mary_j_59 (mary_j_59) wrote,

My Final thoughts on Deathly Hallows and the Potterverse

I am now unlocking this essay, having done a brief rewrite, but I'm sure I'll need to do another rewrite. Have I toned it down enough? Does it make sense to you? I have added a brief list of citations, but need to get exact info for some of them, particularly websites. Looking forward to your responses! I did try to outline it, but, at this stage, I'm not sure that makes sense, either. Otherwise -
Is it still too harsh? Too religious, for you atheists? (But the religious symbolism is right there in the book and bothered me mightily!)
Does it lose you anywhere?
Does it make sense? Or are there places where i seem to have skipped a step?
I'm really shocked at how harsh this ended up being, actually. But there were so many things that bothered me so much about DH, they have almost killed the beautiful things for me. And I still don't understand what *story* Rowling thought she was telling. It's seriously lacking in substance, for all its length. (Unless she meant the ironies I was spotting?)
Anyway:Title My final thoughts on Deathly Hallows
genreessay, about 8,000 words
rating, warnings, etc None, g-rated, but I do examine the religious symbols in DH. My thanks to Sigune and Nemesister for their criticism of my first draft - also to Sigune and The bitter word for inspiring me to write it in the first place.

The essay follows the cut:

My final thoughts on DH, and Harry Potter generally

This is a second attempt to explain my dissatisfaction with DH, because my first got altogether too long and rambling (rather like the book!) It's an informal discussion rather than a formal essay. But I will try to provide quotes and citations wherever I can.

I'd like to start by thanking Sigune and The Bitter Word, whose essays inspired this one. Like them, I was unhappy with "Deathly Hallows" - unhappy enough to have gotten rid of all my Potter books, actually. And I, too, did not like how Rowling treated Severus Snape. But I wasn't, as I came to think of it, quite as unhappy with her treatment as they were, and a part of this essay will be an exploration of the positive aspects of his character in DH. Still, in spite of those postive aspects, I think there is a lot to be frustrated about in Rowling's book. In outline form, I have problems with:

A. The story Rowling tells, including her plot, themes and characterizations, and,
B. The way she tells the story, including plot structure, symbolism and language.

As I look at all these aspects of the story, and especially at how she depicted Severus Snape and what she seems to have intended in that depiction, it seems to me that Rowling is too desperately in control of her material, so that she won't let her characters develop. As Sigune says, they are merely devices to advance the plot. Her story is plot-driven, not character-driven, which is bound to be frustrating to readers who love the characters and analyze their motives as if they were real people, not figures in a morality play. I realize, from discussions on other boards, that some Harry fans, and even some Snape fans, do love DH. The Snape fans seem to love it because Severus Snape is conclusively proven a hero. To me, that's perhaps the most positive aspect of the book, but it is undercut by the way Rowling handles plot and character.

I. Plot:
First, what is Rowling's story, anyway? There isn't one clear answer. One young woman I know has suggested it is a fairy tale. In that reading, Harry is the prince (in most fairy tales, the slighted and ignored younger brother) who defeats the evil sorcerer and marries the princess he's rescued from the dungeon. On the surface, this seems a very possible reading, but when one looks more deeply, it starts to fall apart.

For one thing, initial appearances to the contrary, Harry is not a slighted and ignored outsider. It's true that he is abused and ignored by the Dursleys, and is an outsider in the Muggle world, but in the Wizarding World, he actually is - as Severus Snape says - a celebrity. For the first few books, the narrator even takes pains, at the start of every story, to remind readers that Harry is not an ordinary boy. This pattern - an extraordinary, gifted, 'child of prophesy' plunged into adventures not of his choosing - is in a couple of ways the exact opposite of a fairy tale. G.K. Chesterton says fairy tales typically describe ordinary young people who choose to adventure in an extraordinary realm. Harry is rather passive - he is initially chosen, rather than choosing -, and he is emphatically not ordinary. He is a boy set apart, both in the Wizarding World and in our own.

However, although Chesterton may be right about certain types of fairy tales, there are other types, and other ways of looking at them. Fairy tales deal with archetypes, and it's possible Rowling does want us to see Harry as an archetype of the virtuous young hero, who succeeds because of his quick wit, kindness, and the goodness of his heart. Such a hero may seem quite static and passive, since he is "born good" and his essential nature never changes. Is this a good description of Harry? Cardgirl, on her livejournal, argues eloquently and persuasively that it is not. Harry, who starts out a rather nice and kind (and definitely brave) little boy, does actually change and grow - in the wrong direction. In the last two books, he is shown to be a liar, a cheat, a bully, a manipulator, and, most shockingly, a torturer, all with no consequences to him. I find that extremely problematic, and certainly can't view him as a model of virtue.

So, although it certainly has fairy tale elements, the story of Harry Potter isn't really a fairy tale.
Is it a Christian allegory, as some have argued? I don't think so. Certainly, Christian themes and symbols are present in the books. In fact, the symbolism of Harry's apparent death and resurrection is glaringly obvious. But it's also rather muddled. As others have said, whom would Jesus torture? Harry, in DH and HBP, is such an imperfect young man that I find the thought of him as a Christ symbol offensive. No one explains how and why DH as a Christian allegory is muddled and offensive better than Dan Hemmens and Cardgirl. Rather than trying to repeat their arguments, I'll simply link to them below. I'd like to add that I'm bothered by the theme of predestination running through the books and by the way Harry is (apparently) set above all the other people who make sacrifices to defeat evil. To a Christian of my tradition(1), everyone, without exception, is - potentially, at least - a figure of Christ. So what makes Harry so special? Why is he alone celebrated as a Christ figure when Snape, for example, who sacrifices so much more, is not?

II. Characters - Snape and Harry

A. What does Rowling show us, and what does she tell us?

Snape has consistently been one of the most complex and intriguing characters in these books. He's particularly fascinating because he is (it seems) good without being particularly nice, and because he alone is the model of the repentant sinner - a man who has made very grave mistakes in his youth, but who spends his entire adult life trying to atone for those youthful errors. Sigune argues that, in DH, Rowling merely treats him as a plot device - so much so that he actually loses some of the complexity he had in earlier books. And I do believe Sigune is right; that is Rowling's intention. She seems to want to cut Severus down to size. But does she succeed? I am not so sure.

Many of the problems with Rowling's book are caused by her failure to show us what she expects us to see. Instead, what she shows us is very often at odds with what she tells us. Rowling's problem with showing, rather than telling, is obvious from the start of "The Prince's Tale". As I said in my first comment on DH,

Though I was expecting the unrequited love for Lily, it disturbed me that it was Snape’s only motivation for his actions, because Rowling apparently tried to make a creepy pseudo-Heathcliff thing out of it (Heathcliff is not my favorite character by any means, and I love Snape.) The little boy could not be presented as a socially awkward outcast with a crush on a pretty, talented little girl - which, honestly, if you simply looked at the kids’ actions and dialogue, was the way he came across. No, she had to throw in adjectives emphasizing little Sev as greedy, sneaky, - already obsessed at the age of nine. This, even though it is *absolutely normal* for children of 9 or 10 to have crushes, and though Severus did *not* come across as a nasty little boy. But Rowling had to throw in those adjectives. It also bothered me that, though these were his memories, we never got inside his head to learn what the sorting hat said to him, for example. Heck, we don’t even know who loved him! It was certainly not Dumbledore, as I had guessed, and Lily didn’t ever seem even like a close friend - he was crazy about her, not the other way around. (

As I said, Little Sev is described as greedy and sneaky, when, just looking at his actions and words, one could just as easily find him needy, socially awkward, angry and insecure. It's clear that Rowling is trying to steer her readers' reactions by her use of adjectives. Had she left them out, or not used them at all, how would those readers react? Wouldn't they feel great sympathy for Sev, in spite of his awkwardness and aggressiveness? Instead, thanks to these adjectives, some may see the little boy as a budding stalker - perhaps even a junior Tom Riddle, who knowingly uses his magic to hurt and dominate and then lies about it. Try re-reading this scene while ignoring the adjectives, and you get a very different picture. This is a child with a great desire for love and friendship and no understanding of how to reach for it. He is no Tom Riddle, even though Rowling apparently means us to think he is initially. The difference between what she shows ( a severely neglected, lonely, and socially awkward child) and what she tells us to think (greedy, sneaky) is jarring.

B. Snape's patronus, and his love for Lily - what do they really indicate?

1. As Anne Arthur points out, Snape and Lily are clearly modeled after Dante and Beatrice, not just Heathcliff and Cathy. Lily is Sev's ideal, just as Beatrice is Dante's. In order to live up to his ideal, the young man (Severus or Dante or Lancelot or Gawain) works hard at becoming better than he is. His good and brave deeds become offerings to his love, and, by focusing on something (or someone) who is 'above' and unattainable, he gradually learns to let go of his needs and to simply give without any thought of reward in this life. In this way, the lesser, earthly love leads to a heavenly love, and to redemption. Dante was, of course, Catholic, but the Protestant writer C.S. Lewis, as we'll see later, also made use of this model of virtue. Indeed, courtly love (most famously, perhaps, the love of Lancelot for Guinivere) is part of Western mythology. It's immediately familiar to many readers, regardless of their background, and it's a safe guess that the knight who bravely serves his lady is a positive figure for most of us, and maybe even a role model for romantic youngsters. Severus is Lily's knight. This is so clear that it's hard to believe Rowling could simply be presenting their relationship negatively.

2. The patronus. The most glaringly obvious thing to note about Snape's patronus is that, unlike the man himself, it is very beautiful. My sister said, that, to her, the doe patronus proved that Severus's love for Lily was pure and idealistic, for a twisted, selfish love could never give rise to anything so lovely. I agree with her.

A second thing to note is that, in marked contrast to Harry's stag and Dumbledore's phoenix, which are male, Severus's patronus is a female animal. It strikes me that, in addition to being his ideal, Lily (whose patronus was apparently also a doe) is Severus's anima. According to John Layard, a Jungian analyst, the anima, which is connected to the unconscious, is a representation of the soul. The anima, representing deep wisdom, is always of the opposite sex, while the shadow is of the same sex as the person concerned. Although it's important to accept one's shadow (which, Layard says, in later stages of maturity can act as a guide), it is equally necessary to recognize the anima and accept its guidance. I find it impressive that Snape can do so.

In Rowling's work, as my sister reminded me, a patronus of the opposite sex may not be unique to Snape. Tonks, too, may have one in HBP, when she is suffering from unrequited love for Remus Lupin. So, to Rowling, a patronus that reflects the beloved is, perhaps, not uncommon. It is fairly obvious that she wasn't thinking of Jung when she gave Snape a doe patronus.

But, as my sister also said, Rowling's books at times seem to be wiser than she is herself. And among the Gryffindors, where the sex of a Patronus is known, it is invariably the same as that of the caster. To my mind, this points to a deep imbalance in Gryffindor house itself, just as the conflict between Gryffindor and Slytherin points to an imbalance in the school. For all his outward imperfections, Severus's Patronus indicates a potential for wholeness and wisdom in him which few, if any, other characters possess.

The doe is also an outward sign of a deep inner gentleness. And we see, in one of their final conversations, that Severus is *not* as ruthless as Dumbledore. It's a conversation that's been quoted often - the one that begins, "You have used me," and it's one of only three times in this very patchy, unsatisfying book that I wanted to stand up and cheer (the others were when Harry calls out Remus on abandoning his family and when Neville kills Nagini.) Severus's reaction to hearing that the boy he has been protecting for years is marked to die is entirely human and, I think, entirely admirable. I also think Dumbledore knows exactly what he is doing when he tweaks the young man about having come to love Harry, after all. By asking this question, he pushes Severus away from his outrage and back into obedience; it might almost be a deliberate manipulation. Compared to Dumbledore's coldness, Snape's open emotion makes him very sympathetic here, at least to me.

Again, Rowling *tells* us (once or twice in the narrator's voice, and several times in interviews) that Snape is a bully and a sadist. This simply does not match what she shows us, either in the man's actions or in his conversations with Dumbledore and Lily. I've said this before, but it is worth repeating: we never, ever, see Snape attack anyone physically except in self defense or when very severely provoked. And there is usually some provocation for his verbal attacks, as well. I personally hate the way he treats Neville, and don't find it defensible at all in a couple of instances, but it generally (not always) falls short of bullying. In fact, we actually see Severus protecting Neville on at least three occasions (the duelling club, the end of OOTP in Umbridge's office, and the detention in DH). As to sadism, Rowling is well able to write sadistic characters. She shows us at least three of them: Bellatrix, Voldemort, and Umbridge. All three take obvious pleasure in physical cruelty. I cannot think of a single instance when we see the same with Severus Snape. Finally, there are those conversations I mentioned. As I've already said, I find Dumbledore's tone toward Snape dreadful. He criticizes him for doing the very job he has asked him to do, condemns him (once again) for being a Death Eater, and fails to give him information that might, possibly, have saved his life later on. Then there is this question: "How many man and women have you seen die?'

And Snape answers, "Lately, only those I could not save." (DH, page 687)

Seriously, whom do you like better here?! But notice what the headmaster does not ask. He does not ask, "How many men and women have you killed?" Nor does he ask, "How many have you tortured, how many have you harmed, how many have you betrayed ?"- only, "how many have you seen die?" I wonder what Dumbledore himself might answer, if he were asked the same question.

Similarly, when they are arguing as teens, Lily criticizes Severus for what his friends have done to an innocent girl. There is no doubt those friends, Avery and Mulciber, are bullies, bad friends to Severus, and bad kids generally. They do not deserve his loyalty, and it's unfortunate that they have it; one can understand why Lily is frustrated. But, in a very key conversation, she doesn't accuse him of bullying himself - only of standing by and letting his friends bully, which is exactly what Remus Lupin does just a little later. Do we see Remus as a bully? Perhaps we should - but do we?

In these conversations, Rowling could have proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Severus Snape himself is a habitual bully, a sadist, a criminal and a murderer. But she proves no such thing. On the contrary, what she actually shows us is a loyal friend to Avery and Mulciber (unfortunately) and a loyal servant to Dumbledore. In fact, along with the deep gentleness, one of Snape's salient qualities is clearly loyalty. It seems to me that there is no one in these books who really merits the staunch-heartedness Snape shows them. For not one of them offers him anything like the same loyalty - not even Lily, and certainly not Voldemort, Dumbledore, or Harry. He ultimately does a great deal more for all of them than any of them ever do for him.

In saying this, I don't mean to glorify Severus Snape or minimize his youthful sins. He was very wrong to join the Death Eaters, and, if he hadn't told Voldemort about the prophecy, he would not have endangered Lily. He actually is partly responsible for her death. But here's the thing -- he is aware of this, and lives his entire adult life in expiation. As far as I can remember, no one else in the book so much as apologizes for their bad actions - look again at Harry's completely unnecessary use of an Unforgivable curse in DH. He is not sorry and is never called to account for it. It almost seems that, because Harry is the hero, everything he does is right. And Snape?

When you look closely, Rowling is remarkably cruel to this character. It isn't just that she kills him off; she also gives him a brutal and needless death in the place of his worst nightmares. There is no evidence in the text that anyone ever loves him; he receives no honors in life, has no friends who do not also use him, and he is called a coward, a traitor and a murderer by his closest colleagues - all false accusations, but he dies without being vindicated. As far as I can remember, he is never so much as given a word of thanks that is not also a put-down or a dismissal. It makes one wonder how much suffering is enough for him to achieve redemption. For, in the text, unlike Dumbledore, Snape is not definitely redeemed. We never see him in the afterlife, and, although, nineteen years after the fact, Harry can find it in his heart to call him brave, he never recognizes Snape's integral goodness or gentleness. It's as if, in Rowling's eyes, there is nothing Severus Snape can ever do to overcome simply being who he is. A confirmation of this judgment is offered by James Potter, who torments Snape simply for existing - and who is *not* punished for his bullying in the story. By the way, Rowling has claimed in interviews that Snape cannot be a hero because he is a bully to the end of his life. As I've said above, there is very little textual evidence that Severus Snape is, or ever was, a bully. James Potter, on the other hand, bullies Snape verbally - without provocation - almost the minute he meets him, and bullies him physically throughout their years at Hogwarts. He dies, as far as we know, without ever repenting this behavior. Yet I don't think Rowling would deny his heroism in combating Voldemort, as she denies Snape's.

C. Snape and Harry - the compare and contrast - what does it mean?

I am also left wondering what she means by the comparisons to Harry that run through the books, and become blatant in the last one. Like Harry, Severus is shown as a severely neglected child,. In fact, it's arguable that, in young Sev's case, the neglect is so severe it shades into psychological (if not physical) abuse. To let a bright, sensitive and proud little boy run the streets in women's clothing is actually abusive, especially in a community as macho and conservative as working-class Northern England. Of course, the Dursleys are also psychologically abusive to Harry, but they and their actions are so cartoonish, and Harry seems so intact, that it's hard to take their abuse seriously. In contrast, young Sev's situation seems dreadfully real. Nevertheless, both are shown as undersized, skinny children with ill-fitting clothing and messy dark hair. We're clearly meant to see that their early lives have been very similar.

Just as the two boys have unhappy home lives, they also have similar experiences when they start school. The conversation between James, Lily and Sev on the train echoes that between Ron, Draco and Harry almost exactly. I had thought that, by subtly - and then more and more overtly - emphasizing the similarities between these characters, Rowling was leading us to conclude that Harry and Severus were spiritually brothers. That made me think, in turn, that. even though Harry's physical struggle/quest was his need to defeat Voldemort, his true inner journey would be to reconcile with Snape. After all, for the first six books, Voldemort is barely present most of the time. Snape is quite definitely present, and as definitely antagonistic to Harry, throughout the story. But his surface hostility masks his helpfulness; by the end of the sixth book, it was quite clear to me that no one had taught Harry more, been more honest with him, and risked more to protect him, than Severus Snape. One of the reasons I am extremely disappointed with DH is that the promised confrontation between the man and the boy never happened. There was no reconciliation, no redemption, and no forgiveness. So what on earth does Rowling mean by emphasizing the similarities between Snape and Harry?

I am afraid that her purpose may simply have been to emphasize how good and special Harry is. The contrast when the boys are sorted, along with what we learn about Harry's sorting in COS, makes me think so. As Dan Hemmens points out in his fine essay, Dumbledore says to Harry, who is distressed that the Sorting Hat still thinks he would have made a good Slytherin, "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." (COS page 333) Notice that verb; Dumbledore says 'show', not 'make'. In his book "Mere Christianity", C.S. Lewis speaks of choice quite differently. He says, ". . .every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. . .all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into either a heavenly creature or a hellish creature. . ." (Mere Christianity, page 92). In other words, our choices MAKE us good people or bad people - and, if we have made wrong choices, although we cannot undo them, we can still go back, try to fix the harm we have caused and then make better choices in the future. That is the definition of repentance, which is Severus Snape's pattern of behavior through the books. He tries hard, it seems, to act on principle, with Lily as his guiding angel, and, if he sometimes falls short, (as on the few occasions he actually does bully Harry, Hermione or Neville in class), he never ceases trying to live up to his ideal. Harry, on the other hand, seems to act on instinct. Although some of the acts that result (such as torturing Amycus, or nearly killing Draco Malfoy) are wrong or have bad results, Harry is not impacted, because (it seems) he is born good. Unlike the scheming, cold-eyed Slytherin Snape, Harry means well, so everything he does is good by definition. After all, unlike Snape, Harry chose to stay with his friend Ron and be sorted into Gryffindor. Snape chose Slytherin, which a truly good person would not have done. Or did he?

Because, for all the similarities in the way these two boys are presented, there are some major differences. Harry is completely ignorant of the Wizarding World until his 11th birthday, while young Sev knows all about it, and takes pride in educating Lily. When he does learn about his birthright, Harry is told explicitly that his parents were in Gryffindor and (though this is actually not true) that (find quote) every evil wizard was in Slytherin. As I 've said before, Harry is quite thoroughly prejudiced against Slytherin house by the time he arrives at Hogwarts. Young Severus is as firmly prejudiced in favor of that house. We don't know why - perhaps his mother was in Slytherin, after all, and the little boy wants to please her by sorting into her old house. Frustratingly, other than seeing that he's extremely neglected and hearing that his parents argue all the time, we learn nothing at all of young Severus's home life. In particular, we don't learn why his mother, who apparently teaches him racism - either by words or by the life her Muggle husband leads her, or both - deigned to marry that Muggle husband in the first place. Then, Harry's enemy, Draco, is sorted into Slytherin. Sev's enemy, James, is sorted into Gryffindor. Finally, we know the sorting hat wants to put Harry into Slytherin, but we never find out whether it offers Sev the choice to go into Gryffindor. All we know is that it makes up its mind about him quickly. So we can't say simply, "Oh, Harry chose to stay with his friend Ron, and Sev abandoned his friend Lily." I think Rowling means us to conclude that, had Snape really cared for Lily, his friendship would have taken precedence over his ambition and anger, and he would have been sorted into Gryffindor, with her, rather than with the evil Slytherins. But, based on what she has shown us, this isn't a foregone conclusion. The boys' stories simply are not exactly parallel.

In any case, why should it be that Slytherin = evil while Gryffindor = good? As I said before, if you look objectively at James and Severus, James is the worse bully and does less for the 'good' side. One of the things that shocks and puzzles me about the dreadful epilogue is the names of Harry's children. Given what we discover about both James and Albus in DH, I can't imagine why Harry should name any child of his after either of them. In fact, it's very hard for me to accept that Harry can forgive Albus Dumbledore as readily as he does. The headmaster, far from being a loving guide and mentor, is a cruel, deceitful and callous manipulator. In a way, he is actually a coward. Rather than tell Harry that he (Harry) is a horcrux, he withholds that very essential information, asking that Severus tell Harry the truth only when all the horcruxes but Nagini have been destroyed. It's as if he doesn't trust Harry to go through with the horcrux hunt with full information. He also fails to tell Harry how to destroy the horcruxes, and does not tell either the boy or the young man anything at all about the Deathly Hallows. In this way, he sets up not only Harry, but also Severus, to die. Why does he do this? Had Dumbledore given Snape more information, his death would have been completely avoidable. IMO Harry, too, deserves a great deal more honesty and respect than Dumbledore actually gives him. All I can conclude from Dumbledore's behavior is that he does not trust either Snape or Harry enough to be fully honest with them. And a failure to trust is a failure to love. As I think of Dumbledore's callous discarding of Snape, I am reminded of another wise old man who was not as wise as he believed himself to be. "I sent my son out, unthanked, unblessed, into needless peril, and now he lies here with poison in his veins." (Return of the King, page 100) Denethor, steward of Gondor, may be blinded by pride and despair, but at least he loves his son. Both Harry and Severus look up to Dumbledore as a father, and, based on how he treats them, he does not seem to love them at all. Yet Harry accepts the need for his own death almost instantly and has no reproaches for Dumbledore when they meet in the afterlife. I cannot remember that Albus ever apologizes to either Harry or Severus, as he ought to do. Harry is apparently so good and loving that no apology is needed. And Severus, it seems, never deserves one.

For, in Deathly Hallows, Rowling apparently tries to diminish Snape's character as much as she can. Many of us have surmised that, unpleasant man though he seems, Severus Snape was at least a good head of Slytherin House and genuinely fond of Draco Malfoy. I also assumed that Snape's blocking of Harry's attempted cruciatus curse at the end of HBP was in part an effort to protect the boy, whose soul had to be whole and pure if he was to defeat Voldemort. In DH, Rowling seems to go out of her way to disprove these theories. Let me return to Harry's torture of Amycus Carrow. Although Professor McGonagall may initially be shocked, she almost instantly validates his act by performing a completely unnecessary Unforgivable Curse herself. And, although Unforgivable Curses are supposed to damage the soul, Harry's soul apparently remains whole and pure. So, when he is jeering at the boy for being unable to complete "cruciatus", it seems Snape is not protecting Harry at all. He's just mocking him. At least, this is the only justification I can see for including the torture scene. Far from saying something negative about Harry's character, Rowling seems to be criticizing Snape's.

And then there is the scene in which Dumbledore learns that Draco Malfoy has been commanded to kill him. He tells Snape that he must perform the murder rather than Draco, and here is what follows:

"If you don't mind dying," said Snape roughly, "why not let Draco do it?"

"That boy's soul is not yet so damaged," said Dumbledore. "I would not have it ripped apart
on my account.

"And my soul, Dumbledore? Mine?" (DH, page 683)

To a casual reader, it seems obvious that Severus Snape doesn't care about Draco at all. He would apparently rather see the boy's soul damaged than protect him by taking on his task. Some readers have cited this scene as an example of Snape's selfishness. And, indeed, it's possible to read the book to the end and come to the conclusion that Severus Snape never truly repented his past and was never redeemed. This (as I've said before) is one of my problems with the book. But other readings are possible.

First, when Severus says this to Dumbledore, what is he really asking for? Obviously, he does not want the headmaster to accept his death, and he certainly does not want to be the one to kill him. In addition, he is asking for confirmation that Dumbledore loves and values *him* as much as Draco. This is an undercurrent I've noticed in the books at least from POA onward. Snape values Dumbledore's trust very highly; he becomes agitated when the headmaster ignores him or is critical of him. It seems he really does look up to the older man as to a father. This brings me to my second point.

I'm afraid that what leapt into my head as I considered Snape and his role in the books is a parable from the New Testament. My apologies - I am not proselytizing, really; it's just a very apposite story. "A man had two sons. He went and said to the first, 'My boy, go and work in the vineyard today.' He answered, 'I will not go,' but afterwards thought better of it and went. The man then went and said the same thing to the second, who answered, 'Certainly, sir,' but did not go. Which of the two did the father's will?" (New Jerusalem Bible, Matthew 21:28) In his argument with Dumbledore here, and his later obedience, Snape is the first son in this story. In that case, he is redeemed. It does seem mean spirited of Rowling not to give his many fans the consolation of reading of his vindication in the text itself.

D. Other problems with characterizations - lack of closure and consequences:

But Snape fans are not the only readers who have cause to be unhappy with this book, and therefore with the series as a whole. Another character I, for one, liked, is Remus Lupin. Although I thought it was right that Harry castigated him for his cowardice in abandoning his pregnant wife, it still made me very sad that both he and Tonks died 'off screen' in the final battle. A young woman I know was equally upset by Fred's death. Now, it's true that DH is in part the story of a war, and that random, meaningless death is part of what makes war so terrible. But readers who have loved characters and have followed them for several years deserve a chance to mourn them, and to see them mourned, in the story itself. That the deaths are random and shocking may be appropriate; that they are dismissed in a sentence or two and seem to have no impact on the main characters is not appropriate at all.

II. Plot and symbolism, and the book's apparent meaning:

This brings me to the problems I had with the book's plotting and structure. As I've said elsewhere, the book had a color-by-numbers feel to me; unlike the first five books, it was actually boring at times. At other times, it was riveting, and there were flashes of brilliance along with a good deal of inventiveness, but the pacing was off, as far as I was concerned. A large part of the reason is the narrative technique that worked so brilliantly for Rowling in her earlier books. We are trapped in Harry's viewpoint, and therefore cannot know what he does not know. And, even though he is now 17 and (supposedly) adult, there is a great deal that Harry doesn't know. For a large part of the book, we are stuck in a tent with Harry, trying to avoid Voldemort's agents and to figure out where the horcruxes are. And the kids have no idea where to start looking. It's excruciating. In the meantime, we learn that Snape has been appointed headmaster of Hogwarts. We later learn that Neville Longbottom has re-formed Dumbledore's army and is leading a rebellion against the Death Eaters. Snape, for his part, must appear to be a loyal Death Eater while actually protecting the students. The conflict between Severus and Neville would have been riveting to read about; I would especially have appreciated learning something about Severus's struggles from his point of view. There is another book there, and one that would have been far more gripping than the one we were actually given.

But Rowling has a facility for avoiding drama. She spends little, if any, time on showing growth and change in her characters and exploring their motivations. This is one reason I was so disappointed at the lack of any real confrontation between Harry and Snape. The books are supposedly Harry's "hero's journey", and a part of his journey to spiritual and psychological maturity should have been his acceptance and forgiveness of Snape, who in many ways, far more than Voldemort, represents Harry's shadow. This does not happen during the course of the books, and we are told (again, told, rather than shown) about it only during the epilogue. But the conflict between the boy and the man actually *is* the story; Voldemort, in comparison, is only a side issue. To put it another way, the conflict between Harry and Snape is the plot, while that between Harry and Voldemort is only the physical action. Rowling simply fails to resolve her plot during the story itself. That Harry taunts Voldemort about Snape's true loyalties is unconvincing to me. For one thing, as livejournaler lebateleur points out, the revelation that Severus had loved Lily, and had protected Harry for Lily's sake, would only tend to make Harry hate Severus even more than he already does. It would take him awhile to appreciate who Snape really was and what he did for him. That we don't get to witness any of this process is profoundly unsatisfying to me.

Another, smaller example of Rowling's facility for avoiding drama: we are told that Hermione altered her parents' memories and sent them to Australia in order to keep them safe from Voldemort. This merits a chapter of its own, not just a couple of mentions. Did Hermione act with her parents' permission, or did she simply confund and/or obliviate them without their knowledge, or perhaps even against their will? If the three discussed the situation beforehand, what must their conversation have been like? To have witnessed this drama would have told us something about Hermione and also about the conflict between the ordinary world and the wizarding world - and what attitudes Hermione has absorbed by living in the wizarding world almost exclusively for seven years. These are not unimportant questions; I'll be coming back to them shortly, but I do realize that Hermione, though a major character, is not one of the protagonists of this story. Her story, in the end, is not as important as Harry's. Still, the questions raised by what she does deserve more space and thought than Rowling gives them.

To get back to Harry, and the main plot, being trapped in his viewpoint means that all sorts of coincidences are necessary in order to show us what is happening elsewhere in the Wizarding World - for example, at Hogwarts. So we get a series of unlikely events, such as an overheard radio show, a chance encounter with another group of refugees, a stupid action (saying Voldemort's name aloud) that brings Death Eaters down on the trio, a bank robbery, a raid on the Ministry of Magic - and on it goes. As the hair raising adventures continue, readers may well grow more and more frustrated at what Harry doesn't know and what he has apparently never been told.

To give just one example, based on what we (finally) see in DH, isn't it likely that the reason people throughout the Wizarding World are terrified of speaking Voldemort's name is that doing so once had consequences? At eleven, when talking to Ron, Harry (who at that age really is a nice little boy) exclaims, "I'm not brave. I just didn't know you weren't supposed to say it," or words to that effect. Yet everyone implies Harry's willingness to say the name is a sign of great courage, and no one tells him *why* they think it's so brave. Even Severus, Sirius and Arthur, all of whom are notably more honest with Harry than most people, don't see fit to tell him this. Perhaps they think Dumbledore or Hermione has told him already. Dumbledore certainly should have - but he didn't. It's just ridiculous that Harry has no idea of the possible danger until he and his friends are captured by Death Eaters.

Then there is Rowling's heavy-handed symbolism. When the kids infiltrate the Ministry, they encounter a horrifying racist statue and rules reminiscent of the Nazi regime. This disturbs me, for reasons I'll come to shortly. But religious, as well as political, symbols abound. For example, only the sword of Gryffindor can destroy the horcruxes, because, thanks to Harry's heroism in the Chamber of Secrets, it has been impregnated with basilisk venom. Of course, that means that only a true Gryffindor can destroy the horcruxes; Slytherins need not apply, since it seems only Gryffindors can wield the sword - which must, furthermore, be given under conditions of "need and valour". Hmm. Don't forget, Gryffindor is the Lion's house, while Slytherin is the serpent's. And here I had thought that Snape could be happily AKing horcruxes in order to drive the soul fragments out of them, thereby making his knowledge of Dark Arts useful. After all, that is what an AK does - it drives the soul out of a body - or, one presumes, an object. I also really liked Jodel's theory that the kids could return to the Ministry of Magic and pitch the horcruxes, one by one, through the veil in the death chamber. Alas, it was not to be. It seems only the trio can destroy the evil objects, and then only if they have the sword. This seems altogether too symbolic to me - rather like the statue of Harry and his parents at Godric's Hollow at Christmastime, which annoys me mightily by evoking Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

But then Rowling breaks her own rules, and has Ron speaking parseltongue so that he and Hermione can gather basilisk fangs from the chamber and destroy a Horcrux on their own, while Crabbe - the worst student in the school - destroys another by accident as he sets a fire using Dark Magic. So Snape could have helped, after all; basilisk venom is not the only tool one can use? But Rowling will not allow him to be so useful. No matter how much sense it would make; no matter how it might further her plot, Severus Snape is not to be allowed to help Harry openly. So much for house unity. If any Slytherin helps in the quest to defeat Voldemort, it must be by accident, for selfish reasons, or else covertly or by obligation.

But most annoying of all, as far as plot contrivances go, are the Deathly Hallows themselves. The story in which they are introduced is, it seems, as well-known in the Wizarding World as Cinderella or Little Red Riding Hood are in ours. Yet, in nearly seven years, Harry has not even heard a hint of it. Worse yet, he actually owns one of the Hallows, which has been handed down in his family for generations. Yet, there is no hint anywhere in the earlier books that this magical object - Harry's invisibility cloak - is different in any way from other invisibility cloaks. Indeed, both Severus and Albus seem to be able to sense Harry's presence under the cloak, and we know Mad-Eye Moody's magical eye can see right through it. As for the other two magical objects, they are never referred to at all until we are more than halfway through the seventh book. This seems like cheating.

As far as the physical (not emotional) action of the plot goes, the Hallows just aren't that important. It matters far more that the horcruxes be destroyed. In fact, we could easily have had Dumbledore's imperfections; his manipulation and deception of Harry and Severus, his spiritual sons; and his friendship with Gellert Grindelwald, without ever introducing the Hallows. They, like the horcruxes, are in the end just another way to cheat death, which ultimately can't be cheated. So why are they here?

I really think the cloak was, in the beginning, just a neat and fun magical object. It serves to let Harry and his friends safely explore forbidden territories. As for the other two-
The resurrection stone exists so that Harry can encounter his loved ones as he goes to his death.
The elder wand exists so that Severus Snape can find himself in a death trap.

I resent all that nonsense about the elder wand and rules of wand ownership. As Sigune says in her essay on DH, Dumbledore actually sets up Severus Snape's death by making him seem the master of the elder wand. There is no other way to read the story logically. And Snape, who to the bitter end does not know all the truth, is loyal unto death. Yet, in her interviews, Rowling has insisted he is not a hero, and, so far as I know, she still insists Dumbledore is the epitome of goodness. If she truly believes this, then she and I have very different ideas of goodness.

For, as I've said before, Snape is basically a gentle soul. As I have pointed out in an earlier essay, he's one of a tiny number of people in the Wizarding World who actually shows love for his enemies. He can also be surprisingly tolerant and forgiving. As, I think, lebaleteur points out, had Snape truly been the deeply horrible man Rowling insists he is, Peter Pettigrew - his beloved, Lily's, betrayer - would not have survived HBP. Snape takes obvious satisfaction in making the rat's life unpleasant in various small ways - that's true - but he does not torture or kill him. And he has good cause to. Perhaps he is again obeying Dumbledore, who insisted earlier that Peter's life debt to Harry would turn out to be an advantage, but, if that is the reason for Peter's survival, it again shows how loyal and obedient to Dumbledore Snape is, and how much he will sacrifice in order to help Harry.

Again, Harry as a Christ figure disturbs me because (1) there is a strong suggestion that he does not actually die at all. Harry, in the end, sacrifices nothing except a few moments of terror. He is very brave, and his desire to defeat Voldemort is very sincere, but there are many people in this saga who sacrifice more than he. (2) Also, I do not see any spiritual growth in Harry in the last two books. Christ on the cross said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." He said this about the people who were killing him and mocking him - his enemies. So far as I can remember, we see nothing like this from Harry.

But we do see it from another character. When Fudge, the Minister of Magic, comments on Snape's nasty cut in POA and asks if Sirius Black attacked him, Snape responds that the children did. Fudge is shocked, but Snape then says, "Black had bewitched them . . .They weren't responsible for their actions." (POA page 386). Lest we think Severus Snape too kind and forgiving, he also complains that Harry is spoiled by Dumbledore and that the children may have unwittingly helped Black to escape - but still, he does not think the children should be blamed when they did not know what they were doing. The three had knocked him unconscious and then left him to bleed on the florr of the shack, yet he does not blame them.

I couldn't help thinking of this scene because it is echoed in DH. There, too, the three friends walk away and leave Snape to bleed on the floor of the shack. They are the heroes; Harry, in particular, is the hero, so it seems it doesn't matter that he fails to even try to help his enemy. But that is not the behavior I would expect from a Christ figure.

And there a couple of other things to note about the idea of Harry as Christ. It isn't just (as Dan Hemmens so clearly points out) that Christ gave himself up to die as an act of love, while Harry does so as an act of vengeance. Christ also accepted a lonely, excruciating, criminal's death. Harry is initially surrounded by the shades of his loved ones, and then, when he comes back and fights Voldemort, by all his surviving friends and allies. Unlike Christ, he suffers no pain and no shame. There is no isolation. No one abandons him. No - the person who (apparently - I'm still in denial) dies a lonely, shameful criminal's death; the person who is isolated and scorned by his former colleagues; the person who struggles against his fate (as Christ did, in the garden of Gethsemane, and as Harry does not) and whose last act is one of love and obedience (for obedience is an aspect of love), is Severus Snape. To my mind, neither Severus nor Harry is really a Christ figure. Both are angry young men; both have too many flaws. But Severus comes closer than Harry does.

Those were my major problems with DH. I had a couple of more minor ones, which concern the Potterverse as a whole.

First, what is magic, anyway? And why do we care? In other series, such as LeGuin's, Duane's, Alexander's, or Tolkien's, it's quite clear what magic is and what effect it has on ordinary human beings. In both Tolkien and Alexander, the stories end with the end of magic; human beings (and hobbits) must now rely on their own gifts, strengths, and intelligences to live their lives in the world. In LeGuin's and Duane's worlds, magic is linked to language and creation. But it has clear rules and costs. In Duane's series, for example, in order to gain the power to fight entropy and chaos, wizards literally have to give up some part of their lives, and do not live as long as they otherwise would. In Tolkien, too, magical objects such as the ring contain a part of the life force of their maker, so that to destroy the object is also to destroy a part of the maker's life. In a way, all magical objects in Middle Earth would seem to be horcruxes. LeGuin is not so harsh, but her magic requires patience, discipline, learning, and constant observation - because there is an equilibrium, and if, by your magic, you disturb the equilibrium, it will adjust itself. Is there any equivalent discipline or balance in Rowling's world?

Not as far as I can see. Magic does seem to be connected to the will, and requires formulae to function, but there is no definition at all of the morality or discipline of magic. Or is there? Am I missing something? In Duane, wizards are (if, and only if, they choose to be) guardians of the universe, joining in the battle to preserve order and meaning, and the language of wizardry, being the language of making, is tied to astrophysics and quantum mechanics as well as religion and poetry. I love this! It is easy to see that, in their own ways, dancers and gardeners and teachers and others (cats, dogs, birds and fish as well) may be wizards, even if they don't speak the language of creation. For the ordinary people like these have their own dignity and their own roles to play. Not so in the Potterverse. The Wizarding World is isolated from the ordinary, Muggle, world, and Muggles cannot participate in the stuggle against evil at all. So what is magic? At first, I thought Rowling was using magic as a metaphor for creativity or imagination, but the Wizarding World she describes is so hidebound - in a way, so unimaginative - that I can't see that metaphor working. Nor can it be a metaphor for soul or spirit, unless we concede that Muggles do not have souls. As a Muggle, I'm reluctant to admit this. Finally, unlike Tolkien, Rowling does not seem to be using magic to make any sort of a statement on power and its tendency to corrupt. I cannot get a handle on what magic means to her, nor why the Wizarding World is so special.

For the world she describes is profoundly racist, fear-driven and corrupt. In fact, it is, for all practical purposes, an apartheid state. Wizards (who are an extreme minority among the general population of Muggles) seem to have a siege mentality and to look on Muggles with, at best, condescending amusement and, at worst, hatred. Such a world would tend to breed Dark Lords as a rotten log breeds fungus, and, indeed, the Wizarding World seems to have done exactly that. That's why I can only see the epilogue, and its final words, as chilling. "All was well," Harry thinks, and it sounds to me like hubris - the sort of hubris that's always punished in the classical tradition. All I could picture, when I thought about it, was another war starting up and little Albus Severus stuck in the middle of it, just like his father and both his namesakes. As Cardgirl says, based on what we actually see in the epilogue (Ron hexing a Muggle, the Slytherin/Gryffindor divide as strong as ever, the sense of stasis - even stagnation - others have mentioned), absolutely nothing has changed for the better. I'm left with the conviction that, in Rowling's world, as in Tolkien's and Lloyd Alexander's, magic is something humans ought not to have. But I'm not at all sure that this is a message Rowling intended to convey. In any case, I am very uncomfortable at the idea that one can use an unreformed apartheid state like the Wizarding World to criticize racism.

There is just one more thing that strikes me about Rowling and her intent. I have read that, for her next project, she intends to write a mystery novel; she also claims Dorothy Sayers as one of her inspirations. I've loved Sayers' novels since I was a teenager; in two of them, Lord Peter and his wife, the writer Harriet Vane, discuss her vocation to write mystery novels. It strikes Harriet as a frivolous calling compared to his, but Peter argues against this view. The mystery novel, he says, offers its readers a dream of justice which they might not otherwise see in the real world. In that way, it can teach its readers morality and be a comfort to them, as well as a guide.

But, in my view at least, Rowling has done no such thing in her Harry Potter stories. There is no justice in them - not even a dream of one - and no mercy. At least, Severus Snape receives none of these things. There is no inner journey; no grappling with ethical dilemmas, and no real resolution of the festering problems of racism in the Wizarding World. (Again, Rowling has *told* her readers that her young heroes have done a lot to solve these problems. She has not shown us anything of the sort in the story itself.) To me, at least, these stories are ultimately shallow and morally and emotionally empty. I wish I did not feel this way - Rowling has a real gift for creating characters readers care about - but I do. If she writes a detective story, I will not be reading it. For, unless she manages to infuse it with some sort of justice and morality, it won't be worth reading.

Mary Johnson, October, 2007

Informal list of sources (so far - exact citations to follow)


The Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, especially
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Layard, John, The Lady of the Hare: A Study in the Healing Power of Dreams

Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity

The New Jerusalem Bible

Sayers, Dorothy, and Paton Walsh, Jill Thrones, Dominations

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Return of the King

Anne Arthur, "Virtue and the Viper" Scribbulus, Issue 19, October, 2007

Dan Hemmens, "Harry Potter and the Doctrine of the Calvinists", Ferretbrain, September, 2007.

Sigune's response to DH on her livejournal

Cardigirl, "the moral?? Journey of Harry Potter" on her livejournal:

The bitter word's, on hers

lebateleur's livejournal response:
Tags: deathly hallows, harry potter, literary criticism, severus snape

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