The North Tower #1: Chosen

by Maline

Hello everyone! My name’s Maline and I’ll be writing the new column “The North Tower” here at I’m very happy for this little job as it gives me an opportunity to impose my ideas on a lot of people (journalism’s ultimate goal) 😉 I’m about to start my third year of university, with a major in French literature and linguistics and a minor in English. I love to read and have, naturally, a nearly unhealthy obsession with the HP series…

The North Tower is a place of mysticism. It’s where Astronomy and Divination take place. It’s high up, near the stars, connected to the mysteries of the skies. My idea with this column is thus to look at and analyse some of the more enigmatic sides of the HP saga: metaphors, mythology, writing technique and so on. Through observation, logic and emotion I will analyse theories that are flying around on the ‘Net and present my own in an attempt to unfog the future. I hope you’ll all enjoy it. My first column will deal with The Great Revelation in OotP, namely Professor Trelawney’s first prediction and what it might entail.

“The One with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…. and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives… The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…”

As I’m a literature and linguistics major, I’m naturally going to approach this text from a linguistic (how the language is constructed) point of view.

The first important thing is the capitalisation of “the One” right at the start. This is a precise statement that the person to whom it refers isn’t just “one out of the bunch” but “the One”, the chosen one, the only one. (Just as you capitalise e.g. “God,” “Truth,” “Justice,” etc.) This immediately rules out the possibility that if the One fails to vanquish the Dark Lord, someone else might do it for him.

If Harry doesn’t vanquish Voldemort, no one will (ever) be able to.

The next interesting thing is the choice of words in “power to vanquish the Dark Lord”. Note that it doesn’t say “The One who will kill the Dark Lord”. First “power” indicates a possibility to vanquish Voldemort, not a factual statement that this will happen. Then “vanquish” doesn’t necessarily mean “kill.” It’s usually used in emotional contexts (“vanquish an emotion”) in poetry or 19th century romantic novels (a bit “Heathcliff-on-the-moor-ish”) and its synonyms are rather “conquer” and “eliminate” than “kill.” This supports the theory that Harry won’t kill Voldemort in a duel or the like. We’ve already seen that their wands can’t fight against each other. I lean more towards that Harry will set off some kind of reaction in Voldemort and that he will be consumed from within. Why?

Well, we’ve got all these references to love: how Harry’s full of it, how Voldemort has nothing of it, despises it, can’t stand it and–at several accounts–underestimates its power. We also learn in OotP of the “great and terrible power” that lies in the Department of Mysteries (I’d put my money on love). I will analyse the importance of love in more depth in another article; for now I’d just like to put forward the argument that Harry might not kill Voldemort–he might neutralise him, or Voldemort might kill himself as a result of this.

If we look a bit deeper, we see that the word “power” can be nuanced: the wording is “The One with the power to vanquish….” Grammatically, this is ambiguous and can be read either “the one with the possibility to vanquish” or “the one with the power which will vanquish”. The first interpretation means that Harry might vanquish Voldy. The second means that Harry possesses a power, and that this power will vanquish Voldy. There’s an important difference in this: number one makes Harry the direct hero; number two makes Harry the tool for the mystic powers, the vessel of good.

Voldemort might not die, but he will most certainly be conquered by the forces of good (love), not necessarily by a direct act from Harry.

Oh! I got another idea! Another interesting choice of words: “Dark Lord”. Sure, JKR might have chosen it for the poetic feeling of it. Then again, she might not have. Let’s look at it this way: the “Dark Lord” is a persona that Tom Riddle created for himself. It is the symbol of the evil in him, as well as his evil deeds. It represents his dark side, the hate and fear he feels and inspires. The prophecy states that there is one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord, not necessarily the man underneath it. JKR keeps giving us clues to why Tom Riddle turned (observe the word “turned,” he wasn’t evil from the start) evil, to give us a more nuanced picture of him. Maybe Voldemort will be vanquished but Tom Riddle will prevail…

“born to those who have trice defied him, born as the seventh month dies”.

We here learn that James and Lily have managed to escape Voldemort THREE times, (three as in being a magic number) and we’ll probably get to know what happened those three times in Book 6 or 7. The following part is a linguistic masterpiece: “born as the seventh month dies.” Seven as in the magical number (note how many number sevens there are in the entire series) and the beautiful balancing of “born” and “dies.” The death of the month gives birth to the hero; darkness gives birth to light. (I just have to insert that I think this prophecy is a work of art in the way it’s constructed. It’s plain beautiful. JKR really knows her stylistic devices; I’m in awe :-))

Anyway, if you want to play with the sentence a bit, it’s quite easy to make the parallel “born as the seventh month dies” – “born as the seventh year dies,” where (in the second one) “born” would indicate the birth of a new era and “as the seventh year dies” the end of the Trio’s time at Hogwarts. The end of the seventh book will open up on something new, be a new beginning; but then again, that seems quite obvious. Since Voldemort will (very probably) be vanquished, something new must come.

“and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not”

This touches the relationship between Harry and Voldemort. It’s way too complex to analyse here, but I promise to do it in a later article. The second part refers back to “power”–it emphasises once more the importance of love (also to be discussed separately).

“and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives”

This is the most dramatic part of the prophecy. The fascinating thing is that it seems so clear and straightforward: one of them must kill the other. This contradicts the nuanced analysis of the first sentence presented above. I’ll try to break the problem down a little:

  • “and either must die at the hand of the other” means that either V kills H or H kills V.
  • “for neither can live while the other survives” means that V and H can’t live at the same time. They will destroy each other, which can be seen very clearly in OotP from Harry’s point of view: he’s getting darker, he and Voldemort are starting to melt together (dreams, feelings, etc.), and this is unbearable for both of them. Harry can’t bear the darkness of Voldemort and Voldemort can’t bear the love that is inside Harry (as seen when he possesses Harry).

So, does this mean that my two-page analysis is just plain crap and that JKR just wrote it like that because it sounded pretty? Could be. I don’t think so though: JKR chooses her words with great care, especially in a passage as vital as this one. Let me tell you what I do think.

I think that JKR wanted us to focus on “and either must die at the hand of the other” and forget about what surrounds it. She wants us to anticipate a classic, heroic end where Harry impales Voldemort on the sword of Gryffindor or something like that. At the same time she sneaks in all the clues about the importance of love, indicating that it will have an important role but not saying straight out that love will be the means of defeating Voldemort. And we fall for it. We focus on the word “die” and gladly ignore the rest of the prophecy. So does Dumbledore. So does Harry. I think we are all deceived…

I think the importance lies in the words “the One” and “Dark Lord”. It doesn’t say “Harry Potter” and “Tom Riddle.” Remember that there were two boys born in terms of the prophecy: Harry and Neville. Harry wasn’t born the One; he was chosen, made the One by Voldemort. Likewise, Tom Riddle wasn’t born the Dark Lord; it was something he became. So when the prophecy states that “either must die at the hand of the other,” it grammatically refers to the One and the Dark Lord, not Harry and Tom. This opens up another fascinating question: are we the roles we play or do we have something deep inside us that is just us, some sort of essence, an unchangeable core? This is unfortunately also a very long discussion, so I won’t take it here. 🙂

The conclusion of all this philosophy is that the prophecy doesn’t actually state that Harry or Tom has to die, only that one of the personas “the One” and “Dark Lord” has to (or both; nothing stopping that). I know that a lot of people put Voldemort equal to Sauron of Lord of the Rings, think that he is the ultimate evil and has to die. Wrong. Sauron is the personification of evil and cannot be redeemed; Voldemort is a person corrupted by Evil’s power (if you want to make the parallel to Lord of the Rings, he’s more like Gollum) and there is therefore a possibility of redemption.

Who knows, Tom Riddle might survive the fall of the Dark Lord. I personally think he just might.

Finally, I just want to say that this prophecy is an extremely complex one that looks very simple. It will surely play a great part in the coming books as the (possibly wrong) interpretation that Harry has of it will influence his actions. I’ve given you my interpretation; you are free to find your own. Just remember: with JKR, what you see is never what you get…

Take care.