Deathly Hallows Discussion Point #4: Stoppered Death

Kathy Leisner of The Leaky Cauldron speculated at what was then Barnes and Noble University just after Half-Blood Prince was published that Severus “stoppered” Albus Dumbledore’s death when he tried to destroy the Ring Horcrux and that he was a dead man walking in the sixth book (an explanation of this theory can be found in the first chapter of my Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader). Three questions: Was the golden potion Snape gave Dumbledore the potion he mentions in the first Potions class in Stone? Was this the reason that Dumbledore trusted Snape without reservation? If so, why doesn’t he ever tell Severus about the Horcrux hunt?

Deathly Hallows Discussion Point #5: Narrative Misdirection

Ms. Rowling’s signature flair is the stunning ending in which you learn that what Harry thought is not only wrong but outrageously wrong (again, see Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader for an in-depth look at Ms. Rowling’s use of this narratological trick she gets from Austen’s Emma). The end of Half-Blood Prince seemed to be the exception because Harry has always believed that Snape was bad and in Prince he argues from the start that Draco is up to no-good. We learned, of course, in Deathly Hallows that Harry was mistaken in Prince — everything on the Tower was staged, Severus was acting in obedience — and, incredibly, about Dumbledore as well. What did you think of The Prince’s Tale, in which we learned that Snape was a Heathcliff Hero and that Dumbledore was using Harry Potter all along as a necessary sacrifice in the war against Voldemort? Did the conversation with Albus in King’s Cross soften the blow of learning how Harry was a pawn in Dumbledore’s game? Were you caught off guard in either instance?

Deathly Hallows Discussion Point #6: The Hero’s Journey

One of the Five Keys or “essential patterns” Ms. Rowling uses that are discussed in Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader is the hero’s journey. Ms. Rowling uses a formulaic trip from Privet Drive to King’s Cross in Harry’s first six years that differs only in the details; every year we start out at Privet Drive, escape magically, discover a mystery, work with Ron and/or Hermione to solve the mystery, come to a crisis point, take a trip underground, confront the enemy, die a figurative death, rise from the dead in the presence of a symbol of Christ, do a denouement with Dumbledore, and return to King’s Cross. Except for Harry’s return to Hogwarts being delayed until the last eight of thirty six chapters, Ms. Rowling seems to have conformed to her formula. I was most impressed by the internal mysteries the Trio must resolve about the Deathly Hallows, Albus Dumbledore’s real character, and “the man in the mirror” while Horcrux hunting, not to mention Harry’s “resurrection” as this year’s Christ figure. Deathly Hallows, because it was not a Hogwarts year, seemed to work better than the other stories as a hero’s journey; Harry had his time in the Wilderness. What are your thoughts about Deathly Hallows as monomyth?

Deathly Hallows Discussion Point #7: The Rubedo

Ms. Rowling said in a 1998 interview that she had read a “ridiculous amount” about alchemy before writing the books and that this is what sets the “magical parameters and logic” in Harry Potter (if you want to learn more about alchemy in these books, see chapters 3-5 in Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader ). The last stage of the seven cycle alchemical Great Work is called the Rubedo or “red stage” and features an alchemical wedding of the Red King and White Queen, the death of this couple and the creation of the “philosophical orphan,” the resolution of contraries, the revelation of the accomplishments of the “white stage” (here, Half-Blood Prince), and the appearance of the “Rebis” or “double-natured person” (Hermaphrodite). As the “Black” and “White” stages of the books featured the players and the death of the characters with these names, it was widely assumed that the Rubedo of Deathly Hallows would feature Rubeus Hagrid. We had the wedding, the death of a couple (just not Bill and Fleur!), an orphan, the resolution of the Gryffindor/Slytherin chasm within wizardry and the Wizards First prejudice, the revelations of what really happened in Prince, and Harry’s acting as Quintessence, Savior/sacrifice, and Rebis. But Hagrid? How important were his parts in the opening and the finale? Did his carrying Harry out of the forest close the story he began by breaking the door on the House on the Rock in Stone? Nice golden binding, though, for the last book and lead-to-gold finish…

Deathly Hallows Discussion Point #8: Postmodern Themes

The easiest explanation for why these books are so popular is that “we buy and read them because we like them.” That’s not as vapid and circular as you might think because “why we like them” is that “the books resonate with the concerns and our beliefs of this historical age.” Ms. Rowling writes as a postmodern writer for a postmodern audience. In Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader I explain ten qualities of Postmodern Story-Telling, and, as you’d expect, Ms. Rowling hits a perfect 10 in Harry Potter. Deathly Hallows is no exception; it is a great finish to her several postmodern themes, most notably, that government, media, and schools are the agencies of the Grand Myth that makes us as prejudiced as we are, that these cultural prejudices make us effectively blind to the way things really are, and that only the excluded or “other” (“freaks!”) have something like a true view of things. What did you make of the Orwellian Ministry of Magic in this book and the speed with which Voldemort took over? Harry’s odyssey or “life on the run” only seems to solidify his place in people’s heart as the hoped for Deliverer of the Oppressed. Discussion point: is Harry’s victory due to his respecting all magical creatures and Hogwarts houses? Is he a “Postmodern hero” in leading the magical “rainbow coalition” against the Nazi Slytherins?