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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Monday, June 18, 2007

Beefy, Compassion and the Road to Meaning

Whilst probably not 500-1 - the odds offered against England winning the 1981 Headlingley test before Botham's heroics - the chances of Ian "Beefy" Botham becoming a knight of the realm must at one time have been rated as pretty slim Even his own autobiography [2000 edition] describes itself as "an intriguing cocktail of sex and drug allegations,personal upheavals [and] confrontations with his peers" - as well as "remarkable achievements both on and off the field"

Today few would deny the merits of Botham's knighthood. Raising over ten million pounds for leukemia-related children's charities far outweighs what are now discounted as minor blemishes. Yet the misdemenours didn't seem so out of character at the time. If you had to compare Botham to a Shakespearian hero, it would surely be that epitome of out-of-control hedonism, Sir John Falstaff. As Michael Henderson wrote back in 2000 :-

Watching [Botham] in his pomp must have been like eavesdropping on Falstaff in an Eastcheap tavern, as he feasted on sack and capons - though even the Lord of Misrule might have struggled to keep up with Botham on a heavy night.

falstaff ianbotham

I'd wager that Sir John didnt get his knighthood for good deeds. Whilst it's not too much of a stretch to imagine Falstaff flaying opposition bowlers to all parts of the ground like the village blacksmith, I doubt if would have got past the first inn on the John O'Groats-Lands End road. So what started his twentieth-century counterpart on his unlikely trajectory ? One word - compassion. Botham was passing through a hospital ward for some treatment to a broken toe, when he saw some pretty-normal looking children sitting around playing board games. "You know those children won't be here in a few months" commented his medic. They had terminal leukemia, and couldn't expect to see their next Christmas. Botham was so moved he began to donate money for parties for the children, then began doing sponsored walks until eventually he was organising and taking part in mammoth fund-raising events.

Compassion - a feeling of sorrow and pity for someone in trouble - changed the life of Botham himself and the many others helped by him. When Botham visited that Taunton hospital ward, the success rate for treatment leukemia in children was 20%. Now it is 80%. Of course, Botham cannot be held solely responsible for this incredible improvement - but what a legacy!

Buddhists have long argued that compassion isn't just good for other people, it's good for you too.

"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." proclaims the Dalai Lama .

After his knighthood, Sir Ian may agree.

bothamolder dalailama

So does the mature Sir Ian now resemble the Dalai Lama (above) more than Falstaff? Probably not. I suspect that the Falstaffian side of his character is still very much to the fore. Botham is no saint. But, guided by compassion, he has used his celebrity status to make a huge positive difference to the world. However problematic celebrity is in the modern world, it can be put to good use. Celebrity plus compassion equals meaning. So, what odds will anyone give me about the latest celebrity, Katie from the Apprentice , eventually using her celebrity status to help those in need? Anyone give me 500-1?

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Match of the Day Philosophy Special

The news that Big Brother contestants have been asked to discuss the Meaning of Life has seen other popular shows jump on the philosophical bandwagon. Personal Development Through Philosophy is proud to have secured the script and exclusive rights to one such venture - tonight's Philosophy Special Match of the Day....

Gary Lineker: After the World Cup debacle against Portugal, perhaps we all need to learn how to take life more philosophically. Tonight our usual panel of experts is joined by two very special guests, the new England manager Steve McClaren and the ancient Roman Stoic philosopher, Lucius Seneca. Alan Hansen, if I may turn to you first, which philosopher do you think England can learn most from?

Alan: The boy Aristotle's got it all - after two and a half thousands years or so he might be slowing down a bit, but his maturity and common sense more than compensate. Sheer class.

Gary: And how could Aristotle help?

Alan: Basically his advice adds up to 3 secrets of success. Practice, practice and more practice. Who was the only Englishman to score a penalty? The one who plays in Germany, that's who. We've got to practice penalty-taking, and we've got to get into the habit of taking good penalties. If we took penalties to decide every drawn Premiership game, you'd soon notice the difference.

Gary: Aristotle said all that, did he?

Alan: Aye, words to that effect. And he also said that you could'na win anything with kids.

Gary: Let's go over to the stadium now and join John Motson and Mark Lawrenson. Mark, any words of wisdom?

Mark Lawrenson: (deadpan) The two enemies of human happiness are pain and boredom.

Gary: Is that one of yours, Mark?

Mark: I wish it was, Gary, I wish it was. No, that's from Arthur Schopenhauer - the second most miserable person ever. Pain and boredom - that just about sums up England's World Cup for me.

Gary: Hmm. I wonder if Schopenhauer was influenced by the formative years he spent in Wimbledon. Moving on quickly - John, anything to add?

Motty: (chirpy as ever) You know, I think some people are being a bit too harsh on the England lads. I lip-read some banter between Manchester United team-mates Rooney and Ronaldo the other night, and you might not believe this, but they were actually talking about two philosophers, Foucault and Kant.

Gary: (smirking) Thanks for that, John. Now for a Welsh point of view, over to Mark Hughes.

Marcuse: The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, their flat-panel TV.

Motty: Ho, Ho. I think that someone's confused Marcuse, the Frankfurt school philosopher, and Mark Hughes, the ex Man Utd forward. It reminds me of the time back in 1982 when Top of the Pops mixed up soul icon Jackie Wilson with darts player Jocky Wilson. You've got to laugh ...

Gary: Ian Wright - you look like you’re bursting to say something ...

Ian: Aristotle, Schopenhauer, Marcuse - listen, man, we don’t need any of these fancy foreigners, know what I mean? How about someone English for a change? John Stuart Mill is the man for me. The greatest happiness of the greatest number, that's the answer. Steve - put a smile back on everyone's face and pick some fast wingers, youngsters who can go past players.

Steve McClaren: One of them wouldn’t go by the name of Sean would he?

Ian: Well, you'd be making at least one person very happy.

Gary: Lucius Seneca, you were tutor to Nero, you've seen it all before. Any sage advice for the English?

Seneca: Forget 4-5-1, drop Beckham, play Lennon and Cole as out-and-out wingers, put Rooney and Defoe up front together - oh, and make John Terry captain.

Gary: And any philosophical tips?

Seneca: We Stoics think that people need to have realistic expectations. England always lose in penalty shoot outs and have never won a major football tournament away from home. Expect things to go badly, and you won't be disappointed. And remember, football's only a game.

Gary: Steve McClaren, the new England manager, you're being very quiet. Not impersonating Sven by any chance, are you? Steve, what's the way forward for England?

Steve McClaren: It's all Greek to me

Gary: Seneca, don’t go just yet. It looks like we might need to remember your advice in the next few years. Well I hope all this philosophy has helped -now it's over to Big Brother to find out the meaning of life....

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