To Die for Harry Potter

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When speaking the truth is as terrible as uttering Voldemort’s name

The very first thing a reader learns about Harry Potter in the first book of the eponymous series (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone almost everywhere else) is that he is “the boy who lived.” This, in itself, not so terribly interesting; in fact, the suburban life of his aunt and uncle’s family is downright mundane. It is as the story starts building its form that we learn that not only did Harry survive something awful, but that he lived only because of the sacrifice of someone else.

As Harry reunites with the “wizarding world” to which he was born, and of which he had no memory, he really must come to terms with being a celebrity precisely for being “the boy who lived.” In this fictional world, as a baby, not only had survived an attack from one of the most powerful wizards in history, but something had happened that made many wonder if that wizard had perished in the attempt.

As it turns out, that evil wizard, Voldemort, had not died. This becomes apparent in the course of the story, to different people at different points in time. The lines between the “white hats” and the “black hats” start to form, and Harry finds himself in the company and companionship of a good number of people who are willing to die for what is true and good and right as well as for Harry himself. Not only does he represent the embodiment of the movement against evil, but it is believed that it is only Harry who can deal the final blow to the evil wizard.

The character Harry, struggles with this mightily. He never asked for this, never wanted it, but this is where he feels he must stand. At the very least, he must do so to honor his mother, who died so that he might live. Nevertheless, as the series wends its way on, the number of deaths on the side of the “good guys” steadily rises. To some degree, Harry feels responsible for each one, but particularly so with those who died in the service of protecting him.

The thing is, in the Harry Potter books, all of these deaths are of fictional characters. None of the countless discussion boards (or fanfic sites) make them any less so. Each character was dreamed up and put to paper by the books’ author, J.K. Rowling.

Love her or hate her, J.K. Rowling wrote a series of books that are unmatched in sales and influence globally of perhaps any other book series. What makes it all the more improbable is that she did so in an age where people generally don’t read books as a hobby. We have so many other pastimes and distractions that reading books hardly crosses the minds of most people as a way to have fun. At the same time, she was able to build on this being the internet age by being accessible to readers through the internet through her website and social media. Gone the days of having to send a letter (or a dispatch via owl) and if one were lucky enough, one might end up with a digital “tweet” or some such. Because of this, she’s become a celebrity herself.

This wasn’t all advantageous for Ms. Rowling – over the years, she has expressed a number of opinions that ruffled feathers. Like her boy-wizard-hero, she’s shown backbone, and has generally stood up to the mob. I personally don’t agree with her on every single topic, but I have great respect for the writing she’s done, for her philanthropic efforts, and for being a woman of her own mind who actually seems to have thought about things and made her own opinions. In an age where we are plagued by the “mockingbird media” and statements are constantly focus-grouped and weighed to be “non-offensive”, this is a breath of fresh air.

A few days ago, the author Salman Rushdie was stabbed at an event in Chautauqua, New York . Rushdie is also one of the most famous authors alive, in some part due to his books, but more so over the firestorm which occurred in the wake of his book “The Satanic Verses” being published in 1988. In 1989, an Iranian fatwa against Rushdie was announced, and it seemed like Rushdie’s assassination over the book was almost inevitable. However, that was over 30 years ago, and since then Rushdie has lived a pretty quiet life.

That is, until on August 12, when at an event in Chautauqua, he was rushed at and stabbed, causing permanent injury and disfiguration, but luckily not ending his life. Understandably, J.K. Rowling, world-famous author herself, would feel shaken about such a thing. She tweeted her dismay, and received a death threat from the same type of character as the man who attacked Rushdie. Now, death threats on Twitter are nothing new, and who the supposed threat seems to be against seems to determine a lot about what Twitter will do to police this. However, although there has been some public support of Rushdie from well-known writers, it seems like most of it only goes so far as to wish him well, but does nothing to condemn the action. Rowling’s tweet merely calls the news “horrifying” , but apparently this was too far in some extremist’s eyes – someone like Rowling should know where to stay silent!

It remains to be seen whether anything will come of the threat against Rowling; it’s been a decade now since the last Harry Potter was published, so it is unlikely she’ll have anything like an Iranian fatwa against her due to the series. So many people are hesitant to lay judgement against or even name evil that is out there, a principle demonstrated almost comically in the Harry Potter books in how most of the wizards in Harry Potter’s world avoided uttering the name “Voldemort”. In this type of environment, exposing evil and speaking the truth becomes a most radical and dangerous act. My sincerest hope is that nothing comes of this to Ms. Rowling, that she doesn’t become a real-life casualty of defending the same type of things Harry stands for in her books. Have we really come to a point where she’s in danger of dying “for Harry”? Counting the deaths in a fiction series is one thing; counting them in real life quite another.

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