The North Tower #4: Prophecies: A General Study (2)

by Maline

Hello everybody! I hope you’ve had a nice week. I’ll start by a new feature to this column that I secretly started last week, namely a small “Literary analysis and argumentation 101” interactive course. Last week, I presented you with the following theory (thanks, Jeanine):

  • Don’t forget that if a person picks up a prophecy that is not about him or her, he or she will go crazy. Harry picked up that prophecy and did not go crazy. Therefore, the prophecy is about him, not Neville.(A)

Since I didn’t want my article that week to be a continuation of the Harry-Neville debate, I chose not to break it down for analysis. I also wanted to see if readers would spot what argument(s) could be used against this. You did. The owls I got were quite identical and pointed out that

  • The prophecy only had Harry’s name on it because the keeper of the halls of prophecies put it there after the attack on him as a child. It was renamed, thus the fact that Harry’s name’s on it might just be a human mistake.(B)

You’re absolutely right. That was just the argument I was looking for. For next week, I’d like you to think about the two of them and try to find the argument that supports Jeanine’s theory (A) and answers to the argument above that’s contradicting it (B). If you can also find other arguments that contradict (A) that’d be great.

You see, when it comes to literature, it’s all about having your own point of view and being able to support it. When you have a theory, you should always think what could be argued against it and try and find other arguments that “take out” the ones going against your main idea. Complicated? It’s like this:

  • If my idea is (X), I should try to find arguments that show that (X) is wrong (Let’s call these arguments (Y)). Then I should try to find arguments that show that (Y) is wrong (making X right), we can call these ones (Z). I can go on like this for a long time, arguing against myself, and when I get to the point where there are no more arguments, I weigh either side against the other and decide which one “wins” the debate. That gives me my conclusion where I can take a stand for the winning side.

Sometimes you’ll find yourself in the middle of writing, realizing that the other side’s argumentation is actually stronger than your own. Then you have two choices: 1) finding more arguments that support your view or 2) changing your opinion. I usually try number one first but end up changing my opinion in the end. To realize that you were wrong doesn’t mean that you “lose;” it means that you gain new knowledge and a wider perspective. Comparable to looking for a Snickers in your bag and finding a Milky Way. 🙂 What I want to say with this is:

Don’t be afraid to think about arguments that go against your own beliefs. Analyze them, as well as your own ones. Find new arguments and counter-arguments. Challenge your mind and widen your perspective. If you end up with your original idea, your belief in it will be stronger and better founded. If you end up changing your views, you’ll know that your new beliefs are better founded than your old ones and have truly earned your support.

Ok, so this first little “competition” will end on Sunday, September 28. Let’s move on.


Last week we discussed the wisdom of Centaurs. We saw how it indicated the grand scheme of things, the “mood” of the universe and how it’s not affected by little “details” in the human world. Today, we’ll do its counterpart: prophecies.

Prophecies are made by wizards (as far as we know, at least) and deal with precise events in a specific timeframe. In the HP series, we have two full ones and two fragmented ones so far.

1) PoA, p. 238: “It will happen tonight. /…/ The Dark Lord lies alone and friendless, abandoned by his followers. His servant has been chained these twelve years. Tonight, before midnight, the servant will break free and set out to rejoin his master. The Dark Lord will rise again with his servant’s aid, greater and more terrible than ever before. Tonight…before midnight…the servant…will set out…to rejoin…his master.”
2) OotP, p. 741: “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…”
3) OotP, p. 692: “…at the solstice will come a new”
4) OotP, p. 692: “…and none will come after”

Let’s leave the fragmented prophecies out of this for the moment and concentrate on the complete ones. Note how a prophecy is constructed in comparison to what Firenze talked about when he described the wisdom of Centaurs: a prophecy has a set timeframe for when the thing is supposed to happen (tonight, before midnight, born as the seventh month dies, etc.). It talks about specific people (the Dark Lord, the servant and the One) and of specific events (the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, either must die at the hand of the other, the one…will be born, the servant will break free and set out to rejoin his master, the Dark Lord will rise again, etc.). Prophecies are about people and their actions.

We also know that a copy of all prophecies is kept in the MoM and that only the ones about whom it was made can retrieve them from the Hall of Prophecies without going mad. What we don’t know, though, is how the prophecies end up in the MoM. We really have no way of knowing this (as I’ve found anyway) so this theory of mine’s really just a wild guess. I think that when someone makes a true prophecy, some kind of magical energy creates a small, glass orb in the MoM, which can then be listened to and labeled by the keeper of the prophecies. This would mean that there’s a copy of Professor Trelawney’s second prophecy (1) in there, too. What I’m wondering is how the keeper of the prophecies is able to handle them (labeling and re-labeling them) without going mad. Does he have some sort of special protection? And, if so, why didn’t Voldmort just use him to retrieve the prophecy in OotP? It seems like a far simpler solution than to lure Harry there. If you can find any support for any theory regarding this, I’d be most grateful.

The real question is, of course, can you change something foretold in a prophecy? The first one (1) has already come true in part: Wormtail escapes and returns to his master in PoA and helps him rise again in GoF. When using the Time-Turner, Harry asks Hermione if they can’t just grab Scabbers/Wormtail when he’s inside Hagrid’s house and spare them all the trouble which came after (Dementor attack, etc.). Hermione says that they can’t because they can’t allow themselves to be seen. That’s one reason. Here’s another one:

When Harry and Hermione go back in time, they don’t do it to change what’s happened but to ensure that what did happen actually did. Let’s talk about it in terms of “real time” and “double time” (as in doing the time over again), where “real time” is everything that happened before the Time-Turner and “double time” all that happened during the use of it. In real time, Ron, Harry and Hermione heard the thump of the axe and Hagrid sobbing. They then assumed that Buckbeak had been killed. He hadn’t. He hadn’t because double time Harry and Hermione had already saved him. Same thing at the lake; Harry could conjure the Patronus because he’d already seen himself do it in real time, believing it was his father.

The real reason why they can’t let themselves be seen is because they haven’t been. Real time and double time exist simultaneously and if real time Harry hasn’t seen double time Harry, then double time Harry can’t show himself to real time Harry. Complicated, isn’t it? All this time travel business really messes up your head. 🙂 Let’s take a concrete example:

Say that double time Harry and Hermione would have decided to rush into Hagrid’s hut and snatch Wormtail before he could get away. This would mean that in the chapter before, in real time, Ron, Harry, Hermione and Hagrid would see Harry and Hermione run into Hagrid’s hut when they were in there. Say that double time Harry and Hermione would have managed to snatch Scabbers and get out of there without being killed. Then, everything that happened in the Shrieking Shack would not have happened and double time Harry and Hermione wouldn’t have known that Scabbers was Peter Pettigrew. If they didn’t know that, why would they have run in to snatch him? And so on. The main point is that double time Harry and Hermione were obliged to follow what had already happened and couldn’t change this in any way. I believe that prophecies work much in the same way.

If we look at prophecies from a historical perspective (e.g., Greek mythology) we see that they always come true. Most of the time, they come true simply because someone tries to stop it from coming true. Two examples are Oedipus and Perseus.

Oedipus’ dad was told by an Oracle that his son would kill his father and marry his mother. The king (Oedipus’ dad was the king of Thebes) didn’t like this prophecy at all and ordered his son to be killed. The servant he appointed to do this felt pity for the little boy, though, and hung him from his ankles upside down in a tree instead. Little Oedipus was then found by a shepherd who took him down and gave him to the royal couple of his city to raise. Oedipus grew up, and then happened to hear the prophecy about himself. Because he believed that his foster parents were his real parents, he quickly ran away from home to stop it from coming true. On the road, he ran into an old man and they began arguing. Oedipus killed him and continued on his way. He came to Thebes, which was under the control of a terrible Sphinx. Oedipus answered its riddle correctly and thereby got rid of it. To thank him, the people of Thebes made him king, because the old king had recently died. He also got to wed the queen, who was newly widowed. The old man he’d killed in the road was his father and the queen he’d now married his mother. So the prophecy came true.

Perseus’ granddad was told by an Oracle that his daughter’s son would kill him. He locked his daughter up so that no one could impregnate her; but, the god Zeus let his semen slip in through the light of the small window, and the girl became pregnant (notice how the story of how Virgin Mary got pregnant is identical to this; at least how it’s portrayed in most paintings). Granddad immediately put child and daughter in a box and threw it in the ocean. The ocean carried the box to an island, and, there, mother and son lived for a long time. When Perseus (the son) was grown up, he did a bunch of heroic things and then met his granddad again. They got on fine, but then Perseus accidentally killed him when he threw a discus in a competition. So, the prophecy came true. (We’ll discuss Perseus more later on when we get to Snape.)

The prophecies in HP work much in the same way. One crucial thing is that people’s logic is not infallible. Harry doesn’t remember the prophecy in PoA until it’s too late and Pettigrew’s gone. He also forgets telling Ron, Hermione, Lupin and Sirius about it, stopping one of them from thinking a bit further ahead and, for example, stunning Pettigrew before going up to the castle again. Harry forgets his Invisibility Cloak in front of the Womping Willow, enabling Snape to get to it. Another crucial thing is the intervention of nature (or in Greek mythology, gods). The moon turns Lupin into a werewolf (in combination with him having forgotten to take his potion) and Pettigrew can escape. All these little things made for the escape of Wormtail and the fulfilment of the prophecy.

Lack of information is also central. Harry doesn’t know that Scabbers is the servant of Lord Voldemort until it’s too late. Likewise, Voldemort doesn’t know the part of “and the Dark Lord shall mark him as his equal” of the OotP prophecy until he already has. (If you think about it, he still doesn’t know why things went the way they went that night at Godric’s Hollow.) The PoA prophecy was fulfilled because of lack of information, forgetfulness and things outside Harry’s control (like the moon). The OotP prophecy (up until “but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not”) was fulfilled because of lack of information and determination to stop it from coming true. Both scenarios follow the Greek tradition really well so far, so we can assume that they’ll continue to do so and come true in the end.

Next week, I’ll discuss the prophecies and the wisdom of Centaurs in relation to one another and in relation to the importance of choice that JKR has emphasized several times in her books. Feel free to send me your thoughts on the matter.

See you soon,