Sunday, June 5, 2011
Harry Potter: Prophecy
In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Professor Albus Dumbledore expresses a very sensible view on prophecy. Dumbledore says that prophecies are not automatically fulfilled. Rather, a prophecy is fulfilled only when people act on the prophecy.
A prophecy was made at Harry Potter's birth. We read the prophecy on page 841 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:
THE ONE WITH THE POWER TO VANQUISH THE DARK LORD APPROACHES . . . BORN TO THOSE WHO HAVE THRICE DEFIED HIM, BORN AS THE SEVENTH MONTH DIES . . . AND THE DARK LORD WILL MARK HIM AS HIS EQUAL, BUT HE WILL HAVE POWER THE DARK LORD KNOWS NOT . . . AND EITHER MUST DIE AT THE HAND OF THE OTHER FOR NEITHER CAN LIVE WHILE THE OTHER SURVIVES . . . THE ONE WITH THE POWER TO VANQUISH THE DARK LORD WILL BE BORN AS THE SEVENTH MONTH DIES . . .
The Dark Lord, Lord Voldemort, is aware of the first half of the prophecy: that the one with the power to vanquish him will be born to parents who have defied him three times and will be born at the end of July. Voldemort knows this because one of his servants was eavesdropping when the prophecy was spoken, but the eavesdropper was discovered and removed from the premises after hearing only the first half of the prophecy, which the eavesdropper dutifully reported to Voldemort.
Dumbledore points out that Voldemort himself has singled Harry Potter out as the subject of the prophecy by attempting to murder Harry when Harry was one year old. Not having heard the second half of the prophecy, Voldemort is unaware that he will thus mark Harry as his equal and that Harry will have powers of which Voldemort knows nothing. Indeed, in attempting to kill Harry, Voldemort himself dies (or would have died if it hadn't been for his horcruxes, which keep him in a sort of half-life from which he can rebuild himself). Also, in attempting to kill Harry, Voldemort transfers to Harry some of his powers--not his evil character but his powers. Harry, for example, like Voldemort, has the power to understand and speak Parseltongue, the language of snakes, and a mental connection is established that allows Harry access to something of what Voldemort is thinking and feeling. Also, Voldemort, in attempting to kill Harry, first kills Harry's father and mother, who give their lives in attempting to save Harry, thus assuring that Harry will want to avenge their deaths by killing Voldemort.
Dumbledore points out that the prophecy would never have been fulfilled if Voldemort had not heard the first part of it and then acted on what he had heard. Dumbledore also points out that Voldemort's actions insured the fulfilling of the second part of the prophecy. On page 510 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore says:
Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do! Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realize that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back! Voldemort is no different! Always he was on the lookout for the one who would challenge him. He heard the prophecy and he leapt into action, with the result that he not only handpicked the man most likely to finish him, he handed him uniquely deadly weapons!
These deadly weapons include the powers that Voldemort transferred to Harry as well as the deep hatred for Voldemort within Harry because of Voldemort's murder of Harry's parents. Dumblemore also points out that, because Voldemort murdered Harry's parents, Harry would want to kill Voldemort even if Harry had never heard of the prophecy. Therefore, it is not true that Harry must try to kill Voldemort in order to fulfill the prophecy. Voldemort is the one who is making the prophecy all important, meaning that Voldemort will continue to pursue Harry, and this makes it inevitable that either Harry or Voldemort will finally kill the other.
Harry, too, has a choice. Voldemort will continue to pursue him, but Harry himself has a choice in how he will respond, as expressed on page 512 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:
It was, he [Harry] thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew--and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents--that there was all the difference in the world.
While the lesson of Greek tragedy is that we cannot escape our fate (that which the fates have ordained, or prophesied, to be our lot), the lesson of the Harry Potter novels is that we have choices. Prophecies are fulfilled when we choose to act on them. Even when someone else's actions "force" the fulfillment of a prophecy in which we are involved, we have choices as to how to respond.