“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

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

“You know my goal: to conquer death.” – Voldemort

“I have experimented. I have pushed the boundaries of magic further, perhaps, than they have ever been pushed…I, who have gone further than anybody along the path that leads to immortality. You know my goal – to conquer death.” – Voldemort (HBP 443, GoF 653)
Arguably the most significant theme running throughout Harry Potter is death. J. K. Rowling has stated, “death and bereavement and what death means, I would say, is one of the central themes in all seven books.” It is a central theme both in Harry’s growth as a person and struggle with Voldemort, and in all of Voldemort’s exploits. As is evident in the above quote, the Dark Lord’s final and ultimate goal is to conquer death. The holy grail of immortality is the motivation behind all his attacks on Harry. In the end, defeating death becomes Harry’s goal too, but in an entirely different way. It is in this radical difference between Voldemort’s chase after immortality and Harry’s inevitable battle with death that a very beautiful and deeply Christian theme emerges.

Voldemort views death as a “shameful human weakness” (HBP 356), and he boasts of the fact that he has survived a near encounter with death as he taunts Harry in the graveyard: “It will be quick…it might even be painless…I would not know…I have never died” (GoF 662). Yet Voldemort fears this “weakness” above all else. His method for “triumphing” over death is, essentially, to run away from it, to evade it – the name “Voldemort” literally means “flight from death.” As we will see later, the Dark Lord experiments with magic in terrible ways in an unending and inevitably unsuccessful effort to “guard [him]self against mortal death” (GoF 648). In the process, he destroys his own humanity and loses all understanding of the true meaning of death. “Human efforts to evade or overcome death are always doomed to disappointment” (Albus Dumbledore, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, p. 94).* “There is nothing worse than death!” declares Voldemort as he duels Dumbledore in The Order of the Phoenix. To this the headmaster calmly responds “You are quite wrong – indeed, your failure to understand that there are things much worse than death has always been your greatest weakness” (OotP 814). The true meaning of death eludes Voldemort, but as we will see, Harry accepts death, and discovers its secret.

*Dark Magic can accomplish “vile substitutions” such as Inferi and horcruxes, and other methods, such as the resurrection stone or the elixir of life, can allow one to cling to life for a little while, but no magic can raise the dead. Death is, like love, a deeper magic.

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