Harry Potter’s Birthday
On today, Harry James Potter’s 34th birthday, I can’t help but wonder: why won’t Harry Potter die?
That’s Harry Potter, not Harry Potter. Italicized because I’m referring to the book–or rather, the series of books–not the fictional character. (See how important formatting is? Maybe it’s just the professional editor in me, but I sure do love nuances like this…)
The Harry Potter series centered around death. The main antagonist becomes a villain in his pursuit of immortality; indeed, the villain’s name (Voldemort) literally translates to “flee[ing] from death.” It’s Harry’s mother’s death that saves him, and that marks him as a hero. And (SPOILER ALERT) it’s Harry’s choice to face his own death that ultimately allows him to vanquish the death-fearing villain.
So why won’t this series, which focused so openly on accepting the inevitability that everything must pass, itself pass?
Harry Potter, whose first book turned 17 this year, has lived well beyond the pages of his seven books. He has been turned into a movie character; his world has become a virtual place (Pottermore) and a physical one (Harry Potter World). Rowling has made announcements about Dumbledore and Ron and Hermione, letting fans know that she has considered the lives of these beloved characters beyond the texts we experienced as readers. And, most recently, Harry’s canonical life has been extended–the short piece Rowling published on Pottermore earlier this month fueling rumors about an eighth Harry Potter book.
Is it just that Rowling herself won’t let Harry Potter die? That she’s clinging to the character–and the world–that made her famous. I think not. (You need only Google “Robert Galbraith” for evidence of Rowling’s desire to move on from the Harry Potter world.)
No, I don’t think Rowling keeps the Harry Potter world alive because she wants to. Rather, I think she keeps giving us glimpses into this world she created because that world was, fundamentally, about how to live decently in this one. She wrote about death–and love, and acceptance–because she was writing about life. Using her series as an allegory on how to live decently. And it’s hard to let go of this message, or to pretend it doesn’t persist in the imagination. Harry Potter’s continued life (and aging) represent the fundamental realism of Rowling’s magic.
Harry Potter turns 34 today not because he won’t die, but because he continues to represent what he always has: the inevitability of the forward march of time. He will live forever in the present tense of his fiction, but as long as Rowling continues letting us glimpse the imagined aging of that fictional character, Harry Potter will continue to remind us that “forever” is not quite so possible (nor so desirable) as we might initially think.
photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc