Deathly Hallows Discussion Point #24: The Controversial Points

As expected, the Harry Haters and more thoughtful critics found fault with Deathly Hallows, counter-cultural masterpiece and Christian fantasy magnus opus that it is. The sniping and complaints at some Catholic weBlogs friiends have sent me urls to has been especially disappointing, even mind-numbing.

What are the complaints about? How has Ms. Rowling failed this time to meet the standards of acceptable story-telling? Three points come immediately to mind. Please list and discuss the validity and reasoning of others you have seen this past week.

(1) Mrs. Weasley calls Bellatrix Lestrange a “BITCH.”

(2) Harry and other good guys use the Unforgiveable curses, “Imperio,””Crucio,” and “Avadra Kedavra.”

(3) Snape killed Dumbledore on the Astronomy Tower in what amounts to a “Mercy Killing.”

Travis Prinzi raised and responded to the second point at Sword of Gryffindor and Amy Wellborn noted on her weBlog, in answer to RadTrad horror about Albus’ euthanasia and Rowling’s implicit endorsement of the “culture of death” (!) that Aragon’s death was essentially the same agony and acceptance of mortality. But that was St. J.R.R.

Please share your thoughts on these three points, other points you have seen or heard raised as objections, valid and invalid, and interesting discussion of controversial elements or critical failings of the book. I confess to being something like aghast that people are raising the reasons they don’t like the book before saying loudly and clearly how grateful they are that Ms. Rowling wrote these books and ended them as she did. I cannot think of any artist of the 21st Century that has created a book that has “baptized the imagination” and “instructed (in the virtues so profoundly), while delighting” us to laughter and tears, against a rip-tide of pablum and soul-corrosive gunk in reading.

But let’s have some discussion here anyway about things folks didn’t like about Deathly Hallows, even if it is too much like the tourists in Rome who complain about the Michaelangelo painting being so high up on the ceiling and the nudity of the David


  1. hellokitten42 says

    I am having a hard time seeing the objection to #1. If this is the absolute worst the language gets in these books, it’s doing better than many a PG 13 movie. More to the point, it is not gratuitous, give that it is uttered in a moment of extreme drama (a mother rushing in to save a child engaged in a deadly duel with a far more powerful enemy). There are far worse epithets in Shakespeare.

    I think the answer to #2 may lie in whether the Unforgiveables are so-called because of temporal or eternal reasons. I leave it to better minds than mine to make the argument.

    But #3 is the one that I took a completely different read on. First, Severus contained the curse in the first place. But for his intervention, he would have been dead long before. Would things have been different if he had lifted whatever charms/potions were containing the curse. Essentially taking him off of life support when he’d finished his necessary task. Second, if this was a mercy killing, who was receiving mercy? Dumbledore in other circumstances would have accepted the slow death from the curse. But he knew he was under a different kind of death sentence, one that would irreparably harm the soul of one of the students he was charged with educating. In Rowlings portrayal of a Hogwarts education, mere knowledge is insufficient. Education is the tuning of the soul and Slytherins are not excluded. Albus didn’t ask Secerus to kill him to spare him a painful death. He asked Severus to kill him to spare Draco. I’m not sure the act could be justified if Severus had not also been the one to contain the curse. The problem of the dilemma is that there appears to be no morally good or neutral option. Albus knows he has limited time to teach Harry before either the curse or Voldemort’s plans overtake him. If the curse kills him first, so much the better. Otherwise, Severus must see that Draco is spared the soul-killing effects of premeditated murder. Albus’s death is a side-effect.

  2. I thought the Molly/Bellatrix confrontation was a little odd alltogether, almost as if Rowling needed to give Molly a ‘moment’. The ‘BITCH’ thing seemed a little gratuitous to me.

    I thought Harry’s use of the Unforgivable curses was a mirror of the fact that Dumbledore had dabbled with questionable magic himself (His quest to conquer death) as well as the fact that Harry always had that Slytherin/Voldemort Element. He used two successfully (Imperio, Crucio) but never attempted the Avada Kedavra (which is the biggie).

  3. tnorthodox says

    John, first off, you were right! I’m so glad that a priest friend of mine back in my seminary days put me on to your book, Finding God in Harry potter. I have been in many a conversation with Christians who’ve never read the Potter books and yet proclaim they’re somehow evil, and Deathly Hallows is the final sword thrust for your position. Now, on to the points at hand.

    (1) I think Americans are too Puritan-esque in our outlooks on language. Most Europeans, including devout Christians don’t have the hang-ups that we do when it comes to language. I was pumping my fist in the air and saying something like, “Rock on, Mrs Weasley!” (Of course I probably used a choice word myself, but it does no good to prove my point by writing it here.)

    (2) I don’t know how we have any delusions about the good guys not killing in a war. As Orthodox, any killing is wrong and must be confessed and repented of. But there are times when the intent of one’s heart is to save lives, and with that intent, kills the bad guy. I think specifically here of the fight for Greek independence, when monks and clergy picked up arms to fight for their freedom and lives. Harry’s use of the Cruciatus on Amycus is understandable, if not completely moral and upright. It is understandable in the context (i.e. Amycus threatening the entirety of Ravenclaw with torture and death. I maintain that however, though he may received a certain sense of satisfaction, did not derive sadistic pleasure from it, and did not maintain the curse to inflict “torturous” pain.

    (3) I don’t think DD’s death on the tower amounted to a “mercy killing,” but a sacrifice. It was to save Draco’s life and soul. It would save Snape’s life. It would ensure that the Elder Wand would pass to Snape to keep safe. It would clear the way for Harry to ultimately defeat Voldemort, and thus save the entire Wizarding World. I don’t think there is any question that Snape’s refusal would’ve meant the downfall of the entire plan. In his exchange with Snape, I don’t think DD is concerned with ending his death so that he wouldn’t have to die as a result of the curse. DD is ready for death. It is but the “next great adventure.” I think DD’s talk of pain and humiliation have more to do with Voldy and Bella being involved than “mercy killing.” And, ultimately, I think DD knew that it would not rend Snape’s soul as murder would.

    I cannot believe that Rowling, in writing these stories, embraces a culture of death. I believe she is writing about courage. DD is courageous almost to a dispassionate degree. Snape is courageous, no question, and as Harry rightfully says, Snape is quite possibly, “the bravest man I ever knew.” I also believe that Rowling is writing about sacrifice. DD’s death was turned from a meaningless mistake on his part to make an attempt for the Resurrection Stone, into a sacrifice for others.

    Thanks again for your books, and your blog.

    Dn Kevin

  4. I am not at all surprised at the negative reactions to number seven.

    I believe Ms. Rowling anticipated that she would upset and disappoint a number of her fans. She could have created a seventh book that would have made them happy, but she didn’t. She stuck to her guns. Good for her. I think she faced her own soul-searching decision point with number seven. Would she compromise, or would she appease? She refused to appease. She was faithful.

  5. Please, please tell me you are NOT comparing Rowling to Michaelangelo and Harry Potter to David. Ohhh, John. LOL. I just posted a lengthy response to you in #23. Cheers.

  6. jaminers says

    (1) Mrs. Weasley calls Bellatrix Lestrange a “BITCH.”

    As soon as I read that line in the book, however entertaining it was in context, I knew that the Harry-haters would use it as all the proof they needed that Rowling is “evil.” Just thinking about it makes me laugh. Here’s my take on it. I believe that Rowling wanted to get the point across in her books that even the “good guys” have a dark side (Dumbledore’s youth, Ron’s views on house elves), just as the “bad guys” have a bright side (Narcissa’s love for her son defeating her loyalty to Voldemort when she lied about Harry’s death). Basically Rowling wanted her books to be realistic. It seems to me that if Rowling pretended that the characters had no inner struggles or sinful nature the books would be be unrealistic and superficial. Yes, Mrs. Weasley is a good person. But don’t the best of us get caught up in the moment? I applaud Rowling for making the characters seem real to us. How would her characters inspire a world of sinners to strive for “good” if the characters she portrayed were sinless and perfect, thereby making them unrelatable to the everyman?

    (2) Harry and other good guys use the Unforgiveable curses, “Imperio,””Crucio,” and “Avadra Kedavra.”

    Anyone who had a problem with the Unforgiveable curses needs a history lesson. The rules change when you’re in a war. I see no problem with this point. Didn’t God lead the good guys into war against the enemies in the Old Testament? Didn’t God’s people kill their enemies under God’s instruction? This may seem like a shallow point to some, but I think that the whole arguement is shallow in itself. Harry is “bad” because he and the other good guys hurt their enemies in a time of war? Please…

    (3) Snape killed Dumbledore on the Astronomy Tower in what amounts to a “Mercy Killing.”

    This point is perhaps as shallow as the previous. Dumbledore didn’t allow Snape to kill him for kicks. There was a reason, and perhps the greatest reason one could ever imagine. The way I understood it was that Dumbledore sacrificed is own life because he wanted to keep Draco’s spirit clean and whole. If Snape killed the man who was about to die soon anyways, then Draco wouldn’t have to do it, and Draco’s spirit remained pure and intact. It was nothing more than ANOTHER example of Rowling’s point that love, especially sacrificial love, is a powerful thing. Dumbledore saved Draco by using sacrifical love. Harry saved the wizarding world by using sacrificial love. Why are so many Christians upset about sacrifical love?

    That is my take on those three points. I’m with you, John. After reading a book that has “baptized the imagination” with love and Christian virtues, why would the first thing that Christian groups do is condemn the book? Pride must be a tough thing for them to swallow…

  7. nlmoore9 says

    I, too, was surprised by Molly Weasley’s use of the word “BITCH,” but I finally concluded that it was meant to shock us a little. Molly has always been the most ‘proper’ of the Weasleys (well, excepting Percy, who was downright prudish) and so the use of this language is an indication of how furiously passionate she is at that moment. She says this after having lost a son; she is not about to lose another child.

    The furor over her use of the word bitch has overshadowed what I see as far more revealing about Molly’s true character–that she lost it when someone tried to kill her one daughter. When she faces the boggart in book 5 (The Woes of Mrs. Weasley), she sees Ron, Bill, her husband, Percy, the twins and Harry dead–but not Ginny. If, even in her deepest fears, she was unable to imagine her daughter in harm’s way, the shock of seeing that in reality opens the door to any response.

    As to the second concern: it bothered me, too. What bothered me even more was that I found ways to rationalize it: the Ministry rules had changed; “all’s fair in love and war”; they were fighting for the lives, etc…It made me stop wondering what Rowling’s motivation was in allowing such scenes, and instead take a look at a part of me I would rather have kept hidden. Seems to me that such questions should provoke self-examination and self-judgment, rather than attempting to assign motive to the author.

    On the third concern: Again, I see this as an opportunity to explore the many shades of grey, rather than trying to force a single standard on “mercy killing.” I don’t believe this is moral relativism, I think instead it is moral realism. Even in a magical world, there are very few black-and-white answers. As a Christian pastor with a particular ministry to those facing issues of death and dying, I have seen many occasions when the choice is not life or death, but death or worse death. This is the choice before Dumbledore, and I believe he came to a wise and moral conclusion.

  8. I’ve already posted my take on the Dumbledore “euthanasia” idea in another thread, so I won’t repeat it, except to say that I see it as a strategic decision made in the context of a war with spiritual dimensions, and a decision that, given nothing but imperfect alternatives, minimized harm to all parties to the greatest degree achievable in the circumstances.

    I’d agree with tnorthodox about the language. There are at least two major categories of “bad” language: the bodily function/sex related kind, and the disrespecting-the-Almighty kind (and in Spain they have a multitude of absolutely appalling ways of combining both categories!) We “nice” people in the US tend to get more upset about public use of category #1 than category #2, which if you’re a believer is just absolutely backwards, because #2 is blaspemy while #1 is merely crass. There are plenty of instances in the books where JKR skirts, but never actually verbalizes, category #1 for comic effect (see, for example, the description of Uncle Bilius at weddings). “Bitch” is a category 1 insult, and we can see how JKR managed to get a tremendous emotional punch from one word, thanks I think largely to her prior restraint in the use of such language.

    As to the point about the Unforgivables: I’m not going to say that Harry’s use of Cruciatus was okay; although Carrow certainly had it coming, that’s not to say that it was Harry’s proper job to administer the comeuppance. But the thing to remember is that while all three are Unforgivable from the point of view of wizarding society and have a judicial consequence (Azkaban), only Avada Kedavra has a stated spiritual consequence, the tearing of the soul. And that’s the one Harry does not use. Voldemort dies from his OWN rebounded curse.

  9. I think the second concern, the Unforgivable Curses, has been misunderstood by both Harry lovers and Harry haters. The haters are right, in part – yes, the Unforgivable Curses are bad and it’s bad that the good guys use them. But that doesn’t mean Rowling’s morality has slipped. We’re supposed to be shocked when McGonagall imperiuses Amycus. It’s a bad guy thing to do, and she’s one of the ultimate bad guys. That’s how dire things are. Rowling’s not condoning it, she’s drawing a picture of the desperation.

    The lovers are right, though, in that desperate times call for desperate measures. A lot of the arguments here actually sound like Lupin, though, when he chides Harry for his ‘trademark’ expelliarmus response.

    Doesn’t Rowling tell us what she really thinks in the duel between Harry and Voldemort? Hasn’t Harry finally learned that even when they’re justified, the Unforgivable Curses are wrong? He rejects even Lupin’s wise council for what he knows to be right.

    The only reason Harry haters can’t see this is they’re blinded by their own insistence that their gut reactions were right. Praise Jesus for people like you, John, who had the sense to examine the books honestly. Think of how much Goodness would have been lost otherwise!

  10. Richard Abanes: Please, please tell me you are NOT comparing Rowling to Michaelangelo and Harry Potter to David. Ohhh, John. LOL. I just posted a lengthy response to you in #23. Cheers.

    John Granger: No, Richard, I was comparing (a) ignorant tourists who look at the world through lenses of false piety and self-satisfaction and miss the beauty of Christian art with (b) sophistic critics who swallow camels and strain at gnats in what they read and enjoy (look up “Pharisee” at Wikipedia for a hint of where I’m going).

    I am delighted you dropped by and had your moment in the previous thread, though, so I don’t have to name names.

  11. 1. I didn’t have a problem with Molly’s using this word, but I thought the line was rather lame. I laughed when Ron said to Draco, “That’s the second time tonight we’ve saved your life, you two-faced bastard!” But I know that some people think of the Harry Potter books as books for small children (I mean very small, five or six), so that’s probably one reason they have a problem with it.

    2. I’m not decided on this one yet.

    3. Like the others, I don’t think this is a straight case of euthanasia. I think that it illustrates something about the relationship between Snape and Dumbledore.
    When Dumbledore asks Snape to kill him to spare Draco’s soul, Snape says, “What about my soul?” Some people see the question as selfish on Snape’s part. I don’t. I think what he is really saying is, “What about YOUR soul, Albus? I’ve done everything for you that you’ve asked, and will do more, to my own detriment, and now you’re asking for my very soul? Is this what you really are–a manipulative maniac who wrings everything you can from people and then tosses them away like a dirty dishrag?” He needs the assurance that Dumbledore also cares what happens to him, that his sacrifices still mean something. Dumbledore tosses the ball back to him, telling him in essence the opposite of what he later told Draco: it is your mercy that matters now, not mine. Snape kills Dumbledore primarily to spare Draco; he needed to know that his action would have some real meaning. At least, that’s my take on it.

  12. ______________________________________
    Trish Says:

    July 27th, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    When Dumbledore asks Snape to kill him to spare Draco’s soul, Snape says, “What about my soul?” Some people see the question as selfish on Snape’s part. I don’t. I think what he is really saying is, “What about YOUR soul, Albus? I’ve done everything for you that you’ve asked, and will do more, to my own detriment, and now you’re asking for my very soul? Is this what you really are–a manipulative maniac who wrings everything you can from people and then tosses them away like a dirty dishrag?” He needs the assurance that Dumbledore also cares what happens to him, that his sacrifices still mean something. Dumbledore tosses the ball back to him, telling him in essence the opposite of what he later told Draco: it is your mercy that matters now, not mine.

    I think you’re right that Snape is asking for reassurance that Dumbledore cares for him, for the fate of his soul. But I don’t think Dumbledore exactly tosses the ball back to him: without making a statement which it’s not within his authority to make (Dumbledore has no say over the fate of Snape’s soul, after all), he strongly suggests that he does not, in fact, believe that Snape will be spiritually harmed by what he’s asked him to do.

  13. sleepingdragons says

    1. I thought that the using the “b” word was classless. It detracted from the mastery then shown by Mrs. W. in her defeat of Bellatrix.

    2. It bothered me that Harry and McGonagall used these curses. But I am not familiar with the rules for war in the wizarding world. Certainly in our world there are some different rules for force by combatants in a war than there are for ordinary citizens during peacetime.

    3. I do not think that Dumbledore’s death was mercy killing. But I do think that there is a moral problem here. If Dumbledore is not already dead (stoppered death), then Snape has killed an innocent person. It is true that there are mitigating circumstances, that raise questions about the degree to which this is wrong, i.e. Draco is saved, Snape’s cover is maintained, and those he protects are saved. But, as far as I know, it is always immoral to some degree to kill an innocent no matter how noble your motives.

  14. Mark Windsor says

    (1) Mrs. Weasley calls Bellatrix Lestrange a “BITCH.”

    It just struck me as a bit low brow and out of character. It was probably intended for shock value.

    (2) Harry and other good guys use the Unforgiveable curses, “Imperio,””Crucio,” and “Avadra Kedavra.”

    This is a bit complex. It could be that Rowling was simply pointing out our own tendency to say, “if the good guys do it it’s ok, but if the bad guys do it it’s horrible.” This is a flaw of mankind going back to the dawn of time, so it certainly isn’t a real leap to think she meant that. But if that were the case, I think a sentence or two of explanation would have been nice. It’s also complicated by the “that was very noble of you” comment in the Ravenclaw common room. It was unforgiveable a couple of books ago, now it’s noble. It’s hardly noble to torture someone, and it goes against Just War. It could also simply be a case a badly thought out move by the author. it could be that Harry is mortal and has weaknesses like the rest of us, but again, a sentence or two of moral dillema would be nice.

    (3) Snape killed Dumbledore on the Astronomy Tower in what amounts to a “Mercy Killing.”

    I don’t see this as a mercy killing. Mercy killings are committed in order to ease the suffering of someone that has, say, a terminal illness. Dumbledore doesn’t ask for either mercy or an end to his suffering, and Snape never seems to consider it. In reality, Dumbledore is a casualty of war…friendly fire, if you will. Anyone that has a problem with this one should go back and watch North by Northwest again.

  15. Number 3 is the one I think is the toughest. Perhaps that’s because I study moral philosophy for a living.

    For the most part, I agree with sleepingdragons, above, and for the most part I disagree with jaminers. The arguments of a number of respondents above suggest that ultimately, in this case, the ends (or circumstances) justify the means. But I don’t know.

    It seems to me that the basic moral principle Snape violates in killing Dumbledore is to choose to directly go against a basic human good, namely, life. Snape is not merely denying aid to Dumbledore, he is actually intervening in order to directly bring about his death (and by “directly” I mean that Snape is the most proximate cause of Dumbledore’s death).

    It would be one thing if Snape allowed the curse that would eventually kill Dumbledore to run its course and kill Dumbledore. (In various circumstances, that might or might not be morally justifiable.) But if that happened, the cause of Dumbledore’s death would have been the curse from the ring, not Snape. Certainly Snape’s inaction at such a point would have allowed the curse to take effect, but Snape would not be directly acting to bring about Dumbledore’s death. This is the distinction between killing and letting die.

    Some other considerations: Would Snape have killed Dumbledore if Draco had not been in danger of doing so? Obviously not; Snape was a Dumbledore man through and through. But since Snape, we might say, didn’t really want to kill Dumbledore, perhaps his action could be justified under what moral philosophers and theologians have termed the doctrine (or principle) of “double effect.” (According to this moral principle, foreseeable and bad consequences of an action do not make the the agent blameworthy if the bad, foreseeable consequences are “side effects” of an otherwise good action, where “good action” is not merely an action with good consequences: it must be the result of a virtuous agent, among other things. And the bad effect cannot be either the intended end or, importantly, the intended means to a good end: “Shall we sin more that grace may abound? May it never be.”). So if this were the case, then Snape might have been justified.

    But that wasn’t the case. The way I see it, Draco would not have been able to bring himself to kill Dumbledore on the tower. So Snape would have no reason to act to kill him in order to prevent Draco from harming himself.

    (And I don’t think Snape wanting to keep his cover in front of the other Death Eaters is sufficient justification for killing Dumbledore. Perhaps others disagree about this.)

    Dumbledore’s claim that Snape is the best judge of whether killing him will harm his soul is wily. It seems to hint that Dumbledore thinks that Snape’s intention (or the condition of Snape’s heart) will be decisive in whether the act harms Snape’s soul or not. But, as much as I hate to say it, that doesn’t seem right to me. (One always hesitates to disagree with a wise man, even a fictional one.) Snape’s loyalty to Dumbledore or love for Draco can’t outweigh his directly choosing to act against the basic human good of life.

    Now all of this does not touch the issue of whether JKR thinks that Snape is or is not justified in killing Dumbledore. She could of course think that Snape’s action was immoral (though perhaps understandable, forgivable, etc.). She doesn’t seem to raise this as an issue, though perhaps Snape’s tragic death hints at the fact that his life was characterized by and culminated in doing wrong in the service of good. That would certainly go right to the heart of one kind of tragic hero.

  16. Let’s try changing the circumstances, and seeing how it looks then. Dumbledore and Snape are soldiers under attack. Dumbledore, the commanding officer, receives a wound that both know will be fatal while they are still under fire. Then an unexploded grenade lands near them. Dumbledore knows he is already dying of his earlier wound. If they do nothing, the grenade will kill both of them. So Dumbledore asks Snape to roll him over onto the grenade and get to safety, do his best to get the rest of their men to safety, and to deliver a message that’s essential to winning the war, and which only Dumbledore and Snape knew. This is pretty much the situation they were in, in non-magical terms.

    Burglar says, “Snape’s loyalty to Dumbledore or love for Draco can’t outweigh his directly choosing to act against the basic human good of life.”

    Snape’s loyalty to Dumbledore– his willingness to act in accordance with Dumbledore’s purposes– is very much to the point, because it was Dumbledore’s purpose to give up his own life to achieve the goods of keeping Draco’s soul unsundered by murder, keeping a protector in place for the children of Hogwarts when he could no longer do that job, removing forever the menace of the Elder Wand from wizarding society, and keeping alive the only other person– Snape himself– who knew the secret of Harry’s Horcrux-scar and who was charged with communicating this message, essential to the defeat of Voldemort, to Harry at the opportune time. If these purposes– which safeguard the basic human good of the lives of many people– are sufficiently good to justify Dumbledore’s giving up his own life, then why does Snape incur condemnation for acting exactly in accordance with Dumbledore’s intention in the matter?

  17. 1. I agree that the word is lame and I think it is a poor choice only because of the banality and flatness of it. It is such a tired, overused word in this culture that it’s use here was not shocking as much as jarring because it doesn’t fit the context.

    Bellatrix is pure evil and sadistic; the female Volemort, if you will. The kind of evil that she embodies is minimized by the use of a word that has become almost meaningless in this culture . It lacks power and seriously dilutes this scene for me.

    2. As for the Unforgivable curses used by Harry, why the fuss? Harry is carrying part of Voldemort’s soul. It is only natural that this shadow part should have some expression in the final battle. The extraordinary thing is that Harry has not given into that part of himself before this. Harry’s character is rendered all the more nuanced for his use of these curses. Without them, he is just a one-dimensional hero.

  18. chrystyan says

    Point #1: I like to think of this word (not the circumstance in which it was said) as a pointer back to Aunt Marge’s statement in POA about blood and in particular. Harry. (Paraphrase) It happens all the time with dogs…if there’s something wrong with the bitch, there’s something wrong with the pup. I think in the heat of battle with her daughter almost killed by Bellatrix, Molly is justified to vent here.

    Point #2: When Harry uses an unforgiveable curse, he repeatedly has to be sure that it holds because he has to mean it in order for it to work. Righteous indignation is justified as noted in OOTP. Harry (to Lupin’s dismay) did not kill or at least Stun Stan Shunkpike because as Harry says (paraphrase): I don’t just blast people out of the way because they are there. That’s Voldemort’s job. This to me is Harry’s attitude. He doesn’t wish or like to use them, but must. This is war and there are casualties in war. I think it is outstanding that in the end he defiantly used (his signature spell) Expelliarmus–rather than Avada kedavra against Voldemort. I don’t think I read where Harry every used the killing curse. I’m doing my second read now.

    3. Wouldn’t it be just like Dumbledore in his great plan to die precisely the instant that Snape used the killing curse against him? Maybe this can’t be proven from the text, but that doesn’t mean the reason could not exist. Oh, look, there goes a blimbering humdinger!!

  19. hadrianwall says

    Again, I did not like this book purely because it was sloppy writing.

    I did cring reading the word Bitch because it is obvious ten year olds are reading it.

    The good guys with the unforgivables, well yes, that was a little disappointing, something more clever could have been employed.

    The mercy killing, it just adds so many more levels to what Severus Snape had to go through and to me he is by far the REAL HERO of the story and I find it disturbing that Rowling is dismissing him. I cannot beleive the person who created Snape doesn’t quite understand what she just wrote, I’m trying to wrap my head around it and it is coming up with very little comfort.

    This is purely my opinion but I don’t think I have ever been more depressed by a book than Deathly Hallows, from Hedwig, to poor Dobby and especially Snape’s deaths and the randomness of them. I am even mournig over Fred and Crabbe- yes Crabbe, written completely out of character and again it goes back to sloppy writing.

    Where is Draco’s redemption?

    Snape’s motive however admirable, is pointless overall because we never quite got why Lily, who obviously is not the bastion of all that is good a perfect amrried James the Bully Potter. Even if the friendship ended, I know I still wouldn’t go out with the guy who bullied my childhood friend. It seems Snape really is the better man, but again Rowling seems to not get that herself and it makes me want to punch her.

    Sorry, I’ve veered off a bit, trying to work though some anger here.

  20. To the first point, let me say that were it my mother (I have no children) saving me from Bellatrix, she would have said something, in all likelihood, far worse. It was fitting, it was well-timed, it was not at all what you’d expect from Molly Weasley (which is what made it so great), and it was just necessary.

    To the second, what would YOU be using if it was maybe several hundred against definitely several thousand, and not one of those several thousand was going to play by the rules? If all of the “good guys” (however blurry those lines got) had used nothing but “good magic”, the story would have had a much, MUCH different ending, and there wouldn’t even have been a last chapter, let alone the epilogue (which, by the way, I did NOT see coming). In fact, most of the entire cast would have been dead before the Ministry Raid was over, and the Gringotts episode would have just been a joke. Face it: it doesn’t always work out like those “good always triumphs because we said so” faerie-tale-type story where the good guys don’t even get their hands dirty getting rid of the bad guys. Desperate times and whatnot.

    To the third: for the love of *insert appropriate object of your choice here*, Dumbledore LITERALLY asked for it. Besides which, if those he knew and loved had seen him grow weaker and weaker from the curse that had come with the Horcrux ring, it would have been beyond disheartening. He was a symbol to them: he couldn’t just DIE; he was too powerful to be claimed by simple mortality. Someone had to remove him from the picture.

  21. I’d like to comment on #s 1. Molly Weasley using the word “bitch”. Totally “works” in the literay context. She is a mother of both adult children and teenagers, so she’s probably menopausal. She has a temper which she uses on her children periodically. She has to say something worse here than she would say to her children. There you are. 🙂

  22. timlyds717 says

    #2 – This, to me, underscores the postmodern and anti-establishment themes of the books. Not only are rules of war different from the rules in peace time, but I would ask this question: are the Unforgivable Curses unforgivable because they are always morally reprehensible, or are they unforgivable because they are against the law in wizarding britain? If the latter, then we must agree with Dumbledore that it is our choices and motives that really matter.

    Now, torture is always morally tainted, but harry did not exactly “torture” amycus; he simply inflicted some pain and let go. That is hardly torturous. The Imperious has to be the most morally gray of the unforgivables, and it also is the most liberally used by the “good guys”. Just as in the real world, deadly force and extreme measures must sometimes be used. It is the way the decisions to use these things are made that defines what side you are truly on.

  23. Burglar–
    You’re wrong that Snape would not have had to kill Dumbledore to save Draco. The point at which Draco could have refused the job was past. The other Death Eaters had already arrived by the time Snape got there; there was simply no way they could leave without completing the job.
    And I think he knew it would damage his soul–but less so than leaving his real job unfinished.


    “She’s probably menopausal”? Speaking as the post-menopausal mother of a 12-year-old, that hurts!

  24. FWIW, the only thing that bugged me about the Mrs Weasley scene was its striking resemblance to a key moment in James Cameron’s Aliens (1986). Coming after all the various (intended or unintended) allusions to Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix and so on, it was a bit weird being reminded of yet another movie franchise — and at such a late point in the book.

    As for the “Unforgivable Curses”… well, this begs the question: Who is doing the forgiving (or the not-forgiving, as the case may be)? If it is the Ministry of Magic, then the credibility of that institution has been ripped to shreds long before Harry and McGonagall use those curses. And if it is some other sort of international body, then it would be interesting to see what *they* would make of the civil war within the British wizarding world.

    Incidentally, the fact that Book 7 shows how bureaucratically evil the Ministry of Magic has become but never even hints at how the Ministry of Magic might be purged of this evil is a big, big problem, I think. Harry has defeated Voldemort — good. But does killing the person who was manipulating things from behind the scenes really solve the problem? Think of how the Star Wars novels have had to deal with the battles between the Rebellion and the post-Imperial warlords who remain in control of much of the galaxy after the death of the Emperor. Think, too, of how the defeat of Sauron needed to be followed by the Scouring of the Shire.

    Harry has defeated his version of Sauron. But who will scour the Ministry of Magic?

  25. Regarding Helen’s grenade example, I agree that if the options are to either let the grenade go off and kill both of them or let one of them die for the others then it might be morally permissible for Dumbledore to die. But the details would make all the difference. How certain can they be that the grenade will kill them both? Is there really no other option? Couldn’t Snape try to save Dumbledore from the grenade? Helen stipulates that he couldn’t. But the situation on the tower doesn’t seem to be this clear. Why couldn’t Snape have disarmed all four of the Death Eaters on the tower? They wouldn’t be suspecting an attack from him, and he’s sufficiently skilled to take on what amounted to Voldemort’s B-team (I think John once used that phrase to describe them). I’m not saying this could have worked, just that it’s plausible enough to have at least considered before killing Dumbledore.

    But my main objection to the grenade analogy is this: If Dumbledore could by himself cover the grenade and save the others, then that would be heroic self-sacrifice. But if he requires Snape’s help, then that seems less clear because it requires asking Snape to assist in his death. More importantly, this case is not quite like the actual one since Snape cannot simply “role” Dumbledore onto someone else’s curse but must in fact be the one to cast the curse that kills him. I think this difference is significant enough to throw doubt onto using our intuitions about what’s morally permissible in the soldier scenario to answer the questions raised by the situation on the tower.

    (Now you might think I’ve missed the point of the grenade example. Perhaps the point was that Snape and Dumbledore are in a messy situation and that the best way out is for Dumbledore to die. I agree that the situation is messy and that the best way out might be for Dumbledore to die. But my main point is that it very much matters (in a moral sense) how Dumbledore’s death is brought about. And here we run up against a clear moral injunction to not do evil in order to bring about good. Morally speaking, it’s not far from Snape’s killing Dumbledore to plans involving slogans about “the greater good.”)

    I’m not sure why Trish says Draco would have had to killed Dumbledore and so Snape had to prevent him from doing it. Draco could have simply refused (or, as I think likely, have been unable) to do it, and one of the Death Eaters could have done it. In fact, Dumbledore seems to be very much aware of this possibility when he asks Snape to kill him. He mentions not wanting his death to be “protracted and messy” if someone like Greyback, who was on the tower, or Bellatrix were involved.

    To summarize, Dumbledore’s justifications for asking Snape to kill him seems to be:
    (1) Dumbledore is dying from the ring’s curse.
    (2) Draco should be prevented from killing Dumbledore.
    (3) Dumbledore prefers a “quick, painless exit” to a “protracted and messy affair.”
    (4) If Snape is motivated to help Dumbledore (“an old man”) “avoid pain and humiliation,” then Snape’s soul will not be harmed (or harmed very much).

    I don’t think (1) works because of the distinction between killing and letting die (see my previous reply). I don’t think (2) works because it’s not clear (to me, anyway) that Draco would have killed Dumbledore (see above). I don’t think (3) works because the desire for a quick, painless death doesn’t account for the fact that someone else would have to kill him. (Consider a variant: Would it have been okay for Dumbledore to kill himself on the tower, supposing he had been physically able? I don’t think so, and I think this sheds light on the moral inpermissibility of asking Snape to kill him instead.) I don’t think (4) works for the same reasons. Furthermore, a friend and I were wondering how Snape could cast an AK without “meaning it” (as Bellatrix tells Harry you need to do). Could Snape have cast an AK without hating Dumbledore? If not, how could he have killed Dumbledore without harming his soul? (Here the teaching of Jesus on hate and murder seem relevant.)

    So right now, I don’t have a judgment on whether Dumbledore’s request and Snape’s action are justifiable. The arguments made in defense of Dumbledore and Snape so far, however, don’t convince me. But it’s also likely that I’m missing something here, so I’ll keep thinking and discussing.

  26. ricelius says

    This is my first post here; I just found this thread and felt the need to add a crucial point, so please bear with me. Great discussions going on, by the way!

    Burglar — your arguments make sense to me. However, there is one thing which I don’t see you taking into account. Namely, the Unbreakable Vow which Snape took at the beginning of HBP. I don’t remember the wording correctly, and I don’t have the book with me to quote, but as far as I recall, Snape promised to finish Draco’s job, should he himself fail to do so. If Snape denies doing this after taking the Vow, he will die.

    Now, we can of course discuss the morality of Snape’s agreeing to this vow in the first place, not knowing the details of Draco’s quest. However, given the situation on the top of the Tower, where Snape knows with a hundred percent’s certainty that if he doesn’t kill Dumbledore, he will himself die, and Dumbledore will be killed anyway by the remaining Death Eaters — as far as I see it, he doesn’t have a choice. Wouldn’t it in fact be immoral not to do it?

  27. 1. To those of us in Europe, the word ‘bitch’ isn’t that bad a word. It’s a female dog, after all, not a word that’s taboo in itself. I thought it a brilliant choice for Molly Weasley under strong provocation. She is, as mentioned elsewhere, a rather puritan lady with strong principles. For her to yell ‘Bitch!’ – such a mild epithet in the UK – is equivalent to (say) Ron yelling something much, much stronger. It shows just how angry she has become, yet still remains in character.

    2. Use of the unforgivable curses bothered me somewhat, too, although as others have said the rules do change in war. They didn’t enjoy using them, and were careful to limit them. I think their use shows what a seriously dangerous situation they were all in…

    3. Saving Malfoy’s soul was the obvious reason for Snape to go ahead with killing Dumbledore. And keeping his promise – Dumbledore pleads with him to go ahead, after all.

    But there’s also the elder wand. Dumbledore wants it to pass into Snape’s hands, which is certainly a far better plan than having it go to one of the death eaters, or even Voldemort himself, who would surely kill Dumbledore soon afterwards if Snape doesn’t. I don’t think Snape knows about the wand at this point (maybe I should re-read) but Dumbledore wants him to have it.

    The ‘fatal flaw’, of course, is that Snape does not in fact get the rights to it – Malfoy has already disarmed Dumbledore, so he’s the one who has the right to it, although he doesn’t know. And, of course, the wand is buried with Dumbledore. Voldemort understands D’s plan, hence kills Snape, but only Harry realises the truth. And even in the final confrontation, I love that Harry just uses his favourite EXPELLIARMUS to beat Voldemort.

  28. 1)”Bitch” isn’t Rowling’s finest moment with the English language, but I didn’t find it offensive. If we can justify killing under wartime circumstances, then throwing around a bit of bad language at the moment hardly seems a real problem. For me, this one is a Red Herring…

    2)My suprise here isn’t with the use of the Unforgiveables, but that Rowling runs right past them without any real consideration of the importance of these scenes. Emotion and state-of-mind are so very important for magic in these books. Consider: The two most emotional crucibles for Harry in the books are the deaths of Sirius and Dumbledore. In both instances, Harry is filled with rage, yet he can’t successfully cast the Unforgiveable Curses.

    This suggests to me that there is more to them than simply hate and anger — one has to have a calculation in mind, a point to be made. And we see that with Harry’s use of them. The break-in of Gringotts is a case of practicality in the name of the good. If Harry doesn’t Imperius a couple of folks, the resulting firefight could be far worse, especially for innocent bystanders. It’s Harry’s reaction to using the Cruciatus Curse on Amycus that is the most troubling because he does reflect for an instance on what he’s done, the Curse doesn’t seem necessary at the moment, and Harry’s not bothered by it. This just seems a bit counter to some of the internal logic of these curses and Harry’s character Rowling has established up to this point.

    3)This is a more telling point about the “faults of the good-guys” than Crucio. I don’t know that we’re meant to justify what happens here, hence Dumbledore’s cryptic “Only you can know…” line. It seems addressed to the reader as much as to Snape. There’s so much point made in the last couple of books about being a Dumbledore man. Snape is clearly that, at least in his own fashion, and he is a tragic figure because of it, caught between the tensions of what he thinks is right versus what he has to accomplish to see that “right” to fruition. And the necessity of Dumbledore demanding this from Snape would certainly fall into that category of “Dumbledore’s Greatest Blunders”. Rowling isn’t answering anything here, but posing one of her last great questions, complicated by Harry’s response to Severus as “the bravest man I know”.

  29. ___________________
    (Consider a variant: Would it have been okay for Dumbledore to kill himself on the tower, supposing he had been physically able?

    Would it have been okay for Dumbledore to sacrifice himself to save Snape’s life, in the middle of a battle situation, in order to make possible the ultimate victory in the war? We need to remember that with Dumbledore dead, only Snape knew that Harry was a Horcrux, and he needed eventually to tell that to Harry to make Voldemort’s defeat possible. And the only manner of Dumbledore’s death that would leave Snape alive to do that was to die at either Draco’s or Snape’s hands.

    I think we need to be careful in evaluating this situation, which is not going to occur in the real world where we don’t have Unbreakable Vows that bring about death, not to equate it with the advocacy of euthanasia. Dumbledore wanted to die, and needed to die at the hands of his ally Snape, in order to save many lives. Euthanasia is basically about convenience… it saves trouble and expense for the living. Calling it a “good death” is Orwellian– it’s the substitute for a good death. The truth is that, if they have adequate pain control and social support, very very few terminally ill persons want to be killed ahead of their natural death. But pain control and especially love, care and attention are costly for the living to provide.

  30. I don’t think Dumbledore’s death was a mercy killing any more than Harry’s death was a suicide. Both are clearly sacrificial deaths designed to save innocent people and help the overall cause of defeating Voldemort.

    That being said, it does bother me that Dumbledore used the language of euthanasia and moral relativism when he was making his case to Snape. It seems to me that it was really unnecessary for Dumbledore to add that bit to his argument, since avoidance of pain was clearly not the real reason why he wanted Snape to kill him.

    It’s important to remember that when we’re evaluating the morality of Dumbledore’s plan and Snape’s action, we can’t apply the same rules that govern moral choices in the Muggle world. In real life, we do not have Unbreakable Vows and Elder Wands to complicate the situation. It is these two magical elements which make it necessary for Snape to be the one to kill Dumbledore, rather than just letting another Death Eater do it. If a Death Eater gets control of the Elder Wand, and Snape dies and is therefore unable to help and inform Harry, then Voldemort wins. Yes, the rules do change in warfare, especially wizard warfare.

  31. excellent isolation of these incidents, and fascinating discussion with many points on both sides. I must admit that I often seek justifications for ‘actions’ (for lack of a better term) that I might independently have no problem ‘condemning.’ However, these three things really were those that bugged me most, and I have been considering them seriously as a result.

    (1) Mrs. Weasley calls Bellatrix Lestrange a “BITCH.”

    Of the three issues, this is clearly the least morally challenging– vulgarity is no where near the level of life issues in terms of moral harm. This one is the venial sin compared to the other two mortal sins (there, now I’ve exposed myself as a Catholic, lol). It is, as I said, vulgarity, not a curse or ‘swear’, however it may be commonly called. To me, admittedly a pottymouth at times, it’s more of a literary ‘crime’ than a moral one. It felt odd, it looked wrong on the page, and it just surprised me. I think it was a logical choice, a reasonable one, and a likely action for a character. I just didn’t like it. In thinking about it, I think it probably feels to me like it does when I am vulgar/curse in front of friends– they generally think of me as a ‘good girl’, so whenever I speak so, I get looks and remarks, “You said the s word!” I think, because it was so jarring, it ended up distracting from Molly’s obvious, and hitherto unseen, skill as a wand-warrior. For that reason, I would have left it out. While I’m not a fan of vulgarities/profanity in literature, I don’t think its an unforgivable curse (yes, I did go there).

    (2) Harry and other good guys use the Unforgiveable curses, “Imperio,””Crucio,” and “Avadra Kedavra.”

    I have spent the last few years contemplating total pacifism (in the Jesus-Ghandi-King strand, not the shouting against war form, which I think is violent), and it has been quite a journey. I bring it up because I believe that all violence is ultimately wrong, but I cannot then say that it is never justifiable– for me, it came down to the obligation to halt evil. I could never say, for example, that it was wrong to fight Hitler, because to not fight would have resulted in the triumph of evil. War is, in my opinion, ultimately the result of one or several failures to do right. Looking at history, we can see innumerable failures that allowed and even abetted Hitler’s sins– and I think Rowling has shown the Ministry doing much the same with Voldemort.

    The unfortunate result of such failures to do good is that that ‘sin’ (of omission) almost forces sins of commission in the forms of the same violence against which one fights to rectify the earlier problem. Thus war becomes necessary. (This is all presuming these wars are over moral issues, not the Medieval land grab sort.) Nothing makes killing right, not even a good cause, but it can be wrong without necessarily being sinful. Drawing on my faith’s moral teachings, the person committing the act must have full knowledge of right and wrong and full freedom. Harry, and the other ‘good’ characters who use unforgivable curses, certainly have knowledge of right and wrong. However, I think it is fair to say they did not have full freedom (unlike when Harry threw that vengeful cruciatus at Bellatrix at the end of OotP). I think Rowling proves she knows this difference, and that no situation makes an unforgivable curse right, by having Harry’s triumph come through an expelliarmus, rather than any other– it is disarming, not hurting in any way at all.

    While it is unfortunate to see favorite characters using horrid spells, I think the book never presents them as good, and that in the situations they find themselves in, they do not have, with Death Eaters storming Hogwarts, etc., full freedom to my view.

    (3) Snape killed Dumbledore on the Astronomy Tower in what amounts to a “Mercy Killing.”

    This is the most potentially problematic issue, in my view. I believed, ever since I read the encounter on the tower in HBP, that Snape had done it to save Draco from saying an unforgivable curse, much as he preempted Harry’s saying them in the chase to the forest. To return to war analogies of sorts, I could never be comfortable firing a weapon upon another human being– I doubt anyone could be, really, but I do not think I am capable of it. That does not change, however, that in a war situation, people do exactly that. A sharpshooter/sniper has a terrible task, to target a specific person or type of person (i.e., a certain general, or the enemy’s snipers). The deed in itself is distasteful to say the least. Yet, to not do it can have terrible consequences. An older gentleman told me of a man he met while serving in WW2 who, as a crack shot, was the company sharpshooter, but never fired his gun. He had a nervous breakdown, because his failure to take out a German sniper meant that four of his comrades died. Snape saved Draco from spiritual and physical death. I could not kill someone, but that does not mean that in certain situations it must be done; thus I cannot condemn him for doing it.

    The next problem is that Dumbledore expresses a preference for a certain kind of death. How much weight should we give this? He is not asking Snape to kill him then and there, and he would not demand Snape kill him should it come to the curse overtaking him. He is asking that, given a situation in which he will die unnaturally and not from the curse in his hand, that his friend keep him from unnecessary pain. And this is where I have a problem deciding whether I think this is moral or immoral.

    Does saving a friend from unnecessary pain/humiliation constitute euthanasia, or a noble act of love? I believe euthanasia to be unequivably wrong, but I have a hard time attaching that label to Snape’s act– and I have a hard time figuring out whether I’m in denial about a book series I really enjoy because I would hate for it to portray as morally acceptable something I know to be wrong. I cannot believe that murder makes a ‘good death’, but I also have serious problems with allowing someone to be tortured/maimed/eaten or whatever fate would await him at the sick hands of Fenrir or Bellatrix.

    As I cannot address this issue alone satisfactorily, I have to make my best judgement on the combination of factors. These are:

    1. Draco has been given a task the completion of which will harm his soul, and the non-completion of which will end his life;
    2. Dumbledore foresees or has information from Snape about a planned invasion of Hogwarts;
    3. this invasion, should it occur, will cause Dumbledore’s death (provided he is there)
    4. Snape can prevent both Draco’s use of the killing curse and Dumbledore’s torture by killing Dumbledore himself;
    5. any invasion by Death Eaters will likely result in Dumbledore’s death
    6. Dumbledore attempted to circumvent Draco murdering him and the potential consequences for Draco of not murdering him by appealing to his better nature and by offering sanctuary, or Dumbledore’s version of the witness protection program.

    Number 6 is the hingepin, I think, for me. My impression of Dumbledore’s words on the tower was that he was trying to convince Draco, not to stall him until Snape could get there and finish him off. Thus, he was not seeking an early end to his life, or merely to be saved from the curse that would kill him soon (atleast in my reading). I have also omitted from the list that Dumbledore was dying anyway, because I think he would have made the same request of Snape regardless. And the language of that request is important– it does not preclude other possiblities, such as if Bellatrix found him first, or if the curse moved more rapidly than Snape anticipated, etc. For these reasons, I believe it is accurate to say that Rowling did not intend it to be euthanasia, nor for DH to endorse euthanasia.

    Atleast, that’s what I’m hoping… and hoping as well that my like for the books have not prevented me from viewing them critically.

    goodness, I do prather on– my apologies.

  32. canofworms says

    1. not too concerned about bitch. i am a mom, and i would have a whole lot of other things to say beyond just bitch. 2. not too concerned about the curses. i don’t think they are exactly evil in themselves, but it how they are used. if it meant saving my children/my city/my nation from absolute evil, yes, i would use them. i think you would be nuts not to. 3. mercy killing: i am not a scholar, but didn’t king saul order a mercy killing too? he was dying and knew the enemy would torture and humiliate him and he asked an armor bearer to help him die. of course, that guy was later sentenced to death, despite only obeying the king. that is what i read when i read that piece. once snape killed dumbledore, even if on his orders, and even if it was the right thing, he still couldn’t survive the books.

  33. Burglar–

    Dumbledore was trying to protect Draco, remember? If Draco had refused outright, the Death Eaters would have killed him–with or without Snape’s intervention.
    Because Snape intervened, he carried the means to save not only Draco’s soul but his life. The key is in the wording of the Unbreakable Vow. “If it SEEMS Draco would fail.” That gives them both an out. Snape could explain that Draco had not failed, but that he was bound to intervene at this point because it seemed as if he might.

    I still don’t think this was straight euthanasia, either. Snape needed to find out that Dumbledore was doing more than coldly using him, since that’s certainly what it would have appeared he was doing.

  34. First let me say that I loved the series, including book 7. But to address the specific topic at hand:

    I think that in an attempt to defend the HP books from their more fundamentalist critics, some Christians go a little overboard in defending Rowling and her characters’ every action.

    Rowling said in a recent online Q&A with fans that Harry’s greatest flaws were occasionally letting anger and/or pride get the best of him (my paraphrase). She intimated that his actions in using the cruciatus curse and his plan to mislead and double-cross Griphook “for the greater good” (among other things he does over the course of the 7 books) simply show Harry as a flawed, fallible person who sometimes acts wrongly. Trying to come up with tortured interpretations that justify and somehow make Harry’s every action “ok” is not doing Rowling or Harry any favors, IMO.

    I thought the BITCH exclamation as Molly challenged Bellatrix was a little jarring, but not b/c it was a naughty word. To me it seemed a little gratuitous and smacked of Hollywood. Not something that was likely to take place in the middle of a life and death battle, where the luxury of taking the time to utter that word just might be the difference in Bellatrix slipping a quick avada kedavra curse in. It sounded more like Schwarzenneger, Clint Eastwood or Tom Clancy than Tolkien or Lewis.

    Snape’s killing of Dumbledore is perhaps a morally ambiguous event and may raise some challenging questions, but I had no problem with Rowling writing the story that way. To draw a parallel between that scene and euthanasia in general is simply wrong-headed and illogical.

    I actually think some defenders of Harry are making the same mistake that the fundamentalist critics make. They demand that every act of Harry/Dumbledore/ or any other “good” character, and every plot turn, and every idea presented, MUST be in line with Biblical Christianity in order for the series to be defensible.

  35. rsmitchell says

    Concerning the use of Unforgivable curses, note that Crouch in the guise of Moody told the students that the use of those curses merited a life sentence in Azkaban… then proceeded to use the Imperius curse on each of them. Yes, he was a ‘bad guy’, but he was a bad guy who could not risk being arrested and exposed. Obviously, circumstances are considered regarding the use of the curses.

    Toward the end of Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore objects immediately when Umbridge lays hands on Marietta Edgecombe, yet is quite approving of Shacklebolt performing a Memory Charm on Marietta to deprive her of her memories of DA meetings. Personally, I would find having my mind tampered with much more disturbing than being shaken roughly. So clearly Dumbledore accepts lesser evils in order to prevent greater ones, much as Abraham Lincoln said.

    Harry only uses Cruciatus twice that I recall, and in both cases it is on behalf of someone for whom he cares, against truly evil people. Regardless of Wizarding law, I do not think that we, the readers, are supposed to find such actions Unforgivable.

  36. ricelius,
    Thanks for reminding me of the Vow. Should Snape have honored his promise? Perhaps, but the fact that he is fulfilling a promise doesn’t, as you suggest, make his killing Dumbledore permissible. If that were true, then many wrongs could be justified merely by previously promising to do them.

    What makes the Unbreakable Vow more complicated is that Snape is making the promise to Narcissa. So Snape promised to both Narcissa and Dumbledore that he would kill Dumbledore under certain conditions. (An interesting discussion my wife and I have been having is whether Dumbledore had already asked Snape to kill him when he made the Vow.) I’m arguing that, so far as I can see, neither of these promises is sufficient to justify Snape’s killing.

    Thanks for trying to explain your point to me. You said, “The key is in the wording of the Unbreakable Vow. ‘If it SEEMS Draco would fail.’ That gives them both an out.” I’m not sure what exactly is meant by “an out,” but if you mean that the wording provides a moral justification for Snape’s killing Dumbledore, then I disagree for the reasons mentioned above. Just because Snape promised to do something doesn’t make it right for him to do it. He could have promised to do something wicked.

    I agree with you that Dumbledore is trying to protect Draco, but it seems to me that Dumbledore is trying to protect Draco from harming himself by killing the headmaster. But, according to Dumbledore’s logic (I think), no harm could come to Draco’s soul by being killed by the DE’s for refusing to kill Dumbledore. So Dumbledore’s focus seems to be on keeping Draco’s soul whole, not merely (or even necessarily) keeping him alive. (Of course, if he could do both in a proper manner, I’d think he’d obviously want that.) One of the points Rowling makes (esp. in HBP) is that it’s better to lose your life with your soul in tact than to save your life and live with a divided soul.

    Does this help clarify things at all, or is it producing another sigh?

    In response to my question of whether it would have been permissible for Dumbledore to commit suicide (instead of having Snape kill him), you say: “Would it have been okay for Dumbledore to sacrifice himself to save Snape’s life, in the middle of a battle situation, in order to make possible the ultimate victory in the war?”

    But that’s not what I asked. Of course, we could say that Dumbledore sacrificed himself, but not all sacrifices (particularly those involving killing oneself) are morally justifiable. And further this doesn’t touch the question of whether the sacrifice is morally justifiable. What is still undecided is whether Dumbledore’s manner of sacrificing himself is (or would be, in the hypothetical suicide) justifiable.

    (Aside: I’m not sure whether the “in the middle of a battle situation” matters. It’s not as if Dumbledore and Snape haven’t agreed to their plan far in advance of the occurrence.)

    You also say, “We need to remember that with Dumbledore dead, only Snape knew that Harry was a Horcrux, and he needed eventually to tell that to Harry to make Voldemort’s defeat possible.” This is true, but I don’t think it’s sufficient to justify Snape’s action. Why not just say that the good guys are in a bind if Dumbledore’s plan goes awry, but that doesn’t excuse immoral actions?

    You also say, “I think we need to be careful in evaluating this situation.” Absolutely true. Thanks for helping me think about this more carefully than I would have.

  37. pamgalloway says

    Concerning Mrs. Weasley’s exclamation, I agree with chrystyan’s comments. This wasn’t the first time the word “bitch” was used in the
    series. The passage in POA and the scene in the film, as well, when the very unpleasant Aunt Marge uses the word in it’s original context gives
    guardians of very young children the opportunity to teach and enlighten.

    When I read of Bellatrix’ passion for Voldemort’s attention and approval…her heated desire to do his bidding, well…I think bitch is
    spot on. I thought it an excellent appraisal of the character.

    I can hardly wait to watch Julie Walters deliver that line!

    Oh, and about that menopausal reference…Honey, if she’d had a
    serious hot flash, she could’ve slapped Voldemort and all his Horcruxes
    beyond the Veil!

  38. #2) Harry and other good guys use the Unforgiveable curses, “Imperio,””Crucio,” and “Avadra Kedavra.”

    Presupposition for an answer:
    a: The ethics of the wizarding world must essentially be the same as the ethics among us mugles.
    b: Wizard Ethics of War and Peace then have the same duty so find its way between pasifism and armed resistance as we all have.
    c: The ethical rules naming the three curses «unforgivables» are essentially similar to the Biblical commandment «Thou shallt not commit murder», wich essentially is ethics for human indiviuals within the life of human society.
    d: The Doctrine of Just War (as advocates by St Augustin and, as of today, by his followers in most mainstream catholic and protestant churches) states that the commandment against murder is not a commandment prohibiting just wars.
    e: The Doctrin of the Just War destinguishes between «jus ad bellum» and «jus in bello» («the ethical reasons leading to a war» as opposed to «the ethical rules during wartime»).
    f) The question whether a given war is a just war, belongs to the category «jus ad bellum». Exp. If you are attaced and conquered by an enimy force, your resistance is (on certain conditions) a just war.
    g) The question concerning weapons and means during a given war, belongs to the category of «jus in bello». Exp. If you choose weapons and/or means killing civilians in numbers, your conduct in the war is a disturbing moral problem even if your war at the outset is a just war.

    Conclutions as to HP7:
    A: Acording to point f above the wizarding community was attaced and conquered by LV, and consequently Harry & Co are conducting a just war.
    B: In a just war the uforgiveables are no loger unforgivables.
    C: According to poing g above there still are restrictions on weapons and means in a just war, so it is recommendable that Harry & Co use them as little as possible, and try to control their fury evovling during actual fighting.
    D: This is why I think Harry was basically in the right useing the Unforgivables, but also why I think it was a mark of quality morality on his part to use «expelliarmus» in the final duel.

    Odd (Sverre Hove, Bergen, Norway)

  39. A short addition:

    I strongly doubt that the Just War Doctrine will have any room at all for a yes to the «Cruciatus» curse, since that is equal to torture.


  40. Jayne1955 says

    Bitch seemed a bit unnecessary, but it didn’t surprise me.

    I do have a problem with all of the unforgiveable curses being tossed around, If using one gets you a cell in Azkaban, then they’ve got people sleeping in the hallway waiting for cells. I desperately wanted the good guys to find a better way. Harry using one because McGonagall got spit on felt like something that was thrown in because it would look dramatic on film.

    Mercy killing is something I said was going to be the explanation all along, but it is a sticky wicket, especially making Snape promise when no one knew what the circustances would be. What about his soul is a valid point! This is the most problematic issue as I see it as well.

  41. 1) If a psychopathic killer attacked my 16-year-old daughter, “bitch” is probably the mildest word I would use.

    2) Harry’s use of the Cruciatus curse bothered me a great deal because it was gratituous. Rowling explained somewhere that it illustrated that Harry is not perfect and sometimes lets anger and arrogance get the better of him. But this is why Harry and the others are believable characters – they are not completely perfect and do have human failings. Other uses of the Unforgivable Curses by the good guys did not bother me because they were used in contexts where all choices are ill, and in the heat of battle and under great strain, they seemed to be the least worse choice.

    3) I have not made up my mind about Snape’s killing of Dumbledore. It does seem like assisted suicide, again done in a very difficult context.

  42. Burglar–
    No, I meant “gives them an out with Voldemort, so they can both live to fight another day.” Draco would be spared death at the hands of Voldemort, or more likely one of the Death Eaters, and Snape would not die by breaking the Unbreakable Vow, and could therefore complete his mission.

    Whether Snape’s killing of Dumbledore is morally justifiable is an entirely different point. I don’t think it’s exactly straight euthanasia, and it’s certainly not murder in the strictest sense, but I do think it’s something that would damage Snape’s soul, and that he knew it. However, I also think there are factors that would lessen that damage.

    The one think I know for certain about it is that I wouldn’t want to be put in his position.

  43. Arabella Figg says

    I’m going to keep this simple. I’ve not taken these things to deep philosophical levels as some of you have.

    1) Loved it. Molly has seen two children maimed, one killed, one corrupted by the Ministry, a husband viciously attacked and nearly killed, one child in great danger with Harry and endangered by Bellatrix (OotP) and a daughter endangered. This modest woman, once fearful of boggarts, finds her inner warrior in her rage against this most evil of women. I thought because of Rowling’s restraint, language-wise, in the books (have you seen what’s being written for kids these days?), that Molly’s epithet had a lot of punch. Ditto Ron’s “bastard” to Draco. Lighten up.

    2) This was an fight to the death for the wizarding world. I think these curses were considered unforgivable if used for evil controlling purposes in peacetime. That the good guys use them in the heat of outnumbered battle shows how dire the situation was.

    3) Not a mercy killing or assisted suicide. Rather a saving of the good guys to fight another day and spare Draco.

    I only found #2 a bit disconcerting. But, as I’ve never had to fight for my life or those of loved ones against horrendous evil, I refuse to judge.

    There goes Mrs. Fleasley on the warpath again…

  44. Trish,

    Thanks for clarifying. I agree totally with your assessment of Snape’s action as not quite either murder or euthanasia as well as your desire not to be in his position.

  45. Mark Windsor says


    Your logic is a bit flawed on a couple of points.

    Your presupposition c would fail for the Crucio curse. If Christian morality plays into the wizarding world at all, then Crucio is unforgivable based on the second great commandment of Christ; love thy neighbor. It also fails in the idea of praying for your enemy.

    presuppositions d and g fails to factor in St. Thomas Aquinas’ contribution in the 13th century, not to mention the Catechism’s view since it was released under John Paul II.

    Conculsion B fails because we never learn where the unforgivables come from. Are the Ministry driven or derived from divine revelation (albeit a dimly lit revelation)? If ministry driven, then who cares. If divinely inspired then you have to be more careful how they are done away with. It also fails to consider when the first act of war took place. If it was with Cedrics death, then why didn’t the resistance act at once when Voldemort only had a few followers? If it was when the Ministry was overtaken, well, again, why didn’t anyone anywhere act? I suggest that the first act of open war was the Battle of Hogwarts. That’s the point at which the likes of the teachers join in. It’s the moment at which the battle is bigger than just the Order and DA. If this is the point in which open warfare is joined, then Harry’s use of the Imperio at Gringotts is highly suspect.

    Conculsion C is also flawed. By Just War logic, there would be no problem at all with Avada Kedavra once the battle was really underway. But it is just as certain that Crucio would never be legitimate. I think Imperio is a bit more foggy, but likely to fall due to the fact that a mortal is denying free will, more than a departure from Just War. Obviously, Imperio isn’t something Just War would consider since it’s not really possible.

    And a side note on Conclusion A – Aquinas would have accepted that agressive war (as opposed to purely defensive) would be just if engaged in to save innocent life. I think that’s too much to worry with in Harry Potters world.

    All this is a grand bit of fun, but the bottom line is that this is just a story.

  46. Also, still on question #3, Dumbledore’s argument isn’t really meant for Snape. It’s meant for us, in an attempt to make Dumbledore’s self-arranged death, and his involving Snape in it, to be more palatable to the readers. If I’m right about that, then Rowling missed the boat all the way on this one.

  47. I was slightly shocked at what Molly said… But Bellatrix is pretty evil. There is no denying what she wished to do next.

    I don’t think it’s necessarily good that Harry performed Unforgivable Curses, I think dark magic, at least until the horcrux that he is, is removed, is a strong temptation for Harry. Harry himself is fundamentally good enough that he can resist going over to the darkness, but he has his moments where he slips in to the temptation. Between that and his desire to revenge, he uses curses he shouldn’t have.

    Dumbledore and Snape kind of reminds me of Ron and Harry in the chess game in Philosopher’s Stone. When Ron let the queen take him so that Harry could check the king and get through.

  48. Re: Shane’s third point:

    But in the chess game, Harry wasn’t the one who had to kill Ron. It would have been one thing for Dumbledore to sacrifice himself for the good guys, but it’s another thing to ask Snape to kill him himself. So the two situations are crucially different.

  49. 1. I’m in the “no big deal” in Molly’s use of the b-word, as well as the more frequent sprinkling of “hell” and “damn” seen in this books. The main character’s have moved from being school kis to being basically soldiers in the trenches; it’s only natural that their language roughen up a bit. It’s still mild by comparison to most teenage fare. It helps that Ms. Rowling has some milder oaths available to her that don’t sound completely hokey: “Merlin’s pants!” comes across better than “shucky darn” so she can save the actual 4 (and one 5-) letter words for the most extreme situations or the crudest characters (*cough* Amycus *cough*).
    2. I had a bigger problem with the Unforgivables, especially the Crucio. Imperius I can see being more easily justifiable, since forcing your enemy to do osmething he doesn’t want to do is pretty typical in war. (Wizards use Imperio, Muggles stick a gun to someones head, there’s not a huge difference. Yes, technically in the latter case the victem still has their free will, but how many could truly exercise it under those circumstances.) The Crucio seems much less necessaryl pain for the sake of pain, and I don’t see what it did that a stunning spell could not. I was glad Harry never resorted to AK; nor did he ever repeat Sectumsempra on anything with blood.
    3. DD death was not comparable to a Kevorkian style mercy killing. It was part of an elaborate espionage and war plan, designed to save Draco’s and Snape’s life, spare a child from becoming a murderer and protect Snape’s undercover role, which DD recognizes as more important than his own life in the continued fight against Voldemort. I was reminded of Spock’s “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” The Greater Good” in a sense very different from how DD envisioned it in his Grindelwald days.
    Sparing DD from pain was a side benefit, one DD brought up to reduce Snape’s horror at his assignment. It was presented almost as a type of gallows humor, not unlike Snape’s quip of “Certainly, shall I do it now or would you like a moment to compose an epithet?”
    And, when you think about it, AK is pretty much the most merciful death around. If the Wizarding world had a death penalty, I bet it’s be the method of choice. Given a choice, most Muggles would prefer it to a needle in the arm.

  50. Point 1
    When I read Molly screaming the word “bitch,” I was made immediately aware of the intensity, emotion, and danger within the battle. It was jarring. It was supposed to be. I think that it was absolutely necessary.

    Point 2
    I think that a lot of people seem to think that the using of the “Unforgiveables” was something that was taken lightly in the book. I feel the exact opposite. The conversation that Harry has with Lupin about Harry’s usage of “Expelliarmus” instead of something more intense is the explanation for the usage of the Unforgiveables. Lupin explains that the time for extreme measures has come. I also have to say that I was not at all bothered by Harry’s usage of “Crucio” in defending McGonagall. Amycus deserved what he got. Yeah, I know that Harry is supposed to be a Christ figure and should be forgiving. But I have to say that a Christ figure is not Christ. He is representative of a greater story, but not an exact replica. Thus, I was able to lean back and enjoy Amycus getting slammed. Also, I’m with the rest of you. Harry’s usage of “Expelliarmus” at the end was a beautiful moment of Harry’s decision to stand by his guns and turn away from dark magic.

    Point 3
    Why would anyone think that this was a mercy killing? Big D didn’t make a request of Snape for his own pride or as euthanasia. He wanted to save the life of Snape and the Malfoys. If Draco had failed and Snape not interceded, not only would Draco and Snape been killed, but the entire Malfoy family. Dumbledore saw that the Malfoys were a work in progress. He knew that there would be a chance for all of them to be saved, but not if the task was not completed. Thus, Snape has to become a reluctant Judas figure, seemingly betraying Dumbledore to suit the interests of the plan that must come to fruition else evil never be destroyed.

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