Friday, July 15, 2011

Incomplete Reflections on Harry Potter

Warning - this may contain spoilers...

Mr. Lambert, my Spanish 5 teacher, was collecting our homework. Frantically I flipped the pages of my thin Spanish text book through my fingers. Where was it? I always do my homework. Always. I had to have it. I couldn't have left it at home? Never. I always double check. Oh my. I slammed my hand against my head; I spent the entire night before reading Harry Potter! And completely forgot my homework.

And then I woke up, in my bed in Budapest, Hungary. Over five years and almost 5000 miles from my high school classroom in Virginia. I guess I was feeling guilty for my complete immersion in the stories, doing little other than working, sleeping, and reading Harry Potter for those two weeks in December 2008. How quickly the pages and action flew – it was as if I was watching a movie.

And other dreams – I was so immersed in the books, right until I went to sleep, that I even woke with a start once or twice, surely my dreams taking a darker turn as I read farther and the books became slightly more startling. I woke up one night and frantically grabbed my arm. I do exist, and that is MY hand grabbing my arm. Perhaps a result of my immersion – a moment from the books twisted and replaying itself in my dream. I recently finished reading War and Peace – also in about two weeks – and yes, I also had a dream about a calvary battle.

And yes I cried. I cried when Sirius died, when Dumbledore died. Alas, these deaths were necessary to the story. And I cried when reading the ending.

I had just began book seven when I had a twelve hour train ride from Budapest to Sarajevo. I have never had a more enjoyable train ride across Europe, turning my head to watch the passing plains and villages in Hungary and then back to reading, and then back to watching. I was mostly alone in my train compartment as I journeyed with Harry, Hermione, and Ron throughout magical and muggle England.

Harry, and his friends, following a mission they do not completely understand. Staying true to a plan in which they do not know where they will be led next. Dealing with doubt and disillusions of Dumbledore, who gave them the plan. Yet, they continue, on and on, following a hope, against ridiculous odds, even though they cannot see the conclusion. Then Harry realizes he too must die to destroy Voldemort, the one who seeks to control or flee from death (ultimately the same thing). All fear originates with fear of death, my dad often says. How true this is throughout the books. Voldemort's fear of death – the fortress, excluding love and relationship, he has built up to protect him from death – leads to his own death.

And Harry learns that he must die for there to be true victory against Voldemort. He has followed Dumbledore to the end. He has lost all family, his parents, his godfather, and Dumbledore along the way. But he still has close friends, family if you will, to live for. And he is willing, for them, to die so that this evil may end.

How this question challenged me when I was younger, challenged me on that train ride to Sarajevo, challenges me today. What am I willing to die for? And Harry was willing; he went unarmed to face his death. He had been raised in a school, with a mentor, who knew it would inevitably come to this. But Dumbledore couldn't bear to reveal this harsh truth to Harry until Harry could truly understand and be able to make the sacrifice. When the quote on Harry's parents' tomb, which he didn't understand and was angry about at the time – for all he wanted was to have them back by his side – revealed its truth: “The last enemy to be defeated is death.” A secret Voldemort would never understand, a secret many of us fail to understand. A secret Dumbledore tried to reveal multiple times, “There are worse things then death...Love is more powerful...” etc.

I finished the final book as the train was nearing Sarajevo. Tears were pouring from my eyes, and I kept using an old tissue to wipe them and blow my nose. A Bosnian lady had entered my cabin at some point; she didn't speak any English or Hungarian. She handed me a new pack of tissues, and with hand motions I came to realize that she was giving me the entire packet. I thanked her as best I could and proceeded to write out my thoughts in my journal. Then I picked up the book, flipped it over, and started reading it again.

As I realized a few weeks later when reading the Bible, the quote on Harry's parents' tomb is a direct quote from 1 Corinthians 15:26. There are many details in the books that I enjoy, especially Harry's use of the expelliarmus curse to disarm rather than to harm, but most of all I appreciate the way Rowling dealt with death. Life, growth, loss, death, and life – the story goes in full cycle.

I am excited to see the final movie tonight...

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