Friday, July 06, 2007

Harry and the Veil

A few years ago before the publication of Book 6, I actually had the time to post my theories like everyone else. Over on the Leaky Lounge,the awesome Asphodel Wormwood made an offhand remark about Harry possibly being like Aeneas, and that sparked an idea that I posted that suggested that Harry would go beyond the veil to find out how Voldie had preserved himself. Now, in the wake of Ann Johnstone's revelations, I decided (at John Granger's urging) to update the theory with an eye to Book 7. Today, John published his own thoughts on Harry as Aeneas, a very enjoyable read. My revised theory is below, but do read John's too! It is much more developed than mine. I'd also love to hear your comments!

I am one of the people wondering if Harry will go past the veil; on the other hand, I believe that Harry will survive Book 7. Now, perhaps I have read Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series too many times, but I believe these two things can be reconciled.

I also believe that Jo’s vision of Harry on the train to Manchester cannot be separated from what she was going through in her life: her mother was ill with a painful, terminal illness at the same time that Jo was beginning to assert her independence (Jo’s mom died six months later). The train trip was probably prime time to wrestle with the dementors of pending death and loss.

If Voldemort is guided by an inability to accept mortality, Harry’s journey is guided by his need to come to terms with his “burden” and punctuated by the repeated loss of loved ones. How can Jo *not* use some sort of journey as a part of Harry’s path and allow him “Once more ‘t is giv’n me to behold your face!”

We already know that Jo was inspired by The Iliad (Patroclus/Hector/Achilles) when she wrote the scene where Harry rescues Cedric’s body. What if other tales also influenced Jo’s vision of the series? Gilgamesh, Orpheus, Aeneas and Dante? If one follows literary precedent, you need a couple things: protection, a guide or very good instructions, and you need to follow the directions. In exchange, one might gain hidden knowledge, conversation with dead loved ones, and perhaps even rescue them (we know that won’t happen).

Possible protection:
• His scar, shaped like the rune Eihwaz which symbolizes “All rites of passage, particularly those marking the transition into adulthood, contain the symbolism of death, the idea being that one’s former ’self’ has died and given birth to a new persona. Eihwaz is the passage through which we must enter the realm of Hel in order to gain the knowledge and acceptance of our own mortality, as well as those mysteries which can only be learned from the dark Lady of the dead. The process is a truly frightening one, but it is something we all must go through if we are to confront our deepest fears and emerge with the kind of wisdom that cannot be taught but must be experienced. Eihwaz is the gateway to this wisdom, and lies between life (jera) and rebirth (perĂ¾). Caveat: Jo has said the shape of the scar isn’t the most significant thing about it. Phooey. [source:]
• His wand, made of two symbols of resurrection: holly (which may be used in spells having to do with sleep or rest, and to ease the passage of death) and phoenix feather
• Draught of the Living Death
• One or more Hallows
• His Patronus (Jo has called it a “spirit shield”)
• Another possible effect of Lily’s sacrifice?
• Is this the power that LV “knows not?”

Possible reasons for voyage:
1. To lure Voldemort beyond the veil
2. To speak to his dead family
3. To follow or speak to someone newly deceased
4. To find something

I think the pattern of the Aeneid is the most interesting in this context:
1. Commanded by Jupiter to seek his father
2. Tasks are the price of entrance
3. Guided by the sybil, crossover into death in all its awfulness
4. Revelations of how the underworld is structured
5. Communication with people he knew, including his lover and his father
6. Glimpses of past heroes, and of the future; understanding and acceptance of his role in history
7. Return to the living with the sybil

I hesitate to ascribe to deeper use of the story although some details are very suggestive (“pious” Aeneas, Sybill=Sybil, prophesy while possessed, travel via water to the underworld, Cerberus appeased, the river Lethe, etc.) because I believe that Jo never borrows the whole cloth of something.

A journey into death could give Harry several opportunities: communication with his parents, Sirius and Dumbledore, a way to come to terms with death, information on the Horcruxes, and possibly even knowledge that allows him to know how to finally vanquish Voldemort.

Over and over we have seen Harry overcome Voldemort not by attacking, but by allowing him to touch him/enter his mind/trick him. If Harry has a unique ability to withstand or understand death might he use this to trick Voldemort? And if he meets his family and Dumbledore on the way… I believe that a journey into death could be a very fruitful and interesting plot device.

Support quotage:
• “One of her fundamentals is that you can’t reverse death: “That’s a given. Without it the plot would fall apart, though in Book Seven you’ll see just how close you can get to the dead. You can be brought back from being petrified and from injuries that in the real world are mortal, depending on the degree of skill that a particular wizard possesses. You can’t go to any wizard and say ‘Will you cure my terminally ill relative?’ It’s a mirror image of the real world in that sense.” (J.K. Rowling to Anne Johnstone, July 8, 2000)

• JKR: “I gave him a scar and in a prominent place so other people would recognize him. It is almost like being the chosen one, or the cursed one […] As you know, the scar has certain powers, and it gives Harry warnings. I can’t say more than that, but there is more to say.” (Houston Chronicle, 2001)

• Q: Don’t want to rune the ending, but will we be finding out more about the significance of the shape of Harry’s scar in future books?
JKR: “The shape is not the most significant aspect of that scar, and that’s all I’m going to say!” (World Book Day Chat, 2004)

• JKR: “The other question that I am surprised no one has asked me since Phoenix came out—I thought that people would—is why Dumbledore did not kill or try to kill Voldemort in the scene in the ministry. […] Although Dumbledore gives a kind of reason to Voldemort, it is not the real reason.” (Edinburgh Book Fair, 2004)

• The prophecy: “The one with the power to vanquish the dark lord approaches … Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies … And the dark lord will mark him as equal, but he will have power the dark lord knows not … And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives.” (Sybill Trelawney, OotP ch37)

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