usually trustworthy. Also, the fact that the second statement (“for neither can live while the other survives”) is included suggests at least a possibility that one of them will live.

2. Resurrection and parallels to Christ

In his book The Hidden Key to Harry Potter, John Granger points out that in every book, Harry “dies” and is “resurrected.” Granger also notes that the settings and other elements involved in the climatic sequences in each installment further provide imagery of death and resurrection.

PS/SS: Harry goes down through a trapdoor into a dark labyrinth of physical and mental tests, miles below the school. At the end of his battle with Quirrell/Voldemort, he “knew all was lost, and fell into blackness…down…down....” After three days of unconsciousness, he wakes up to find himself alive and safe in the hospital wing. *puts up huge neon sign: THREE DAYS of “death”*

CoS: Harry goes underground, deep beneath the castle, to battle the Basilisk and Tom Riddle. Of the first four books, this is the one where he comes the closest to truly dying, when he becomes infected with deadly Basilisk venom: “‘You’re dead, Harry Potter,’ said Riddle’s voice above him.” But Fawkes’s healing tears return his life to him (phoenix = resurrection symbol). Ultimately, thanks to the mighty wings of the phoenix, Harry ascends back up to the castle.

PoA: Harry goes underground again, into a dark tunnel underneath the Whomping Willow. He ends up in the Shrieking Shack, which is actually above ground, but so darkened with boarded shutters that it might as well be underground. Harry’s “death” takes place later, by the lakeside. This time it is not his life that he nearly loses, but his soul: “He could feel [the dementor’s] putrid breath…His mother was screaming in his ears…She was going to be the last thing he ever heard—” But he is saved, and, once again, the climatic sequence ends with an ascension, this time on the back of a Hippogriff. (*beats back snarky ship debate alter ego with a stick*)

GoF: Harry duels with Voldemort in a graveyard. His blood is shed, and once again, he faces apparently certain death: “He was going to die like Cedric, those pitiless red eyes were telling him so ... he was going to die, and there was nothing he could do about it...” Once again, phoenix song comes to the rescue, and Harry’s life is spared.

OotP: Again, the climax of OotP features a journey underground—and to the very Chamber of Death itself. Harry doesn’t meet his death there, but he does come close later, in the Atrium of the MoM. This scene is important, so I’m gonna quote it a little more fully:

And then Harry’s scar burst open. He knew he was dead: it was pain beyond imagining, pain past endurance—

He was gone from the hall, he was locked in the coils of a creature with red eyes, so tightly bound that Harry did not know where his body ended and the creature’s began. They were fused together, bound by pain, and there was no escape—

And when the creature spoke, it used Harry’s mouth, so that in his agony he felt his jaw move…

“Kill me now, Dumbledore…”

Blinded and dying, every part of him screaming for release, Harry felt the creature use him again…

“If death is nothing, Dumbledore, kill the boy…”

Let the pain stop,
thought Harry. Let him kill us…End it, Dumbledore…Death is nothing compared to this…

And I’ll see Sirius again…

And as Harry’s heart filled with emotion, the creature’s coils loosened, the pain was gone, Harry was lying facedown on the floor, his glasses gone, shivering as though he lay upon ice, not wood…

~OotP Ch. 36, p. 815-816

This passage gives me the shivers. I see so much going on here that it may be hard for me to stick to the topic at hand. First of all, even as far back as when I made my original post at the SQ about the prophecy and the possibility of Harry’s death, shortly after finishing OotP for the first time, I had the distinct impression that this scene could be a portent of things to come. Specifically, I was disturbed by this suggestion that killing Harry would get rid of Voldemort, too. This is probably the reason why when angua9 pointed out the Changeling Hypothesis recently on her LJ, I was inclined to buy into it, MAGIC DISHWASHER or no.

There are also a few unusual things about LV’s possession of Harry here that I don’t think have been fully explained:

1) He feels pain during his possession—excruciating pain—but others who have been possessed by LV (Quirrell, Ginny, Nagini) don’t seem to have felt pain when they were possessed.

2) As Dumbledore explains to Harry later, it was Harry’s heart—his love for Sirius—that drove LV out. Yet, once again, we know of LV possessing other people. Could it really be possible that not one of his previous hosts (and he has used others besides just those mentioned specifically in canon) felt love while LV was invading them? But if he had been expelled from a host by such a thing before, wouldn’t LV have anticipated the possibility, and done something to prevent it? It seems likely that this has not happened to LV before, in which case, there must be something more to Harry’s ability to throw off LV’s possession of him than simply his rush of love for Sirius.

But I think those two things are beyond the scope of this essay. I just throw them out there as points of interest.

To return to the discussion of death and resurrection, Harry’s “death” in OotP is also reversed, as in previous books. His life is returned to him. Fawkes is also present again, and in this book, we even see him go through the process of death and rebirth.

*whew* Okay, file that away for a moment while we turn to a slightly different, but related topic: Jesus Christ.

What with all this death and resurrection talk, surely you knew that was coming? I am not, of course, the first to suggest that Harry may be seen as a sort of Chirst figure. One thing I want to clarify from the off is that I don’t think Harry is a precise analog for Christ the way, say, Aslan from the Narnia series is. I think he’s more like Tolkien’s primary and secondary protagonists in LotR, who both take on Christ-like roles, without truly being analogous to Christ in the world of Middle-earth. Frodo is a suffering servant, who carries the heavy burden of evil on behalf of others, and goes all the way to hell and back to destroy it. Aragorn is a rugged diamond-in-the-rough who turns out to be the true king—both a conqueror and a healer; he visits the cursed dead and returns with victory; he ultimately brings hope and peace to his subjects. Yet both Frodo and Aragorn are also fallible, unlike Aslan or Christ Himself; they make mistakes, and experience growth as characters. The parallels between Frodo and Christ or Aragorn and Christ are present, but limited.

I believe that Harry is also a Christ-like figure of the Aragorn and Frodo variety. The theme of death and resurrection is one sign of this, especially considering the three-day duration of Harry’s first “death”. Other possible signs are objects and creatures associated with Harry, which have potential symbolic connections to Christ*: his holly wand with a phoenix feather core, his white stag Patronus, the Gryffindor lion, possibly Buckbeak the hippogriff (who may be standing in symbologically for his relative the Gryffin), and perhaps even the wine that comes from Harry’s wand in “The Weighing of the Wands” chapter in GoF.

*The source for most of these is John Granger; others I have picked up from various discussions around the ‘net.

But I think the most powerful connection between Harry and Christ is the role that Harry has to play, in light of Trelawney’s prophecy (though inklings of this role were clearly present before the prophecy was revealed): even before his birth, he was destined to be the savior of his world.

It is curious to me that most of the people I have encountered who have discussed the possible connection between Harry and Christ use it as evidence that Harry will be dead at the end of the series. It makes me wonder if their Bibles are missing some chapters—like Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20-21, Acts 1, and pretty much the entire book of Revelation. ;) Some people seem to have forgotten that Jesus isn’t dead at the end of the story. And, as you’ll notice with the other characters I’ve mentioned as examples of Christ figures, they don’t end up dead in their respective stories, either. Aslan dies, but returns to life. Aragron takes the Paths of the Dead, but returns to Minas Tirith triumphant. Frodo goes to the very heart of hell, but returns to tell the tale. So I believe Harry, too, will end the series as he has every book—with death and resurrection.

3. The lessons Harry still has to learn about death—and life

The Harry Potter books are about, first and foremost, Harry’s journey out of childhood. If we are to determine whether this journey will end in death or life, I think it wise to examine the treatment of death in the five installments we now have. Death is a major theme of the books, and a thorough examination of the subject would take more time and space than I am willing to allot, so I will only give a brief overview of some of the lessons Harry learns about death in each book.

PS/SS: “To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”
CoS: Be willing to sacrifice one’s life for the sake of another.
PoA: The dead we loved never truly leave us.
GoF: Face death courageously; don’t go out without a fight.
OotP: Death is not the end; we will see our departed loved ones again.

The coming-of-age nature of Harry Potter’s story is a powerful reason for believing Harry will survive the series. In the original post I made at the Sugarquill about misinterpreting the prophecy, I said that the main reason I don’t believe in the dead!Harry theory is because, in this sort of story, it doesn’t make sense to have your protagonist come of age only to kill him off. And yet, I had my doubts, because one important lesson for a person to learn about death is to accept his or her own. This is part of the reason I believe Harry may “realize” that the prophecy means he will have to die.

And yet, I believe he will live in the end, because he has an even more important lesson to learn than accepting his death; what he really needs to learn is to accept his life.

Let’s return to the scene from the end of OotP that I quoted above. The last thing I want to point out in this scene, and I must give credit to angua9 for bringing this to my attention, is how Harry actually longs for death. In past books he has faced death courageously. All the way back in PS/SS he was adamant that he had to risk his life for the sake of righteousness: “‘…it’s only dying a bit later than I would have, because I’m never going over to the Dark Side!” And this attitude is consistent with later books as well.

But in OotP, we’re not seeing noble, self-sacrificial courage in Harry’s willingness to die. We’re seeing desperation. Even earlier, before Sirius’s death, we see his fascination with the Veil; he is drawn to death. And this is not something so new, really. It’s more pronounced at the end of OotP, against the backdrop of Harry’s book-long depression, and in the midst of his grief over Sirius’s death, his fighting against Lupin’s restraining arm to rush to the Veil himself, his begging Dumbledore for death, for release from his physical pain and reunion with Sirius. But it’s always been there. Consider, for instance, Harry’s fascination with the Mirror of Erised in PS/SS. For his best friend, the mirror shows a vision that concerns the future. But for Harry, his deepest desire is for the past—and for the dead.

Harry has learned to fight courageously for his life and for the lives of others, but I don’t think he has learned to really value his own life, and his own future. His long years of looking out on a hopeless future with the Dursleys, before he knew that he was a wizard, damaged his ability to recognize his potential for accomplishment and happiness. In OotP, when the subject of Career Advice forces him to consider these things, he seems almost to choose a direction for his career on a whim. Ron thinks being an Auror would be cool? Well I guess that sounds okay… Throughout the series he treats the future with bewilderment and even pessimism, rather than with wise planning and optimism. And if Harry is to learn this lesson—to value the gift of life and have hope for the future—then he must end the series alive.

In conclusion…

From my original post at the Sugarquill:

I just can’t buy that this series, which even with all its sad moments is still fairly lighthearted, would end with the death of the protagonist. I do think that he will learn to accept his own death in the final battle with LV, but I think that ultimately it will not be necessary. There will be a last-minute reprieve, a wonderful eucatastrophe a la Tolkien and Lewis (I hope I hope I hope).

And I still hope—and believe I have good reason to do so—that in the end, Harry will live.


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