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Monday, April 02, 2007

Harry Beyond?

Okay, so it's three and a half months or so until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is released, everyone's counting down to the big day, pre-ordering their copies, grasping at every last bit of information...and now they've released the cover art for all the different editions of the book. They're out there for you to examine and argue about at great length (try here), and I can't pretend I haven't been. This old post of mine continues to get massive amounts of attention, so I figured a little update couldn't hurt.

(Incidentally, I have to wonder--has there every been a publishing phenomenon like Harry Potter before? Has the rise of the internet changed all the rules of how to build buzz...and what you can build buzz about? Are the Potter books sui generis, or will we--in a year or a decade or two--be treated to another ongoing story, published serially through several books, which blogs and the internet will enable similarly excited and ongoing discussions? I'm not talking about fanfic here; I'm talking about something that borders on a mass event, involving millions of people, all following the same rumors and watching the same dates. Sometimes the only thing it seems comparable to is the Star Wars phenomenon of my childhood, as the countdown to and arguments about The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi filled every playground and high school locker room. But those were movies...these are books. Maybe we have to all the way back to Dickens, and the enormous impact he had on the Victorian reading public, desperate to find out what happens to Little Nell.)

Unfortunately, I can't claim much that I feel comfortable in "updating" regarding those old predictions. Some of them I might want to refine now, as I've thought about things some more, but basically I stand by them, if only out of orneriness. I've said my piece about Snape and Harry and everyone else, so let the chips fall where they may. And as for covers and all the speculation surrounding them, two I can't come up with any kind of substantive take on at all with. The U.K. adult edition is a no-brainer: clearly that's the Slytherin locket, the real one, the one which R.A.B. stole, and which I believe Mundungus Fletcher unwittingly(?) lifted from Grimmauld Place, and sold/returned to Aberforth Dumbledore. As for the U.K. children's edition, I'm at a completely loss. Is that Dobby on Harry’s back? Why are Ron and Hermione wearing such fine robes (have they just come from Bill and Fleur's wedding)? I don’t even have a good sense of the direction of the action on the cover—are they falling, or moving forward, disappearing, appearing, or what? so that leaves the U.S edition...and even here, there's little I'm willing to wager.

Okay, what do we have here? Some people are immediately connecting the curtains with the drapes fluttering in the arch in the "Death Chamber" in the Department of Mysteries described in Order of the Phoenix. I don't think so; go back and look at the American cover for Sorcerer's Stone, and you'll find curtains there as well. There haven't been curtains on any other cover, thought. So this is the artist telling us that in Book One the story begins, and in Book Seven it ends.

But what is happening in that scene? Neither Harry nor Voldemort are wielding wands. Moreover, they don't even appear to be facing each other; both are either reaching out to/appealing to someone or something outside the picture, or else trying to ward that same person or thing away (this might explain Voldemort's hand positions, but not Harry's, suggesting that they are both having very different reactions to some development or actor off scene). Presumably, this is showing us the final showdown between Harry and Voldemort, or part of it. So...is that showdown not the duel/battle we all thought it would be? Perhaps not. There is something about this cover--the strange light in the sky, the ghostly figures around the edges of the amphitheater they are standing in, the broken wood or ruins at their feet--that makes me think that those who jumped to thinking it involves that arch, through which Sirius passed to his death, through which Harry and Luna alone could hear voices, are not wrong. I have predicted that the final battle is going to happen at Hogwarts, and I would really like to believe that what we’re seeing on the cover is the Quidditch field…but I doubt it. The size and shape are all wrong. No, I think we may very well be looking at what lays beyond that veiled arch, or else we are seeing what that same room in the Department of Mysteries appears to be to those who have gone through the veil. Harry, in short, has gone beyond this world, and perhaps stands--along with Voldemort--in a world somewhere between this one and the next one, a world of ghosts...of Sirius...of his mother and father, and maybe everyone else who have somehow not entirely disappeared from this story yet, whether through the power of Harry's own longing or through Voldemort's soul-splitting wand. And speaking of wands, their absence in the cover art makes sense under this explanation: wands would clearly be useless in a spirit world (or, dare I suggest, on "deathly hallowed ground").

Maybe I'm thinking about this stuff because I've recently run across, through the blogs Eating Words and Sword of Griffindor--the former a fine collection of thoughts, opinions, and reflections, and the latter a great resource for the Harry Potter-obsessed--a pretty darn comprehensive look at everything J.K. Rowling has gone on the record saying about her Christian faith (about which, the most succinct summary might be her own comment about attending church: "Well, I go more than to weddings and christenings"), and in that piece it is pointed out that on a several occasions Rowling has been reluctant to speculate too much about religion and the Harry Potter universe...not, she says, because she's worried about certain overzealous Catholics and evangelicals that want to ban her books (about which I've said my piece here), but because doing so would give things away. Here's a couple of crucial quotes from Rowling:

"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."


"Magic in the sense in which it happens in my books, no, I don’t believe. I don’t believe in that....This [talking about religion] is so frustrating. Again, there is so much I would like to say, and come back when I've written book seven. But then maybe you won't need to even say it because you’ll have found it out anyway. You’ll have read it."

All this sets me to thinking...what if Rowling doesn’t want the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort to tell us much of anything about magic, but rather wants to tell us something about death, ghosts, our souls, and the afterlife? Most of my predictions presumed that Rowling's ultimate aim through the Harry Potter books--besides relating a great story--was to bring us to the point where we could see, through Harry's eyes, something about the relationship between persons in the real world. (You have constant subthemes throughout the books regarding racism, exclusion, separation, trust, and love.) But what if Rowling is actually stalking larger, more metaphysical, game? Or at least, what if she's designed a story that has to take us beyond this world in order to get to her point about those within it? (Shades of Tolkien, where the whole epic force of his story is characterized by its existence in a context haunted by an older, deeper, more "deathly" story.) Those figures on the cover--could they be the spirits of those slain by Voldemort? Are they watching the final battle as witnesses? As a court of appeal? Are they waiting desperately to see what happens next, or do they already know? Is there perhaps some reason why they haven’t been able to continue on to the next world, why a prior incantatem makes them potentially capable of being brought back? Might Harry himself also be part of the reason they’ve stayed on? This moves in the direction of thinking Harry himself or his scar is a Horcrux, a conclusions I still reject...and yet...

Oh well--I'll find out in fifteen weeks or so. For all I know, Voldemort has gone legit, and he and Harry are having a parliamentary debate in front of the Wizengamot. Rowling has pulled fast ones on us before; this one, her last, may be a doozy.


Anonymous said...

Russell, I'm pretty sure "Harry Beyond" was an early 80's glam rock group. Or maybe it was a one-hit British New Wave group. If not, it should have been.


Anonymous said...

Great post. I was initially dismissive of the idea that this scene had something to do with the "Veil Room" but you've made me reconsider that point. And thank you very much for the link and the kind words.

YAMB said...

The 12 yo daughter says that's a goblin on Harry's back on the UK children's edition, and clearly that is wealth spilling out of Gringotts.

Anonymous said...

As I've talked this out more and more with my students, I am convinced that the key to the whole shebang is love. In particular the kind of unconditional love that is symbolized by Mrs. Weasley who is, I am convinced, the moral center of the books. She will figure prominently in the next book which will include a prodigal son returning (Percy), the revealing of Snape's two loves (Lilly and Draco's mother) as the motivating factor for his actions. Of course, it's all about Jesus unconditional love that redeems original sin. And it is love that is in that locked room in the ministry of magic that will ultimately undo Voldemort. And, as with all the books, magic will not be the key to victory.

Anonymous said...

I can't see the scar on Harry's forehead on any of the covers. Does anyone else see it?

Anonymous said...

Good with RAB and the veil. I'm sure everyone has caught on by now. I had this info about 2 months after half blood prince. Good post.

Anonymous said...

Owing to the locket (horcrux), it's kind of obvious. In the list of stuff that they find in the Black house room, they say that they found a 'locket which none of them could open'. This was then thrown into the 'junk pile', where Mundungus Fletcher undoubtedly picked it up. Mundungus Fletcher is worse than Snape: instead of those Snape: friend or foe cards they have at Borders, they should have them for Mundungus. If Harry finds and destroys all of the other Horcruxes, it depends on Mundungus!
Okay yeah. Cover of Deathly Hallows is definitely without a doubt the Veil room. Apparently Harry and Voldemort are calling out to spirits that could help them. Now Voldemort is going to wish he had love!! by by Voldy!