Mailbag Query: Seeing Thestrals And Seeing Death

Mr. Granger: In Deathly Hallows, Ms. Rowling writes that Harry witnessed his mother’s death.  If this is true, why doesn’t he see the thestrals until after Cedric dies?

I believe Ms. Rowling has answered this in an interview or her web site; please do a search at and Accio Quotes!

My quick answer, probably reflecting what I’ve read with my own thoughts stirred in, is that the ability to see Thestrals, a transformed vision in a Saga largely about seeing correctly and at greater depth, is a function of how the mind changes in its ability to grasp profound and difficult meaning — represented neatly by the mythic creatures suggestive of death, the Thestrals — after a confrontation with life’s ending.

Harry experience of death as an infant was not changed by what he saw, at least not internally, hence it is Cedric’s death in the Hangleton graveyard which opens his eyes, if you will. Great question — and please let me know what you find in your search for Ms. Rowling’s answer. [For more on the eyes of Deathly Hallows and Coleridgean transformed vision in imaginative literature, see chapter 5 of The Deathly Hallows Lectures, ‘The Seeing Eye.’]


  1. J.K. Rowling’s answer: 🙂

    Why could Harry see the Thestrals ‘Order of the Phoenix’? Shouldn’t he have been able to see them much earlier, because he saw his parents/Quirrell/Cedric die?

    I’ve been asked this a lot. Harry didn’t see his parents die. He was in his cot at the time (he was just over a year old) and, as I say in ‘Philosopher’s Stone’, all he saw was a flash of green light. He didn’t see Quirrell’s death, either. Harry had passed out before Quirrell died and was only told about it by Dumbledore in the last chapter.

    He did, however, witness the murder of Cedric, and it is this that makes him able to see the Thestrals at last. Why couldn’t he see the Thestrals on his trip back to the train station? Well, I didn’t want to start a new mystery, which would not be resolved for a long time, at the very end of the fourth book. I decided, therefore, that until Harry is over the first shock, and really feels what death means (ie, when he fully appreciates that Cedric is gone forever and that he can never come back, which takes time, whatever age you are) he would not be able to see the Thestrals. After two months away from school during which he has dwelled endlessly on his memories of the murder and had nightmares about it, the Thestrals have taken shape and form and he can see them quite clearly.

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