Jul 23, 2007

Harry the seventh-- no spoilers, I promise

I'm not going to talk about what happened in the book. But I wanted to write about how this book made me feel.

This whole series, above and beyond the dazzling fantasy and the wonderful characters, has at its central theme one or two (or seven) very serious questions. Questions that, at some point, every person who thinks and lives in this world and is trying to eke out some sort of laudable existence will ask herself. Life and death? Good and evil? And what do you do with what you're given? And where exactly is that line between "for the greater good" and simple exploitation for personal (or even collective) gain?

We have Harry, a boy who lost his parents when he was a baby, who was abused growing up, and who endured an uninterrupted series of harrowing experiences that doubtless left their mark on him (literally). The psychology student in me thinks about PTSD, about attachment and bonding, about social support inoculating the abused from the tragedy of being permanently scarred by his experiences.

We have Tom Riddle, a boy who lost his parents, who endured a childhood full of neglect and inattention, and who, tragically, chose to use power over others rather than his relationships with others as his means of protecting himself. This is something that happens often (very sadly) in children who have been neglected/deprived/abused from a young age. But what makes a child choose one method of coping over the other? This is the question that isn't answered by the book.

We have Neville Longbottom, a boy who effectively lost his parents and lived a fairly miserable existence until he took matters into his own hands and started believing in himself, prompted by the support and encouragement that some of his teachers and friends gave him. His grandmother was a harsh, perhaps innefective sort of parental figure, but at the core she loved him, and he couldn't help but know this.

We have Snape, abused, neglected, made to think little of his own worth from the time he was a baby. His defense was his arrogance, his belief that, in the end, he was worth more than those who tormented him. The question here (and the biggest one for me, going into this last book) is will Snape be redeemed? In the end, did he overcome the scars of his past or did he go the Voldemort route and exorcise all connection to others, all ability to love and bond, from his heart in favor of overpowering those around him? Which route of protection did he choose?

We have Luna, who watched her own mother die a horrible death and endures abuse from all of her peers. She rises above this, however, because she still has the knowledge of her parents' love and support. She is the one that helps Harry understand how to effectively grieve a loss. While Harry is the savior-figure of the wizarding world and has been since his escape as a baby, Luna is, in a sense, Harry's savior.

The themes-- loss and grief, and their resolution

life after death/the idea of rebirth

good versus evil-- what is it that makes someone evil? What is evil, really?

This last theme is, to me, the most important of the book. Throughout the series we see Voldemort becoming progressively more fallible with each encounter. We realize, little by little, that the great evil being that the wizarding world fears, whose final (temporary) defeat lay in a chance encounter with a one-year-old boy who didn't even have the capacity to defend himself, is still really only a little boy himself. His infant's view of the world as a struggle for what he can gain, what power he could master over others in order that he might not be hurt, never changed because he never learned what most children learn-- that love can take care of you. That people will give you what you need most of the time, if you allow them that power. Thus, in spite of his brilliance and capability, he has glaring blind spots because of the way he has decided to cope. He is not whole, we realize. And we see that evil is not something real-- it is something gone wrong. It is the manifestation of human weakness.

OK, now I'll let the rest of you read before I say anything else.