The Meaning of “Deathly Hallows”

Merry Christmas to those of you on the Gregorian Calendar! I start this weBlog with the question I have heard the most this last week: “What does the title of the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, mean?” It caused nearly six pages of speculation on my private boards and I don’t think anyone there feels they have a good grip on it yet. Fair warning: I don’t have any sure answers to the question and I am skeptical of anyone who thinks we will know what it means before the book is in our hands.

Having said that, I have not heard or read anyone saying what I have thought about the title so it shouldn’t hurt if I share my reflections. I’ll start with a friend’s collection of Fandom speculation, continue with my first thoughts, which were about Ms. Rowling’s other six titles, and then move into literary alchemy, one of the five keys I think every serious reader of the books needs to get at their meaning.

Odd Sverre Hove, my best friend in Bergen, Norway, tells me that there are four streams of thought on the Internet about the title. He writes:

1) Deathly Hallows = persons dying sacrificially or even as martyrs because of love to give life to their loved ones (person-oriented interpretation)

2) Deathly Hallows = objects, relics, belonging to the four founders, but desecrated and made “deathly” by LV’s horcruxes (relic-oriented interpretation)

3) Deathly Hallows = the holy graves of the four founders, and possibly Dumbledore, pointing in the direction of a graveyard at Hogwarts (inside or outside or both) or at Godric’s Hollow (location-oriented interpretation)

4) Deathly Hallows = the halloo-calling of somebody whose calling is carrying weight or significance in a way which might involve death (Harry’s calling is to go after LV)

Going over to the Harry Potter Lexicon to see what Steve Vander Ark’s gang have come up with I learned that among the several decoy titles that have been copyrighted since 2003 we find “Deathly Hallows” and, much earlier, “The Hallows of Hogwarts” (HPL. “What’s New?,” 24 December, Roonwit writes about his research into the decoy titles). “Hallows of Hogwarts,” if it was the predecessor of “The Deathly Hallows,” seems to point to speculation streams two and three. I’m grateful to Odd for digest-ing the hoard of Fandom speculation out there and to ‘Roonwit’ for the research into the decoy titles.

My first thought were not about whether Hallows is a noun or a verb or about any of the four streams Odd describes. I was curious about how this title conforms to or breaks with the pattern Ms. Rowling has kept since the first book of making her titles a pointer to Christ. I explain this in Chapter 15 of Hidden Key and in the chapters on each book in Looking for God in Harry Potter but here’s the abbreviated version. Philosopher’s Stone is a traditional literary topos for Christ (what gives you eternal life and spiritual riches? Duh). The Phoenix is known as the “resurrection bird” because of its habit of rising from the dead like You-Know-Who did, hence the suggestion in Order of the Phoenix. Half-Blood Prince was pretty straight forward because of its pointing to “Double-Natured King.” The second, third, and fourth titles require more explanation but are fairly transparent as well given some familiarity with Christian thinking and artistry (yes, it’s in the book!). I thought, given this pattern, that Deathly Hallows was certainly consistent with Ms. Rowling’s habit.

I mean, who else uses the word “hallow” but Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)?

Sayf Bowlin, my favorite seminarian, let’s me know that Tolkien does:

I’ve been reading The Return of the King during this holiday (the ironic appropriateness did not hit me until an hour ago) and in particular I’ve been reading the battle/siege of Minas Tirith. During the episode that Denethor wants to burn himself and Faramir, Gandalf intercedes and refers to the City of the Dead as the Hallows.

Okay, I’ll grant that Tolkien and LOTR are pretty popular. I’m guessing, though, that, as popular as it is, movies and all, you’d be hard pressed to find common people, folks that have only read the books four or five times, who would recognize immediately who was talking and the name of the talk if you reeled out the Gandalf speech with “hallows” in it. Not to mention that Ms. Rowling has said several times she is barely familiar with the Tolkien fantasy magnus opus (as in, she read The Hobbit after Philosopher’s Stone was published because a friend said she should).

[Correction from Felicity: “Actually, in a 2000 interview on Scholastic.com, Rowling said she had read LOTR at age 19 (http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2000/1000-scholastic-chat.htm).” I was right about The Hobbit being something she hadn’t read, but there is more reason than I thought for exploring a link with the Hallows of Gondor. Thank you, Felicity!]

But, as jaded as I am about the dumbing down of Americans, I have to think almost every reading person and every Christian of even nominal faith knows The Lord’s Prayer. In the middle chapter of His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), the Christ is instructing His disciples in the do’s and don’ts of prayer. He closes this semi-tutorial with the prayer most Christians know by heart because they say it several times a day:

9. After this manner, therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

10. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

11. Give us this day our daily bread.

12. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

13. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

(KJV, Matthew 6:9-13)

I was astonished today, though, when I checked my private boards for the first time in weeks to find six pages of title speculation, in which four out of five are Christian readers of some devotion, and there was not one mention of the Lord’s Prayer. I’m still scratching my head over that one. Hallowed is the one “weird word” in the Lord’s Prayer, the word we don’t use in common speech and which requires the most explanation when thinking about the only prayer Christ taught His disciples that we have in scripture. I can hear folks saying this is “another real stretch, HogPro” but I doubt there is another single word in the New Testament that is linked so clearly in people’s minds with Christ than Hallowed. Okay, Hallow-een is a big deal, but bigger than the hallow in the only bit of scripture most people know by heart?

My next thoughts were the usual tangle I guess most fans fought their way through when hearing the title for the first time. “What the heck is a ‘Hallow’?” I thought it might be a new magical creature like the Thestrals we met in Phoenix before thinking of the assonance with “Hollow” and the archaic use of the name for a graveyard. Ms. Rowling told the producer of the Prisoner of Azkaban movie, if memory serves, that there was a graveyard at Hogwarts. Maybe this is the deathly hallows she’s referring to. I admit this meant little more to me than one more reason to think that the action of HP7 will be at Hogwarts, contrary to Harry’s ideas at the end of Prince and that we probably won’t have any clearer idea of the meaning of Deathly Hallows until we’re reading it.

Which is pretty much where I think the prudent reader will stop. You can pick up the OED like my good friend Wendy Bierman did (see her brilliant piece in Who Killed Albus Dumbledore? on the Black family as Voldemort’s bane) and discover that hallows can mean: The parts of the hare given to hounds as a reward or encouragement after a successful chase. Wendy thinks in the story this could play out as:

As such, perhaps this could refer to the pursuit of Harry (hare) and a reward as part of promise Voldemort has made to his Dark minions. We’ve seen that the Dementors seem especially attracted to Harry (because he is double souled?). Lord Voldemort must vanquish Harry, but the word isn’t the same as kill. LV must have some sort of strategy in mind for the disposal of Harry.

I wonder if how I’m feeling now is how Steve Vander Ark feels when he rolls his eyes during my talks about what really happened in Half-Blood Prince. I read everything Wendy sends me because she is so good at seeing what I’ve missed. Harry as dismembered rabbit reward for the hounds, though, has me insisting we really won’t know for sure what Deathly Hallows means until publication day. (FYI: Wendy predicted the exact day the HP7 title would be released months ago on her Professor Mum Live Journal site. She’s spooky good.)

Not being a “prudent reader,” though, I’ll go on. Odd asked for the alchemical slant on Deathly Hallows and he’s right to think there is one.

For a primer on the Arthurian and esoteric meaning of Hallows, go to The Harry Potter Lexicon and read “The Grail Hallows and Harry Potter” by Bandersnatch. S/he details the use of the word to describe a set of four magical objects in the Grail legends and Celtic lore and speculates about their reflection in the four suits of Tarot cards and possibly in Horcruxes. Quite a few folks, especially after Ms. Rowling said in her Mugglenet interview at Prince’s publication that the four houses were keyed to the four elements, have tried to make the connection between the Four Founders, their relics, Voldemort’s Horcruxes, and wands, swords, cups, and coins (or ‘pentacles’). Bandersnatch persuasively links this speculative line of thought with the word Hallows and its use as a set of four.

But s/he neglects something here in the number four that literary alchemy illumines.

I discussed literary alchemy in the Potter books briefly in Looking for God in Harry Potter (chapter 4) and, as it is one of the five keys the serious reader needs to unlock the meaning of this series, it is several chapters in my new book. Here is the part of the book about the importance of the number four in this series:

Four, as Lings mentioned, is the traditional number of “earth” or “the world of time and space.” History is understood by the ancients and by modern Traditionalists as being a cycle of four ages (we live now in the last age, the “age of lead”). Matter is understood in terms of four qualities (hot, cold, wet, and dry) that combine in what are called the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Human beings have four humors, the balance or imbalance of which is the substance of our temperament, health, and vitality. Space is defined by the four cardinal points of the compass. Believe it or not, western buildings even have four walls because this was a representation of the world having descended from a circle (the meaning of domed buildings) or the polar Creative Word (pitched roofs).

This understanding of the world as “four” used to permeate Western culture and schooling. One of my favorite books and one that I mentioned earlier, The Elizabethan World Picture, by E. M. W. Tillyard, written in 1943, has an apology in the preface for the author having to repeat what he assumes the reader already knows about the four humors; he says this quaternary must be familiar to readers, “even to distress.” I had never heard of the four humors until I read Tillyard’s little book, though, and the situation hasn’t improved much since my high school days. My students think I’m trying to distinguish between types of comedy when I talk about the four humors. I’m betting a lot of money the average Harry Potter reader didn’t get the alchemical “humor-ous” reference to Fleur as “Phlegm” beyond being a snot joke. An Elizabethan audience, in contrast, rich and poor, would have roared at the choleric women’s discomfort with Bill’s phlegmatic fiancee.

Seven the number we can appreciate because of the Genesis account of Creation and the seven day week we observe (if we never think about it consciously). The rotation of the four elements and their resolution into a quintessence takes a little more work for those of used to a huge periodic chart of elements and atomic theory. Here’s a quick introduction to the resolution of the four elements into a fifth element or quintessence.

Titus Burckhardt describes the quintessence as the hub of a four spoked wheel, the spokes being one of the four elements and the quadrants of the wheel being their respective natural qualities (e.g., the “fire” spoke bisects the “Heat” and “Dryness” quarters, the next spoke, “Earth,” separates “Dryness” and “Cold,” etc.). He explains the “fifth essence” at the center this way:

Alchemically speaking, the hub of the wheel is the quinta essentia. By this is meant either the spiritual pole of all four elements or their common substantial ground, ether, in which they are all indivisibly contained. In order once again to attain to this centre, the disequilibrium of the differentiated elements must be repaired, water must become fiery, fire liquid, earth weightless, and air solid. Here, however, one leaves the plane of physical appearances and enters the realm of spiritual alchemy.

Synesios writes: ‘It is thus clear what the philosophers mean when they describe the production of our stone as the alteration of natures and the rotation of elements. You now see that by ‘incorporation’ the wet becomes dry, the volatile stable, the spiritual embodied, the fluid solid, water fiery, and the air like earth.’ Thus all four elements renounce their own nature and, by rotation, transform themselves into one another. Just as in the beginning there was One, so also in this work everything comes from One and returns to One. This is what is meant by the retransformation of the elements”

(Alchemy, Titus Burckhardt, Penguin, 1972, pg. 96)

The seven stages return to the rest of One, the beginning of Creation, and the four elements are resolved in a single point where their qualities come to rest, the quintessence. Lyndy Abraham in The Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery explains how this is used in alchemical texts and literature:

During the opus the matter for the Stone must be dissolved and returned to its primal state before it can be recreated or coagulated into the new pure form of the philosopher’s stone. This cycle of solve et coagula or separation and union has to be reiterated many times throughout the opus. During this circulation, the elements earth, air, fire, and water are separated by distillation and converted into each other to form the perfect unity, the fifth element. This conversion takes place by unifying the qualities that each element has in common: earth which is cold and dry may be united with water through the common quality of coldness since water is cold and moist (or fluid), and air is united to fire through heat, since fire is hot and dry. In another alchemical metaphor, this process is described as the transformation of the square (four elements) into the circle (the united fifth element).

This process of transformation, of successfully converting the elements into each other, is often compared to the turning of a great wheel. The contrary qualities of the four elements are likened to quarreling foes who must be reconciled or united in order for harmony to reign (see peace). The circulation of elements is identical with the process the alchemists describe as the conversion of body into spirit, and spirit into body, until each is able to mingle together, or unite in the chemical wedding to form a new perfect being, the philosopher’s stone

(Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery, Lyndy Abraham, Cambridge University Press, 2001, pp. 137-138)

Maybe this sounds laughably inane to you but this “rotation of the elements” and the “resolution of contraries” is both effective medicine and the heart of two movies you’ve probably seen in the past year. Ayurvedic and Taoist medicine have a conceptual framework almost identical to Western four element theory. Acupuncture and shiatsu massage don’t work except in resolving blockages or stagnation on yin and yang meridians that are kyo or jitsu, tendencies and qualities that are described in elemental terms much like those we have from the Ancient Mediterranean.

The two movies? “The Incredibles” and “The Fantastic Four.” The cartoon “Incredibles” were a clear knock-off of the comic book “Fantastic Four” so let’s look at the original foursome super group for a quintessence.

Story tellers like to use the four elements of fire, water, air, and earth to represent the power of harmony and peace and the madness of conflict and private understanding (idios in Greek). My favorite representation of this is The Fantastic Four comic books, first written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby for Marvel Comics in the early 60’s, now a wonderful blockbuster movie (my kids and I loved it, at least!). I grew up reading these comic books and soon learned the formula (which is wonderfully preserved in the film). After the central conflict is identified, almost always against a super-powered baddie like Magneto or Dr. Doom, the team attacks him separately or disagrees about the best way to fight the baddie or offends one of the members of the team.

Which disharmony proves to be a disaster. A really good baddie, if you follow me past that contradiction, is a villain that sows discord in the Four Elements team. The formula ending, of course, is when each of the Good Guys acts in harmony with the others to overcome impossible odds and defeat the enemy. Really, watching Mr. Fantastic (water), the Invisible Girl (air), the Thing (earth), and the Human Torch (duh) thrash baddies is always an alchemical morality play about the revealing and resolution of contraries.

In the remaining Harry Potter story, we have three sets of four that will have to be alchemically resolved and united – (1) the four principal species of magical creatures depicted in the Fountain of Magical Brethren, (2) the four Horcruxes, which objects, as possessions of the Four Founders points to (3) the third set, the four Houses of Hogwarts. We know that these sets are story symbols for the Four Elements whose resolution in man are the Quintessence of alchemy because Ms. Rowling has quite generously (and uncharacteristically) made a point of telling us this.

Not only does Harry read “Quintessence: A Quest” for Charms class in Half-Blood Prince (Chapter 15, pg. 304) and is Fleur called “Phlegm,” the bodily humor corresponding to the water element, but in interviews Ms. Rowling spells out the four elements backdrop to the four Hogwarts Houses:

[In answer to a question about Death Eater children in the four Hogwarts Houses]

JKR: Probably. I hear you. It is the tradition to have four houses, but in this case, I wanted them to correspond roughly to the four elements. So Gryffindor is fire, Ravenclaw is air, Hufflepuff is earth, and Slytherin is water, hence the fact that their common room is under the lake. So, again it was this idea of harmony and balance, that you had four necessary components and by integrating them you would make a very strong place. But they remain fragmented, as we know.

[In answer to a question about why the Slytherins are allowed at Hogwarts]

JKR: But [the Slytherins are] not all bad. They literally are not all bad. [Pause] Well, the deeper answer, the non-flippant answer, would be that you have to embrace all of a person, you have to take them with their flaws, and everyone’s got them. It’s the same way with the student body. If only they could achieve perfect unity and wholeness that means that they keep that quarter of the school that maybe does not encapsulate the most generous and noble qualities, in the hope, in the very Dumbledore-esque hope that they will achieve harmony. Harmony is the word.

[MN/TLC interview 3, pgs. 9-10]

The Headmaster we know from his chocolate frog card is an accomplished alchemist who succeeded with Nicholas Flamel in creating a Philosopher’s Stone. It is as alchemist that “Dumbledore hopes” for a unification of the student body in its four houses and the purifications of its flaws rather than its dismemberment.

The Sorting Hat’s “New Song” in Order of the Phoenix tells the story of the initial unity of the Four Founders and how they “like pillars four” had held up the school. This primordial unity, however, disintegrated into chaos like the formula failure of every Fantastic Four adventure:


The Houses, that like pillars four,

Had once held up our school,

Now turned upon each other and,

Divided, sought to rule.

And for a while it seemed the school

Must meet an early end,

What with dueling and with fighting

And the clash of friend on friend

And at last there came a morning

When old Slytherin departed

And though the fighting then died out

He left us quite downhearted.

And never since the founders four

Were whittled down to three

Have the Houses been united

As they once were meant to be.

(Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 11, pg. 206)

The Sorting Hat ends the song with a plea for unity, as Nearly Headless Nick says it always does “when it detects great danger for the school. And always, of course, its advice is the same: Stand together, be strong from within” (Phoenix, Chapter 11, pg. 209).

The discordant element in the four founders and their houses, if there is only one, is obviously Slytherin whose departure ages ago sealed the initial rupture. The Heir of Slytherin is known for his ability “for spreading discord and enmity” (see Goblet of Fire, Chapter 37, Scholastic pg. 723) – and for his inability to understand love, the power of harmony and union. The death throes of the greatest wizard-alchemist on the Astronomy Tower in his words to Draco Malfoy, offering him a life after death (“they cannot kill you if you are already dead”) and sanctuary with a new identity are the last in a lifetime of alchemical efforts to reconcile Slytherin to its rightful quality within a harmonious Hogwarts.

However Christ-like these efforts, they fail – and the baton has been passed to Harry. He must find the four Horcruxes which Dumbledore believes are in objects or relics belonging to each of the four Hogwarts founders. No doubt this symbolic effort will require another set of trials like the Tri-Wizard Tournament and finding the Philosopher’s stone but this one linked to the four elements. Finding and destroying these four reservoirs of Voldemort’s fragmented soul must transform Harry into the Quintessence that, like Dumbledore, can sacrifice himself for Slytherin’s redemption and the return to the primordial unity.

Or something like that.

I suspect that Harry’s success in destroying the Diary Horcrux in Chamber of Secrets and Dumbledore’s spectacular difficulty in destroying the Ring Horcrux before the opening of action in Half-Blood Prince (assuming for a moment the latter wasn’t a staged event and effect) points to Harry’s being uniquely qualified and capable in this task. Dumbledore learned the hard way that Harry has a special gift for Horcrux destruction which makes him “more valuable” than Dumbledore in the war against Voldemort. I suspect Harry has this ability for any one or all of the following three reasons:

(1) His seven fold path of purification and spiritual perfection is antithetical and correspondingly many times more powerful in comparison to the dark magic of Lord Thingy’s egotism (see above);

(2) Harry’s way is dependent on his love for others and specifically on the sacrificial love of his mother, which power is one of resolution (love resolves contraries rather than destroying one aspect of a polarity) rather than destruction. As Dumbledore repeatedly tells Harry, this is Voldemort’s undoing because he cannot understand or resist this power (witness his inability to possess Harry in the Ministry of Magic, Phoenix, Chapter 36); and

(3) Harry is (a) the Heir of Gryffindor or just a Gryffindor champion and, mirabile dictu, (b) his scar is a Horcrux that Lord Voldemort accidentally created in Godric Hollow the night of the Potter murders. Harry being himself, then, the combination and resolution of the Gryffindor-Slytherin polarity, a Hogwarts Hermaphrodite, is able to destroy or resolve the dark magic of the Horcruxes by absorbing the fragment of Voldemort’s soul each contains.

His Gryffindor courage and impetus to loving sacrifice for others combined with his acquired Slytherin nature, his realized double nature or hermaphroditism, makes Horcrux destruction possible without harm. In fact, as one writer claims, it explains his ability to out battle the risen Voldemort at the end of Goblet of Fire. How Harry’s scar became a Horcrux is the subject of Unlocking’s fifth chapter, “Animampono.” [note: It was cut from Unlocking and posted on HogPro in three parts instead.]

Beyond Horcrux destruction or absorption, Harry will also have to complete the alchemical work of uniting the four Hogwarts houses and the four species of magical creatures depicted in the Fountain of Magical Brethren. The four Houses will, I think, fall into line when the Gryffindor-Slytherin antipathy is loosened (about which more in a second). The harmony of elves, goblins, centaurs, and magical folk, on the other hand, seems a noble ambition that might take generations to realize. (Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader, Zossima Press, 2007: pre-order at www.Zossima.com )

If Bandersnatch is right in thinking the Hallows referred to in the just-announced title are a reference to the four Grail Hallows and the four Tarot suits and a pointer in this to the Horcruxes made from the treasures of the Four Founders, the alchemical meaning is clear. Alchemy is about the resolution of contraries and, in this peace, the purification and perfection of the soul that has transcended the qualities and activity of the four elements. The soul is hallowed, which, from the Old English hal, the word that gives us both the words “whole” and “holy,” means the soul is “made whole” or all qualities and in this perfection, “holy” or transcendent. When Christ instructs His followers to pray “Hallowed be thy name,” meaning “may your [Our Father’s] name be made holy” (sanctificetur and hagiosthato; passive voice, subjunctive mood), the alchemists would understand God’s “name” as “that by which God is known,” that is, natural processes, “the revelation of nature,” the creative work of His Word or Logos. Hallowing the polarities of existence is their resolution and transcendence.

This resolution of opposite tendencies, though, is a death. A favorite scriptural passage of alchemists (and novelists — see the opening of The Brothers Karamazov) was John 12:24-25: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. As Lyndy Abraham explains in A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery:

The alchemists, along with popular seventeenth century belief, held that there could be no regeneration without corruption. Nature could only be renewed after first dying away. The biblical parable of the grain of wheat was cited to support their theory: “Chryst do it wytnes, wythowt the grayne of Whete / Dye in the ground, encrease may thou not gete” (Ripley, in TCB, 158). Abraham, Dictionary, pg. 135 “Nigredo”

This is often represented in alchemical imagery via sexual imagery in which the Red King and White Queen copulate in a coffin and their “death” results in the freeing of the soul in the rubedo; think of Romeo and Juliet, an alchemical drama if ever there was one, and their death in the tombs bringing peace to the streets of Verona. Death to self is the first and last step of hallowing or human perfection as humility is the ground or base virtue without which there is no spiritual accomplishment.

So what does Deathly Hallows mean?

Let’s be clear. I have no definite idea. It could be a new magical creature, a place like a graveyard or sanctuary, or a reference to the four Founder Horcruxes Harry must destroy before vanquishing the Dark Lord. We’ll know for sure after reading the book, right?

Having said that, we can say with some confidence that Deathly Hallows, independent of its exact meaning in the book, conforms to Ms. Rowling’s patterns in the previous six books. Like her other titles, Deathly Hallows resonates with images or names of Christ because Hallow is a word from The Lord’s Prayer. It also suggests the alchemical meaning of the series and the near necessity that the seventh book be about Harry becoming a quintessence and Hermaphrodite that resolves the contraries and quaternaries of the Magical world. And his dying at least a figurative death to his notions of who he is and what is most real, that is, to the metanarrative of the Four Houses and the irresolvability of the Gryffindor/Slytherin antagonism.

So here is a bulleted summary of my thoughts on the last book’s title for those of you who have a moment to comment on this post:

1. We won’t know what Deathly Hallows refers to until the seventh book is published. It’s fun to speculate and said speculation can throw light on the meaning of the series, but let’s not kid ourselves about our ability to figure this out ‘for sure.’ That ain’t happening.

2. Ms. Rowling is a formula writer in several respects – and Deathly Hallows conforms to the pattern established in her previous six titles. Each of the previous six books have titles that resonate with Christian meaning if they are not glyphs themselves for Christ. Deathly Hallows, because the word hallows is the most memorable or weird word in the Lord’s Prayer, sticks to her formula for titles specifically and writing within the Christian literary tradition in general.

3. Deathly Hallows also has an alchemical and Christian meaning of greater depth. The Hallowsare a quarternary from the Arthurian tradition that echo the four elements of alchemy we see in the several quarternaries of the Harry Potter books (Hogwarts Founders, Houses, Magical Brethrenm remaining Horcruxes, etc.). To hallow, that is ‘to make whole’ and ‘to make holy’ simultaneously from ‘Old English ‘hal,’ is the alchemical action of transcending the contrary polarities of creation and returning to the transcendent origin of existence, in Christian tradition, the Logos or God’s creative Word. In alchemy, again echoing Christian tradition, this requires a death to the world (‘renunciation’) and to the self (‘humility’ for a start). Deathly Hallows may have the specific meaning of “deadly graveyard” or “dangerous Horcrux relics;” it certainly points to the life-laden power, the hallowing effect, of dying to the world. Harry Potter’s main task in book seven is to “get Voldemort,” but this will probably take the form not only of destroying Horcrux-Hallows but also of his transcending his most closely held beliefs.

Or so I think. I look forward to reading what you think.

Comments

  1. I had to smile when I read the bit about the four humours as I was listening to the HBP audio version at the time and had just got to the bit where they met Sanguini at Slughorn’s party!

  2. tnorthodox says:

    Great thoughts, John. Keep it up.

    Dn Kevin

  3. John, I am so pleased to hear from you on the topic of the final HP title. I love the fact that you brought up, as Odd put it, “Hallows” means “Hollowed be Thy Name” as in how Christ says we should pray. “Hallows” meaning sacred and holy. Thank you for clearing it up for the universe. And as one of your pupils back at the other classroom, I am thankful for you taking your time to explain these literary and Christian meanings to us. Merry Christmas
    Rumor

  4. From good friend Sandra Miesel by email:

    People are missing one meaning of “Hallows” as a “holy place.” (cf.
    Tolkien’s Hallows of Gondor where the kings are laid to rest.) So the title could refer to a holy place where deadly things happen, where the final confrontation takes place or to a holy place ruined by sacrilege. I favor this because Godric’s Hollow is clearly a significant site and may be the holy place or tomb in question.

    Or it’s the plural of “Hallow” as in “holy day”. Lethal things may happen on holy days around the calendar.

    Sandra Miesel

  5. John, you commented that you were surprised that none of us picked up on hallows and the connection to the Lord’s prayer. I did, but it seemed too obvious, and I immediately started trying to think of some hidden meaning for the word. I hadn’t known the meaning of hallows as saints, until I looked in the dictionary (even my old Webster’s has that meaning, along with hallow as a verb–to sanctify, make holy).

    Anyway I look at it, it’s a fascinating title, though I really have no clue what she will do with it. Still it’s fun to take the journey.

    I have wondered if, rather than being a connection to Godric’s Hollow–though I do think when Harry goes there, he will learn something signficant (i.e., about his parents by visiting their graves, or that their graves are not there, but at Hogwarts instead).

    Rowling brought up the veil in the Death room at the Ministry, and then really dropped any extra meaning of it after Sirius’s death. We also had the hint of the room behind the locked door that had great and terrible power. I recently finished reading Charles Williams’s “Descent into Hell”, and the idea of something being good and terrible at the same time was part of that story.

    Sandra brought up something that gives me the connection I was trying to find about hallows being a place where deadly things happen. Along that line, I wonder if we will see Harry (and Ron and Hermione, perhaps even Neville, Luna and Ginny?) return to the Ministry and to the Death room to learn more about the veil and the locked room.

    And where will Snape fit into all this? I feel that he has to be a huge part of Harry’s final stage of the journey/quest. There is still so much unresolved between them, and with all the anger and hatred that Harry is feeling, he can’t find that all-encompassing love that Dumbledore has always said he has, to defeat Voldemort.

    I think Rob (nice to see you again, btw) mentioned that Snape is the keeper of the keys for Harry, just as Hagrid was for Dumbledore. I like that idea, as I’ve thought for a while that Snape can’t just be this cardboard cutout of a baddie, there to make Harry’s life miserable at school.

    Especially since we saw that Harry was able to learn from Snape, when he didn’t know it was Snape doing the teaching.

    Pat

  6. I’m hopeless at coming up with coherent theories, but very good at rambling on. Occasionally something strikes me that might be worked up into a theory by someone with the right kind of brain, so I just throw it out there.

    When John mentioned the resolution of the four elements into a ‘fifth element’ or quintessence it made me think of Golpalott’s Third Law. (“The antidote for a blended poison will be equal to more than the sum of the antidotes for each of the separate components.”) which Slughorn elaborates on by saying “…our primary aim is not the relatively simple one of selecting antidotes… but to find that added component which will, by an almost alchemical process, transform these disparate elements…”

    The nearest I can get to a theory is that Harry is the only one who can not only destroy the horcruxes but also find that vital ‘added component’ to complete the resolution, perhaps something his mother bequeathed to him? Love?

    This is an author who likes to give abstract ideas physical form (e.g. dementors and boggarts), so I’d imagine that love will be given some kind of physical form. This would help avoid the ‘mushy’ ending some have recoiled from, if Harry is using love as a sword or a shield or a spell!

    One thought on the Deathly Hallows title while I’m rattling on. I think ‘hallows’ has been thoroughly analysed but I was interested in ‘deathly’. To me it seems that deathly means ‘death-like’ or ‘resembling death’ as opposed to deadly or fatal which imply actual death. So my bet is on The Draught of Living Death making an appearance in DH.

    Perhaps Harry will learn (from a Slytherin?) to be more devious and use his enemy’s own tactics against him, faking his own death to lure him into a trap?

  7. From Wendy Bierman, Professor Mum, by email from Yosemite:

    Thank you for your kind blog comments, you made me blush. For some reason I was unable to login at Hogpro, but I wanted to reply that whatever the title means to Jo, I feel certain it will have two clear interpretations by story’s end. On the surface “Deathly Hallows” very likely refers to the Horcrux relics (they are rather deadly, particularly that OPAL NECKLACE, hem hem). But, I think the title also has a strong ressurection/beyond the veil implication. Death imparts our worldly goods with meaning: from a Grandmother’s ring, to Dumbledore’s Sword of Gryffindore, and to the Holy Grail itself. Is there a biblical quote along the lines of: “from Death I bequeathe this to you?”.

    Harry’s remains as a promised reward to the Dark Side has a sacreligous angle that has grabbed me. Because on the flip side, many, many good people have made direct personal sacrifices and provided Harry with worldy inheritances meant for his survival (invisibility cloak, Sirius’ knife, etc.) of a hunt. There are a number of rabbit references in the series, the Burrow being just one of them. I need to flesh this POV out, but it doesn’t seem incompatable with the image of a crusade.

    Btw, I found an alchemical book which had an ethching of the King/Queen on a journey to consumate their marriage in a watery cave.

    Anyway, Xmas greeting from Yosemite. My kids seem determined that I get no rest nor relaxation on vacation.

  8. Great post, and I especially appreciate the sections on alchemy in this post—they’re fantastic. However, I can’t agree that Harry will be absorbing pieces of Voldemort’s soul. Within the last week, Rowling quashed a rumor that Harry and Voldemort would somehow become one at the end of the last book. She said definitively, “Harry will NOT merge with Voldemort to become a single entity . . . .”

    My own theory is that as each Horcrux is destroyed (releasing it from the object anchoring it to the earth), the soul fragment goes behind the Veil. There each piece will reunite with its brothers and form a new anchor so that when Harry has destroyed the remaining four Horcruxes, 6/7 of Voldemort’s soul will be behind the Veil. It’s in that way that Voldemort will be prevented from becoming a ghost and sticking around because once the remaining part of his soul is separated from his body, it also will be drawn behind the Veil and his soul will become whole again in death. This will be Harry’s doing, and it plays off the meaning of hallow ‘to make holy’ (because the soul is holy and meant to be whole), and really, Harry’s wand is made of holly (holy) and phoenix (resurrection), which ties in nicely

    I have a number of meanings for the new title pulled from the OED entries for Hallows and Hallow that are all relevant to the series and what we know or strongly suspect will happen in the next book if you’re interested. http://felicitys-mind.livejournal.com/

    And I do think there’s something in Tolkien’s use of the word Hallows to be considered. Rowling has said in at least two interviews that she read Tolkien’s LOTR when she was about 19-20 years old. That would have been around 1985 when she was studying French at university but when she wanted to be studying English (she got the idea for Harry Potter in 1990). She has also said on her website that she had been writing continuously since around the age of six, so my gut says she was bowled over by Tolkien’s word mastery since these two authors share a love of old words and a gift for coining new ones. My point is that it doesn’t matter whether the average HP reader is aware that Gandalf referred to a royal burial place as the Hallows for this reference to be a clue to the meaning of Hallows in the phrase “Deathly Hallows” since Rowling is NEVER obvious in her titles.

    I’ve typed out the LOTR passages relating to this use of Hallows on my LJ “Deathly Hallows” post, and along with a quote from Cuaron saying there is a graveyard at Hogwarts that will be important in the story and the fact that no headmasters or headmistresses had been buried at Hogwarts before Dumbledore certainly begs the question, Who is buried in the Hogwarts graveyard that is going to be important and that no character has ever mentioned?

    As you say, there is no way to know precisely what the title means before reading the book, but I feel the LOTR “Hallows” reference and Rowling’s graveyard comments to Cuaron are going to bear some fruit. But for now, I’m content to love this new title and all the relevant meanings it’s throwing off. And couldn’t that be another example of Rowling’s genious—that the title throws off multiple meanings, all of them illuminating and meaningful?

  9. Speaking as a laymen with no qualifications to speak on the subject, couldn’t the death be the figurative death of his hate for Voldemort, at least in part?

    In HBP, while Harry was with Dumbledore in the Pensieve, Harry, for the briefest moment, takes pity on young Voldie, which Dumbledore notices by asks him about, with Harry denying it.

    From this, I draw three things:

    1. A a pointer to Christ: He said that in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, you must be like a child; their innocence, love, and acceptance. We find that Voldemort, as a child, had none of those, but it was Harry who had pity on him while he was a child (sub-point: narrative misdirection).

    2. “This conversion takes place by unifying the qualities that each element has in common…” Both Harry and Voldie were orphans who grew up in loveless homes and were considered freaks by those around them. Both are half-bloods.

    3. “During this circulation, the elements earth, air, fire, and water are separated by distillation and converted into each other to form the perfect unity, the fifth element.” Thus, Harry must by “converted” and unified with Voldie by recognizing something they share–hate–setting it aside, and embracing him.

    He will, in some fashion, expose Voldie’s inner psyche to this act through the scar; he will have to take some action to subvert his great skill with Occlumency, probably his literal death. So, it that case, it could be both a literal and figurative death.

    So, if Voldie experiences love for the first time through Harry’s sacrifice, it could be that he recapitulates and puts himself in place of Harry, letting himself die instead (which is possible, since there would no longer be any horcruxes). This then comes full circle, reflects the death of Harry’s mother, and results in the final unification and conversion, with a Christ-like image of death and resurrection.

    And, it is a very literal and simple interpretation of the title Deathly Hallows: through death, both are hallowed, or made whole.

  10. Travis Prinzi says:

    John, you commented that you were surprised that none of us picked up on hallows and the connection to the Lord’s prayer. I did, but it seemed too obvious, and I immediately started trying to think of some hidden meaning for the word.

    I also picked up on this connection in my very first post on the matter, just hours after the title was released. I’m not sure there’s much more to draw from it other than that it’s an interesting and informative link about the meaning of the word, and that she’s employing what should be a very well-known word in an intriguing way.

    John, this is excellent work, and the alchemical implications are brilliant. Concluding point 3 is particularly poignant.

    Glad to see you blogging!

  11. My apologies, Travis! I should have checked “Sword of Gryffindor” before starting to write. Of course, if I had, I probably wouldn’t have started writing because your thoughts are usually sufficient for me to think the question has been answered. I’ll pop over there this afternoon if I get the Postmodern Rudolph posting finished before suppertime.

    John, delighted and flattered you stopped by HogPro

  12. From Joyce Odell, the Red Hen, reprinted with permission:

    Well, once we figure out what is Deathly and what is Hallows then we have to figure out whether it is directly relevant or not. It probably is, but not necessarily in the way we might expect.

    So far about 4 our of 6 titles were of things that Harry needed to find, or find out what they were or how they related to what Voldemort, or whoever the enemy du jure was up to.

    Philosopher’s Stone: it was the target/bait. Harry had to find out what it was before he could know Voldemort was after it. Then he felt he had to personally keep Voldemort from getting it.

    Chamber of Secrets: needed to find where it was and then destroy the monster in it that was attacking people. Until he found it he couldn’t do anything to put an end to the situation.

    Prisoner of Azkaban: he thought he needed to keep Sirius Black from catching up to himself. Actually needed to confront him to find out the truth of his parents’ deaths.

    Goblet of FIre: the Gobles was just the McGuffin that pitched him into the action at all. I suppose you could say that he needed to find out who rigged it. But mostly he needed to rise to the challenge it posed and keep from getting himself killed.

    Order of the Phoenix: Harry didn’t really need to do anything but keep his head down and pay attention to his schoolwork, later, needed to learn to block out Voldemort‚Äôs interference. He didn’t do much of a job of either. And ultimately (as in PS/SS) he exceeded his authority and made a bigger mess than necessary, even though it did put an end to an ongoing situation which had been ongoing for far too long.

    Half-Blood Prince: Harry needed to ignore the distraction and pay attention to Albus’s assignments. But he desperately wanted to learn the Prince’s secrets. He had comparitively little interest in finding out who ther Prince actually was, once he realized it couldn’t be his father. It was Hermione who was determined to follow that thread.

    What Harry was after in Year 6 was what Malfoy was up to. From where Harry was standing, Malfoy had no connection to the HBP whatsoever.

    Interestingly, when he finally got his nose rubbed in the answer to the title mystery it was the last thing he wanted to know. So the mystery of who the HBP was boiled down into the punch line of a very ironic joke on Harry.

    So, taking past performance into account, the odds are that the Deathly Hallows are something that Harry is going to need to, first; figure out what they are himself, and, 2nd; find and do something about. With the outside possibility that there is an ironic application of the term that may blow up in his face.

    He undoubtedly thinks they are the Horcruxes. Since he already knows he needs to find the Horcruxes. But he may turn out to be as off-base as he was with the HBP.

    Since I am still solidly holding by my Book 7 = Book 3 parallel, I suspect he is going to have to confront them and will discover an answewr to the overriding problem that he hasn’t antcipated.

  13. Travis Prinzi says:

    My apologies, Travis! I should have checked “Sword of Gryffindor” before starting to write. Of course, if I had, I probably wouldn’t have started writing because your thoughts are usually sufficient for me to think the question has been answered. I’ll pop over there this afternoon if I get the Postmodern Rudolph posting finished before suppertime.

    Oh, goodness, thank you…this is far too kind a thing to say. In any case, I haven’t really developed a particular theory of my own, though one is slowly crawling into my brain. Mostly, I’ve just been gathering data, and in that first post I just referenced the Lord’s Prayer as a way to get one’s mind around the meaning of “hallows.”

    Joyce’s thoughts are interesting…I’m assuming she thinks “Deathly Hallows” will be passed-on “saints” or something, of whom Dumbledore obviously is one?

  14. As usual, Travis, way too modest. My trip to SwordOfGryffindor.com not only was worth the surf for your insights but I found links to three other sites with Deathly Hallows thoughts:

    http://www.mystical-www.co.uk/arthuriana2z/h.htm#HAL

    Someone posted this on my private boards and linked to it from the Lexicon. It’s really good on the Grail Hallows.

    http://felicitys-mind.livejournal.com/4373.html

    I thought I’d seen everything Felicity wrote after reading her post above. Nope. Follow this url. Felicity is excellent on the Tolkien connection and the words breakdown. I found the quotes from the HP3 producer with explanation helpful, too.

    http://www.hpprogs.com/2006/12/21/more-thoughts-on-deathly-hallows/

    And I really encourage readers to check out this theory about Deathly Hallows being a reference to the charm that saved Harry from Voldemort as a baby. Whew.

    Thank you, Travis, for your thoughts and collecting these links!

  15. From Jerry Bowyer, media maven and Harry adept, with permission:

    We discussed this as a family last week and the Lord’s prayer reference came up. None of us thought of the LOTR connection though. What struck me is the interposition of deathly and hallowed. Holiness is life-giving so in some sense the opposite of death. But Jesus conquered death, a very medieval theme. As you non-Gregorian types would put it: Christos Victor! A martyr’s interpretation and a locational one are consistent with one another. Ground becomes holy based on who’s there. Moses was told to take off his shoes because the ground was ‘holy’. Lincoln called Gettysburg hallowed (probably not in JKR’s mind, a very American reference). Actually, Lincoln said that we can’t hallow that ground, because it’s already been hallowed. By what? By self-sacrificial death.

    When you posted about hallows and the Lord’s Prayer you quoted the Vulgate, sanctificetur , later you looked at the Greek text: hagiosthato

    This may not be germane to the hallows question, but it reminds me that I’ve been wondering if the name “Hagrid”, doesn’t intentionally invoke some Greek connotations. He is, by my reckoning a very holy man. In the west, we’re used to thinking of venerable men alone as holy, but as you know better than I, the East has the tradition of the “Holy Fool”. Is Hagrid a Dostoyevskian holy fool? He sure looks like one to me. Not a Zossima, not a Dumbledore, but a good heart (Rubeo, blood red) attached to a rather simple mind. Dumbledore would trust Hagrid with his very life as he says in the first book. Rowling may be more Greek than we know. I’m convinced that Hermione (which is very close to the Greek for “she interprets”) plays with some of these Greek connotations.

  16. Steve writes (posted with permission):

    I haven’t come to grips with any theory that I’m willing to accept yet concerning the meaning of Deathly Hallows. Your theory is as good as any I’ve heard, but none of them really brings the book, its literal and symbolic meaning and JKRowlings beliefs into focus for me.

    Prior to the release of book-7’s title, the fact that Voldemort tried to murder Harry and create a Horcrux on Halloween to me was just a coincidence. I tied no signifigance to this date. But, now I’m not so sure. Halloween is symbolically the time when magic is at its most potent and also the time when the world of the living and the dead collide. I’m wondering if the Horcrux creation spell only works on Halloween and all the murders took place on this date. At the very least there must be a reason why Harry’s attempted murder took place on this date and the name of the 7th book.

  17. Ms. George says:

    Hi and a belated Merry Christmas!
    I am very intimidated about leaving a comment here; I only just stumbled upon your site but I am, as my students say, ‘obsessed with HP.’
    Anyway, your comment that the end of the Deathly Hallows will, ‘Take the form not only of destroying Horcrux/Hallows but also of his (Harry’s) transcending his closely held beliefs.’
    I believe something quite similar, but from an alternate perspective: Jungian archetypes. I believe that Voldemort represents an embodied form of Harry’s shadow self, one that he will have to reconcile/deal with/defeat in order to live. Harry will have to reconcile the parts of Voldemort that he has within himself in order to transcend and defeat him.
    My theory is incomplete at the moment. I am still working on reading and researching this for a paper I am attempting on Harry Potter and Jungian Archetypes.
    I am in awe of what you have done on HP to date. I have read through only parts of Looking For God in HP, but have it on order now…

  18. Response to Steve:

    It’s my opinion that Voldemort’s decision to attack the Potters on Halloween was merely opportunistic.

    We know that barely a week had passed between Wormtail’s being made Secret-Keeper and the attack on the Potters, and only James, Lily, Sirius, Wormtail, and Voldemort know that Sirius was only the decoy Secret-Keeper (and only Wormtail knew that Voldemort knew).

    At the end of PoA, Sirius said he had arranged to check on Wormtail that night (‚ÄúI‚Äôd arranged to check on Peter, make sure he was still safe”), so presumably Wormtail was expecting Sirius to show up at his hiding place on the night of October 31. When Sirius was telling this to the trio and Lupin, he didn‚Äôt say that Wormtail had requested Sirius to check on him that night, so I believe it was Sirius‚Äôs idea. This plan for Sirius to check on Wormtail on October 31 seems to be THE reason for Voldemort‚Äôs decision to attack the Potters that night because it enabled Wormtail and Voldemort to set up both the Potters and Sirius without raising suspicions.

    Say Sirius was expected at Wormtail’s hiding place at around 11:00 PM. Voldemort and Wormtail would be at Godric’s Hollow at that time since that way Voldemort could be sure Sirius wouldn‚Äôt be with the Potters; moreover, Sirius would be expected to Apparate to Godric’s Hollow as soon as he realized Wormtail wasn’t in the hiding place, and as soon as he arrived at Godric‚Äôs Hollow, he would be killed by Wormtail who was waiting for him outside in rat form so as not to be seen immediately.

    Voldemort would kill the Potters in the house and Wormtail would kill Sirius outside the house, and the next morning the WW would wake up and assume that Voldemort had managed to break Sirius and then had killed them all, a situation that would allow Wormtail to maintain his cover as a spy in the Order. However, as we know, 1) the curse backfired on Voldemort and 2) Sirius flew the motorcycle instead of Apparating, so all Wormtail could do was grab Voldemort’s wand and figure out a way to fake his own death and frame Sirius for it before Sirius could let anyone know that Wormtail had been the real Secret-Keeper.

    Dumbledore knows how Horcruxes are made and under what conditions. Frank Bryce was killed in the summer, and Dumbledore surmised that it may then (after the murder) have occurred to Voldemort to make a Horcrux from his murder. Moreover, Dumbledore thought Voldemort had used Nagini to kill Bryce and then decided to make a Horcrux from the murder, which tells me that the murder used for the Horcrux can be committed by a proxy (snake Voldemort is controlling or elf under Imperius Curse if that’s what happened to Hokey) and also that the entire Horcrux-making ritual is separate from the murder and occurs after the murder (rather than the murder being a part of the ritual itself). So if Dumbledore thought Voldemort used Nagini to kill Bryce and then made a Horcrux from that murder, that tells me that Voldemort used Moaning Myrtle’s death to create a Horcrux (probably the diary), and she was killed in June. This doesn’t mean definitively that a Horcrux can be made at any time (not just on Halloween), but it strongly suggests to me that a Horcrux can be made at any time of the year.

  19. Felicity,
    I would agree with you on some aspects of your post in that it does not appear that Tom Riddle/Voldemort only committed murders at Halloween. And if I recall correctly from HBP, he killed a woman who had a cup once owned by Helga Hufflepuff. It is doubtful that it happened around the end of October. If it did, then we should have gotten some whiff of that in the text. And I don’t recall that at all, because I think it would have sent up flares with me while reading. (I’m typing this at work and do not have my books handy, so forgive me if I am overlooking something obvious and please point that out if I am in error.)

    However, in regards to the timing of the murders of the Potters, I do not think that was incidental that it happened on Halloween. That was a deliberate choice by JKR. She could have picked any day of the calendar year, but she chose Halloween. Anything in regards to the set up with Peter Pettigrew is going backwards to support the authorial choice of making the starting point of the series being a double homicide on Halloween.

    I believe that she was trying to play upon the ancient concept of the veils separating the living from the dead being at its thinnest in that part of the year. Now, I’ll switch from looking at symbolic underpinnings to lit crit from the eye of another writer looking at dramatic structure and choices.

    She chose Halloween for a purpose. Just like she chose putting the one horrendous doomed date of Harry and Cho in OotP on Valentine’s Day. It didn’t just “happen” to fall on February 14. Nope, because their date was on a Saturday in Hogwarts and if you check the calendar for 1996, you’ll see that Valentine’s Day fell on a Wednesday.

    She moved V-Day to a Saturday because having a disastrous date on Valentine’s Day was more dramatic than having it on February 17th. Why do I know that? Because I’m a L.O.O.N. and I check calendars for that kind of stuff.

    Athena

  20. Though she changed their names to “Deatheaters,” I think in contrast with the implied but never stated “Life-eaters” of communing Christians, the followers of the Dark LOrd were originally the “Knights of Walpurgis,” if memory serves. Am I wrong in recalling there is a strong link between these Knights and All Hallow’s Eve?

    Curious John

  21. Nope! April 30 is Walpurgis Night, not Halloween…. This is from the Wikipedia article on Deatheaters:

    Knights of Walpurgis is either the previous name of the Death Eaters, fictional characters from the Harry Potter books or the name JK Rowling originally called the Death Eaters in early drafts of the scripts. The only quotation makes it unclear whether they were originally called this in Rowling’s manuscripts or if the Death Eaters actually called themselves this in the story.

    JK Rowling revealed this information during an interview with Jeremy Paxman on BBC Newsnight on 2003-06-19[1]:

    “‘‚Ķin here is the history of the Death Eaters and I don’t know that I’ll ever actually need it ‚Äî but at some point ‚Äî which were once called something different ‚Äî they were called the Knights of Walpurgis‚Ķ'”

    Knights of Walpurgis is a play on Walpurgis Night, which is the night of April 30. In legend it is associated with witches’ sabbats and black magic.

  22. Athena–

    My point is that from the text Voldemort did not select Halloween as the night to murder of Harry and his parents because of some significance associated with that day. It seems clear (to me) from what Sirius said that Voldemort would have attacked them on the night of October 30 if that had been the night Sirius had arranged to check up on Wormtail.

    Why Rowling wanted Voldemort to attack the Potters on Halloween is a separate matter. It’s also been pointed out that October 31 is nine months before Harry’s birthday of July 31, so I freely grant that Halloween could be significant. But from Sirius’s statement, it was merely opportunistic for Voldemort to attack on that night.

  23. I’m so glad you’re discussing this! I immediately thought of the Grail Hallows, or Hallows of Britain/Ireland – either four or thirteen, depending on the source text, though four certainly seems the more likely – and the Horcruxes, which certainly complicates and enriches the possibilities of what we may see in Book 7. Of course the deep spiritual and alchemical resonances within the Arthurian tradition cannot be overstated.

    On a somewhat related note, an article I’d recommend is “The Harry Potter Series and French Arthurian Romance” by Heather Arden and Kathryn Lorenz, from the Summer 2003 (vol. 13, no. 2) issue of Arthuriana.

  24. And that time of year is associated with Beltane.

    It’s funny because I always associated Death Eaters with Sin Eaters, or those who would take upon a dying person’s sins so that they could die with a soul cleansed of sin.

    In Gary Jennings’s novel, “Aztec” he referred to the Aztec equivalent as Filth Eaters. I also think of Renfield in the novel Dracula where he was trying to feed hundreds of flies to a spider and then consume the spider to absorb the souls of all those creatures, as if it would bring about some form of transference of immortality.

    At least those are all the myriad of influences I thought of when I came across the term Death Eaters, who knows how many of them were intended by JKR.

  25. From Joyce Odell, the Red Hen, with permission, this suggestion that the last book’s title (like the last three of the previous titles) may have nothing or very little to do with the action of the series finale:

    Having had a couple of days to mull it over, I think I may be on the right track, Unless Rowling has changed her pattern again, which is certainly posible. But we haven’t any way of 2nd-guessing whether she has.

    When you take a clear overview of the matter, Rowlings books stopped being about their titles after PoA.

    PoA came out in 1999. It also was about the last of the series to escape before the media blitz became international and really kicked into top gear. Even though GoF came out only one year later, by the time it saw the light of day the fan community was an entirely different environment. Where the first three books were run-away successful children’s books, the 4th was a media event.

    That was also the point at which the amount of necessary background information threw the page count out of control. Indeed there was so much going on with the series that I think it slipped notice that the books were no longer about their titles.

    A working title for GoF was HP & the Doomspell Tournament. A fairly late working title, because this one actually went public before the book was released and the final title of “Goblet of Fire” was a bit of a surprise to everyone. Doomspell Tournament would have been at least as central to the story as Prisoner of Azkaban was.

    Gobet of Fire was not. The Goblet of Fire played the role of an inanimate Sybill Trelawney. It was carried in, got confunded, spouted something that tossed Harry into the soup, and everyone just had to deal with it. The Goblet had wandered offstage by Halloween, and stayed that way, we never saw it again. It was the McGuffin. It wasn’t the story.

    The Order of the Phoenix was the same thing. Harry was escorted from the Dursleys to the Order Headquarters by a group of the Order’s members. He was introduced to them and spent the rest of the summer under their protection.

    Did he join the Order? No. Was he asked to join? No. Did he take part in their plans? No. Did he interact with the members of the Order in any meaningful manner through the entire book? Nope. Not even that. He spoke to his Godfather and Remus a couple of times, but he’d have tried to do that anyway, Order or no Order. The Order was just about totally irrelevant to the course of the story until they finally showed up like the 7th cavalry to rescue Harry and his friends when they had disobeyed their instructions to stay out and not meddle with Albus’s scam du jure. It was some bright, shining promise of inaccessible adventure out on the periphery. It was not the story.

    The Half-Blood Prince was a little different, but he wasn’t the story either. Or not the main story.

    He showed up early in the year and was Harry’s little helper, very much as Tom had pretended to be Ginny’s ‚Äúfriend that she could carry around in her pocket.‚Äù Except the Prince wasn’t pretending, and he didn’t know that Harry existed.

    And while Harry was happy to take his potions advice and use his spells, once he realized that the half-blood Prince could not very well have been his own pureblood father, he didn’t much care who the Prince might have actually been. It was Hermione who got the bit between her teeth and was determined to prove to Harry that the Prince was not the wonderful fellow Harry thought. And that primarily because the Prince had her nose throughly out of joint. (Hermione seems to have gone through this whole school year in a jealous snit.)

    And by the time we got our noses rubbed in the Prince’s true identity, it didn’t really matter. Harry had already learned that the Prince was as dangerous as any other wizard, and that to blindly follow anyone is likely to prove to be a mistake. We don’t even know whether he took the trouble to rescue the book from the Room of Hidden Things in hopes that it might reveal some of his “enemy’s” secrets.

    Unlike the Order, the Prince did take an active (if unconsious) part in the book which bears his name. Ron would not have survived if Harry hadn’t had access to the Prince’s book. Nor would Harry have won the bottle of Felix that enabled him to retrieve the critical memory from Slughorn and get his closest friends through the “Battle of Hogwarts” unscathed.

    But the story wasn’t really about the Prince the way PoA was about Sirius Black. It was about Malfoy’s mission, and the official Riddle backstory. The Prince, writing back in the 1970s, had nothing to do with either of those.

    So I think that we may be putting way too much emphasis on the Deathly Hallows of the final book’s title. We will encounter them, certainly. And they will probably be pivotal in some manner or other. But the story will probably not be primarily about them. Either they will be the McGuffin that kicks off a major part of the adventure, or they will be some gaudy peripheral issue that Harry cannot access, until the final showdown.

    Or, I could be wrong, and they may be a sort of pervading presence throughout the book, like the Grim. One which shows up intermittently, usually at the very worst of times and when their challenge is finally met, will reward Harry with the answer to the Riddle.

  26. Joyce’s post (#25 above) I think seconds the idea that the Harry Potter book titles, especially given the McGuffin quality of the last three books’ titles, are not pointers exlusively or even most importantly to the story beneath that heading.

    If this is the case, the question becomes “What is the thread or principle that joins the series’ titles?” The central theme of the books is the fundamental power of love, even love’s victory over death. I don’t think it a stretch, though I can expect to hear how silly I am in this regard, that each title is a pointer to the God Who is Love (1 John 4) and to the Creative Principle/Logos that became man. The heavy Christian symbolism, the use of literary alchemy (which is the drama of the Word resolving its contrary tendencies into peace or love), and the meanings of the titles she chose all point to this.

Speak Your Mind

*