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The Wisdom of Fearing Only Fear: The Role of Fear in the Harry Potter Series

by Phyllis D. Morris


"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." - Franklin Delano Roosevelt

The way in which the characters in the Harry Potter series react to the presence or nearness of danger or evil – i.e., the way in which they deal with their fears – defines not only the characters themselves, but also the outcome of the series. This paper will explore the way in which the key characters in the series express and cope with their fears, and how their differing reactions drive their actions and define the course of events in the wizarding world.

Fear of Death

In his 1927 essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” H.P. Lovecraft stated: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” (Wikimedia Foundation). Fear of the unknown is at the root of the fear of death, as John Hollander explains that the fear of death encompasses

… fear of experiencing the precise moment of one’s own dying; of the consequences of dying; of something in an afterlife (versus fear that there is no afterlife), so that a larger issue, usually called ‘fear of the Unknown’ … is engaged by this, as well as fear of something personally imagined, in the absence of any data but hearsay. (Hollander 5)

Voldemort’s greatest fear is provided to us in the very etymology of his name: “In French, ‘Vole de mort’ means ‘flight of death’ or ‘flight from death’” (Spencer). Voldemort’s greatest fear is death, and he readily admits to this fear: “‘There is nothing worse than death … !’” (OotP 718). Voldemort’s life’s ambition has been to evade, or flee from, death at all costs. 

Voldemort has exhibited all of the various facets of the fear of death described by Hollander. He shows his fear of the moment of his dying when he taunts Harry in the graveyard in Goblet of Fire: “‘… it will be quick … it might even be painless … I would not know … I have never died’” (GoF 575). Voldemort’s fear of the echoes of his murdered victims (GoF 577, 606) demonstrates his fear of the consequences of dying and the uncertainty of what may lie ahead in an afterlife. He displays his fear of the unknown when his and Harry’s wands unite in priori incantatem: “… it was … Voldemort who looked astonished, and almost fearful …” (GoF 577).

Voldemort’s “Feeble Imitation of Life”

Fearing one’s own death is a very natural and normal fear, as Francis Bacon, in his essay “Of Death,” tells us: “Men fear Death, as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other” (Bacon 6). However, while fear of death is natural, it is how Voldemort responds to that fear that defines his character and sets the stage for future events in the wizarding world. Voldemort’s fear of death has driven him to travel “‘… further than anybody along the path that leads to immortality’” (GoF 566) by taking the unprecedented step of splitting his soul into seven parts. By creating his Horcruxes, Voldemort has attempted to subdue his fear of the unknown – of death – by controlling his mortality. 

In their Ministry confrontation at the end of Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore tells Voldemort: “‘We both know that there are other ways of destroying a man … Indeed, your failure to understand that there are things much worse than death has always been your greatest weakness –’” (OotP 718). As with the Dementor’s Kiss, Voldemort has allowed his fear to “‘… feed on [him] long enough to reduce [him] to something like [a Dementor] itself – soulless and evil’” (PoA 140). In his attempts to evade death, therefore, Voldemort has weakened himself by allowing his fear to leave him nearly soulless. Living without a soul is, as Lupin tells Harry, “‘… Much worse than [death] … you’ll have no sense of self any more, no memory, no … anything … You’ll just – exist.  As an empty shell’” (PoA 183).

While explaining how Voldemort vanished after attacking Harry, Hagrid says:  “‘Some say he died. Codswallop, in my opinion. Dunno if he had enough human left in him to die’” (PS 46), a thought echoed by Dumbledore when he tells Harry “‘… not being truly alive, he cannot be killed’” (PS 216), and questioned by Cornelius Fudge “‘… is a man alive if he can’t be killed?’” (HBP 16). By shattering his own soul in his quest for immortality, Voldemort has reduced himself to something barely alive – a mere mortal shell housing just one-seventh of a soul. He has allowed his fear to turn him into little more than a living ghost, in a parallel to the fear-induced choice made by Nearly Headless Nick, who tells Harry: “‘I was afraid of death … I chose to remain behind … I know nothing of the secrets of death … for I chose my feeble imitation of life instead’” (OotP 759). By allowing his reaction to his fear of death to effectively eliminate his humanity, Voldemort has exemplified Publilius Syrus’ conclusion that: “The fear of death is more to be dreaded than death itself” (The Famous Quotations). 

Fear as a Weapon

Eric Hoffer has said: “You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you” (The Famous Quotations). By using reanimated dead bodies (Inferi) to instill fear in his victims, Voldemort reveals his own fear of death. The use of the name “Inferius” also indicates that Voldemort views those who have “‘… succumbed to the shameful human weakness of death’” (HBP 339) (such as his own mother) as inferior to those who have not (such as himself) (Cawley). 

Voldemort also reveals his fear of death and desire for immortality by naming those who assist him in his campaign of terror “Death Eaters,” which suggests that he and his followers are able to thwart death through consumption. Voldemort’s own name is also used as a weapon to invoke fear, and both his enemies and servants alike are too afraid to speak his name. 
Machiavelli is “clear” that “… a certain amount of fear breeds respect for a ruler” (Hollander 11). Voldemort follows the Machiavellian approach by using fear as a weapon – as a way “… to repress or otherwise control …” (Hollander 4). As Dumbledore tells Harry, Voldemort “‘… shows just as little mercy to his followers as his enemies’” (PS 216). In addition to the use of Inferi and Death Eaters to instill fear, Voldemort has engaged the fear-inducing Dementors and giants on his side, and liberally employs the dreaded Unforgivable Curses on not only his victims, but his followers. Voldemort has even found a way to evoke fear through the mere use of a symbol, as finding the Dark Mark over a house signifies the death of one of its occupants: “‘Everyone’s worst fear … the very worst … ’” (GoF 127). 

Voldemort, therefore, twists his own fears into weapons that induce fear in others, thus demonstrating that “fear is … one of the main sources of cruelty” (Bertrand Russell, cited in The Famous Quotations). Moreover, by using fear as a weapon to achieve his personal objective of seizing complete control of the wizarding world, Voldemort exhibits “the worst aspect of fear” which “is its susceptibility to manipulation, especially for subjecting people to a person’s own ambition. Its flagrant form is what may be termed as Urge of Dominance; it is a person’s intense desire to dominate others through any means” (Anwar Shaikh, Fear and Favour, cited in Yahoodi Communications). The terror Voldemort is able to engender through his fear-inducing weapons exemplifies that “… when power is wedded to chronic fear ... it becomes formidable” (Hoffer, The Famous Quotations).

Harry is able to fight the Imperius Curse, which the imposter Moody says can be done “‘… but it takes real strength of character, and not everyone’s got it’” (GoF 189). Snape tells Harry that that the same powers are needed for Occlumency as are needed to resist the Imperius Curse, and that Harry’s inability to close his mind is allowing Snape “‘… access to memories you fear, handing me weapons!’” (OotP 473). Therefore, strength of character is required to block an enemy’s access to your own fears and to prevent your enemy from using your fears as a weapon against you.

Fear of Retribution

According to Hollander, “… what we fear from fear itself is the consequent behavior of the fearful ones” (Hollander 4). Moreover, “… the day [a tyrant] can no longer perpetuate his tyranny, his subjects feel the urge to rise against him” (Anwar Shaikh, Fear and Favour, cited in Yahoodi Communications). This echoes Dumbledore’s statement to Harry: “‘Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realise that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back!’” (HBP 477). The first time Voldemort looks frightened during his initial meeting with Dumbledore at the orphanage is when the objects he has stolen begin to rattle in their box (HBP 255) – thus demonstrating his fear of retribution from a young age from one of his victims.

Voldemort fears the terms of the prophecy. His fear drives him to fulfill, rather than thwart, the terms of the prophecy by attempting to kill Harry as a child, which results in his giving Harry the weapons for his own undoing. As a result, “‘Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do!’” (HBP 477). We are also told repeatedly in the series that Dumbledore is “the only one [Voldemort] ever feared” (OotP 712). But this is not completely accurate. Voldemort also fears Harry – the victim who is destined to seek retribution against him. 

The Wisdom of Fearing Only Fear

When Harry tells Lupin that his Boggart would have taken the shape of a Dementor rather than Voldemort had he faced it, Lupin responds that a Dementor Boggart “‘… suggests that what you fear most of all is – fear.  Very wise …’” (PoA 117). While this statement leaves Harry bewildered, Lupin is echoing the sentiments of famous philosophers and statesmen. According to Henry David Thoreau, “Nothing is so much to be feared as fear” (Thoreau 468). In the midst of the Great Depression and at the height of a bank panic, Franklin D. Roosevelt provided reassurance to anxious Americans in his first inaugural address of 1933 by stating: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself …” (Roosevelt 11). 

Fearing only fear is wise because fear is in your control – it is your reaction to the danger, evil or pain that induces fear rather than the fear-inducing entity or event itself. It is much harder to control the source of your fear if the source is out of your control (e.g., death or, in Ron’s case, spiders). Therefore, if all you fear is fear, the source of fear – i.e., your reaction to fear – can be controlled and conquered. Courage is therefore “… not the lack of fear but the ability to face it” (Lt. John B. Putnam Jr., cited in Culbertson). It is the ability to allow my fear to “… pass over me and through me … Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.  Only I will remain” (Frank Herbert, cited in Culbertson).

Harry takes the first step toward learning to control his fear by using Voldemort’s name rather than taking refuge in such alternatives as “You-Know-Who” or “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.” When both Snape and Hagrid take issue with Harry saying Voldemort’s name, Harry responds that Dumbledore uses Voldemort’s name, to which Snape counters “‘Dumbledore is an extremely powerful wizard … While he may feel secure enough to use the name … the rest of us … ’” (OotP 470) and Hagrid replies “‘Yeah, well, tha’s Dumbledore, innit?’” (HBP 161). Dumbledore, however, urges Harry to use Voldemort’s actual name: “‘Call him Voldemort, Harry … Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself’” (PS 216), which echoes a German proverb: “Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is” (Culbertson). By not allowing Voldemort’s name to invoke fear, therefore, Harry minimizes the size of the “wolf” and moves one step closer toward controlling his fear of Voldemort. As Harry and Dumbledore are among the few who are able to say Voldemort’s name, this is also Harry’s first step towards eventually assuming the burden of vanquishing Voldemort upon Dumbledore’s death. 

 Because “where fear is present, wisdom cannot be” (Lactantius, cited in Wikimedia Foundation) “… to conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom” (Bertrand Russell, Outline of Intellectual Rubbish, cited in Wikimedia Foundation). The link between fear and wisdom, and how Voldemort allows his fear to prevent him from attaining wisdom, is explained by Dumbledore when he tells Harry:

There is nothing to be feared from a body … any more than there is anything to be feared from the darkness.  Lord Voldemort, who of course secretly fears both, disagrees. But once again he reveals his own lack of wisdom. It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more. (HBP 529)

Because Harry fears only fear, he can therefore conquer his fear of Voldemort, as demonstrated when the very first Boggart he faces takes the shape of a Dementor rather than Voldemort.

The Rationalisation of Fear

Franklin Roosevelt’s assertion that “… the only thing we have to fear is fear itself …” is followed by a less well-quoted statement defining fear as “… nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror …” and explaining that fear can  “… paralyze needed efforts to convert retreat into advance” (Roosevelt 11). In “The Paralysis of Fear,” Dr. F. Mina observes: “… how extraordinary terror and panic can mesmerize man, totally immobilize his thinking process, disrupt his behavior, and if need be, make him walk into his own grave as docilely as a sheep” (from November 1980 Defense and Foreign Affairs, cited in Yahoodi Communications).

However, there is a difference between irrational fear, that induces paralysis, and rational fear, as explained by Anwar Shaikh:

Irrational fear is the agent of intellectual paralysis; the victim is so demoralized that he seeks solution through surrender, refuge and protection … Rational fear, on the contrary, is a messenger of challenge; it … seeks alleviation [of its cause] through resistance, revenge and restoration. (Yahoodi Communications)

Harry displays irrational fear on numerous occasions during the course of the series. After watching Quirrell drink the unicorn blood in Philosopher’s Stone, Harry “… couldn’t move for fear” (PS 187). When Harry is unable to repel the Dementor swarm in Prisoner of Azkaban, he is filled with “a paralysing terror … so that he couldn’t move or speak” (PoA 281). When Voldemort arrives at the Ministry of Magic at the end of Order of the Phoenix, Harry stands “… frozen, quite unable to move” (OotP 716).

Harry displays rational fear when he uses his fear as a catalyst to spur him to action to save Ron when Ron drinks the poisoned mead in Half-Blood Prince. Slughorn, in contrast, is “… paralysed by shock” (HBP 372) and does nothing. It is not Harry’s “… love of playing the hero …” (OotP 723) that drives him to take such drastic measures as travelling to the Ministry to save Sirius in Order of the Phoenix, but his goal of eradicating the source of fear. In this way, Harry rationalises his fear, and demonstrates the good that can come out of fear: “The best form of fear is the fear for other people’s welfare and a genuine desire coupled with action to remove the causes of … fear” (Anwar Shaikh, Fear and Favour, cited in Yahoodi Communications). 

Rational fear “… is the crusader who fights with supreme courage when faced with death” (Anwar Shaikh, Fear and Favour, cited in Yahoodi Communications). It is thus rational fear that Harry demonstrates when he makes a conscious decision to shelve his fear to stand up and fight Voldemort in the graveyard:

Harry crouched behind the headstone, and knew the end had come. There was no hope … no help to be had. And as he heard Voldemort draw nearer still, he knew one thing only, and it was beyond fear or reason – he was not going to die crouching here like a child playing hide-and-seek; he was not going to die kneeling at Voldemort’s feet … he was going to die upright like his father, and he was going to die trying to defend himself, even if no defence was possible … (GoF 575)

Harry as a Human Hero

Harry’s response to fear tracks the progress of his development as a hero as the series has progressed. Harry evolves from fearing what will happen at the Sorting in Philosopher’s Stone, where “He’d never been more nervous, never …” (PS 86) to being able to control his fear to fight Dementors, Death Eaters and Voldemort. However, Harry’s transition from irrational to rational fear – which is depicted in his transition from a bullied, emotionally abused child to the saviour of the wizarding world – has not been an easy one. The difficulties of this transition are illustrated in his battle to learn how to defeat the Dementors. 

During Harry’s first encounters with Dementors, he experiences irrational fear – he protects himself against the demoralisation of hearing the dying statements of his parents through surrender (e.g., by fainting). He must learn the Patronus Charm to resist the Dementors – i.e., to transition his fear from irrational to rational. Learning the Patronus Charm is an uphill battle for Harry – it takes him several sessions “… to produce an indistinct, silvery shadow …” (PoA 182) and is only able to produce his first real Patronus when confronted with actual Dementors after watching his time-turned self successfully complete the charm.

Harry is therefore not a superhero – conquering fear is not effortless, but a battle he continually wages. We, his readers, can therefore identify with Harry and can strive to be like him – as he is not an unrealistic, unachievable hero, but a truly human hero.

Conquering Fear through Hope

John Hollander tells us that “… hope dispels fear” (Hollander 14). Phoenix song has the power to evoke hope in Harry – when he hears it during his graveyard duel with Voldemort in Goblet of Fire: “It [phoenix song] was the sound of hope to Harry” (GoF 576), and when Dumbledore (whose Patronus Rowling has told us is a phoenix) enters the dungeon courtroom during Harry’s Ministry hearing in Order of the Phoenix: “A powerful emotion had risen in Harry’s chest at the sight of Dumbledore, a fortified, hopeful feeling rather like that which phoenix song gave him” (OotP 128).

In its description of the phoenix, the Fantastic Beasts textbook tells us that “Phoenix song is magical; it is reputed to increase the courage of the pure of heart and to strike fear into the hearts of the impure” (FB 32). Because Harry is “‘… pure of heart … ’” (HBP 478), phoenix song becomes a source of hope that he can draw upon to dispel fear, as well as a weapon he can use to make the wicked fearful. Harry has unwittingly used the weapon of phoenix song against Voldemort twice – when fighting Riddle and the Basilisk in Chamber of Secrets, and when fighting Voldemort in the graveyard in Goblet of Fire.

Conquering Fear through Happiness

The atrocious behaviour towards other human beings exhibited by both Voldemort and, to a lesser extent, Snape, can be explained by the sadness evoked by their fears. As Anwar Shaikh explains: “Fear strikes at the root of happiness. The frightened person feels sad and the tendency of retaliation gives him satisfaction when he sees other people unhappy” (Yahoodi Communications). One’s reaction to fear, therefore, is a determining factor in whether one is happy, as well as in how one treats others.

Happiness conquers both Boggarts and Dementors – a Boggart is finished when it is forced to assume a funny shape and is laughed at; a Dementor is repelled when it is faced with a Patronus, which can only be conjured if the wizard is concentrating on a very happy memory. It is Harry’s recollection of his first time on a broomstick that he thinks of when Lupin tells him to focus on a “‘… single, very happy memory’” during his initial attempt to produce the Patronus Charm (PoA 176). Harry’s happiness when riding a broomstick enables Harry to overcome his fear of the dragon in the first task of the Triwizard Tournament: “As he soared upwards … he realised that he had left not only the ground behind, but also his fear …” (GoF 309-310).

Consuming chocolate provides an antidote to Dementor attacks. Chocolate contains a substance called serotonin, a “mood lifting agent found naturally in the human brain … [that is] released into the nervous system by the brain when we are happy” (Vine). Moreover, “eating chocolate also releases … serotonin into the system producing [the] same euphoric effects” (Vine). “Seratonin is a chemical that helps maintain a ‘happy feeling,’ and seems to help keep our moods under control by helping with sleep, calming anxiety, and relieving depression” (Seratonin: The Chemistry of Well-Being). Harry not only feels happier when he eats chocolate after facing Dementors, but on other occasions as well: “Perhaps it was the effect of the chocolate … but he felt a bit more hopeful …” (OotP 578). Thus, the way in which to regain one’s happiness after confronting fear (Dementors) is by eating a food (chocolate) that produces a chemical in one’s brain that induces contentment.

The only way to defeat a Dementor is by conjuring a strong Patronus. As Lupin tells Harry: “‘The Patronus is a kind of positive force, a projection of the very things that the Dementor feeds upon – hope, happiness, the desire to survive – but it cannot feel despair, as real humans can, so the Dementors can’t hurt it’” (PoA 176). Dementors, which provide a visual representation of fear, “‘… drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them … Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory, will be sucked out of you’” (PoA 140). It is therefore hope and happiness – the very emotions that a Dementor feeds upon – that must be summoned to defeat a Dementor, and therefore to conquer fear. 

Conquering Fear through Love

When Harry conjures a Patronus, the happiness that powers the successful execution of his spell is fueled by love. Harry’s Patronus is a stag, his father’s animagus, which means, as Dumbledore tells Harry: “‘Your father is alive in you … ’” (PoA 312). James remains alive in Harry because Harry’s love for his father keeps him alive.

Happiness and love are integral to one another, as explained by Robert Heinlein in Stranger in a Strange Land: “Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own” (cited in Wikimedia Foundation). In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry’s love for his father and for Sirius gives him the power to conjure the Patronus that drives one hundred Dementors away from the lake. In Order of the Phoenix, when all else fails, it is Harry’s love of Ron and Hermione that gives him the power to conjure the Patronus that drives the Dementors away from himself and Dudley.

In Chamber of Secrets, Harry’s love for both Ginny and Ron allows him to overcome his fear and enter the Chamber of Secrets to confront the “fearsome beast” (CoS 215). Harry’s love of and loyalty to Dumbledore brings him the weapons (the Sorting Hat, Gryffindor’s sword and Fawkes) that enable him to kill the Basilisk and heal the wound the Basilisk inflicts upon him.

Lily and James’ love for their son enabled them to conquer their fear and face death to save Harry. Dumbledore points out to Harry that his mother was not required to die for him, that Lily “‘ … had a choice … ’” (HBP 246). Dumbledore’s love of Harry compels him to immobilise Harry on the top of the Astronomy Tower. Dumbledore, who has “‘…watched [Harry] more closely than [Harry] can have imagined…’” knows that Harry will not be paralysed by irrational fear, so he paralyses Harry with a spell to protect him from taking the action to save Dumbledore that Harry’s rational fear would have otherwise prompted him to take. Because he is a “‘fool who loves’” (OotP 739), Dumbledore chooses to fearlessly face death unarmed to protect Harry.

The ability to love is what differentiates the Gryffindors from the Slytherins, and is at the root of the rivalry between the two houses. As Phineas Nigellus tells Harry: “‘I thought … that to belong in Gryffindor house you were supposed to be brave? … We Slytherins are brave, yes, but not stupid. For instance, given the choice, we will always choose to save our own necks’” (OotP 437). While the “‘… cunning folk …’” in Slytherin house put themselves above others, in Gryffindor “‘ … dwell the brave at heart … ’” where their “‘ … chivalry set[s] Gryffindors apart …’” (PS 88). Moreover, Hermione tells us that “‘ … friendship and bravery … ’” are more important than “‘Books! And cleverness!’” and are what make Harry a “‘… great wizard … ’” (PS 208). It is a person’s ability to love, therefore – not the Slytherin-prized qualities of resourcefulness and determination – that makes a person truly great.

In accordance with Virgil’s maxim: “Omnia vincit Amor; et nos cedamus Amori” (“Love conquers all; and let us submit to love,” cited in Wikimedia Foundation), it is therefore love that is the ultimate weapon in conquering fear. Dumbledore provides confirmation of the power of love when he describes love as “‘… a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than the forces of nature’” (OotP 743).

Harry continues to doubt Dumbledore’s assertion that the “’… power the Dark Lord knows not …’” (OotP 741) is simply Harry’s ability to love, and that this power is what will give Harry the ability to vanquish Voldemort. However, Harry’s ability to love is what generates the happiness Harry requires to successfully conjure a Patronus that is capable of driving away Dementors – in short, love is what gives Harry the ability to overcome fear. Because Voldemort does not possess the power to love and will not submit to love, he cannot evoke the happiness required to conquer fear, and underestimates the power of love in overcoming fear.
The Cowardice of the Loveless

Dumbledore tells Harry that love is “‘ … the power … that you possess in such quantities and which Voldemort has not at all’” (OotP 743). Voldemort scoffs at the notion that love is powerful: “‘But nothing I have seen in the world has supported your famous pronouncements that love is more powerful than my kind of magic, Dumbledore’” (HBP 415). This again demonstrates Voldemort’s fear-induced lack of wisdom, as Dumbledore tells Harry in Philosopher’s Stone:  “‘If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love’” (PS 216). 

Machiavelli explains that a ruler must choose to be either feared or loved, as there is an inherent contradiction in attempting to be both: “Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with” (Machiavelli 134). Voldemort has therefore taken Machiavelli’s safe route in choosing to be feared rather than to be loved. However, this once again demonstrates Voldemort’s lack of wisdom, for “in politics, what begins in fear usually ends in folly” (Coleridge, cited in Culbertson).

Voldemort’s inability to love, and his decision to be feared rather than to be loved, is a demonstration of his cowardice, as Mohandas Gandhi has wisely observed: “A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave” (Wikimedia Foundation). Voldemort’s lack of humanity has left him unable to love, and has therefore left him a coward – unable to fight and conquer fear. Snape, who is similarly unable to exhibit love, is described as looking “inhuman” (HBP 564) when Harry calls him a coward in Half-Blood Prince. Voldemort’s cowardice renders him unable to face his fear of Dumbledore, so he sends his deputies (Draco Malfoy, and ultimately Snape) to kill Dumbledore rather than doing it himself.

Conquering Death by Conquering Fear

As John Granger tells us, it is Dumbledore who “… teaches Harry not to fear death as much as a life without love, which is the real death” (Granger, Hidden Key 142). Moreover, according to Granger “… Love … transcends death; it is what brings life out of death …” (Granger, Alchemy 200).

In the Harry Potter series, the spell used to stun, or petrify, one’s victim requires use of the command “Stupefy!” This command is from “… the verb stupeo, a term that strongly marks the state of an astonished mind …” that the Romans used “… to express the effect of either simple fear or astonishment …” (Hollander, 19). Mandrake draught revives those who have been petrified, the definition of which is “to paralyze or make numb, as with fear …” (Guralnik 1064). Mandrake is associated with love; it is thought to remove sterility and as late as the 17th century was used in love potions. Rowling’s use of mandrake to reverse petrification symbolises that love overcomes the paralysis of irrational fear, and ultimately triumphs over death itself – over the stunning spell that felled Sirius, and over the paralysing Avada Kedavra curse that killed Dumbledore, Lily and James. 

Love, therefore, reverses the paralysis of death, and will restore to Harry those he has loved and lost. In contrast to Voldemort, Harry’s love of those he has lost gives him the power to face death without fear. When laying wandless at Snape’s feet at the end of Half-Blood Prince, Harry’s anguished grief at Dumbledore’s death leads him to fearlessly seek death: “‘Kill me, then,’ panted Harry, who felt no fear at all, but only rage and contempt” (HBP 564).

When Voldemort possesses Harry at the end of Order of the Phoenix, Harry yearns for death, thinking “let him kill us … death is nothing compared to this …” and knowing that, if he were to die, he would “… see Sirius again” (OotP 720). Harry subconsciously desires to become immortal after death to be reunited with those he loves. He does this unawares — the very first time he sees the veil, it “… intrigue[s] him; he [feels] a very strong inclination to climb up on the dais and walk through it” (OotP 682).   

The Importance of Choosing to be Chosen

On the way to Harry’s first meeting with Horace Slughorn, Dumbledore tells Harry “‘… I do not think you need worry about being attacked tonight … You are with me’” (HBP 59). Before Harry leaves with Dumbledore to look for one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes, Harry tells Ron and Hermione “‘I’ll be fine, I’ll be with Dumbledore’” (HBP 516). However, after the (fake) Horcrux is retrieved and Harry is helping Dumbledore out of the cave, Dumbledore says, “‘I am not worried, Harry … I am with you’” (HBP 540). 

This is a pivotal point in the series, where Harry assumes the burden of extinguishing the source of fear (Voldemort) that was previously carried by Dumbledore. Their roles reverse – the wizarding world is now dependent upon Harry, rather than Dumbledore, to dispel fear. Prior to this, Dumbledore was the one who was relied upon by all to allay fear, as “… the safest place on earth was wherever Albus Dumbledore happened to be” (PoA 55). After Dumbledore is suspended in Chamber of Secrets, his absence allows fear to run rampant: “With Dumbledore gone, fear had spread as never before, so that the sun warming the castle walls outside seemed to stop at the mullioned windows” (CoS 197). Now that Dumbledore is dead, it is therefore Harry who has assumed the burden of keeping others from feeling fear.

When Hermione asks Harry whether he is scared now that he knows the contents of the prophecy, Harry responds: “‘Not as much as I was … when I first heard it, I was … but now, it seems as though I always knew I’d have to face [Voldemort] in the end … ’” (HBP 97). Thinking of those he has loved – his mother, father and Sirius – leads Harry to choose to be the “Chosen One” and assume the responsibility of vanquishing Voldemort (HBP 478).

By telling himself that “He could not let anybody else stand between him and Voldemort …” (HBP 601), Harry has consciously decided to assume the responsibility for what appears to be an unachievable goal. In Philosopher’s Stone, when Harry and Dumbledore are discussing the inherent difficulties in fighting Voldemort, Dumbledore says: “‘… it will merely take someone else who is prepared to fight what seems a losing battle next time – and if he is delayed again, and again, why, he may never return to power’” (PS 216). Harry displays genuine courage, therefore, by assuming sole responsibility for finding and destroying the remainder of Voldemort’s Horcruxes and then, once Voldemort is mortal, vanquishing him for good. This exemplifies the true meaning of “real courage,” as described by Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, “‘… real courage is … when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do’” (Lee 112).

Harry’s decision to willingly accept the burden of vanquishing Voldemort will provide him with the happiness that is required to conquer fear, as Helen Keller has said: “True happiness is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose” (Wikimedia Foundation). In this way, Harry is exemplifying Dumbledore’s assertion that “‘It is our choices … that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities’” (CoS 245), as he does not choose the Slytherin approach of saving his own neck, but instead risks his neck to save the wizarding world.

The Ultimate Power of Humanity

In an attempt to conquer his fear of death, Voldemort has weakened himself by dividing his soul into pieces that can be systematically destroyed, ultimately leaving him defenseless against “‘… the incomparable power of a soul that is untarnished and whole’” (HBP 478). Harry, who is truly mortal, is also truly alive, in contrast with the soulless Voldemort who is questionably alive.

Harry is painfully human, the importance of which is underscored by Dumbledore in the aftermath of Sirius’ death: “‘Harry, suffering like this proves you are still a man! This pain is part of being human … the fact that you can feel pain like this is your greatest strength’” (OotP 726). It is therefore Harry’s exquisite humanness that enables him to experience hope, happiness and love, all of which in turn will enable him to conquer his fear and turn irrational fear into the weapon of rational fear that can be used to vanquish Voldemort, who is unable to feel any of these emotions. In the end, then, it will be the difference in how Harry and Voldemort face their fears that will determine who will survive their final battle.


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