Saturday 16 July 2011

The soul in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


I had missed a key scene in my earlier readings of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, coming in the early Chapter entitled The Ghoul in Pyjamas:

'And the more I've read about [Horcruxes]', said Hermione, 'the more horrible they seem, and the less I can believe that he actually made six. It warns in this book how unstable you make the rest of your soul by ripping it, and that's just by making one Horcrux!'

Harry remembered what Dumbledore had said, about Voldemort moving beyond 'usual evil'. 

Isn't there any way of putting yourself back together?' Ron asked. 

'Yes' said Herminone, with a hollow smile, 'but it would be excruciatingly painful.'

'Why? How do you do it?' asked Harry. 

'Remorse', said Herminone. 'You've got to really feel what you've done. There's a footnote. Apparently the pain of it can destroy you. I can't see Voldemort attempting it, somehow, can you?'


Then, from the penultimate Chapter - in the final confrontation:

Harry: 'Before you try to kill me, I'd advise you to think about what you've done... think, and try for some remorse, Riddle...

'What is this?'

Of all the things Harry had said to him, beyond any revelation or taunt, nothing had shocked Voldemort like this. (...)

'It's your one last chance', said Harry, 'it's all you've got left... I've seen what you'll be otherwise... be a man... try... try for some remorse...'


In JK Rowling's covert Christian supposal, 'remorse' = 'repentance'. And, as with The Good Thief, she is saying that Voldemort's soul really could be saved, even at the last moment, if Voldemort was sincerely to recognize what he had done and repent.

But of course he does not; and in the King's Cross Chapter (in a Limbo between life and death) Harry has seen what Voldemort's ripped, unrepentant and un-saved soul has become:

It had the form of a small, naked child, curled on the ground, its skin raw and rough, flayed-looking, and it lay shuddering under a seat where it had been left, unwanted, stuffed out of sight, struggling for breath. (...)

He ought to comfort it, but it repulsed him.

'You cannot help' [, said Dumbledore].



Brett Stevens said...

Wow. You really called it: she's more C.S. Lewis than anything else.

It would be interesting if that re-introduced theological debate to popular fiction, which has been too much about personal drama for too long.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BS - Yes, it's really there in the books (although not in the movies); but few notice it.

It was the discussions between Harry and Nearly-Headless Nick and Luna at the end of Order of the Phoenix (after the deat of Sirius) that alerted me to what was going-on; then I read John Granger ('the Hogwarts Professor') and that of course clinched it.

Until that point I saw the books as merely a longer and more intricate example of a modern-style adventure story - but once I had perceived this thread going all through, my appreciation went up an order of magnitude!

Anonymous said...

The thing I most dislike about Harry Potter is it's implicit "anti-racism". There is this whole idea that homogenity=inbreeding. I'm pro (magical) full-blood, 3/4 (magical) blood and (magical) half-blood and don't believe that inbreeding in the wizard would be an issue. Another thing is that when Harry Potter (half-blood) married Ginny Weasley (full-blood) and the kids were born in the books they are basically 3/4 (magical) blood yet still described as "half-bloods" as if the father is a muggle and the mother is a witch!

Anonymous said...

Besides the issue I mentioned beforehand (and a couple of others) I generally like Harry Potter.

Gave Ruth said...

Excellent call. I declined to read these when my family recommended them, but realized they were worth the time when I picked up the fourth one. Thought the first two were a little light, but served the purpose of setting up a world.

Your excerpt highlights something that I think is under-appreciated: the proper feelings towards those that have rejected God should ultimately be one of pity, and one should never cease to hope for their salvation. The image of the fearsome Voldemort as a helpless infant creates such a perfect shock. I remember reading that very clearly, and re-reading it a few times before I realized what she was saying.