Saturday, July 15, 2006

HP Book Seven: Harry's Final Confrontations

I intended to post again last night, but there was a slight accident when I was getting the Booper girl ready for bed. Nothing too serious, but as I was letting her blow off some energy before bedtime (she was running, jumping and trying to hop on one foot, a new skill she's been trying to perfect) somehow in the midst of a jumping game, I leaned over around the same time she jumped and her head connected with my mouth with some pretty major force. I was laughing or saying something at the time, with the end result being that my lip got knocked into my teeth and I got a major -- I mean major! -- split lip. It bled copiously, which made my sweet daughter weep copiously, and with all the chaos of finally getting her to bed and then realizing I had a very sore lip and a headache to boot, I didn't feel much like getting back to the blog. Instead I took some homeopathic arnica, wrapped up some ice in a washcloth and applied it, and sacked out on the couch to watch a movie with my DH who had just gotten home from work.

But now I'm ready to get back at it. Although the scar on my lip is not shaped like a lightning bolt or a map of the London Underground, without further ado, let's jump right into some of my thoughts and speculations regarding potential confrontations Harry is likely to face in book 7.

If you don't mind my quoting myself from my last post: I'm calling these "meetings" because not all of them will be confrontational in the same way, and not all of them will be initiated from one side. Some of these meetings feel inevitable to the unfolding of Rowling's intricate plotting and to satisfy her beautifully drawn narrative arc. Some of them might not happen, but I think it would be interesting if they did.

Harry meets...Voldemort

Yes, I can hear the snickers from the peanut gallery even as I type. And I cheerfully admit this one is a no-brainer. But this is where we've got to start... or rather this is where the books have to end. JK Rowling has been building toward this climax since the opening page of the opening story, and (let's face it) for a long time before that as she wrote and planned her seven book series.

What fascinates me is that we still have no clue exactly how this final battle between the seventeen year old Harry and his lifelong nemesis will take place. We don't know where it will happen, or even who will initiate it in the final analysis. I think it's safe to say that Voldemort, after being an oddly backstage presence in HBP, will be howling to go after Harry again now that Harry's mentor and great protector, Albus Dumbledore, is out of the way. But I also don't think that Voldemort is going to go off half-cocked. His schemes to return to power and to get what he wants have always been intricate and well-thought-out (and diabolical) even though they've usually been thwarted up until now.

Well, when you think about it, not all of his plans have failed...they've just not succeeded as spectacularly as he would have liked. Hid DID return to "full power" and an "embodied" existence, it just took him a lot longer than he bargained for and he wasn't able to kill Harry in the process, though he's repeatedly tried. I put "full power" in quotes and say "embodied" not human existence because we now know for a fact that he's missing at least 2/7 of his soul. Dumbledore took care of the second piece when he destroyed the ring horcrux. And Harry took care of the first (though he didn't realize what he was doing at the time) when he destroyed the diary horcrux in the Chamber of Secrets.

But there's a new element as we build toward the final confrontation between these two: not only is Voldemort determined to go after Harry now, but for the first time ever, by the end of HBP, we have a Harry determined to go after Voldemort.

During his entire life, Harry has been protected by so many people, whether he's always known it or not. Ever since hearing the prophecy (or half the prophecy) Voldemort has been sure that Harry was the only one who could bring about his downfall, so he has been after him since he was a tiny infant. Someone has almost always stood between Voldemort and Harry, literally or figuratively, beginning with his courageous mother Lily, who willingly sacrificed her life to save her son, and whose sacrifice actually sealed a long-lasting ancient blood protection over Harry. Because his mother's sister Petunia was willing to have Harry live in her house (however grudgingly, and whatever her motivations, including fear) that blood protection has lasted his whole life until now. In the meantime, Dumbledore has watched over him his whole life, sometimes from afar but more recently in a much more hands-on mentoring capacity. And there have been a host of other protectors: the Weasleys (anyone one of whom, perhaps excepting Percy on his worst days, would be willing to give their life for Harry and vice versa); Sirius Black (until his death at the end of OofP) and the entire Order of the Phoenix. Let's not forget Hagrid, whose protection of Harry started very early when he rescued him from James and Lily's house as a tiny baby and flew with him (on Sirius' motorcyle) to Dumbledore at the Dursley's. Then there's the fact that Harry has been on the receiving end of what we could really only term grace: help from the outside, help from completely unexpected sources outside of himself. His faithful loyalty to Dumbledore summons Fawkes to his aid in CoS; because he is a "true Gryffindor" he is able to pull Godric Gryffindor's sword from the hat right at the time when he most needs it; in PoA he is trained in the practice of placing himself expectantly in a moment of joy instead of dwelling in fear and thus is able to summon Prongs, the stag patronus that has his late father's animagus form, which saves him and Sirius from the deathly dementors; and in GoF the providential fact (and I don't use the word "providential" here lightly) that his wand is the brother wand of Voldemort's puts priori incantatem into effect, thereby providing Harry with a great cloud of witnesses that shield, help and encourage him in his escape from Voldemort in the graveyard.

These are only a few of the instances that show the ways Harry has been protected and helped against the rage and hate of his enemy, Voldemort. He has been lovingly sheltered, which is why he's alive. And I'm not saying that all that protection and help is a thing of the past. Far from it! But as we turn to book 7, we find two things staring right at us:

-- Harry is perhaps at his most vulnerable and in some ways appears the least "protected" he has ever been

-- Harry has accepted the fact that it's his calling to confront Voldemort, and feels has been given his instructions or "marching orders" from Dumbledore: find and destroy the remaining horcruxes, and then go after the weakened Voldemort and face him

Harry's vulnerability and seeming lack of protection go hand in hand. First, he's lost most of his most important mentors and guides. Sirius' death was a blow, but Dumbledore's death is the real crusher. It not only robs Harry of his physical nearness, wisdom and strength, but all members of the wizarding community that are on the side of right (members of the Order, many of the students and teachers at Hogwarts, and others) now stand without Dumbledore's help and protection as well. Rowling has repeatedly reminded us, in words and actions, that Dumbledore was "the only one he (Voldemort) ever feared" and now that he's out of the way, there's a real potential here for things to fall apart as people give into fear. If you'll forgive the pun, Hogwarts has lost its "head" but we can fervently hope that Harry and others who were close to Dumbledore's heart will not lose their's. For Harry, I think the pressures are going to be undeniably hard: on the one hand, he's lost the every-day guidance of his powerful mentor just when he seems to need it most, and on the other hand, the rumor mill has been flying (fueled by the Daily Prophet) and many people have surmised that he indeed may be the "Chosen One," the only one who can defeat You-Know-Who. Therefore a lot of people may be turning to Harry for leadership, and putting their hope in him. That's a lot of pressure on a just coming of age seventeen year old.

Ah yes, he's coming of age. That brings us to point 2. The blood protection which Dumbledore invoked (that Lewisian "ancient magic") after Lily's giving of her life for her's coming to an end when Harry turns seventeen, which is the age when wizards come of age. Dumbledore asks the Dursleys to allow Harry to come back to their house one more time before his seventeenth birthday, to ensure that the protection stays in place until then (he needs to be in a place where his blood-kin dwells) but once Harry becomes a man, that protection and everything it's meant for his safety will be gone. Does Voldemort know this? Good question.

My third and last point about Harry's vulnerability is that when we last saw him in HBP, he was struggling with real grief over Dumbledore's death and real rage toward Severus Snape, the man who carried it out. I'm not trying to go all Jedi-knight here and say that Harry has to find some weird place of calmness and detachment in order to fight more effectively. I think Harry's pain and rage are legitimate and necessary -- and I think Dumbledore would think so too (remember at the end of OotP when Harry was raging around destroying things in his office?) because he knows, and has told Harry, that one of Harry's strengths is his very humanity, his ability to love and lose and hurt. But I do think that Harry has to guard against the things that would kill his humanity, that would (if you will) turn him more Voldemort-ish. He can't give in to fear and he can't get stuck in rage. I think he's already made a good start at the first by the end of HBP, and that Hermione and Ron's loyal presence will be a big help in both endeavors. But he needs to be careful, and he needs to keep grounding himself by remembering and heeding Dumbledore's counsel that love is the only weapon that can ultimately deafeat Voldemort and also protect Harry from the lure of power that has so corrupted Voldemort.

I don't think, by the way, that Harry is as vulnerable and unprotected as he probably feels at the moment. He has Hermione and Ron (perhaps his most valuable assets at the moment, both because of their loyalty and talents and because they know him so well and are privvy to the whole story and know what he needs to do); he has Ginny and the rest of the Weasleys, Remus Lupin, Hagrid, Hedwig, and I'd add Neville and Luna (and quite possibly the rest of the now-defunct but I hope soon to be resurrected DA). He owns Grimmauld Place now, and has the loyalty of the Order of the Phoenix. He is armed with all the knowledge that Dumbledore has been able to pass on to him, and I don't think Dumbledore's wisdom will completely dry up in this forthcoming book. In the magical world Rowling has created, there are far too many possibilities left open for at least some form of ongoing communcation and help: the headmaster's portrait, Fawkes, the pensieve with potential stored memories of important events and instances that Dumbledore wasn't able to share while he was alive. Because of the pity he took on Peter Pettigrew, one of Voldemort's closest servants owes Harry a life debt. And I think there is still a very, very strong possibility, if you follow the subtext and sniff for clues beneath the surface, that Dumbledore has bequeathed Harry the gift of Severus Snape, that unlikeliest of protectors, who has now forever cemented his closeness to Voldemort's inner circle but whose ultimate loyalties remain in doubt for many readers, this one included.

And let's not forget one other thing Harry has: his mother's eyes. If eyes can be considered a window to soul, then I think we're being reminded by this repeated reference that Harry has been shaped by an example of sacrificial love from before he can even remember. At its core, his identity has been formed around this kernel of truth about who he is and about his story: he is a beloved son worth dying for. That is what he will be living out of as he faces fear and hatred and possible death. And it's a good place to be.

Whew. I think that's probably enough for starters! I had thought I'd tackle several Harry confrontations today, but need to give my fingers a rest. The others won't be nearly so long...this one was the motherlode of all confrontations!


Erin said...

Phew! Some really nice ruminations there. So much has to happen in this last book, I certainly wouldn't want to be in Rowling's shoes. How she's going to fit it all in is beyond me... But she's proven herself quite capable by now. An interesting thing about Harry is that unlike Superman or some other type of typical epic hero, Harry has few remarkable talents. What he does have is an incredible support group, which is particularly strengthening for a boy who spent the first 11 years of his life feeling completely unloved. Harry's skills have developed with each volume, but just as in LotR, each supporting character has a crucial role to play in this epic battle. It will be fascinating to see what final contributions Harry's co-stars make as the saga winds to a close. Anyway, great write-up here, and I'm looking forward to the next one!

Beth said...

Yes! I too am fascinated by how Harry's community will play a role in the final battle. I hope to touch on some of those folks a bit more in later postings. I'm trying not to overwhelm the blog with Harry right now, but I'm definitely on a HP kind of kick, so more is forthcoming. :-)

I have a feeling we are going to see unexpectedly great things from some "minor" characters, especially Fred and George and very definitely Neville. So much of that gets foreshadowed in the very first book, I think.

Harry really *is* an ordinary kind of hero. Perhaps it's his "every-man" status that's endeared him to so many people.

Thanks for reading!!

Erin said...

Oooh, I hope you're right about Fred and George. Gosh, I love those guys. And I'm sure you're right about Neville. I suspect he will have an extremely important part to pay in the last book...

Beth said...

One of my favorite parts of Philosopher's Stone (well, Sorcerer's Stone for all we benighted yanks who decided alliteration was cooler than an important alchemical reference) is when Fred and George throw snowballs at Quirrel's turban. It's such a riot when you re-read it with the knowledge of who's hiding underneath that turban! I have a feeling the twins will probably invent something really important to help in the final war effort.

And Neville...I just love Neville. I think he's one of my very favorite characters. Rowling set us up at the end of book 1 -- Harry win's the day but Neville's bravery pushes Gryffindor over the edge to victory. I think he's going to be there at the end somehow, and that his courage will make a difference!