The Boy Who Lived: A True Story of Harry’s Magic

Healing Words for a Premature Child‘ is a story that ran this morning on the front page of The Roanoke Times in Virginia. Long story short, an English teacher has a baby boy ten weeks premature (all of 3 lbs., 1 ounce). She decides to read to him, a barbie doll strapped in an incubator and to multiple tubes, and chooses a 4100 page series of books she’s always wanted to read but hadn’t had the time. If the results don’t move you, I suggest you seek counseling.

A more objective reader than myself, say that rara avis who has not read about or heard of the boy wizard, might say (a) it wasn’t Harry but the mother’s presence and love that helped the little guy and (b) other books would have done just as well. I will yield on the substantial part of (a) — mommy and her sacrificial love are the magic here — but (b) leaves me scratching my head. I cannot think of another book or series of books that would have engaged mommy and fostered her already overwhelming care for baby as the Harry Potter novels obviously did.

Narnia? The Lord of the Rings? Little Britches? Little House? C’mon. Ms. Rowling, writing as a mother about children, love, and death, has written a classic for all of us that I think must have special resonance for the hearts of readers in neo-natal emergency rooms.

Your comments and corrections, please.

Potter Encyclopedias and Guidebooks: Let the Avalanche begin!

I was surfing a wonderful Political Science/International Relations weBlog that a new friend of mine makes contributions to and was startled to find quite a bit of Harry Potter commentary. I recommend you check out the pieces by Patrick Thaddeus Jackson on “What Harry Potter Inherits From Star Wars” and “Why Harry Potter Beats Football for Conversation” if discussion of the books as monomyth/legend/mythology or as cultural artifact is your sort of thing. Me? I was trying to get to Daniel Nexon’s “How Harry Potter Explains the World” at the New Republic Online but I couldn’t get past the subscriber-only blocker, doggone it. (You can read it here.)

What I was able to read that Prof. Nexon linked to, though, was an article by Scott McLemee from July in the Inside Higher Education blog called “Pottering Around.” Not much of what Mr. McLemee is of interest to serious readers of Harry Potter because he discloses with a hint of pleasure that he has not been up to reading any of the books or seeing any of the movies. He does share at least one thing you should know; the avalanche of academic papers and Big Publishing House Guidebooks to the series has begun. [Read more…]

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!”

Guest Essay8: Arabella’s Epilogues

Three alternative endings, in a light vein, one each for the three faux-Hallows books in “print,” by beloved HogPro All-Pro, Arabella Figg.

Lord Voldemort Exclusive

By Arabella Figg

Rita Skeeter: So Lord Voldemort, we’ll just say the ending of the story was a complete surprise.

LV: Yes, no one expected me to repent.

RS: It was rather a shock.

LV: My Death Eaters were quite disappointed (high-pitched laugh).

RS: From sociopath to savior of the Wizarding World. What a resume. [Read more…]

Guest Essay6: “Severus Snape and The Transparency of Evil”

This essay was sent out to e-subscribers this morning by Sightings, an online journal of The Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago. File it under, “Why Harry Potter is Important.”

Severus Snape and the Transparency of Evil
— Elizabeth Musselman

On July 21, children across the country will stay up all night reading as the narrative of Harry Potter draws to a close. Many adults will also stay up all night reading the final chapters in J. K. Rowling’s imaginative epic of teenage wizards negotiating the forces of good and evil. Perhaps if Martin Luther were alive today, he too would find himself drawn into the textual world of Harry Potter — for Harry’s world bears some striking resemblances to Luther’s theological realm. Appearances are deceptive, and human reason is not to be trusted; spoken words carry the power to defeat danger; and the ongoing struggle between good and evil finds no easy resolution. [Read more…]