Harry — The boy who lived

By Katie Polonsky

I’m a firm believer that when reading a novel, you bring to it the whole of your perspective on the world. You bring hopes, beliefs, experiences, biases.

Speaking of biases, I should warn you: I’m a diehard Harry Potter fan. On July 20th , I lined up to happily endure the claustrophobia-inducing madness that was the Tunnel Road Barnes and Noble to procure my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as close to midnight as possible. I spent the hours counting down to the big moment sprawled on the floor as I worked with little concentration on a crossword puzzle, my iPod crammed securely in my ears to insure no unwanted spoilers invaded my carefully guarded anticipation. I had avoided the Internet for days, refused to watch the news, and acted as though I’d been struck with a severe case of agoraphobia.

My situation was not unique. For eager fans such as me, the expectation of the final installment in the series that depicts the triumphs and defeats of Harry Potter, wizard extraordinaire, could only be eclipsed by the release of the book itself. So when I finally got home at 1 a.m. and managed to wash the black Bellatrix Lestrange makeup from my face, I took a moment to prepare myself. I no longer needed to theorize over Harry’s fate, and arguing about whether or not Snape was truly evil became instantly unnecessary. In my hands I finally held answers.

I shut my bedroom door and turned off my cell phone to ensure that I remained completely cut off from the outside world, this last measure of security certainly a redundant one. Anyone who knew me understood the importance of this moment. Do Not Disturb, I had warned, barring death or an equally extreme circumstance.

I read for 12 hours straight, pausing only to imbibe caffeine when the words on the page became too blurry to make out. Finally, ten years and 759 pages later, there were no secrets left. The mysteries J.K. Rowling first laid out in 1997 had finally come to light, and almost as if saying goodbye to a younger version of myself, I closed the book with a feeling of bittersweet satisfaction.

Though the series certainly becomes darker with each book, the bleak shadow cast over Harry’s trip through book seven is imbued with a unique sense of urgent prophecy. Dumbledore, Harry’s Obi-Wan of sorts, is no longer with him, and the last comforts of childhood have slipped away as Harry teeters on the brink of adulthood. He has been charged with the task of seeking and destroying Voldemort’s seven Horcruxes, objects that hold pieces of the dark wizard’s soul, before hunting down He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named himself and finally eradicating this evil from the wizarding world. Surrounding Harry’s imminent encounter with Voldemort, however, is a bright Patronus of hope. Ron and Hermione, Harry’s best friends, choose to forego their last year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in favor of joining Harry on his dangerous quest. Death, torture, victory, and revelation all make their appearances in turn. The time has come for Harry to face the harshest realities of his destiny, and Rowling holds nothing back with the book’s action-packed scenes and jarring pace.

The sense of contentment I felt as I completed the book had little to do with the actual ending, though the oft forgotten child in me reveled in the tidy thread of tranquility Rowling strung through her epilogue. More than anything, my fulfillment came with a reinstated sense of hope. In my 23 years of existence, I’ve lived through Chernobyl, the Challenger explosion, and the bombing in Oklahoma City. I watch the current war in the Middle East unfold with a great deal more comprehension than I did the first time at seven, and I saw the Twin Towers crumble on September 11th as I spent 12th grade physics class studying a television rather than wavelengths.

Though their wars are fought with curses and wands rather than guns and bombs, Harry Potter’s world is a lot like our own. Shadows of Hitler, his Germany and the Nazi regime are glimpsed in the horror surrounding Voldemort, the Ministry of Magic’s “Pureblood” mania, and the Death Eaters’ violent targeting of Muggles, or non-magic humans. The dangers of blind racism are shown as characters, both good and bad, suffer the consequences of judging creatures based on their species rather than their individual character. The malevolence Harry and his friends must face is not so different from the evil that shades the darker moments of our history.

The rigidity of this parallel softens with the faith Rowling puts in the human capacity for good. This confidence feeds on love, trust and friendship, all the characteristics that catalogue the greatest tool Harry has against the hate-filled Lord Voldemort. Above all, as Dumbledore so wisely said, the fate of humanity depends exceedingly on our choices and the often painful realization that the lines between good and evil are rarely ever as black and white as tradition declares.

Harry comes to accept this harsh truth as he discovers the extraordinary similarities he shares with Voldemort. Both are orphaned, raised by Muggles, descended from the powerful Peverell line, and cast their spells with brother wands. The congruity ends here, however, as the two wizards set off down exceptionally different paths. Voldemort chooses to spread hatred and despair in his maniacal quest for power while Harry decides to stand front and center in the fight for equality and free will.

Whether Harry dies or not is hardly the point of the story. Rowling’s greatest lesson is her hopeful insistence that choice is the most important weapon we have in fighting the evils of our world. This legacy is a message that will outlast Harry for generations, forever illuminating our hero as The Boy Who Lived.

Katie Polonsky graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2006. She spent the last year in Ireland studying Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies and is preparing to move to Washington, D.C., in August. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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