Harry and Harvey: Walking the Forest
May 02, 2009
I don’t talk politics much. I don’t read the paper – I don’t really trust the paper. I have a few friends who are politically aware and I trust them to keep me apprised of anything major. Several weeks ago I was visiting with one such politically-minded friend and we got on the subject of the Gay Rights Movement. Thanks mostly to 365Gay News on Logo, this was one political conversation in which I could really contribute, so we got really into it. I told him about what was going on now and how it came to be. I told him about some of the history, about Stonewall. He asked where that fervor had gone. Where were the riots now? Where were the Les Feinbergs? I said Les Feinberg still made the occasional speech, but with some nasty health problems, had not been as vocal in the past decade. I joked that the day I won my Oscar would be revolutionary indeed. We laughed, until he said something that initially sent a chill down my spine, something that does in fact sound pretty offensive, but knowing my friend as I do, hopefully I can shed a little light on what he meant. He said, “Someone has to die.” First of all, I think we all know that the death of political figures has never been a cure-all for the problems they were trying to fix. Harvey Milk certainly changed things more with his life than with his death. Two, violence should never be invited. It’s a true test of strength to reject the ease of violence. No, it is not that someone has to die, rather that there must be those willing to die. There must be people who don’t allow themselves to fall victim to scare tactics, death threats, and, most of all, their own fear. There must be people like Harvey Milk. People like Harry.
size=”3″>Deathly Hallows is, for me, the most emotional book of the series. Knowing all that Harry’s been through and learning what it’s been for, it ends up being such a satisfactory read. The fact that he accepts his death, allows it, then lives, is a seven-book story arc fulfilled. He begins with a curiosity about his past and as he starts to peel off the layers of mystery, he repeatedly meets his enemy, whether it be on the back of Quirrell’s head, as a memory in the Chamber, or in the form of his sneaking servant Wormtail, Harry battles Voldemort with the aid of his friends until they finally meet in the flesh in that graveyard in Little Hangleton. Then the war begins in earnest, people go missing, until, at the end of Book 6, the Death Eaters are finally able to break into one of the safest places we know, Hogwarts. Hallows is very much a book about a time of war, in the world of a targeted man. Harry is a reluctant political figure. He has fought his fame for years, but in their time of need, the Wizarding World still turns to him as a pillar of hope. It turns out, they are right to do so. Their feelings about Harry stem from something that, knowing Harry quite well, Dumbledore always knew. Harry was the one person with reason enough to stand up to Voldemort – his parents’ deaths. He had also learned not to fear death. He had experienced it so much, heard echoes from the beyond, and it became a place he did not fear to go. Dumbledore also knew that Harry’s ability to love had never waned and that the bonds he had made would make him fight for the lives of his friends as well as his own. Harry could see how essential the fight against Voldemort was. He knew that a life under Voldemort’s tyranny was not one worth living. At the same time, he was able to maintain his compassion for those who could not find the same inner strength, people like Ollivander. The wandmaker admits to Harry at Shell Cottage that he told Voldemort secrets under torture. He is obviously ashamed, but Harry waves away his remorse. It is this sense of empathy that makes Harry an individual people want to follow. Even after everyone thinks he is lying dead in Hagrid’s arms, they continue to stand up for him, Ron shouting to Voldemort, “He beat you!” This is not just because they believe in the cause themselves, but because they believe in Harry. Dumbledore was the same to Harry. Even after Dumbledore leaves Hogwarts in Chamber of Secrets, Harry is loyal to him and on the strength of that, Fawkes appears.
Before Deathly Hallows came out, I was pretty obsessed with the question of whether or not Harry would die. At one point, I was convinced that if he lived, both Ron and Hermione were going to die. I read and re-read, trying to find the signs. But by the time “The Forest Again” rolled around, I have to say, I was far less concerned with what fate awaited Harry. People had been dying all over this book. Mad-Eye Moody, Dobby, Fred ’ had they not died, as Lupin had said, trying to make a better world? And though he had not died as they had, Harry came a long way from wishing he was buried beneath the snow in Godric’s Hollow, to being willing to die for the sake of people he loved so much, he couldn’t even say goodbye to them.
In the film Stranger than Fiction, Will Ferrell’s character Harold is saved from death by the author (Emma Thompson) writing his story. Until the very end, the story had been about a redeemed life, building up to a tragic demise. Though her book is criticized as less compelling, the author defends the change by saying “A character that knows he will die, but goes through it anyway, isn’t that the kind of character you want to keep alive?” Maybe Harry did get an author’s reprieve (Arthur Weasley, anyone?), but we can do in fiction what we so regrettably cannot do in real life: we can have that will that saves everyone else, save the hero too. In our modern world, the real Voldemorts have guns, and minds so warped by anger and fear that they have the ability to take a human life, and many times in the past, they have succeeded. I don’t know if I’m someone who can look down the barrel of a gun, to live like Harry and Harvey, with a bull’s eye on my back, but the good I do now is certainly inspired by them and I move forward with a sense purpose. I could be like Ron, or any of the other brave Hogwartians who stuck with Harry, as Jo would say, until the very end. I could curse Fenrir Greyback. I could strike Nagini down. And damn-it-all if that didn’t help to stop Voldemort.