Elizabeth Goudge: “All Shall Be Well”

What is the meaning of the Deathly Hallows final words, “All was well”? Was Ms. Rowling referring to a favorite author or poet in choosing them?

For serious readers of Harry Potter, these are important questions, right? I’ve taken some long looks at this previously and the best I came up with was Eliot’s “All shall be well” in The Four Quartets which, in turn, is an echo of Julian of Norwich. Odd Sverre Hove in Bergen, Norway, rocked my world Tuesday in finding what I think is the more likely source of Ms. Rowling’s fare-well “All was well.”

Here is the ever invaluable Accio Quote link to what Ms. Rowling has said about the last words and why she used them instead of “scar:”

MV: The end of the book: I had read that the last word was supposed to be “scar.” But the last–

JKR: And it was for a long, long time. For a long time the last line was something like: “Only those who he loved could see the lightning scar.” And that was a reference to the fact that as they were on the platform, people were milling around. And that Harry was kind of flanked by, you know, his loved ones. So they were the only ones who were really near enough to see it, even though peo– other people were looking. And it also had a kind of ambiguity. So it was– is the scar still really there? But I changed it because I wanted a more– when I came to write it, I wanted a very concrete statement that Harry won. And that the scar, although it’s still there, it’s just– it’s now just a scar. And I wanted to say it’s over. It’s done. And maybe a tiny bit of that was to say to people, “No, Voldemort’s not rising again. We’re not going to have Part Two. Harry’s job is done.” So that’s why I changed it.

MV: To “All was well.”

JKR: “All was well.”, yeah.

MV: And you knew when you came up with that line, that was it.

JKR: It just felt … I felt a kind of [sighs]. And that– that felt right. Yeah…. And I really wanted Harry to have some peace.

A Torrey student at Biola University asked me what I thought of the “Eliot ending” to the books and until now I really thought this unfortunately anonymous lunch time interlocutor had come as close as we were going to come. Via Eliot, Julian, and Dante, the Epilogue had a wow and appropriately alchemical send-off.

And that may still be the case. What Odd found on Tuesday, however, gets a short cut to those authors through a writer who wrote at least one book we know Ms. Rowling has read — and loved, namely Elizabeth Goudge, author of The Little White Horse. It really is hard to underestimate the influence of that one book on the conception and follow-through of the Potter septology; I make the discussion of it the “big finish” of Harry Potter’s Bookshelf: The Great Books Behind the Hogwarts Adventures because it has everything.

Everything except an “All is well” ending. For that, you need to read a Goudge story called ‘The Two Caves.’ That shouldn’t take you two minutes. Here it is:

‘The Two Caves’ by Elizabeth Goudge

There was once a moment in time that defeated time. It was the moment when something pierced through the dark flood of the years as a crocus spear thrusts through the winter earth, to grow to a flower-like flame, die and live once more, never to die again.

It was the perfection of selfless love, the only eternal thing eternity itself, God. It burns at the heart of the world, in the heart of every living thing, in all wisdom, beauty, joy, pain and death.

The moment in history when it thrust up like this was when a man was born who would carry this perfection in his human body as a lantern carries the gold. Saint Augustus says of this moment that ”God looked at us though the lattice of our flesh and he spake us fair.”

It might have been though that when this love thrust though the whole world would have known it. But actually hardly anyone know, so quiet and humble a thing is love, our God.

The night of the coming was the night when poor people lit a lantern in their stable. They had not done the before, since the tired beasts did not need a light to go to sleep by, and they did not do it again, but that night they had to because a girl gave birth to her baby there. The inn was full and there was no other shelter.

The stable was only a cave in the rocky hillside but it held privacy and human kindness for the girl and her worried husband, and about midnight a son was born. He cried a little, but when he was put I his mother’s arms he was happy and did not cry again.

And after that there was a deep silence in the little town until very early in the morning, while it was yet dark, some poor men came running; and they ran fast in eagerness because of some news that had been told them. For a moment they halted in the light that shone through the broken wood of the stable door, too awed to go in, and the beam from a star overhead silvered the hair and the beard of the oldest of them.

And then they bent their heads and entered the cave. They were there for a short while and when they came out there was a brightness in the eastern sky and the youngest said, “This cave is the heart of the world.”

The child grew to be a man of great strength and vaster love and there was no experience known to men, joyous or appalling, peaceful or agonizing, through which he did not in some way pass, leaving the gold of his love at the heart of it to shine upon us as each in our turn we come to the happy or hard things of our life.

But the eyes of perfect love were too piercing to be met easily by evil men, and though he spake them fair in love and compassion he also spake them straight and hard in truth and anger, and so they killed him under the hot sun, and at evening buried his body in a cave in the hillside.

But very early in the morning, while it was yet dark, the feet of poor men came running; and they ran fast in eagerness because of some news that had been told them. When they came to the cave they halted for a moment in awe, because the stone that had closed it had been rolled away, and the light from the morning star silvered the head and the beard of the oldest of them. Then they bent their heads and went into the cave.

After a while they came out and the east was turning to gold. The young man said, “He is risen.” The older one said nothing, for with grief and joy he was past the power of audible speech, but in his heart he said, “An empty tomb is now at the heart of the world.”

And so there were these two caves that were really the same cave, because each was at the heart of the world, and these two great happenings, a birth and a re-birth that were the same birth. And because love lives forever in the heart, all shall be well.

Folks, the gold, the heart, the light and darkness, the Word Logos that is God, Love, and “the inside bigger than the outside,” the Cave Allegory, and Jesus of Nazareth, it’s all in this short story that opens up a long out-of-print collection of Goudge Christmas stories called The Lost Angel. Goudge, an Oxbridge Christian Platonist admired by Lewis (Aslan is lifted almost whole cloth from Little White Horse), knows her Coleridgean hermetic Christian epistemology as I discuss in Harry Potter’s Bookshelf and she shows it beautifully in this vignette mirror image of the caves bookending the life of Christ.

Was it something Ms. Rowling read and consciously was referring to? I don’t know, of course, and I doubt we’ll ever know (meaning “I doubt she knows or would tell us if she did”). Is Ms. Goudge making a hat-tip to Eliot’s Four Quartets, Dante, and Julian? Maybe. Again, who knows?

More importantly, who cares? The meaning resonance is here. A story finale linked to the peace and victory of the Resurrection in which we participate by sacrificial death to our ego personas in love for others. That’s a link to stand on.

Your comments and correction, please. [Thanks, Odd, for sharing this great catch!]


  1. Thank you, Odd, for finding this, and John, for posting it with your commentary. As you said, we may never know if this was the direct or only inspiration for the final words, but regardless, it is beautifully fitting. I had tears in my eyes reading this story…what a gem.

    The more I read Goudge, the more moved I am by the way she expresses the Christian vision in story, and the more heart connections I see to Rowling.

  2. A superb find, Odd. A superb analysis, Professor. I think it isa Rowling-up of the Summa of all of the above! One cannot think of the “All is well” now without this inclusive God entering through the cave and exiting through the cave into Reality where all are called to dwell. All is well, indeed!

  3. Red Rocker says


    I came up with something different. In 1910, following the death of the King of England, Scott-Holland (graduate of Christ’s Church, Oxford, Canon of St. Paul) wrote:

    Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

    Which I found very much in line with the pasages from Aeschylus and Penn.


  4. IstariErangua says

    That really is so touching to read, and it applies so beautifully to the topic under discussion. In this world where people rush to pour out sequels for the profit (Disney’s direct-to-video line comes to mind and makes me cringe…when will they learn that “Happily Ever After” indicates that there’s no more to the story?) it’s refreshing that an author said what she wanted to say, took her character into the ground and up and out again, and left him in peace. Knowing Harry as so many of us do, it’s what he would want, and it’s the least of what he deserves in return for his many sacrifices for the good of the world.

  5. Odd, thanks for finding that one and sharing it, and John, I’m so glad you posted it. It’s a shame that it’s out of print.

    Even without relating it to Harry Potter, it’s a beautiful story of Christ, and how appropriate to read it now as we are nearing Easter. So thanks again.

    John, I think you are right – it doesn’t matter if this was the inspiration for Rowling using that phrase or if it was any one of the other authors. It’s such an fitting way to end a book. Just a few words that say so much.

  6. RRocker:

    I mentioned Holland in my first post on the subject:

    Donn Allen sent me a MuggleNet editorial about a possible reference to Henry Scott Holland‘s most famous poem, Death is Nothing At All, that ends “All is well.” It is about transcending death and there is no doubt that Ms. Rowling is writing about love’s victory over death. As interesting, the poem is in the shape that mirrors the opening dedication in Deathly Hallows, a dedication that closes with “to the very end.” The very end of the book, you’ll recall, is “All was well,” almost a direct hit.

    I think the Goudge ‘Two Caves’ finish is closer to home if also not a direct match with the finale (we still don’t have an “All was well”) because (a) it is tied to an author we know Rowling has read, (b) they are the very last words of the piece, (c) the resurrection, love, sacrifice, and alchemical qualities are in the story, and (d) the Christian content is more to the fore, the light coming from the darkness of the soul cave and the need for this light to be “born again” or re-lit in each person.

    You are right, though, I think, in saying the Holland poem is more resonant with the finale’s beginning and the Penn and Aeschylus epigraphs. Especially in how the Holland poem appears on the page (quite different than it looks here; see this typical presentation). Beginning and end loops are an important part of Rowling’s artistry in individual books as well as the series as a whole; see the chart in Deathly Hallows Lectures showing the >30 connections between Stone and Hallows).

    Thanks for the Holland ‘Death is Nothing at All’ reminder! Again, we’ll never know for sure, if I do think Goudge’s Two Caves is an important source possibility for the reasons listed.

  7. Wow what a find!

    Just a thought: it is possible that JKR has read both the Goudge story and the Holland poem.She may have seen a link and/or she may have taken inspiration from them both.

  8. Arabella Figg says

    I love this story! I could really see doing it as a reading at Christmas or Easter, especially Easter. As Anne Shirley would say, “there’s scope for imagination” in the interpretive storytelling performance of it.

    Thanks, Odd! And may your Norwegian spring be beautiful.

  9. Red Rocker says

    I’m thinking that JKR knew the Holland passage – because it is pretty famous in England at least – and read Eliot – as any serious student of literature must have – and may have read the Goudge story because we know she loved Goudge’s The Little White Horse. Those three words would not only have been reinforced in her mind by the threefold exposure, but permanently etched because of the emotional weight of each of the passages. They would have had an enormous amount of resonance for her. When the time came to find the words with which to end her story, those words would have struck her as profoundly meaningful, regardless of whether she remembered the sources or not.

    So my theory is that those last three words were not just determined by what JKR had read, but they were multiply determined, even overdetermined.

    Which reinforces again why reading is so essential for those who would write.

  10. I think that is a good summary of the evidence. Thank you, RRocker!

  11. Perelandra says

    Let’s also remember the full quotation from Julian: “All shall be well and all shall be well and all shall be very well by the purification of motive in the ground of our beseeching.” Purification, oh were have we run into that before?

    The theme of spiritual purification runs through most of Goudge’s books although in THE LITTLE WHITE HORSE reconcilation of opposites (completing a purification of family conflict) is dominant. Anyone who hasn’t read her adult masterpiece THE DEAN’S WATCH, please scurry off and do so now!

  12. schmalchemy says

    Could it be as easy as the words to the song “Taps”? Or just that what Rowling said in her interview, that she wanted closure for Harry and his family and friends….in other words, Voldemort was not going to come back

  13. schmalchemy says

    In other words, Harry (and family) was at peace!

  14. schmalchemy, sure – it makes the most sense that Rowling gives an entire commentary on every train of thought behind every statement she chooses whenever asked about it.

    And C.S. Lewis wasn’t secretive about the imaginative key to his books.

    And Bob Dylan was always honest in his interviews.

    And the fact that Rowling said she was conscious of Goudge’s influence while writing only applied to … wait, she never did tell us exactly where and how Goudge directly influenced Harry Potter. Hmmm … maybe Rowling doesn’t tell us everything in her interviews.

  15. Red Rocker says

    schmalchemy, I agree that it could be just that, without any resonance – intentional or otherwise – to other writings. JKR just wanted to say that Harry et al were fine. And the words are pretty simple, after all, and pretty common: all was well.

    It’s just that those words have been used by others to denote ideas pretty similar to JKR’s, so we can’t help but wonder.

    And for myself, the gesture of touching the scar, the thought that the scar hadn’t bothered him for so long very much suggests an automatic check, someting he does regularly, if not often, just to see, just to be sure. The fact that he does do it, even after so long, has the barest element of a hint that maybe one day the scar will hurt again, and all will not be well.

  16. Lily Luna says

    I’m more inclined to think that Harry is touching his scar because he is remembering his own time at Hogwarts while watching his son who looks just like him get on the Hogwarts Express and is hoping Al will have the nice, normal, safe seven years he never got to have.

    Although, having said that, it would be interesting to imagine a grandson of Voldemort who inherited his evil personality somehow setting off Harry’s scar again (old Voldemort seems pretty sexless, but young Riddle might have had some (loveless) dalliances that produced offspring unknown to him).

    We also might consider Shakespeare’s “All’s Well That Ends Well” as an influence, perhaps an ironic influence, on the DH last line. Full disclosure: I’ve only read the Wikipedia summary, not the play itself. But the summary describes some familiar themes of disguises, unrequited love, and hate turning to love at the end (like Harry’s hate of Snape turning into love, as evidenced by what he names his son).

  17. Red Rocker’s response is right (and far more gracious than my own): it could mean only that. But for reasons already given, and more, I think it’s much more likely that there’s more to it than the surface reading. Let’s keep in mind that that phrase was something of a last-minute change from the final words she had planned for 17 years – which tells me there has to be some significance to it.

    I like Lily Luna’s reading of the scar-touching.

  18. Red Rocker says

    Travis’ comment brings up a conversation we’ve had before about how we can interpret the text.

    One of the major sources of debate about HP is the motivation and character of Dumbledore: is he wise, kind and merciful, or is he brilliant, deceptive and manipulative? We have agreed that both interpretations are possible in that the text supports both interpretations, and that in the end we choose the interpretation which satisfies us. We could have – and I think we have had – the same dialogue about King’s Cross: did the conversation with Dumbledore really happen, or did Harry imagine it?

    My point here is that we could interpret the words “all is well” simply, without looking for deeper meanings. And it would work. But we could also look at other writers who have used those words, and in similar contexts, to explain the nature of love and death. I personally find it infinitely more satisfying – both emotionally and aesthetically – to think that JKR thought of Eliot or Goudge or especially of Holland – and wrote those words with those meanings in mind. It adds something – history, meaning, resonance, significance, depth, knowledge, substance – something, to think that she smiled as she wrote those words, put them there perhaps for her readers to discover their significance for themselves. It’s like a message or a clue she left for us. It’s a link with the past.

  19. Thank you, John, for this essay and thank you, all of you, for your comments on the All Shall Be Well-ending. I have been loaded down this winter with some work burdens, but I have clicked into HogPro from time to time, even though I had nothing very well considered to contribute myself.

    One of the ways to survive in such periods of life is of couse to read «in between». And it so happened that I late in January picked from my bookshelf «Linnets and Valerians» by Elizabeth Goudge, one of her children’s stories which I had ordered from Amazon, but never read. It was nice and light reading, though not as impressive as Little White Horse. But it gave me a strong taste of longing to read more Goudge.

    So I clicked again into Amazon (in Britain, it’s a shorter distance from Norway) and I was led to an address for used books. And I simply OK-ed everything I found, written by Goudge.

    Last tuesday two of those books arrived and when I in the evening opened the first one, I immediately found «The Two Caves» with that wonderful Christian content and exciting ending. It made me jump to my feet. I rushed downstairs, scanned the text and sent it to John. And he answered as you have all seen in the essay above.

    Not really a product of great thinking from my side, but it is a stimulating thing to be at the recieving end of the great thinking in your discussion above.

    And yes, Arabella, since you mention it, I think it must indeed be just the right time to start noticing the delightful coming spring here in Norway. At least here at the western coast.

    Bergen, Norway

  20. I loved all of this–Goudge’s story brought tears to my eyes, and the Holland poem very nearly did the same. I’m still trying to figure out Eliot’s quartets, but the ending was nice.

    Odd, I’m glad you sent in the story. More Goudge books are definitely going on my reading list.

    Red Rocker, your last paragraph was beautiful. I couldn’t agree more. 🙂

  21. model jas pria says

    ms JK have her own style to make deeply meaning in her story, I also like how you write about it in you post.

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