The National Catholic Review
Leading up to the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry Potter fans speculated as to who might die, since author J.K. Rowling had indicated that major characters would meet their demise in the final book. The biggest question of all involved Harry himself. Would Rowling dare to kill him off? I felt certain that I knew the answer to this question because ever since the fourth book of the series, I have viewed the novels as a parallel to the Book of Revelation. Given this parallel, there was only one possible ending for Harry. As in all apocalyptic literature, the characters within the narrative confront a force of evil that seems to wield unabated authority. In Revelation, Satan holds the reigns of earthly power and can bend society to his will because of his ties to Roman rulers. Ordinary citizens must either side with this evil empire or choose loyalty to God. If they do not succumb to the Empire, they will undoubtedly, as John the narrator implies, undergo hardship, torture, and possibly death. Although the situation seems bleak, all is not lost. The downfall of evil will come at the hands of an unlikely hero--Jesus--whom Rome has ignomiously executed as its enemy. As one progresses through Revelation, however, there is never a doubt about the outcome of the book. John not only foreshadows but also explicitly gives away the ending by describing Jesus as the one who holds the keys to Death and Hades (1:18). No matter how troubled the persons within the narrative are about evil (cf. 6:10), the reader knows us that Satan’s (and Rome’s) reign is only temporary. The general arc of the Harry Potter narrative differs very little from this brief sketch of Revelation. The strongest power in the magical world, especially after book 4, is Voldemort. Although various wizards fight against him, they seem hopelessly overmatched and doomed to failure. Yet the battle continues because certain virtuous wizards cannot imagine their world dominated by such a heinous force. They refuse to give in. As the novels progress, almost every wizard must decide between following the Dark Lord or fighting against him. No middle ground exists either in Rowling’s world or in Revelation. According to the pattern of Revelation, it seemed clear to me that Harry certainly would not die. Like the lamb who was slain (Rev. 5:6), Harry bears the mark of his near-death experience, and that mark indirectly saves him and his cohorts. If Harry had not destroyed Voldemort at the end of the series, it would be like Revelation ending without the defeat of Satan. According to the norms of the genre, such an ending was bound to occur. For the world to be put right, the unlikely hero must kill the unvanquishable power. But what remains when evil departs? That’s where following an apocalyptic pattern can get a modern author into trouble. Once evil is defeated, the world as we know it has to end; one cannot imagine human existence without some struggle between good and evil. So Revelation rightly replaces this earth with a new one. Rowling does not have this option, so she concludes with a brief epilogue that hints at Harry’s adult life. The general consensus of sympathetic critics and fans is that this epilogue fails. Readers have rejected it, I would argue, because like the Laodiceans, the final chapter is neither cold nor hot (Rev. 3:15-16). Having beautifully crafted apocalyptic dualism in her novels, Rowling should have known to end with a bang or a whimper. Apocalyptic cannot abide a middle ground. Kyle A. Keefer

Comments

Anonymous | 10/2/2007 - 11:22pm
An interesting analysis. I wonder if there have been articles written on the apocalyptic patterns common to the Book of Revelation and The Lord of the Rings. The patterns in those books seem more clear to me than they do in Harry Potter and Revelation. J.K. Rowling's religious inclinations, if any, are unknown to me, but Tolkien's Catholicism and likely deep familiarity with the Book of Revelation would seem to have made it almost impossible for him not to be influenced by Revelation when he crafted his masterpiece. Though evil incarnate, Sauron, leaves Middle Earth, there remain lesser evils in Tolkien's world. And though Middle Earth itself does not end, there is the pronounced transformation of it from the Age of the Elves to the Age of Men.
Anonymous | 9/27/2007 - 7:07pm
I disagree with your conclusion that Rowling's epilogue fails, and I have seen no evidence that the general consensus agrees with you. The differences between Satan and Voldemort include the fact that, while Voldemort was a more powerful and knowledgeable wizard than most, he was not, and was never believed by sensible wizards to be, an "unvanquishable power." Dumbledore figured out the essence of Voldemort's secret, i.e., why he did not die when the killing curse he aimed at baby Harry rebounded back on him, and then it was a matter of identifying, locating, and destroying all of his horcruxes, at which point he became just as mortal as everyone else. You have also overlooked the fact that Voldemort was not the first evil wizard, and there is no reason to believe that he would be the last, assuming, as Rowling does, that the wizarding world continues to exist. I think that Voldemort was more akin to Adolf Hitler. Hitler's defeat and death were momentous achievements but did not end World War II. And even after Japan surrendered and the war ended, evil rulers were not eradicated. The struggle for life and success in life--whatever that means to each individual--continues in our world, at least for now, and I see nothing wrong with Rowling's allowing it to continue in her world as well.