There's a reason the cowboy always rides off into the sunset: there is always more work to be done, and contentment breeds lethargy.
I’ll never forget the first time I got a Harry Potter book, mainly because my older brother had dibs, so I had to wait until he was finished with it. To be fair he was a much faster reader at 12 than I was at 8. My mother, who had purchased the first two books at once, suggested I begin with the second book, but my brother assured me they should be read in sequence. I think he just didn’t want to lap me and have to wait for me to finish.
So instead of reading The Chamber of Secrets I would just stare at the beautifully illustrated cover, pondering what those secrets might be.
After what felt like weeks (and was probably days) my brother gave it up and I began the fantastic adventure of Harry Potter, who was learning that he was no ordinary boy. I laughed as Hagrid used magic to give Dudley a tail, gasped all the way through the Forbidden Forest, and cheered as Harry, Hermione and Ron bested He Who Must Not Be Named through dangerous trials which forced them to utilize everything they had learned in their first year at Hogwarts.
I was hooked, and not just on Harry. I did little else but read from the moment I picked up The Sorcerer’s Stone, which is saying a lot for a kid living through the heyday of the Cartoon Network and Nick Jr.
It’s no wonder the series captured our imaginations. Rowling invented a detailed, magical world that lived just beyond our own — tantalizingly out of reach but totally alive in our minds. On television we watched fake wrestling extravaganzas but in our imaginations, Quidditch — played on broomsticks and dangerous enough to leave players in the hospital — felt so much more real.
Our world gave us banal “Reality TV” but Hogwarts had a complete society that spoke to me and my friends of what we instinctively knew reality should be (and perhaps intuitively craved): a challenging school where rules were enforced, where modern notions had their place, but tradition was valued and rituals were attended and understood. The teachers were adults, not friends, and they expected you to know your stuff. No one left Hogwarts having to clear their backpacks of wrinkled, pointless “Participation Awards.” Participation in the lessons and tests at Hogwarts was a given, and none of it made you special, but if you were paying attention, it could keep you alive.
That’s the thing about the world of Harry Potter, and why we loved it. Harry and his classmates knew that they were meant for more than the distracted, materialist lives of muggles because every day they were reminded that they were in the presence of a force greater than themselves, something even we Christians have a hard time remembering.
I appreciated that Rowling aged the tone of each book in the series, with everything getting darker, book by book. By The Half Blood Prince Harry had seen several people die, including his beloved Godfather, Sirius Black, and the whole book is much darker than The Prisoner of Azkaban, where one of Harry’s biggest worries was how to sneak into Hogsmead. With that darkness, and the sacrifices that seemed inevitable to the reader, Harry’s life seemed to many of us to take on a Eucharistic edge. For me, Harry became the Christ figure, a human but more than a human, one who would ultimately lay down his life for his friends in the defeat of evil.
All of which plays into why I despise the way Rowling ended the tale. Her final book was needlessly bloated (and I say this having read The Stand and The Count of Monte Cristo multiple times). The protracted length of The Deathly Hallows felt like Rowling indulging herself because she could not bear to leave her characters.
I get that, but her sentimentalism ruined the series; it also did a grievous disservice to the world she created and I suspect it did nothing good for my millennial generation, either. The tale fails because of one glaring mistake: Harry lives.
You see, Harry was one of Voldemort’s horcruxes. In Voldemort’s previous attack he had ripped his soul into seven pieces and bound them to objects of significance, one of which was the infant Harry. In his attempt to access the power stored in Harry and thus fully revitalize himself, Voldemort kills The Boy Who Lived — the one person prophesied to take him out.
Then, as we know, Harry wandered into a dream-state — what seemed to be a spiritual way-station — where he encounters Dumbledore one last time. The always cryptic old man showed Harry the broken pieces of Voldemort’s soul, which – in reality – had borne the brunt of Voldemort’s curse, and speculates on whether or not a dream can be real. Harry proceeds to wake up and save the day.
As a fan, I can get over Rowling’s evolving theory that Harry could be powerful enough to overcome Voldemort, horcrux or no, but I cannot get over is the distortion of the Christ metaphor – that Harry doesn’t die; he makes no sacrifice, but escapes all harm, wins the day and basically lives a middle-class life.
Before Deathly Hallows published, Rowling admitted that she’d intended on killing Arthur Weasley but couldn’t bring herself to do it. But there is one clue that makes me suspect Harry was also given a reprieve; the prophesy could have also been talking about Neville Longbottom.
Imagine if Harry had been killed by Voldemort and then communicated with his friends in a glorified state, and it made the Hogwarts students bolder? What if Neville, whose parents were driven mad by the torturous Deatheaters, led the student forces the way Peter and Paul led the early Church after Christ’s ascension, and Pentecost?
Imagine the chill that would have run down your spine if the first chapter of the first book was “The Boy Who Lived” and the last chapter of the last book was “The Man Who Died” — showcasing the lasting effect Harry’s sacrifice had on the wizarding world.
Instead, we got that sickening epilogue where we get to see who married who and how many kids they had and gag. Leave it to Beaver was less tidy.
There’s a reason the cowboy always rides off into the sunset: there is always more work to be done, and contentment breeds lethargy.
I’m not bitter, but Rowling’s vivid world created an expectation, and her denouement felt inauthentic. She could have used her story to reinforce the notion that in every life there are instances that demand the most of us, that require us to sacrifice everything for the sake of the greater good. Instead my generation got yet another happy ending to feed our rampant sense that life needs a trigger warning.