Hamlet, Harry Potter and the thrust of narrative

Dr. Sanity is pleading, say it ain’t so, Jo and hoping that J.K. Rowling was being evasive when she suggested that Harry Potter may die in Book 7.

Writes Sanity:

Of course there is always a price that the hero must pay to vanquish evil. But if the price is his own death, then what kind of hope or chance is there for the rest of us who are trying to stand up to the darkness? The only way such a sacrifice can be meaningful–in fiction anyway–is if the hero’s death is moral; and the flame of his life inspires the heroic in others.

Well, yeah, I can see her point. But then again Hamlet died while trying to expose a great evil. We hated to see him die but we understood why he must. I mean, imagine if Hamlet had lived. He’d just avenged his father’s murder, seen his mother poisoned, watched Ophelia be buried, taken care of the betrayers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern –I’d say his job was done. Had he lived, he either would have been haunted or bored. His soul would never, I think, be easy.

And Harry…I can see him surviving the series — everyone wants to see Harry, Hermione and Ron live happily ever after — but what would the rest of Harry’s life be like? Perhaps he’d teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, but Voldemort vanquished it would all seem pretty pedestrian to him wouldn’t it? And rather purposeless? His parents would still be dead. Dumbledore, dead. Possibly Hagrid, dead. One or several Weasleys dead. Ron and Hermione probably wed.

Here is the interesting question: when a life has been lived with a sense of deep mission — as in either Hamlet’s or Harry’s case — and that mission has been fulfilled, what is the purpose of the life, thereafter? If the 18 year old Harry (or a 20-something year old Hamlet) have accomplished their goal, the thing that has driven them and given their whole life meaning and purpose, are we supposed to believe they can ever rest easy in a sort of “busywork” retirement?

Perhaps this is why monarchs, old generals, entrepreneurs, mother-hung rock stars and CBS newsmen can never willingly retire and live out their days. Without their sense of mission, life has no thrust and parry, no vivacity, no purpose.

Dr. Sanity winds it up well and passionately:

Call me a romantic, but in fiction I desperately need for Good to triumph over Evil. I know it doesn’t always happen in the real world–but that is precisely why I need it in a fictional one — a place where virtue, well-being, nobility, happiness, and meaning are all within the realm of human possibility, and where life is not just unmitigated tragedy, violence, and meaninglessness. Without art’s emotional fuel to sustain the vision of the Good, how would we ever be able to carry on?

I could see Harry dying, in the end, for the profound good of ridding the world of Voldemort. It is the Hamlet narrative, absent Hamlet’s tortured and confused sense of morality. It is the Christ narrative, but without the resurrection which answers Dr. Sanity’s need for good to fully and eternally triumph over evil.

Yes, virtue, nobility, happiness and meaning are all within the realm of human possibility, and life is not simply unmitigated tragedy, violence and meaninglessness, but throughout history we have seen that for all of those things to be true, the world requires the rare individual or two who move and shake things and thrust the narratives forward, while the rest of us simply live out our lives.

I wrote about this a while back when I was musing about praise junkies and undercutting greatness:

It is simply true that most people live their lives unknown to all but their immediate family and friends, and they die and in a generation or two, they are completely forgotten – except, perhaps, by people like me, who like to go to cemeteries and take rubbings from headstones. This has always been true, since the dawn of time, and there is absolutely no reason to downplay the dignity and effectiveness that comes with being an average human being.

There was only one Moses, but it was the whole anonymous gang of average Jews who eventually populated the Promised Land. There was only one Martin Luther King but the whole anonymous gang of average marchers who made the trips to Mobile and to Washington DC. There was only one Churchill, but hundreds of thousands of average allied soldiers who put his policies into effect and beat down a great evil. There is only one Dubya, but 150,000 troops liberating Iraq and trying to make a risky-but-visionary effort succeed.

All those “average” men and women, who sojourned or marched or fought had a degree of greatness and nobility to them, and it could be found in their principles or their determination or their steadfastness – but they still, in each case, needed someone with a distinctive edge, with just a tad more “greatness” to bring them together. And there is absolutely no reason not to recognise it.

There have only been 43 American Presidents in 230 years. There have only been 267 popes in 2000 years. There have been billions of other people. Greatness is not an illusion. And it is not fomented with easy praise.

Ophelia and Laertes and Horatio were fine enough people, even perhaps a little noble, but they were not single-minded and undistracted; they could not perceive what was happening around them. Hamlet, in his imperfect greatness, was the only character, besides evil Claudius, with a vision – no matter how distraught – and the gumption to strike out and move the narrative. Hermione and Ron and Hagrid, again, good people, noble, but still rather ordinary. Without Harry, they’re just part of the necessary-but-plain crowd. Harry has the greatness, he moves the narrative, therefore more will be expected of him.

Christ moved the narrative of the world, too. The narrative movers rarely get to live out an ordinary sort of life once things have shifted – more often than not, they die. Resurrection is uncommon.

And so, for the sake of the rest, for that thrust forward, for the propulsion of narrative, so that the rest of the people who inhabit the wonderful world of wizards and magic and Quidditch matches and Hogwarts, Harry Potter may well have to die. Let us gird our loins and be prepared for it!

Hmmmm…now I may have to go back and spend the rest of the summer re-reading books 1-6. I have a hankering to revisit that spectacular and fun place, again.

Prof. Bainbridge says Harry’s toast.

Soccer Dad thinks it through very interestingly.

Suzi disagrees with me, vehemently! :-)

Afterthought…okay now, admit it, it’s fun here, isn’t it? If you read all the posts I’ve written today, you’ll have heard President Bush rap a U2 song. You’ll have seen Bryn Terfel in a loincloth, you’ll have read about Hamlet and Harry Potter, a remarkable Ukulele player, the ad campaign of a good Catholic book, the perfidy of the NY Times, a sleazy campaign tactic, a strain of relentless conservatism, the Restoration of the Marshes of Iraq, Zarqawi’s satirical mother and other Islamic things, Catholic “Internet Idiots,”, and the solemn vows of a Benedictine Nun. Go back a day and you read a post loaded with double entendres about Rush and Viagra, and another that discussing the hoo-ha of Global Warming. And I’m still trying to find the energy to write the thing I really want to write, on the value of virginity…but I’m thinking about it.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • goddessoftheclassroom

    Dearest Anchoress, Harry must remain the Boy Who Lived; otherwise, why would any future generation of children begin a series whose hero dies? Hamlet takes five acts; HP will take 7 books! Plus, Hamlet is a tragedy (hero’s flaw responsible for own distruction); I see HP as a romance (not quite comedy) with some sorrow and serious points, but ultimate victory over evil.

    I got through Little Women knowing Beth dies only because Jo found her happiness (as do Meg and Amy). Charlotte’s Web, the first book to make me cry, is a favorite because Wilbur lives (and Charlottes’s death, as Beth’s, is natural, not the result of some evil force).

    I will never forgive JK Rolwing if she kills off Harry, unless she’s worked out a way for him to return. Hey, Orpheus pulled it off!

  • goddessoftheclassroom

    Dearest Anchoress, Harry must remain the Boy Who Lived; otherwise, why would any future generation of children begin a series whose hero dies? Hamlet takes five acts; HP will take 7 books! Plus, Hamlet is a tragedy (hero’s flaw responsible for own distruction); I see HP as a romance (not quite comedy) with some sorrow and serious points, but ultimate victory over evil.

    I got through Little Women knowing Beth dies only because Jo found her happiness (as do Meg and Amy). Charlotte’s Web, the first book to make me cry, is a favorite because Wilbur lives (and Charlottes’s death, as Beth’s, is natural, not the result of some evil force).

    I will never forgive JK Rolwing if she kills off Harry, unless she’s worked out a way for him to return. Hey, Orpheus pulled it off!

  • TheAnchoress

    LOL, Goddess, good post. Will Ron and Hermione marrying and running Hogwarts be enough for you to forgive her? :-)

  • TheAnchoress

    LOL, Goddess, good post. Will Ron and Hermione marrying and running Hogwarts be enough for you to forgive her? :-)

  • goddessoftheclassroom

    Nope, ‘fraid not. Another point: in the Christian allegory that runs through HP (even if it’s unintentional, it’s undeniable), Harry is a Christ figure. As such, it’s not his death that conquers evil; it’s his resurrection.

    I think that mirror Sirius gave Harry back in book 6 is going to play an important part in this. If you hold a hand mirror, such as that is, facing a larger mirror, such as Erised, you can see infinity…

  • goddessoftheclassroom

    Nope, ‘fraid not. Another point: in the Christian allegory that runs through HP (even if it’s unintentional, it’s undeniable), Harry is a Christ figure. As such, it’s not his death that conquers evil; it’s his resurrection.

    I think that mirror Sirius gave Harry back in book 6 is going to play an important part in this. If you hold a hand mirror, such as that is, facing a larger mirror, such as Erised, you can see infinity…

  • JMC

    Hey, folks, Rowling is the queen of the red herring. When she says two characters are “going” to die, then, rest assured, two characters are going to die. But when she says Harry “might” die—she herself says she hasn’t quite made up her mind about that yet. Yes, we’re all going to fret. But, if you want to know the truth, there are an awful lot of people who were convinced, at the end of Book 6, that Harry would have to die, anyway.
    /
    Goddess, good thought about Sirius’ mirror and the Mirror of Erised. He may not see infinity, but I think putting them together may well be an important key.
    /
    My own personal take on the events so far is that there is a Horcrux that no one knows exists, not even Voldemort himself: Harry’s scar. Think about it. How else would Voldemort be able to link so thoroughly with him (despite the pain it causes him to do so)? Since that scar is attached to Harry, the destruction of the Horcrux (if it is indeed one) would necessarily mean the destruction of the host.
    /
    I also think another key is going to be that locket in Sirius’ house that no one could open…

  • JMC

    Hey, folks, Rowling is the queen of the red herring. When she says two characters are “going” to die, then, rest assured, two characters are going to die. But when she says Harry “might” die—she herself says she hasn’t quite made up her mind about that yet. Yes, we’re all going to fret. But, if you want to know the truth, there are an awful lot of people who were convinced, at the end of Book 6, that Harry would have to die, anyway.
    /
    Goddess, good thought about Sirius’ mirror and the Mirror of Erised. He may not see infinity, but I think putting them together may well be an important key.
    /
    My own personal take on the events so far is that there is a Horcrux that no one knows exists, not even Voldemort himself: Harry’s scar. Think about it. How else would Voldemort be able to link so thoroughly with him (despite the pain it causes him to do so)? Since that scar is attached to Harry, the destruction of the Horcrux (if it is indeed one) would necessarily mean the destruction of the host.
    /
    I also think another key is going to be that locket in Sirius’ house that no one could open…

  • TheAnchoress

    I too think Harry might be the last horcrux, but that’s almost too obvious, isn’t it? I’d be disappointed if Rowling made it that easy!

    Dave Kopel is fun to read about Harry and company.

    Also, don’t forget John Granger (no relation to Hermione) at HogwartsProfessor.com.

    Buster says Harry must die.

  • TheAnchoress

    I too think Harry might be the last horcrux, but that’s almost too obvious, isn’t it? I’d be disappointed if Rowling made it that easy!

    Dave Kopel is fun to read about Harry and company.

    Also, don’t forget John Granger (no relation to Hermione) at HogwartsProfessor.com.

    Buster says Harry must die.

  • Sigmund Carl and Alfred

    No way. Harry ain’t Hamlet.

  • Sigmund Carl and Alfred

    No way. Harry ain’t Hamlet.

  • TheAnchoress

    Oh, fine, Siggy, blow away my whole post with 5 words, and then don’t expound on them! :-)

  • TheAnchoress

    Oh, fine, Siggy, blow away my whole post with 5 words, and then don’t expound on them! :-)

  • Mark C

    I too have been struggling with the idea that once Voldy’s been defeated, what would be left for Harry. I have consciously tried to avoid the thought that “once that’s done, he might as well die”. There just seems like that’s really not the right thing, not the christian thing.

    The Christ typology would not strictly call for his resurrection, but for redemption, perhaps for Voldy’s?

    What I would like to see is him living an anonymous life in secret somewhere (with a trustworthy secretkeeper!), raising a dozen kids with Ginny, sitting on his rocking chair telling his great-grandchildren the story about his scar…. That would be his dream come true – Family. It would also be slightly counter-cultural. Something I would relish releasing on an unsuspecting world…

    You see, Harry’s personal goal has never been to defeat voldemort, that’s been thrust upon him. His real desire has been to recover what’s been taken from him – a family.

  • Mark C

    I too have been struggling with the idea that once Voldy’s been defeated, what would be left for Harry. I have consciously tried to avoid the thought that “once that’s done, he might as well die”. There just seems like that’s really not the right thing, not the christian thing.

    The Christ typology would not strictly call for his resurrection, but for redemption, perhaps for Voldy’s?

    What I would like to see is him living an anonymous life in secret somewhere (with a trustworthy secretkeeper!), raising a dozen kids with Ginny, sitting on his rocking chair telling his great-grandchildren the story about his scar…. That would be his dream come true – Family. It would also be slightly counter-cultural. Something I would relish releasing on an unsuspecting world…

    You see, Harry’s personal goal has never been to defeat voldemort, that’s been thrust upon him. His real desire has been to recover what’s been taken from him – a family.

  • TheAnchoress

    Mark, that’s a really good comment; I hadn’t thought of that at ALL.

  • TheAnchoress

    Mark, that’s a really good comment; I hadn’t thought of that at ALL.

  • pendell

    I disagree — I think not only that Harry will die, but that he should.

    Why? Because he’s imitating the greatest hero of all, who told us …

    “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends”.

    You wanna talk about heroes? Go down and read the obits column from Iraq.

    Sometimes, for other people to live happily, and at peace in a green world, it’s necessary for some people to go up on the ramparts and pay the price of freedom. Or the price of righteousness, in Jesus’ case.

    Harry has been given extraordinary gifts beyond that of any other wizard .. were they given just so he could amuse himself? I don’t think so. He was given his gifts for a reason, and now the time has come to pay the piper.

    It’s the brightest candle that burns out soonest.

    Evil is never beaten without someone paying the price. To rid the world of Naziism, of slavery, of discrimination, and of any other evil there has always been a price paid in blood. It has not always been necessary to kill others to make it happen … sometimes it requires martyrdom, like the civil rights activists murdered by the Klan in the South. But one way or another, evil never stops unless someone is willing to pay the price — in blood — to put it away. It happens that way in the best fiction too … in LOTR, Frodo saved the shire, but not for himself.

    J.K. Rowling has already indicated that someone is going to lay down their life to end this evil. And who else could take Harry’s place? Would Harry allow someone else to die so he could live? Little as I’ve read the books, he doesn’t strike me as that sort.

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  • pendell

    I disagree — I think not only that Harry will die, but that he should.

    Why? Because he’s imitating the greatest hero of all, who told us …

    “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends”.

    You wanna talk about heroes? Go down and read the obits column from Iraq.

    Sometimes, for other people to live happily, and at peace in a green world, it’s necessary for some people to go up on the ramparts and pay the price of freedom. Or the price of righteousness, in Jesus’ case.

    Harry has been given extraordinary gifts beyond that of any other wizard .. were they given just so he could amuse himself? I don’t think so. He was given his gifts for a reason, and now the time has come to pay the piper.

    It’s the brightest candle that burns out soonest.

    Evil is never beaten without someone paying the price. To rid the world of Naziism, of slavery, of discrimination, and of any other evil there has always been a price paid in blood. It has not always been necessary to kill others to make it happen … sometimes it requires martyrdom, like the civil rights activists murdered by the Klan in the South. But one way or another, evil never stops unless someone is willing to pay the price — in blood — to put it away. It happens that way in the best fiction too … in LOTR, Frodo saved the shire, but not for himself.

    J.K. Rowling has already indicated that someone is going to lay down their life to end this evil. And who else could take Harry’s place? Would Harry allow someone else to die so he could live? Little as I’ve read the books, he doesn’t strike me as that sort.

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  • TheAnchoress

    Also a good point. I think if there is redemption in this story, btw, getting back to the Mark, it will be Severus Snape who is redeemed, not Voldemort.

    So…there are plausible reasons for Harry to die and to stay alive. I still think he’s gonna buy the farm, that he and Voldemort will die together…but I could be wrong.

  • TheAnchoress

    Also a good point. I think if there is redemption in this story, btw, getting back to the Mark, it will be Severus Snape who is redeemed, not Voldemort.

    So…there are plausible reasons for Harry to die and to stay alive. I still think he’s gonna buy the farm, that he and Voldemort will die together…but I could be wrong.

  • http://www.myownthoughts.com Suzi

    Neither Hamlet nor Harry’s life is over when the work of the prose is done. They are characters; that is true. So in that sense their life is over.

    But Hamlet could have gone on to be a gracious king. He could have found love, raised children, been a model of how to overcome. Of course Shakespeare wrote the play as a tragedy, so he had to die. But if Hamlet were real, he wouldn’t die. It would tidy up his life too easily. The “big” challenges aren’t always the hardest. Sometimes living the life we’ve been given is the hardest.

    And so I do not think that Harry should die. It goes too easily into the idea of suicide and death as the great redeemer. “I’ve finished my life’s work, so it’s time to die.” Or, “I’ve done the most important thing, so it’s time to die.”

    No. Only Jesus, who actually knew his life’s work in the eternal plan, could say such and he only said it when someone else was killing him.

    But if Harry dies, I think it will contribute to an easier acceptance of death by our culture. And I think we already have too easy of an acceptance. “Do not go gentle into that good night” is still a rallying cry we need to hear. “Death be not proud” is a rightful rebuke.

    So I hope her “might” is a purposeful misleading, even if Harry has to go through his 20s figuring out what HE wants to do with his life, rather than doing what he has to do (go to Hogwarts) and doing what he needs to do (fight Voldemort). Yeah, it won’t be as exciting. But life isn’t always exciting.

    Wow. Guess that was a button.

  • http://www.myownthoughts.com Suzi

    Neither Hamlet nor Harry’s life is over when the work of the prose is done. They are characters; that is true. So in that sense their life is over.

    But Hamlet could have gone on to be a gracious king. He could have found love, raised children, been a model of how to overcome. Of course Shakespeare wrote the play as a tragedy, so he had to die. But if Hamlet were real, he wouldn’t die. It would tidy up his life too easily. The “big” challenges aren’t always the hardest. Sometimes living the life we’ve been given is the hardest.

    And so I do not think that Harry should die. It goes too easily into the idea of suicide and death as the great redeemer. “I’ve finished my life’s work, so it’s time to die.” Or, “I’ve done the most important thing, so it’s time to die.”

    No. Only Jesus, who actually knew his life’s work in the eternal plan, could say such and he only said it when someone else was killing him.

    But if Harry dies, I think it will contribute to an easier acceptance of death by our culture. And I think we already have too easy of an acceptance. “Do not go gentle into that good night” is still a rallying cry we need to hear. “Death be not proud” is a rightful rebuke.

    So I hope her “might” is a purposeful misleading, even if Harry has to go through his 20s figuring out what HE wants to do with his life, rather than doing what he has to do (go to Hogwarts) and doing what he needs to do (fight Voldemort). Yeah, it won’t be as exciting. But life isn’t always exciting.

    Wow. Guess that was a button.

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  • TheAnchoress

    I take your point, Suzi. My idea about the thrust of narrative is imperfect, but still interesting, I think; It got a rise out of you! :-)

  • TheAnchoress

    I take your point, Suzi. My idea about the thrust of narrative is imperfect, but still interesting, I think; It got a rise out of you! :-)

  • http://donsingleton.blogspot.com/ singleton

    The main reason she might kill him off is because she does not want to write about him any more (what does she need with a few more billion dollars), and she does not want anyone writing sequels, but if Voldermort could come back, what would prevent some other author to write a follow on book bringing Harry back.

    It would be better for her to let him live, and then hire a team of authors to write additional books about Harry, much like Tom Clancy has done with several series he developed (Net Force, Net Force Explorers, Op Center, Power Plays, Splinter Cell, etc)

  • http://donsingleton.blogspot.com/ singleton

    The main reason she might kill him off is because she does not want to write about him any more (what does she need with a few more billion dollars), and she does not want anyone writing sequels, but if Voldermort could come back, what would prevent some other author to write a follow on book bringing Harry back.

    It would be better for her to let him live, and then hire a team of authors to write additional books about Harry, much like Tom Clancy has done with several series he developed (Net Force, Net Force Explorers, Op Center, Power Plays, Splinter Cell, etc)

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