The Three Final ‘Deathly Hallows’ Chapters Begin With Harry Potter “Lying Face Down.” So What?

I am just back from a wonderful speaking tour during which I gave talks at a C. S. Lewis Conference in Oklahoma City, an Anglican church outside St. Louis, a Community Center in Sikeston, Missouri, and at Augustana College. The topics ranged from Lewis’ Space Trilogy and its alchemical relevance in understanding Michael Ward’s astrological Planet Narnia thesis to ‘Why We Love or Despise Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight Books’ with a few stops to unlock Harry Potter and unpack his Christian content. I had a lot of fun, sold a few books, and made a bunch of friends and reconnected with others. Many, many thanks to Messrs Aaron and Steven Taylor in Oklahoma City, Eighth Day Books’ Joshua, Fr. Matthew Mayes and Dr. and Mrs. David Stroud in Missouri (and Sara!), and Pastor Richard Priggie, English Education Elly, and Dental  Stephanie at Augustana for making the trip as enjoyable and edifying as it was for me.

I spoke with Pastor Priggie’s ‘Postmodernism and Harry Potter’ class on Wednesday and then again that night over pizza about the last chapters and epilogue of Deathly Hallows. The class I spoke with last year showed up for the evening discussion (or was it the pizza?) and the discussion largely turned on an observation by Amanda Rodriguez of a story point that had escaped me entirely. She noted that the last three chapters of Deathly Hallows begin with Harry lying face down.

Perhaps you noticed that and have discussed it at length at other Potter fan sites. Forgive me if you caught that as Amanda did and if you think its meaning is straight forward or has been beaten to death. I certainly didn’t make this catch until Miss Rodriguez brought it to my attention and am unaware of discussion of the point because I don’t surf even the better Potter sites (Hog’s Head excepted, of course). And, as comprehensive as The Deathly Hallows Lectures is, this isn’t mentioned in that valuable resource. I think it is worth discussing what this face-first posture means in itself, in relation to the last three chapters, and how they work together.Harry is lying face down at the opening of Chapter 34, as he wakes up in Dumbledore’s office post Pensieve revelations, at the opening of Chapter 35, when he wakes up naked in the palace he dubs “King’s Cross,” and at the opening of Chapter 36 when he comes back to life but plays dead in the Forbidden Forest. I think three things can be said with some certainty about these prostrations but welcome your pushback (and alternative suggestions).

First, the repetition is not accidental or arbitrary but meaningful. Harry’s waking up in the Forest as he did in the Palace called ‘King’s Cross’ that is just continuity. Harry waking up face down in the office and then after being blasted is not because (a) it isn’t a given in the books that characters return from Pensieve adventures on their faces and (b) an AK green blast to the chest can result in a face-plant but as often causes the blastee to fly or move backwards. The combination and repetition points strongly to meaningful intent on the author’s point. These are the key chapters of the series Ms. Rowling says drive the action of the previous six books. Their openings are not a matter of chance.

Second, the point is that Harry’s posture, physical, mental, and even spiritual is continuous through these chapters. The repetition tells us, whatever the intended meaning of the prostrate Harry is, it is highlighted at the beginning of the chapter he walks to his death, the one in which speaks to his mentor in the Kingdom of Heaven, and then again when he returns to the Shadowlands to call the Dark Lord to repentance (“feel some remorse”) as a marker that he is in the same ‘position’ or ‘standing’ in each.

Third and last, I think the meaning is that traditionally given to men lying face down. The human being is designed for standing up right and for forward motion. As persons, then, we are essentially vertical and we assign correspondingly qualitative meaning, pejorative or positive, to words meaning ‘up right’ and ‘bent’ or ‘prostrate.’ Our traditions, political and religious, reflect these meanings in how we understand the face-down human being. It is unmistakeably and nigh on universally the position of “the contrite and broken spirit” that “God will not despise” (LXX, Psalm 50). A person on his or her face has surrendered their persona or ego identity in repentance or in petition or in adorational worship of that which is greater, be it to a person in fealty or to God as devotional prayer.

This is Harry’s mental and spiritual bearing, reflected in his physical prostration, through The Forbidden Forest, King’s Cross, and The Flaw in the Plan. Having learned that Snape — a man whom he despised and had sworn he would kill — had loved his mother, blamed himself for her death, and sworn to keep Harry alive as loving penance and in her memory, Harry is shattered. The news that his mentor, Albus Dumbledore, had planned that Harry learn only at the last minute that he must offer himself as a sacrifice to Lord Voldemort because of the Scar Horcrux couldn’t have helped. Harry returns in spirit to the grave he dug for himself on Easter morning for the house-elf who died as savior and loving sacrifice for his friends and master. And winds up prostrate and on his face.

And it is in this sacrificial and edifying humility that Harry is at last in fact the “eye” reflected in the mirror fragment in which he had always expected to see his “I.” He achieves at last in this posture his spiritual identity with love, conscience, and heart that he has represented allegorically and alchemically throughout the books. Without it, he cannot walk the walk into the Forest and die for love of his friends, he cannot know all he knows in Dumbledore’s Palace inside his head resembling King’s Cross, and he cannot be sure the Christ-symbol wand cores will behave as they must in his final encounter with Lord Voldemort.

The repetition, continuity, and meaning of Harry “lying face down” is a great touch I missed and I am grateful to Augustana’s Amanda Rodriguez for the catch. I look forward to your comments and correction.


  1. As you may (and probably) know, when a person is being tonsured as a monk or nun in the Orthodox Church, that person also lies face down during this service of complete sacrifice of oneself, and one’s life, to God, or we could say, to Love (which is, of course, what Harry’s sacrifice also amounts to — he dies for the love of, well, the world, i.e. all people, who would now have a chance at life and survival as a result of his death).

    Not that I think J.K. Rowling necessarily knew or knows of this fact, about the Orthodox monastic tonsure. But, it still deepens the meaning of the posture at the start of these three chapters, whether she was aware of it or not.

    And though I have never witnessed a monastic tonsure myself, I would not be surprised if this complete, face-down prostration occurred three times, as most acts are in Orthodox services. 😉

    –Donna the Librarian in Scranton (lurker-and-sometime-commenter) 🙂

  2. And, for anyone out there interested in what I am referring to in the above comment, take a look at the following link, and specifically, the third photo down on the page (and the news piece titled “Tonsuring” right alongside the photo for context), to see what this face-down prostration during the monastic tonsure looks like.

  3. PotterMom05 says

    I never caught that before. And very few things in HP are unintentional by the author, so its safe to say that JKR had a purpose in having Harry in that position. The contrast the human beings being upright makes complete sense- being face down, or prostrate, is an act of surrender and puts the person in a tremendous state of vulnerability. You cannot defend yourself, you cannot protect yourself. This is a poignant visible representation for the reader of “where” Harry is at this point in the story. He is not yet the master of his own fate, truth is still being revealed to him and leaves him exposed, for the time being.

  4. Professor John, I anticipated your Snape reference to include his dying “face up”: Severus’ motives to protect Lily’s son being self-serving, not sacrificial. Thank you for the insights one again!

  5. I just ran into this article and, as it deals with the subject of prostration, thought I should give you a heads up. I’m not sure how well it fits Harry, but it does show the powerful significance of prostration.

Speak Your Mind