Tying Up Loose Ends
by Robbie Fischer
A few people might have noticed, and wondered about, the fact that I didn’t write a Book 7 Theories editorial before Deathly Hallows came out. There are two reasons for this. First, everyone and his house-elf was writing them. I figured mine would just be another drop in the ocean, so I decided not to bother. I like to be the first to do something different, rather than the 1,096th standing in line to do the same thing. (By the way, that was my number in the line at Borders the night DH was released.) Second reason: Any ordinarily clever person can prognosticate about a book that is yet to come. It takes an extraordinary genius to make predictions about something after it has already happened. And so, here are my theories about Book 7, after the fact:
- Question: Was Snape a slimy git, or a hero? This was the topic of a debate at the live MuggleCast in St. Louis, which I attended. I even came to the microphone to explain my theory about this (mostly because my friend Amanda promised to buy me ice cream if I did so). My answer: Snape is a complex character. It’s wonderful that in a series of what most people recognize as childrens books, there can be a character so complex and contradictory that debate about whether he was good or bad can go on endlessly. Both sides have points in their favor.On the slimy-git side we have the fact that Snape is a pureblood supremacist. Even though he didn’t mean to call Lily a mudblood, and suffered horribly as a result of letting that slip, the fact remains that those hurtful words came out of him, from inside. Lily herself rightly pointed out that, even if he didn’t mean to call her a mudblood, that didn’t stop him from slinging that word at other people. She also rightly judged Snapes Death Eater friends to be evil; and, as the proverb says: When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends. Snape joined the forces of the evillest dark wizard of the 20th century, willingly (not, like Wormtail, out of mere cowardice). He only came over to the good guys’ side because of his tragic, perhaps even pathetically obsessive, love for Lily. I don’t think his nastiness was an act. Even when he was bravely fighting and risking and sacrificing for the side of good (and, in the process, letting himself be thought of worse than he deserved), he remained a bitter, petty, meanspirited creep.
Snape had a cruel streak a mile wide, and I do believe he reserved a special dislike for Harry who, in so many ways, at least outwardly resembled his hated father James. Dumbledore had to remind Snape that Harry had Lily’s eyes and also some of her soul; Dumbledore exploited these facts to make sure Snape was committed, against all his contrary inclinations, to keeping Harry alive and thereby, preserving the last surviving piece of Lily. I feel very sad for Snape, who finally had to live with the terrible knowledge that even that much of Lily must die to defeat You-Know-Who. And I am moved by his dying wish to look into the eyes of the boy who lived the boy he felt sure would not live much longer and breathe his last breath knowing what he had done it all for.
On the hero side, consider the double-life Snape had to lead. Trusted by no one, least of all those for whom he sacrificed the most, he courageously went to his death while everyone around him thought him a coward and a villain. Harry recognized Snapes heroism and named his gentler and sweeter son after him (Albus Severus). He had a tough life from start to finish. This does not excuse his bad decisions; but he turned back from them and tried to redeem himself. He did it seeking no recognition from anyone, and even (as it were) deliberately spiking any possibility that others would see the good in him. He seems like the kind of person who would have gotten angry at anyone who thanked him for doing something good, and who was intimidating enough to make this a real deterrent. Snape either had enough self-esteem to be self-sufficient, or enough self-loathing to keep himself humble. He lived a double life that he loathed, carried out Dumbledore’s plans even when they put him in terrifying danger and required him to do things he hated. It is no wonder he was bitter; think of the perpetual, ugly scowl on the face of the Leo DiCaprio character in The Departed for another example of what undercover work can do to a man’s outlook on life.
Snape is, finally, a complex character. There can be no final answer to whether he was a good guy or a bad guy. This isn’t a shades of gray cop out. Its rather like Sirius Blacks profound observation that the human race isnt divided between good people and death eaters. Umbridge, we finally learn in Book 7, is irredeemably wicked but not a death eater. Snape is neither irredeemably wicked nor, in the last analysis, a creature of the Dark Lord. But he is not nice, not sympathetic, nor altogether on one side or the other. Least of all is he for himself. But denying himself, he carried his tragic torch for Lily Potter and, in his own troubled and conflicted way, chose to give help rather than harm while pretending, until almost the end, to do the very opposite.
- Question: Did Bellatrix Lestrange die or not? This also came up at the St. Louis Mugglecast. By then I had already had my turn at the mike, so I didn’t get to air my brilliant theory about this. Consider: Bellatrix came from the same Black family that liked to behead house-elves and hang them on the wall. Consider: Bellatrix fell to Molly Weasleys curse in a way whose striking parallels to the death of Sirius Black J. K. R. clearly noted. Consider: The curse that pushed Sirius through the veil was a stunning spell. Therefore, my theory is that Molly Weasley did not kill Bellatrix outright; she stunned her and let the house-elves from the Hogwarts kitchens clean up the mess. I expect Bellatrix’s head is mounted on a wall in the kitchens, over a bin full of rank-smelling potato peelings. Of course, I may be wrong. Bellatrix’s survival could signal the beginning of a whole spin-off series, sort of like how Angel spun off from Buffy. Book 1: Wicked Witch on the Run…
- Question: How could Ron speak Parseltongue? Again, the Mugglecasters debated this. What a silly question! What is Parseltongue but a language? Any language can be learned through study and imitation. Ron repeated what he had heard Harry say until it came out right. Its as simple as that. Harry was lucky enough to be born with the ability to speak the language fluently, a magical gift he shared with Tom Riddle because of that last-Horcrux thing. That’s bad juju. But being able to repeat High-awe-shaw-see-kheth in a strangled whisper isn’t magic; it’s just a touch of linguistic cleverness. I’ll bet you a double-dip of Florean Fortescues ice cream (if and when his shop reopens) that Harry and Ron go on, as aurors, to give everybody in their department Parseltongue lessons. At the very least, this would give them the investigative edge of being able to question snakes about occurrences that had no human witnesses.
- Question: When do we see beyond the veil? At the June 28 MuggleCast, some people suggested that the ghosts of Remus, Sirius, James, and Lily came from beyond the veil though, for a moment, there was conflict about this because some people wondered how they could get from the veil (in the Department of Mysteries) to Harrys side (in the Forbidden Forest) so quickly. The answer that most people came up with at the time was: By magic! Which seemed to satisfy everyone for the moment. But I dont think the veil is really geographically limited to one room at the Ministry of Magic. If the Resurrection Stone can penetrate the veil of death, it can do so wherever it is.And then the question was asked: If Harry’s Kings Cross experience was beyond the veil, why didn’t we see Sirius? Answer: Because Sirius had gone on. Which Harry could have done, in his personal version of beyond the veil what Dumbledore so charmingly referred to as your party by getting on a train and leaving the station. I think it is clear from these remarks that there is a place just beyond the veil of death from which a person can choose whether to go on (to what Dumbledore elsewhere spoke of as the next great adventure) or to come back as a ghost. We know that Sirius would not have done this; none of the dead from Harry’s side would have. They would have gone on. And Harry would have, as well, except for the one thing about him that Dumbledore knew about and counted on: he would, and in his case could, go back to life and continue to fight Voldemort. Another thing I gathered from this last-ever Dumbledore Explains Everything scene, is that each person’s vision of what this place beyond the veil looks like is unique to that person or, if not unique, at least shaped and visualized by that persons mind. That is why Dumbledore found Harry’s choice of King’s Cross so interesting. One wonders what Voldemort saw when his last killing curse rebounded. One would rather not know, actually.
- Question: Why were certain deaths, such as those of Tonks and Lupin, or (for example) Colin Creevey, really necessary? Answer: It’s a battle, silly! The Battle of Hogwarts was the biggest conflict of its kind in the whole series. And it was a serious, life-or-death thing. With giants and acromantulas and who knows what else doing their worst, and Death Eaters firing blasting spells and killing curses into crowds of Hogwarts students, faculty, and their allies, there must surely be casualties; and some of them will be people one knows and cares about. Theres a certain symmetry about these two adult deaths, as well. Not only does it finish off the last of the Marauders, but it also creates a new, small orphan boy (Teddy Lupin) whose fate beginning with his upbringing will stand in rich contrast to that of Harry Potter. My only remaining question about this is: what is a 19-year-old boy doing snogging a Weasley cousin on the Hogwarts Express? Wouldn’t he have left Hogwarts by then?
- I should like to call for a moment of silence for each of the tragic deaths in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows…but there are so many of them that you would be scrolling downward until next Tuesday before you got to the next part of my article. I have been asked by a friend to point out that Hedwigs death was a real blow. We already knew that no one is safe, not even the children! But we werent prepared for the first significant death to be a faithful pet. Thank you, Hedwig, for taking a bullet from Harry. Alas, we hardly knew ye. As for me, my first tears in the book (not counting the scene in which Ron returned) were shed for Dobby. There is something very cleansing about the story’s pause for a moment of tender grief at that point, something we had been denied on many another occasion. The other big tear-jerker, of course, was the Princes Tale. But part of every great battle a part that, to some degree, this book passed over is assessing the loss and adjusting to it emotionally. The fact that, nineteen years later, Harry and Ginny are giving their kids names like James, Lily, and Albus Severus testifies to the cost of victory that they are still bearing, but bearing well.
- There are some scenes in this last book that will weigh on my mind for a long time. The ceiling in Luna Lovegood’s bedroom was a touching image. Hearing word of Scrimgeour’s death, only a chapter after he appeared alive, well, and belligerent, was a real shock. The Silver Doe scene was haunting, and what the Princes Tale revealed about it made my throat close up with emotion. But I doubt that any single scene from this book can top the horror Harry and Hermione encountered in Godric’s Hollow: a singularly nightmarish scene that tops every chilling image in the series to that point. The filmmakers must not leave this scene on the cutting-room floor; but how they can possibly use something so terrifying in a movie aimed at youngsters is at the outer limit of imagination.
- No, I am not going to write a skit about the conversation between the headmaster portraits of Snape and Dumbledore. My friend, who still owes me that ice-cream, suggested that I do so. Sorry, Amanda, but the Snape-Dumbledore riff was Jamies idea, not mine; and he has already made such a good start on it that I hope & expect he will finish it himself.
- On the other hand, when the question came up about where the Dursleys went, the thought came to me: it would be cool to see a spin-off series, say, about the years between the Battle of Hogwarts and Harrys marriage to Ginny. Maybe, while waiting for her to finish at Hogwarts, Harry rooms with Dudley. It would be like the odd couple, only one of them would be really odd.
- Or JKR could create a Melrose-Place-like spinoff series set at Grimmauld Place, with Kreacher living in the kitchen, Moaning Myrtle in the bathroom, Peeves in the parlor, and the Bloody Baron and the Grey Lady shacking up together upstairs. It could be titled One Afterlife To Live.