Leading Theories: Textually Deficient?
by Jay Ortiz
First, we should deal as factually as possible with three categories of theories that superficially seem credible and appear to have the most adherents.
The first, as we have been considering, relates to the sword, and this is the easiest to conclusively refute. In addition to Fawkes’s delivery of the sword to Harry, and regardless of when it came to reside in the headmasters office, Gryffindor’s sword simply cannot have been a Horcrux. Dumbledore has been diligently searching for relics of the founders for quite a long time, and is very well aware the sword is one such artifact. Yet, he states that I am confident, however, that the only known relic of Gryffindor remains safe.(21) His conclusion is so clear and certain we must accept it as fact. Surely, regardless of its history, Dumbledore would not have failed to use every charm and spell within his vast powers to examine Gryffindor’s sword, in order to determine whether or not it was a Horcrux.(22) It sat, after all, in a glass case in his own office. He was clearly aware of its provenance, and of Voldemort’s desire for relics of the founders. Only a complete fool would have failed to check it out and Dumbledore, despite his failings, was no fool. We may and should accept as incontrovertible fact his conclusion that the sword was safe.(23)
Secondly, both Dumbledore and many readers have focused on the snake Nagini. It should be noted that, although he speculated that Nagini is the missing sixth Horcrux, Dumbledore himself observed that a living object is not an ideal candidate to become a Horcrux.(24) As Dumbledore stated, a living being has the power to think and move for itself,(25) and may therefore make itself inconvenient when the time might come for Voldemort to retrieve the part of his soul deposited therein. Even more fundamentally, living beings have a nasty tendency to die; to the extent that a Horcrux is intended to assure immortality, its death would be more than merely inconvenient. Despite the widespread acceptance of Dumbledore’s speculation(26) that Nagini is the missing Horcrux, the mortality of the snake makes it an unlikely candidate.
This conclusion is reinforced by Voldemort’s own observation that when his wandering shadow took possession of snakes during his years as Vapormort when all that remained of him was something less even than a spirit(27) his invasion of the slithering reptiles shortened their lives.(28) It seems extraordinarily unlikely that Voldemort would have chosen as a Horcrux a living thing whose mortality would be decreased, rather than increased, by his presence. For that reason alone, in addition to others,(29) the possibility that Nagini is the missing Horcrux is not even considered in this analysis.
Further, Dumbledore appears to have concluded that, if Nagini was a Horcrux, it was the murder of Frank Bryce that Voldemort used to create the soul fragment to be deposited in the snake.(30) However, it must be recalled that at the time of Frank Bryce’s murder,(31) Voldemort was still in his Vapormort state, and it seems unlikely that he would have had the power to create a Horcrux even if he had intended to do so. He was, after all, less than spirit, less than the meanest ghost.(32) And, for any who remain unconvinced, it should be pointed out that, if the following analysis has validity, at the time of Frank Bryces murder Lord Voldemort was not in possession of a soul which he could split.
There is one final category of Horcrux theories that postulates, in numerous variants, that Harry himself or his scar is the sixth Horcrux. This theory, in turn, has generated countless permutations, most of which revolve around one or the other of two questions: whether Voldemort transferred his soul fragment into Harry accidentally or on purpose, and whether Harry must die in order for that soul fragment to be destroyed. Some of these theories may be closer to the truth than even their proponents realize, but once again they all seem to share the same defect as most of the others: they are largely premised on hypotheses and suppositions. Therefore, it would accomplish little for this essay to discuss and, in most cases, refute their likelihood.
Yet, some of them do seem to come very close — even to circle around – conclusions that are firmly based on textual foundations. What is perhaps most surprising is that so few, if any, of them have actually analyzed Ms. Rowling’s narrative, and therefore they miss closely, sometimes, but almost invariably the ultimate conclusion that seems virtually compelled by Ms. Rowling’s own words.
(21) HBP, p. 505.
(22) Recall, as well, that the two Horcruxes we know to have been destroyed the diary and the ring were both mutilated or damaged by the destruction of the soul fragments they contained. The sword, on the contrary, appears undamaged, pristine, indeed beautiful, and therefore we can safely conclude that it was never a Horcrux.
(23) HBP, p. 505.
(24) HBP, p. 506.
(26) Many readers appear to treat Dumbledore’s conclusions, as to this and other matters, as ipso facto true, notwithstanding his own cautionary warning that despite his great powers and wisdom he is as capable of error as any other mortal (see, e.g., OOTP, pp. 826, 828, 833, 837-839). Indeed, because of his great wisdom, his mistakes also tend to be great. He himself admitted mistakes, perhaps the greatest of which was his decision not to tell Harry of the prophecy until after it had nearly cost Harry his life (OOTP, p. 839). Like any scholar and wise man, Dumbledore reaches his conclusions by a process of reasoning, and remains uncertain of the truth until it is confirmed by verifiable facts. The clearest example of his deductive process relates to Voldemort’s sequential division of his soul and the creation of multiple Horcruxes; clearly, Dumbledore suspected this for some time, but it was not until he observed the serpent arising from one of his silver instruments and then splitting that he could conclude with some assurance that Voldemort was in essence divided (OOTP, p. 470). This enigmatic remark was obviously important, but few readers appreciated its real significance and Dumbledore himself was not entirely certain, until his deductions were confirmed by the revelation of Slughorn’s memory (HBP, pp. 500-502). Therefore, although always entitled to great weight and respect, Dumbledore’s pronouncements should not be taken in every case as infallible, particularly where as in the case of Nagini he himself was meditating on the factors that argued against his tentative conclusion. It must be recalled that Dumbledore like Harry and like every reader was attempting to use reason to identify an unknown object, and even the clearest reasoning can be wrong if it proceeds from erroneous premises. There is no question that Nagini is remarkably close to Voldemort, that Voldemort controls her and uses her to achieve his purposes, indeed that she is perhaps the only being for which he demonstrates genuine affection. Those facts though real do not mean that she is a Horcrux; Dumbledore himself would have been the first to admit that his suggestion that Nagini might be a Horcrux was largely a matter of default the lack of reasonable alternatives and to reject that conclusion if he could have identified other objects that both fit Voldemort’s apparent pattern and were inanimate.
(27) GOF, p. 653.
(28) GOF, p. 654.
(29) Perhaps, to this author at least, the greatest impediment to Nagini being the missing Horcrux is Ms. Rowlings evident reverence for humanity and its highest virtues, such as love, friendship and fidelity. It seems almost inconceivable that Ms. Rowling would entrust a human soul – even one as malignant as that of Lord Voldemort – to the body of a snake. To most Western minds, the mention of snakes conjures at least an unconscious cultural memory of the role of the snake in the Garden of Eden; to suggest that a snake could contain a human soul seems simply inconsistent with the context within which Ms. Rowling has placed her story.
(30) HBP, p. 506.
(31) GOF, pp. 13-15.
(32) GOF, p. 653.