Seeking the Golden Snitch
by Lady Lupin
Since the first four HP books had already been published before I began reading the series, I was keyed into the fact that I was embarking on a classic hero journey – albeit with several twists. From the moment that Professor McGonagall chose not to expel Harry for leaping onto his broom against all orders, but instead made him the new Gryffindor Seeker, my ears perked up.
Seeker. According to Merriam-Webster, to seek means: to resort to; go to; to go in search of; to look for; to try to discover; to ask for, to try to acquire or gain; to make a request. In spiritual literature, the term Seeker is often used to denote someone searching for enlightenment, truth, knowledge, or the spiritual growth and development of the Soul. The Hero Journey is a metaphor for just such a quest. It seems appropriate for our hero to be a “Seeker.” As the rules of Quidditch became clear, it began to dawn on me that Harry’s role on the field closely mirrors his larger journey.
To begin with, the person who brings him to Quidditch is Minerva McGonagall. McGonagall is named for the Roman Goddess, Minerva. Minerva is the Goddess of both Wisdom and War. It has always intrigued me that the Romans assigned these two forces to the same Goddess. The Seeker who takes the journey toward Enlightenment cannot help but meet a war within – and perhaps without. But that war must be fought with discretion and Wisdom, or success cannot truly follow. When our Minerva puts Harry in the coveted position of Gryffindor Seeker and puts his Nimbus 2000 in his hands, she is setting him on a symbolic road, and giving him the means and vehicle he needs to attain his goal: to capture the Golden Snitch.
The qualities of the Golden Snitch are interesting. The fact that it is made of gold is important. Many clever writers have noted the Alchemical themes in the HP series. PS/SS is full of this idea, including the introduction of Nicholas Flamel. Alchemy is an ancient and many-faceted study. It concerns not only the making of the Philosopher’s Stone and the changing of base metals into pure gold, but also the inner transformation of a human being from our current state to a spiritually enlightened one. CG Jung equated it with a search, deep within, for the kernel of gold among the baser human elements. From Shakespeare: “Some ore among a mineral of metals base” (Hamlet, Gertrude, Act III). So, Harry, the Seeker, is given the task of capturing the elusive trace of gold, which, alas, is winged. It flies away, remains hidden and is difficult to find.
Minerva then sends Harry off to learn and understand the rules of Quidditch. For this purpose she entrusts him to the care of Oliver Wood. Athena, who is the Greek version of Minerva, gave the people of her city, Athens, the olive tree as a gift that would sustain and protect them. She taught them the Knowledge of how to use the tree to sustain life. The olive tree, olive wood, the olive branch and leaf have many symbolic meanings. It is a strong, durable wood, still used today for making tools and utensils that need to survive heavy use and high heat. In some variations of the story, the olive tree is thought to have been the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. The bark of the olive tree was used in ancient times to make an infusion to treat wounds. The olive is also the universal symbol for peace; hanging an olive branch over the door is said to ward off evil. The oil has been used for centuries to nurture, heal and to light lanterns – to create light in the darkness. That is what Knowledge gives us: a light in the darkness.
In sum, the olive tree is associated with spiritual pursuits that bring purity and harmony. From Oliver Wood, Harry’s Quidditch source of knowledge, strength and endurance, Harry learns the rules that he needs to know to begin his pursuit of the Golden Snitch. In this sense, Wood’s role in Quidditch reflects the role of Hogwarts in Harry’s life. Harry comes to Hogwarts upon receipt of a letter (or letters!) from Minerva. She leads him to the sorting hat, and sends him off to class, where he is to learn the ground rules he’ll need to survive and thrive in the Wizard World.
As the Seeker, Harry has an interesting relationship to the rest of the team. They fly below and alongside him, and their efforts are absolutely necessary to winning the game. However, the Seeker also works essentially alone. He has one task, which is separate from the rest of the game. His teammates’ efforts help make his task easier, but ultimately he owns the task alone, and the game isn’t over until he either succeeds or fails at his task. The results of his efforts affect the outcome for the whole team. This describes perfectly the role of Hero in the Hero Journey. He must find much help and support along the way, but he succeeds or fails alone, and the outcome changes the lives of those around him. Our personal quest for enlightenment is the same. We all need a great deal of help and instruction, but no one else can find the elusive bit of gold within us. We must find it for ourselves.
As he begins his first Quidditch game, Harry learns just how elusive the Golden Snitch really is. There is a lot going on during a Quidditch match. Twelve people are flying around and below him, using all manner of strategies, fair and foul, to get ahead of each other. Rather like life. Two of those players are trying to knock him off his broom with bludgers. There is a competitor flying above the game with him, trying to get to the Snitch first. Harry has been well tutored by Wood, and guards against being completely distracted from his own task by what is going on around him. We all need reminding of what is important to us as we face the mayhem of obstacles both inside and outside of ourselves. The Hero is no different. He needs help along the journey and a reminder of what he is there to do.
The Seeker in Quidditch has a lot of help. He has Chasers, who are there to score goals and help shorten the distance to victory. The Keeper is there to prevent the other side from getting an advantage – to guard the home turf. And the Beaters are there to ensure that no well-aimed bludgers prevent the Seeker and the Chasers from doing their jobs. Over the years, the faces of these helpers have changed for Harry. Their roles on the Quidditch Pitch often correspond to a role they take in Harry’s life.
In time, Oliver leaves and is replaced by Ron, who is coming into his own. Ron is now the defender of the home. The one whose task it is to keep victory within reach by stopping the opposing forces. Ron often fulfills this role in Harry’s life, remaining loyal and steadfast to Harry in times of trouble (with the exception of his brief period of jealousy in GoF). He has Harry’s back on a number of occasions and defends Harry throughout the series. He defeats McGonagall’s chess set, accompanies Harry to Aragog’s den (despite his fear), stands up to Sirius when he is still thought to be a murderer, and determinedly defends Harry through the Ministry attacks in OotP. Fred and George’s jobs are to keep the bludgers from knocking Harry out of the game. This they do splendidly. The only time Harry actually gets hit with a bludger on Fred and George’s watch is when Dobby enchants one. Likewise in life, Fred and George protect Harry from the human bludgers that could stop his quest by giving him the Marauder’s Map. The Map is rather like a good Beater’s bat, always giving fair warning about the location of all potential obstacles.
The Chasers in Harry’s life have changed over time, and he generally hasn’t been close friends with any of them. Until his fifth year, they were all older, more experienced students who kept the game in order while he did what he was there to do. They mirror the many friends and teachers whose words and deeds, large and small, have aided Harry in his Quest. Then came Ginny. Ginny’s debut on the Quidditch field came, of course, not as Chaser, but as replacement Seeker during Harry’s ban. However, she says that she prefers goal scoring, and does make that switch in HBP. She is evidently quite accomplished at both. We see her skill as a Chaser in HBP, and she never fails to catch the Snitch for Harry and the team when that pressure is on her. It’s fitting, knowing what we now do about Ginny’s role in Harry’s life. She is by his side, able to do what is necessary to help him stay on track. She is a powerful facilitator and spirited ally – helping him find a way to talk to Sirius, talking straight to Harry when he needs it, magnificently hexing Draco, and going to the Ministry with the others to aid in Harry’s quest. She is capable of fierce determination and she is versatile and able to do a variety of tasks to help achieve the common goal.
Even Hermione has a place in Quidditch, though she is hardly the sporty type. She is the cheering section in this venue. While Hermione takes a much more active role in other aspects of Harry’s life, there is also something right about her role as Number One Fan. She can watch the action and see things more clearly than those directly in the fray. It is Hermione who sees Snape’s lips moving in PS/SS, and who breaks the enchantment. It is Hermione who thinks of the spell to clear the rain from Harry’s glasses in PoA. Hermione is reason and so therefore she needs to be a little outside the fray. She is always there, though she is clearly not a sports fan. In their school lives, even if Harry is angry with her or if she fiercely disagrees with what he is doing, she is always there. Often, she is telling him what she thinks he’s doing wrong, but, as Hagrid says, she means well. She offers help and support. Always.
Harry’s Quidditch experiences also seem to mirror the stages of his quest. In PS/SS, he is nearly knocked off of his broom by Quirrell, though he believes Snape to be the culprit. He first catches the Snitch entirely by accident, as he races to the ground after the frightening broom ride. In the end of the story, it is Quirrell, not Snape, who awaits him in front of the Mirror of Erised, and who nearly ends Harry’s quest very early. Like the Snitch, Harry “catches” the Sorcerer’s Stone completely by accident, the Mirror offering it to him because of his pureness of heart.
In CoS, Harry’s arm is badly injured by a rogue bludger, which stalks him at the command of its enchanter, Dobby. Only Madam Pomfrey’s special Skele-Gro can grow back the bones that Lockhart’s incompetence removes. In the Chamber, Harry is nearly Obliviated by Lockhart, and then nearly killed by the Basilisk, which is controlled by Tom Riddle, and which fatally injures his arm. Only Fawkes’ healing tears, which magically repair the damage, are able to save him.
PoA gives us another Quidditch crisis: Dementors on the field! Harry really would die this time, if it weren’t for Dumbledore’s special magic, which cushions his fall. This is Harry’s first loss at Quidditch. Later, the climax of PoA could not happen without Dumbledore, who reminds Hermione of the use of the Time Turner, and sends them back in time to relive their experiences and save Sirius and Harry’s other self from the Dementors. However, as much as Harry and Hermione do accomplish during their time travels, Harry comes away feeling as though he lost – as though his efforts didn’t matter, since Peter escapes, and Sirius is still believed to be a murderer. In contrast, the second Quidditch game of the season ends when Harry catches the Snitch and simultaneously produces a beautiful, full-blown Patronus to chase away Malfoy and his sidekicks as they impersonate Dementors. This is a reflection of the Patronus that Harry will produce to save so many people from the real Dementors at the end of the book.
GoF is the Quidditch-Free book, of course, with the Tri-Wizard Tournament taking the place of Quidditch for the year. Except for the World Cup. The Cup also offers a sneak peak at what is to come for Harry, including an introduction to Krum, Veela, a major competition to be won, and the Dark Mark and Death Eaters. The score is interesting – Ireland wins because of their superior teamwork, but Krum catches the Snitch. At the end of Goblet of Fire, Harry wins the duel with Voldemort (with some very timely help from several sources), but Voldemort gets his body back and returns to power.
In OotP, Harry plays one game and then receives a ban from that horrible Umbridge woman. She takes his Firebolt and chains it out of reach. In much the same way as Umbridge prevents Harry from pursuing the Golden Snitch, she and the Ministry do their best to prevent him from pursuing his larger journey. She attempts to stop him from learning the skills he needs to defend himself. She denies his truth, and tries to force him to deny it as well. The Firebolt is now the vehicle that Harry needs to seek the Snitch, and the Ministry is holding it prisoner, for all intents and purposes. It is also a gift from Sirius – Harry’s only gift from Sirius. Sirius spends most of OotP “chained” to #12 Grimmauld Place. How interesting that the climax of the book takes place as Harry and friends enter the Ministry with the intention of rescuing a trapped Sirius. As the Firebolt is taken from Harry, so is his Godfather. Alas, unlike Harry’s broomstick, Padfoot did not make a miraculous comeback in HBP.
HBP gave us what Jo tells us will be our last Quidditch of the series. Look at the changes that took place on the team this year: Harry is in charge. He is the Captain, the leader. He is supported by Ron and Ginny, along with Katie Bell (the only older member from Harry’s original team) and new team members who look up to him as the older and more experienced player. Hermione takes her place in the stands, even helping to secure Ron a place on the team (astounding bit of rule breaking from our Miss Granger). Harry uses his wits to overcome potential problems, tricking Ron into thinking he’d been given Felix Felicis and drawing a brilliant performance out of him. However, even now, in his sixth year of Quidditch, he is vulnerable to distraction, and he almost loses the first game because of it. Fortunately, he recovers in time to catch the Snitch and lead the team to victory.
Then we have Game Two. Luna is commentating! As she does in life, Luna makes observations that seem irrelevant and out of place, but often have a grain of truth in them. Ron is out of commission and a great deal of mayhem erupts on the Gryffindor side. Harry is upended. He is unable to retain his own concentration on the Snitch while his team is in such conflict. In his efforts to get the know-it-all McLaggen under control, he is smacked with a bludger to the head and receives the worst injury of his Quidditch career. Gryffindor loses, badly, and it’s only through a brilliant performance in the final match, without Harry (who is unable to play because of Snape’s detention), that they manage to win the Quidditch Cup.
Harry’s life mirrors his Quidditch matches again. He is a different young man than we left at the end of OotP. He is stronger and more confident. He is ready to be a leader in life. He stands up for himself in a new way – not combative, as he was in year five, but simply stating his truth. He uses craft and wit – and Felix Felicis – to get the memory he needs from Horace Slughorn. He is pulled in many directions. Distractions are breaking out all around him. Ron and Hermione aren’t speaking to each other. His own feelings for Ginny are confusing and upsetting to him. Malfoy is up to something, and he needs to keep an eye on that as well. And why does Dumbledore trust Snape? All of these questions occupy Harry and threaten to derail his efforts. But he manages to find his way back to Dumbledore’s instructions and his larger task. And he receives help and support from Ron, Hermione and Ginny, as well as the friendships of Neville and Luna.
Then mayhem erupts all at once. He learns of Snape’s betrayal of James and Lily. Dumbledore finds a Horcrux and Harry is to go with him to find it. But, at the same time, Harry knows that there is a serious threat to Hogwarts. Malfoy is celebrating, and Harry cannot be there to discover why and defend the school. He leaves his trusted friends in charge in his absence, just as he must for the last Quidditch game. He goes on his larger quest, having given his friends the best instruction and protection he can muster in the Marauder’s Map and the Felix Felicis. And then it happens. Harry receives the bludger of all bludgers to the head: the death of Dumbledore. I think it’s fair to say that Dumbledore’s death is Harry’s worst psychic injury to date. And like the bludger that Harry takes from his own team mate, McLaggen, Dumbledore’s death is caused by one who is believed to be on Dumbledore’s team: Severus Snape.
As they do on the Quidditch Pitch, Harry’s friends (along with the expert help of the Order) manage to carry the day – they keep the school safe in Harry’s absence. No students are killed, though the very foundations of Hogwarts are shaken by the events of that night. If it weren’t for Harry’s foresight, who knows what might have happened?
JKR tells us that she has written her last Quidditch match. It would appear that the bulk of Harry’s training is behind him. Now he must focus on the final “game” of his quest. As we await Book Seven, we have few Quidditch clues to go on, except that, at the end of year six, Harry’s team won. By the skin of their teeth, with some luck, some craft, some injuries, some loss, some skill and some daring, but they won. And, if Quidditch really is a mirror of Harry’s life, then it seems clear what he has to do: stay focused and alert to danger. Don’t get distracted by the struggles going on around you. Don’t let yourself get pulled off course. Accept the help of friends and look out for the team. Do your job, the very best way you can. And don’t take your eye off the Golden Snitch.