What Are the Deathly Hallows?
The Door has opened. We have seen inside JKR’s mind (or at least, her Website) and the mysterious title of book 7 has finally been revealed. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This is not by any means a thorough analysis of that title. For that, one would have to seek out Sybil Trelawney, or better yet, the late Cassandra Trelawney, whom even Delores Umbridge credits as one of the most celebrated Seers of the time. Not possessing any kind of reliable second sight, this is purely conjecture. Yet, we know that JKR cares about grammar and language. Her spells are usually Latinized versions of the effects thereof, her characters’ names tend to tell something of the individuals bearing them, and the titles of her books are enticing, though not always definitive, hints.
At first glance, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows seems to be a rather unusual title. After all, in books 2, 3, 4, and 5 (aka: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), we got used to the Something of Something title. Of course, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, in the U.S.) is different, though you can imagine it as Stone of the Philosopher. This little mental game, however, doesn’t work for Half-Blood Prince. Prince of the Half-Blood implies ownership, which is not at all accurate. Yet, something else is clear. The title is always Harry Potter and the NOUN. That noun is a specific person (Prisoner of Azkaban, Half-Blood Prince), a specific place (Chamber of Secrets), a specific group (Order of the Phoenix) or a specific object (Philosopher’s Stone, Goblet of Fire). This implies that the Deathly Hallows are either a place or a specific group of objects somewhere. The overuse of the word specific is just to signify that the Prisoner of Azkaban is one person. It is not anyone who has ever escaped from Azkaban prison. Barty Crouch Jr. or Bellatrix Lestrange need not apply. We are talking specifically of (at the time) the only known person to ever have escaped from Azkaban: Sirius Black. Similarly, the Chamber of Secrets is a room somewhere under Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom, which Salazar Slytherin built and concealed. It is not just a shadowy room with hidden stuff in it. (That would be the Room of Requirement). Therefore, there may be a physical place/object that is known as the Deathly Hallows. This may or may not be the real name; it might be what people know it as, but it exists and it will be important in some manner.
The importance of the title noun has often been disputed, and some arguments are more important than others. However, I would say that the title thing is always important, just not in the same manner.
Philosopher’s Stone: This is obviously the main object in the actual quest part of the book. While we get quite a few chapters of background, introducing us to Harry, the wizarding world, and the other main characters and concepts, the main plot of the book is the hunt for the Philosopher’s Stone. It is needed to defeat Voldemort and bring about a successful conclusion. We don’t hear the word Philosopher’s Stone until the beginning of Chapter 13, in a book with only 17 chapters. It’s on page 217 in the French Paperback, of 302 pages. This object is monumentally important…eventually.
Chamber of Secrets: Here, too, there is no need to forge a significance for the object. The Chamber of Secrets is revealed relatively early, and the trio spend most of the school year wondering first what, and then where, it is, and who controls it.
Prisoner of Azkaban: Harry hardly even needs to leave Number 4 Privet Drive to get swallowed up in the myth and legend of the evil sorcerer who betrayed his parents and is the only known escapee from the fortress that is the Prison of Azkaban. He’s mentioned constantly, and is thought about continuously.
Goblet of Fire: Here, the title is a bit more obscure, yet it is hardly less important. The Triwizard Tournament is the big thing in this book, but the Goblet of Fire is the ostensible reason Harry cares about it. His name came out of the Goblet, ergo he has to compete, ergo he discovers newish magic, ergo he touches the cup, ergo he is transported to the graveyard for the showdown with Voldemort. The Goblet is the catalyst for everything that comes next.
Order of the Phoenix: This book is not really a quest. Harry isn’t actively trying to find or figure out anything, unless figuring out how to annoy Umbridge even more counts. However, this book is Harry Potter’s interaction with the people who are fighting Voldemort. The Order helps Harry at the trial, during the rest of the summer, and throughout the year, as he forms a similar organization (on a smaller scale): the DA. This book is about interactions between people. There is a lot of dialogue, and a lot of pages of conversation and figuring out who is doing what, where, when, and why. Harry meets his supporters, and his non-supporters, in the wizarding world, which is, after all, much more than just Hogwarts.
Half-Blood Prince: The Half-Blood Prince, as the owner of that Potions book, is rather important as a useful aid to Harry, up until he teaches him Sectumsempra. The lesson we get, even if Harry does not, is that not every aid is a useful one, and even the useful ones are not always good. The person who is actually the Half-Blood Prince, Snape, is one of the people Harry spends the whole book suspecting. While this has little to do with the Life and Forbears of Tom Marvolo Riddle Pensieve Presentation, nor with the hunt for the Horcruxes, the Half-Blood Prince is constantly in the background, and by the end, this already important character gains even more fame for casting the Avada Kedavra that killed Dumbledore.
The importance of the title does seem to be diminishing slightly with the latter books in the series, probably because as the books get longer and more complex, it becomes harder to sum up all the action in just a few words. It is therefore doubtful that Harry will spend the whole of book 7 searching for some place called the Deathly Hallows, where he will finally figure it all out and defeat Voldemort once and for all. Though it is possible that Voldemort, learning of the danger to his Horcruxes, decides to protect them all by moving them to the Deathly Hallows, oversized glorified rabbit holes somewhere on the Plains of Insanity, where the winds of Dementia (and Dementors?) roam freely. Possible, but unlikely. Still, the Deathly Hallows do have a role to play in book 7, and so far, JKR has given us few other hints about it.
So what are the Deathly Hallows?
Here, we must turn either to hints in the books or basic vocabulary. To start off with, what does deathly signify? First of all, why deathly and not deadly? After all, deadly is a much more common word. Deadly is the adjective or adverb which describes something dangerous enough to be life-threatening, causing death. So, then, what is deathly? Like death.
The Deathly Hallows are not dangerous or threatening. They have an aura of death around them. This may be because they cause death, or there has been death there. Quite possibly, any Horcrux can be described as deathly, since it contains a measure of prevention against death, bought with death. After all, one must murder in order to create a Horcrux. The deathly in Deathly Hallows, then, describes a place which has caused, known, or encased a death.
Hallows is just as confusing. The dictionary definition of hallow uses it solely as a verb:to hallow is to set aside as sacred or holy. However, it is hard to imagine hallows being a verb in the title of the book, since all the others are Harry Potter and the NOUN. Therefore, one must find other references or ideas for this word.
Hallows can be used as a reference to All Hallows Eve, aka Halloween, which is celebrated at Hogwarts every year. All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints Day, is the night when the veil between this world and the spirit one is said to be thin enough that the ghosts and spirits of the dead are free to visit. While this may have either everything or nothing to do with the veil in the Department of Mysteries, it is clear that hallows have something to do with spirits.
Maybe, they are spirits. That would certainly explain the term deathly preceding it. Another interesting thought is the similarity between the word “hallow” and the word “hollow.” While it is possible to make any number of associations, such as ghosts are hollow, it is perhaps better to focus solely on hollow as used in the books. The first thought that comes to mind is, of course, Godric’s Hollow, the place where Lily and James Potter lived and met their deaths at the hands of Voldemort. This connection is probably nothing more than a coincidence, brought on by similar-sounding words. Yet, it is something to keep in mind. In fact, considering Lily and James’ deaths, one might say that Godric’s Hollow has become a deathly hallow.
We still don’t know anything about the plot of book 7, nor do we have any specific information about the deathly hallows that Harry will doubtless encounter. However, I think that assuming that the deathly hallows are specific things, dealing with the nature of death, is a reasonable assumption. As for the rest, we must wait for that door to open again, or else, wait for the release date of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.