Sunday, July 15, 2007

Harry Potter and the Philosophers' Predictions Part 3 - Who will die in book 7?

snape wormtail nevile hagrid



In parts 1 and 2 of this short series, we looked at the questions of whether Snape is really evil [unanimous answer: "No"] and whether Harry will die [less certainty here, but agreement that he will probably not end up dead]. Which leaves the question, who will die. Well one likely candidate is Snape himself - probably helping Harry - and another one who I believe will bite the dust is Wormtail - paying his debt back to Harry.  But I'm afriad we can also expect some good guys - or girls - to get the chop.

Who will it be?


Ed Kern


Within alchemy, the "work" is often cast as progressing through three stages, the black, the white, and the red. I think the
death of Sirius Black signals the end of the nigredo; the death of Albus Dumbledore, the end of the albedo; and perhaps the death of Rubeus
Hagrid, the end of the rubedo.


Shawn Klein hagrid

If I had to guess, I'd say Hagrid is going to get killed. I suspect possibly a Weasley family member(Percy?) and maybe even a Dursley family member (Petunia?) But these are really just guesses, hunches.

Tom Morris nevile


 I think that something important will happen with Neville Longbottom.  He's been such an obvious underdog, struggling with an apparent dearth of natural talent but a good spirit.  I suspect he'll rise up and make a big difference.  But we may have to say goodbye to Neville.  I can't imagine his not playing an important role.  One of the things Rowling has been keen to remind us is that things are not always what they appear.  And I suspect that applies to Neville.


Well, I guess we'll have to wait a few more days to find out the real answers.

Has this predicting got anything to do with philosophy? Ed Kern thinks it has, so lets leave the last word with him?

All this speculation is fun and interesting, but I've
tried to do so in ways consistent with how the texts model
an ethical system, portray characters, and develop
particular themes. A lot of fans treat the works as
mysteries, but they're really not, because of the way each
subsequent book in the series introduces elements to the
story that really could not have been foreseen by readers.
For this reason, philosophy and character (in both senses
of the word) offer the best grounds for speculation.


I'm sure that's not the last we will hear of Harry Potter. Personally, I would like to write some more on the personal development significance of the Potter series, which I have made started here. I'd be interested in your thoughts .... tags: ,

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Will Harry die? Harry Potter & The Philosophers' Predictions: Part 2


Is Harry destined for the graveyard or wedding bells ?


In article 1 of this short series on "Harry Potter and the Philosophers Predictions", published in the week leading up to book 's arrival, we asked whether Snape is really evil. Much disputed in fandom (where people argue in equal measure for Snape being evil, Dumbledore's man or his own man), our 3 philosophical sages agree that Snape is Dumbledore's man and will be redeemed. Which you might think is good news for Harry. But can he really survive in book 7? After all, Dumbledore seriously injured himself just retrieving one horcrux, and Harry has to destroy four- without Dumbledore. And J.K. Rowling famously challenged Paxman's assumption that there would be a tale to tell of Harry the adult with these chilling words How do you know he'll still be alive?

Let's find out what our own three philosophical sages think.

Will Harry die in book 7?

Shawn Klein

image Harry probably lives and flourishes

Harry's death would end the series with a malevolent feel. Moreover, I think it would be in sharp contrast to almost everything in the series. This series is fundamentally a story about moral development; it is a story about Harry becoming a responsible and mature adult. His death is not the logic progression here. The logical end is his independence and the flowering of his power. Harry's development towards independence has been a central theme: from escaping the Dursleys to losing Sirius and now Dumbledore. I think we will see Harry take full control of himself and his powers and take his place in the adult world.

JKR has left it so that she can really do anything. There are 700 some odd pages left and a lot can be revealed that can up-end the best predications. From a fan point of view as well as philosophical/artistic point of view, I don't want to see Harry die. I say personally because I like Harry and I like happier endings. I say philosophically because I don't think killing the hero of the story is consistent with the kind of story of moral development and growth that JKR has been telling. I say artistically because the ultimate point of art is to uplift our souls, provide us with strength, and give us insight into our selves and to our lives. I don't see how Harry's death would serve those ends.

But if Harry must die, I don't want him to die in some grand sacrificial manner that casts him as some kind of Christ-like figure. Such an ending would be personally unsatisfying, but also against the grain of the whole series. The imagery and symbols have largely been drawn from classical and pre-Christian culture and so pasting a specifically Christian symbol on to it at the end would be incongruous.

Ultimately, however JKR close the series, the path she takes us on to that end will be more important than how it ends. Whether Harry lives or dies, whether Snape is evil or not, what will matter is if these last 700 pages tell the story in the way that makes it so when the end comes it is what we will need to see.

Tom Morris

imageHarry probably lives - but ...

I'd be very surprised if we were to lose Harry in the last book. But I can understand the viewpoint of those who think we will, because going out in a self sacrificial and successful effort to save the lives of his friends would be a fitting culmination of his moral development. And Rowling has some Christian "power in the blood" passages related to the self sacrifice of Harry's mother and dad, and some "power of love" passages that could be taken to foreshadow such an end.

Ed Kern
image Harry the phoenix will accept death but will probably not literally be killed off.

I try to make the case in the last chapter of my book, The Wisdom of Harry Potter, that Rowling has structured Harry's adventures as a very traditional hero's quest, which, among other things, employs alchemical symbolism to chart Harry's moral growth and to cast him, at least in part, as a metaphorical phoenix. I think this works pretty well with the Stoic themes I've found in the series. Because of this alchemical symbolism, and because of the way Voldemort's "sin" has been characterized, I'm pretty sure that Rowling will have Harry accept death - as he already did at the end of book 5, when Voldemort possessed Harry and dared Dumbledore to kill him. I think that this is also in line with other Stoic "suicides" occasioned by the demands of reason--at least from a Stoic perspective. I'm not alone in fandom in thinking that Dumbledore himself arranged his own death at the end of book 6 in the service of a greater good. He really is presented as a kind of Stoic "sage" guiding Harry's own development. Rowling has also had him make the claim, several times, that there really are worst things than death. And I really do think that the Harry Potter series is really more about death and the need to accept it than is usually acknowledged in critical commentary.

Within alchemy, the completion of the "work" results in the "death" of the alchemist before his "rebirth." If Rowling follows the path that she has already charted, Harry will, thus, have to "die." But he will do so as a phoenix, a reconciler of opposites and a bringer of life out of destruction.
Now, for what I might call meta-literary reasons, I don't think that Rowling will literally kill off Harry. Despite her protestations, she really is writing children's literature, and if she kills off her hero, I think that she'll turn off her audience. She'll also spoil the series for future readers, who won't invest the time in a lengthy story with a tragic ending, as well as for her current readers, who won't return to the stories again and again, as they've been doing now for some time.

So it looks like Harry will probably survive. But we know that more than two characters will die? Who's for the chop? Not Ron and Hermione surely? What about Luna? Nevile? Hagrid? Find out what our philosophers think in the next article, published very soon ...

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Harry Potter - the end is nigh, but for whom?


Harry Potter and the Philosophers' Predictions  

Part 1 of 3

Is Snape really evil?


 As the publication date for the final installment in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, looms ever closer, the questions left unanswered in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince become every more urgent. As a Potter fan, I've been musing over questions like "Is Snape really evil?" and "Will Harry die?" ever since reading the (literally) shocking last chapters of book 6. I've re-asked them when listening to Stephen Fry's excellent reading of the book with my kids. And I became more worried when J.K. Rowling spoke of book 7 involving a "bloodbath" in her recent TV interview with Jonathan Ross (even if she did backtrack on this a bit).

My own hunch is that Snape can't be on the side of the Death-Eaters, because that would turn Dumbledore into a Neville character of the worst kind - Chamberlain not Longbottom. Dumbledore is really wise, right, so he can't make such a howler? Regarding Harry's survival -well I'd hate to see him die, but after JKR's "bloodbath" comment I'm a bit concerned. In the same interview she also said "I think that Harry's story comes to quite a clear end in Book Seven". Are we to see a Hamlet-like ending in which all the major protagonists are killed? As a reader who has  seen none of Rowling's plot twists coming, perhaps I ought to leave the serious predicting to the experts....

But which experts? The fan sites are full of predictions, and I'm sure the correct ones must be there somewhere - but where? It so happens that three excellent books have been written by academics about the philosophy in Harry Potter. Perhaps "lovers of wisdom" who are also lovers of Harry Potter books can set my mind at rest. I tracked down the books'  authors and they were kind enough to share their thoughts with us ...

image image image

    The Wisdom of Harry Potter
  by Edmund M. Kern

 If Harry Potter ran General Electric
by Tom Morris

Harry Potter and Philosophy
 by David Baggett & Shawn Klein (eds.)


It's been said that if you put 3 philosophers in a room together and ask them a question, you'll usually hear at least 4 different answers. Surprisingly - and perhaps significantly - there was almost complete agreement amongst these three Potterphile philosophers.

So, over to Professors Kern, Morris and Klein ...


1) Is Snape really evil?

Tom Morris:

Remember that Dumbledore seemed to plead briefly with Snape right before Snape killed him.  I can't imagine that the Headmaster was asking to be spared.  After all, this is the man who famously said that there are things much worse than death, and that "After all, to the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure."  I think Dumbledore was pleading with Snape to go through with a plan and use his wand in a way that Snape never would have wanted to do.  So I believe that Snape has been on the side of Dumbledore throughout the books, and has infiltrated the dark lord's army.
Can Dumbledore make a misjudgement?  Certainly, we see him do so in the case of overly protecting Harry and withholding truth from him.  But this is a mistake too big for such a wise man and wizard to make.  I see his trust of Snape as definitive.

Ed Kern:

Snape is a very interesting case, because, I believe, his animosity toward Harry is genuine, but he has also chosen to associate himself with the righteous cause.This conclusion is dependent to a large degree upon speculation, but I also think that Rowling has provided us clues about Snape's true disposition if we look to his eyes... Take a look at Snape's eyes when Dumbledore asks him to return to Voldemort's service: they tell us that he can't wait to exact his revenge. I'm 99% sure that Snape will die while defending Harry. No other character is more overdetermined for redemption.

I think we'll find out that Snape did have a hand in  Dumbledore's death, but it was primarily because the
headmaster himself wanted it  - for a number of reasons, not least placing an agent in Voldemort's inner circle.

Of course, the most important question posed by several characters is why did Dumbledore trust Snape. Simply, we can't know for sure at this point. But I don't think it's stretching things to surmise that the headmaster and potions master entered into a kind of magical contract that was made possible by Snape's genuine remorse over having a hand in the killing of Lily Potter. We are likely to learn that she had shown Snape friendship and understanding, and that he had turned away from her because of her interest in James Potter. Upon the occasion of her death, he felt true remorse. In a sense, the only person Snape detests more than Harry is Voldemort.


Shawn Klein:

I think ultimately Snape is redeemed. If Snape turns out to be truly a Death Eater, then Dumbledore has been made quite the fool. Snape has been the red herring in each of the books, and I think he's still the red herring. Then again, Dumbledore has admitted to making mistakes (at the end of Bk V where he takes some of the responsibility for Sirius's death and for placing Harry into more trouble than Dumbledore expected). Moreover, maybe the biggest red herring of them all is that Snape really is evil. As the saying goes, the best hiding place is in plain sight. This scenario is, I think, unlikely.  It would end the series on such a sour and malevolent note.


So we are all agreed then - Snape is Dumbledore's man, he killed Dumbledore because he was asked to by Dumbledore  he will probably die helping or even saving Harry.  But will Harry survive? And who are the characters (more than two ...) who will die in book 7? Find out what the experts think in part 2 of "Harry Potter and the Philosophers' Predictions", coming very soon to this website...
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