Brace yourselves, Harry Potter fans. No matter how desperate
you are for Harry to live, some experts in classic literature and mythology say
that finishing off the young wizard would make sense in a literary kind of way.
J.K. Rowling has never shied from darkness in her
phenomenally successful series it started with the murder of Harry’s parents,
continued through his discovery that an evil wizard was trying to destroy him,
and has included pain and torture and the deaths of major characters.
She’s already promised two deaths in the seventh and final
book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” coming out July 21, and
has refused to commit to Harry surviving. But she couldn’t kill Harry off,
could she? She wouldn’t do that, would she?
“If you look at the tradition of the epic hero …
there is this sort of pattern that the hero delivers people to the promised
land but does not see it himself,” said Lana Whited, professor of English
at Ferrum College in Ferrum , Va., pointing out examples from King Arthur to
Moses to Frodo.
Greek mythology has plenty of examples, like Hercules, who
was killed at the height of his strength, said Mary Lefkowitz, a retired
classics professor who taught at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.
“There’s no long promise of happiness,” she said.
“You may have brief moments of glory and then the darkness comes.”
And don’t be fooled into thinking a happy ending is
automatic just because the main characters are young, said Anne Collins Smith,
assistant professor of philosophy and classical studies at Stephen F. Austin
State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.
“Just because it’s children’s literature doesn’t mean
it can’t have very dark events in it,” she said.
Others aren’t convinced, saying that Rowling’s story about
Harry and his adventures is less influenced by classical mythology than it is
by other storytelling traditions.
Philip Ray, an associate professor of English at Connecticut
College, said Rowling was part of a tradition of British writers like Edith
Nesbit, writing stories where children are the focus and have grand adventures.
Since Harry is about to finish his years at Hogwarts, Ray
said, “I think it would be very unusual for a book like this to kill off
the main character at a time when he’s about to graduate from school.”
The books are about Harry’s development into a young man,
“For Rowling to have put Harry Potter through all seven
volumes just to kill him off, the point of all development would be
wasted,” Ray said. “Death strikes me as being the strangest ending of
And even though the series has a dark aspect to it, Rowling
hasn’t set it up in such a way that Harry paying the ultimate price would make
sense, said Tim Morris, who teaches English at the University of Texas at
“I don’t get the sense that J.K. Rowling has set us up
for that kind of sacrifice,” he said. “The first six books haven’t
given a sense of that tragedy to me. It’s generally hopeful.”
Whited acknowledges that reader outrage would be high if
Harry died, and that it might seem cruel to younger readers, who aren’t
familiar with classic literary story arcs.
“I’m sure J.K. Rowling would get some howlers if Harry
Potter did not survive,” she said.
But even if he lives, don’t be surprised if it’s a
hard-fought victory, she said. Another aspect of the classic hero myth is that
even if he wins, it’s not without some loss.
“There are always sacrifices, compromises along the
way,” she said. “If Harry doesn’t die, one of his friends will.”
– Associated Press
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com