Love and destiny.
Two abstract ideas that we morph into creeds, dogmas, overriding tenets. They shape belief and action, war and peace, and, occasionally, literature. The last of those can be difficult, however. The more often a well is visited in writing, the more difficult it can be to draw anything but cliches from that well; few wells have been drawn upon more than destiny, and probably none more than love.
So when J.K. Rowling ties her hero to a destiny and arms him with the power of love, she’s immediately walking a narrow line between triumphant and trite. As we near the end of Prince, she seems to acknowledge that tightrope as she addresses head-on (through Dumbledore, naturally) what love and destiny mean to her narrative.
Let’s take love first, as Rowling does. When Dumbledore tries to tell Harry he can defeat Voldemort because he has an ability that Voldemort does not, Harry finishes the sentence mockingly — he can love. Rowling give him the eyeroll the reader might have: the hero is going to defeat the dark wizard because he has the power of love? It does sound a little like a Care Bears plot where a bioterrorist learns that love is the only good chemical weapon. (Note: possibly not a a real Care Bears plot.)
But Dumbledore makes a series of increasingly impassioned admonishments to try to force Harry (and us) to understand the importance of that “power of love.” Voldemort possesses such an array of lures, of both temptation and force, that only love can resist them all. We saw that from the first book, as Harry could only see the means to defeat Voldemort/Quirrell because of his love for his friends, love for his parents, even love for what’s right. Evil cannot love, so Voldemort cannot even perceive the full power of love. As almost painful as it is to see the phrase “pure of heart” written seriously, there’s a certain beautiful simplicity to it all. In a world of grays, Voldemort vs. Harry will be remarkably black and white: evil vs. love.
Now, take destiny. At the end of Phoenix, this seemed simple enough: there was a prophecy, and Harry would fulfill it. But Dumbledore elucidates much more of a sense of choice in Prince: it’s only knowledge of the prophecy that is leading to the prophecy’s fulfillment. Voldemort, trying to avert his own destruction, marked Harry with the power to destroy him. Dumbledore indicates Harry has a choice in whether to pursue his ultimate confrontation with Voldemort, but also leads Harry to realize he’s already made that choice. The prophecy will be fulfilled, and destiny realized, but that doesn’t create an absence of free will. It’s fate without predestination.
Destiny as narrative device fascinates me. Take Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” The speaker is engaged in a passionate love affair, but faces challenges and disruptions, seeing his flawed parents in his own relationship. The thought of what he might become, that negative potential destiny, makes happiness a little more elusive. Love is pulled asunder by destiny, or even the threat of destiny.
Harry, on the other hand, protects his ability to love by now embracing his own destiny, throwing himself into the means of defeating Voldemort. The clearest example yet of that was his ability to put aside his anger at Snape and Dumbledore upon learning that Snape was the one who told Voldemort of the prophecy. Harry was boiling with rage, but he knew he had to at least temporarily overcome it if he was to accompany Dumbledore to find the Horcrux. The mission, his fate, matters most to him when pushed.
I’m now through 26 chapters, 578 pages, of Prince. More thoughts on this penultimate installment from the book:
- The whole book has done a great job of setting us up for the idea of these Horcruxes, taking us down Voldemort’s memory lane and introducing his odd sentimentality as a way of setting the stage for the search and destroy missions that will now have to take place. I’m glad that we get Dumbledore as the guide for the first of these. Dumbledore has a way of making simple exposition seem surprisingly exciting, and in finding and retrieving the locket Horcrux, we got one last badass Dumbledore moment.
- I thoroughly enjoyed the whole Felix Felicis mission of Harry getting Slughorn’s memory. The turns of luck were well-thought-out and focused more on plot devices than ridiculous chance. Watching Harry control and manipulate the situation was really enjoyable.
- Harry and Ginny are together now, and … whatever. I don’t really want to harp too long on that whole situation, but I just thought the lack of buildup to their relationship really took away from the impact when they finally kissed. From Ginny’s side, we knew she had a crush on Harry as a little girl; we were told in Phoenix that she was now over him, and since we’re given no contrary information until the kiss, we now assume that was always a lie. So, on the one hand, we have a girlhood crush that apparently never went away. For Harry, he just suddenly liked her, and while his emotions in watching her with someone else were amusing, we were never told why he likes her, or what about her. So on his side, we just have pent-up mystery emotion. And then: kiss, Ron blesses it, and relationship that we see very little of. It was just disappointing to me.
- Glad we got to see Harry put at least one smackdown on Draco in the series, even if that fight was more abbreviated than I might have hoped. Though I can’t help wondering if it would have been better if Harry had let Draco use Crucio on him and had their battle discovered that way. If it really is an “unforgivable” curse (which is in doubt — Harry certainly never faced consequences for using it in Phoenix), that might have been his best way of stopping Draco. Not that he could have thought of all that in the midst of battle.
- After finding out that it was really all Snape’s fault that Voldemort killed Harry’s parents, it’s even harder for me to imagine Harry and Snape having a good relationship if both were to live after the eventual revelations. That would be a tough memory to move past.
That’s all for this installment, as I want to get back to reading. Only a couple chapters left. Dumbledore and Harry got the Horcrux so … yeah, that’s probably it, right? There’s the climax, and everything else in the book will surely just be falling action. Yep, if there’s one thing I feel confident in, it’s that’s nothing horrible and traumatic is about to happen.