Harry’s Hero Journey: Is He Going Through the Veil in Deathly Hallows?

If I have neglected one key here at HogPro that I discuss at length in Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader, it is Harry’s Hero Journey. In Unlocking I explain it in great detail (with other repeated story patterns and elements) in a chapter that is something of a break between the more challenging material in the literary alchemy and postmodern themes sections.

Events of last week, though, call for a closer look at Harry’s formulaic journeys here with special attention given the descent, literal or figurative, he makes in each book before his annual confrontation with the Black Hats. An article by Anne Johnstone in the Glasgow Herald reminded us (via Lisa and her ever industrious house-elves at Accio Quote!) that Ms. Rowling had told Ms. Johnstone in a 2000 interview that in Deathly Hallows we would see “how close we can get to the dead.”

One of her fundamentals is that you can’t reverse death: “That’s a given. Without it the plot would fall apart, though in Book Seven you’ll see just how close you can get to the dead. You can be brought back from being petrified and from injuries that in the real world are mortal, depending on the degree of skill that a particular wizard possesses. You can’t go to any wizard and say ‘Will you cure my terminally ill relative?’ It’s a mirror image of the real world in that sense.”

Ms. Johnstone, as she remembered this exchange last week, thought Ms. Rowling was speaking about “reversing death;” she left off “to the dead” in her most recent rendering of Ms. Rowling’s 2000 comment:

Will Harry survive in the final book, due out on July 21? Your guess is as good as mine, but it’s worth remembering something Joanne said in 2000 when we were discussing the importance for the dramatic tension in her books of there being limits to what is susceptible to magic. One fundamental is that you can’t reverse death. “That’s a given,” she said, “though in book seven you’ll see just how close you can get.”

This quite naturally lead to no little speculative discussion. Hans Andrea, who has argued persuasively for two years that Harry will be going through the Veil in Deathly Hallows, has received some confirmation from both versions of this interview and especially from the original “close to the dead.” I thought, at least before Lisa at Accio Quotes sent me a link to the original 2000 statement, that Ms. Johnstone was right in thinking that Ms. Rowling was talking about “reversing death,” which could be a pointer to “Stoppered Death” and indirectly to other narrative misdirection in Half-Blood Prince (yes, for me at least that would mean Scar-O-Scope or SOS). Travis Prinzi and others have contributed fascinating ideas between and differing from Hans’ and my opinions.

In response to my thank-you note to Lisa, she wrote that she had made some notes about “Harry as Aeneas” before Half-Blood Prince was published that she hoped to re-visit because of the “close to the dead” comment that had re-surfaced. I will post a selection from those notes here after explaining why Lisa and others would think there was a link between this comment and Virgil’s Aeneid.

To get there, we have to talk a bit about a Hero’s Journey, what academics call Monomyth.

Though Joseph Campbell is considered the father of the idea that there is a central myth of a “hero’s journey” that can be found almost universally in human cultures, the thesis of Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces was first treated at length by Soviet formalist Vladimir Yakovlevich Propp if it is suggested in Frazer’s The Golden Bough. In brief, the hero’s journey is a formula trip of steps that take the hero from a mundane existence through a series of trials and adventures to a return, much changed, to the hero’s point of origin. Homer’s Odyssey and the first half of Virgil’s Aeneid are the models for Western Literature, references to which or elements from which it can be seen in everything from St. Luke’s Book of Acts to George Lucas’ Star Wars movies.

Ms. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels are in this stream of heroic literature, because, though they are the story of the hero’s alchemical transformation, the narrative line through the seven stages of that process is a repeated hero’s journey. Every year, Harry goes through the same travel steps that differ only in specific details. We start Harry’s story at Privet Drive, escape that world magically, wrestle with a mystery, make a decision in crisis, descend into an underworld to the place of confrontation, duke it out with the badguys, lose the battle, die a figurative death, rise from this death in the presence of a symbol of Christ, hash it out with the Headmaster, and return to King’s Cross Station and the Dursley’s. This is a rule to which formula Ms. Rowling makes very few exceptions (most notably in the beginning of Stone and the beginning and end of Half-Blood Prince).

This is formulaic monomyth with magical and alchemical props and a load of Christian figures from the treasury of English literature. The part I want to focus on today is the descent Harry makes into an underworld before every grand conflict in his annual adventure.

In Stone, it’s the drop from Fluffy’s pen through the trapdoor that takes the three eleven-year olds underground for their trials from Devil’s Snare to the Mirror of Erised.

In Chamber, Ron, Harry, and Gilderoy slide down the chutes in Myrtle’s bathroom to the passages that are “miles under Hogwarts.”

In Prisoner, Sirius drags Ron and Peter under the Whomping Willow to the hidden entrance for the Shrieking Shack. Harry, Hermione, Remus, and, eventually, Severus all follow them through this underground passage.

In Goblet, Harry and Cedric do not go underground. They are, however, magically transported from the Maze (Labyrinth) to a graveyard, a stand-in, if you will, for the land of the dead or “underworld.”

In Phoenix, the sextet platoon of Dumbledore’s Army fly into London and descend to the lowest depths in the Department of Mysteries, where they battle a flock of the Knights of Walpurgis.

In Half-Blood Prince, Harry is taken off-campus by someone who looks like Dumbledore to a subterranean lake, which Stygian body of water they cross on a seek-and-retrieve mission. After the melodrama on the Astronomy Tower, Harry and another person looking like Dumbledore descend from the Tower (Harry takes the steps); Harry has his final dueling lesson with Severus after this descent. [I have suggested in other posts that Severus Snape is polyjuicing Dumbledore in the Cave and that Horace Slughorn could be playing the Headmaster’s part on the Tower — theories of Professor Mum and Sally Gallo, respectively — and only refrain from saying it was Dumbledore in this post so I don’t get questions about why I have abandoned these possibilities! Back to Aeneas, Harry, and the Veil…]

What does this pattern have to do with the possibility of Harry passing through the Veil in Deathly Hallows? and with Virgil’s Aeneid?

Before I review the underworld step in the Aeneid , Odyssey and Comedia, here are the most relevant bits from Lisa’s notes on Harry and the Aeneid. Her full post can be — should be! — read at the magnificent “Madam Pince’s Potter Pages,” simply the best online source for updates to canon from news reports and interviews.

We already know that Jo was inspired by The Iliad (Patroclus/Hector/Achilles) when she wrote the scene where Harry rescues Cedric’s body. What if other tales also influenced Jo’s vision of the series? Gilgamesh, Orpheus, Aeneas and Dante? If one follows literary precedent, you need a couple things: protection, a guide or very good instructions, and you need to follow the directions. In exchange, one might gain hidden knowledge, conversation with dead loved ones, and perhaps even rescue them (we know that won’t happen).

Possible protection:

• His scar, shaped like the rune Eihwaz which symbolizes “All rites of passage, particularly those marking the transition into adulthood, contain the symbolism of death, the idea being that one’s former ’self’ has died and given birth to a new persona. Eihwaz is the passage through which we must enter the realm of Hel in order to gain the knowledge and acceptance of our own mortality, as well as those mysteries which can only be learned from the dark Lady of the dead. The process is a truly frightening one, but it is something we all must go through if we are to confront our deepest fears and emerge with the kind of wisdom that cannot be taught but must be experienced. Eihwaz is the gateway to this wisdom, and lies between life (jera) and rebirth (perþ). Caveat: Jo has said the shape of the scar isn’t important. Phooey. [source: http://www.tarahill.com/runes/aett_2.html]

• His wand, made of two symbols of resurrection: holly (which may be used in spells having to do with sleep or rest, and to ease the passage of death) and phoenix feather

• Draught of the Living Death

• One or more Hallows

• His Patronus (Jo has called it a “spirit shield”)

• Another possible effect of Lily’s sacrifice?

• Is this the power that LV “knows not?”

Possible reasons for voyage:

1. To lure Voldemort beyond the veil
2. To speak to his dead family
3. To follow or speak to someone newly deceased
4. To find something

I think the pattern of the Aeneid is the most interesting in this context:

1. Commanded by Jupiter to seek his father
2. Tasks are the price of entrance
3. Guided by the sybil, crossover into death in all its awfulness
4. Revelations of how the underworld is structured
5. Communication with people he knew, including his lover and his father
6. Glimpses of past heroes, and of the future; understanding and acceptance of his role in history
7. Return to the living with the sybil

I hesitate to ascribe to deeper use of the story although some details are very suggestive (“pious” Aeneas, Sybill=Sybil, prophesy while possessed, travel via water, Cerberus appeased, the river Lethe, etc.) because I believe that Jo never borrows the whole cloth of something.

A journey into death could give Harry several opportunities: communication with his parents, Sirius and Dumbledore, a way to come to terms with death, information on the Horcruxes, and possibly even knowledge that allows him to know how to finally vanquish Voldemort.

We have it from Lisa, then, that Ms. Rowling will be using at least parts of Aeneas’ trip into the underworld at Cumae from Book VI of the Aeneid in the last book in the Harry Potter septology. Her reasons for this are good ones, and, beyond her argument, that this occurs in the “middle” of the Aeneid rather than the end is not a disqualifier; the sixth book is usually considered the “end” of Aeneas’ odyssey from Troy to Rome.

In this post I will review the action of the sixth book in the Aeneid for those of you who haven’t read it recently, take a much briefer look at Odysseus’ and Dante’s trips among the dead, and then offer some stray thoughts on how and why Ms. Rowling would have Harry travel through the Veil in Deathly Hallows. I think, too, that we have to consider a possible trip through the Veil as a remarkable answer to why Ms. Rowling suggested the last book will answer questions about her faith.

The Aeneid, Book 6: Aeneas’ Trip to the Underworld

In Book 6, Aeneas has traveled from Dido’s Libya to Cumae in order to consult the prophetess of Apollo and Diana there, Deiphobe the Sybil. She tells him to make sacrifices and to find the Golden Bough:

Receive my counsel. In the neighb’ring grove
There stands a tree; the queen of Stygian Jove
Claims it her own; thick woods and gloomy night
Conceal the happy plant from human sight.
One bough it bears; but (wondrous to behold!)
The ductile rind and leaves of radiant gold:
This from the vulgar branches must be torn,
And to fair Proserpine the present borne,
Ere leave be giv’n to tempt the nether skies.
The first thus rent a second will arise,
And the same metal the same room supplies.
Look round the wood, with lifted eyes, to see
The lurking gold upon the fatal tree:
Then rend it off, as holy rites command;
The willing metal will obey thy hand,
Following with ease, if favor’d by thy fate,
Thou art foredoom’d to view the Stygian state:
If not, no labor can the tree constrain;
And strength of stubborn arms and steel are vain.

Dryden translation, Aeneid 6

Aeneas is led by two birds from Venus (his mother, not the planet…) to the tree deep in the forest with the golden branch that his ticket to the Elysian Fields:

They fed, and, flutt’ring, by degrees withdrew
Still farther from the place, but still in view:
Hopping and flying, thus they led him on
To the slow lake, whose baleful stench to shun
They wing’d their flight aloft; then, stooping low,
Perch’d on the double tree that bears the golden bough.
Thro’ the green leafs the glitt’ring shadows glow;
As, on the sacred oak, the wintry mistletoe,
Where the proud mother views her precious brood,
And happier branches, which she never sow’d.
Such was the glitt’ring; such the ruddy rind,
And dancing leaves, that wanton’d in the wind.
He seiz’d the shining bough with griping hold,
And rent away, with ease, the ling’ring gold;
Then to the Sibyl’s palace bore the prize.

Dryden translation, Aeneid 6

After sacrifices at the mouth of her cave, the Sibyl leads Aeneas into the underworld. Charon the Boatman refuses to carry the living in his boat across the river Styx but the Sibyl shows him the golden bough and it’s “All aboard!” Once across, the Sibyl gives Cerebrus some drugged meat and they pass by the sleeping monster.

Aeneas speaks to Dido (who does not respond or even stay to listen to him) and converses with Deiphobus, whom Helen betrayed to Menelaus and Odysseus the night Troy fell. The Sibyl interrupts this exchange to hurry Aeneas along — and to give him a tour (by description, not passage) of Tartarus and the suffering souls of the sinful punished there. Nothing but Virgil leading Dante through the circles of hell tops Virgil writing out the Sybil’s monologue here.

But the destination is the Elysian Fields, not Tartarus, and the pair affix the golden bough at the gates to Roman paradise:

Before our farther way the Fates allow,
Here must we fix on high the golden bough.”
She said: and thro’ the gloomy shades they pass’d,
And chose the middle path. Arriv’d at last,
The prince with living water sprinkled o’er
His limbs and body; then approach’d the door,
Possess’d the porch, and on the front above
He fix’d the fatal bough requir’d by Pluto’s love.
These holy rites perform’d, they took their way
Where long extended plains of pleasure lay

Dryden translation, Aeneid 6

Aeneas finds his father, Anchises, there and in his delight tries to give him a hug, three times, each in vain (Odysseus had done the same with his mother…). Aeneas asks him about a crowd of souls gathered at the river Lethe and why they are there. Anchises tells him these are the souls of those about to return to life after they drink in sufficient forgetfulness from the river to re-incarnate.

He then points out the men who will be Aeneas’ descendants “so you will feel with me more happiness/ At finding Italy” (Fitzgerald trans., Book 6, L. 963-964). More than a little of this is unvarnished praise of the Julians, especially Caesar Augustus and his nephew Marcellus. Anchises also tells him “how/ He might avoid or bear each toil to come” (Fitzgerald trans., Book 6, L. 1209-1210).

Anchises then guides Aeneas and the Sybil to the gates for their return to the living:

There are two gates of Sleep, one said to be
Of horn, whereby the true shades pass with ease,
The other all white ivory agleam
Without a flaw, and yet false dreams are sent
Through this one by the ghosts to the upper world.
Anchises now, his last instructions given,
Took son and Sibyl there and let them go
By the Ivory gate.

(Fitzgerald trans., Book 6, L. 1211-1218)

This is Virgil’s much expanded version of Odysseus’ consultation with the dead in Book XI of Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus travels from Circe’s island to “the city of Kimmerian people” (Lattimore trans., Book 11, L. 14). He digs a pit at the spot described by Circe, “poured it full of drink offerings for all the dead” (op. cit., L. 26), says his prayers, and bleeds the life-blood of sheep into the hole, which brings the dead a runnin.’

He speaks with Elpinor, a man he had not buried on Circe’s island, but does not allow Elpinor or his mother, Antiklea, to drink the blood until Teiresias the Theban has drunk from the pit and told him his future. Odysseus then allows Antiklea to drink and speak. Heart wrenching tale! He describes for his Phoenecian hosts all the other Greek heroes he sees and his conversations, most notably with Agamemnon, Achilleus, Aias, and Herakles. We see, too, the sufferings of Tantalus and Sisyphus.

Homer and Virgil include a trip to the gates of and even into the Underworld in their heroes’ adventures. Dante’s Comedia begins his own trip to Paradise on Good Friday, 1300, with Virgil as his guide through the circles of hell. I am not so silly as to try to summarize the Inferno here; the subject deserves its own post as a largely unexplored aspect of Ms. Rowling’s preoccupation with Renaissance Florence (see Bad Snape: Machiavelli’s Half-Blood Prince for an introduction to the Florentine thread that runs through Harry Potter). It will have to suffice here to note that Dante’s heroic journey includes the longest trip to the underworld in epic literature, that Dorothy Sayers, one of Ms. Rowling’s favorite writers, thought her Dante translations better work than any of her Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, and to say that Dante lived in Florence, Ms. Rowling’s magical Jerusalem.

Here are six reasons taken from the top of my head for thinking Harry may go through the Veil in Deathly Hallows:

(1) In every novel so far, Ms. Rowling has had Harry descend before the climactic battle either underground quite literally or to a place of the dead. We can take this as something of a fetish, a coincidence, or a pointer to the last book when Harry will, at last, “do an Odysseus/Aeneas/Dante” and head into the real land of the dead. All previous descents would then be understood, not as mechanical check-list satisfaction for her hero’s journey formula but as dramatic perumbration of one of the most memorable events in the story’s closing book.

(2) Ms. Rowling is by training a classicist. If she majored in French at the University of Exeter, she read Latin and Greek in secondary school and at Exeter and read enough to have done well in her testing at Wyedean School and College, where she was something like Hermione. Speaking as someone who studied Latin for too many years and has taught it for as many, I can assure you that Latin study is all aimed at “getting to” Virgil’s Aeneid and reading as much of the first six books as you can. Ms. Rowling, whose Latin still is enough a part of her thinking that the greater part of Hogwarts spellwork is in in this language, undoubtedly has read the Aeneid in the original and, I’m betting, through Book 6.

(3) When Harry sees the Veil in the Department of Mysteries, he “thought the archway had a kind of beauty about it, old that it was. The gently rippling veil intrigued him; he felt a very strong inclination to climb up on the dais and walk through it” (Phoenix, Chapter 34, p. 774). We learn in the next chapter, “Beyond the Veil,” that the archway is a door into death. When Sirius is blasted by Bellatrix, he falls through the Veil and is not seen again. Harry’s “very strong inclination to climb up on the dais and walk through it” is either a reflection of his suppressed desire for death, consequently, or an excellent “set-up” as Janet Batchler might say for Harry to make this walk in Deathly Hallows.

(4) The over-arching theme of the series is “love’s victory over death.” My assumption (with everyone else?) has been that this message would be delivered in the finale via Harry’s conquest over Voldemort with his “power that the Dark Lord knows not.” A trip through the Veil as a living person and his return would be another way of “instructing while delighting” on the love theme, especially if the trip is made for information necessary to rescue someone Harry loves.

(5) Harry Potter mavens I respect, if I rarely agree with wholeheartedly (alas, the failings of pride on my part), for reasons that are different but all cogent, think that a trip through the Veil is a strong possibility. You’ve read Lisa’s thoughts, you can read Hans Andrea’s at Harry Potter for Seekers, and Travis Prinzi and gang are discussing this over at Sword of Gryffindor, what I think of as HogPro’s sister site (our big sister!). And, most important perhaps,…

(6) The suggestion by Ms. Rowling in year 2000 interviews that Deathly Hallows will answer all questions about her Christian faith.

I don’t like the idea of a field trip to see Sirius or Dumbledore, assuming with Mr. Prinzi that the Headmaster is indeed dead and gone not “stoppered and present.” This trip through the Veil does not appeal to me on one level because I think it undermines two theories to which I have become attached (egad) even though I came up with them just to illustrate the keys of narrative misdirection and Ms. Rowling’s postmodernism. My expansion of Cathy Leisner’s Stoppered Death idea to mean Dumbledore could have died anytime after the end of Philosopher’s Stone and that he needn’t have died on the Tower is not supported by Harry’s traveling through the Veil if he does so to have a talk with Dumby. And Scar-O-Scope takes a hit if the Tower scene was not staged by Severus and Albus so that the Headmaster could continue in his suspended deanimation. As much as I promised myself that I wouldn’t become attached to these ideas because they are just talking points for Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader, I don’t look forward to their demise on 21 July; I’ve had a lot of fun explaining and defending these ideas!

On the other hand, if Harry willingly “dies” by passing through the Veil on another seek-and-retrieve mission (a la Odysseus, Aeneas, and Dante looking for information and enlightenment), we have a dramatic ending to the hero’s journey formula we’ve seen in every book from Stone to Prince. A trip through the Veil and his return from the land of the dead would be not only Harry’s annual descent, literal and figurative, it will also be his “death” and “resurrection” that he has experienced every year.

This would be a “wow” because this death/resurrection would be a departure from Ms. Rowling’s previous “near death experiences” and “rising from the dead.” In every other book of the series Harry has done this in the presence of a symbol of Christ, from the Philosopher’s Stone to Fawkes the Phoenix. If Harry passes through the Veil and survives the return, his resurrection won’t be “in the presence” of a symbol of Christ but as a symbol of Christ.

One of the holds Virgil had on medieval Christians was the common belief in Europe that this Poet was something of a Prophet. Even the wikipedia article on Virgil mentions this belief:

In the Middle Ages, Virgil was considered a herald of Christianity for his Eclogue 4 verses (PP Ecl.4) concerning the birth of a boy, which were read as a prophecy of Jesus’ nativity. The poem may actually refer to the pregnancy of Octavian’s wife Scribonia, who in fact gave birth to a girl.

Also during the Middle Ages, as Virgil was developed into a kind of magus, manuscripts of the Aeneid were used for divinatory bibliomancy, the Sortes Virgilianae, in which a line would be selected at random and interpreted in the context of a current situation (Compare the ancient Chinese I Ching). The Old Testament was sometimes used for similar arcane purposes. Even in the Welsh myth of Taliesin, the goddess Cerridwen is reading from the “Book of Pheryllt”—that is, Virgil.

In some legends, such as Virgilius the Sorcerer, the powers attributed to Virgil were far more extensive.

What the wikipedia article neglects is that Aeneas’ descent into hell and return was seen as a fictional prefiguring of the Christ’s descent into the underworld after the Crucifixion, the so-called “harrowing of hell.”

In the Book of Acts (2:22-31), which at least one thoughtful reader believes is structured by St. Luke on the model of Virgil’s Aeneid, St. Peter says to a crowd in Jerusalem that King David spoke of Christ in the Psalms (16:9-10) when he said “I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover my flesh shall rest in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (Acts 2:25-27, KJV). Peter’s conclusion? King David “being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption” (Acts 2:30-31, KJV). St. Peter also says in his First Epistle that the gospel was “preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (1 Peter 4:6, KJV).

It was the understanding of the Apostles and their disciples — Tertullian, Hippolytus, and Ambrose, among others — in the first centuries of the Christian Era (“Annis Domini”) that Christ died on the Cross and “descended into hell,” which could not hold Him. This “harrowing” or “raid” into the Inferno completed Christ’s victory over death won on the Cross and crowned in the Resurrection. The descent, consequently, is a key part of the Apostle’s Creed:

The original Greek wording in the Apostles’ Creed is κατελθόντα εἰς τὰ κατώτατα, (“katelthonta eis ta katôtata”), and in Latin “descendit ad inferos.” The Greek τὰ κατώτατα (“the lowest”) and the Latin “inferos” (“those below”) may also be translated as “underworld”, “netherworld”, or as “abode of the dead”. Thus, sometimes this phrase is translated as “descended to the dead.” The first use of the English “harrowing” in this context is in homilies of Aelfric, ca.1000. Harrow is a by-form of harry, a military term meaning to “make predatory raids or incursions”[2]. The term “Harrowing of Hell” refers not merely to the idea that Christ descended into Hell, as in the Creed, but to the rich tradition that developed later, asserting that he triumphed over “inferos,” releasing Hell’s captives, particularly Adam and Eve, and the righteous men and women whose stories are recorded in the Septuagint.

The harrowing of hell is richly represented in Orthodox iconography and liturgical celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection or Pascha.

A traditional Christian reads Book 6 of the Aeneid, consequently, and, if s/he is not immunized against the idea that the Roman Poet is also a Prophet, s/he sees quite clearly a prefiguring of Christ’s victory over death in Aeneas’ descent with the Golden Bough and safe return to the living and eventual conquest of the world. [Frazer title’s his book on myth The Golden Bough to make the same connection albeit on its head, namely, to suggest pointedly that the Harrowing of Hell was mythological formula followed by Christian writers not a historical event.]

With that in mind, let’s review at Accio Quotes two other comments Ms. Rowling made in the year 2000:

E: When you talk about dealing with death and loss in the books, does this come out of your own – you’ve had loss with the loss of your mother – did it come out of a personal spirituality? I mean, are you are religious person? Does your spirituality come from a certain place?

JK: I do believe in God. That seems to offend the South Carolinians more than almost anything else. I think they would find it…well that is my limited experience, that they have more of a problem with me believing in God than they would have if I was an unrepentant atheist.

E: You do believe in God.

JK: Yeah. Yeah.

E: In magic and…

JK: Magic in the sense in which it happens in my books, no, I don’t believe. I don’t believe in that. No. No. This is so frustrating. Again, there is so much I would like to say, and come back when I’ve written book seven. But then maybe you won’t need to even say it ’cause you’ll have found it out anyway. You’ll have read it.

Harry, of course, is able to battle supernatural evil with supernatural forces of his own, and Rowling is quite clear that she doesn’t personally believe in that kind of magic — ”not at all.” Is she a Christian?

Yes, I am,” she says. ”Which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I’ve been asked if I believe in God, I’ve said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what’s coming in the books.”

Couple these with what you know of the Aeneid and the Harrowing (Harrying?) of Hell and take another look at Ms. Rowling’s comment to Ms. Johnstone also in 2000 about the events in Deathly Hallows:

One of her fundamentals is that you can’t reverse death: “That’s a given. Without it the plot would fall apart, though in Book Seven you’ll see just how close you can get to the dead. You can be brought back from being petrified and from injuries that in the real world are mortal, depending on the degree of skill that a particular wizard possesses. You can’t go to any wizard and say ‘Will you cure my terminally ill relative?’ It’s a mirror image of the real world in that sense.”

This last quotation, of course, about getting “close to the dead” can mean just how near to being dead an individual human being can come and still be resuscitated. Her following statements seem to suggest that a lead character will come very close to dying and be revived semi-miraculously in Deathly Hallows. A common place in predictions about the finale, consequently, is that Harry will seem to die but actually be feigning his death (which would satisfy story formula).

If Ms. Rowling slipped here, though, and meant quite literally that we’ll see “how close we can get to the dead” in the sense of proximity to those who have died and passed beyond the Veil, I’ll gladly see my pet key-illustration theories go down in forgettable flames (will any of us remember any of the Interlibrum speculation in August?). Because if Harry does a Harrowing of Hell number and returns from his trip to the land beyond the Veil, my Looking for God in Harry Potter thesis that Ms. Rowling is writing edifying fiction in the literary stream of the Inklings, albeit as a postmodern, will have been given all the confirmation possible. The Veil will be the veil rent at the Crucifixion in the Temple and the archway the horn and ivory gates through which Anchises guides Aeneas and the Sibyl.

Ms. Rowling has said that Deathly Hallows will end her frustration in not being able to answer questions about her faith because the story we’ll read there will demonstrate her Christian beliefs. A trip through the Veil by Harrowing Harry, heir of the Potter, Christian “Everyman,” would do just that.

I look forward to reading your comments and corrections.


  1. John — There’s quite a bit of good stuff here, especially regarding the Hero’s Journey and Aeneas. Yes, I would concur that a trip through the Veil — or at least some sort of encounter with the Veil — is quite likely. The image itself is symbolic and evocative. Harry’s curiosity about it in OotP could be an indication that he will return to it.

    But, I almost quit reading this after I hit your synopsis of underground journey to death and resurrection for HBP. I sincerely doubt any form of the Stoppered Death theory will play out in DH. Albus Dumbledore was still alive in HBP. He went to the Cave with Harry, returned to Hogwarts with Harry, and was murdered by Snape on the Tower. What Harry saw was what “really happened.” “Ockham’s” Razor” favors this over any alternative theory. (When I finish “Narrative Redirection” this week, this will be clear.)

  2. I’m not sure if I understand what you’re saying correctly, John.

    Are you saying that Harry will follow the same course as Christ: die (or come very near death), descend into hell (go beyond the veil), harrow hell (release its captives), and rise triumphant?

    A lot of questions here. First, are you saying that he will have to:
    die to cross the veil?
    come close to death and go through, but live?
    just go through, without coming close to death?

    If he didn’t come close to death, would it still fit the archetypal Hero’s Journey?

    What does “harrowing hell” mean in this interpretation? The first thing that comes to my mind is rescuing or releasing Sirius Black, who just doesn’t belong there. Is there anyone else?

    And what does “rising triumphantly” mean? Would the mere act of coming back qualify as triumph over the veil/hell or evil? Or does he come back with some tool or advantage that helps him in his battle? Or perhaps the two are the same: the act of triumphing over the veil gives him an insuperable advantage over his oponent who fears death above all things?

    I have proposed a journey to the other side of the veil and back, but without the coming near death or harrowing hell components. But the end result would be the same: Harry goes in, comes back out, with Sirius, and the journey has rendered him invulnerable to Voldemort.

    I don’t know. I don’t know if JKR has the interest in writing that kind of scene. For all her comfort with ghosts and spirits rising out of wands, to completely situate a scene in a world with no referent to reality seems not quite in character. Mind you, this is the same woman who wrote about the back of Quirrell’s head, the Babymort stew, and the Inferni in the cave. So maybe it is her thing.

  3. Trudy wrote:

    But, I almost quit reading this after I hit your synopsis of underground journey to death and resurrection for HBP. I sincerely doubt any form of the Stoppered Death theory will play out in DH. Albus Dumbledore was still alive in HBP. He went to the Cave with Harry, returned to Hogwarts with Harry, and was murdered by Snape on the Tower. What Harry saw was what “really happened.” “Ockham’s” Razor” favors this over any alternative theory. (When I finish “Narrative Redirection” this week, this will be clear.)

    Thanks for sharing your opinion, Trudy, and I look forward to reading your ideas. Please forgive me if I have ever offered my key-illustration theories with anything like a triumphant and uncharitable spirit. I’m happy that you think the narrative line is the story truly told — and happier that we’ll know for sure in just a few weeks. I certainly don’t intend to join in any tar-baby exchanges at this date! If I’m wrong, I hope I haven’t offended anyone by telling them how wrong they must be. Right or wrong, I have to re-write my books to cut out all the speculation and replace it with interpretation. Knowing that, it’s easier to let go of the fun theories. I hope you’ll enjoy Deathly Hallows, Trudy, even if you discover that your sure-thing ideas haven’t played out.

    Reyhan asked:

    Are you saying that Harry will follow the same course as Christ: die (or come very near death), descend into hell (go beyond the veil), harrow hell (release its captives), and rise triumphant?

    I am not saying that Harry will follow the same course on the Via Delorosa as Christ and I’m sorry if my post suggests anything like that. My thought was that, for whatever reason or on whatever mission, if Harry passes “beyond the Veil” willingly and as a living person and if he returns “from the dead” that he will have satisfied three parts of his annual journey simultaneously: the descent, the figurative death, and the resurrection. The notable difference I noted would be his returning from the land of the dead would make him a Christ figure himself (in previous years his resurrection after near death have been in the presence of a symbol of Christ).

    I am not saying we’ll see a tit-for-tat mystery play or Calvary-and-Hell-Harrowing adventure in Deathly Hallows akin to the one we saw at the end of Chamber of Secrets. He certainly could have a near death experience or figurative death on top of just being “near the dead” and your idea that Sirius would exit with him and Harry become invulnerable, while striking me as bizarre, is possible. As you say, we’ve seen some things we never could have expected in previous books.

    Won’t it be fun to read the books again after we know the ending and can see all the pointers and road signs and foreshadowing to the finale? I confess I’m looking forward to that as much as I am reading the ending.

    Accio 21 July!

  4. Travis Prinzi says

    John, it might be helpful, in light of Trudy’s comment, to add a link to somewhere that you explain your theory about a P!Dumbledore taking Harry to the cave and up to the tower, so that it is evident to readers that it is a theory. Readers who disagree with that theory, as well as readers who are unfamiliar with it, will probably be scratching their heads as they get to the point where Trudy “almost quit reading.”

    And you’d hate for people to miss out on all the tremendous information below that point! While I’m not at all convinced that Stoppered Death will play no role in DH (I think it will play quite a role in explaining the events of HBP), you don’t want people to click away from the page thinking, “Oh, this is just another post where John’s going to explain his Dumbledore theory.”

    OK, now to the actual material. I’ve been opposed for some time to a passing through the veil theory, but the content of this post certainly opens up the possibility, as I’ve been discovering over the past week with the “close to the dead” quote. I’m also not sure Rowling’s going to go there, but if she does, she’ll certainly do it well.

    reyhan noted that Rowling might not want to “completely situate a scene in a world with no referent to reality,” but I’d suggest that it would have some reference to reality, since it’s quite evident that Rowling believes in a life after death, and great writers like Lewis (in the Last Battle and The Great Divorce) and of course the writers of world mythologies have taken on the task of creating some description of the Underworld.

    If she did go that way, though, I wonder if it would be too much of a marked difference between this book and the other 6. The 6 we have so far are probably better described as primarily postmodern fairy-tales with mythological elements, rather than postmodern myth with fairy-tale elements. An Underworld descent would most certainly shift the nature of Book 7 to the latter, rather than the former.

  5. I was watching Jo Rowling’s interview on British television (I think it was on yesterday) and she really shut the door on writing any more about “Harry Potter” – but did not shut the door on writing about the wizarding world. She also talked about sobbing when she wrote one of the last chapters (not the last chapter) and downing a half-bottle of champagne and going home with smeared mascara. For the first time, really, I thought that indeed Harry may go behind the veil, but will not come back.

    On the other hand, what else might make her sob like that – but not when she actually finished the book (where she said she didn’t cry). Something huge happens in the chapter and what else could it be, besides the death of Harry Potter?

    The only other thing I can think of, besides more death (and again, she squashes the press-story that only two people die in Deathly Hallows, that in fact, two people die she didn’t plan on and jokingly calls Deathly Hallows a bloodbath).

    Now it is possible she could write about the wizarding world, without writing about Harry Potter (S.E. Hinton -who’s book “The Outsiders” has been a text-reference for me in writing about the Marauders and Snape, did the same thing in writing other books based on the world she created in “The Outsiders” without writing about Ponyboy Curtis). She could also write more about the Marauders-years or any other period in Wizarding history – including more about the Four Founders.

    The other thing that I thought could lead to massive tears, because it often has that affect on me, is a moment of great redemption and reconciliation. That can be a moment of literary catharsis. Perhaps the tears were not from death, but from life – new life – a moment where the truth is revealed and reconciliation, even redemption is revealed.

    And of course, who needs to be redeemed? Who has more secrets than all the buildings at Langley? Who seems to be in incredible spiritual and emotion pain, suppressed into rage? Who does Harry hate more than perhaps even Voldemort himself?


  6. In response to Trudy’s alarm and Travis’ suggestion, I have added the following paranthetic note to the paragraph where I suggest Dumbledore is not who he seems to be:

    [I have suggested in other posts that Severus Snape is polyjuicing Dumbledore in the Cave and that Horace Slughorn could be playing the Headmaster’s part on the Tower — theories of Professor Mum and Sally Gallo, respectively — and only refrain from saying it was Dumbledore in this post so I don’t get questions about why I have abandoned these possibilities! Back to Aeneas, Harry, and the Veil…]

    Travis wrote:

    reyhan noted that Rowling might not want to “completely situate a scene in a world with no referent to reality,” but I’d suggest that it would have some reference to reality, since it’s quite evident that Rowling believes in a life after death, and great writers like Lewis (in the Last Battle and The Great Divorce) and of course the writers of world mythologies have taken on the task of creating some description of the Underworld.

    If Ms. Rowling creates an Underworld scene in the last book, I really do think literature mavens will go wild exploring the pagan, Christian, and postmodern beliefs evident in her portrait of the afterlife. A few of us will be scratching our head about the Lev Grossman 2005 interview in Time magazine, in which she is supposed to have said she never read the last Narnia novel. Which novel, of course, ends the series in Lewis’ depiction of a Christian Platonist’s heaven. Anything remotely like this or, which is more likely, Stygian as the Aeneid or Dantesque a la the Inferno, really would nail down Ms. Rowling as a Christian author.

    Wouldn’t it?

    ZoeRose wrote:

    The other thing that I thought could lead to massive tears, because it often has that affect on me, is a moment of great redemption and reconciliation. That can be a moment of literary catharsis. Perhaps the tears were not from death, but from life – new life – a moment where the truth is revealed and reconciliation, even redemption is revealed.

    Ah, a Severus-Harry union a la Fawkes? That has me reaching for the Hankies….

    But how about this? I hope someone remembers where I read this — I thought it was Janet Batchler’s book but she told me it wasn’t — but a tear jerker surprise that would tie up foreshadowing through all the books is Percy’s sacrificial death saving Fred and George. With the heroic Grail-winning name he has, I doubt very much Percy/Percival will end the books on the side of the Black Hats. His dying for the twin brothers who have despised and maligned him from their first appearance in Philosopher’s Stone would be the “wow” life-altering sacrifice we should expect in the finale. Think of Fred and George’s response to owing their lives to brother Percy, who is no longer there to thank or appreciate as the undercover hero he may have been….

  7. Really, really interesting stuff, here, John. I wish I had read Virgil, but I never did, so I’m feeling a bit lost here.

    My thinking goes more along the lines with ZoeRose, and the redemption that I have felt needs to happen–partly for that person who so obviously needs it, and more importantly for Harry, who needs to do something about all that hate and anger he now has. Plus, that goes along very well with Sydney Carton, whose redemption scene at the end of “A Tale of Two Cities” had me sobbing when I read it–and it’s still one that I can’t read without crying. There is so much about Snape that seems to be like Carton, and whatever else Rowling does, I hope she doesn’t leave Snape in his current state of despair.

    I’m not sure that a redemptive/sacrificial scene with Percy would evoke that sort of reaction. I do hope that Percy manages a reconcilation with his family, but to be honest, if he were to die to save the twins or someone else in his family, I don’t think it would make me that sad–maybe it would Rowling though. Percy and Pettigrew both, have been so nasty in the last books in their poor choices, that I really would feel that anything they did to redeem themselves is just necessary but not sad. Maybe if that is what she writes I’ll feel differently about it, but I don’t think so. It seems to me that any sacrifice either of them make is more along the lines of what they should do–a duty that they need to perform, rather than something heart wrenching.

    As for what other death besides Harry’s could cause that sort of emotional trauma? Well, either Hermione or Ron or both, Hagrid, who she has said is one of her favorites, Lupin, another favorite and already quite tragic, Luna and/or Neville, who also have soft spots in JKR’s heart and nearly everyone else’s. And it might not be so much the “who” but the “how” that caused all those tears.

    Something else is that sometimes when we finally complete something that is a long time in the planning, the release of that finish is enough to cause that sort of emotional reaction. So while it might be something that made her howl, it might not have the same affect on the rest of us. Well, not on the rest of you, anyway–I’ll probably be crying all the way through, just because it is the last book and I finally have it in my hands. And I’m a crier anyway, so this does not bode well for my all night reading of Deathly Hallows. I’ll have the tissues ready.


  8. Wow, so many new theories! And I’m still reeling from having my world rocked by the (likely possibility of) M!Snape.

    I agree with reyhan’s comment, and don’t think Rowling would write that kind of story, with Harry literally crossing through the veil, chatting it up with the dead, and returning.

    I’m still fascinated by the Draught of Living Death though. We’ve read references to it, we’ve seen it simmering in a cauldron, but had no mention of what it does, how it works, or seen Curious George Harry trying a spoonful. Why not? Is it so dangerous that nobody messes with it?

    What if the Draught allows the reader to “see just how close you can get to the dead?” I see perhaps Harry taking the potion and having his physical body die while his soul has some kind of spiritual encounter before returning to his living body when the potion wears off. (Satisfying the obligatory resurrection scene.)

    I like the irony of a potion (the domain of Snape) being the medium of Harry achieving a reconcillation or method for love to triumph in the crisis catharses.

    Whatever the outcome, I will not be slapping my forehead saying ‘doh’ when I read Deathly Hallows in 2 weeks. Many have written compelling scenarios for what could happen in its physics, but this magical world is still the turf of the author, and as creative as she is, I think it a greater than 50% probability that no one has yet hit upon her outcome.

  9. Excellent ideas, Chris. I like the Draught of Living Death/feigned death and resurrection scenario. I’m with you, too, in expecting to be surprised by Deathly Hallows, however much fun I’m having in the run-up to its publiction with speculative theories based on the Five Keys and interview suggestions.

    One reason to think Harry will go through the Veil that I neglected to mention — and that he might duke it out there with a baddie — is the Scholastic cover. The curtains are, supposedly, just to give the last book cover the feel of the first, bracketing the series neatly, but quite a few readers have suggested that the scene depicted looks like something they could imagine as a rubedo underworld.

    That gives us seven reasons. Does anyone have an eighth?

  10. John–I always thought the cover was meant to depict the Veil room in the Ministry of Magic. That was described as being like an amphitheater, with graduated seating around a pit that contained a dais with the veil arch on it.
    If you look closely at the Scholastic cover, you’ll see that it resembles an arena, with spectators behind Harry, and the waving curtains behind Voldemort. This would indicate to me a battle taking place at the Ministry, not behind the veil.

  11. That makes good sense, Trish, except for the colors and the shrouded figures in the distance which seem significantly larger than even the Veil Room in the Department of Mysteries. It would also mean that the perspective of the painting is from the other side of the Veil, and given the postures and expressions of the foreground figures, that would really be a “wow.”

    But it’s certainly possible! Won’t it be nice to know for sure? Accio August!

  12. John, you are looking for another reason why Harry would go through the veil.

    Here’s the theory I floated at Sword of Gryffindor.

    It’s based on two premises: first, Voldemort is driven by his fear of death; second, the only force we (JKR) knows which can conquer death is love.

    Now death can’t be conquered in the sense that it can be averted. No one can do that (although Voldemort has spent a lot of effort doing that). And Nicholas Flamel had a long run for his money, but in the end gracefully accepted the inevitable. But death can be conquered in the sense that it can be made less important, not an end to things but another step along the way, and actually a positive step because beyond the veil we are reunited with the people whom we loved and lost. At the risk of sounding corny, the love we bear takes away the fear we have of death. We can’t conquer death, but we can transcend our fear of it.

    We have Harry who, in book 5, comes two steps closer to transcending his fear of death. When he sees – and hears – the veil, he wants to go through. So do a few others, btw, and I propose to you that those are the ones who will die in book 7. But more of that elsewhere. And he takes an enormous step towards transcending his fear of death when, while being tortured by Voldemort, he thinks longingly of death to end the pain and because he can see Sirius, who just crossed the veil.

    And what happens when he wants to die and is filled with love and longing to see Sirius again? Voldemort is expelled from him.

    I’ve interpreted this to mean that the less Harry fears death, the less power Voldemort will have over him.

    If Harry willingly walks through the veil, he will have totally conquered his fear of death.

    And what will happen after that?

    If he comes back, he will be someone whom Voldemort has no power over. Just like his mum, btw.

    But what if he takes Voldemort with him? What is they fall through the veil together, like Sirius did?

    I think the look of fear on Voldemort’s face on the cover of the US edition of book 7 gives us an inkling of who will be the stronger on the other side.

  13. Travis Prinzi says

    John wrote:If Ms. Rowling creates an Underworld scene in the last book, I really do think literature mavens will go wild exploring the pagan, Christian, and postmodern beliefs evident in her portrait of the afterlife. A few of us will be scratching our head about the Lev Grossman 2005 interview in Time magazine, in which she is supposed to have said she never read the last Narnia novel. Which novel, of course, ends the series in Lewis’ depiction of a Christian Platonist’s heaven. Anything remotely like this or, which is more likely, Stygian as the Aeneid or Dantesque a la the Inferno, really would nail down Ms. Rowling as a Christian author.

    Wouldn’t it?

    Depends. Harry-haters are Harry-haters, and if the Underworld descent contains no blatantly Christian content, it certainly will be the case that the Harry-haters will claim it’s just a pagan mythological Underworld journey and not specifically Christian at all.

    And it will be sad, if they do.

    I expressed skepticism about Grossman’s claim re:Rowling and The Last Battle, and an LJ reader from HP Essays found Rowling’s exact quote about not finishing The Last Battle, for the old Pullman reasons. I was quite disappointed to read that straight from Rowling, because it’s such a awful misreading of the reasons Susan is not included in the finale of the book, something I discussed way back in Hog’s Head PubCast #2.

  14. I like the irony of a potion (the domain of Snape) being the medium of Harry achieving a reconcillation or method for love to triumph in the crisis catharses.

    Chris, I like the idea, too. And it would somehow echo the events of the first book, where one of Snape’s potions enabled Harry to pass through the fire in order to get to the Philosopher’s Stone. I can imagine that the tasks the trio needed to solve in PS were foreshadowing the final chapters.

  15. Ah, and as we’re talking about mirroring events… Nerhegeb was introduced in the first novel and now we have Sirius’ two-way mirror. As Rowling stated on her homepage “The mirror might not have helped as much as you think, but on the other hand, will help more than you think. You’ll have to read the final books to understand that!”. So there might be some key involved (Travis suggested that the Deathly Hallows might work as a key), a potion (Draught of Living Death, Stoppered Death?) and/ or the two-way mirror. I wonder about the chess game… Ron sacrificing himself, to clear the way for Harry?

  16. Sorry, “Nerhegeb” would be the German version of “Erised”.

  17. The Red Hen herself wrote me this morning with some last minute thoughts on a “spirit quest” that will involve a trip through the Veil. As always, Joyce takes speculation to another level than I thought possible. Remember, she predicted in detail the Tower scene in 2002 and all but described the Horcrux situation before HBP…. For the full version, of course, go to Red Hen Publications.

    A correspondent (on Lj as beta_elf) and I have been tossing e-mails
    back and forth for the past week or so and she has posted a couple of
    iterations of an essay that she is working on for the hp_essays

    It knocked over a couple more dominoes and I’ve kicked off on another
    tangent. Regarding that ruddy spirit quest which seems to be back on
    the negotiating table.

    This is exerpted from the just reposted ‘Endgame” essay, and you may
    get some cross platform text gibberish since it has curly quotes and
    m-dashes and what all.

    There are a couple of typos in the posted version that I caught here.
    In return, a number of statements here refer back to other points made
    earlier in the essay (which is looong).

    Don’t know whether AOL will let it all fit in here but I’ll try.

    I’ve also been thinking a bit more on the issue of that spirit quest.

    We may end up getting one, after all.

    After OotP I was absolutely convinced that we were going to. But I have
    been a good deal less certain of that since HBP came out.

    Well, it’s still a long way from certain. And if we do go there then I
    honestly don’t think that Rowling has done as solid a job of setting it
    up as she needed to. She’s left the matter far too late to suddenly be
    introducing the whole concept now. At least with the Horcruxes, you can
    see, in retrospect, that she had scattered legitimate clues pointing to
    them all the way through the series. I don’t see a lot of indication
    that wizards travel beyond the Veil and back in the series as it stands.

    On the other hand, the Accio Quotes site has recently managed to
    unearth and post an interview from 2000 in which Rowling made her
    famous “dead is dead” statement, and further goes on to state that in
    the 7th book we will find “just how close you can get to the dead”.

    It does sound a lot as if she could be refering to a Veil scenario. If
    your mind is geared for Veil scenarios, anyway. It certainly suggests
    that at least one of the significant players in the issue is likely to
    be someone who is already dead.

    — which rather abruptly harks back to those hitherto unexplained
    “echoes” from the Priori Incantatum sequence of GoF, doesn’t it?

    None of whom had ever manifested as ghosts (and Frank Bryce, who, as a
    Muggle wouldn’t have been able to).

    Well we have any number of candidates there. But it is hard to believe
    that she could be talking about anyone other than Albus. With a certain
    strong secondary posibility of Lily.

    Although I did draft out one possible scenareo for a spirit quest,
    which now lives over in the 7th Son collection of exploded theories,
    and a modified version of it is still over in the ‘The Premature
    Prediction’ essay, I am still not prepared to bet the farm on the
    likelyhood that we are going to get a spirit quest before we can wrap
    up the problem of Tom Riddle.

    But, neither am I going to find myself taken aback or even particularly
    surprised in the event that we do.

    But I do now tend to suspect that all four of our “cardinal characters”
    are going to be present, in some form or other, at the final

    And we may all just be barking up the wrong tree with our expectations
    that any such spirit quest must be embarked upon through the Veil.

    The Potterverse may have more than one gateway into the spirit world.

    And which god is the Lord of openings? Of gateways? Who has stood as
    gatekeeper through the *whole bloody series* to the reading that there
    is *more going on* in this story than Harry ever realizes?

    I think we need to explore yet another possibility.

    Sirius Black did not redeem himself at the end of PoA. He did not need
    to redeem himself. What he needed to do was to get to Harry and tell
    him the truth of who they all were, and what had really happened. Harry
    needed that truth. Without it, they would not have made it back to the
    castle. Sirius gave him the key to connect with James and have that
    epiphany by the lake. Until he had spoken to Sirius Black, James Potter
    was just a story. Now he was a person.

    Sirius gave him another key as well, the following year. One that

    Harry lost that key trying to use it to pry open the Locked door in the
    DoM. That door is not going to be pried open by any tricksy,
    all-purpose, generic, peudo-key. And I don’t think that that door can
    be opened by any “lone hero” either.

    And I don’t think that Snape is going to “redeem” himself in DHs. I
    don’t think that he is going to turn out to need to redeem himself any
    more than Sirius Black did.

    But I don’t think that Harry is going to get that Locked door in the
    DoM open without him.

    Even though he already has the proper key.

    Oh yes. He does.

    When you stop and think about it, it’s obvious. Just as obvious as that
    the way to get Slytherin’s Locket open is to hiss at it in Parseltongue.

    What, after all, is behind that door? And why will they need to get it

    Why, to release the power to vanquish the Dementors, of course. it is
    fairly obvious that what is behind that door is something that
    Dementors cannot touch, and cannot conquer.

    What vanquishes Dementors?

    It abruptly looks to me as though what it will take to get the door
    open is the Patronus Charm.

    And not just one of them, either. In fact that door may require that
    the need be great enough that that least two enemies must work in
    concert to get the damned door open.

    Which would FINALLY make sense of why it has seemed to be so bloody
    necessary for Harry to hate Snape!

    Because although it was clearly necessary for Snape to act like he
    hated Harry in Year 1 — given that he was being observed all year by
    the Dark Lord — it hasn’t made all that much sense that Harry should
    make a career of hating Snape who keeps on saving his sorry arse for 5
    years after.

    And Snape has colluded in keping that particular pot boiling with
    little nudges and jabs and snotty remarks along the way, and while
    Albus has always — right up to the scene in his office before they left
    on the Horcrux hunt — insisted that Harry show the proper forms of
    respectful address toward Snape, he has never done zip to derail the
    general hate-fest, only reserving the statement that HE trusts the man
    — and never explains why.

    Harry may need to hate Snape in order to be able to work, in concert,
    with him, as two enemies to get that door open.

    By the time the pair of them are standing before that locked door, if
    my interpretation of the Book 7 = Book 3 pattern is on target, Harry
    will have pursued Snape to whatever location is going to stand in for
    the Shack, Snape will have revealed his great secret, and Harry will be
    prepared to trust Snape, even if he still hates him. Or at least hasn’t
    forgiven him

    (Thank you beta_elf.)

    Of course once he sees Snape’s Partonus and recognizes it — which I
    agree, he probably will — and realizes just who has been helping him
    all through the Horccrux hunt, he will have to do a major bit of
    retrofitting of what he knows, and what he believes. But they’ll have
    got it open by then, and will have to deal with what they’ve turned

    I’m also now wondering if being caught in the Power That Is Not Named
    as it escapes may not turn out to be the point of departure of that
    spirit quest that has seemed so likely, on and off, since we first all
    read OotP. The embarcation point for that quest may not be the Veil
    after all. In the Potterverse, there may be more ways in and out of the
    spirit realm than we’ve been shown yet.

    The power to knock out who knows how many Dementors would certainly be
    capable of knocking out a couple of wizards standing directly in its
    path. At least for a few hours, and if it knocks them into the spirit
    realm they would need to find their way out, and they would be likely
    to meet people there who have further information that they need. And
    perhaps one who may at least briefly acompany them outside of it.

    After all, Albus comes out and tells us that those we love never really
    leave us. And I am convinced that both Harry and Snape sincerely loved
    the old man.

    Given that in the end it has always come down to Harry facing Tom
    alone, before any help arrives, they may get separated at some point,
    each with their own tests and trials, and we will only be shown Harry’s.

    They will probably only come face to face after returning to the
    material world. And they may not necessarily do it at the same time.

    Snape will probably reach the place of the final showdown at least in
    time to see the end, and possibly to restore Harry when Tom is

    And, at the very end, after Harry has passed all of his tests, Albus
    will also reveal himself; returning if only briefly in whatever manner
    he has chosen from a place outside the laws of Time.

    Over the past week or so I have begun to wonder whether, in the end,
    Tom will ever finally be forced to realize just what a fool he has
    been, and what folly upon folly he has committed, and whether that, in
    itself, may be what tilts the balance to the conclusion. For we know
    that Rowling is never going to allow Tom to win. And it is very hard to
    believe that she really intends for Harry to actually kill him.

    I have even begun to wonder if, in the end, Albus will offer to
    accompany Tom through the Veil. Either as a typical last act of
    kindness, or possibly, just to make sure that he finally goes.

    I do, at any rate, confidently expect Snape to survive VoldWar II.

    I mean, face it, Harry may or may not be forced to kill Lord Voldemort
    to get him settled, but he isn’t going to be murdering Severus Snape.
    Even if he does manage to end up continuing to hate him. (Which I am
    inclined to doubt.)

    And if Harry doesn’t do it, I very much doubt that anyone else is going
    to get the chance. After all, Snape is one of the four cardinal
    characters of the series. He is not going to be taken out by a random
    spear carrier.

    No one other than Harry really has the literary authority to kill
    Snape. No, not even Tom. Tom doesn’t care enough about Snape,
    personally, to have the right to kill him.
    No. I think that Snape will certainly see Tom out.

    But that doesn’t necessarily mean that he is going to stick around for
    happily ever after. He may have dedicated himself so completely to the
    “great work” to be able to see anything meaningful beyond it.

    It could well be Snape who willingly follows Albus through that Veil.

  18. canofworms says

    i feel john hit it on the head with the latter part of his post here. i, too, think that snape has to survive through the book if only to teach the lesson that people can change/be redeemed–not only for harry but for the reader in general. i just don’t think rowling would want a child to walk away from a book without that ever-so-basic lesson. i also believe there is something called survior’s guilt, and i just don’t know if anyone could live with knowing that they not only outlived his friend/father figure/better-overall-person but was responsible for their death. it would be an awkward ending for the books if snape was somehow just able to slip into a society he seems so unable to accept, and is so unable to accept him, when the only thing that seemed to keep him in that society was the trust and–dare i say it–fatherly love of the headmaster. i am not so comfortable comparing, but as a side note on the whole rowling crying issue, i have to say that the most bittersweet moment of the whole lord of the rings series was that here was a hero unable to live in the world he helped to save. to me, that is very haunting and very, very sad. of course, i could totally be setting myself up for serious let down–snape could, after all 6 books worth of time invested in believing him to be a tragic good guy figure, turn out to be a real horse’s you know what. but i doubt it.

  19. The idea that Snape’s Patronus would conclusively show his allegiance has been thrown around before. As has the possibilty that Harry and Snape would have to work together for some end. And the idea that Dumbledore would help Tom Riddle cross the veil. But I don’t remember reading anything about getting rid of the Dementors before.

    Now that is a worthwhile quest. Almost requires its own saga, doesn’t it though? Maybe that can be a mission for Harry and Ginny’s children. Or the children of Ron and Hermione. If they survive to have children.

    There are characters with the literary authority to kill Snape: Wormtail and Fenrir Greyback come to mind. And Voldemort could kill him casually – although I think he does have some trust invested in him and would love to kill him if he knew all that we suspect. If they do kill him, it will make for pathos and melodrama of the order of Dumbledore’s death in book 6. However, if they don’t do him in, I believe that Snape has more than enough fortitude to keep on living, brewing his potions and making life generally miserable for future Hogwarts students. He’s never had a soft or easy life or too many illusions, unlike Frodo. If, as we suspect, his heart was broken before, he turned his grief to determination. He will survive.

  20. Coppinger Bailey says


    I have felt for almost a year now that the Harry travelling through the Veil would play a prominent role in ridding the world of Voldemort. My guess hinges on my belief that Harry’s scar is a horcrux and that the only way to get rid of that bit of soul (the “evil within”) is for Harry to walk through the Veil. So if that scar’s not a horcrux, then I will be completely blown away in a couple of weeks (yea!). The potential hero’s journey elements beyond the veil you discuss never really crossed my mind, as I had pre-assigned those to the “hunt for the horcruxes” part of the story.

    To me, the veil passage is reflective of Christ’s piercing the veil between the physical and spiritual world for us, and Harry will follow this example. If we choose to die to self and follow Christ, we will know the Truth, and we will be made free (John 8:31-32). John 3:21 – “But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.” Harry, without a wand, is bathed in light from above and standing in between the veil over the cracked stone dias on the US book jacket of Deathly Hallows. Once I saw that book jacket, I really felt that this indeed was the way (or at least one of them) Ms. Rowling would be leaving no doubt about her own religious convictions upon the completion of Harry’s story.

    I had not worked out for myself how they get rid of that last, 7th piece of Voldemort soul that’s left in his mangled physical body. I like someone’s suggestion that Voldemort follows Harry through the veil, perhaps doing so without knowing that all his other horcruxes have already been destroyed. If that is the case, and Harry dislodges the 1/7th behind his scar, then Voldemort will have physically traveled across the veil with only 1/7th of his original soul. Could this be the forever “cursed life” Firenze explains is the fate of one who drinks unicorn blood? An eternity spent as a wretched, rent soul?

    While I’m not sure about an “underworld visit” hero’s journey behind the veil, I do think the trip will require an extreme sacrifice on Harry’s part – which is, of course part of the hero’s journey. I hope that he will be rewarded by coming into a full knowledge of Love and be allowed to return to a full physical life. But I think this journey and its outcome is going to be cause for “extreme hanky” time.

    Another reason I am fascinated with the Veil is directly related to your discussion on Ms. Rowling’s PoMo-PoMo’ism. As you’ve pointed out, the problem with postmodernism is the extreme skeptical and deconstructionist tendencies of the mind. To accept the things unseen as the greater Reality, we’ve got to get our minds in the right place – namely, in balance with our body and souls.

    I believe Hermione’s role as the mind of the trio (Ron = body, Harry = soul) is quite telling in Phoenix – she is afraid of the veil, tells Harry to get away from it, and calls it “dangerous.” Now, Hermione (the mind) has been a huge help to Harry (the soul) along the way, no doubt. In Stone, she calls his bravery much greater than her book smarts. In Chamber, she finds out what the monster is, but she’s petrified & doesn’t descend down with the others to slay it. In Prisoner, she’s the only one with whom time travel is shared at first, because she’s got the brains to understand its dynamics and dangers. In Goblet, she prods Harry on about his tasks and scolds him for being lazy in his pursuit. In Phoenix, she pushes Harry to claim his own knowledge of how to defeat the Dark Arts, be brave, and be a leader amongst his peers. In Prince we see her warning Harry of the dangers of his arrogance and blindly using the Prince’s spells. At the end of Prince, we see her commitment to uniting with Harry and going on his final journey with him.

    I believe that Hermione’s fear of the veil in Phoenix will have to be overcome in Deathly Hallows. Hermione (the mind) will, in order to assist Harry (the soul) on his final step, have to allow him – to trust him – to go through the veil. I maintain, as you have many times, John, that Harry’s symbolic journey, will represent our “everyman’s” spiritual journey. He’s got to have a willing mind and a willing body in order to position himself, the soul, for a revelation of Love.

    And, finally, Hermione’s willingness to participate in this larger quest of self-sacrificial Love will be hugely symbolic of the postmodern need to subjugate our minds run amok and bring them into proper alignment. If we stay unwilling to do that, we simply cannot move beyond the things that are only seen, and what we see these days ain’t pretty. In postmodern fashion, this is not about accepting religious “dogma,” but it is about seeking the Truth that is beyond our visual reality. And, as you have written, Ms. Rowling’s “postmodern realism” holds up “postmodern dogma” to intense scrutiny while consistently pointing to the true Absolute, Love.

  21. Absolutely perfect, Coppinger. It’s comments like these that make posting worthwhile — because your reflections from my jumping off place are so much better and at greater depth than what I wrote originally. Thank you for writing this out.

    Grateful John, at your feet

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