Daniel Radcliffe’s ‘Deathly Hallows’ Question: “Why Doesn’t Harry Turn Into Somebody Else?”

How about a Harry Potter Discussion Point for a change? Something about Deathly Hallows —

Here’s a question posed by Daniel Radcliffe from the set of the last movie being filmed. The Empire magazine reporter is talking about the great opening scene shot where there are seven Harry Potters, all of whom, of course, are played by Daniel Radcliffe; through the magic of 21st century movie cameras, the escape from Privet Drive’s Polyjuice moment only took 95 takes to get right.

Dan’s Question is something like “Why did the Order of the Phoenix bother with this involved charade?”

Here is what he really said:

“It’s a really good opener. Although here’s my question: why doesn’t Harry change into somebody else rather than everyone turning into him? We were all wondering; we couldn’t work it out on set.”

I’ve already given my indirect answer to this question in Deathly Hallows Lectures, which I hope you will read if you haven’t already (maybe someone will send a copy to Mr. Radcliffe?). I’m curious, though, about what you think. Why doesn’t Harry take the PJ Power Drink and turn into Dumbledore, say, or Kreacher? What do the six Harry copies tell us that is so important to the storyline at its near beginning?

Open your blue books and begin writing. You have forty minutes. Those who finish early may read The Knife of Never Letting Go quietly at their desks for their first Hogwarts Professor Book Club reading assignment.


  1. Louise M. Freeman says

    [Smacking the buzzer, Jeopardy style.]
    Dumbledore would have been a bit of a giveaway, given he was dead. Polyjuice was only for human transformations, so he couldn’t be Kreacher without winding up in the hospital wing hacking up hairballs. Next!

  2. He doesn’t turn into another character for the same reason in GOF the fake Moody doesn’t corner Harry at one of the trips to Hogsmeade & apparate away with him to Voldemort. It ruins the plot line. Although I suppose there could be some alchemical reason why we need the 7 Potters, like the fact that Harry’s hair in the polyjuice potion turns it golden. 🙂

  3. Okay, the examples were poorly chosen. “Why not someone else?” is still the question. Your morning’s clue or suggestion: think “Horcruxes.”

  4. True – Seven Harry’s are a clue to Voldemort that at least somebody is aware of the existance of the horcruxes, but also if Death Eaters captured or even saw any of the Harry’s, they all knew Harry wouldn’t be instantly killed because Voldemort wanted him whereas anybody else was fair game to be killed by the death eaters – it gave everyone else a slightly better chance of survival.

  5. I think all of the above answers are important components of Jo’s choice to make 7 Harry’s, with a2paper’s being a very good reason, in my opinion. To me, however, the crux of the matter (no pun intended, truly) is that 7 is the most powerful number.

    As much as I’m sure Dan knows a lot about these stories, he’s looking at it from the wrong perspective(s) asking that question: he’s looking at it from an actor’s perspective and from an atheists perspective, and in all likelihood, doesn’t know much, if anything, about alchemy, and probably equally as little about Christian symbolism.

    Jo has stated that the number seven has “magical properties” and of course in Christian symbolism, it is a “powerful” number – the number of completion. So all that points to the fact that in order for that plan to be carried through with the highest probability of success, and in order for her to follow through with some of the themes and symbolism she had already established, the number 7 was the ingenious way her brilliant and calculating mind (with more forethought and planning than most of us can imagine) chose to accomplish required story elements.

  6. The way I look at this there are two parts to the answer: What is the reason within the story’s internal logic and what is Rowling’s reason for wanting it that way.
    The first part is the harder question to me. I think it is probably true that they were arguably safer if half of them looked like Harry as Voldemort didn’t want anyone else killing Harry.
    As to Rowling’s reason, I think the symbolism is beautiful. One of my kids pointed out that where Voldemort has divided his soul into 7 pieces, this is more like Harry multiplying his, still whole, soul by 7! Seven very brave and loyal friends.

  7. Rebecca, I like your explanation, and your child’s, the best.

    I also agree that Dan is not looking at any of the story from a Christian point of view. He has said that he is not – he is half Jewish, but I’ve never had the idea that there is much emphasis in his family on any religion. So even if Jo told him the purpose, he would likely not get it. I don’t know what the views are of the screen writer and David Yates, but it has always seemed to me that where they miss on something it is because they don’t understand the Christian symbolism or the alchemical symbolism. Hence, the use of the wrong colors for things like the wedding and for the clothing of some of the pivotal characters.

    There are some things that JKR wrote so specifically that have been changed in the movies. There are other things that they have kept, though it was likely for the reason that it looks good or it’s what you expect to see (a golden sunset at the end of Half-Blood Prince, for instance).

    I am glad that they have kept the seven Potters rather than changing to something that makes more sense to the actors, though. There is one photo out there that has to do with Hedwig (I’m trying to to put in a spoiler for those who don’t want them) that makes me wonder if they have made a major change there. We’ll soon see.

  8. Oops, that should be: I’m trying to NOT put in a spoiler. . .

  9. What makes me sad is that evidently there was apparently no one on set who could answer Daniel’s question….

  10. Sad, but not especially surprising, right, Janet? For all the reasons mentioned in Eeyore’s comment. I remember when Chamber of Secrets came out as a movie and Prof. Scott Moore, the head of Baylor’s Honors College, was quoted in TIME magazine saying his biggest surprise in the movie was that they left so much of the Chamber Morality Play intact (which suggested to him only that they didn’t know its remarkably Christian meaning).

    Anyway, I think the plot-point answer, as noted above, is that many Harry Potters meant safety for every Harry Potter as long as the Dark Lord insisted that only he could kill Harry. The moral meaning of this, I think, is just if the good guys don’t hang together then they will hang separately, as Benjamin Franklin (among others) is supposed to have said.

    The larger meaning, the allegorical point, is the sharp contrast between the seven Harry’s, whose friends are willing to risk death for their friend, and the friendless Tom Riddle, Jr., whose soul has been invested in seven material idols via the death of that many human beings. The golden quality of Harry’s PJuice Power Drink points to the sacramental quality of Harry’s esence in his mother’s sacrificial blood.

    It’s more than a “great opener” — it’s a poetic key to unlocking why Harry’s victory over the Dark Lord, light’s conquest of darkness, is so important and even inevitable in the nature of things, if human hearts are pure and good. That Mr. Radcliffe doesn’t get this and, as Janet points out, no one is on hand to explain it, is a doggone shame. This young man’s whole life, like it or not, is wrapped up in the meaning of these books and the title character; he really ought to have more than a plot line understanding of them.

    And before you write me to say that Harry only has five friends willing to risk their lives as Harry, I’m just going to insist on six. Go ahead and subtract Mundungus; you have to add Alastor Moody if you take Mr. Fletcher out. Mad-Eye knows the Dark Lord will assume Harry is with him so he has put on the bulls-eye tee-shirt more certainly than any of the PJuice drinkers — and the Auror to beat all others chooses Dung precisely because he knows he will cop-out at the last moment. Harry has six sacrificial friends and the only one who doesn’t look like him is the man knowing he’s not going to survive the day. Harry shows his appreciation, of course, in the Ministry and by burying the Mad-Eye, but I doubt much of fandom gets the importance of that burial scene, the poetic Rosetta Stone for the Deathly Hallows symbol.

    But that’s another post altogether.

  11. I’m reading DH aloud with my nine-year old now, and we’ve actually held off on that chapter for a night when we have a good space of time for a real read, not a rushed one, because I love this section so much.
    Fleur and Bill always impress me. What a contrast to the dingbat Bridezillas who only care about themselves? Here is the most beautiful girl in the world, just before her wedding, willing to risk her life (and to look like Harry for an hour!) while some brides scream if the canapes aren’t arranged in counterclockwise spirals.
    Who wants to take bets that my fourth-grader will get what escaped Mr. Radcliffe and the folks on set in the Capitol, oops, Hollywood?

  12. I am reading the Half Blood Prince to my kids on my way to DH. Now I want to see what my kids take on the scene is because after all we know that not everyone is smarter than a fifth grader. Elizabeth, it would be quite humorous if our kids get what the stars can’t grasp but perhaps not surprising.

  13. Hi all. I think I posted once before, but I’ve been following the site for a while now. I just wanted to jump in in defense of Mr. Radcliffe.

    I think his question is a fair one. Even if there is a symbolic import to having 7 Harrys, if it doesn’t make sense in the plot then we have the right to question it. Just because he doesn’t understand the reasoning for it in the plot doesn’t therefore mean that he doesn’t understand the symbolism. He has shown himself to be a very intelligent and well-read young man, so I doubt that the concept is beyond him. Even if he’s unfamiliar with Christian tradition I highly doubt that he missed the big flashing “HARRY= CHRIST SYMBOL” sign at the end of DH. Did he get the symbolism in this particular scene? I have no idea, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

  14. Ah ntertanedangel, you could be correct. I really don’t know much about the actor personally and thus have little right to say or guess at his meanings. Plus reporters have ways of twisting words and making people seem to be saying something they didn’t necessarily intend. I will refer to the Hog’s Head.org to give a prime example:http://thehogshead.org/watson-slams-twilight-5337/ Read part ways down in the comments section to some links to see how some Rita Skeeters…..oh, I mean reporters twisted what Emma Watson said.

    But I will find it interesting to see how my son sees the scene as an 11 year old. Because I still stand by my comment about many people not being “smarter” than a fifth grader even if I forgot to add punctuation in that sentence making it not read correctly (and thus illustrating my point with myself for an example).

  15. http://thehogshead.org/watson-slams-twilight-5337/

    Sorry, I think I ran the link into the colon in my above post and thus it will not work. If at first you don’t succeed……

  16. The read-aloud was a big success, though my voice is gone (Mad-Eye and Hagrid voices, plus the accent for Fleur and a side of hissy Voldemort, ouch!)
    He caught on with little coaching, but as usual, was so delighted with Fred and George (we’re identical!) that he was focused on them. He didn’t cry over Hedwig (I did, again), but that last Fred laugh is looming on the horizon, so I’m stocking up on Kleenex.
    I am looking forward to seeing the scene come to life. I remember when Michael J.Fox played several people in a scene for Back to The Future 3, long before the technology of today. I wonder if all the bells and whistles make the actors’ jobs harder or easier.

  17. Well the most literal answer would be that Snape planted the idea to Mundungus to have the decoys…

  18. I wanted to answer your question about why D.H. started out with seven Harry Potters instead of Harry turning into someone else. I think it is related to the fact that Voldemort, we find by the end of the book, ended up having seven horcruxes ( though at the time of the seven Harry Potters chapter, it was only thought that he had six and therefore, there were seven pieces of Voldemort’s soul).

    Could it be related to the “rings/ circles” you’ve been talking about? 7 Harrys vs. 7 parts of Voldemort?

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