Harry’s Saving Grace
In her article Harry’s Temptation, Christina Ford discusses the idea that Harry may be tempted to do something horrible and may need redemption for that act, and that Severus Snape may have something to do with Harry’s fate. This reverses the more common theory that Professor Snape is the one needing redemption for all he has done, and that Harry may become a sacrifice in the fight against evil. I found this article fascinating and would like to explore some of my own thoughts on this reversal. As I was discussing this with a friend, a sudden parallel to The Lord of the Rings also flashed through my mind. Many people detest these types of comparisons, but bear with me, because there is deeper meaning to this one, I believe.
Christina Ford points out how Harry has changed over the years, and how he is — perhaps — coming dangerously close to doing something truly terrible. We have seen him grow from an innocent and naive but strong and loving first year into a sixth year who has suffered horribly and now fights feelings of anger, resentment, loss, and hatred. He has tried to use an Unforgivable Curse twice, though he has failed; but he has succeeded at the Dark Magic Septusempra curse, and has even tried to use it a second time. By the end of Book Six, Harry has developed a very cold acceptance about his fate: he knows he must destroy Voldemort, but he wants to kill Snape. Dark indeed.
Severus Snape. What is his real story? Only with Book Seven will we be able to understand the events of the past six books, and even then many of us will still be shaking our heads in disbelief. Is Snape still working for Voldemort, or is he in fact Dumbledore’s man, through and through? I have no answer, nor even a theory I’d like to put forth. The more I read, however (particularly the excellent editorials on this website), the more I believe he is the latter. Yes, Snape has done horrible things, but I don’t think we know the full story. It’s possible Dumbledore isn’t telling Harry the exact truth about Snape. Maline Freden discusses this in another great MuggleNet article, so I will not go into that here.
I will only mention one theory though, in order to provide possible motivation for later actions I plan to discuss. Is it possible that Snape has heard the entire prophecy, and with or without Dumbledore, has made the decision to only share half of it with Voldemort? This, in effect, would have created Harry as the person we now know to be the Chosen One, the only person who can destroy Voldemort. Perhaps it is guilt that drives Snape — not for the death of James and Lily Potter, but over the life of Harry Potter.
But I digress; back to Harry. Let us look at two things: Harry’s temptation and his saving grace — whether he gives into temptation or not. I will tie the former to Dark Magic and the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings, and the latter to Snape and the character Gollum.
It seems to me that Harry does seem to be moving closer to the “dark side,” to borrow a phrase from a another famous trilogy. He is giving into his angry impulses more, to his hurt and his hatred. He has spent the last two years lashing out at people, destroying Dumbledore’s office, and trying to use an Unforgivable Curse. Although he has gained some measure of control over this in HBP, he also uses the Sectusempra curse on Draco Malfoy, a curse which is revealed to not only be physically devastating, but Dark Magic itself. Despite knowing both of these things, Harry has tried to use it again when he confronts Snape after the horrible events at the Astronomy Tower. We know it takes negative emotions to use the Unforgivable Curses (GOF, OOTP), and it seems that these darker emotions power the Dark Arts. Harry, in the passion of horrible moments at the Ministry and Hogwarts, has not hesitated to use Dark Magic. And so it seems that Harry could be moving closer to using the Dark Arts more often against his enemies, the proverbial, “fighting fire with fire.” His own dark emotions and the lure of using them to power the Dark Arts, particularly now and against Snape, could become an increasing temptation in Book Seven. And here is where my parallel to The Lord of the Rings comes in.
In the loosest of ways, these emotions, this growing desire for and the ability to use the Dark Arts, could be seen as Harry’s own version of The One Ring. This is the Ring that the hobbit, Frodo, strives to take to Mount Doom in order to destroy the power of Middle Earth’s own Dark Lord, Sauron. But the Ring weighs Frodo down and wears his soul; it tempts him to use it for power and glory. I hope I am not spoiling anything to say that in the end, it is too much for our heroic hobbit, and at the very Crack of Doom, Frodo claims the Ring for his own. But for his trials and suffering, Frodo is allowed a saving grace, and accomplishes his mission after all. Gollum, who also desires the Ring, bites it off of Frodo’s hand and, jumping for joy, falls in the fiery volcano to his death. The Ring is destroyed after all.
And so it may be that Harry gives into temptation and uses the Dark Arts, in effect claiming the Ring for himself. He gives into the hurt, the hatred, and the desire for revenge and uses these feelings to power Dark Magic. He makes a terrible choice, an immoral choice, perhaps the choice Dumbledore refers to as “easy” instead of “right.” This would not be an impulsive choice, like throwing ineffective Cruciatus curses, but an intended choice, one that could prove devastating in many ways, and may compromise the dignity and sanctity of Harry’s very soul.
Do I personally think Harry will come to this? No, but I think it is an excellent point for discussion. When beginning this essay, I was quite excited about my thoughts and theories, but after pondering this essay for several weeks, and reading more excellent commentary online, I really don’t think that the story Rowling has set up for us will conclude with Harry making that choice. It may not be out of place in other fantasy epics I’ve read, but in this one, she has created a character in Harry who is strong enough to reject that choice. (Of course, Frodo is strong too). I also think that the betrayal of the readers — many of whom are so young — would be so great, that I just don’t see this fabulous author, who has such a strong relationship with fans, taking the story in that direction. That said, I think Rowling would be very brave to do so, because in real life, the hero does not always remain uncorrupted. But the Hogwarts universe is not real life, and I think Harry will remain Harry. He will not claim the Ring.
Merriam-Webster defines grace as “unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.” Whether or not Harry gives in and “claims the Ring,” I still think he has earned a saving grace at the end of his journey, a little helping hand. Harry has suffered greatly and has lost much, and I am just not sure if he is strong enough to destroy Voldemort on his own. I believe he will receive his saving grace in the form of someone who sacrifices something to help him. Perhaps Snape will become Harry’s Gollum. If Harry has “given in,” or is simply unable to destroy Voldemort, perhaps Snape will be the one who lends the helping hand, or even finishes the task.
There are several similarities between the two characters. Gollum suffers because of the Ring; and certainly Snape has suffered as well (we learn this all secondhand, and even Harry is moved to compassion by Snape’s childhood). Perhaps, in a way, Gollum’s death is his saving grace, a release from his suffering. Perhaps by accomplishing Harry’s ultimate goal, the destruction of Voldemort, Snape will be released from his own suffering.
Another similarity between Gollum and Snape is that they have both played each side of the conflict. In The Lord of the Rings, Gollum is taken captive by the forces of Mordor, and under torture, reveals to them the location of the newly found Ring. But later, he leads Frodo through Mordor and for awhile seems to genuinely repent. He gains back the use of personal pronouns and his given name, Smeagol. But he is unable to truly turn back from his path, and ultimately leads the hobbits into the dark den of Shelob, the giant spider who stings Frodo, leaving him for dead. Frodo is saved by Sam and they continue their quest.
Snape has been horrible to Harry since Harry’s first day of class. Yet, for awhile, he seems to be on Harry’s side, joining the Order and teaching Harry Occlumency (however much a fiasco that turned out to be). I am not sure Snape will betray and lead Harry to his death as Gollum does to Frodo. In fact, I see no literal parallel happening in Book Seven. But in a way, Snape could be seen as leading Harry toward the Dark Arts. Because of what Snape has done, Harry carries a poisonous hatred that may tempt him to use the Dark Arts and possibly commit an evil act. And do not forget the Half-Blood Prince’s potions book has already taught Harry a nasty Dark Arts spell. Perhaps this will be the parallel to Gollum’s betrayal in Cirith Ungol. Again, I don’t think Harry will follow this path, but I am putting it out there because it is possible.
Should anything happen to Harry along the way, I can certainly see the time when Harry’s friends step up to bat for him, and save him, much as Sam does for Frodo. (After all, they and the rest of the wizarding community already owe Harry several times over!) The journey then continues for Harry and his friends, just as it does for Frodo and Sam. Frodo is overcome at the brink, unable to deny any longer what the Ring has done to him. Perhaps Harry will turn his back on what is right and do what is easy, making that terrible choice that is discussed above. Perhaps he will kill, or perhaps he will be unable to commit the grievous act that splits one’s soul. Either way, should Harry be unable to meet his destiny as the one who destroys Voldemort, perhaps Snape steps in as his saving grace to kill the Dark Lord, or at least provides some sort of sacrificial support.
ASIDE: If you are reminded of another legendary trilogy here, I am as well: Star Wars(and I mean the good one, the original). Darth Vader, apprentice to the evil Emperor, completes his destiny (to bring balance to the Force — he had his own prophecy too) as Luke Skywalker’s saving grace. Luke tries his hardest to bring them all back to the Light Side, but in the end, when he is threatened with the death of his friends, and later his sister Leia, he gives into the power of the Dark Side to bring down Vader. Of course, Luke stops just shy of “going all the way” — he throws his lightsaber away, and takes nasty punishment in the form of some wicked special effects. Vader, making his final choice, picks up the Emperor and kills him and in the process, destroys himself. Vader becomes the sacrifice for Luke, Luke’s saving grace for his trials and suffering. Can you not see Snape making a similar choice for Harry? Whether Harry commits a terrible act in “claiming the Ring” and/or is unable to defeat Voldemort, and/or throws away his wand to take the final punishment, I would not be surprised to see Snape step between them and be the one who ultimately brings down the Dark Lord, or at least enables Harry to fulfill the prophecy. Either way, like Gollum and Vader, I think Snape will not survive.
I lie. I would be surprised because it is still Snape. He’s a “right foul git” for most of the series, and to pull a Vader would definitely drop my jaw. That said, should Snape stand firmly with Voldemort, I will be equally surprised, if not devastated, to find he is evil after all. Betrayal seems to me the most heinous of acts, and to betray Dumbledore, Hogwarts, and even Harry is beyond bearing. But Snape is a character who can walk one way or the other, towards good or toward evil, and we won’t know his true nature until he makes the choice as to what direction to take. The beauty of this fantastic series is that it will be completely original, whatever direction; and I don’t think Snape will truly make his choice until the last minute.
For those of you who shout, “What about the words of the prophecy?!” I think that Dumbledore has pointed out enough how the prophecy works only because the parties involved allow it to work. Therefore, I do think it’s possible that Snape can be the one to kill Voldemort, especially if Harry has destroyed the Dark Lord’s soul by finding and destroying the Horcruxes. Perhaps it is for this task that Harry must use the power that the Dark Lord does not have. But I realize Dumbledore himself believes that Harry is now the one who must kill Voldemort. So at the very least, as I’ve already mentioned, Snape may be the one whose sacrificial act allows Harry to finally destroy Voldemort.
As for Harry, there is no West for him to sail into, no peaceful end that isn’t really an end. Should Harry survive, he will have to live with his actions, good or bad, and their consequences. He may have to live with the knowledge of terrible acts, or that Snape saves him, should things play out as I’ve suggested. But I think our hero can do it, because ultimately no matter what happens, Harry is about love. When Book Seven is finished, perhaps Harry may begin a new journey: the journey to love and accept himself and all that has happened to him since that fateful first owl appeared at Privet Drive.