The First within the Last
On the Growth of Ron
“Cry ‘God for Harry, Hogwarts and Dumbledore!’ ”
There are spoilers all over the place.
The First within the Last
Deathly Hallows (DH) ties up loose ends from the whole series, but it contains the strongest echoes of Philosopher’s Stone (PS). (I prefer the English title; there never was a mythical sorceror’s stone.) It shows up in the very beginning, where Hagrid once again saved Harry by taking him from his family’s house on Sirius’s flying motorbike. The strongest hints are in the end, though; once I tumbled to these I was expecting the scene to be a replay in some way of the final conflict in the first book, but it’s not really. Still, the resonances range from comical (PS: Hermione wishes for a match; Ron says “ARE YOU A WITCH OR WHAT?”. DH: Ron wishes for Crookshanks to immobilize the Whomping Willow; Hermione says “ARE YOU A WIZARD OR WHAT?”) to central (Harry’s sacrifice to protect others echoing Lily’s protection of him – which he finds out about in that final scene where Quirrell can’t touch him).
There are odd departures, too, though; just as in the first book, Ron and Hermione remain back and Harry must go alone to the final confrontation. But here, unlike the first book, they are not sacrificed in strategic moves to get Harry one step closer. Instead they just stay in the Great Hall with the other mourners, for no real apparent reason. Harry finds out once again that a sacrificial death, his own this time, has protected him, and Voldemort can’t touch him. Here, though, unlike in PS, attempting to touch Harry (with the Cruciatus curse, this time) doesn’t hurt Voldemort. This could be explained because Voldemort has been able to physcially touch Harry since taking his blood (Goblet of Fire (GoF)). However, it did hurt Voldemort, badly, when he tried to mentally possess Harry in Half-Blood Prince (HBP), and given what happens later with Avada Kedavra, I don’t quite see why there would be no rebound from the Cruciatus Curse. Of course, that would ruin the plot by revealing that Harry isn’t dead, but being illogical just to make the plot work isn’t playing fair.
My favorite of the echoes isn’t about Harry at all; in PS, it is Neville who enables Harry & co. to save the day. This early in the series, the House Cup and the Quidditch Cup are more important to Hogwarts students than any rumors of Voldemort’s return. Gryffindor is tied for the House Cup after the points given to Harry, Ron and Hermione, and Neville wins it with the 10 points Dumbledore gives him for his courage in standing up to his friends. Of course his ten points wouldn’t have done much without the points earned by all of the others, so it is a mutual dependency. In PS, Neville was a bit isolated just because of the kind of person he was; his lack of coolness is discussed at least as late as the Hogwarts Express in HBP. He’s made some friends nonetheless, but I keep tearing up when think of the progression in his last few years. Unlike Harry, he’s got no one but his grandmother and other family, who don’t seem to think much of him. He’s not the Chosen One, he doesn’t get to bond with a godfather, or acquire closer-than-family friends or have an organization form to support him. But look at how his story continues to mirror Harry’s; it’s enough to make you believe in astrology. He is orphaned for practical purposes as early as Harry is, and then the last half of his schooldays are the same sort of progression of desertion: he stands up to the Death Eaters, first as part of the DA, then with Harry, Ron, Luna, and Ginny in the end of Order of the Phoenix and in Half-Blood Prince, then with just Luna and Ginny, with Ginny after Luna was taken, and alone after Easter. With his Gran on the run and his parents hopelessly damaged, he had no support he was sure of outside the school either, yet he was the one who kept heart in the DA members. No wonder he was so happy to see the Trio return! And in the end, as in PS, all Harry’s risk and sacrifice, all Ron and Hermione’s support, would have been for nothing if Neville’s courage hadn’t won him Gryffindor’s sword, if he hadn’t used it to kill Nagini.
On the Growth of Ron (No, not that kind of growth! Or spattergroit either!)
It happens a bit in Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix and in Half-Blood Prince, but becomes clearest in Deathly Hallows: as Hermione and Ron become more solidly a couple, the easiest way to see any changes in Ron is to watch Hermione’s reactions. The one problem I see is that by the end of the seventh book, Ron’s character growth doesn’t seem to be done yet. I suppose that’s to be expected; none of us are ever finished, much less at 17. But he seems to be growing from sidekick to hero, and he doesn’t quite get there.
First, after the escape from the Ministry, Hermione looks “with great tenderness” at him while he frets about whether the Muggle-born wizards manage to escape. It’s true that the concern for others – near strangers – is a new thing for Ron, but the thing is, it’s all after the fact. He participated in the rescue, because of course he always goes along and helps on Harry’s mad crusades, but none of it was his own idea. It’s a step but a small one. The next step is when he leaves and comes back to Harry and Hermione. He’s done that before, in GoF, but that time he had to be practically hit on the head with a dragon before he realized he was in the wrong. This time he realizes his error almost right away and is only prevented from returning by logistics. However, this would have been a fatal goof for all concerned, if not for Dumbledore’s foresight. In the final battle, Ron finally shows some initiaitive, not to mention a fair bit of brilliance, in repeating the Parseltongue he’s heard from Harry to get into the Chamber of Secrets. That on top of concern for house-elves is enough to bowl Hermione over entirely.
The thing that bothers me, though, is that no one ever does warn the house-elves. They figure it out eventually, of course; by then it would have been hard to miss the battle, and Kreacher leads them to war. But Ron’s concern is an empty gesture – unless he heads down to the kitchen and warns them while Harry is off into the forest. It’s possible; we don’t see him and Hermione in this time, and with the house-elves’ powerful magic they’d still have plenty of time if they’d wanted to escape. I would like to believe it happens (and also that Winky was right behind Kreacher in the charge), but I suppose we can’t know.
“Cry ‘God for Harry, Hogwarts and Dumbledore!’ ”
There’s a theory that the revolutionary thing about the Harry Potter books, as epic fantasy, is the total lack of religion underlying it. (In Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass books, religion is present, but explicitly repudiated.) I disagree. What I see in HP is not the dearth or death of God, but “Thou Art God!” Or maybe it would be more accurate to quote George Fox rather than Robert Heinlein. I don’t think Rowling is a Quaker, but she seems to be borrowing one of their central ideas here.
The self-sacrifice motif is very powerful in the stories. Resurrection stories are told in a lot of cultures, from Jonah to Tyr, but in this case it’s unmistakeably a Jesus story, or rather, an Aslan story, which is a Jesus story told through mythic interpretation. The echoes of the Narnia story are pretty clear, though the substitution of Hagrid for Lucy amuses me (but only on account of their size difference – Hagrid and Lucy do share a certain purity of outlook). The difference here is that it’s human Harry, neither a God-figure nor a Deity temporarily made into flesh, who saves others through his self-sacrifice and is then reborn.
I don’t think this is saying either that Harry is a God figure or that there is no need in the Wizarding world for God or that Harry is supposed to be a God-figure. I think what we’re seeing is that Harry acts in accordance with the Divine spark in him, like the Quaker concept of the Light Within. And we’re told over and over that what powers Harry is his ability to love. When Harry agrees to die for others in the service of that love, that gives him uncanny powers as his mother’s similar sacrifice did for her. The powers are not at all for himself (he would have died in his sacrifice as his mother did, if not for Voldemort’s mistakes) but to protect others against his killer. He is like his own wand, which has powers against Voldemort that have never been seen before, but which can still be accidentally broken by Hermione.
I don’t think it’s excessive to say that for Rowling Love and God are synonymous. For me, the final story wraps up a saga that is not at all about denying God. Instead, Rowling seems to say that while we can’t know the full nature of God (even the ghosts don’t know what happens to those who “go on”, and Dumbledore can tell Harry nothing about it) we do know about the divine spark within humans – and it’s capable of saving the world. There are people who think the HP books are evil and unGodly; maybe they believe in teaching that ‘the Lord will provide’ with no help from feeble humans. I don’t know what they’re thinking, entirely, but I wouldn’t want to have to depend on one of them to save my life. Or my soul.