28 August 2007

Reexamining My Harry Potter Predictions

On 13 July 2006, I posted these predictions of what would not happen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Having now read the book, I'm going back to those comments to see how J. K. Rowling matched and didn't match my expectations. This posting will therefore contain some ***SPOILERS***.

I wrote in confident capital letters:


Some people have written that dying would be a fitting end for a tragedy--but the Harry Potter books aren't tragedies. And unlike some callow heroes, Harry doesn't need to experience death in order to mature. He's suffered loss his whole life. He can grow up only by getting beyond that.

I'm not saying that Harry should or shouldn't die for the sake of young readers, or literature, or commercialization. I'm saying he won't die. He just won't.
And he just didn't. At the same time, however, Rowling got to explore the series' theme of death by having Harry prepare to die (chap. 34), and even enter a state between life and death (chap. 35). So this was a bet that no one could lose.

In all the Harry Potter books, boys get beat up more than girls. At the end of HP1, Ron and Harry are knocked unconscious while Hermione is left unscathed. Harry has been to the infirmary for serious injuries in practically every book. Hermione has gone there for cosmetic problems: teeth and, um, fur. . . .

Rowling's values are, at bottom, traditional. She has created smart, athletic, powerful female characters, and then largely protected them. Though she sends boys out onto the firing range, she doesn't write so comfortably about violence against girls.
Hermione survives as well. But what about the larger pattern of the author shielding her and other female characters from physical violence? Chapter 23 shows Bellatrix Lestrange dragging Hermione by the hair and holding a knife to her throat hard enough to draw "beads of blood." We hear Hermione's screams of pain as Bellatrix tortures her with the "Crucio" curse.

But in the same chapter Harry suffers an "excruciatingly painful face" and a choking attack; "Bellatrix hit [Ron] across the face"; "Dean [appears], his face bruised and bloody"; and "Draco doubled over, his hands covering his bloody face." You see a pattern here?

The boys suffer more physical (as opposed to magical) violence than Hermione. They suffer within the scene while her worst treatment is off-stage. No males attack Hermione; only another female does. Rowling still seems more squeamish about violence against her girls.

This statement may be a little more iffy than the last two, but I'm still betting the odds. Ron will be put in terrible danger, be injured, and lose a relative or two. (There are so many, after all.) But he won't die, either.
And indeed, Ron has one fewer living relative at the end of chapter 31.

It's interesting to consider that, as many fans as that relative had (did I mention ***SPOILERS***?), he was really just one-half of a joint character. That's the wonderful thing about identical twins--an author can use them to put more people into a scene without having to come up with two independent personalities. (No resemblance to actual identical twins is implied.)

Rowling told NBC that she portrayed those twins differently: "George is slightly gentler. Fred is normally the funnier but also the crueler of the two." But that was news to me. Fred and George never act separately. Rowling said she mourned with the survivor of the pair, yet also that she had planned the other young man's death from the beginning. She developed the twins over six books in order to kill off one in the seventh. There were so many of them, after all.

So on those basic, "won't die" predictions I was three for three. But those weren't the hard ones.

TOMORROW: Gauging my predictions of what would happen in HP7.

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