Originally this essay was concerned with the ultimate solution of the conflict between Harry Potter and the Dark Lord.
Parts of it are still duplicated in a portion of the essay; “Redeeming the Potterverse’ to be found in The 7th Son sub-collection. Possibly selected bits may be scattered around in other essays as well.
At that point of the series (roughly OotP-era), in some respects there seemed to be a good deal less to this problem than first met the eye, and there also seemed a great deal less real mystery regarding the ultimate resolution of this conflict than Rowling was attempting to inject.
Was there any reader of this series, any reader At All, who seriously believed for one minute that JK Rowling would permit Voldemort to win?
Of course not. The one great uncertainty was not whether or not Harry would ultimately manage to defeat Lord Voldemort, but whether Harry would manage to defeat Lord Voldemort and survive. There had been endless debate on this issue from the first interview in which Mrs Rowling mischievously tossed out the suggestion that he might not.
Up to the end of Book 5 there was comparatively little in the text to say for certain whether she intended to take the question of Harry’s survival in one direction or the other. Later, with HBP she introduced a very real possibility that his survival could quite legitimately be in doubt.
The commonest argument, that; “these are children’s books! She can’t kill the hero! Her young readers would be upset!” is a totally unconvincing line of defense. And useless for any kind of prediction.
Child heroes have died at the end of “their” stories before this, and under such circumstances as having their deaths presented as the greatest of all possible victories, too, on a steadily recurring basis, and, to the best of my understanding, no one has burned Hans Christian Andersen in effigy for it yet.
Nor is Andersen the only author to have made a habit of killing off the young viewpoint character of the story, or book, or series of books deliberately intended to be marketed to children at the end of the last installment (although Andersen was certainly the worst offender about it). It can be done, it has been done. The only question was whether or not Rowling would choose to do it too.
But by that particular point in the story arc; five books into a series of seven, it had to be admitted that while we were certainly still missing any number of details from the backstory, and the young hero still appeared to have several difficult life lessons yet to master before he would be ready for the final confrontation, the majority of the main puzzle pieces seemed to have probably already been turned over to us. The then-forthcoming ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ already had already a strong feel of being an “answer” book. By which I mean that it had the feel of being the book in which we would finally get a good many answers to questions that had already been asked. (After the event: boy howdy!)
And I thought that while Rowling might very well throw us still another variety of non-standard magic to which we had not yet been properly introduced, and that we would probably learn a bit more about the greater wizarding world, she wasn’t likely to be tossing us (the readers, that is, not necessarily Harry, the character) a whole lot of brand new concepts. We could all pretty well anticipate what direction she was likely to be taking us by that time.
• • • •
Well, I obviously wasn’t as on-target in that estimation as I thought I was.
And that goes double, in spades, for DHs.
Particularly as regards the matter of new concepts. She threw us several new ones in HBP and even more in DHs (not all of them, imho, necessary). And she took several other matters into a number of totally unanticipated detours. Indeed, she completely discarded and dismissed any number of the elements that she had spent most of Book 5 putting into place, and hauled us off in a different direction entirely.
And then, in book 7, she did the same thing again.
This was the underlying reason for so much of the readers’ dissatisfaction with Book 6, and even more of the same for book 7. We thought we knew this story, and then she went and told us a different story and insulted us by trying to pretend that it was the same story — when we could all see perfectly well that it wasn’t.
It felt like bait-and-switch.
I had also not anticipated that she would abruptly reverse several of the major underlying assumptions that she had been at great pains to foster over the first five books; nor that she would taunt us with the revelation that she had sold us a series of school stories about a teenage dropout.
But, back at that still fairly innocent point at the end of OotP, it had seemed to me that she already shot herself in the foot if she really wanted to retain any mystery about the end of the series when she had exercised the sheer, amateurish bad taste of hanging her whole storyline on something as tacky as a Prophecy. She was inexperienced and unpublished when she claims she first drafted the story out. But she also claimed to have drafted out the whole outline for the whole series at that point, and that she had not materially departed from that outline, however many smaller details and events may have shifted about or changed (or expanded!) in the course of writing it.
Prophecies are such bloody *stupid* plot devices. And they generate stupid plots. Or they manage to exponentially dumb down plots that weren’t stupid to begin with. Anyone over the age of 20 who thinks that tossing a Prophecy into their story is a “cool” idea needs their head examined.
Apart from the rare instances where the function of the Prophecy is to make a May game of everyone, or the even rarer instances where a Prophecy is made and everyone goes “Wibble, wibble, wibble,” and then drops the subject until the last chapter, and the story’s basically over and the Prophecy either came true or it didn’t, but no one really cares, the only thing I can ever recall seeing a Prophecy contribute to a storyline is a crude glossing over of lazy plotting.
Let’s face it; you cannot really squeeze a lot of ambiguity out of “...And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives.”
That’s either/or, cookie. Writ large in letters of fire. Not both. And we already know that Voldemort is not going to win.
And in the event it turns out that it wasn’t even the truth. It wasn’t that neither could live while both survived, it was that neither could properly die while both survived. Or not so long as both of them survived in Harry.
And any attempt to inject additional interpretations into the statement usually appeared to be the kind of over-complex wankfest which may make for interesting mental exercises and word games, but are vanishingly unlikely to actually be deployed by an author who is exceedingly well aware that she needs to keep the principles of the story accessible to 9-year-olds.
Which, in the end, is pretty much what she gave us. After falsely raising our expectations to anticipate something more.
• • • •
I do have to grudgingly admit that without the bloody Prophecy, most of Riddle’s subsequent actions and motivations regarding Harry Potter become incomprehensible.
Mind you, I’ll have to say that I was relieved to learn in her website update of May 2005 that yes, she was playing ‘Macbeth’, and the damn Prophecy was supposed to be self-fulfilling. I guess if you are determined to “embrace the cheese” you might as well flaunt it.
And, in any event, in HBP she managed to toss a very large spanner into my assumptions regarding the whole either/or situation, too. She did a good job of making it look as though it might very well turn out that it would have to be “both” in order to permanently take out the Dark Lord.
• • • •
However, none of the above tells us squat about how the conclusion was going to be brought about, or what was likely to be done about addressing the REAL problem threatening the continuing safety of the wizarding world.
Because by that time it ought to have been obvious to any reader that the biggest problem that the wizarding world had was not Voldemort. And getting rid of him was not going to solve it. To all appearances, Voldemorts are the result of the underlying problem. They are not the cause.
Tom Riddle was just exercising an opportunistic determination to take advantage of the situation. He himself was almost completely unrelated to any of it. He was a total outsider. In fact, he was a virtual non-sequitur.
In which case, what was Rowling’s point? I still don’t understand the message that the lady was attempting to send. I am a native of an allegedly English-speaking country but something is being lost in translation.
At the end of HBP I suspected that for all that we had been deliberately given the impression that we now knew all there was to know about the young Tom Riddle, we were still clearly missing the crucial piece of information which would snap it all into focus and make it clear what we would have to do to deal with him.
Post-HBP it was also finally unmistakable to any reader that the wizarding world that Rowling presents is practically the antithesis of one of Elizabeth Goudge’s slightly-flawed little earthly paradises. This is emphatically not the hidden valley of ‘The Little White Horse’ with a villain who can simply be bought off by giving him what he really wants, and to which he has a perfectly valid claim.
Now that we’d finally been given a good look at it, it is glaringly evident that the whole wizarding government, and the society which supports it, is hopelessly corrupt.
And getting rid of Voldemort isn’t going to do a thing about that.
And trying to claim that an 18-year-old Harry Potter and his friends are going to go to work for that government and “clean it all up” is a bloody lie. Those kids haven’t a ghost of a chance of doing anything of the sort.
The whole British WW is a nasty little dystopia on close to the same general magnitude as the society depicted in Orwell’s ‘1984’, and while Rowling seemed determined to rub our noses in that fact, on every conceivable opportunity, she gave us absolutely no indication that she had any more intention of fixing any part of it than Orwell did.
I mean, really! What have we got here? This is a “world” whose government was established by engaging in a partnership with Dementors in order to control its citizenry!
Hold that thought.
• • • •
This is a society which — above every other consideration — is ruled by fear. In fact the wizarding “world” was *created* out of fear. At that point, it was a rational fear, to be sure, given western Europe in the throes of the Reformation, but nevertheless, its underlying foundation still was fear. And in 300 years that hasn’t changed one iota. The underlying motivation of the entire wizarding world is STILL fear. In fact the whole sorry lot clutches at its fears as if they were its only hope of order and salvation.
Not courage, not honor. Not cleverness or wisdom. Not even cunning and ambition, and certainly not loyalty and hard work.
And that kind of atmosphere attracts predators. Voldemort and his Death Eaters are predators.
Voldemort and his followers prey on their world’s fears. Tom Riddle’s entire justification in life seems to be to create panic. He and his followers’ every action was calculated simply to make people afraid of them.
Even in DHs after the Ministry fell and the DEs had taken control, they were not really running the Ministry. Established sympathetic-minded Ministry wonks like Umbridge were doing that, and running it to what were their own agendas. The DEs may have taken positions in the Ministry in expectation of future advancement. They would give the Ministry wonks a nudge here or there, sometimes via an Imperioed puppet who was already in position, but they certainly didn’t hang up their masks and all settle down to actually run the government.
They specialize. Their sole occupation seems to be to wantonly inspire fear, and to cause pain — thereby creating more fear — and to harvest it. Very much as the Dementors themselves do. Right up to DHs we had never heard of any action undertaken by the Death Eaters which would enable them to do anything so sordid or pedestrian as to turn a profit. Indeed, more and more they come across as a self-supporting foundation exclusively dedicated to the manufacture and distribution of top-grade terror. Phobos & Demos Incorporated. Lord Voldemort, CEO. The European Union is their marketplace.
And frightened people do horrible things.
Particularly to anyone that can be identified as the Other.
Them. Not Us.
The Giants, one of the elder races, have been expelled and forced into a social system that is both unnatural to them, and is gradually destroying them. They now number less than one hundred, and from the general attitude of wizards, the sooner the last of them kill each other off the better. The Goblins, for all their recognized intelligence and skill are 2nd-class citizens. The House Elves are enslaved outright. The Centaurs, credited as being wiser than average, and the Merrows have both withdrawn behind their own barricades which they jealously guard, and with good cause, for they cannot reasonably expect any better treatment from wizards than the rest of the wizards’ “allies”. Any other magical race of Beings — nature spirits of various sorts for the most part — seem to live completely at the discretion of wizards. And for about the first hundred years or so of Seclusion any of the Muggle-born who did not live in proximity to the covert wizards were largely abandoned to their fate amid the fields of alien corn. And over the 300 years that the wizarding world has existed, the whole situation has only become steadily worse. Producing an environment in which predators like the Death Eaters and their allies can flourish.
Clearly the “fatal flaw” was inherent in the foundation of this secret world and has only continued to perpetuate itself.
Ghod knows the Muggles of the Potterverse don’t exist in anything resembling an earthly paradise, either, but at least they didn’t make a formal pact with (a race of?) soul-sucking demons in order to establish what passes for a civil justice system.
And just what does pass for justice in the wizarding world? Where the Muggle’s Great Britain is (one assumes) founded upon a common-law system which presumes the innocence of the accused and all wrongdoing ideally must be proven by the State, in the wizarding world one can be packed off to Azkaban without trial, often for no reason beyond that of expedience, or as a public gesture to enhance the Ministry’s image. Not only during wartime as Sirius Black, Stan Shunpike, and others experienced, but also in the middle of peacetime as Hagrid did, and even Albus Dumbledore could not gainsay it.
Indeed, it begins to read less as though the guilty are being consigned to prison for their crimes, than that the Ministry is identifying “expendables” for the purpose of “paying tiend”. And in DHs this was extended to apply to a full quarter of the population.
I speculate that at the wizarding world’s inception, the wizarding leaders effectively made a pact with the Dementors. And, demon or Dementor, what does the bargaining chip in such a pact always traditionally consist of? What do such creatures want from humans?
• • • •
The inception for this particular article was an essay posted in 2004 on the LiveJournal of a fan going by the name of no_remorse.
This post knocked a few of my prior assumptions loose, and forcibly reminded me of some details that I’d been steadily either dismissing or overlooking. After the eventual release of HBP, it was reluctantly borne in on me that my original assumptions were not necessarily wrong, and my epiphany likely to be illusory. But even if incorrect, the conclusion was still worth exploring.
And at least one component of that epiphany I still could not dismiss.
It finally, abruptly (and, I’ll admit, rather reluctantly) became evident to me that there was a good chance that the Dementors were not, as I had been assuming, merely the series’s nebulous nasties from Central Casting. Symbolically, the Dementors appeared to be the key to everything that is wrong about the wizarding world today, and which has probably been wrong with it from its beginning.
And the problem may be extended beyond the merely symbolic.
As has been pointed out in the text of the books, the Dementors are the “natural allies” of Dark Lords. And, in what appears to have been Rowling’s original intention, since its inception, the wizarding world seemed to have periodically been plagued with “Dark Lord” candidates. And I really don’t think that in the days before wizards cut themselves off from the wider “human” society, this was so likely to have been the case.
No. In the days that wizards were simply humans with magic, the problem was Dark wizards, not Dark Lords. And the wizarding world has had ample experience in dealing with Dark wizards. Indeed, with HBP it became evident that the term “Dark wizard” in day-to-day usage, may mean nothing more impressive than the wizarding equivalent of felon, and is less indicative of the type of magic used by such a wizard than the fact that he makes a habit of considering himself above the law, and behaving accordingly.
But apparently the MoM just doesn’t send a team of Aurors out to shut down a potential Dark “Lord”. Not if their response to the former Tom Riddle is anything to go by. Somehow Dark Lords appear to be something that the wizarding world just does not have any kind of a handle on dealing with — which sends it into a gibbering panic.
Very much like the reaction of someone who cannot cast a Patronus when confronted by a Dementor, if you stop to think about it.
And whether Lord Voldemort is in the typical style of Dark Lords, or if he was redefining the term as he went along, he seems to have gone out of his way to reinvent himself as a Dementor surrogate.
(Hold that thought. We will be taking a closer look at it before we are through.)
• • • •
All of which leads one to belatedly wonder whether Dark Lords may indeed be something comparatively new on the block.
A separate wizarding “world” has only been around for some 300 years.
And, after all, if there is no separate wizarding world, then there will hardly be a tradition of magical megalomaniacs trying to rule it, will there? Unless the Potterverse, unlike our own, mostly parallel world has a history of Dark wizards attempting to rule the Muggle world. Which has not ever been suggested in canon, although it must have sometimes been the case, since this attitude is nothing more than the underlying philosophy of wizarding “supremacy”. Which can hardly be recent.
And just where are the Dementors in all of this? They seem to have made a bargain with the leaders of the wizarding world. But I don’t get the impression that striking an honorable bargain with anyone would be all that much in their style. They’ve got their allotted franchise in this new world, but is that likely to satisfy them? We keep hearing about all those Goblin rebellions (another group with its own franchise), but I suspect that an open rebellion isn’t much in the Dementors’ style, either. So what is?
When the Dementors were first brought onstage in PoA it was possible, even in the face of strong counter-suggestions, to regard them as mindless appetites kept firmly under Ministry control.
But Dumbledore’s exhortation to Cornelius Fudge in GoF, that they would not continue to obey him if Voldemort returned, ought to have belatedly clued us in that they are probably not mindless — although it does raise the question of why Dumbledore would expect them not continue to obey the Ministry this time, when by all accounts they had done so the last time.
I cannot see the Dementors being awarded control of Azkaban prison by the Ministry if they had supported Voldemort in his first rise, and no one in canon has ever suggested that they did.
The Dementors have also been consistently described as “evil”. I do not think that true evil is likely to be completely mindless. It may have what amounts to a “mass mind”. It’s reasoning may be very basic. But it is usually capable of some form of reason. And it generally wants something. Typically dominance over everything that it interacts with.
The fact is that we do not know nearly as much about these creatures as we need to. In PoA we were told that Muggles cannot even see them, although they can feel their effect. On the face of it, this would suggest that they are native to the spirit plane. However, Rowling’s explanation posted on her original official website regarding Squibs effectively told us that Arabella Figg was lying when she claimed that Squibs can see Dementors, although it had already been made clear in canon that Squibs can usually see ghosts. And Filch can certainly see Peeves.
But in HBP we were told that the Dementors were breeding, which would suggest that they must be to at least some degree material Beings rather than purely Spirits.
If they breed, then it would seem logical to conclude that they can also die, for otherwise the world would be overrun with them. But we have no idea what would kill them. Even a Patronus, which Remus Lupin describes as a sort of “anti-dementor” only drives them away.
And just what is a Patronus, when it is at home? Lupin’s full definition goes: “— a guardian that acts as a shield between you and the dementor.”...“The Patronus is a kind of positive force, a projection of the very things that the dementor feeds upon — hope, happiness, the desire to survive — but it cannot feel despair, as real humans do, so the dementors can’t hurt it.”
He goes on to caution Harry that the incantation will only work if one is concentrating with all one’s might upon a single, very happy memory.
It’s true that over the course of the series we have gotten some exaggerated and wildly inaccurate statements from Remus Lupin, but we cannot count upon this being one of them. Or, certainly not intentionally.
Still, once examined, it certainly appears to be completely back-to-front. It is demonstrably not positive feelings that Dementors feed upon but negative ones. Anyone who is confronted by a Dementor will find himself overwhelmed by his own worst memories, to the exclusion of all else. That is what the Dementor has to be after, or otherwise it would hardly keep digging deeper and deeper into your subconscious to drag more of such memories out of you.
If Dementors actually did feed upon happy memories you would expect their proximity to cause their victims to helplessly generate those. It reads more as if the Dementors just throw any happy memories away. Like the bag that their crisps came in, and the Patronus is such a tough piece of plastic wrap that they cannot get it open. (I guess we can assume that Dementors have no teeth.)
Yet, at the same time, it seems even harder to believe that the whole ww has been reading the situation back-to-front since time immemorial.
Maybe we are asking the wrong questions.
Just how long have there been Dementors?
And where did they come from in the first place?
On that I have no suggestions.
• • • •
Note: For the purpose of this essay I am going to overlook any reference to the wizard Ezkridis (or however he spells it), which I gather is something that has been posted on Pottermore. My understanding is that this was a 13th or 14th century Dark Lord who created Azkaban fortress, and whose experiments resulted in Dementors. If this were actual canon, I would consider it, but it isn’t. It’s a retcon, and I am not even sure that it came from Rowling.
• • • •
It seems pretty clear that the Dementors cannot rule the wizarding world by themselves. Not directly. They are not willing to communicate well enough with other species to be able to control them in the way a ruler must. They appear to only want to feed off people. (And besides, they are blind, only sensing the presence of others by tracking their emotions, which has to slow them down or put them at at least some disadvantage.) Yet they seem to be willing to attach themselves to whatever ruling body takes control and will give them their preferred payment.
A ruling body which doesn’t will just have to deal with their preying on its constituency, and that lack of protection might mean they do not long remain a ruling body.
But a Dark Lord proxy certainly could rule this world for them, in their stead, and for their benefit.
And perhaps they don’t just wait around for likely prospects to crop up by accident.
Maybe they stay on the alert for conditions which would allow them to try to create one.
• • • •
When you stop and think of it, such conditions must necessarily be rare.
To begin with, they would need to find a magical child of considerable inherent power. A low-powered wizard would hardly be able to get very far in World Domination™. Ideally, a higher than average degree of intelligence would also be wanted. The child would need the smarts to figure out a way to take control of the wizarding world after all. Or at least to be able to evade the authorities and to keep it stirred up.
Powerful children, even intelligent powerful children are not as uncommon as all that, but the Dementors may not really be able to evaluate a human infant for those qualities.
And Riddle was just a lucky catch.
Because what the Dementors seem really to require is a *newborn* child. A child which has already formed attachments and taken the first steps toward normal human interactions would already be of no use to them, except as the source of a soul to devour.
Moreover, they would prefer this hypothetical child to be without any established ties of affection which might protect him. For their purposes, the child should be absolutely alone in the world, since for him to have formed even the most basic form of an attachment would give him something else to cling to. A “patron” as it were.
And it practically goes without saying that it is also just about essential for the Dementors’ purposes for such a child to have fallen into Muggle hands. Otherwise their interference would be noted. Muggles, however, cannot see Dementors, are powerless against them, and cannot interfere.
• • • •
Such a hypothesis might be developed into a rather interesting reason for why Salazar Slytherin so mistrusted Muggle-borns, but we will not follow that particular siren’s song here. I’ll leave that one for the fanfic writers. For one thing, there appears to be no indication that Dementors existed in the Founders’ day.
We know that the Dementors were never absolutely confined to Azkaban. They were the guards of the prison, not the prisoners. And while the MoM only rarely calls them away from the island, I don’t really think the MoM ever took much account of their actions whenever one of them went off to prowl through the Muggle world. The MoM is really concerned only with the wizarding world’s security. Muggles cannot see Dementors. Therefore the safety of the wizarding world is not being threatened by a Dementor roaming at large among Muggles. I think that in the Potterverse, the Dementors may have gone prowling through Muggle society on a fairly regular basis.
And what is likely to be the effect of a Dementor “just hanging around” in a child’s nursery? Muggles cannot see Dementors, but they certainly feel the effects of their proximity.
A child’s caretakers might be so affected that they never quite manage to develop much feeling at all for that little scrap, mightn’t they? And with a Dementor hovering about, the kid’s not going to be doing all that well either. He may never manage to develop the degree of confidence or trust to be able to try form any kind of attachment to his caretakers — or anyone else. An intelligent, unprotected, *highly magical* infant would be a positive gift to the Dementors, wouldn’t it?
Particularly once their tampering has rendered him incapable of comprehending the meaning or purpose of any human social contract.
Because once that particular opportunity is lost, it tends not to come around again. There is no making up for lost time.
Once the initial damage is done, the Dementors could probably safely withdraw and leave their unwitting “godchild” to recover his balance and develop like a cuckoo in the nest. And, if British, eventually that little cuckoo will be sent a Hogwarts letter.
Such a hypothesis would certainly account for what we were shown of the young Tom Riddle.
• • • •
For that matter something along these lines might even account for the leeching of magic, and the profound failure of the will to live which effectively killed Tom’s mother, Merope. You certainly don’t get the impression that Merope Gaunt was likely to have been able to produce a Patronus, do you?
Indeed, how do we know that the crippling despair that Merope Riddle fell into after her husband left her didn’t eventually attract one. One which sensed that she bore young, which they could use. When she finally stumbled up the steps of that (Muggle) orphanage she might not have been alone.
For that matter, she may have already shown up on the Dementors’ radar, before young Tom was even an issue.
We have been told that Dementors inhabit the darkest, filthiest of places. Places of hopelessness and despair.
Sounds a lot like what we were shown of the House of Gaunt, doesn’t it?
Indeed, the Gaunt hovel was exactly the kind of place that would have made a Dementor feel right at home. Particularly when Morfin was living there by himself. Or perhaps, after Marvolo returned from Azkaban to find his daughter fled, leaving him on his own. He died there, at some point in the two and a half years before his son followed him home. The place was isolated enough to have made it unlikely that any of the Gaunts would have been able (or willing) to call for assistance if so confronted. One wonders whether the Dementors might have followed “one who got away”.
And from the situation in PoA, we know that if there is any one thing that really gets them riled up it is for someone to manage to get away from them.
Albus implies that Marvolo staved to death there in his hovel. From what we saw, at the end of GoF, someone who has been administered the Dementors’ Kiss is unlikely to be performing even such basic chores as cooking for and feeding themselves, are they?
• • • •
Which opens another, even uglier line of inquiry.
We know that Merope’s father and brother were hauled off to Azkaban in the summer of 1925 or thereabouts.
Was it just a team of Aurors who hauled them away, or did they get help from the Prison itself? After escaping from the enraged Gaunts, Bob Ogden would have certainly reported that they were NOT likely to “come quietly”.
Did one of the Dementor guards sniff around and spot that here was a third potential victim in an isolated place that no human is likely to be seeking out? A victim who was probably unable to defend herself?
By the time it glided back to settle down for a private snack, some weeks, or months, later, had the bird already flown?
It probably wouldn’t have liked that, at all.
The Ministry, like I say, doesn’t seem to raise much of a fuss about a Dementor doing an occasional sweep through Muggle districts so long as it is discrete about it and leaves wizards alone.
Did that particular Dementor make a point of doing the occasional sweep every few months to see if it could pick up the girl’s trail? Did it work its way gradually south from the Yorkshire/Lancashire area where the Riddle house and the Gaunt hovel are probably situated until it finally reached London, and hit pay dirt?
Because I’m three-quarters convinced that Merope was not unaccompanied when she finally staggered up the steps of that orphanage. And her lapsing into total silence for her final hour of life, after only giving her child a name and hoping he would resemble his papa sounds highly suspicious to me. In fact, it sounds far too much like our last glimpse of Barty Crouch Jr.
And if the Dementors are aware of anything about their effect on the very young, might that one have decided to pay further visits? I really do think that Tom’s exaggerated terror of death (and of the dark) is suspicious in itself.
And, for that matter, what do you suppose would be the effect of prenatal exposure to Dementors over the last trimester of a pregnancy? That may need to be considered in the equation as well.
• • • •
And what of Mrs Cole’s description? “He was a funny baby. Hardly ever cried, you know. And then, when he got a little older, he was... odd.”
Hardly ever cried? What was he doing then? Lying there, silent and terrified? What a horrible thought! I should think such a child would turn out... odd.
And even in a best-case scenario, a lack of crying probably meant that he did not get the attention he needed from the staff, who, from what we were able to see of the place, were generally harried and run off their legs. A child who did not cry would have been passed over in favor of one who did.
• • • •
But the essential wrongness of the whole wizarding world’s situation, as it stands, is just too complex and too deeply-rooted for any single act from “our young hero” to be able to set it all right, all at once. Or even to make a decent start.
Dying for this world will not save it.
So what might?
And at the point that this question is raised we need to step back and take a long clear look at just what kind of story we are dealing with, and what sort of writer its author is, or at least what kind of writer she claims to be.
On this matter we get a fairly wide latitude of choice. Rowling has flip-flopped back and forth over the years in her statements as to what she is trying to accomplish in this series. At some periods over the past decade she has appeared to be attempting to attain some degree of depth. For the final two books, however, she appears to be waving about the shallowest of possible answers and “embracing the cheese”.
My own instincts, up to the point that the original iteration of this essay was written, i.e., Easter 2005, had been to read the series as a single, fairly long, rather complex detective adventure. And the structure of the first four books certainly constitute an invitation to do so. Each of the first four segments of the story was structured around an internal mystery in the classic “whodunit” style. Each of these internal mysteries had an unquestionable villain of that specific piece, and in every case both the mystery and the identity of the villain had been tidily wrapped up by the end of the book..
With OotP we rather abruptly found ourselves in different circumstances altogether, and the result was very uncomfortable. There was not a trace of the whodunit about that installment.
We knew who the villain was before cracking open the book. The puzzle wasn’t a question of finding the answer to some local mystery du jour, it was all wrapped up in the difficulty of getting reliable “news from the front”; figuring out what the hell was going on out in the wider world where there was nothing that the protagonist could do anything about.
And what I contend was probably going on wasn’t even revealed at the end! Dumbledore and his Order were almost certainly running a scam wrapped around the archived record of the Trelawney Prophecy in order to flush Voldemort out of hiding where he could be seen by so many people that the Ministry would have to admit that he was back. Harry, with his direct connection to Voldemort was the side’s weak link and had to be kept, deliberately, in the dark in order to protect their mission.
And this still certainly appears to have been the case, but we never got a full confirmation.
There was no apparent or ultimately revealed ambiguity about who was on any side throughout the entire school year. (With the continuing exception of Severus Snape.) The lines were all drawn from the beginning and there were no surprises. And, once the initial Dementor attack in Little Whingeing was thwarted and Harry had escaped being expelled from school, no one but Dolores Umbridge (and the press) appeared to take any further real interest in persecuting him. Harry had no legitimate part of any of Book 5’s real action. The real action wasn’t taking place at Hogwarts. Furthermore, in the three-way opposition between Dumbledore’s Order, the Death Eaters and the Ministry, it ultimately didn’t even matter whether or not Madam Umbridge was aware that she was furthering Voldemort’s aims.
Year 5 was Dumbledore’s year, not Harry’s, and Dumbledore was engaged in “belling the cat”. His objective was to knock the Ministry out of its position of denying Voldemort’s return. Harry wasn’t in a position to do anything about that year’s true agenda. So we were shunted off on the sidelines with him and got a tedious, miserable trip through the Tunnel of Adolescent Angst instead. With a side trip up the garden path courtesy of Lord Voldemort at the end of it. And, only at the very end of the year, as a sort of a bad conduct prize, Harry finally was filled in on the actual text of the stinking fish of doom, Trelawney’s bloody first Prophecy.
— Once all the morass of deliberate obfuscation, smoke, and mirrors had served Dumbledore’s purpose, and the Ministry had been forced to admit they were wrong and Voldemort is, indeed, back, that is. Not one minute before.
The whole book was the dreaded “transitional chapter” writ (very!) large. In spades.
And both HBP, and to a surprising extent, DHs, followed the same pattern.
Not to mention Book 5’s function as the opening up of a whole new paradigm shift wherein it looked as if each of the last three books managed to echo and reflect major elements of one of the first three books. A paradigm which, however intriguing, Rowling abandoned before the end of the series.
By the end of OotP I was beginning to suspect that my instincts may have been, if not altogether wrong, certainly somewhat insufficient to the potential scope of this story.
• • • •
The detective story is said to be probably one of the most inherently “moral” forms of storytelling in existence. Except under rare conditions a detective story simply does not work unless its wrongdoer is ultimately unmasked.
He may be spared punishment at the discretion of the investigating parties. Justice in a whodunit is often tempered with mercy. Of course the wrongdoer also may already be dead by the time the truth is revealed. But the truth must always be revealed — at least to the people undertaking the investigation. Those stories — and we’ve all run into a few of them if we read mysteries on anything like a regular basis — where the author tries to get all artistic or ironic and spins us a tale where either circumstances or human agency result in everyone being misled and the perpetrator is either misidentified (usually as someone conveniently dead at the end of the story) or the solution is still unknown to the investigating parties (although not to the reader) when the book finally ends, generally just feel wrong or somehow unfair to the situation.
From the standpoint of a detective adventure the whole action of Book 5 was utterly unsatisfactory. It’s small wonder the whole book felt awkward and wrong-footed and uncomfortable. (Besides which; Madam Umbridge was so monumentally unpleasant that every time I encountered her I wanted to stop reading, and had to fight my way through a wall of resistance.)
So; what did this say about the future direction of the series? Had we now moved beyond the “age of mysteries”?
Well... I certainly hoped not. Being neither a theologian nor a mystic, but merely a rude mechanical, I would immeasurably prefer to be able to go on reading the adventure of Harry Potter and the Dark Lord as a variety of detective story than to have to stop and dabble in theology and metaphysics. And there was still a fighting chance that I would be able to continue to do so.
For one thing, it seemed clear that once the Ministry and the Order were back on the same page, even if still not altogether in agreement, the action would undoubtedly shift back to Harry. And Harry had a lot of information that he still needed to go and find out.
But the overall focus of the mystery had changed from the clear, pure, form that it (and we) enjoyed through books 1–4. It seemed unlikely that book 7 would much resemble a whodunit, either.
Even if for no better reason than that ever since the end of the 3-year summer the overriding question has been not so much “Whodunit?”, as “What the hell just happened?”
Followed immediately by the question of; “And what does it all signify?”
If, at the end of the adventure of Harry Potter and the Dark Lord Harry did not know *why* the various people who contributed to the situation in which he had been placed, acted as they did, as well as *what* they did, we would undoubtedly feel that Rowling had failed in her intent. Harry, and we, felt we needed the full story. And we needed to know what happened before we could decide what we were going to have to do about it.
Even if, in the end, what specifically happened bore little relation to what must now be done. It looked to be shaping up into one of those cases — and once again my biases as a mystery reader were showing — in which the villain IS the story. I was sure that once we finally fully understood Tom Riddle, we would know what we had to do about him. Otherwise we were just pulling rabbits out of hats.
And I was not convinced that we did know everything that we needed to know concerning Tom Riddle just yet.
• • • •
But this was all still a mystery readers’ classic solution. And it was becoming ever more questionable whether — for all her undoubtable skills at mimicking the form — Rowling regarded herself as a mystery writer.
Given what Rowling’d had to say for herself, up to then, it was no stretch to accept that Rowling regards herself as a “moral” writer. (Although her interpretation of the term leaves a lot to be desired in the way of clarity.)
But — rather more to the point — in the, not all that distant, days before she discovered Philip Pullman and started being snotty about C.S. Lewis on general principles (not that one needs to have discovered Pullman in order to have issues with Lewis. I agree that Susan Pevensy was singularly ill-done-by on the part of her creator), she did, when pinned down to it, identify herself as a Christian writer.
And, as the Christians will assure you, morality is not Christianity.
This issue had cropped up quite a long time ago in the interview with the Vancouver Sun which was mentioned in the link above. At the time, Rowling answered the question of whether she herself is Christian with:
“Yes, I am. Which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I’ve been asked if I believe in God, I’ve said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, 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 in the books.”
So, with a view to the rest of the puzzle pieces that Rowling had turned over to us in the series at the end of Book 5, what are we to think of that statement?
Are we to think of that statement?
For a while there, it began to look very much as if we were not necessarily going to be able to work out the solution of this conundrum through pure logic and traditional deduction. However useful those qualities may be in helping to determine the extent of the problem.
But, given the general motif of repeated reversals of carefully-built assumptions to which Rowling subjected us, and continued to do so through HBP, I was no longer quite sure what to think. For, with HBP, Rowling suddenly dragged us off on a tangent in which she appeared to completely dismiss most of what she had made such a point of drawing our attention to over the course of OotP.
I was finally beginning to entertain the concept that whereas OotP was a jolt of one kind, HBP was deliberately another. That in each of these novels Rowling may have intentionally introduced only one half of the problem, intending for the two to collide in the final book.
At that point, such a concept itself was only a bare hypothesis. But it did at least seem to be a possibility.
Left to my druthers, I do not go digging for esoteric symbolism, “deep meanings” or “eternal truths” in my adventure fiction. I will usually try to work out the probable future directions of a story arc from a starting point of following and extrapolating from the currently apparent patterns inside the narrative.
And given that a double handful of dominoes toppled between two previous revisions of this collection, it was beginning to look as though I might be able to go back to doing it. Book 5 closely replayed the underlying plot of Book 1, and Book 6 had a veritable swarm of motifs in common with Book 2. Book 7 definitely appeared to be being set up to echo and reflect Book 3. And there was a recognizable pattern to Book 3.
But, still, I thought that Rowling must have had a reason for leading us off in the direction that we were led over the course of OotP, even though she might appear to have completely dismissed it for the whole of HBP. I was just not convinced that we could safely dismiss what we picked up from Book 5, as little as most of it still appeared to even be relevant in the wake of Book 6.
• • • •
Well, rather than getting mired in the issues introduced in HBP, let’s take a closer look at a few of the hints that we were handed at the end of OotP and try to figure out just what kind of tools we’d been given to work with at that point.
We were presented with a number of what at the time appeared to be great, thumping potential plot elements at the very end of Book 5, in addition to the full text of the Trelawney Prophecy.
The first of these was Dumbledore propounding on the Mysterious Power kept behind the locked door in the Department of Mysteries; the same door that effectively ate the pocket knife/key that Sirius Black had given Harry for Christmas the year of the TriWizard Tournament. The nature of these pronouncements make it altogether too difficult to conclude that this mysterious force is anything other than the Power of Love™. And as such this exchange becomes yet another incidence of Dumbledore’s repeated assertions that Harry was saved because of his mother’s Love; that to have been touched by such Love has marked him as surely as Voldemort’s curse ever did, and that this is, in fact, the Power Harry has which the Dark Lord knows not.
Except that... Harry really does not come across in the books as a particularly loving child.
In fact he comes across as “a very good hater”.
Well, really, how could anyone expect him to be a particularly loving child, the way the Dursleys raised him? Under their care, what he learned was to withdraw into himself, to become self-contained, and, as much as possible, self-sufficient. Very much as Tom Riddle learned back in his orphanage.
And something in Harry has given him the inclination and resolve to continue to maintain this policy of self-containment even after he has moved beyond the Dursleys’ sphere into a wider world in which he is hailed as a hero. Once out of the Dursleys’ keeping, he could easily have lost his balance and become every bit as much of an attention-sponge as Rita Skeeter and her successors tried to paint him. Instead, he has maintained his barriers and opened himself up to very few people since his entry into the wizarding world, and we have seen him spontaneously reach out to virtually no one.
With the significant exception of Sirius Black, who somehow seems to have charmed his way right through all of Harry’s defenses.
And, yes, Harry does seem to care about those few people to whom he has opened himself up. He has shown himself perfectly capable of honoring a friendship and of forming emotional connections to others. The Dursleys did not manage to destroy that. But he still doesn’t seem to go in much for the “Anything, anything at all, for my friends!” routine. Otherwise he might have ended up in Hufflepuff and formed his trio with Justin and Ernie.
And he’ll still shut any or all of his friends out in a blink whenever he is upset, or has been presented with a new viewpoint to absorb.
Even his fascination with anything that anyone will tell him about his father comes across as more from curiosity or self-absorption than it does of love.
No, I would say that Harry is still effectively sailing under the black flag of “I am a rock, I am an island.” and there was no shortage of examples in the text about which shoals plotting that particular course is likely to wreck you upon. Particularly that suspected example swooping about the landscape like an overgrown bat.
• • • •
I think that even at that late point in the story arc to blindly accept Dumbledore’s assurances on Harry Potter’s command over the Power of Love™ at face value is to seriously anticipate something which has not yet been adequately demonstrated in the text. Dumbledore may not be often “wide of the mark,” acto Rowling, but he is not infallible. And if the power that Voldemort “knows not” is the fact of having been granted a magical protection from his enemy by his mother’s loving sacrifice, that is a power which we were already told will cease when he attains his majority.
Dumbledore did have at least one solid incident upon which to pin his hopes. One of the times that Harry got it absolutely right was in PoA when Peter abruptly threw him into the driver’s seat, and without thinking about it too much, even knowing that Peter is the one who had betrayed him and gotten his parents killed, Harry chose not to take the responsibility of exacting revenge upon Peter himself. Albus harped on that string ever afterward. And it was probably the most hopeful sign we’d been given in the whole series that Rowling actually intended to deliver upon the highly touchy issues she seems to have set up.
I rather suspected that this might prove to be one of those aforementioned difficult life lessons that Harry was going to have to master before he would be ready for the final confrontation with his enemy. Probably the greatest of all of them. At the end of HBP his grasp on the principle was still entirely theoretical. And while he may have sorted out an intellectual understanding of what Dumbledore was driving at — that there are things worth dying for; by that point, his grasp upon the whole issue still seemed singularly muzzy-headed and self-contradictory.
...Although Harry’s ability to summon a Patronus at the age of 13 might be more significant than I had been willing to credit. We might need to keep that in mind, as well.
I did at least imagine that we should try to feel confident that he would ultimately learn this lesson. Even if only at the last moment, in the course of the series’s climax itself. But it was not as easy as it ought to have been.
• • • •
However, once one considers it, the Power behind the locked door sounds rather like a Patronus taken to the Nth degree, doesn’t it?
Which suggested that it might finally be appropriate to raise the question of why the door in the Department of Mysteries which continues to contain this “greatest Mystery”, and which from Dumbledore’s description would appear to be restraining no less than the Power of Love™ itself, is kept locked in the first place.
We still have no idea, and frankly, Rowling’s interview description of the Power contained there was an epic failure (a fountain of Amortentia?! Really? That stuff doesn’t even produce an authentic emotion. Even Slughorn can tell us that much.).
After that piece of frankly insulting twaddle, I think we will be much better off trying to hammer out our own explanations on the subject, thank you.
But still, wizards are certainly a no less sentimental lot than Muggles. They also appear to be no less motivated by their attachments to one another. Human attachments and family ties seem on prominent display in every direction you look in the ww. The wizarding world clearly values such attachments.
So why lock the door?
And once the question has finally been raised, it occurred to me that perhaps the door was originally locked by treaty.
Could the Dementors have been paid off by giving them Azkaban, a steady supply of authorized victims, and an agreement to keep the door locked?
If so, perhaps it was past time that someone pointed it out that the creatures with whom the ww established that treaty had broken their side of the agreement!
• • • •
Another heavy-handed hint we were given was Luna Lovegood’s confident assertion that “They’re all still there, just beyond the Veil.” Luna Lovegood has the gift of being able to state her convictions with such absolute confidence that she will convince anyone who is willing to be convinced of them. Unfortunately for Luna, very few people are willing to be convinced of the existence of the Crumple-Horned Snorkack, Cornelius Fudge’s private army of heliopaths, or the rotfang conspiracy.
Rather a lot of people, however, are perfectly willing to be convinced that those that they have loved and lost still exist, as themselves, somewhere just beyond a mysterious Veil. Virtually every organized religion in the world has something in common with that very premise.
So. On the one hand we have the Veil, behind which linger all of our beloved dead, and on the other we have the mysterious Power behind door #3. And I was convinced that neither one of these elements was going to go away, despite Rowling’s determination to spend the whole of Book 6 ignoring them.
At the time, I thought that it was seriously unlikely that Rowling would have made such a point of giving us such blatant hints about these two potential plot elements unless these were elements that she intended to make further use of. And, indeed, it felt unwise to fully dismiss them even after reading to the end of HBP, despite the fact that she seemed to have done so. Rowling may have intended both as disposable plot devices, or empty pronouncements, but they seem to have taken on a significance greater than she was willing to grant them.
If nothing else, at the time (Easter 2005) it strongly suggested that a return to the DoM was in order.
Of course, by that time we had also expended a lot of theorizing on a comment of Dumbledore’s in the opening chapter of PS/SS which implied that some sort of major paradigm-shifting event had taken place in the wizarding world 11 years before the defeat of Lord Voldemort at Godric’s Hollow, as well. Ultimately to no purpose.
For that matter, the very nature of the concepts we had suddenly been handed to juggle — articles of Faith and the power of Love — do not sound very much like relevant issues pursuant to such a secular, in fact, such a purely political problem as the rooting out and shutting down of a few dozen Death Eaters. The Death Eaters are a purely human problem. We already know where the Death Eaters are coming from, and bringing such ammunition to bear on them is an exercise in swatting a fly with a Buick. The DMLE is perfectly capable of hunting out and shutting down Death Eaters, if they’ll get off their arses and do it. Or if the MoM will get out of their way and let them.
But to all appearances, that caliber of ammo was likely to be necessary for shutting down their Leader.
• • • •
We were given yet a third piece of information in the aftermath of the raid on the DoM as well. And I am still not sure just where that one was supposed to fit. Or if it even does fit. This third maybe-clue was Nearly Headless Nick’s explanation of what makes a ghost.
To be honest, I don’t know just how this information ultimately relates to the conundrum of Harry Potter and the Dark Lord, but I suspected back then that it did indeed relate. The connection was just a good deal less obvious than that of the locked door or the Veil.
Originally, I suspected that it might have something to do with the nature of wizards’ souls. Nick assures us that only wizards (and, of course, witches) are capable of manifesting as ghosts. Ergo; wizards are the only humans who are psychically active enough to sustain an existence without the grounding of a physical body.
We’d already had ample demonstration of this premise throughout the series.
And, if nothing else, this alone served as a blindingly clear illustration of the fact that for all his power and alleged brilliance, the former Tom Riddle is fundamentally most unwise. For his soul; that powerful, resilient, indestructible wizard’s soul, was already immortal. And he has hacked it to pieces and strewn the pieces to the four winds in an attempt to preserve its anchor to the material plane. Such folly exceeds all bounds.
According to Nick, the imprint of those souls which cannot face the prospect of the unknown, linger on this side of the Veil, unhappily, as ghosts.
He implies that this is the only reason they linger. But I am inclined to doubt that suggestion very much. For all that it is undoubtedly his reason.
For one thing, we also have the example of Professor Binns, who I suspect is not altogether aware that he is even dead. And even if he is, he is incapable of imagining any existence apart from telling an unending succession of schoolchildren about the Goblin wars.
For that matter, we also have the example of Moaning Myrtle who clearly refuses to let go of a grudge against the girls who cruelly amused themselves by teasing her, and when balked of her determination to haunt them personally, by the Ministry, she returned to Hogwarts to make as many other people feel as badly as she possibly could.
One thing that Rowling subtly slips into Nick’s testimony, however, is the information that, presumably, any witch or wizard in the Potterverse gets a choice in the matter. I thought there might yet be a payoff on this issue.
We have also never been informed regarding the ultimate fate of those who face the unknown beyond the Veil in the light of “an awfully big adventure”. Nor is there anyone in the Potterverse truly qualified to tell us what awaits such resilient souls on the other side of the great divide, or whether such souls are so indestructible as to make a practice of returning. (And, ultimately, although the Resurrection Stone will call them back for questioning it remains unclear what actually awaits one on the other side, because no one thinks to ask.)
On this issue I will absolutely not commit myself either way. But I will say that I have seen no indication in the text, which would suggest that reincarnation is a relevant factor in the Potterverse. No indication at all. Indeed, this is a somewhat curious absence, all things considering.
I cannot count upon having assigned Nick’s information into the proper category, either. But I did suspect that somewhere there must be a proper category. (At the very least it is additional circumstantial evidence that Lord Voldemort is determined never to die because he is afraid to.)
In the event, I appear to have turned out to be determinedly looking in the wrong direction.
• • • •
So. What did we have — or think that we had — that we knew about — so far?
Item: as far back as Prisoner of Azkaban we were handed a strong wake-up call that, in the Potterverse, souls matter. We were all given a horrible demonstration of this fact at the end of GoF. This had even already been hinted at as early as the end of PS/SS. The cumulative message is that entering into the service of Lord Voldemort is likely to cost you your soul. Literally.
Later, in HBP we got an up close and personal examination of Lord Voldemort’s present condition framed as a literal example of spiritual disintegration.
Item: in the Chamber of Secrets Harry Potter demonstrated himself both worthy and capable of wielding the Sword of Courage. We also saw that in the Potterverse, Faith seems to provide tangible assistance to those that will profess it.
In CoS we were also given our only on-stage demonstration of actually destroying a Horcrux. Even though the Diary Revenant had nearly managed to free itself from the book; rendering the book unable to contain it banished the soul fragment altogether, returning all of the life force that it had stolen to its proper owner.
Item: we have been hit over the head from the beginning of the whole series with the message that Love can save you.
Souls. Courage, Faith, Love, and Salvation, in the place of the Mysteries. What does that add up to, to you?
For me, at the end of OotP, that added up to a “spirit quest”.
• • • •
For all that such spirit quests are a traditional part of a “Hero’s Journey”, at the end of HBP I was no longer confident that we would get one.
It never was a done-deal, of course. Plus, we’d already been tacitly set the problem of a physical quest to have to work our way through over the course of Book 7. The spirit quest that I thought I foresaw at the end of OotP may just have become literal.
And neither quest seemed likely to take place upon the “playing fields of Hogwarts”. Although it did seem likely that we would be paying at least one visit to the school over the course of the last book. I thought by sneaking in while the school itself was closed.
I had thought that the possibility of being sent on a spirit quest might shed a bit of light on Rowling’s insistence that she “had” to kill Sirius Black when she did. In most classic spirit quests a guide is provided. This guide is always someone that the quester once knew, usually someone dear to the quester, and someone who has already passed beyond death. Harry does not really remember his parents. And he never quite managed to open up enough to be able to claim a true friendship with Cedric Diggory. At the end of OotP, Who did that leave?
I went a little further out on this particular limb and stated that, with this in mind, one of the other difficult life lessons that Harry would *have* to learn before the final confrontation, is that Death, which to the end of OotP was portrayed in the series as uniformly unfair, random, and arbitrary, can be made to *count* for something. And unlike the value of Love which he may only come to understand at the 11th hour, this is a lesson that he will need to have learned *before* the final confrontation with Voldemort.
Which meant he had to learn it between then, and the end of Book 7. Up to that point the only death that had unmistakably counted for anything in the entire series had been Lily Potter’s. And we were not there to see it, Harry was allegedly not watching, and was far too young to understand, anyway. Even the multiple undercurrents and exchanges attendant upon the death of Albus Dumbledore did not register with Harry, who saw only a trust abused.
At the end of the 5th book, Harry was still ignoring any implications of his mother’s sacrifice. For that matter, he was not just ignoring his mother’s death. He was largely ignoring her life as well.
It took until his 5th year trip into Snape’s worst memory before he even asked his first question related to his mother, and he was easily fobbed off with a half-answer, and some more stories of his father. All of his attention was, and remained, focused on his father. It was only with Year 6 and Professor Slughorn’s glowing and continual accolades of Lily that Harry finally had to take note of being his mother’s son as well as James’s. And he still didn’t take sufficient notice of it to satisfy the readers who had been impatiently waiting for the other shoe to fall ever since PoA.
We didn’t hang about Privet Drive long enough for him to start asking questions about Lily in year 6. Nor would it have occurred to Harry to do so at that point. And we were extremely frustrated when Petunia continued to keep silence at the opening of year 7, and then disappeared from the story with her secrets yet untold.
I did think it would be a fine piece of irony if the death that counted enough for Harry to learn the lesson that a death can be an item of negotiable exchange should turn out to be Pettigrew’s. But I wasn’t going to stick my neck out far enough to predict that. Which turned out to be just as well. At that moment, it seemed far more likely to turn up to be something related to the death of Albus Dumbledore. We still were missing all sorts of information related to just what was going on there.
But; I suspected Harry would have learned that lesson before he came face to face with Voldemort for the last time. On this side of the Veil.
In the kind of story that this series was still pretending to be, such issues are not negotiable.
• • • •
Which brings us to the subject of choices. Rowling expends a lot of rhetoric on the importance of one’s choices, but almost nothing in the series ever actually follows through on what is claimed about them.
Frankly, as things stood by the time I was working on the first iteration of this essay, nobody in the whole series apart from Snape (and Pettigrew), and Lily Potter gave any appearance of ever having had any real choices at all. Every other character in the series has been shown to have been locked into their roles by choices which were made for them, by their families, usually before they were born, and they had little or nothing to say in the matter.
Just about all characters in the series seemed to be entirely defined by their families, regardless of whether they marched in lock-step in accordance with their family’s decisions, or rejected them utterly. And two of the three characters that we had been shown who did reject their families’ alliances had been brought to extremely sticky ends, so the underlying message had hardly presented that particular choice as a desirable option.
Even the children without living families appeared to be locked into the contract made by the choices of their parents. Only the children with irrelevant families, such as Hermione Granger, or the other Muggle-borns, seemed to have the luxury of making their own choices, at least in this generation.
Or, as in the case of Tom Riddle, seemed to have been turned loose on the world incapable of ever making proper choices.
• • • •
As I say, both here AND in the essay entitled “Redeeming the Potterverse”, and probably a few other places; I am not a theologian. I do not go searching for Christ figures in children’s’ (or anyone else’s) literature. But it looked an awful lot to me as if Rowling may have handed us one after all. And at that point in the story it was not Harry Potter. At that point in the story Harry was standing squarely in the position of the soul in need of salvation. A salvation which, in accordance with all conventional Christian doctrine, had already been provided, and now must be embraced.
And, in a very real sense, so was Tom Riddle. Although he would strenuously deny it. And I could not hold out much confidence that he was even capable of understanding the concept.
As he had been set up in canon, Riddle never really had a chance. Rowling admitted in at least one interview before HBP was released that he was not born evil. But she also stated that he cannot have ever really loved anyone, or he would not be what he is today. The only sort of person for whom this can accurately be said is a sociopath. But, by casting her villain as a sociopath Rowling had reduced him to a condition, not a person. And that threw her presumed message of making the right choices seriously off-kilter.
An infant simply does not consciously choose whether or not he is going to form an attachment to its caretakers. He just does so. This is the first step of all human interactions and it is virtually a biological imperative. It simply happens.
— Unless that infant is somehow prevented from taking that step.
Rowling has also been quoted as stating her belief that children are usually good, unless they have been damaged. Clearly if what Rowling tells us of Riddle above is literally true; then even though she went out of her way to paint Tom Riddle as a bad seed from a degenerate tree; there had to have been something in Tom Riddle’s earliest experience which prevented him from ever having the faith and confidence necessary to form a connection with the people who were responsible for his welfare. This damage would have taken place at so early an age that it is not something he can properly be held to be responsible for choosing.
And the statement that no one had ever loved Tom Riddle is begging the question, too. Love does not have to be reciprocated in order to exist. A child is capable of loving, or at least trusting and depending upon, his caretaker even if the caretaker does not particularly love him. I’m sure that 15-month-old Harry trusted his aunt Petunia to feed and tend him, even if she didn’t do it with anything resembling the same enthusiasm or consistency as his mother.
But, having been denied the experience of bonding with any other person, at the point that it was essential to his future development to do so, Tom became incapable of ever living what anyone could recognize as a normal human life. Tom Riddle must answer for his own actions, certainly. But it sounds as if he was set loose into the world unequipped to make proper choices.
If the soul is the seat of the emotions, then Tom Riddle was emotionally crippled well before reaching an age of accountability. Therefore; is it really an appropriate illustration of Divine Justice to destroy this — already damaged — soul for the virtually inevitable results of developing a fundamental defect over which it had no control and no choice? A defect so fundamental as to render him incapable of comprehending the true meaning or purpose of any human social contract? Is the damage to such a soul irreparable? Is there no possibility of healing?
Do wizard’s souls return from behind the Veil?
The only thing that could conceivably have saved Tom Riddle would have been to get him out of that environment and into one where he could learn that basic first step of human relationships, to bond with his caretakers, before it was too late. That did not happen. Tom Riddle never learned to trust, love, or to depend upon any other creature. And if no one ever loved the infant Tom Riddle it was not because he didn’t deserve it.
If the projection earlier in this piece regarding the possible effects upon a child’s early emotional development of 3rd-party tampering by Dementors is anywhere on target, it suggests that while wizarding sociopaths are probably virtually unknown, such a pathology may not be as uncommon among Potterverse Muggles as it is among us in our own parallel reality. I doubt that the Dementors’ periodic sweep of the Muggle world in search of infant wizards is without collateral damage upon the children of Muggles.
• • • •
And, at this point, we also have to stop short and wonder about the degree to which life imitates art. Early in this century JK Rowling was deeply involved in children’s charities. Her part in the formation of the Children’s Voice is an issue so closely related to the picture of the young Tom Riddle to which we were treated in HBP that it would seem that a few questions are in order.
The Children’s Voice (formerly the Children’s High-Level Group) is primarily concerned with the abuse of children in institutions in Eastern Europe. It is most specifically concerned with the use of what are known as “cage beds”. Children raised under such conditions are documented to frequently develop “attachment issues”, as well as being at enhanced risk for many other psychological pathologies and a failure to thrive.
Rowling has stated that she read the article which set her onto this crusade in 2003. OotP was released in July of 2003. The manuscript had been turned in to the publishers at the end of 2002.
Before Rowling encountered the article. Before the article had been published.
Rowling laid out her master Plan for the series in the 1990s. While I suspect that she made some modifications to the original version of her Plan, she claimed she had not departed greatly from it. We were always scheduled to be filled in on the official Riddle backstory in Book 6.
Tom Riddle was not raised in Eastern Europe. British orphanages have not ever (so far as I know) adopted the use of cage beds. And Harry could see that while Tom’s orphanage was a grim place to grow up, the children in it were not being obviously abused.
But one still really does have to ask oneself whether the original Riddle backstory was quite what we were finally given in HBP.
• • • •
The purely human and political problem of the Death Eaters, however, is one that could probably be safely left in the hands of the Ministry. I was sure that Harry would not be called upon in Book 7 to lead troops of Aurors to fend off platoons of Death Eaters. And I was not convinced that this battle would be fought upon the playing fields of Hogwarts, either. (To the ruin of the predictions of countless fanfics.) In this last instance I was, of course, wrong.
But the matter of that projected spirit quest, if it came off, was something that seemed unlikely to be deployed at any point in the series prior to the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort. Unlikely, but not completely impossible. Harry’d had several apparent out-of-body experiences to that point in the series, mostly in the form of dreams, and if he had another in Book 7 I would not be unduly astonished (and wasn’t, although the explanation for these was highly unsatisfactory). But this, or these, would not constitute the series’s great spirit quest.
We had already been given the loud-and-clear message that the final book of this series of school stories would not be taking place at school at all; that Harry and his friends would drop out of school and undertake a real quest in search of the missing Horcruxes. I suspected that this was a strong hint that the school would remain closed throughout the final book, and when Harry returned there (which we all suspected he must), he would do so unofficially and in secret. Harry, after all, cannot be blamed for dropping out of school if the school is not open.
IF a spirit quest also took place — and I was still half-way convinced that one might take place, although far less convinced than I had been at the end of OotP — I suspected that it would comprise the series’s final battle, and it could be brought about, or be conducted, in any number of ways. But if Rowling did not decide to simply set tradition on its head, certain constant factors would probably apply. Most of these were no-brainers to anyone familiar with the conventions of fantasy adventures. And most of them hold just as well even if there wasn’t a spirit quest in the offing.
For there would certainly be a final confrontation.
- By the time Harry faced Voldemort, he would no longer have the benefit of the wise counselor figure represented by Albus Dumbledore. Whether Dumbledore’s current removal was total, or whether we would have one more debriefing session in which Dumbledore — in whatever iteration — Explains It All did not matter. He wouldn’t be available to Harry when Harry needed him. Rowling had already made statements to this effect.
- When Harry finally faced Voldemort he would probably face him alone, without his friends to support him. He always has. Voldemort will almost certainly be alone as well. Even the cover art for the US edition of the book suggested as much. (The US covers, ever since GoF, had a very good track record of always depicting a scene that is actually in the book. Even though up to this point they had always depicted one from the run up to the climax, rather than the climax itself.))
- By the time Harry faced Voldemort he would no longer fear Death in itself. This is the one point upon which Voldemort and Harry most differ.
- Given the solidly established motifs of the Veil and the Locked Door, there seemed a good chance that this final confrontation would take place in the Department of Mysteries. Particularly if Rowling did intend to invoke that Locked Door.
Or, alternately, if the cover art depicts an abortive confrontation during the run-up to the climax, in the artist’s usual manner, there’s an outside chance that JKR may decide to play The Magic Flute and send Ron and Hermione into the fray with Harry at the end. I wasn’t not going to try to anticipate the ramifications of that. And the cover illustration we had argued pretty strongly against it. But it seemed likely that IF Ron and Hermione make it to the showdown, then Voldemort will probably have someone to give him support as well. Possibly Bellatrix and/or Pettigrew. And Snape would be lurking somewhere in the equation.
This confrontation would probably be the point of departure for the spirit quest, if there is one. It was unknown whether Ron and Hermione would also accompany Harry on the spirit quest leg of the proceedings. My gut feeling was that they would not. But I’d certainly been wrong before and, as I say, there might not even BE a spirit quest.
Is there anyone, anyone at all who questions the reading that just about every action that has ever been taken by Lord Voldemort has been dictated by a horror of Death? In his first life, Tom Riddle threw away everything; honor, friendship, justice, humanity, good looks, even the welfare of his own soul in an attempt to avoid Death.
Nor is it at all difficult to see where this crippling fear might have come from; not if my postulation above is correct, and that the Dementors attempt to create future Dark Lords in the cradle.
If a tiny child keeps catching glimpses of a horrifying, faceless, 12-foot tall, black-hooded figure with rotting skeletal hands — that no one else can see — looming in the shadows of the nursery and *following him around,* and he is alone among Muggles with only Muggle symbolism and Muggle superstition to reason from, what is he going to conclude that he is seeing?
And even after these visitations have withdrawn, these earliest impressions will hang on long after the actual recollections have dimmed and been overwritten by later experience. Even after he has entered the wizarding world and discovered the existence of a whole race of Beings which resemble the creatures of his childhood nightmares.
Harry might be afraid of failing, he might be afraid of dying in vain, but he would not be so cripplingly afraid to die.
From that point on it was up to Rowling. There was no shortage of different directions in which she could choose to take it.
• • • •
With no further ado, I am now going to repeat a somewhat modified extrapolation of what had, in 2005, seemed to be a possible direction for the series’s resolution. It’s rather along the line of; “Captain Obvious presents”, but there you have it.
There are a few modifications in view of the revelations of HBP. It does not take account of DHs.
This is not the original version, either. That one formerly existed as; ‘The Premature Prediction’ and it was indeed both premature, and ultimately wrong.
An attempt to restore the original version, which was developed back when I still thought Rowling meant what she said about Christianity, has been spun off into the article entitled ‘Redeeming the Potterverse’, which is posted over in The 7th Son sub-collection. It’s quite similar to this, but not quite the same.
Since Harry has never been instructed on how to destroy a Horcrux without activating any curses which might be protecting it, the safest method would seem to be to simply pitch the damn thing through the Veil. To do that, you need to take it to the room of the Veil in the Department of Mysteries. Harry and his friends hit upon this solution and, bearing whichever Horcrux(es) or suspected Horcruxes that they have managed to locate set off for London, secure in the assumption that the only one left is Nagini.
Somehow either Voldemort gets wind of this, or tossing bits of his soul through the Veil ahead of schedule draws the remainder of it to the scene after them.
In any case, he shows up after the portable Horcruxes have been eliminated, but, unlike Harry, Tom already knows that the final Horcrux is not Nagini.
Voldemort may even have figured out by then that the last one is Harry.
If Voldemort’s wand is the mystery Horcrux, it is taken out of commission in the confrontation. Probably by Pettigrew. Who is killed in the process. (This possibility is explored in a couple of the Pettigrew articles. Pettigrew does owe Harry.)
Voldemort — knowing that if Harry dies, he will have lost his last Horcrux — offers a bargain. (Or, conversely, he has decided to write that one off.)
In any case, Tom taunts Harry with the fact that he cannot kill him without dying himself, confident that Harry is as terrified to die as he is.
Harry throws himself through the Veil, physically dragging Tom through as well, in order to take his enemy down with him, and to make his death count for something. Thus embarking on his spirit quest.
If Rowling decides to use Harry’s earlier performance with Pensieves as foreshadowing, he will not fall all the way through the archway and his friends will be able to pull him physically back through the Veil itself. He will be deeply comatose, but not actually dead, and they are unable to wake him.
Sirius Black, either as man or dog is waiting for him beyond the Veil and serves as his guide. In the spirit realm the Voldemort entity exists independently, probably in VaporMort form. It cannot retreat back through the Veil to the physical world, since all of the Horcruxes have either been destroyed or have preceded it through the Veil. Enraged, it dogs Harry’s progress and settles down to hunt him.
Harry will certainly meet his father on this quest, James will be of some help, and may be able to give Harry some needed information, but he will not be able to rid Harry of the entity which is hunting him. He will send them in search of Lily, who is the one who defeated Voldemort before. As Harry and Sirius travel on, Harry will eventually have to start questioning how and why Voldemort is still hunting him when both of them are *dead*.
Harry may encounter others who have died in the war by that time, (Dumbledore? Pettigrew? Quirrell — who may well thank Harry for delivering him from bondage?) but this part of the sequence will not be drawn out unduly.
Ultimately they will make their way to Lily, and Harry will at long last have to face up to, and fully understand, and finally accept — instead of just take for granted — the love that saved him. And has gone on saving him. And ultimately will continue to save him.
During a final attack, Lily’s lesson will finally come into play, confrontation will become transformation, the final soul fragment of Tom’s will finally become disentangled from Harry and there will be nothing left to link the Voldemort entity to him. The Voldemort entity, now as complete as it ever will be will be is drawn away from Harry to face whatever passes for judgment. There will be pyrotechnics of some sort.
Towards the end of this resolution, overwhelmed by the power of the transformation, disoriented by the separation from his other soul, and blinded by the light that surrounds him, Harry stumbles through a door into a mercifully dim hallway that looks familiar.
It was only locked from the other side.
(Those rooms in the DoM are a right warren, all running into one another behind the scenes.)
...Thereby bringing with him/releasing The Power to permanently rid the Potterverse of the Dementors. Which it does, quite handily.
If Harry’s body was recovered from the archway, he now wakes.
To a shaken and stirred wizarding world, all of whom — the narrow and the broad-minded together — are now left in the position of having to pick up the pieces and try to hammer out a society which is NOT ruled by fear, and create a justice system that isn’t a disgrace to the name. In the aftermath, they may even finally manage to bring themselves to fully enfranchise the Goblins and possibly even consider Nationalizing Elf Service as an intermediate step in enfranchising the House Elves. Eventually, when they’ve had another hundred years or so to observe the results, the Centaurs and Merrows may even be willing to open up negotiations with them.
We might as well underline the message by having Harry’s quest take exactly three days and three nights.
The portion of Tom Riddle’s soul which had believed itself to be a part of Harry remains behind in the spirit realm, perhaps to serve out a term of reparation or atonement in hope of a more appropriate resurrection one day. And so does Sirius Black, who would also rather take the chance of a whole new life someday than to attempt to return to the one which he made such a monumental botch of. Particularly given that any friends of his still among the living have all moved on without him.
• • • •
Well. It did read. And it covered just about everything except the mysterious “gleam” and how that related to the creation of Voldemort’s simulacrum, and the still questionable significance of Harry having his mother’s green eyes.
Did I truly think that it would end this way? Well, no, I’ll admit I didn’t. Not by the time I got to end of HBP, anyway. Too many dominoes had toppled since the release of HBP for me to have much expectation of Rowling giving us anything like that — although if we did get a spirit quest, I would be a little surprised if I got everything wrong — But I rather suspected that while those four basic checklist items regarding the final confrontation were probably sound enough, I wouldn’t have given you very long odds on any of the rest being deployed by Rowling.
Alternately; perhaps we were supposed to discover that the Dementors aren’t quite as evil as they’ve been painted and one of them will relieve Harry of the sixth Horcrux without taking his own soul as well. But I doubted that even more.
Or, most probably, we would just have to forget about the whole “spiritual truths”, woo-woo scenario, and just play the whole thing out, literally, in the material world
For one thing, it seemed that although her interview in New York in August of 2006 would tend to suggest otherwise, Rowling may have fully intended to have Harry die in order to take down his enemy. In which case Ron and Hermione may well have already perished in the destruction of the Horcruxes. Leaving Harry in the position of having sacrificed everything already by the time he meets Voldemort face to face for the last time — so the final sacrifice wouldn’t seem so great a stretch. Everything else he cared deeply about having already passed beyond that Veil. He takes the last two Horcruxes through the Veil with him. But I was inclined to doubt that play script, too, by then.
For one thing it is hard to see how anything like that scenario could manage to tie off the dangling end of Harry’s dealings with Severus Snape. And we just plain weren’t going to get out of this series without doing that. At least in some form.
• • • •
Speaking of whom: I’d also abruptly realized that the fans, particularly those of the highly Christian persuasion, harping so determinedly on the “redemption card” as regards Snape’s role in the overall story arc were probably leading themselves up a blind alley.
It isn’t that people in this series needed to redeem themselves, it’s that they needed to *forgive* the people who have wronged them. (“...and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and ... deliver us from evil.”)
Indeed, acto basic Christian doctrine, human beings, having been born subject to original sin, are simply not qualified to redeem themselves. They have to get it through their thick heads that they cannot do it, it has been done for them, it isn’t going to be done again, and that they are pwned. Accept it. Or not. There is one package deal on offer, and it is the only deal on offer. Either buy the package, the whole package, or there is no deal. The kingdom of heaven is not a representational democracy, and you cannot “have it your way”. No negotiations, no substitutions, no excuses. Amen.
Ergo: Snape can’t redeem himself. We shouldn’t be expecting him to. But he can learn to forgive people for wronging him. And if he is ever to come into his own, he needs to.
Severus Snape has a lot to forgive.
As does just about everyone else in this whole cast of dozens, really. Every direction you look you see people who won’t forgive this, or who won’t forgive that, or who won’t forgive the other, starting with Petunia Dursley all down through the series, and Harry has fallen right into lockstep with all of them. And they are all wrong.
And I was beginning to suspect that this is going to be the punchline of Rowling’s entire message as it regards choices. To forgive is a choice that you can make without it ever being formally offered.
• • • •
And, in the end, I gave Rowling way too much credit.
But I’ll have to admit that in the main, I really do prefer to take my Book of Revelations over coffee and brandy all round in the library in the final chapter. After the police have departed with whoever it was that “dunnit” safely in custody.
• • • •
The following exchange kicked off a day or two after a pre-DHs iteration of the above was posted (June 2007) and, frankly, I don’t think that any reworking on my own part would improve it. It is a 3-way e-mail exchange between myself and two of my fellow-conspirators, Professor_Mum and Swythyv, as we push this train a little farther down the track:
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I read your revised Premature Prediction essay and it’s bloody brilliant. It gave me a little charge of the inspiration that I’ve sorely lacked lately.
While it is outlandish on its face... your theory, from my perspective, is probably true, at least to some extent
Orphan Tom somehow gets selected/marked by the Dementors — maybe as a baby. Or, it may have been when he discovered the Cave as a youth, but I like how you pointed out that the Gaunt Hovel has all the markings of the place Dementors love best.
You made me realize: Dementors aren’t Predators, they are Parasites. It is in a parasite’s best interest to keep a supply of hosts available for feeding and it is not in their best interest to exterminate them all. Even the name “Death Eater” is a virtual synonym for parasite. The DE uniform apes the Dementor’s appearance.
We don’t have any examples of Dementor’s dying, but you are right — they breed, they likely die as well. Perhaps they are using Tom to upgrade their species — a little evolution. The misty fog in HBP which infiltrates the ww impacts the Muggle one as well.
Just as Child Lupin was marked as a Dark Creature, but it wasn’t his fault — Jo has apparently wiggled out of the Bad Seed angle by having Voldemort’s evilness be due to a bite or something slightly out of his control. He has the genetic predisposition to go bad, and he’s marked (?) for some evil breeding program.
No wonder the Dementors were so interested in Harry on the train in PoA — they sensed their Breeding Overlord in the compartment (Ginny was strongly effected too, btw). I sense a PoA/DHs parallel... don’t you?
And the fact that Dementors have a role — guarding Azkaban — means that they are also involved, to some extent, with the MoM. If they got a gander at the “Hogwarts Book of Newborns” they might see that there was a baby with a connection to the Gaunt Hovel born to the Slytherin-heir woman they could have been seeking. Perhaps as a result of finding out that the Dementors were browsing that very specific book, Dumbledore looked up the boy they were most interested in, came back to school, and immediately hid all the Playboys, er, Horcrux books, in the attic. Who know what trouble a boy, influenced by soul sucking dementors, might get into? It must have really chaffed his ass when Fudge let them on the grounds.
Recall this: bad blood will out... if there is something wrong with the bitch, there is something wrong with the pup. That is one explanation... Merope’s depression and maybe her blood status as Slytherin’s heir attracted the Dementors. This point made me think of an earlier essay of yours regarding the Knights of Walpurgis. A group has marked Tom to pursue their narrow agenda.
And maybe Tom didn’t really fear death until he got involved with these parasites... and that’s when his immortality journey took a perverse twist... he’d do anything to avoid become a Dementor’s mental meal.
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Hey, thanks. I was pretty chuffed with this one when it first went up just before HBP came out. I was a bit miffed when it got immediately canon-shafted, although it didn’t get completely shafted, just the more overtly Christian components did.
The Dementors as parasites. Yup. I never quite came out and said that but I suspect that I really ought to. I’m no longer convinced that some clever arsehole didn’t create them back when Seclusion was being drafted out specifically to guard the prison. We’ve got no hint of their being something that’s been around since prehistory. Possibly they were developed from Boggarts, which seem to work in something like the same way.
Getting hold of the Hogwarts enrollment list wouldn’t do them any good. They are blind, remember? They wouldn’t be able to read it. That’s one of the reasons they need Tom.
I don’t think they give squat for House affiliations, either, and Slytherin means absolutely zip to them. The whole Slytherin thread is just buying into Tom’s delusions. And they don’t care how much of a whackjob Tom is, so long as he smooths the way for them.
Oh lord. I’ve been harping on Book 7 = Book 3 like a mad bard for the past 2.5 years. Of course I sense a PoA/DHs parallel.
Yeah, most of the components of the old Tom Riddle and the Knights of Walpurgis essay now lives in the collection of exploded theories. It’s kind of odd how the two parallel theories segued into one another. The 2nd cropped up just before the first was finally sunk beyond all recovery. But the thing they have in common is that Tom was being groomed for his role, by someone or something, just as Harry is.
I think Tom believes himself immune to Dementors since he discovered that Occlumency can keep them from jerking you around. And they appear to be following his orders.
I think he is probably wrong on both counts. And I wouldn’t be that surprised if once he is mortal again, and appears to have lost the battle, they settled down and had him for lunch.
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I like “parasites” too. And I’m glad you’re coming around to the Dementors having been invented by the MoM, and relatively recently, too. How many references have we had to Experimental Breeding, to clue us that this could happen? ;D
I think it’s telling that they are repeatedly referred to as “the guards of Azkaban” — as though that was their natural milieu, or something. And I think it was one of you who pointed out that we now have conflicting assertions on how to defend from them: Snape was not endorsing the use of the Patronus in his DADA class. In fact, I strongly suspect that defense against Dementors WAS NEVER, EVER TAUGHT before Snape took over that class. Think about it — they’re the guards of Azkaban. Remember how Lupin came over all cagey when Harry asked him for a defense against Dementors in PoA?
I’m still holding out for invented as late as the 20th century, not long before Tom’s birth, and that he was scarred by an attack when they escaped out of the basements into London. I completely agree that it’s an excellent weasle-out of the Bad Seed problem, and I salute you both on the PoA/DHs echo of Remus-bitten-as-a-tad-how-sad motif. :D
I really don’t think that they’ve been around even so long as since Seclusion. One tipoff that’s occurred to me lately is that there does appear to be a genuine difference of opinion (Dumbledore vs. Wizengamot) about the Dementor’s nature and whether they can be trusted. It seems to me that if creatures like Dementors had been around forever (like Giants, like Goblins) then their behavior should not be a matter of speculation: if they could rebel — as we have just been shown that they can and will — they would already be known to have done so in the past! Fudge is absolutely (and negatively) opinionated about trusting other species, so how on earth else (MoM’s recent invention) could he be convinced that they were his to command?
Now it would indeed be the crowning irony that Tom will fall to the same gambit he played against the Ministry: having pulled the Dementor carpet out from under them, he will find himself rolled up in it at the end. I like that very much — and we can hope our heroes will send all the nasty things through the veil (or explode them in the Love Room), and see the wizarding world revert back to the good ’ol tradition of a Grand Sorcerer backed by his Sovereign. :D
If you accept Dementors as a metaphor for parasites, they represent “something” eating away at you. Depression. Doubt. Defeat. No wonder Merope would have attracted them. Dementors are the opposite of Love... if you let a Dementor into your heart, nothing is possible. Is that the message Jo is trying to send? The damage done by losing faith in one’s self?
Maybe Dumbledore is supposed to represent the Ethical Scientist who objects to combining a Leithfold with God-knows-what to create these guards. But he realizes that you can’t succeed by having Dark watching Evil. He’s like that guy in Jurassic Park who sees the obvious outcome: Nature will find a way...
I suspect the only way to destroy Voldemort also includes vanquishing the Dementor race (do they know this, hence the breeding efforts?). I also now suspect that Tom will tell Harry that he wasn’t born bad, but once he was ordained “Lord of the Dementors”, he became enslaved by their aims. Dumbledore’s willingness to admit, er, “problem kids” to his school was Tom’s initial salvation and like Lupin he is capable of good. Oy... does she want us to love our villain?
Yep, forgot the point that the Dementors were blind — you are selected only based on your inner quality of depressing doubt, which can be sniffed out.
Yes, Snape’s odd DADA lesson could indeed be important.
I think you’ve cracked it:
Dementors are the opposite of Love... if you let a Dementor into your heart, nothing is possible. Is that the message Jo is trying to send? The damage done by losing faith in one’s self?
Do you remember exactly what Lupin said, when he discovered that what came out of the Boggart’s closet for Harry was a Dementor? Look:
“Clearly, I was wrong,” said Lupin, still frowning at Harry. “But I didn’t think it a good idea for Lord Voldemort to materialize in the staff room. I imagined that people would panic.”
“I didn’t think of Voldemort,” said Harry honestly. “I — I remembered those dementors.”
“I see,” said Lupin thoughtfully. “Well, well... I’m impressed.” He smiled slightly at the look of surprise on Harry’s face. “That suggests that what you fear most of all is — fear. Very wise, Harry.”
Dementors = Fear
Now round it out with the biblical passage:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18
I have often heard spiritual observation that Fear casts out Love.
Joyce is right. There’s a room full of Love in the basement of the mysteries, where they separated Fear from Love — and made Dementors. The @#$ things escaped into London and nailed Tom before they were “gotten under control” and made Azkaban prison guards. They are NOT naturally occurring, and I’ve got three hairpins and an old button that say this WAS the reason Grampa Black got the muggle-protection OMFC for “services to the Ministry” as a young man (and likely Flamel associate). We’re meant to notice that a “services to” medal is *code* — in BOTH earlier instances — for “something nasty got out of the basement and we aren’t talking.”
Well done, all! :D
Holy crap... my elegant reply. Must ponder... did Frankenstein escape from the lab?
I wouldn’t think dementors were created as recently as the 20th century. But they may well be post-Seclusion. We did get those references to Tom being the most dangerous Dark wizard in a century. He may not be their first attempt at a coup.
Before Seclusion wizarding misbehavior was a matter for the regular criminal justice system. Maybe that’s one of the reasons the wizarding justice system is so screwed. They never realized that they were going to need one of their own after they set up seclusion, and what they’ve got now is band-aid solutions on top of older band-aid solutions until the joint will no longer flex.
And I think you are right about defense against Dementors never having been taught. They are “the guards of Azkaban”. They were developed with no other function. The citizenry is not supposed to be able to defend themselves against them. But it looks like their new monsters have developed ambitions of their own.
By the time Snape got that class the dementors had openly rebelled and left Azkaban and the need for defense was finally acknowledged. I suspect that the discovery that a Patronus — which is known to be effective against leithfolds — was also useful against dementors was not widely advertised. It was possibly a Ministry secret. Remus was clued in — possibly years earlier — by Albus.
In fact, Albus may have been one of the ones to have figured it out. That could be another reason why he tied his messaging system to the skill. To ensure that all of his people would have additional motivation for learning how to cast one.
Yeah. Leithfold to suffocate, Boggart to dredge up and reflect fears, experimental breeding all right. Don’t know what else may be in there. Something vaguely humanoid in form at least. And I don’t know where the soul-eating comes from.
“Vanquish” can refer to extinguishing a race... would opening that Love door up cause a swarm of loving Wrackspurts to escape the bldg. and vanquish the British Dementors?
“Unspeakables” — are they engaged in unspeakable (read: borderline immoral) activities, such as experimental guard breeding? Why not have regular wizards watching the prisoners? Are they afraid that magical humans could be imperiused through the bars by a dark wizard, hence they “create” a breed designed to diminish all whom they come into contact with?
Someone created a rather perverted penal system... who? Who has the key to the door? Oafish Hagrid??
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Dementors were created before Albus Dumbledore was out of school. They were in place and established before he had any say in the matter.
I mean, we know that he impressed the hell out of Marchbanks by the time he was 18, and he was probably the most high-flying, shining star of his generation, even taken on by Flamel himself, probably before he was middle-aged. And we know what he thinks of the things.
The alternative is that they were created in reaction to the “dangerous Dark wizard” of 100 years ago. But Albus would have already been an influential character by then, and I just don’t see it happening. You cannot tell me that whatever fool created the things would have managed to carry it out on Albus’s watch. Whoever Flamel’s partner was before Albus either was asleep at the switch, or had gotten his priorities badly askew.
I suppose it is possible that the Dark wizard who had everyone’s knickers in a twist back then might have frightened everyone into being willing to accept such an extreme solution, and Albus was overborne, but I can’t see Flamel being overborne as well. Whoever authorized it must have convinced Flamel that it was an acceptable response to the problem. (May even have been the one to come up with the idea.)
Even though he seems to have kept an amazingly low profile, I’m with Swythyv in suspecting that Flamel and his wife were a Very Big Noise in the wizarding world on any subject that they cared to give an opinion. And that Albus was certainly not his first “partner” and representative.
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This must have been accomplished off Flamel’s radar, and Dumbledore’s first order of business as a Hogwarts grad was to bring it to Flamel’s attention. Alchemists are interested in purity, not monstrous deeds contra nature.
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I think the relevant factor in the creation of dementors was that they drain wizards of magic.
That they do it by pushing them into profound despair — to the point of ultimately invoking a failure of the will to live — was no doubt regarded as unfortunate but acceptable collateral damage.
But clearly what was wanted was something which would render the prisoners magically null, so they could be kept contained and under control. Even removing their wands would not have answered, since magic is conducted by wizards whether they are casting spells or not. And some level of wandless magic is always going to be a possibility. Particularly given that we have no certainty whether Apparation requires a wand or not. It doesn’t require an incantation.
Rendering the prisoners magically null is still likely to be required for any kind of wizarding penal system. But dementors are grossly in excess of the requirement. There has to be some better manner of producing the same result. Something in the food maybe?
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Maybe a better and more humane approach would have been a neutering one — turn them into squibs somehow.
Yes, drain wizards of magic. Agree. How this segued into soul sucking is beyond me... someone who admired the Horcrux approach, undoubtedly.
Now all of Harry’s encounters with Albus make a little more contextual sense: His ability to love is what sets him apart from un-bonded Baby Tom. Harry wasn’t Dementor fodder from the get-go.
Question: Why the HELL does Tom fear death?
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Well I did go into that. Unlike the orphanage personnel, Tom was able to see the dementor that was loitering about the nursery and frightening him out of his wits.
After he got a bit older and was growing up among Muggles, with only Muggle mythology and Muggle symbols to draw upon, what do you suppose he concluded that he had been seeing? What would a towering, faceless, hooded figure swathed in black with rotting skeletal hands read as to you?
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So Tom saw a corporal Boogieman and since he was an unbonded baby, he was unable to generate a happy-joy-joy-love patronus. And since he is unable to generate them as an adult, he is unable to intercept Patronus messaging. So since he can’t fight them, he decided to lead them.
Is Mrs. Cole a play-on-words for “Mephistopheles”? Coal/cole/black?
Others trace it to the Latin word ‘mefitis’ (also spelt ‘mephitis,’ meaning pungent, sulfurous, stinking, and a noxious exhalation from the ground) Some trace it to the Hebrew word “Tophel” which means liar (Tueffel in German means devil, btw)
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For the record I think the progression goes: cole = kale = cabbage, or equivalent. But I could be wrong.
I think Tom saw a dementor, and later on, when he encountered representations of the Grim Reaper leapt to the conclusion that what he had seen was Death himself.
And, of course, since that was probably the most frightening thing he had ever encountered in his life, he decided that if he did nothing else, he was going to make himself forever safe from those things. Plus of course picking up the attitude that the way to master your fears is to be more scary than anything you’ve ever been afraid of. He’s hardly the first to do that. (*cough* Snape *cough*)
So he deliberately set right out to be the meanest sonovabitch in the valley.
Seems to have succeeded, too.
Of course the dementors could still turn on him in a New York minute and he wouldn’t have a hope of being able to save himself. And he doesn’t realize that in the least. And they could have him for lunch and it wouldn’t matter whether Harry ever found and destroyed the Horcruxes (or is one), since the Horcruxes themselves don’t seem to have any conscious awareness or self-identity unless they have access to Tom’s memories. His memories and his conscious “self” are all in the simulacrum, and that’s the part the Dementors would devour. (Well at the time I wrote that they certainly didn’t seem to have — and I still think the whole thing would read better if it had stayed that way. But then we’d have been stuck on the endless camping trip, dodging Snatchers without even a Pervading Atmosphere of Creeping Evil™ to enliven the “adventure.”)
But as long as Tom’s making things nice for them he’s reasonably safe. After all, he hasn’t tried to stop them from doing anything they want to do, yet.
We could quite reasonably see them turn on him at the 11th hour, and wipe out the whole lot of the DEs, Leader and all. And then leave everyone to have to deal with a cure that is worse than the disease. (Who does have that bloody key?)