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The Harry Potter series represents the most extraordinary publishing phenomenon of our time-and for a lot of us, a real investment of our interest, our intellect, and our emotions. We've read all six of these books over and over again, we've seen the movies, we've pondered the meanings, we've bought the replicated magic wands, we've spent untold hours on the discussion boards, and perhaps most strikingly of all, we've vociferously argued for our favorite pairings between characters.
Indeed, few arguments are more contentious in the Harry Potter fandom than those that revolve around the issue of relationships. We've all got our own ideas about who should end up with whom, passionately debated and hotly held, and the debate runs hottest when the subject under discussion is Harry himself. But few arguments have seriously related the questions about relationships to the question of the overall nature, theme, and structure of the series. Nor have they attempted to understand why both friends and enemies may be far more important than romantic partners.
This presentation uses a new and different method of analyzing relationships between characters that frees them from the straitjacket of "ships," and uses them as a lens through which to view the Harry Potter series as a whole. My presentation will explore this new way, and as such, it is not another entry in an endless shipping debate, nor an attempt to show which ship will "win." Rather, it will be an exploration of an exciting method of seeing the narrative of the Harry Potter series through the arc of Harry's different relationships.
To start with, we face a fundamental question that relates to the meaning of this entire series, the way different aspects of it fit together, and even some clues as to what the end might be. Namely, what kind of books are these? What kind of narrative have we all been reading since that magic moment when each of us first discovered Harry Potter's world? And how to deal with the ongoing controversies over certain plot points, such as the morality of Snape, the meaning of Harry's unexplained power to love, and the tangled web of the main character's intimate relationships?
The reason these questions can be so confusing and complex is summed up by a quote from the extensive three-part interview that J.K. Rowling gave to two representatives of Mugglenet and The Leaky Cauldron last year, in which she explained some aspects of her writing more fully than she has ever done before, and in some other ways, provided even more fodder for argument. Some statements, however, were unequivocal, including the two in which she actually told us the two genres she's working in: detective/mystery (further amplified by the latest interview for the Tatler, in which she flatly tells us that she likes to pull the wool over her reader's eyes,) and hero's journey (which is the only literary genre fitting her statement about the necessity of the death of Dumbledore, Harry's mentor.)
So these books aren't romances, like Jane Austen or Gone With the Wind. They are not picaresques, an endless series of one adventure after another, like Don Quixote. They are not apocalyptic literature about a world with a distinct beginning, middle, and end, like C.S Lewis's Narnia. Of the two genres that we know they are, this presentation will examine the hero's journey paradigm almost (although not entirely) exclusively. The hero's journey narrative is the most universal one of all, the one that causes this series to, in Lynn Milum's words, "meet the criteria for a world mythology."
The idea that the narrative of Harry Potter is a hero's journey is far from new. Many people, such as Ryan Weber, Christina Olanick, and Lynne Milum, have already charted this argument extensively. I'm more interested in how Harry's different relationships can be understood in light of the way that this kind of story is always told, and the elements that it has, because I believe this to be the way to understand how this series must end. And we certainly do have all the aspects of a traditional hero's journey in these books. For reference, the basic pattern of departure, initiation, and return is included in the handout.
In addition, we have the traditional figures that appear in the hero's life:
The point I'd like to emphasize here is what specific kind of hero's journey the Harry Potter series is, because that has everything to do with the importance of Harry's relationships in the narrative-and with the end of the series as a whole.
Essentially, there are two types of hero's journey narratives. The first focuses on war. Put into the simplest terms, the hero goes somewhere, fights, and wins something. In The Iliad, the Greeks battle the Trojans. Beowulf kills the monster Grendel. Clint Eastwood shoots up the town. And then there's the second kind, which emphasizes a quest. Frodo goes to Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring. Arthur's knights search for the Holy Grail. Gilgamesh searches for the secret to eternal life. Some, like Star Wars or The Matrix Trilogy, are both a war and a quest.
The Harry Potter series also fits into this last category. However, the amazing thing here is how much the war hasn't been emphasized. We've had six books, and we really haven't seen a war. We haven't seen very many people killed. And for that matter, if this is supposed to be a quest, we didn't even learn all about the Horcruxes until almost the end of the sixth book. While the Horcruxes are important, they're also by their very nature kind of a cross between a red herring and a booby prize. If they were vital to the theme of the books, it's hard to avoid the argument that they really should have shown up a whole lot earlier. The appearance of the Grail, for example, is the entire reason why the Arthurian knights go on the quest in the first place. You could also say that the real quest is to kill Voldemort, but then we really do have a problem, because we've been told that the thing Harry has that will accomplish his enemy's defeat is love. This is not the weapon we usually picture when we think about the hero destroying his antagonist and emerging victorious!
In fact, here's where the paradox of HP comes in. Harry has been told repeatedly that the key to his power, to his ability to ultimately defeat Voldemort, is love. It's the thing he has that Voldemort does not have. Harry himself doesn't know what this power is, as he makes pretty obvious in HBP when he tells Dumbledore, "So I can love," mentally adding, "big deal!" He even feels let down by the idea that this great power he has to defeat Voldemort is nothing but love. Clearly, he doesn't understand what it is yet. However, yet another paradox is the fact that Harry is unmistakably a character filled with very strong emotions. In fact, JKR has specifically told us that Harry's emotions are both very close to the surface and "damaged"-a rather startling admission to make about a teenaged hero.
In some ways, this may seem surprising. Our first thought may be that hero's journeys don't involve a lot of close relationships. We picture the tough, stoic hero "going it alone." But the truth is that we're thinking of a relatively recent American interpolation of rugged individualism into a much older mythos. We're thinking of Clint Eastwood and Rambo and Vin Diesel and Jean- Claude Van Damme, of a tradition in which sociologist Stephanie Coontz correctly pointed out that the hero doesn't tend to have intimate relationships with much of anyone. But in traditional hero's journeys, relationships do play a strong role. Without Enkidu's friendship with Gilgamesh, or the goddess Ishtar chasing Gilgamesh around the entire time, there's no Epic. Without Luke's quest to resolve his relationship with his Darth Vader, there's no Star Wars. George Lucas rewrote the original script specifically in order to conform to Joseph Campbell's ideas about the hero's journey, in fact, and I think that's fundmentally what gives the film series its enduring power. If all we had was an action-adventure film about Luke Skywalker trying to kill Darth Vader, it wouldn't be very interesting. The relationship between Frodo and Sam is absolutely fundamental to Lord of the Rings. One of the primary tensions in Arthurian legend is the friendship between King Arthur and Lancelot, even as Lancelot is also in love with Guinevere. And so on, and on.
In the Harry Potter series, though, we keep coming back to a central mystery. We've certainly been told over and over again that Harry's power is love. It's right there in the wording of Sybil Trelawney's prophecy. But the actual meaning of this point has been left completely mysterious in the books themselves-Dumbledore definitely never explains what he means by the idea. One basic problem, I think, is that we don't know what kind of love is meant here. Is it eros, romantic love, or philos, affectionate and companionate love, or agape, selfless and selfsacrificing love? And is love the goal, or is just what Harry uses to do what he has to do? Well, we really don't know yet. And more importantly, Harry doesn't know.
Actually, here is where we start to see how things really come together, because the theme of each and every book is that there's something fundamental that Harry doesn't know-the truth about the Sorcerer's Stone, the truth about the Chamber of Secrets, the truth about Sirius Black, the truth about Voldemort's plots to use him to regain a body, the truth about the prophecy, the truth about a lot of things in HBP. And the magic world is defined in the first place by its secret knowledge. The entire study of magic is the study of mysterious knowledge that not everyone can attain, what witches and wizards know and what Muggles do not. This is how the magical world defines itself as what it is, in addition to the fact that every book is about getting some specific secret knowledge. In this context, the fact that JKR has actually said that she's writing in the mystery/detective genre, that she's said she loves to pull the wool over her reader's eyes, takes on new meaning. The point of a mystery is to find out the secret, hidden knowledge that is not available to everyone. And one of the ultimate mysteries in the entire series, I believe, has got to be the exact importance of love and what this really means to Harry.
So I would argue that Harry's real quest is not just for love, whatever that may mean, but for knowledge. The two quests, for love and knowledge, are intertwined. We really don't know exactly what this is going to mean in the seventh book, although the rest of this presentation deals with how that question might be answered. But we do know from the six books' worth of information that we have right now that the place where the two quests intersect-for love, and for knowledge-is this: essentially, every relationship that Harry has serves the purpose of bringing him either closer to or further from the goals of the quest. And they all do it in different ways.
In this context, I will divide Harry's relationships up into three categories: father/mother/mentor, romance/friendship, and enemy/adversary/shadow. Then we'll look at them in relation to the roles these different people play, and how this relates to the different themes we've been discussing, in particular, to knowledge and to love. Of necessity, this is a somewhat condensed list, but I will try to examine the most important relationships that Harry has had to date.
First, let's look at Father/Mother/Mentor figures.
Harry's relationship with his dead parents is an extraordinarily complex one. And it remains an evolving part of the plot and storyline because of the simple fact that he lives in the magical world, where, as Dumbledore said, "the ones we love never really leave us." In the Muggle world, this may be only a metaphor, but Harry has the opportunity to see his parents again and again-in the Mirror of Erised, in moving photographs, as savior-ghosts in GoF, and as memories in Snape's Pensieve. In fact, their death is the inciting incident for the entire Harry Potter series, and there are many mysteries about it that we clearly do not yet know.
Lily Potter is and has been the main Goddess figure in Harry's journey to date. She originally saved him from Voldemort, and again helped to save his life in the graveyard scene in GoF. She's still a near-total mystery to him, and I think that both he and we have much more to learn about her in Book 7. However, we do know one important point from Lily's example: her sacrificial or agape love is what saved Harry, and this is the only kind of love that we know has saved anyone to date. Over and over, we will see this theme.
The Harry/James relationship is, in some ways, even more mysterious, although these mysteries are by their nature a little more straightforward. Harry idolized his dead father until he saw for himself in Snape's schoolboy memories how James Potter had actually behaved. This deeply disturbed Harry, as we clearly see in OotP. Harry risks discovery and expulsion to try to find out the truth from his father's friends, and he never really has gotten this desired knowledge yet. The Atonement with the Father is yet to come, but I think that we do have to see it in Book 7, whatever form it may take. We do get a clue that this will happen because of Harry's plan at the end of HBP to go to Godric's Hollow. Ultimately, it's safe to say that Harry will do this because he so desperately wants knowledge about both of his parents.
As we know, Harry originally thought that Sirius Black was an adversary who had caused his parent's deaths (the place that Snape later fills). When Harry learned otherwise in PoA, he immediately accepted Sirius as a new father figure (a pretty remarkable switch!), By OotP, I would argue that Sirius mirrors Harry's emotional life and emotional choices. Both of them can be hot-headed and rash, and can make unwise decisions based on emotions and not reason. Both would do anything for their friends, and indeed, Sirius eventually dies precisely because he sacrifices himself for Harry. He refuses the opportunity to stay safely hidden when some action of his might help Harry, so he leaves the protection of Twelve Grimmauld Place to participate in trying to rescue Harry at the Department of Mysteries. As Dumbledore said, Harry himself began to regard Sirius as a mixture of "father and brother," casting him both the fraternal and paternal roles. When Sirius dies, Harry, in essence, loses his father for a second time.
In fact, Sirius is arguably the one living being that Harry has loved the most in his life. This may help to explain Sirius's importance in terms of the theme of the series. One of the very few specific clues we have been given about the nature of Harry's power of love is contained in the events at the Department of Mysteries in OotP. Voldemort tried to fully possess Harry, and failed. Dumbledore later told Harry that Voldemort simply couldn't possess a body so filled with love. Clearly, this is Harry's love for Sirius; there's nothing else it could have been at the time, particularly since in the extremity of his pain, Harry actually thought that death would allow him to be with Sirius again. Again, as with Lily Potter's sacrifice, this is a major piece of evidence bolstering the argument that only agape can defeat Voldemort.
Like Obi-Wan or Gandalf, Dumbledore is clearly Harry's mentor. It's safe to say that Dumbledore, far more than any other character, is the gatekeeper of knowledge for Harry. However, we do see an interesting tension between Dumbledore as the wise possessor of vast knowledge (SS/PS and PoA) and as a character who is vulnerable (CoS, OotP, and HBP.) The mentor can have feet of clay, as we have seen. However, Dumbledore still withholds a lot of explanations from Harry; it's easy to see why Harry goes capslock by his fifth year over sheer frustration at this situation.
I think we clearly see that as brilliant as Dumbledore is, he doesn't always make the right decisions, and keeping so much from Harry is one of his big mistakes. J.K. Rowling seems to realize this too, as we see from quotes like this one:
But I would say that I think it has been demonstrated, particularly in books five and six that immense brainpower does not protect you from emotional mistakes and I think Dumbledore really exemplifies that. In fact, I would tend to think that being very, very intelligent might create some problems and it has done for Dumbledore, because his wisdom has isolated him, and I think you can see that in the books, because where is his equal, where is his confidante, where is his partner? He has none of those things. He's always the one who gives, he's always the one who has the insight and has the knowledge. (Anelli, Rowling, and Spartz)
Even in HBP, when it seemed that Dumbledore changed his tune about sharing knowledge with Harry, this is not quite the case. He gave Harry more information-about the Horcruxes and Tom Riddle's past, for example-but he still doled it out bit by bit, on his own terms and timing. And Dumbledore may not have shared a central secret about Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy, which is an argument that will be expanded later. Overall, the most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to Dumbledore is that he is both mentor and father. When he dies, Harry has lost a father for a third time.
And now, let's move on to the subject of Harry's romances. You know we were getting there eventually! First, however, it's worthwhile to say a few things.
We certainly do have a lot of passionate shippiness in the fandom, and this has recently been exacerbated even further by the fact that there's a lot of shippiness in HBP itself. Some have gotten very emotionally involved in the whole question of what Harry's final ship will be, if we have yet seen it sail, the questions of whether there will be an epilogue where we learn that he gets married and has twelve kids, and so on and on and on. However, this presentation will NOT include a shippy discussion. I will not attempt to prove by tracing the arcane symbolic threads throughout all six books, interviews, films, and Egg McMuffin wrappers in JKR's trash, that Harry's one true eternal final love is obviously the giant squid. Instead, I'm going to ask the question that hasn't been asked, which is: what do Harry's different romantic relationships mean in terms of the plot, the theme, and the ultimate meaning of these books?
However, this brings up another question that should be dealt with first: why is there so much emphasis on shipping in the fandom? Why is there so much argument and so much controversy among so many people who are really passionate about these books? I think there are three main reasons.
Most hardcore fans are female, and I think a lot of us are (perhaps unconsciously) trying to make over these books into something they're not; into a genre, that is, that we have been encouraged to read. As social scientist Stephanie Coontz says, "For women, the only place to discover role models, practical advice, and emotional support for their tasks in democratic society has been the romance novel" (60). The way that these books are structured, however, takes them squarely out of the romance genre. Hero's journey and mystery are not romance. They certainly can and do have romance in them, but that is not the same thing.
The hero's journey narrative is a very common kind of universal myth; the most common, in fact. As Dr. Louis Corzolino explains, myths perform the vital social function of regulating affect in our mind, and helping us decide how to balance affect and cognition. In other words, we figure out how we should react to various situations in life by learning about the way that heroes react to them, and this includes relationships. However, the Harry Potter series mixes two genres that are usually kept quite separate: mystery, and hero's journey. This can lead to a very confusing phenomenon. We don't know what should be affect (hero's journey myth) and what should be cognition (mystery novel aspect) when it comes to ships, since JKR hasn't exactly explained to us which is which. (Although we do know that JKR gave us two specific examples of occasions when she hadused romance to conceal the true motivations of characters: the behavior of Tonks, and of Percy Weasley.) We try to figure out what is in the books for a mystery genre reason and what isn't-and of course, that's the whole point of a mystery-but right now, we simply don't know. So the problem actually goes deeper than that. JKR plays with genres a lot, mixing the cues that we normally depend on in literature to help us decide why certain information is there. That's a big part of the real reason why so many people believed that Harry and Hermione would end up together romantically, for instance.
And finally, if Harry's power to defeat Voldemort is love, then we feel that we need to figure out what ship he's going to sail. The stakes are pretty high-that's the whole point of the book, after all, Harry defeating Voldie. Yet we don't know from the text itself whether romantic love is going to be the answer.
When you put all of these factors together, it's no wonder that some people get so worked up over ships! And I don't pretend to be able to disentangle the problem entirely. However, there's a lot to be gleaned from analyzing Harry's romantic relationships and interests in terms of the roles his partners either do play or might play in the hero's journey narrative, and that's what I'm going to do. Basically, we have four relationships to look at here: Harry/Cho, Harry/Ginny, Harry/Hermione, and Harry/Luna. Clearly, only two of these have been specifically shown or confirmed as romantic relationships in the books. In fact, one-Harry/Hermione-has now been specifically defined as not being a romantic relationship. But I think it's important to look at all four of these together, with a little Harry/Ron thrown in. What we're basically doing is looking at these three relationships in terms of the meeting with the goddess/other half, or the woman as temptress. In fact, the four girls all have divine/goddesses's names. Cho relates to Chomolungma, the Tibetan mother goddess of the world, and to the Chinese goddess Chang O. Luna is a Roman lunar goddess. Ginny's real name, Ginevra, is a variant of Guinevere, who represents the Celtic triple goddess of maiden, mother, and death-crone. Hermione is the Roman messenger-god Hermes, the traveler between worlds.
This relationship is not analyzed much anymore, and it's easy to see why. J.K. Rowling has definitely sunk this ship. We know that Harry and Cho's relationship is completely over. However, his romantic interest in her lasted for three years, and there are a few aspects of it worth examining.
We do know from J.K.Rowling's notes that Cho loved Harry, although we have no evidence that he loved her. So he never quite got the point of having eros for her, which I think is pointed up by the strange reaction he had to their kiss in OotP. I would argue that the very fact he had always pursued her, or defined her, in terms of eros meant that he didn't feel philos or agape for her, either. In his mind, Cho was always associated with death and guilt because of what happened to Cedric Diggory, so this was yet another strike against them. But I think that they still might have made it as a couple if it hadn't been for one occurrence, and this is the most interesting piece of information about what Cho represented to Harry.
As we know, Dumbledore's Army, the student organization that Harry founded to resist the reign of Umbridge at Hogwarts, was betrayed by Marietta Edgecombe, who was Cho's close friend. Cho then defended her friend for what she'd done, and for Harry, that was simply the last straw. He ended their relationship. In essence, Cho was the one who had betrayed Harry's secret knowledge, and this was what he finally could not forgive. She became a false or failed Goddess figure as a result.
This betrayal became known because of Hermione's spell; otherwise, Cho probably never would have been connected with it because Marietta wouldn't have been caught. So in this situation, Hermione was the one who defended and protected knowledge for Harry, which puts her in a fascinating role vis a vis the theme of the entire series. No wonder Harry/Hermione was a popular ship! Yet it didn't happen and was never going to happen, and now we know that it never will. This dissonance is very important to explore, because it helps us to understand what different kinds of relationships mean in Harry's world. Also, it's a good segue into Harry/Hermione.
The very first time we ever see Hermione, the first time she meets both Harry and Ron on that same Hogwarts train, she provides knowledge-she knows a spell that Ron doesn't. And she also gives a lot of information-who she is, how much she knows about Harry, the books she's read, the houses at Hogwarts, and so forth. This first meeting really sets the tone with Hermione Granger, because her main role throughout the series has always been the provider of knowledge. She gives knowledge when she helps Harry solve the mysteries that face him in every book, from the Devil's Snare and the Potion Riddle in SS/PS to her ceaseless struggle to find out the identity of the Half-Blood Prince. And she's definitely filled many roles traditionally associated with the Goddess as well where Harry is concerned. It can honestly be said that she has a kind of unconditional love for Harry.
But we have another paradox here, because while she's played the role of the Goddess in many, many ways, there is one role she has not played and that we now know she never will. Hermione has never been and will never be Harry's lover, his other half in the "mystical marriage of the triumphant hero-soul with the Queen Goddess of the World," as Joseph Campbell puts it (109).
Untold thousands of pages were written before the release of HBP, all trying to prove that the opposite was going to be the case. J.K. Rowling flatly sank this hypothesis with both her writing of Ron/Hermione in HBP, and also her statements in the 2005 Mugglenet/Leaky Cauldron interview. What J.K. Rowling says in interviews can be very ambiguous, but this statement, like her earlier sinkings of Draco/Hermione and Neville/Luna, was not. And yet, the people who believed that the Harry/Hermione pairing was going to be true romantic love cannot be described as "delusional" (to use a word that J.K. Rowling herself, in fact, refused to use.) Hermione has seemed to fit into the hero's journey Goddess/Other Half slot in lots of ways, from general-throughout the books, Harry has had more affection for her than for any other girl, and he has absolutely shared more information with her than with any other-to specific-for instance, when she was stunned by the Basilisk in CoS, she took on the goddess persona of the Lady of Sleep. Harry's relationship with Hermione really does contain a lot of the goddess material we see in other hero's journey narratives, where the goddess provides aid and help. Hermione does this constantly, just as the Queen of the Danes does for Beowulf, or Vivian for Arthur, or Helen for Paris Alexander.
Clues have always been present that, in another book, would absolutely have meant that Hermione was destined to be Harry's love object. In this series, they didn't work out that way, and I find this to be a fact both under-examined and fascinating. Hermione knows more about Harry's inner life, his hopes and dreams, and torments, his secrets, his quest, his destiny, than any girl he has ever dated-if only because he's told her more. Yet we know for a fact now that she will never be linked with him in a romantic way. I think what this ultimately is likely to point to more than anything else is which kind of love will be the most important in the series, and we will see more evidence for this in the next section.
One way we can see this, though, is that a lot of Harry's emotions and his inner life are also directed towards Ron, in some ways more so than towards Hermione. From his very first meeting with Harry on the train headed to their first year at Hogwarts, Ron has represented companionship and close friendship. He plays a role similar to the one that Patroclus played to Achilles in The Iliad, or Enkidu to Gilgamesh in The Epic of Gilgamesh. These types of figures represent philos, or an affectionate or friendly love. Certainly, there are also times when Harry's love for Ron also approaches agape, or self-sacrificial love. The best example of this has to be in GoF, when Ron is the thing that Harry will most miss. Clearly, at that point, he is the object of Harry's greatest capacity for affection.
But Ron also imparts knowledge in his way, because he's Harry's source of information about the magical world from its inside in a way that no other character ever is. He's really the only intimate Harry has who is both in his own age group and truly familiar with the wizarding world. Sometimes, though, Ron does represent ignorance as well. He's lazy. He's intelligent, but he doesn't want to do intellectual work, and as we've frequently seen, he encourages Harry not to do it, either. In fact, there have been times when Ron has shown distinct disapproval when Hermione has shared knowledge with Harry. Since Ron plays the role of Harry's best friend, however, Harry does share knowledge and information with him, and he serves as a valuable emotional repository because of this. We saw this more clearly in HBP than ever before when Harry told Ron about the prophecy, the Horcruxes, R.A.B., and so on. So again, the Harry/Ron relationship points up philos and agape love as being extremely important.
Clearly, we don't know if this will ever become a romantic relationship or not. In some ways, though, it's more interesting to speculate on whether or not Harry will admit Luna into his circle of trusted friends in Book 7; whether, in other words, she will become a true object of both philos and agape. Luna represents esoteric and unorthodox knowledge, and in this way, she is truly the opposite of Hermione. The kind of knowledge that she offers to Harry is fundamentally different from what Hermione has given him. When she first meets him, for example, she is reading the Quibbler, a newspaper that contains a lot of strange information-but we have reason to believe that like Luna herself, it also contains "uncomfortable truths." In OotP, she is responsible for spreading Harry's dangerous and secret knowledge about Voldemort's return through this same vehicle. She also is the one who tells him the secret of the thestrals, and shares information about the possible nature of the veil behind which Sirius disappeared. On the whole, my money is not on Harry and Luna ever getting together romantically, but it will be fascinating to see what does happen between them in the future.
This is, of course, the touchiest Harry relationship of all to discuss. The reason, I think, is that the H/G we got in HBP almost seemed calculated to please no one who really cared about it either way. Harry and Ginny did date, but they were only together for about three weeks before breaking up. Harry was extremely happy, but he finally admitted that the entire experience was "like living someone else's life." J.K. Rowling rhapsodized about Ginny in the Mugglenet/The Leaky Cauldron interview, but literally minutes earlier, she had this to say:
"I had always planned for them to come together, and then part." (Anelli, Rowling, and Spartz)
The best way to handle the H/G question, I think, is to analyze what Ginny was and could be to Harry in terms of the themes of this particular type of hero's journey. This strikes the middle ground of taking a realistic look at the actual quality of Harry and Ginny's interactions throughout the series, including HBP.
The most consistent theme of the relationship between Harry and Ginny throughout the first five books is that he constantly rejects the knowledge she has to give him, and I honestly do not think that any other position on this question can be logically defended with any of the tools we normally use for empirical reasoning. He doesn't respond to her overtures of interest through SS/PS, CoS, PoA, and GoF, although he certainly knows that she is interested in him. In fact, he always seems slightly embarrassed by her attentions. He actually speaks less than ten words to her per book until after Hermione informs him that Ginny is no longer romantically interested in him (OotP). Even more to the point, he doesn't have any curiosity about her, even when it would serve his own interests to have it. That's why it's so remarkable that he never wants to know anything about what happened to her in the CoS, and even tells her (in OotP) that he forgot all about her being possessed. For all that he says he is sorry and "means it," he never wants to know anything about her experience with Tom Riddle. In HBP, she is alarmed when she finds out that he's been taking instruction from a magical book, because she remembers clearly when she did the same. But it just doesn't seem to occur to Harry that he would do well to find out much more information on the whole topic from someone who has been through it, as Ginny has.
The more we analyze this fact, the stranger it seems. His ultimate goal is to defeat Voldemort, yet he never asks advice or information from the only person in his life who has intimate knowledge of Voldemort, from the inside, one might say. And this is of a piece with the fact that he shares nothing about his quest or his goal with her at any point. This does not change after they start dating near the end of his sixth year. Harry never tells Ginny about the prophecy, the Horcruxes, his mission, the locket, R.A.B., the quest, or anything else. At Dumbledore's funeral, he remains locked within himself until his abrupt announcement that they can't be together anymore. He doesn't ask knowledge from her, and he doesn't give knowledge to her.
Harry thinks about how happy he is when he's in the relationship with Ginny, and we have no reason to doubt that he is, but the sad truth in the hero's journey narrative is that when the hero tries to find personal happiness with a partner before the quest is fulfilled, it rarely ends well. In fact, in many cases, such as Pilgrim's Progress (Lady Vanity) and the Odyssey (Circe), the very fact that the hero finds temporary happiness with a woman means precisely that she is the temptress, who tries to lure him away from his quest with earthly pleasures. There is a paradox here too, however. While Ginny does play the role of the temptress in some ways in that she does distract Harry's attention from his quest (getting the vital memory from Slughorn, for example,) she herself is not presented as a temptress character. J.K. Rowling made this point especially clear when she spent a remarkable amount of time in last summer's Mugglenet/The Leaky Cauldron interview in talking about Ginny's positive qualities-warm, compassionate, tough, and so on. Whatever her ultimate role is in Harry's journey, it has been carefully planned, as J.K. Rowling also made clear when she talked about her plan to have both the reader and Harry gradually discover Ginny as "pretty much the ideal girl for Harry," and her plan to have Harry and Ginny "come together and then part." Yet the very cognitive dissonance between these two statements means that we do not yet know the final nature of the entire plan.
The fact that Ginny does not fill the very negative temptress role as a character means that it's definitely possible to formulate the argument that Harry must realize his past error, one which has been present in all his dealings with Ginny: that he has never wanted to receive the knowledge that only she can give him, and that he has, in turn, withheld knowledge from her. In this paradigm, Ginny and Harry could resume their romance in Book 7 when they find each other on a deeper level, and perhaps this somehow becomes "the love that defeats Voldemort." However, it is just as logical to argue that this will not happen, that his connection with Ginny occurs because he extends both philos and agape to her rather than eros. Both arguments are valid.
Ultimately, the evidence seems to me to lean towards the idea that romantic love is not going to be the love that Harry will use to defeat Voldemort, whether he's with Ginny or with anybody else. In this way, the entire idea of Harry-shipping may well be a dead end.
So Harry may get back together with Ginny, and he may not; he may fall for Luna, and he may not, he may be the Lone Hero (my favorite theory,) or he may not; he may swim off into the sunset with the giant squid, and he may not. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but we don't have the information we need at the moment to know anything for sure. The Harry Potter series partakes of the mystery genre to a very large extent. J.K. Rowling has not seen fit to inform us of exactly what aspects of the writing fit into that genre, and which do not and will be more predictable. When we're dealing with a mystery, we're not going to be able to figure out exactly what's going on. And we can't whip out Occam's infamous razor to fix this little problem, because the entire mystery genre is designed specifically to subvert the idea that the simplest and most obvious solution is probably the correct one. So we just don't know.
And now, let's move on to the most intriguing set of ships of all: the enemies, and the adversaries, or shadows.
Clearly, this relationship could be a whole day-long lecture in itself. To try to keep it under some kind of control, I will cover primarily Draco's role in the hero's journey narrative.
As with many other relationships in Harry Potter's world, the tone for Harry and Draco Malfoy's entire relationship is set at their first meeting. It's important to note that on that occasion, Draco offers Harry not only friendship but also knowledge about the wizarding world. And Harry turns down both friendship and knowledge from Draco, accepting them from Ron instead. This refusal wins him Draco's enmity from that day forward; it's fascinating, in fact, to speculate on how differently Harry might have ended up feeling about Draco if he had taken his proffered hand at Madame Malkin's dress shop that day. Since he did not, however, Draco became the subverted or shadow companion. In many ways, Draco is Harry's mirror, a vision of how he might have turned out in similar circumstances.
He also plays the role of the Dragon, which is a very important one in the hero's journey. However, Draco is really a subverted dragon as well, playing the part of the dragon that is the one within the hero's self. "Slaying the dragon" in a hero's journey can refer to the killing of actual dragons (such as the myth of St. George and the dragon) or monsters (such as Beowulf), or it can be a metaphor for the hero's inner quest. In light of the idea that Harry's true quest is for knowledge, this idea is especially interesting. One thing that Draco has consistently done throughout the entire Harry Potter series is to pretend to have knowledge that he does not have, and to attempt to get more.
Draco's role in CoS is really fascinating from this point of view, particularly since Hermione, Ron, and Harry Polyjuice themselves and descend into the underworld of the Slytherin dungeons in order to find out what knowledge he has. A bit later in the book, Draco actually holds Tom Riddle's diary in his hands briefly, before Harry gets it back. In other words, he touches knowledge, but cannot hold it. And that's really the end of Draco playing a major role in the series until HBP, when he comes back with a vengeance.
In HBP, the most obvious central mystery is what Draco knows that no-one else at Hogwarts is ever able to find out. At the end, of course, we learn that Draco has received knowledge at last, which is what he has been striving for all along, but that it is tainted-dark, dangerous, and forbidden, the shadow side of the knowledge that Harry is trying to get. Ultimately, Draco is willing to abdicate this knowledge, although he does not quite get the chance to do it. This, I believe, is the real reason why Harry feels his very first positive emotion of pity towards Draco. Although we don't know what will happen with Draco in Book 7, it isn't hard to figure out that he'll be back, and that Harry might be willing to extend agape to him then. It all depends on exactly what role Draco plays in the plot arc.
Voldemort is Harry's main adversary. Without his never-ending attempts to kill our hero, there's simply no story, from beginning to end. This provides the driving force for each book, and we've known since we learned the contents of the prophecy in OotP that once one of them kills the other, it also will be the end of the storyline. The knowledge that Harry must finally have is the knowledge of how to defeat Voldemort once and for all. Yet given this reality, the truly fascinating thing is that in so many ways, Voldemort/Tom Riddle is Harry's Jungian shadow self.
We've seen this hammered home over and over again. When Voldemort failed in his attempt to kill Harry as a baby, he put something of himself into Harry. In the ultimate CoS scene, the shade of Tom Riddle recognizes and explicitly states similarities between himself and Harry. In OotP, the entire plot revolves around the fact that Harry and Voldemort are connected, and that Harry thus has access to a lot of knowledge that nobody else has. According to Dumbledore, however, this knowledge is too dangerous to have; it's not worth the price. It isn't safe to have a window into Voldemort's mind, as Harry learns in the Department of Mysteries.
Harry's relationship with Severus Snape is a complex, tumultuous, and violent one, and to me, is the most fascinating and the most enigmatic in the entire series. As we've seen before, the tone for all of their subsequent interactions was set up at their very first meeting. Snape has secret knowledge, and he made it clear from the first Potions class in Harry's first year at Hogwarts that it was available only to a select few. And he makes it painfully clear that he doesn't think Harry will be one of them. This is a prophecy that finally gets fulfilled in OotP, when Harry repeatedly fails at his lessons in Occlumency with Snape. This also solves the mystery of why so much time and page space was spent on these lessons-they represented Harry's failure of knowledge vis a vis Snape. In OotP, Harry also learns about his father's moral failings from Snape, and blames Snape for goading Sirius to his death. In HBP, Harry learns that Snape was his parents' betrayer, and he sees Snape kill Dumbledore. In other words, Harry now blames Snape for the loss of all three of his father figures (and his mother as well.)
Of course, there may be a lot more going on with Snape. As most of you probably know, there is a theory that Dumbledore got Snape to agree to kill him during the school year. Dumbledore knew that he was going to die anyway, and his primary focus was to keep Draco from becoming a murderer. And that's the real reason why Snape killed Dumbledore. Because Harry had already failed to master Occlumency, he could not be told about this plan.
But how does all of this come together in order to predict what might happen in Book 7? I believe that it does, but I will warn you: here's where it gets really speculative. It all begins with this quote from an interview that J.K. Rowling gave in 2000, and it goes on to encompass all the points that were examined in this presentation.
Yes, I am [a Christian] . . . Which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I've been asked if I believe in God, I've said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what's coming in the books. (Interview with Geordie Greig)
This quote is fascinating, and it is generally overlooked-but this is a mistake, since I believe that it contains the secret of the inevitable ending of the Harry Potter series. At first, I looked for the answer only on the most obvious level. Both Snape and Voldemort are Harry's enemies; Snape, in fact, might be said to fill this role even more completely than Voldemort does, since Harry unarguably hates him more than he does any normal human being on the planet. So the love that Harry will have to find within himself in Book 7-and the love that will be so very difficult to find-will be the central tenet of Christianity, the ultimate agape: love for his enemy. He'll have to forgive and love Snape. Every other task Harry has accomplished will seem easy, next to that. It will be his biggest challenge, but it will also be the only way for him to find victory.
Some, such as Lynne Milum, have believed that "Harry's potential to redeem Voldemort would be the greatest victory of all." So in this paradigm, Harry's forgiveness would have to be directed towards Voldemort rather than towards Snape, and that would be his redeeming power of love. Perhaps Harry really does have to accept the idea that Voldemort is his shadow self and I think this was hinted at in OotP. However, I feel that actual forgiveness is far more likely to happen between Harry and Snape. In keeping with the traditions of a hero's journey narrative like Tam Lin, I think that all of Harry's friends and mentors must be stripped away near the end, at least temporarily. His relationship with his greatest human enemy, Snape, is then the only key to salvation. I still believe that this does have to happen in Book 7.
However, I also believe that it's not the entire story and that there is and must be more. If J.K. Rowling is only talking about the central idea of Orthodox Christianity in that quote, then there seems little point for her to define herself in opposition to the "religious right." Somewhere, somehow, she is referring to religious ideas that are not quite orthodox. Of course, we really don't know exactly what kind of belief or variant on Christianity J.K. Rowling was talking about. We do know, though, that the idea of special knowledge available to only a limited number of initiated people is absolutely central to the Harry Potter series, and we do see this exact idea somewhere else.
Gnostic Christianity is a term applied to modern revivals of various mystical initiatory religions that were very active in the first few centuries A.D. These belief systems tend to piggyback on Christian tenets, and they "typically recommend the pursuit of special knowledge, or gnosis, as the central goal of life. They also commonly depict creation as a. struggle between competing forces of light and dark, and posit a marked division between the material realm. and the higher spiritual realm." (Naj Hammadi Library xvii). This summation of Gnosticism is itself a good summary of the entire Harry Potter series, but what is even more important to keep in mind is that "to be Gnostic should be understood as being reliant not on knowledge in a direct sense, but as being specially receptive to mystical or esoteric experiences of direct participation. it is a knowledge of divine mysteries for the elite" (ibid).
In addition, Simon Magus, the historical founder of Gnosticism, is the archetypal magician, and Dumbledore's character is clearly heavily influenced by him. Gnosticism as a whole, in fact, has always been strongly related to magic, alchemy, and magical systems; in some ways, it is the very definition of magic. It defines itself in separation from the mundane, unenlightened world, just as the world of witches and wizards is sharply separated from the world of Muggles. And it finally provides a reason for the strange juxtaposition of the hero's journey genre with the mystery genre, because this is the very heart of Gnosticism-a quest for knowledge that is shrouded in mystery.
The final clue may lie in a very strange detail in HBP. In the first Potions class with Horace Slughorn, Draco mentions his grandfather, who was named Abraxas Malfoy. Historically, Abraxas was the extremely widespread general Gnostic name of a god who incorporated both good and evil. He was associated with Lucifer (and, of course, Draco's father is named Lucius). In addition, Abraxas was always pictured wrapped in a snake or dragon, which could clearly refer to both Draco and Slytherin. So all three male Malfoys-grandfather, father, and son-have been given names that clearly refer to Gnosticism, although in the case of Abraxas, the clue seems unmistakable. (J.K. Rowling has had more than enough education to know all of these rather arcane facts, by the way; after graduating from public school with top honors in English, French, and German, she went on to study French at the University of Exeter.)
So although we can't know for sure if J.K. Rowling was talking about her Gnostic beliefs in that interview (unless she chooses to clarify the point further) it does make sense that she was referring to some popularized ideas from Gnosticism that have filtered down to the present day. The next question, of course, is what precisely this might mean. One idea that has saturated public consciousness recently is the Cathars' concept that Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdalen, as seen in The Da Vinci Code. I actually considered this one (Harry/Ginny/Luna/Giant Squid, anybody?). But we run up against the same old problem: eros, or romantic love, does not save anyone in Harry Potter's world.
Another possibility is that Dumbledore gave Snape a specific piece of secret knowledge before he died, and that it holds the key to something we cannot yet even guess. Maybe it contains the exact details of the secret to how to defeat Voldemort. Maybe it involves some way in which Harry can survive after defeating Voldemort. Maybe it reveals a way for him to come to terms with the sacrifice he must make when he does defeat Voldemort. At this point, we really don't know, but I do think that it likely exists, and that Harry can only get this knowledge from Snape. However, I think that there is still a central secret, one that brings together Harry's powers of love, hate, and forgiveness, his need to destroy Voldemort through these powers, and his ultimate quest for knowledge. I've already established that I don't think the key is in romantic love, and that even the idea that Harry must show agape to Snape is not quite the entire story. So what is it? I began to consider another Gnostic idea that has recently become quite well known due to the very recent work of National Geographic: The Gospel of Judas.
This is one of the so-called "Gnostic gospels" written at some point in the second century A.D., similar to the gospels found at Naj Hammadi that have already been translated. All of the vital points of this particular gospel have been known since it was written, so J.K. Rowling would have had every chance to learn about it; the only thing that is new is the specific National Geographic translation. (In fact, Nikos Kazantzakis's The Last Temptation of Christ was published in 1951 and translated into English in 1960. A major part of its plot was taken from The Gospel of Judas.)
Its basic storyline follows the canonical gospels, but with one vital difference: in his betrayal of Jesus Christ, Judas was a hero, not a villain. He performed this task in accordance with Jesus's instructions, and helped to release the spirit of Christ from its physical constraints. The other disciples were completely ignorant of this plan because they were not enlightened enough to understand it.
If we recast these roles as Dumbledore, Snape, and Harry, everything makes sense. Snape did not only kill Dumbledore in order to keep Draco from the task; he also released Dumbledore from his human form (which traditional Gnostics believed to be a prison). Dumbledore knew that when he was no longer confined to his physical body, his power would be greater. (This is a very familiar theme for the mentor in hero's journeys, as we see with Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars.) Harry can only receive this knowledge after forgiving Snape, and offering him sacrificial love, or agape. Only in this way can he complete his hero's journey, and understand the true meaning of his power of love.
And so it all comes together. We already knew that the Harry Potter series was much more than a group of simple children's books, but we see now that it is far more multi-layered than we ever dreamed. It draws from the vast well of our unconscious mythology, combining a thousand ancient ideas in new and exciting ways. And it differs from historical Gnosticism in one vital way: we, too, may become initiates into its secret knowledge. It invites us, the readers, to take a vastly complex hero's journey with Harry-one that may bring us all to a place of wisdom.