Forum: Harry Potter: No greater love

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Yesterday witnessed a significant literary and world event — the publication of the seventh and final book of the vastly popular Harry Potter series. The title, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” did not suggest a happily-ever-after ending. Yet for publishers Blooomsbury Publishing and Scholastic Press, it promises quite a joyful conclusion, no matter Harry Potter’s fortunes. Pre-orders of the final volume ran close to 20 percent ahead of the last, and fast-selling, sixth book.

The sixth book ended in the shocking death of Professor Dumbledore, the Rowling equivalent of J.R.R. Tolkien’s unconquerable Gandalf, and set up a grim face-off between the teenage wonder boy and Lord Voldemort, the dark wizard king. While speculations were intense among Potter fans about what would happen in the final book, it was always certain that the brave, fully-schooled, young wizard would risk life and limb to protect his friends and vanquish the truly evil. We expect the gritty British spirit to overcome all odds; the question was always exactly how and at what cost.

The proof of how much the author has captured the world’s attention is shown by (aside from the planned construction of an entire Harry Potter theme park in Florida) various blogs and Websites and their passionate pre-release discussions of just how the last book would play out. How would Harry defeat the dark super-wizard? Would Harry’s faithful friend Ron profess his love to Hermione, the gifted Muggle-born witch? Is Harry Potter himself the missing horcrux destined to die in order to save his friends?

This last question casts a revealing light on the defining struggle of the West today. According to Rowling mythology, a horcrux is a physical object in which a particularly evil wizard puts a part of his soul so as to live on if his body is destroyed. The devil’s price for such perverted immortality is that the wizard must murder someone shortly before slicing a piece of his soul. The murder somehow gives the necessary dark energy to perform the horcrux spell.

Harry’s mother was murdered by Voldemort just before the evil wizard left the famous lightning bolt scar on Harry’s forehead. It is this same scar through which Harry gained some mystical connection to the shadowy and hate-filled life of Voldemort. It is the scar that gave rise to the blog discussions whether Harry Potter is himself a horcrux who harbors the last piece of the evil wizard’s soul and unwittingly preserves his immortality. (The possible tragedy of the last book arose because the only way to destroy the piece of the soul is to destroy the horcrux itself — that is, Harry Potter.)

Murder to gain immortality? Immortality to the one who takes his life for the very purpose of destroying others in the process? This echoes in American and British hearts as surely do the numbers September 11 and July 7. This twisted principle is what animates the West’s strident enemy, and it is truly a warped principle, even more warped than J.K. Rowling’s evil wizard’s lust for life. The “cursed” 19 desired their own destruction in order to destroy thousands presumably to gain eternal life in paradise.

We know with hope that the terrorist’s mangled theological view will fade from the world’s stage. We know with the certainty of that which underlies our nation’s heroic spirit and which is in fact at the core of Miss Rowling’s world of magic and mundane: sacrificial love.

The books are not at bottom about the sometimes fun and dark exploits involving spells, potions and magical creatures. Those things are essential decorations. The answer was there from the beginning, just read the first book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” on Pages 298-299, and it explains the hero’s very existence and destiny. Harry’s mother gave her life to protect her baby boy from the evil wizard king. This ultimate sacrificial act conjured the deepest of magic and defeated the ultimate magical power for evil. It recalls and is related at root to C.S. Lewis’ “deeper magic” that states “Death itself would work backward” when an innocent is killed in the stead of a traitor. And before that, this essential teaching of the Bible: “A man hath no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.”

If we really examine ourselves, we Americans are animated by this same principle. We give so much. We sacrifice so much. We give of our means, material, men, women and their blood for our neighbors, no matter where there are in the world. It is what moves the noble soldier in the intense desert heat from door to door in Iraq and through the treacherous hills of Afghanistan. It spurs every honorable act in war: There are a multitude of them in the current conflicts we never hear of. We know with hope and with confidence in who we are that the West will prevail.

As Miss Rowling’s countryman, if not virtual mentor, assured us in his master work, “The Lord of the Rings”: “In the end, the Shadow was but a small and passing thing.” J.R.R. Tolkien’s story showed that the path to light and victory is not without its deep sacrifices. It requires strong character, decisive action and, well, guts. All of this the young wizard Harry Potter and his friends show us in the last book.

EDWARD L. FROELICH

A tax attorney living in Chevy Chase, Md.

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