Saturday, July 28, 2007,12:01 AM
On Sacrifice, Repentance, and King's Cross Station
Warning, Disclaimer, etc... I waited a week. Exactly a week. If for some strange reason you have not yet finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows stop reading now. This post contains my thoughts on the themes present in the final book and therefore contains spoilers. Consider yourself warned.

As we finally hold in our hands the complete saga of Harry Potter what we find is not just an entertaining story of young witches and wizards coming of age in a parallel world to ours, but a beautiful story of repentance, love, and redemption. A lot has been said about these books not being great literature, but that really just misses the point. They are good stories that tap into the mythic nature of life and give us an imaginative retelling of the most common (and hence most visceral) story known to man - the sacrificial death and resurrection of the hero.

At one point in the book, Harry visits Godric’s Hollow, his birthplace, and goes looking for the graves of his parents. In the graveyard he stumbles upon the graves of Dumbledore’s mother and sister. On their tombstone is the verse "where your treasure is there will your heart be also." Rowling deliberately refuses to explicate its significance at that point, but in it I see the theme of the whole series. What is a person's treasure? What is their heart's desire (as the Mirror of Erised revealed in the first book)? This is the theme that is repeatedly returned to throughout the series. We see characters that are hungry for power and wealth (Voldemort, the Malfoys) or for personal safety (Dumbledore's brother). Those "treasures" define their entire life. In Harry we see a boy who starts out desperately wanting a family and a place to call home gain and lose that over and over again. And it is only when he let's go of his desires (for family, for revenge, for home) and places the needs of all others before his own that he sees clearly what must be done to save the world. It is this overcoming of selfishness that marks the process of redemption for many of the characters in the book. In small ways they let go of selfish treasures they had been hording and take steps towards loving others more fully. Lupin overcomes his lifelong fears of hurting others to give Tonks and their child the love they need. The Malfoys, hurt and discarded in their attempts to gain prestige, money, and power, find that what really matters is family (a sentiment they had always ridiculed the Weasleys for). Even Dudley Dursley moved from being utterly self-centered to acknowledging that he needs Harry. They all had to sacrifice a part of themselves to become better people.

Two characters in the book though chose to give up everything for the sake of others. Like his mother before him, Harry realizes that in order to save those he loves he must be willing to give up his life. So to answer the question of whether Harry lives or dies, one can only answer yes. Harry, fully aware of the only way Voldemort can be defeated, willingly gives himself over to be sacrificed by the enemy. In a scene that recalls Aslan at the Stone Table, if not Golgotha itself, Harry offers up his life for the salvation of others. This sacrifice out of love stands in direct contrast to how Voldemort "sacrificed" parts of his life. Voldemort gave up parts of his soul (for Horcruxes) in desperate attempts to cling to power and overcome death. His sacrifices sprung from selfish ambition and not love and so each subsequent sacrifice made his life more miserable and helpless. So much so that even in the end, when faced with death and offered the chance to repent, he chose to cling to evil and power and remain in that misery.

But what of our sacrificial hero? Here we are treated with a scene that seems to come straight out of C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce or The Last Battle (Rowling has said all along that Narnia was her inspiration for these books). After being attacked by Voldemort, Harry awakes to find himself in a dark wood a mystical version of King's Cross station (talk about amazing metaphorical allusions) where he encounters his mentor and guide Virgil Dumbledore. Here he discovers that what Voldemort has killed in him is the evil part of Voldemort's own soul (represented as a crying baby). So instead of taking the heavenly Hogwart's Express further up and further in on the next great adventure for the organized mind (as Dumbledore had once referred to death), Harry returns to life to finally defeat evil once and for all. What I love is that it is at this point that Harry having already demonstrated sacrificial love offers Voldemort the opportunity to repent and feel remorse. As Harry offers him a choice and seeks to merely disarm Voldemort of his evil intentions, it is Voldemort's ultimate arrogance and refusal to repent that destroys him as his own killing curse rebounds. Our hero has sacrificed himself, conquered death, and lives happily ever after.

Oh yes the book held other gems in storytelling and was a very satisfying conclusion to the series. I applauded Snape's vindication. I cheered audibly as Mrs. Weasley took on Belletrix and Neville proved himself to be a true Gryffindor by pulling Godric's sword out of the sorting hat to slay Nagini. I cried as beloved characters died at Hogwart’s last stand. Rowling crafted an entrancing story and amazingly managed to tie up every loose end. I love this series as a story, but I resonate with the themes of sacrifice, redemption, and love that tie the stories together. Having defended the books for years to Christians who feared the magic, the wands, and all the "trappings of a world in which they do not believe" (who all the while promoted the "Christian" values of Narnia and Middle Earth), I restate my opinion that they owe Rowling an apology. For while the Harry Potter books aren't just Christian books (they can be enjoyed by people of all faiths or no faith), they echo the most central tenets of our faith. The allegory of the resurrection, the call to sacrificial love, and the reminder that for where our treasure is there will our hearts be also are themes that all Christians should be able to embrace. It isn’t perfect theology or a one for one allegory, but it is a good story. For in the retelling of our deepest and most mysterious truths Rowling has ultimately cast a goodspell.

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posted by Julie at 12:01 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 7/28/2007 05:28:00 AM, Anonymous sonja

    Hey Julie ... Excellent, excellent review!!

    I'd only offer one additional thought. I was talking about the ending with a friend yesterday and we read through the King's Crossing scene thoroughly because we were trying to figure that out. I think ... after our conversation ... that while Harry killed off the part of Voldemort's soul that was in him, the part that driving Voldemort was in King's Crossing (the flayed and wimpering child that Harry couldn't help). IOW ... both Harry and Voldemort were in that scene and both returned to life together. That's what my friend and I came up with ... what do you think?

  • At 7/29/2007 03:47:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Interesting. it could work that way. I had thought that the baby represented the piece of Voldemort's soul that had just been killed - represented as a baby since it was just a piece???

  • At 7/30/2007 06:16:00 AM, Blogger Irim

    Just finished it on Sat night/Sun morning at 1am. LOVED IT. Will have to re-read the whole series. I loved the fact that no one, not even Dumbledore, was perfect. Good and evil coexist in all of us, and so much depends on the choices we make.

    Sirius Black and Severus Snape were two of my favourite men - both dark, complicated, in pain, twisted by experience, but good at heart (ooh, does that tell you anything about the men I'm attracted to?). I have always known Snape was good, and have defended him for a decade (YIKES!). I wept when he died and when Harry went through his memories...

    ...and again, 19 years later, when Harry said, "Albus Severus, you are named after two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was a Slytherin, and probably the bravest man I ever knew."

    Amen. Rest in peace, Severus...and thank you.

  • At 7/30/2007 09:29:00 PM, Blogger PrincessMax

    Just finished! I think your review is dead on. I cried when his middle name was Severus, too, irim. I do agree with sonja about the crying creature. That's how I initiall read it. Both Harry and Voldemort were getting to spend some time deciding if they wanted to go on or not. That's why Voldy seems so out of it when Harry comes to. He couldn't be comforted the first time and Harry gets a chance to try one more time when they both go back.

    Those are mu initial thoughts. I'll think about yours, though.

  • At 7/31/2007 05:15:00 AM, Blogger Irim

    Princess Max and Sonja - Interesting thoughts! I have to say, I agree with Julie on this one, since I assumed that what had happened was that the part of Voldemort's soul in Harry had just been separated from him, and Harry was no longer a Horcrux. That's why it wasn't able to behave like a completely sentient being, which I think it would have done, had it been fully Voldemort. Also, there's no sense in the book that Voldemort lost any time in this world, IIRC.

    And that moment when Snape asked Harry to look at him so that he could see Lily's eyes for the last time...*SOB!*


  • At 7/31/2007 08:44:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    you know, I trusted Snape, but his death didn't get me as much as Lupin's. I guess I so expected Snape to die (pretty much what I thought was the only guaranteed death for book 7), that it didn't surprise me much.

  • At 8/01/2007 04:47:00 AM, Blogger Irim

    Lupin AND Tonks - that REALLY got me. I thought, "WHY, JK, did you have to make Teddy an orphan? Wasn't Fred's death enough?"

    This is a terrible thing to say, but I would much rather have seen Percy die than any of the three above, he's been such a tosser. It would have been quite poignant to have him realise how wrong he was, then die fighting, whilst Lupin and Tonks could go home to little Teddy.


  • At 8/01/2007 08:23:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    In the Dateline interview the other night, Rowling said originally she had Mr. Weasley dieing. But since he was the only good father figure in all the books, she kept him alive and chose Lupin and Tonks instead. With them she wanted to parallel Harry's experience and that the innocent are the ones most hurt by evil. But she showed at the end that he had friends and a very sexy girlfriend (Bill and Fleur's daughter) - that love can help make one whole.

  • At 8/09/2007 01:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    I thought the piece of Voldemort's soul that was in Harry was on the floor at King's Cross. Voldemert's soul(since it seemed like he collasped too) was elsewhere since King's Cross was Harry's 'party'. Just a thought...sue

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