Divination Made Easier
A Few Guidelines to Making Predictions for Book 7
By Emily Bytheway
Human beings live through narrative. From ancient stories told by traveling bards to the modern newspaper, from history books to television to gossip with old friends, our lives are defined by the stories we hear, the stories we see, the stories we tell, and the stories we attempt to live. This immersion in narrative creates in us a powerful drive to know “how things will turn out.” Sometimes this need is quickly, even instantly, gratified. Sometimes we never find out. And other times, the interval between the beginning and the ending of the story is so long, we can’t help but try to guess as we wait for the final answers.
Such is the case with the Harry Potter series. From the time Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Britain and most parts of the world) was first published until now, as we wait the final volume of the series, there have been those who have attempted to predict what will happen next. The wait between Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix stretched to three years; in that time, many speculations were made. Most of them turned out to be completely erroneous, which caused much consternation among fans. Subsequent predictions for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince were a bit more moderate, but again, many of them turned out to be incorrect. With the final volume still to come, predictions and speculations are once again being made, including many in this very book.
This chapter is an attempt to impart a bit of wisdom concerning the making of predictions. There will be a few general guidelines, a few examples, and even a few predictions. Most of what is said here will agree with what you’ll find later in this book; some of it won’t. The purpose of this chapter is not to end speculation (it is, after all, a normal human impulse), but instead to guide that speculation into the most productive avenue, the one that helps us enjoy the final volume of this remarkable series even more. This is, of course, assuming that the point of speculation is to be able to correctly predict what will happen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—to have that special feeling of satisfaction at having “figured it out,” to be able to point to a list of predictions written the week before the book comes out and say “See! I was right!” If that’s not your goal, well, the following will not apply to you. Move along. But if you’re truly interested in trying to figure out what Rowling plans to do—Read on!
Guiding Principle 1: Stick to Generalities
When considering a question, the best answers (as in, the answers that have the best chance of actually turning out to be completely correct) tend to be “yes” or “no.” Whenever you try to go deeper than that, you get into trouble. For example: when considering the question of Harry’s relationship with Cho Chang before Order of the Phoenix came out, most people were pretty sure that the relationship would never work out. The reasoning was sound: the death of Cedric would create complications. So far, so good. But those predictions started to be led astray when they got to specifics. Some thought that Harry would be depressed after the death of Cedric and feel guilty for ostensibly causing his death. The mere sight of Cho would remind him of his part in Cedric’s death, and he’d feel too guilty to ever pursue a relationship with her. You can see where people went wrong. Luckily most people’s hearts weren’t set on their particular narrative playing out, but still, the satisfaction at having predicted that Harry and Cho would never work out was, for them, diminished.
This does not mean that you should focus only on the big questions. Looking at specific subplots is fun. Is Snape good or evil? Will Hogwarts stay open? What are the Horcruxes, and what might they be? What will Ginny end up doing when Harry, Ron, and Hermione go off to hunt Horcruxes? All of these are good questions to ask. The problem comes when you move away from the simple answers and start deciding on scenarios. Creating an elaborate scene depicting the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort is a great idea if you’re writing fanfiction, but a bad idea if you’re trying to really figure out what will happen. The chance of seeing your own ideas in the pages of Deathly Hallows is practically zero. It may be fun wondering what might happen when the Trio end up at Godric’s Hollow, but if you are going to make any definite predictions, you’ll set yourself up for disappointment. It’s better to leave the specifics up to Rowling.
Guiding Principle 2: Focus on the Books
This may seem to be a no-brainer, but it’s really quite important. There are far too many theories that depend not on evidence from the books but on concepts from outside sources. This is not to say that Rowling doesn’t integrate real-world sources in writing her novels. On the contrary; Jo has obviously read widely, and incorporates that wide reading into the series. But it’s one thing to recognize something as well-known as the significance of the name “Remus” and quite another to base your predictions on an obscure legend from outer Slobovia that no one, Rowling included, has ever heard of. Even commonly-known legends, stories, concepts, and theories can lead you down the wrong path. For instance, there are quite a few theories based on the principles of astrology. This idea is misguided at best, as Rowling has been quite clear that in Harry’s world, astrology, like Divination in general, is less than reliable in predicting the future. It’s highly unlikely that Rowling would then turn around and use its principles to plan her story. So if you really want to spend time and money studying Tom Riddle’s birth chart, go ahead, but don’t expect it to have any effect on his eventual demise. As another example, a very popular theory in the online Harry Potter world is that of alchemy, a concept that was introduced in the Harry Potter series in Sorcerer’s Stone. Despite the fact that alchemy has not been directly mentioned in any book since (except for a few brief references to the Stone in later novels, all but one of which refers to the incident of Harry’s first year and not to the Stone’s magical properties1), many people have taken the alchemy concept and run with it, creating elaborate theories for the future of Harry Potter based on the relatively-obscure legends and practices associated with alchemy. These theories have been quite popular, but as far as their ability to accurately predict future events in the Harry Potter novels, they’ve enjoyed only mixed success; in fact, many of those successes, such as Harry and Dumbledore’s relationship deepening in Half-Blood Prince and Dumbledore’s subsequent death, have been predicted by many who don’t know or subscribe to the principles of alchemy.
A related tendency is to rely heavily on other books, movies, and narratives that in any way remind people of Harry Potter. This is not to say that such comparisons can’t be invaluable—in fact, they can be extremely important, as will be discussed with Guiding Principle 3. But just because Ron and Hermione may be similar to Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (at least in the nature of their bickering relationship), one shouldn’t assume that their stories will be in any way similar. The same goes for J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the Star Wars movies, or any other story to which Harry Potter bears a passing resemblance. To insinuate that Harry Potter is exactly the same as any other work is an insult to Rowling’s imagination. And I don’t think anyone who has read her books can say that she lacks imagination.
Not that speculations like these can’t still be quite enjoyable. But this kind of theorizing seems best left for looking at a series that is already finished, or in an effort to look at things that are already written in a new light, not for attempting to predict what might happen. It’s the kind of thing that literary critics do all time. But until J.K. Rowling herself confirms that she relied extensively on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan when conceptualizing Hogwarts castle (I just made that up, but what an interesting idea. . . hmm. I may have to think about that one for a bit), it may be best to take it, and other theories like it, with a grain of salt.