by Eric Holleman
An essay for your review. “Mythology, Voldemort, Love, and the final two books”
Harry Potter is a true hero in both the literary and mythological senses. In fact, HP is an excellent example of myth in the modern age. Harry can proudly take his place as “the hero with a thousand faces” in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Naturally, many parallels exist with other hero stories. One of the most recent of the modern myths is Star Wars. Looking at one may help us in understanding the other. Consider:
- Both are about an orphaned boy. Harry Potter lives with the unloving Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. Luke Skywalker lived with the not unloving, but tough Uncle Lars and Aunt Beru.
- The father of each hero was “killed” by the villain. This literally true for Harry, and figuratively for Luke.
- Each hero was mentored by a gentle, wise, old man (at times seemingly omnipotent and omniscient) in the ways of “magic”.
- Each of the villains was the prize pupil of the corresponding hero’s mentor.
- Harry and Luke must both master their passions in order to access their full potentials.
We will return to this parallel later. Let us get on with the business of figuring out the course of the last two books, and how Harry can defeat Lord Voldemort. Let us assume that it is not the case that part of Voldemort lives in Harry. This is an excellent theory, and our proposed solution might be made to work in that case as well, but it is extraneous here.
There appear to be three ways to kill Voldemort in keeping with the characters and scenario that Rowling has given us, hinted at, etc. They are: the cheap way, the easy way, and the hard way. The cheap way is for someone to push Voldemort through the curtained arch in the Department of Mysteries. This would bypass standard death dealing techniques and Voldemort’s ability to avoid death. In addition to being anticlimactic, however, it doesn’t fit with the quality of the writing and planning that Rowling has put into the books. Also, this is simply not a heroic ending.
The easy way is for Harry to take Voldemort through the curtain. While this is a heroic way of doing it, it is more suited to a tragic hero. Since Harry is a true hero, this would be bad from a literary point of view. In addition, it would not be well received by the hordes of fans.
The hard way is the one that has been suggested in the excellent essays which prompted these musings. Harry must use Love to defeat Voldemort. Here we mean love in the sense of agape (ultimate love, a Hebrew word to describe God’s love), rather than eros (physcial love), though the latter should have its place. Others have given the reasons this should be so, and we will not repeat them here, but we will add some further thoughts.
Harry’s anger and frustration have been rising throughout the series until, by OotP, that is all there is; any moment of happiness or even temperament is short-lived. He cannot love Cho, and even his friends constantly seem to have an irritating effect on him. The journey of a true hero involves some element of self-realization and/or learning a new way of being. Harry must learn to replace his anger or it will be the end of him. Love seems the logical replacement.
Those who have argued that love will defeat Voldemort haven’t provided any analysis as to how it will be done, or how Harry will learn what he needs to. Let’s examine first the way love could defeat Voldemort.
Possession has been suggested, usually Voldemort possessing Harry, and the love within Harry destroying Voldemort. Possible, also, would be Harry possessing Voldemort, and the power of love killing Voldemort from within. Interesting ideas, especially since there is already a little bit of Harry inside Voldemort. Apart from that, there seems to be little groundwork laid for this plan. There is the existing connection between them, but that could be used in any solution. There have been possessions, but nothing to suggest that it could be made necessarily lethal.
Let us look to mythology again, as HP is fine myth. The most prevalent mythology of our culture and era is the Christian one. The most important lesson of Christ is also the most difficult to master: “Love thine enemy”. If you have truly mastered that, then you have reached your full potential. This brings us back to the parallels between Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker. How does Luke defeat Darth Vader? Through love! He does not kill Vader when he has the opportunity, and allows himself to be pushed to the brink of death. He stops referring to Vader’s current persona, and appeals to Anakin Skywalker, who is still within. Eventually, the love of Anakin for his son reawakens him and the Darth Vader persona is thrown off and he saves Luke. Could this be the way for Harry to defeat Voldemort?
What was the purpose of CoS? It’s a great tale and many important things happen in it, but the one critical thing, the thing that makes it CoS, is that Harry meets Tom Riddle! Harry learns about Tom Riddle. Harry learns about how Tom Riddle was destroyed by Voldemort, the same way that Anakin Skywalker was destroyed by Vader. Why? So that Harry can see that there is a lonely, unloved boy within, much like himself. Someone to be pitied, perhaps, and worth saving? This would support the idea of destroying Voldemort by saving Tom Riddle.
Further support comes from Dumbledore. He knows or strongly suspects the truth. When referring to You-Know-Who, he uses the name “Voldemort, because Voldemort is the one behind the bad things that happen. When talking to him, Dumbledore calls him “Tom. Dumbledore is not talking to the Voldemort persona, he is talking to the Tom Riddle buried deep inside. He is trying to keep Tom from disappearing altogether. Dumbledore doesn’t use any killing attacks against Voldemort, either because he knows they won’t work or because he wants to save Tom (or both).
Thus, we contend that the way for Harry to defeat Lord Voldemort is for him to reawaken Tom Riddle and for Tom to throw off the Voldemort persona.
It remains to be asked “How does Harry do that?” There are three main stages. The first is for Harry to make changes within himself. Next, Harry must learn to relate to and deal with others so that the love we have been talking about can be exchanged. Finally, Harry must do this with Riddle/Voldemort.
How can Harry master his passions? First it is necessary to stabilize his relationship with the Dursleys. Petunia is already more accepting of (or at least resigned to) the role she and Harry will play in each others lives. In fact it looks like Petunia will be an important character in the last two books. At the end of OotP, Harry’s adult friends conveyed to the Dursleys the importance of not harassing Harry. It will be up to Harry to do his part in return.
Harry must continue his occlumency classes to help calm himself and keep Voldemort from affecting him. As we will see, this will tie in with the second stage of Harry learning to deal with Voldemort.
The Philtre of Peace must play a role in this story. It practically slaps the reader in the face when it appears. Here would seem to be a good place to use it. Harry could take it in the early stages, until he has better control, or when he is getting exceedingly out of control.
How does Harry learn to use the love that is within him? He has already started through his relationship with Sirius. This is possibly why Sirius exists in HP. Sirius had to die in order for Harry to learn to deal with the death of a loved one, and to learn not to let that love become poisoned by the death. Harry could possibly get a longer lasting girlfriend – Luna, perhaps. Harry needs to work on his friendship with Ron and Hermione, maybe learning from a relationship blossoming between those two. Once his relationship with the Dursleys is stable, perhaps they could even warm to each other and become more like a family.
These are useful and, perhaps, necessary or important advances, but there should be one absolutely critical and unavoidable new relationship that Harry must form. What is the role of Severus Snape in HP? He hasn’t really served a useful purpose to this point. He has grown more hostile toward Harry (and vice versa) through the series. On the other hand, he has served as a protector of Harry throughout. He is someone balanced on a knifepoint, and in the middle of everything.
Now, the most important thing about Snape is the fact that, like Riddle/Voldemort, his young life was a parallel to Harry’s. Snape’s life, however, takes the middle course, neither the hero nor the villain, neither good nor evil. (Here we could insert a lengthy mythological analysis involving the Grail, but we shall try to stay focused.) Who better for Harry to “practice” on than Snape? If Harry can forge a new relationship with Snape and actually engender some goodwill between the two, then Harry will have taken a giant step toward being able to defeat Voldemort. Note that in order for Harry to continue his study of occlumency it will be necessary for him to take a few steps in this direction.
What is the point of Snape’s memories in the Pensieve except to allow Harry to see and experience him in the same way that he experienced Tom Riddle in CoS? Harry should have enough common ground and understanding to start building a better relationship with Snape. He could approach Snape with more respect, dedication, and humility (especially if it goes against the grain). Snape’s response could be that he will become less hostile toward Harry. This should make Harry feel better disposed toward Snape, his new attitude less forced, and he would do better at his lessons. Snape’s respect for Harry could go up, and so on.
This new association with Snape could be viewed as a bridge between Gryffindor and Slytherin. With Harry and Snape in the Order, it could be viewed as an alliance. Probably, however, the Sorting Hat’s advice refers to the students. Harry may have to forge an alliance with one or more Slytherin students. The most obvious place to look is Malfoy. However, there does not seem to be any indication that they will, or could bond together. What, then, is Malfoy’s role in HP?
From a literary or storytelling point of view, he is probably a necessary foil for the hero. In HP, he must be something more. One possibility: another editorial was correct and the Grangers will die. So far Malfoy has talked a good game, but has done little to match his talk. Perhaps having a schoolmate’s parents killed (maybe by his own father) will cause Malfoy to realize that he doesn’t really hate muggles. More likely, Malfoy will do something (or react to the death of the Grangers, e.g.) that really revolts another, more moderate, member of Slytherin. Maybe even Crabbe, Goyle, or Parkinson. This could lead to an alliance through DA.
Maybe Malfoy’s role as schoolyard bully has more importance than previously thought. By continually standing up to Malfoy, Harry is setting an example for the reader, demonstrating just how weak bullies really are. For stories with children as the primary targets, this is a very important point. Perhaps this can be used in HP by requiring Harry to choose between his own safety or comfort and helping Malfoy, even though they hate each other. This could be one of the small steps along the way to Harry’s transformation.
Finally, we come to how Harry will retrieve Tom Riddle. Probably, we can do little more than speculate. Jo Rowling must be allowed some leeway, after all 😉
Undoubtedly, the parallels between the characters and their bond will play a role. Possession of one by the other could play a role, but not necessarily so. So far, little has been made of the fact that muggle-hating Voldemort is himself a half-blood. This could become more prominent in the final two books. Harry could gain the upper hand in a battle with Voldemort (again) and refuse to kill him. Perhaps the very fact that Harry comes to love (or, at least, accept and be friendly with) the Dursleys, Snape, Malfoy, and whoever else, will play a big part in Tom Riddle coming to terms with, and accepting, his own heritage.
Whatever does happen to bring it about, rest assured that Riddle/Voldemort’s heart will “grow three sizes that day.”