This is how it will go down (National Post July 18,2007)
This is how it will go down
Barbara Kay, National Post
Published: Wednesday, July 18, 2007
In the Beginning, J.K. Rowling brooded upon a sparsely starred adolescent literary firmament, and in 1997 began publishing Harry Potter novels. And in 2005 she looked upon her creation -- a readership that swarmed upon the earth (325 million in 63 languages) and the revenues from all that she had called into being (Rowling is the world's first literary billionaire) -- and lo, they were very, very good indeed.
And as to the final book, she did not rest, but sent word that upon the 21st day of the seventh month of the 2007th year, she would bring forth upon the Earth Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And her readers trembled in anticipation as to what would be Harry's and even also their own fate.
Psst! Have the eye-rolling unbelievers moved on in disgust to another column? Good, then it's just you Potterites and me, so there's no need for background set up, and I can go directly to my preferred (admittedly improbable) series denouement.
OK. The big question: Should Harry live or die? We know --Rowling herself has made it clear: "One character got a reprieve, but I have to say two die that I didn't intend to die" -- that the ultimate sacrifice will be made, but by whom?
Almost everyone naturally insists that Harry live, while it's generally understood we let Neville Long-bottom die (who could disagree? Neville has always fairly screamed "sacrificial lamb"). The field is wide open after that. My second vic pick is Snape (he will obviously end as a good guy), but only if Dumbledore un-dies: Losing Sirius was rough, and there is no way three father figures are dying!
I was shocked to see one Montreal Gazette predictor had Harry committing suicide in chagrin over his failure to prevent Neville's death. But then I noticed the theorist was 14-years-old, too young to understand that while death would be literarily admissible for Harry, suicide is never an option for a true hero (of Western literature, at any rate), no matter the provocation.
Here's how it should go down: Harry both dies and lives. It can be done. Rowling once said that she keeps her belief in God private "because if I talk too freely about that, I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what's coming." Hmm. Guided by this comment, I think Harry could invert the Christian myth, and sacrifice his "godly" wizard identity -- death of a sort -- and be "reborn" a humble Muggle. I'm not sure of the mechanics of it all, but in the end he would accept this (prophecy-fulfilling) martyrdom as the price for vanquishing Voldemort in some apocalyptic confrontation.
Harry's pseudo-death, his dwindling from magical childhood into maturity -- muggledom -- "trailing clouds of glory," as Wordsworth put the transition -- is, see, a neat compromise in which both the writer's literary honour and the reader's emotional needs may be satisfied.
It makes sense. In a Golden Age of peace following Voldemort's demise, a wizardly Harry would be a teacher, merchant or bureaucrat, the only apparent occupations in wizard country. Apart from the magical bells and whistles to which Harry is in any case accustomed, and absent evil to fight, that's a pretty banal (600-year or whatever) life for a hero.
But what really makes a wizard adulthood impossible for Harry is the inadmissibility of erotic love into what is essentially a child's world of magical thinking and solutions. Although there are happy wizard couples in Rowling's world, they are primarily parents, and completely non-erotic. No adult Hogwarts characters have sex lives. But Harry must eventually, for it is the human in Harry readers love.
And it is precisely this --humanity -- that the Muggles (i.e., the symbolically soulless Dursleys) lack. Harry's martyrdom brings it to them.
And then? OK, it's a stretch, but for a truly smashing ending, the Chosen One could help vanquish the Muggles' very own version of You Know Who, that evil presence in a cave near Afghanistan unleashing Muggle-world versions of Death Eaters and Dementors, malevolent creatures no amount of magical thinking has subdued or conjured away, and against whom only "something worth fighting for" (Harry's last line in the film Order of the Phoenix) will prevail. We Muggles have forgotten what that is. Harry shows us. Cut. It's a wrap.
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