Monday, July 8, 2013

HPP: The Point of No Return

There's always that moment before the great act, suspended before them like lustrous fruit to tempt, in which the would-be heroes could turn back, should turn back.  The moment when hesitation could creep in and infect them; the subconscious whispers, "No one would notice now if you turned back."  Self-preservation urges us to stay alive a little longer.

That moment comes and goes in Chapter 16, with no fanfare or great build-up, so casually as to go unnoticed.

Seeing the open door somehow seemed to impress upon all three of them what was facing them.  Underneath the cloak, Harry turned to the other two. 
"If you want to go back, I won't blame you," he said.  "You can take the cloak, I won't need it now." 
"Don't be stupid," said Ron. 
"We're coming," said Hermione. 
Harry pushed the door open.

And that's it.  Just like that, a great obstacle is surmounted, without even a ripple. I would argue that this, more than anything else that comes before or after the hero's tale, is the moment of truth--at least for Ron and Hermione.  And for Harry, it seems to have come earlier, when he declared, with such simplicity, vehemence, and lack of reflection, "I'm never going over to the Dark Side!"  They may not be acts of valor and cleverness that jump out at us when we call to memory great moments in fiction.  But they are the ones upon which all the story hinges; they infuse the rest with potency and meaning.  They are the decisions that precede the actions, the acts of will that engender legendary deeds.  The point of no return.

The tasks set before Harry and his friends remind me of the 12 labors of Hercules.  The son of the greatest of Greek gods had to surmount incredible difficulties in recompense for murdering his family in a fit of madness.  Only Hercules's labors end with the three-headed dog, while Harry's begin with it.  The purpose for the labors and their significance and end results differ quite a bit, but I wonder if there are any other similarities that I am overlooking?

Mary Grandpe, Flying Keys, source

I took a brief look at this puzzle of the bottles, and just starting down that path of intellectual tangles makes my head want to explode!  I might attempt to transfer the picture and solve it on my own later, probably using very rudimentary methods of drawing arrows and scribbling down notes, making it harder than is necessary.  Seriously, does anybody actually know how to solve these things without instruction?  Like, I think I might be able to do it, but only after being taught the methods--similar to solving a math equation.

My favorite task was the giant chessboard; I've a life-long love affair with humanoid chess pieces thanks to an old pewter set in my grandparents' house that was always off-limits.  I played with them anyway.  And later, as I grew older, I learned to play and enjoy chess, though I've not the mathematical strategy for it.  Oddly enough, I am much better at chess than checkers.  Can you say "covet"?

Liz F. Caballero, Wizard's Chess, source

For a comprehensive walk-through of the tasks and their deeper significance, read Jenna's post, if you haven't already.  Jenna wonders about the symbolism of Ron's placement of his friends on the chessboard.  Even if Rowling hadn't intended it this way, the meanings suggest themselves to me as follows:

Harry is bishop because of his Christ-like role and engendering of faith in others, both through his survival as an infant and his natural leadership.  Hermione is the castle/rook because she is their fortress--she is there for the boys in an immovable stubbornness.  She is convicted, a champion of the rules and the even greater laws of loyalty and friendship, and is always providing them with essential answers.  And Ron is the knight, the figure of sometimes-reckless bravery and nobility.  (See #3 in Jenna's potential discussion points.)  Oh Ron, if only you saw what I see when you looked in the Mirror of Erised.

In what is beginning to establish itself as pattern, Harry and Hermione venture onward alone.  I remember reading the first time, around when the fourth or fifth book came out, getting the warm fuzzies about Harry and Hermione.  I don't know how much I can say without [SPOILERS] (I'm so excited I can be the one hoarding spoilers for once, can you tell?), but Hermione's declaration before they separate is, as Harry's statement that he would never join the dark side is his declaration of intent, a definitive statement from the book:

"Harry--you're a great wizard, you know." 
"I'm not as good as you," said Harry, very embarrassed, as she let go of him. 
"Me!" said Hermione.  "Books!  And cleverness!  There are more important things--friendship and bravery. . !"

He's going to need these things more than books, and cleverness, and power, because there's no way he could approach the level of strength and skill of the one he is about to encounter.  But the friendship and bravery, like Dumbledore's music, is a magic beyond mere wizardry.



  1. You know..It's getting easier to see some of the more intentional-seeming Christ imagery around Harry..not just the 'this is my hero' and 'this is a book by a western author, so.." imagery, that's around practically every hero in every book, but the more thought out stuff.

    I liked your thoughts so much!..and honestly, I love the three of them here, being close and supportive and Good!

  2. I love your focus on "the point of no return". Especially about it being the point on which the rest of the story hinges. That "I will"... it's a changing and defining moment for a person, for a hero--before it, he can say No without serious condemnation, but after, he's already affected by his previous commitment, and he must go on or prove coward, and the consequences are more or less settled on him no matter where he goes from there.

    And it's so applicable to real life... I think of the "I do" of marriage, of the way we Catholics celebrate Mary's Fiat. Those moments change us, and they change the world, too.

    Masha, cool. :D Cool cool cool. I'm so excited to write up the next chapter. :D And I feel the same way about the Trio here!

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