Monday, 28 May 2007

Harry Potter 7: Still to come...

Now that the publication date for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is getting closer, it seems like a good time to formulate my theories and speculations about what is to come into something coherent. Every aspect of the series so far has been pulled apart and examined minutely by so many people that I know I’m not really likely to add anything new, but on the other hand, the sheer quantity of theories bouncing around means that any attempt to make sense of what I actually think can’t be totally invalid.

So here, in no particular order, are my main musings…

The true motivation of Severus Snape is pretty universally accepted to be the burning question whose resolution will underpin the climax of the series itself. The first major Harry Potter conference in the UK, Accio 2005, held at the University of Reading, held a mock trial of Snape (link to: for delegates to debate, essentially, whether Snape was good or evil (interestingly, he was cleared of all charges, even the one about him being horrible to the pupils in his charge). The evidence for and against Snape being good or evil is summarised here (link to: in the Harry Potter Lexicon (link to:, and all the arguments, both ways, are solid and convincing, and Snape could quite easily and naturally turn out to be on either side, neither or both! However, I feel very strongly (along with many others) that the only satisfactory conclusion would be for Snape to be good, to be on Harry’s side and loyal to Dumbledore. Narratively, this is the only conclusion that would work for several reasons:
1. Harry’s overt hatred and distrust: This is so strong that the reader is pushed into believing the opposite – we are told so many times by our hero that Snape is evil, against what everyone else believes (others, such as Ron and Hermione, and even Sirius Black, dislike Snape, but trust in Dumbledore’s judgement of him) that we end up disagreeing with Harry in his stubbornness.
2. Dumbledore’s trust: Dumbledore is set up as the omniscient, almost godlike figure, and we are thus coerced into believing that he is infallible, even when in the later books we are shown signs of weakness and he himself tells us he isn’t always right. We are encouraged to question Dumbledore, but again, as with Harry’s hatred of Snape, this has the opposite effect. We need Dumbledore to be the all-knowing guide, the archetypal wise old man (link to: While displaying weakness and making mistakes is part of this archetypal character, in the big things we need him to be right. It would be too much of a shock, and overshadow the end of the Harry-Voldemort struggle, for Dumbledore to turn out to have been so badly mistaken. It is interesting though that Rowling seems to be trying to prepare us for this, having Dumbledore himself tell us that perhaps his judgement is not to be trusted as unquestioningly as we have assumed: “… as I have already proven to you, I make mistakes like the next man. In fact, being – forgive me – rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.” (HP6, p.187). Whether this is intended to point to a mistake as yet unknown by Dumbledore (Snape’s loyalty? The incident in the cave and his death?) or to something in his past we have yet to discover, is not clear. Whichever, despite authorial attempts to undermine it, Dumbledore’s wisdom is so ingrained and important to both Harry’s and the reader’s view of events, that to have him so wrong on so vital a point would just not ring true.
3. Snape’s actions: Without going over every piece of evidence of what Snape has said and done throughout the course of the series so far, it seems clear that most of his actions have been ‘good’, in that he has consistently protected Harry (even while protesting his hatred of him) and done what Dumbledore has asked of him. Of course, this impression could just be because we have only really seen Snape from the point of the view of the ‘good’ side – the only exception being his conversation with Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Black at the beginning of The Half-Blood Prince. However, his answers here are ones a politician would be proud of, giving the women the impression he wants to but not actually saying anything we wouldn’t expect him to if he was, as Dumbledore says, acting as a spy for the Order of the Phoenix.
4. And finally: The narrative pattern, as shown on a small-scale in The Philosopher’s Stone. Snape appears to be a bad guy, does bad things, but ultimately Harry’s suspicions are proved wrong – Snape is on Dumbledore’s side. Our expectations, from this and from our understanding of the patterns of story and narrative in general, lead us to believe that Snape is good. Of course, this could be a red herring, a way of tricking readers and subverting their expectations, a sort of double-bluff…
All in all, we won’t know for sure until the end – Snape’s character and motivations are too complex and cleverly drawn. I feel Snape is a good guy, everything leads me to believe that, and that Harry and he will have to come to some kind of understanding and resolution of their difficult relationship – this is too important a part of Harry’s story to be denied us.

The biggest question surrounding Snape though, is not who’s side is he on, but what is it that enables there to be any doubt? Why can he get away with being ambiguous, with both sides believing he is with them? No-one else is allowed this luxury (if it can be called such!) – this is after all a tale of good versus evil. You can be uninvolved, but if you are involved, you have to pick a side. But Snape has managed to convince both Dumbledore and Voldemort, the two greatest wizards alive, to trust him. This is what I really want to know – why? It can’t just be a case of him being good at occlumency – everyone knows he can do that and I can’t believe either Dumbledore or Voldemort would be foolish enough to trust his word alone. Dumbledore has been deliberately cagey about his reasons for trusting Snape, although everything we have heard so far has related to Snape’s turning away from the Death Eaters, and telling Dumbledore about the prophecy about Harry and Voldemort. But I don’t buy it, it’s too small a reason. There has to be something about Snape himself, his past and relationships with others, that Dumbledore is hiding. We have very little information about Snape’s relationship with Voldemort, and have never seen them together. Snape is referred to as Voldemort’s ‘favourite, his most trusted advisor’ (HP6, p.38). Why Snape, and especially why Snape in the light of the fact that Voldemort believed him to have left him forever (HP4, p.565 – this comment has to refer to Snape, as the other two living and unnamed Death Eaters he refers to must be Karkaroff and Barty Crouch Jr.). As you’d expect, there are numerous theories seeking to explain this mystery, postulating that Snape may have been in love with Lily Potter, or that it has something to do with his mother, possibly now concealed at Hogwarts as Irma Pince, the librarian (based on an anagram – Irma Pince = I’m a Prince – as well as a reflection of language used to describe both the librarian and Snape, and Dumbledore’s comment to Draco Malfoy about hiding his mother in their confrontation on the tower at the end of The Half-Blood Prince). My own, personal theory (which I am entirely prepared to be proved wrong!) is that it has something to do with the two major themes of the importance of love and blood. I have a nagging feeling that Voldemort may have a child, and if so, Snape is the prime candidate. It would explain why Voldemort has a blind spot where he’s concerned, and also why Dumbledore and Snape have something they are so keen to hide (which could include Eileen Prince quite feasibly here). A slightly wackier extension of this theory involves James Potter as another child-of-Voldemort, introducing a whole aspect of sibling rivalry and giving Harry a link to the lineage of Slytherin – it was stated quite clearly in Chamber of Secrets that only the heir of Slytherin, not just any parselmouth, could open the chamber, and Harry quite patently achieves this. But Rowling seems to have discredited this theory with her statement that she’s not going to do a Star Wars and also that the Potters aren’t actually that important. I don’t know. I like my theory, but I doubt it’s correct!

The identity and location of the remaining Horcruxes, and their destruction, is quite clearly the main thrust of the narrative of book seven. We know (or at least, Dumbledore is certain) that there are six Horcruxes in total, as follows:
1. The diary (destroyed)
2. The ring (destroyed)
3. Slytherin’s locket (stolen)
4. Hufflepuff’s cup
5. Nagini?
6. Something Ravenclaw or Gryffindor related? (But only one, based on the fact that Dumbledore is certain that the only remaining artefact of Gryffindor’s, the ruby-encrusted sword, is safely un-horcruxed)
It is unlikely to be as simple as this however, as this is relying on Dumbledore’s assumptions. It makes sense that Voldemort would have wanted to use artefacts of both Ravenclaw and Gryffindor, so if we assume that he got hold of something from Ravenclaw but couldn’t finish the job with Gryffindor’s sword, then he either had to use something else, never got round to making the sixth Horcrux, or made one accidentally – we don’t really know how exactly Horcruxes are made so we don’t know if this is possible. I’m not convinced by the idea of Nagini – she doesn’t seem important enough, and I doubt Voldemort would have used something living as mortality is the very thing he is trying to escape. The theory I most like (and which occurred to me after I’d read The Half-Blood Prince) is that Harry himself (or at least his scar) is a Horcrux. This argument is summarised well by Haas on the Harry Potter Lexicon (link to:, particularly dealing with the obvious objection that if Harry is a Horcrux, why does Voldemort keep trying to kill him? Another response to this problem, in addition to the one set out by Haas, is that Voldemort does not realise Harry is a Horcrux – if it is possible for Horcruxes to be made accidentally, or if Voldemort’s defeat and disembodiment caused the spell to go awry and fall on another target in Godric’s Hollow. I think the wording of the prophecy supports this theory as well: Neither can live while the other survives – Voldemort can’t live while Harry lives because his Horcrux is out of his control, and Harry can’t live while Voldemort lives because his life and body is not his own, polluted by a fragment of Voldemort’s soul. It does pose a very real threat to Harry’s survival however – would he be able to survive the destruction of the Horcrux within him?

The Deathly Hallows
The release of each book’s title brings with it a flurry of questions as to what it refers to. My initial reaction to Deathly Hallows was that it echoed the heroic pass through death stage of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, as set out in The hero with a thousand faces, and therefore was a place Harry would need to go and survive before completing his quest. Alternatively, it could just be a poetic way of referring to the Horcruxes – certainly things which would be venerated by Voldemort and the Death Eaters and most definitely deathly. However I recently saw a theory I really like by Bandersnatch on the Harry Potter Lexicon (link to: (and can’t believe I didn’t make the connection myself!), that it refers to the remaining artefacts of the four founders, in the tradition of Grail mythology. This would be very nice and neat, although the fact of Gryffindor’s sword not being a Horcrux in all probability could throw a spanner in the works, unless the sword comes into it’s own as something Harry can use against the Horcruxes. It also throws up all sorts of possibilities of Harry Potter as a Grail text, which I haven’t thought about in sufficient depth yet, but which are intriguing.

Dumbledore’s past and Grindelwald
Throughout book six we received lots of hints that Dumbledore’s past may prove to be important, and recently Rowling has admitted that looking into Dumbledore’s family would be ‘profitable’. It seems fairly obvious that Harry is going to have an encounter with Dumbledore’s wayward brother Aberforth (link to: at some point in book seven – he may well be the person who has Slytherin’s locket, after he was seen being sold some things from 12 Grimmauld Place by Mundungus Fletcher and then walking away ‘[drawing] his cloak more tightly around his neck’ (HP6, p.230). I’m hoping Aberforth will have plenty to reveal about Dumbledore’s past, as really we actually know very little about him. In particular, the burning question relates to the episode in the cave at the end of Half-Blood Prince, when Dumbledore drinks the potion in which the Horcrux is concealed. It’s not clear what the potion is forcing Dumbledore to experience, or re-experience, but whatever it is it must be important. The most plausible idea is a kind of ‘essence of dementor’, something that forces you to relive your worst memory and thus incapacitates you, either that or it just produces such extreme pain that you react as if under torture and your deepest secrets come spilling out. What Dumbledore says hints at an unpleasant experience in his past: ‘Don’t hurt them, don’t hurt them, please, please, it’s my fault, hurt me instead…’ (HP6, p.535). The only thing we know about Dumbledore’s past is what is written on his Chocolate Frog card (link to: about him defeating the Dark Wizard Grindelwald in 1945. Could this memory be related to Grindelwald? Who was Grindelwald anyway? One interesting theory links Dumbledore and Grindelwald via Beowulf, remarking on the similarities of Dumbledore’s middle name Wulfric and Grindelwald to Beowulf and Grendel. What implications this all has for the storyline of book seven seems a mystery however.

Final thought…
Aunt Petunia knows a lot more than she’s letting on…


Accio 2005 (2005) ‘Professor Severus Snape to face trial by Accio grand jury’ [web page] Accessed 5th February 2007.

Bandersnatch (2006) ‘The Grail Hallows and Harry Potter’, Harry Potter Lexicon [web page] Accessed 5th February 2007

Campbell, Joseph (1949) The hero with a thousand faces, Fontana, 1993.

Haas, Stephen (2006) ‘Is Harry a Horcrux?’, Harry Potter Lexicon [web page] Accessed 5th February 2007.

Harry Potter Lexicon (2000-2007) [web page] Accessed 5th February 2007

Harry Potter Lexicon (2000-2007) ‘Aberforth Dumbledore’ [web page] Accessed 5th February 2007

Harry Potter Lexicon (2000-2007) ‘Albus Dumbledore’ [web page] Accessed 5th February 2007

Harry Potter Lexicon (2000-2007) ‘Horcruxes’ [web page] Accessed 5th February 2007

Harry Potter Lexicon (2000-2007) ‘Severus Snape’ [web page] Accessed 5th February 2007

Rowling, J.K. (2000) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, London : Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. (2005) Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, London : Bloomsbury

Wikipedia (2007) ‘Archetype’ [web page] Accessed 5th February 2007


Lily Potter said...

I don't think that Snape is ambiguous. Dumbledore knows Snape's loyalty, and ultimately that is all that matters.