Update on Rowling Near Death Comment in 2000: It’s “Near the Dead”

Beloved and ever-helpful Lisa at the Lexicon and Accio Quote wrote me to say the house-elves at these sites have found the original Glasgow Herald interview in 2000 with Ms. Rowling by Anne Johnstone and posted it on Accio Quote. It’s even more interesting than the snippet we had this morning.

Before you get to the quotation discussed in the post immediately below this one, there is this lively exchange:

After all the brouhaha from right-wing Fundamentalists, it would be ironic if Potter turns out to be a cipher for Christ. After all, we know already that he is a saviour. We know he is partly human, that he can be tempted, that he’s no goody-goody. If anyone’s taking bets on the denouement of Book Seven, the most popular scenario must be something like the great duel to the death between Sherlock Holmes and arch villain, Moriarty. Rowling believes in God, or at least A god, and sometimes goes to church near her home in Edinburgh, “though my attendance record hasn’t been too good recently”.

Ask her about the South Carolina banning row and witness something approaching spontaneous combustion: “They have a perfect right to tell their children what to read but I think their stance is nonsensical. I saw a guy on television in the States, saying I’m in danger of putting negative things in children’s heads. What was he on? There are negative things in children’s heads already.” She has faith that most readers will accept that her use of magic is a device to give characters the power to handle situations that would defeat mere Muggles.

“I don’t believe these things and I’m certainly not encouraging any child to take an interest in the occult,” she says, but admits to being taken at face value on occasion. “In America, I’ve had practising witches coming up to me and saying thank you. I tell them not to. I don’t consider them evil but I don’t believe in what they do.”

What a hoot.

And here is the original quotation about the dead in Book Seven that Ms. Johnstone reported a tad differently in today’s paper:

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.”

In this morning’s article “to the dead” was omitted: “That’s a given,” she said, “though in book seven you’ll see just how close you can get.” With the addition of “to the dead” the sentence seems less about “reversing death” and one step closer to Hans Andrea’s theory about Harry voluntarily passing through the veil and returning, no?

I look forward to reading what you think.


  1. I agree, John, that is very interesting! I got to thinking about Jo Rowling mother and how she suffered and finally died from MS. These days what doctors seem to do more and more is “put a stopper into death,” rather than actually cure diseases. Have you noticed that? In the AIDS crisis suffers are leading longer lives without too many symptoms (where before it was a death sentence the moment they were diagnosed) because of the “cocktail” they take or new meds that help them stay symptom free or symptom freer. But eventually, at some point, the disease will kill them unless researchers find a cure.

    MS is the similar. There’s been dramatic changes in treatment from when Jo Rowling’s mother had MS to today. Again, sufferers are able to lead much longer and sometimes symptom free (or fewer symptoms) for longer and longer periods. But again, eventually, the disease catches up with them. I see this happening to a close friend who has had MS since I’ve known her, which has been over sixteen-seventeen years. It now looks like it’s starting to catch her. And at some point, unless there is a cure around the corner, it will take her.

    It is possible, then, that Dumbledore’s death was stoppered (but in a far more dramatic magical way) and was able to carry on with living, as others who have terminal illnesses can with meds and treatments. He was not cured (if he was all ready dead or dying) but it may very well be that his death was postponed for Harry’s benefit.

    Of course, I can’t stop thinking about switching spells either … but again, that is another story! 😉


  2. Travis Prinzi says

    The addition, “to the dead” does sound much more like a veil theory. At the same time, though, Rowling’s sentence immediately following it is easily the closest thing to a confirmation of “stoppered death” that we’ve ever gotten from Rowling’s lips outside of canon.

  3. Travis Prinzi says

    I’ve changed my mind about the comment. I don’t think by “how close you can get to the dead” means “how close you can get to dead people. The problem is simple: Harry’s already been face to face with dead people. Being face to face with dead people is a normal part of the WW, because of ghosts.

    Given Rowling’s follow-up statement: “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,” I think this is Stoppered Death we’re talking about here. Her follow-up statement is most likely an explanation of the first statement.

    And remember, even though she’s confirmed Dumbledore’s death, she’s also said that Dumbledore was “giving her trouble” in Deathly Hallows. I wonder: do people in a Stoppered Death state have a level of access to the dead that the rest of the world does not? Was Dumbledore, in his Stoppered Death state, able to communicate, in some way, with the dead?

  4. Travis Prinzi says

    A follow-up question: would being in a Stoppered Death state allow one to walk through the veil and come back?

    If Dumbledore can make himself invisible without a cloak, he can certainly pass into the Ministry and out undetected. During some of his absences from the school, was Dumbledore descending into the Underworld, so to speak, through the veil? It would tie in well to Greek mythology, would it not?

  5. This last is an important point. I drive my daughter to VMI tomorrow for STP but when I get back I am following up on a suggestion of Lisa at Accio Quote and taking a long look at Aeneas’ trip to the underworld. Ms. Rowling as classicist and Renaissance Italy maven is hooked on Virgil the way Dante was hooked on Virgil. The final hero’s journey, as Hans has long suggested, may have a descent that is not local or figurative but to the Underworld proper. Wild.

    As usual everything Travis writes is worth reading, savoring, and putting aside for further reflection. That he thinks the original Johnstone interview quotation points to Stoppered Death *and* to mythological underworld trips means I’m going to my bookshelf to brush up on my *Comedia* and *Aeneid.* Thank you, Travis, for Sword of Gryffindor.com and your thoughts posted here.

    And, Lisa, send me that ‘Harry as Aeneas’ essay, please!

    John, off to bed (Lexington is a long drive from Fogelsville!)

  6. Travis Prinzi says

    It may very well be that Harry remains the best candidate for a trip to the Underworld, if she does indeed plan any such thing. The proximity of the two statement she made, “close to the dead” and the explanation of certain wizards being able to maintain life in the face of mortal wounds, however, opened up the idea in my mind of a possible Dumbledore trip. I have not previously read Aeneid, but I’ve been giving myself a crash course in it tonight, and I see nothing thus far that would support my earlier brainstorming session about a Dumbledore trip to the Underworld…

    Although, I have speculated before, the “Hallows,” most likely holy relics (and most likely those of the Hogwarts Four), may perhaps serve as some form of “key,” a “token of the tombs” (as was needed for entrance to “the Hallows” in LoTR) in order to get to the burial ground of the Founders…and if the Sword is a Hallow, which I believe it is, then Dumbledore has a key. What if there is some tie-in there? If the Hallows provide some key to getting close to the dead?

    Eh, my brain is starting to cramp. This is why I’m not good at predictions.

    Travis, also quite interested in the “Harry as Aeneas” essay.

  7. Here goes. I should say before hand that the idea came from an offhand remark Asphodel Wormwood (Lorie Damerell) made around 2 years ago on the Leaky Lounge. I had been looking for a key to something like that and was intrigued. I realize this isn’t an essay — I have never called it that; John made some kind assumptions.


    I am one of the people wondering if Harry will go past the veil; on the other hand, I believe that Harry will survive Book 7. Now, perhaps I have read Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series too many times, but I believe these two things can be reconciled.

    I also believe that Jo’s vision of Harry on the train to Manchester cannot be separated from what she was going through in her life: her mother was ill with a painful, terminal illness at the same time that Jo was beginning to assert her independence (Jo’s mom died two months later). The train trip was probably prime time to wrestle with the dementors of pending death and loss.

    If Voldemort is guided by an inability to accept mortality, Harry’s journey is guided by his need to come to terms with his “burden” and punctuated by the repeated loss of loved ones. How can Jo *not* use some sort of journey as a part of Harry’s path and allow him “Once more ‘t is giv’n me to behold your face!”

    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%5D
    • 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.

    Support quotage:

    • “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.” (J.K. Rowling to Anne Johnstone, July 8, 2000)
    • JKR: “I gave him a scar and in a prominent place so other people would recognize him. It is almost like being the chosen one, or the cursed one […] As you know, the scar has certain powers, and it gives Harry warnings. I can’t say more than that, but there is more to say.” (Houston Chronicle, 2001)
    • Q: Don’t want to rune the ending, but will we be finding out more about the significance of the shape of Harry’s scar in future books?
    JKR: “The shape is not the most significant aspect of that scar, and that’s all I’m going to say!” (World Book Day Chat, 2004)
    • JKR: “The other question that I am surprised no one has asked me since Phoenix came out—I thought that people would—is why Dumbledore did not kill or try to kill Voldemort in the scene in the ministry. […] Although Dumbledore gives a kind of reason to Voldemort, it is not the real reason.” (Edinburgh Book Fair, 2004)
    • The prophecy: “The one with the power to vanquish the dark lord approaches … Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies … And the dark lord will mark him as equal, but he will have power the dark lord knows not … And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives.” (Sybill Trelawney, OotP ch37)

    Over and over we have seen Harry overcome Voldemort not by attacking, but by allowing him to touch him/enter his mind/trick him. If Harry has a unique ability to withstand or understand death might he use this to trick Voldemort? And if he meets his family and Dumbledore on the way… I believe that a journey into death could be a very fruitful and interesting plot device.

  8. I am loving the connection to Virgil and Dante. Can’t wait to see how it plays out, but it really would be a very good guess at this point. I would not be a bit surprised if it did play out in the end. Spectacular ending.

  9. Pennykey says

    I just wanted to point out two things. 1. The star Regulus (which is the heart star of the Leo constellation) has been passing throught the “gate” of Saturn this month in the night sky. Regulus has been, and I think will be, prominent in the night sky this month, and Saturn and Venus have been dancing past Regulus, as well as the moon as it moved toward fullness. Maybe Regulus Black is passing through the Gate of Saturn as well as Sirius and/or Dumbledore in book 7? I’m not say JFR planned on this timing, but it’s lovely synchronicity, eh? 2. (Off topic) Has anyone else noticed that the Godric Gryffindor portrait on JKR’s website has red hair and GREEN eyes? Lily’s ancestor perhaps?

  10. Travis Prinzi says

    Now here’s an interesting point: If Harry does travel to the Underworld, there’s no need for a theory that Dumbledore is still walking around somewhere in a continued Stoppered Death state. Harry can just have the chat with him in Elysium (or Tartarus, I guess, depending on your view of Dumbledore).

    This could also be how Dumbledore was giving Rowling difficulty in Book 7.

  11. Travis, yes, there’s no need for Dumbledore to walk around in a Stoppered Death state. The plot seems to work very well without that. But since death is a central theme in the story, I think that Snape’s remark about his ability to “stopper death” is meaningful. Perhaps that’s exactly what he did for Dumbledore or maybe he could do it for Harry, who may, at the threshold of death, be able to communicate with the dead. Death isn’t reversible, but perhaps a Stoppered Death state is?

  12. Travis Prinzi says

    Mia, agreed – the plot works well – better even – without Dumbledore walking around in Book 7. I still think he’s dead as dead can be. But those maintaining that he is still up and about in a Stoppered Death state are doing so for an important plot reason: there’s still so much we need to know about what the man was up to in HBP, and perhaps before that as well.

    I’m curious what you mean by “reversible Stoppered Death.” Obviously, a death that is “stoppered” can be “un-stoppered,” resulting in death. But I don’t think a person can go from being “stoppered from death” to full life again, because that would the same as a magical cure for a terminal illness, which would go against the magical rules of Rowling’s world.

  13. Travis, as far as I understand Rowling’s statement, some wizards could cure a terminal illness, depending on their personal dergree of skill. You just can’t ask any wizard, because only those who are very accomplished in magic can do it.

    So I don’t know about that mysterious Stoppered Death thing. If the person in question has already died, then of course he or she can’t be brought back to life by any means, because death is irreversible. But if someone can be held back on the verge of dying then maybe there’s a cure. I thought that someone might have to come close to death in order to come close to the dead. Maybe Stoppered Death would allow Harry (?) to communicate with Dumbledore (?) and return to life. I’ve no idea, really, just some wild guesses.

  14. Travis Prinzi says

    Speaking of the Aeneid: I’ve run across a fascinating connection today between The Aeneid and The Fabian Society. No, seriously. Check this out, from the Wikipedia entry on Fabius Maximus, the man after whom the Fabian society was named:

    Later, he became a legendary figure and the model of a tough, courageous Roman, and was bestowed the honorific title, “The Shield of Rome”. (Similar to Marcus Claudius Marcellus being named the “Sword of Rome”) According to Ennius, unus homo nobis cunctando restituit rem – “one man, by delaying, restored the state to us.” Vergil, in the Aeneid, has Aeneas’ father Anchises mention Fabius Maximus while in Hades as the greatest of the many great Fabii, quoting the same line. While Hannibal is mentioned in the company of history’s greatest generals, military professionals have bestowed Fabius’ name on an entire strategic doctrine known as “Fabian strategy,” and George Washington has been called “the American Fabius.”

    Fascinating. I’ll be finally diving really deep into this Fabian Society connection at Prophecy 2007, and this is a promising find, I think.

  15. Travis Prinzi says

    Follow-up: If there is a Harry descent into the Underworld, could it reveal Dumbledore as the Fabius Maximus of the Wizarding World? There have been multiple complaints about Dumbledore’s lack of action from fandom. But perhaps this statement would be quite true of him by the end of Book 7:

    “One man, by delaying, restored the Wizarding World to us.” After all, After Fabius’ delay, it was another commander who finished the victory. Dumbledore would have done the same thing: After delaying, and being questioned and criticized, it will turn out that he set everything up perfectly for Harry to finish the job and restore the Wizarding World.

  16. Travis Prinzi says

    Eventually, I’ll do all my research before commenting. Just a clarification: “After Fabius’ delay, it was another commander who finished the victory” isn’t a very accurate statement at all. I misread the entry.

    Doesn’t change the overall point, though.

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