J.K. Rowling has dropped the hint – the wizard may expire. How will this affect those who live in Potterland? John Elder finds out.
“I have never been tempted to kill him off before the final book because I’ve always planned seven books, and I want to finish on seven books. I can completely understand, however, the mentality of an author who thinks, ‘Well, I’m gonna kill them off because that means there can be no non-author-written sequels. So it will end with me, and after I’m dead and gone they won’t be able to bring back the character’ ” – J. K. Rowling, in the interview this week that has put the world on Potter watch.
Harry Potter will die as an act of self-sacrifice in one last terrible battle with the evil Voldemort. At least, that’s how fans and critics are interpreting J. K. Rowling’s strongest suggestion so far that she’s killing off the golden boy who made her a billionaire.
There are different reasons why the main character in a series has to die. As Rowling noted: Agatha Christie killed off Hercule Poirot so no one could steal the character for a new series of stories once the old girl herself had gone to God. Arthur Conan Doyle sent Sherlock Holmes over a waterfall because he’d come to hate his creation – only to resurrect him because of public outcry. Dickens killed off Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop for the same reason he wrote anything – to push his readers’ emotional buttons. In that case, many of them hated him for it.
Rowling, likewise, stands to upset millions of fans if she murders her hero. But in a survey of critics, fans, booksellers, churches and family groups, The Sunday Age has found there are many reasons why the four-eyed wally with a wand needs to be magically evaporated.
“And not too soon for my liking, for the sake of our kids,” says Peter Stokes, founder of Salt Shakers, a Christian ministry that deals in spiritual issues such as the power of Satan. “We’re concerned with any promotion of witchcraft or paganism, especially to our children. There’s no doubt this book has done wonders for getting children interested in spells … and these things aren’t harmless. We’ve had many stories of people being adversely affected by reading Harry Potter … nightmares, severe spiritual attacks.”
Angela Conway, of the Australian Family Association, says Harry’s death has potential as an educational event for child readers: “If there’s an ending like that, they’ll find it quite sad. But it can be quite valuable for children to deal with death and sacrificial love and laying down your life for your friends.”
Mark Rubbo, owner of Readings and former judge of the Miles Franklin Literary Award, sees a dead Harry making a happier ending, of sorts: “I think an old and decrepit Harry Potter would be disappointing. So why not finish him off while he’s young and vibrant. Like James Dean. Live fast, die young and leave a pretty corpse.”
From a literary point of view, Rubbo says: “It’d be hard to sustain that character into adult life … One of the charms is his youthful exuberance and naivety. An adult Harry Potter would lose that. You’d have to weave a more complex life. Failed marriages. Probably a drug habit.”
Will Harry die as a cultural mainstay? “He’ll probably disappear for a generation and another generation will discover him.”
Mark Macleod, president of the Children’s Book Council of Australia, says Harry needs to die “so we can read some other titles in the top 10 bestsellers list. The whole thing has become a numbers game for a lot of people, and that’s a big turn-off. This constant promotion of Harry Potter as the only children’s book is very irritating.”
Macleod called the Potter cult “a mixed blessing. It’s yet to be demonstrated that Harry Potter has boosted the sales of other children’s authors. I think it has made some sellers sit up and take notice of children’s books. And it’s made it easier for fantasy authors to get published. But I think everybody is over it. So yes, please, let’s have the end of it. Roald Dahl has been dead for how many years and they keep pulling things out of the bottom drawer. We’re desperately hoping that there aren’t any prequels or sequels.”
In other words: die, Harry, die.
Shannon Meilak feels the same way – and she’s a Potter fan. The sort of fan who dresses as a wizard and seeks the company of like-minded folk. The organiser of Melbourne’s Harry Potter meet-up group, Meilak says Harry needs to die – in a final battle against the master of Dark Arts, Lord Voldemort – for the sake of the series staying true to itself.
“My personal opinion is that a child of his age . . . wouldn’t be likely to survive against someone who has been so powerful over the years. Other talented wizards and witches have died because of Voldemort. Why would this 17-year-old kid be able to survive? I know we’re talking about a fantasy book, but some things have to be realistic.”
It’s also worth noting that Harry isn’t Shannon Meilak’s favourite character in the series. “I won’t be distressed. But it will be a little upsetting.”
The Harry Potter meet-up group, numbering 69 members aged 12 to 55, gathers once a month for lunch. And to discuss current issues. Such as Harry’s chances of marrying his girlfriend Ginny and settling down to a nice quiet life of conjuring. “The group is split down the middle. Half wants Harry to die, the other half wants him to live,” says Meilak, who has just returned from a tour of Potter sites in Europe.
Group member and IT worker Jennifer Paschal sits on the fence. “On the one hand, Rowling draws from mythology and classic literature and the heroes eventually die in those stories. And in a way it’s the logical conclusion. But her audience are children and everyone will be upset. I can’t see her doing something so cruel.”
Business analyst and group member Caroline Gachon believes “he’ll live on in some form or another. Throughout the books, death is not an absolute. People do live on in legends or portraits or ghosts. Most of me wants him to live, but part of me is ready to handle it if he dies. The best reason to kill him off is as a form of self-sacrifice. His mother sacrificed herself for him.”
For some fans, noble reasons are no consolation.
Kirsty Forster, 16, says: “I don’t want to read (Harry dying) and I don’t want to see it on screen. He’s a childhood memory.” Isabel Prior, 11, has read the Potter books six times each. Killing Harry, she says, would render her devotion “a pointless experience”.
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