“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

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Love: “A force more wonderful and more terrible than death.” – Albus Dumbledore

“Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead…” – Lily (DH ch. 17)
Harry Potter’s mother gave her life to save her son. This event is foundational throughout the books, both for Harry’s growth as a person and to his understanding of love and death (and what he must do to defeat Voldemort). It is the prime example of the theme of sacrifice and love, or, more concisely, sacrificial love, that runs throughout the series. Harry, who “loves fiercely” and is “a remarkably selfless person” (DH ch. 35), repeatedly puts himself in danger or makes sacrifices in order to save others. And Dumbledore, like Lily, was willing to sacrifice his life to save his mother and sister from Grindelwald: “Don’t hurt them,” he cries, “please…hurt me instead...kill me!” (HBP 572-73).

It is not simply a theme of sacrifice, though. Sacrifice, in Harry Potter, is effective and powerful. It works. There is a protective power in sacrificial love, or, more simply, love is powerful. Let me explain. In his first year at Hogwarts, Harry discovers that his mother’s sacrificial love was so powerful that it shielded him from Voldemort’s death curse, saving Harry’s life and causing the curse to rebound upon Voldemort. Lily gave herself in Harry’s place, and that sacrifice was powerful, an “ancient magic,” one of the “deepest laws of magic.” There is a sort of “layer of protection” over him due to his mother’s sacrifice and love for him. Dumbledore explains why professor Quirrell could not kill him:
“Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realise that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign…to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good.” (PS ch. 17)
In Order of the Phoenix, Voldemort attempts to possess Harry but the pain is unendurable because of Harry’s extraordinary love. Voldemort can neither understand love (to him it is another “human weakness,” like death), nor overcome it, nor be in contact with anyone who loves or is covered by the love of another. Dumbledore explains once more:
“There is a room in the Department of Mysteries that is kept locked at all times. It contains a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than forces of nature. It is also, perhaps, the most mysterious of the many objects for study that reside there. It is the power held within that room that you possess in such quantities and which Voldemort has not at all. That power took you to save Sirius tonight. That power also saved you from possession by Voldemort, because he could not bear to reside in a body so full of the force he detests…It was your heart that saved you.” (OotP 843-44)

“You are protected, in short, by your ability to love!...The only protection that can possibly work against the lure of power like Voldemort’s.” (HBP 511)

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