The Seven Keys to — the Hogwarts Professor?

I was asked today by a very kind reporter to summarize the way I think about books and Harry Potter especially. Here, well,  below the jump,  is my flash response as a rushed email note, posted  for your comment, amendment, and correction:

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PDay Minus One: Prediction #7 “Does Harry Die?”

Here are the Six Previous Predictions in this Series for your convenience and easy reference:

Prediction #1: “Deathly Hallows Will Be Very Much Like the First Six Harry Potter Novels” (with 3 Sure-Things We’ll See at Deathly Hallows’ Publication)

Prediction #2: “The Master Plan Will Be Revealed”

Prediction #3: “Mistaken Identities”

Prediction #4: “Through the Veil”

Prediction #5: “The Rubedo”

Prediction #6: “The House-Elves”

Prediction #6.5: “Tale of Two Cities: Why We Should Expect a Beheading in Deathly Hallows”

There isn’t much here that’s especially mind-boggling or off-the-wall (unless you count some of the guesses at mistaken identities) because each prediction is an illustration or pointer to one or many more of the Five Keys that Serious Readers use to get under the surface of the Harry Potter novels. Ms. Rowling works in patterns and formulas, some of which are fairly easy to understand and see (the Hero’s Journey for instance), others of which require some study (the Literary Alchemy and Postmodern Themes come to mind).

I like these predictions, not because I think they’re “winners” or “bull’s eyes” — I’d be more foolish than I am if I thought more than a few have a chance of proving to be Ms. Rowling’s actual plot points — but because they require readers to think seriously about the patterns Ms. Rowling will be following in what ever direction she takes the series in its finale. Sales of Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader continue to be strong while other Interlibrum titles like the MuggleNet guesses about HP7 have fallen off; readers are telling other serious readers that it isn’t just a pre-Deathly Hallows title.

Thank you for these word-of-mouth sales.

My last prediction is in answer to the question Ms. Rowling has fostered in our minds, “Will Harry die in Deathly Hallows?” I am certain the answer is, “Yes, he will.”

But what sort of death will it be?

Harry, after all, has died a figurative or “near death” in every book so far, only to rise-from-the-dead in the presence of a symbol of Christ. Will that pattern be continued in this last episode or has that periodic resurrection only been a prologue or perumbration for the hero’s real and final demise in Deathly Hallows?

Both versions, of course, would satisfy Ms. Rowling’s patterns that we see in the Five Keys so I won’t pretend to have a definitive answer. My thoughts about specific plot points are perhaps better than the average readers but not so much more that I’d want to bet more than I have in my wallet (never very much, alas).

I don’t know what Harry will learn at the Dursleys’, at Godric’s Hollow, or at the Alchemical Wedding in The Burrow, or even if Harry’s itinerary will conform to his stated destinations at the end of Half-Blood Prince once VoldeWar II breaks out in earnest. I doubt very much there will be the grand Horcrux Hunt many expect or, if he does find the Horcruxes, that he’ll find them in working order. The Rubedo will reveal what happened in the White Stage of the work and much of that Harry just doesn’t understand (see prediction #2). I have a hard time seeing Albus and Severus leaving Horcrux destruction to a self-important man-boy without any clear instructions about destroying them or clues about finding them.

I do imagine that Harry will travel underground and visit the Dead (see prediction #4). If he goes through the Veil, we’ll know why Ms. Rowling had Harry go deep every year and, perhaps, why she thought her faith would be self-evident in the finale. A three day “harrying of Hell” and return-to-life would suffice for that, no?

As much as this trip would satisfy a checklist requirement for “death” and “resurrection,” even Ms. Rowling’s assertion that we’d see in Deathly Hallows how near we could get to the dead, my gut feeling is that we’ll see another death, this time by beheading (see Prediction #6.5). Harry may learn something about his ScarCam Horcrux (which I think Severus disarmed at the end of Prince before leaving the Hogwarts grounds) and foolishly believe his decapitation will destroy the Horcrux (logic says it wouldn’t; only blowing up his head entirely or removing and destroying the Horcrux itself would do that because it isn’t dependent on Harry’s life, it rests on his skull).

Whatever, it seems there is so much beheading and near-beheading in the books that I suspect, as Linda McCabe has said, Chekhov’s Dictum that a loaded gun brought on stage must be fired seems to require that we have a Sydney Carton-like finish to Deathly Hallows. I hope you’ll forgive me for not believing that it will be Harry’s demise.

We know that Unicorn blood will save your life no matter how weak your hold on existence (if drinking this cipher for the Blood of Christ will damn anyone drinking it unworthily, a la 1 Corinthians). We know, too, that Dumbledore was the man who discovered the 12 uses of Dragon’s Blood and that Dragon’s Heart Strings are magically powerful. It turns out that “Dragon’s Blood” is alchemical language for the “Elixir of Life,” another cipher for the Blood of Christ. We saw a little of this power in Phoenix when Hagrid manages to endure Grawp’s beatings for months via the judicious application of Dragon steaks.

Look for Norbert to return like the calvary to Harry’s Cavalry and, with some help, to do for him what Fawkes did for his wounds in the Chamber of Secrets. A little trickier, of course, if Harry is doing his impersonation of Nearly Headless Nick, but certainly doable.

Harry then, may die not only once but twice in Deathly Hallows. He may pass through the Veil and join the Dead. He almost certainly will return. I expect then that Harry will die in a way that convinces us he is “dead and gone” but we will be wrong. In a “big twist” and probably via the services of the Dumbledore men on the scene, Hagrid and Snape, Harry will be revived with Dragon’s Blood. Severus, however redeemed and revealed as a hero and the Great Physician and the Man the World Knew Not, will not be so lucky. Look for Wormtail to be Severus’ bane, thinking he is doing what Harry (and Harry’s father) would want….

It’s getting late and I have a very long night ahead, speaking at Barnes and Noble Saucon Valley and then reading aloud to my three youngest children, Stasia, Timothy, and Zossima. Thank you for reading these predictions and, in advance, for your charity in the coming hours as you find out that all my guesswork has been wrong, at least superficially, as it must prove to be. Reflection on the Five Keys of Narrative Misdirection, Literary Alchemy, the Hero’s Journey, Postmodern Themes, and Traditional Symbolism will help us unravel the meaning of Deathly Hallows more than these guesses made using the Keys have unraveled Ms. Rowling’s finale beforehand.

I hope you have had even half the fun and friendship through your thinking about Harry Potter, here and elsewhere, that I have had. If you have, these books will always have a very special place near your heart.

“Accio Tomorrow!”

Hogwarts Professor will be closed until Monday when I will be appearing at the Barnes & Noble Book Club online as Guest Host for a day, beginning the international and all-comers discussion there of Deathly Hallows. “See you there and then!”

PDay Minus Five: Prediction #3 “Mistaken Identities”

Monday of Potter Week and we’re up to the third Five Keys Prediction for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This one will cause a lot of eyeball rolling and dilatory disputation, if the latter is possible when much of Deathly Hallows has supposedly been posted online, because the subject of “Mistaken Identities” is not a “no-brainer,” especially when it comes to naming names.

Here, then, is my disclaimer about these predictions.

I’m not a brilliant writer of fiction as is Ms. Rowling and I am not a wizard. When I make predictions, consequently, I’m not doing this with the serious intention of hitting bulls eyes. I’m firing at a target in a dark forest, and, while the target is fixed, not moving, I can’t see it and I don’t know where it is. I’ll be delighted and as surprised as anyone if I am correct in the details of any of my predictions. Outside of a few “hits” in the past (Snape as Half-Blood Prince, Ron and Ginny as “Quarreling Couple,” Death of Dumbledore, weather predictions, etc.), all my plot point predictions have been wrong.

Why do I bother?

My intention in making these predictions is to illustrate the Five Keys that open up or “unlock” Harry Potter for the serious reader. I’ve tried to make the best-guesses fun and engaging, even credible because they are detailed rather than formless generalities, but they’re just mind-grabbing illustrations of the Five Keys. The specifics are almost certainly wrong but the Five Keys the predictions exemplify are very valuable (read Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader to see what I’m talking about!).

Back to “Mistaken Identities.”

In the “Hero’s Journey” chapter of Unlocking Harry Potter, I detail the repeated cycles, patterns, and story points that Ms. Rowling uses in most every book. One of the most interesting of the story points that she uses is “Mistaken Identities.” The existence of Polyjuice Potion, Animagi, and simpler Transfiguration spells mean that Hogwarts School specifically (and the Wizarding World in general) is not a place where you can be sure the person you’re speaking with or just seeing is the person you think you’re seeing or talking to. [Read more…]

PDay Minus Seven (Bastille Day, 2007)– Prediction #1: Deathly Hallows Will Be Very Much Like the First Six Harry Potter Novels

Before I get into the sublimely risible business of making predictions about what we will learn in Ms. Rowling’s finale to her Harry Potter magnus opus, let me make a few guesses that I would bet my daughter’s flute on [I would have said “the family cars” but the flute cost more than our cars….]

(1) The Steve Vander Ark Prediction: Harry Potter “Big Name Fandomers” come in three main tiers. The third tier are the many writers and bloggers who have created followings on the internet via their fan-fiction and better-than-the-average-bear speculations. The second tier is the gaggle, ever growing, of book writers and featured speakers at conferences. The first layer of the hierarchy, those just below Ms. Rowling herself and the players in the films made from her books, are those who lead the fan sites that get hundreds of thousands of hits a day — and whom the publicity folks at Warner Brothers and Bloomsbury and Scholastic court.

The Triumvirate of this upper crust are Lexicon Steve, MuggleNet Emerson, and Leaky Melissa. [Read more…]

Story-Telling: The Sixth Key?

As I’ve said before here, I look forward to July 21 and the release of Deathly Hallows as much as every other Fandom reader, if perhaps for different reasons. Yes, I just want to find out how the story ends and will devour the book mindlessly cover to cover in the early hours of the day it is released. Won’t we all? What a relief that will be!

I am looking forward to P-Day (for “publication”), though, almost as much because it will end the Interlibrum and the super-speculative fascination of Fandom waiting on the saga’s last volume. There will be plenty of questions left over at book’s end, I’m sure, that only Ms. Rowling’s version of a Silmarillion will resolve but at least a new period of writing and thinking about the books can begin. This period, to last until the Lord comes I guess, will focus on the interpretation of the meaning and discussion of the artistry of the series. “What’s gonna/gotta happen?” will be supplanted by “What makes these books so popular to so many different people?” as the chief question thoughtful people are trying to answer.

Which is good news and bad news for me. I have been trying to answer the latter question since 2003 and finally having the complete series will mean I have to re-write Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader and cut out the speculative parts and expand the explanations in light of what we will soon know about Harry, Severus, and company. The good news is that finally Ms. Rowling will answer questions about the alchemy in the books, her themes, and her grand-scheme for the stories. The questions, in other words, that I have been trying to answer without her help.

That, frankly, is as exciting to me as finding out what happens to Harry in Deathly Hallows. I won’t miss the speculative side of things because (a) I’ve only engaged in it to illustrate larger points (and have some fun) and (b) I’m not very good at it because I don’t think like a story teller. [Read more…]