On this day 10 years ago, I had plans to visit a local amusement park with my sister and I was reluctant to go.
My hesitation wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy the attractions at the Darien Lake park with my sister; it was because I didn’t want to hear any spoilers.
I averted my eyes from any walls in the park because I didn’t want to see any graffiti that might read “[SO-AND-SO] DIES AT THE END.” And my sister, a fellow Potterhead, helped maintain a conversation all day so I wouldn’t accidentally overhear a spoiler while waiting in line for the rides.
That’s because this was only a few hours after the final book of my favorite series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released, and we hadn’t had time to read it yet.
DOES HARRY POTTER DIE?
Harry Potter was the first franchise in my life for which I had developed fan theories. I turned over the number of possibilities for my fictional heroes’ fates, studied other fans’ ideas online, and discussed with my sister, friends, and even readers who hadn’t caught up yet what might happen. What are the other Horcruxes, and where would Harry find them? What are the “Deathly Hallows” and what is their significance? And, most pressingly, who will die?
There was no question that death would be a main theme in the last book of the series. Perhaps surprisingly for a children’s series, each book progressively explored death and how it affects the living. And with “death” blatantly featured in the title of the seventh book, readers knew that the Second Wizarding War would take the imaginary lives of our beloved characters. What we wondered was the number of deaths and who exactly would die — most pressingly, if Harry Potter would die.
The Harry Potter series is certainly a classic good-versus-evil archetype. I never questioned that the “good guys” would win. But we usually consider “death” as “losing.” In Deathly Hallows, accepting death as a natural part of life is a major theme. At 17 years old, I considered the strong possibility that Harry Potter — a hero, friend, and inspiration in my mind — might die. And I also knew that he could still triumph if he did.
In the time I waited for the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I turned over what it would mean to me if Harry or my other favorite characters did die. When I finally read the book, I learned that there was a complimentary theme to accepting death: living a life with love, purpose, and courage means that death can’t be considered a defeat.
Since the 10 years that I finished the Harry Potter series for the first time, I have had to confront mortality in the real world. Friends, family, and celebrities I idolized have passed away. Nothing has been more beneficial in my grieving process than reflecting on the lessons I learned from the seventh Harry Potter book.
The author commented on her decision for Harry’s fate in a 2007 TV documentary called “J.K. Rowling — A Year in the Life.” (The next paragraph has a Hallows spoiler, if you are still waiting in line for your library’s copy.)
“It’s much harder to rebuild than to destroy,” Rowling says in the TV special. “In some ways, it would have been a neater ending to kill him, but I felt it would have been a betrayal because I wanted my hero … to do what I think is the most noble thing. So, he came back from war and he tried to build a better world.”
All these years later, Harry’s choices are still an inspiration for my goals in life. When I was younger, I was exactly like Hermione when we first meet her. I was a pretentious overachiever who wanted everyone to know how great a student I was because I was insecure. Back then, I thought my life would be defined by obvious achievements like graduation from a prestigious university or a high-paying job. By the end of the series, I wanted (and still want) to define my life by my friendships, my empathy, and my desire to make the world a better place.
I may not be in a position to save the world like Harry Potter, but I am in a position to befriend people from all walks of life, fight for the disenfranchised, broaden my perspectives, and step up when I have an opportunity to give back.
AFTER THE FINAL CHAPTER
Yes, these books have thrilling adventures and clean, logical rules in the otherwise chaotic world of magic. Of course, Rowling’s whimsical imagination paired with research into real-world mythology is incomparable. And conveniently for me, the increasing tonal maturity in each book matched the age I was when I read each of them.
Yet what affected me the most, especially with the last book, was that the rest of the world loved them.
In Deathly Hallows, the characters’ capacity to love helps vanquish evil. This could have easily been a romantic love story in which Harry alone fights for love; instead, dozens of heroes in the books choose compassion and forgiveness and are ultimately rewarded.
If these books sold as well as they did, that must mean they resonated with millions of other people in the same ways they resonated with me. And that must mean there are millions of other readers who are inspired to consider empathy and fight injustice.
So despite any social or political differences, there are often Potterheads hiding on both sides of a conflict. We’re all looking to be as understanding as Dumbledore or brave as Harry, even if we disagree on how to get there.
Maybe we’re just hoping a little magic will help.