“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”

There is a beautiful scene in the middle of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry is unsure what to do or where to go in order to find and destroy Voldemort’s horcruxes. In the hope of finding answers both for his current quest and to questions about his own past, he returns to Godric’s Hollow, the little village where he lived with his parents for the first year of his life, before they died. Words can only capture a fraction of what we see and hear and imagine in our minds – the imagery and the aura of a place. I see such beauty and depth and weight of meaning in this scene, such powerful imagery in this place to which Harry goes – the leaves rustling in the wind, brushing against the stone as Harry reads the graven words. Any attempt to describe it in words is like trying to catch the wind.

Harry and Hermione come to a little graveyard behind a church1 and, with Hermione, begins to look on the tombstones. First he finds the grave of Ariana and Kendra Dumbledore, the headmaster’s sister and mother2 on which is written the words

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Harry “did not understand what these words meant. Surely Dumbledore had chosen them” (DH ch. 16). The words were originally spoken by Jesus in his “Sermon on the Mount,” recorded in Matthew 5-7. Unsure what to make of the words, Harry continues looking for his parents’ grave. Soon he finds it, “white marble, just like Dumbledore’s tomb.” Rowling writes, “Their living son stood so near, his heart still beating, alive because of their sacrifice and close to wishing, at this moment, that he was sleeping under the snow with them” (DH ch. 16) – Harry aches to go where his parents have gone and be with them. Upon the gravestone he finds the words,
“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” 3
As we will see, these words come from the apostle Paul. But Harry, recalling Voldemort’s quest for immortality, misunderstands them initially. “Isn’t that a Death Eater idea?” he asks Hermione. Destroying the last enemy of death – if that was Voldemort’s goal, why was it on his parent’s grave? They had died at Voldemort’s hands. Hermione identifies the crucial difference:
“‘It doesn’t mean defeating death in the way the Death Eaters mean it, Harry,’ said Hermione, her voice gentle. ‘It means…you know…living beyond death. Living after death.’” (DH ch. 16)
In other words, the quotation means defeating death by passing through death, defeating death by dying! This beautiful paradox is, again, exactly the opposite of Voldemort’s method, defeating death by not dying at all costs. His method is dull, boring, incomplete. Triumph over death can never be complete as long as mortal life continues – life that is tainted not only with the potential for death, but with pain and suffering, the brokenness of living in a fallen world. But what could be more daring, more bold, more original and unexpected, more dynamic and explosive, more sudden, more sweeping, more strikingly triumphant, and indeed more beautiful – than defeating death by dying! Mortal life will end with death, but in this paradoxical victory, a bright new life will rise – an everlasting life on the other side of death. Here we touch upon the Christian nature of the theme. As we will see, defeating death now becomes part of Harry’s own plans, intertwined with his goal to defeat the Dark Lord. He still struggles to understand how death is to be defeated, but in the end he finds the way.

1 Curiously, both of the graveyards in Harry Potter – the graveyard in Godric’s Hollow, where Harry finds his parents’ grave and struggles with the meaning of death, and the graveyard in Little Hangleton, where Voldemort’s “black resurrection” takes place beside his father’s grave – are said to be near churches. Maybe (or maybe not) Rowling is suggesting that the Church has the answer to death.
2 Harry discovers that Dumbledore, like himself, grew up in Godric’s Hollow and lost loved ones there, and Dumbledore’s life becomes important to Harry as he tries to uncover his own past. It is from Dumbledore that Harry is prepared to understand the meaning of love, and of death, and as he comes to this understanding, Harry realizes that Dumbledore, his teacher, has had similar experiences of love, joy, and tragedy in his past.
3 Rowling stated in an interview, “those two particular quotations he finds on the tombstones at Godric's Hollow, they sum up — they almost epitomize the whole series.”

2 comments:

  1. Thankyou maybe with this i can get my friend to read harry potter and not think of it as evil

    ReplyDelete