We've waited and wondered, and we finally have a title. In her inimitable fashion, JK Rowling has once again given us a teaser and fueled our curiosities. Deathly Hallows is a wonderfully evocative-without-telling-us-much title; one that can only leave us enthralled in speculation.
As soon as the title was released, "Spinner's End" readers began to demand my opinion, which is understandable, since I write a column on All Things Potter. I hesitate to comply, because I have no earth shattering revelations that can tell us what or who the Deathly Hallows are, or what they bode for Harry and friends as their journey comes to a close. Still, I see that I shall have no rest until I offer my ideas, so I will simply lay out what comes to me when I hear the title. I am happy to speculate on your behalf, and I do have ideas about possible plotlines that are beginning to take some shape. However, they are only ideas, so please don't accuse me of wild speculation when speculation is all that I can really offer. If you are looking for a smoking gun theory, telling you exactly what Deathly Hallows are and how they will direct Harry's journey, I cannot help you. I tell you this only to save you the pain of reading something you will not like and to save me the pain of receiving your disgruntled emails. Mind you, I get very few disgruntled emails, as most SE readers are a delightful lot who just want to explore HP together. Still, I think it only fair to warn you - I can do no more than hypothesize with everyone else. I know there are forums everywhere on the subject, but I simply don't have the time to peruse them, so if I suggest something that someone else has already said, please forgive me and feel free to credit them on our SE forum.
Deathly Hallows. When I first heard it I got a feeling of mystery - eerie, foggy, spectral and hushed. As I have heard stated, deathly is a very different word than deadly and I think it helps create the sense of eeriness and mystery, as opposed to the immediate danger and violence of deadly. While it's true that the two words can be used in similar fashion, I think the choice of deathly is significant.
Hallow is usually used as a verb. However, in the title and modified by deathly, it is clearly a noun. It means sanctified, venerated, holy, saint and occasionally other related ideas. It brings to mind All Hallows Eve, or All Souls' Eve. In this context, Hallows would be the souls of the departed. Since this festival, known to us as Halloween, has been of great importance throughout most of the HP series, it would not surprise me if something to do with the title is revealed to Harry on this day.
After all, JKR has stated her own preference for the holiday, and we know that she is not ignorant when it comes to cultural, historical and literary significance attached to tradition and language. The series begins with the Halloween night murders of James and Lily and the fall of Voldemort at Godric's Hollow. Through most of the series, something of significance happens on Halloween. In PS/SS, Harry, Ron and Hermione battle the troll and Hermione becomes friends with the boys. In CoS, the trio attends Nick's Death Day party, Mrs. Norris is attacked and the existence of the Chamber of Secrets is revealed. In PoA, Sirius breaks into the castle and slashes the portrait of the Fat Lady. The names of the Tri-Wizard Champions, including the unsuspecting Harry, are revealed in GoF. In fact, in the cases of CoS, PoA and GoF, the title "characters" (the Chamber, Sirius and the Goblet) actually make their first appearances or have a "big moment" on Halloween. Yes, we have heard about and seen Sirius prior to that moment, but his break in to Hogwarts heralds his appearance in the area and brings him directly into Harry's path. Interestingly, neither OotP nor HBP feature major events directly on Halloween - a departure from what we had come to expect. Are we due for another significant Halloween night? Might the Deathly Hallows make their first appearance on Halloween?
An exploration of the history of All Hallows Eve gives us a variety of possibilities regarding the significance of the particular Deathly Hallows that Harry seems destined to encounter. Though most of our modern traditions were born out of Celtic beliefs and practices, it is interesting to note that many other cultures have celebrated a festival of the dead at this same time of year. Among these are the ancient Egyptians. SE readers know of my interest in the Egyptian references in the series, and their possible connections to Sirius. I believe that the reason Sirius had to die has to do with the help he can give to Harry from beyond the veil. Perhaps it will be connected to traditions surrounding the feast of the dead. After all, as I mentioned in SE #21, to the Egyptians, the star Sirius was the first stop for a newly departed soul on its way to the afterlife. Sirius was the "bridge."
All Hallows Eve has been traditionally seen as the one night of the year when the veil (yes, the veil) that separates the worlds of the living and the dead is at its most thin and penetrable. In fact, on this one night of the year it was said that the dead could actually come back to earth if they so chose, and visit their loved ones. Additionally, All Hallows Eve is seen as the most productive night of the year for divination of all kinds, since life and afterlife are more closely aligned than at any other time of year. Time itself can be breached on this night, and some old stories speak of time travel associated with the meeting of life and afterlife. Will time turners or divination come into play in some way again? If so, expect it on Halloween.
Christian tradition narrows the definition of hallows down considerably from its pagan origins, and specifies that only the souls of the blessed - the hallowed - are reconnected to this life on All Hallows. Thus the definition of "hallowed" has come to be "sanctified," "made holy," "consecrated," etc. JKR's use of the word hallows instead of specters, ghosts, souls, etc., may indicate that we aren't speaking of just any souls. The juxtaposition of pure and untarnished souls versus those souls ripped apart by murderous acts has been clearly set up with Harry's undamaged soul vs. Voldemort's fractured soul. Though many see the title as ominous and boding ill for Harry, I disagree. Yes, deathly could be seen as a somewhat alarming word, but hallows? This word suggests comfort, purity, righteousness, and even protection to me. Even deathly doesn't necessarily mean dangerous. It can mean hushed, spectral, evoking death, still, etc.
If indeed the Hallows are some eternal form of the departed who can somehow lend Harry help, who might they be? The obvious choices are Sirius, Dumbledore, James and Lily. These four people had more personal investment in Harry than anyone else, and would do anything in their power to help him. They also all died as a result of Voldemort's evil, regardless of who cast the spell.
Since the Horcruxes are bound to figure prominently in DH (ah... another acronym...), and since the Horcruxes are connected to the Hogwarts founders, the founders themselves are also contenders to hold the title Deathly Hallows. We have heard about the founders for years, and we know a bit about their preferences and personalities. We know that at least two and probably three of them have had their personal possessions made into soul hotels for Voldemort. Will the founders return to participate in the final showdown? If so, what would Slytherin's role be? Considering his feelings about bloodline, he might not take kindly to Harry's side of the argument. However, though Slytherin seems to have been bigoted about ancestry, and though he stowed a giant, lethal snake in the bowels of a school, he hasn't been portrayed as a particularly evil or dark wizard. He and Gryffindor had been the best of friends prior to his parting. How would he feel about his last living descendent, and his plans for immortality and world domination? Impossible to say, but I would love to see what sort of help or hindrance might come from Slytherin.
Gryffindor would certainly be a benevolent force for Harry. I've already explored his possible connections to St. Godric in SE #22. He was particularly associated with protecting stags and subduing snakes. Could he be one of the Deathly Hallows? After all, Halloween was called both All Souls Day and All Saints Day at various times through history.
Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw would presumably side with Harry as well, since neither is said to have followed Slytherin when he left the school and their criteria for choosing students shows no prejudice regarding bloodline. It's probably safe to assume that they would not support Voldemort's reign of terror.
Finally, it occurs to me that the countless witches and wizards have been innocent victims of Voldemort's greed and ambition. Will they all manage to breach the veil in some way to help Harry defeat his enemy? If so, it doesn't seem likely that this grand climax would happen on Halloween. If DH follows the past six books, it should take Harry just about one year to finish all of the tasks before him. Halloween is too early for the final answers to be revealed. However, it is not too early for Harry to learn some major piece of information or make some significant connection that will help narrow the scope of his journey and catapult him forward.
Where will Harry be on Halloween? We can only guess, of course. He plans to go to Godric's Hollow directly after Bill and Fleur's wedding, which will happen over the summer. Presumably, Harry will go to the wedding in July, get his Apparition license (along with Ron) on or right after his birthday, and then probably take off on his journey. This assumes that nothing of violence or main plot significance happens at the wedding that might deter him.
Unless Harry finds something at Godric's Hollow that will detain him, he will then presumably begin his search for the Horcruxes. If, as I suspect, he begins with the Locket, he may be led from Grimmauld Place as far as Azkaban or as close as Hogwarts or Hogsmeade - depending on whether he traces the Locket's location through Kreacher or through Mundungus. We might find the culmination of the first Horcrux search around Halloween. If so, Harry might face his first knowing destruction of a Horcrux. While he did destroy the Diary with Fawkes' help, he acted completely through instinct then, having no idea of the enormity of what he was doing. He has learned much since CoS. Harry is no fool, and he knows what that Ring Horcrux did to Dumbledore, so how will he set about trying to destroy the Locket? Will the Deathly Hallows be the souls of the departed who, in their untarnished and undamaged state, can assist with the destruction of Horcruxes?
JKR has told us that Sirius' two-way mirror is destined to appear and to have more and perhaps a different significance that we had originally expected. Could the mirror be related to the Deathly Hallows? I have long wondered if the mirror would somehow allow Harry to travel beyond the Veil and be able to find his way back again. Now that we have a title which so closely relates to the idea of departed souls piercing a veil to return to the living for a night, I cannot help but wonder if the mirror will come into play here.
The mirror's original purpose was to facilitate communication between people who were separated. Could it still function in this way? Will it become a tool that allows Harry to communicate with the founders, his late headmaster, or his godfather? If so, will it actually facilitate some sort of crossing between worlds?
Something in me wants to connect the Deathly Hallows to Godric's Hollow, and it isn't just the similarity between words. I wonder about the magic of the place and whether this might be the sight of the meeting of the worlds. After all, it is where James and Lily died, and presumably where their graves are. It would be a fitting place from which to contact their son, if they were able. However, if such a passage between worlds is to happen on Halloween, it seems late in the book for Harry to still be at Godric's Hollow.
The other obvious location for such a connection is at the Department of Mysteries, at the Veil. The more I consider this, the more I like it. We know that Harry is going back to the Department of Mysteries - he still hasn't seen what is in the locked room. I have a suspicion that he will learn something of Lily there, and that Lily's work may have been associated with this room of Love. Of course, Harry may learn what is significant about Lily much earlier, from his Aunt Petunia. Petunia still has some mystery to reveal. Perhaps what Harry learns will lead him back to the Department of Mysteries, where he'll discover more about Lily and also make the connection with the Deathly Hallows at the Veil?
What will they do for or to him? Will they answer some mysterious question? Help him destroy a Horcrux? Give him information about the location of the other Horcruxes? Somehow suck the Horcruxes through the Veil? Would the Veil actually destroy a Horcrux the way it kills a person? Will the Deathly Hallows continue to be a presence throughout the book, or will we not see or hear of them again until later? Might they return as an aid to Harry at the end of the book, when he faces Voldemort? Or, could my thinking be completely off and might the Deathly Hallows be deadly enemies?
It is interesting that I see them as benevolent forces, whereas most of the readership seems to see the title as boding ill for Harry - a bad omen. It's the 'hallowed' part of them, I suppose, that is swaying my thinking. They may indeed be frightening, but something tells me they won't be dangerous to Harry. That is pure speculation of course, and it cannot be proven by anything we know yet. I just have a hard time imagining a proficient linguist and classicist such as JKR using a word that means holy, sanctified or venerated to describe a malevolent force.
Also, because of the word's connection to Halloween and therefore to souls, it seems that they will have some role in dealing with Voldemort's maimed and poisonous soul. If they are blessed, as their name suggests, they could be the counterweight that Harry needs to deal with his nemesis. Perhaps Harry's power - his love - will be what calls them. Maybe his trip to Godric's Hollow, which will connect him to his parents, will open his mighty heart enough to help the souls of his departed loved ones and/or the founders to breach the Veil and come to his aid. After all, in PoA, Dumbledore assures Harry that something of James will be there to help him when he has need:
"'You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don't recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself most plainly when you have need of him. How else could you produce that particular Patronus? Prongs rode again last night.'"
The added significance of time travel and divination that has been associated with Halloween in times past also intrigues me. Will we hear something more from Sybil or Firenze on that night? Will Harry develop his own "sight" and will he use it for the first time then? I don't think JKR will suddenly validate Sybil Trelawney or solve everything with divination, but there may be some sort of opening that more closely resembles the Centaur's wisdom. The idea of some time travel is even more interesting. Will Harry have the gift of being able to look back on memories and the past with the perfect clarity of time travel? These possibilities are a bigger stretch, since their only connection is to Halloween itself - they are not directly associated in my mind with the Deathly Hallows. Still, since both divination and time travel have had a role to play in the books, the possibility is there.
Our own clock is ticking and it won't be long now until we know. I have read JKR's comments about her feelings on the completion of Harry's story, and I am touched by them. I can only imagine how she must feel. I am only a reader and I find myself in a mix of emotions on the matter. While I look forward to the day I can sit in my comfy chair with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, turn off the phone and bury myself in Harry's final adventure, I will miss the mystery of it all. The suspense has been such a delight, hasn't it? I enjoy speculating and wondering what JKR has up her sleeve, but I don't feel particularly attached to my theories. In fact, many of them actually contradict each other, so I know they won't all be right. Whatever Harry's fate, the fate of his friends and his enemies, his journey has been a joy from cover to cover, and the Deathly Hallows - whatever they are - are sure to bring us more fun and adventure.