For our final debate on the fate of the Harry Potter stories we turn to our hero. There is a distinct dividing line between fans on whether Harry will survive through to the end. We’ve taken a look at the stories, examined them in a sterile environment, and are now ready to divulge our findings. So the final question remains…
Yes! The Boy Who Died!
-- Steve West
There are many thoughts on the character of Harry Potter, and how he fits with the heroes of past stories. What we know for sure is that author J.K. Rowling has a deep fondness for literature, and the classic storytelling begun by ancient civilizations like the Greeks and Egyptians. To determine the most logical ending for the boy wizard you need look no further than Rowling’s own inspirations. I maintain that there are more stories to look at to showcase Rowling’s intent, but in the interest of brevity I will touch upon a few that are most prominent.
The story of Antigone by Sophocles follows that of Oedipus’ daughter (the guy who killed his father and married his mother). The headstrong nature of our lead character is an easy analogy to make. But what is central to both stories is choice. Antigone defied King Creon, her uncle, by burying her brother who fought against the king. As Dumbledore says, it is the choices we make that determine who we are. Rowling has established the importance of choice, along with the strong willed character of Harry Potter. This can not be coincidence, there’s too much significance placed on the trait. When it comes time to take the easy road at the end of Deathly Hallows or make the hard choice, we’re sure Harry will do what is right. Do I believe he will kill himself as Antigone did? No, but the choice he makes will display his humanity just as viscerally as in Sophocles’ story.
Hamlet also offers us a look into what kind of person Harry Potter is. Obviously the story structure is quite different, but if you look at the two characters you’ll some remarkable – and important – similarity. One of the things Rowling has established with the character is isolation. Harry has lost his parents, his godfather, and his mentor. And even when amidst a group of friends there is no one who can truly connect and understand what it is he must do and be. Starting in Order of the Phoenix Rowling warns the reader that Harry can not survive alone. He must have his friends with him for his final journey. But even as Ron, Hermione, and possibly Ginny walk with him on his mission, they will not be able to fight Voldemort for him. In the end, it will be Harry alone who must destroy Voldemort. Rowling has put an enormous amount of importance on friendship and love that we may want it to go another way, but Harry will not survive a lonely battle with the Dark Lord.
Yes, I want Harry to live. But looking at the literature that has inspired Rowling the chances are quite grim. Her affinity for Egyptian stories is widely known and while it’s not confirmed you have to assume she’s familiar (or even read) The Coffin Texts and the Book of Two Ways. These books were placed in the tombs of the pharaohs to instruct them on how to traverse the underworld when they awoke there. There are quite a few obstacles and challenges that are faced by the main character (often depicted as Horus), but some of them conveniently mirror each of Harry’s challenges so far. A chamber that holds magic for a great serpent (Chamber of Secrets); a tree that connects to the Underworld and his father (Whomping Willow); a spell for turning himself right-side-up when he is walking upside down (Tri-Wizard Cup maze); a trial (the trial in OotP); a lake with the bodies of the damned floating below the surface (the lake with inferi that Harry and Dumbledore cross over); a spell for the deceased to ascend to Paradise in the shape of a bird (Dumbledore’s funeral). The Book of Two Ways tells the story of traversing through the Underworld so that the protagonist can reunite with his lost love ones. The only way for Harry to finish his journey and return to those he has lost is to die.
No! The Boy Who Lived!
-- Rafe Telsch
Looking at Harry Potter as the hero of the story (and he is the hero, regardless of the Hermione and Ron fans out there – these are the Harry Potter and the… novels), he easily falls into age old archetypes, particularly that of the mythic hero. Supporting this could easily be the subject of a thesis paper, but subject to say he meets the archetype as laid out by Joseph Campbell (The Hero With A Thousand Faces). When we first met young Harry, he was at a great disadvantage, not really fitting in with either the muggle or wizarding world. Since then he has received great aid as he has passed through levels of increasing challenge, leading up to his pending final battle with Voldemort, at which point his victory will have a substantial effect on both of Harry’s worlds (wizard and muggle). His destiny through that archetype is to return the victor and reintegrate into society, although fiction has treated that reintegration as a whole new challenge for young heroes like Harry (look at Ender Wiggen in Ender’s Game). To be a tragic hero, Harry would need to possess a tragic flaw which would lead to his undoing. The primary argument for Harry’s death is the notion that his scar may be a horcrux, but as Harry cannot be responsible for its existence, it’s hard to consider that a tragic flaw. Harry is not destined to die, but to return home the victor.
This destiny is reinforced in the rules established by the novel itself. Sybil Trelawny’s prophesy states, “either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives.” This means if Harry dies, Voldemort wins. For Harry to defeat evil and complete the story of these novels, he must defeat Voldemort. Considering the novels have slowly eliminated anyone else who could remove Voldemort from power should Harry fail, Rowling cannot eliminate Harry and stay true to her prophecy without making Voldemort all-powerful by the end. Again, his destiny is to win and live.
Finally: a look behind the curtain. Fans have gotten far too attached to the boy wizard for Rowling to consider killing off her central character at the end of the journey. Instead her choice is clear: follow the archetype for the mythic hero and have Harry reintegrate with the wizarding community. His path from that point still won’t be easy. He will be paid tribute to by some and despised by others, much like it has been on every step of his journey. His reintegration is an interesting concept enough that Rowling might be interested in giving fans a look at that in another novel… the eighth book she has hinted at the possibility of, even in recent months. You can’t write another book about a hero who is dead, so Rowling has undone her own attempt at secrecy: Harry Potter will not lose, and will not die.
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Should Harry Potter Die?