I hope you don’t mind me calling you J. for short. Besides, this memo is just between you and me. I wouldn’t want the gazillions of Harry Potter fans to trace the suggestion contained in this note back to me. Who knows what they would do: it makes me shudder, like You-Know-Who.
I just heard on the news last night that the final chapter of the final book is still up in the air, and that you are planning to “disappear” two of the main characters. You said to the interviewers, who sounded like they were from Newcastle, that it is the character of evil to go after the first-rates in the conflict, not the actors of the second or third class.
You are right, of course, about the focus of the devil on heroes. But really, evil is pretty even-handed.
I have a suggestion for you, since you are still scribbling away. You have a rare opportunity here. Your denouement will be taken in, literally, by tens of millions. Children, adolescents and adults have opened their sympathies to your narrative. You stand, whether we like it or not, at the crux of literature at the moment. You possess in your grasp a power few ever possess to mold culture.
Because of this, my suggestion is simple.
You might be expecting me, given my affinities, to advocate a religious turn, like a conversion, or a repentance from magic and other adolescent peccadilloes. Some of my associates do, in fact, wish you to do this.
I, for one, do not. In fact, I wish you wouldn’t. Religion, especially my own, would seem out of place at Hogwarts or in Diagon Alley. It would be awkward for Harry to fall to his knees and make the sign of the Cross, especially as there have been none of these so far. In fact, I would not like it at all if you would insert icons or cupolas -- they are better off outside your world.
I do not complain of this, mark you, as I am quick to allow that God has been treated quite substantially in the subtext.
The repentance from magic, too, is something fervently wished by many of my friends. But there was never any true magic to be repented of, wasn’t there? The first books were all the sort of gee whiz pre-pubescent fantasies (broomsticks, cauldrons, etc.) that get chuckles and video game followings. The latter books went darker, into the grim stuff, when the real magic “apparated” into the story, and it was full of despair: by then, your readership noted, by the 800th page, that you were (or meant to be taken as) serious.
So no, don’t convert Harry, and don’t have him renounce magic. Magic has many meanings, and I think you connote a few of these.
I suggest something simpler.
Let Harry die.
There are two reasons. One is for the sake of the story. Your character has become heroic, and your world has little room for heroes. I don’t mean to sound priggish, but your story was never about the goodness of the everyday. It became more and more inconceivable that after the climax, he could just go off somewhere and “settle down.” He is already something of the l’enfant terrible, and has become, simply, a piece that cannot be placed. He is a character who has exceeded his background and even his nature. And we all know where such a character must lead.
But that’s just it: we don’t know that anymore, at least not much – there is not the expectation of such inevitabilities today.
This brings me to my second reason. Aside from the demands of the story, which I think are pretty clear (even to a mediocre journalist of things quotidian), you should let Harry die for the purpose of improving the state of tragedy.
There is little decent tragedy around. There is a lot of irony, where a non-heroic central character is pitched into the abyss of ambiguity. There is a lot of farce, where burlesque mummers traipse around in varying degrees of moral undress.
But tragedy? No. We in the non-famished proletariat have not much of this anymore. We do not see heroes much in the world, essentially adolescent, and stuck on the flypaper opiate of egalitarianism. We do not see the sense of the pollution of evil, and its uncleanness. We have no immediate feeling of the necessity to fix or to cleanse. And we haven’t seen much of a fable where the story demanded, clearly, the surmounting and cleansing of evil – even at the cost of real, hard sacrifice.
You, J., have surprised me, because in your callow way (after all, Harold Bloom is probably correct about the quality of your writing), you have managed to bring us, adults and all, to the brink of well-grounded tragedy.
Your boy, Harry, has been veered uncomfortably to the egoistical psychology that indicts so many – so many that he, like all heroes, has become a figure of Everyman. His insouciance, as I watched, you transmuted into the irascibility of the Western mind (so adroitly captured, don’t you think?, by the TV images of English thugs in Germany). But he means well, and occasionally does well.
And thus he captures in his sympathetic net the aspirations of many. Concerning his abilities, though, he is not so democratic: in this regard, he is very singular, and is clearly an Aristocrat. Here, by the way, is what you mean by magic, J.: it is nothing but the aristocracy of superior ability.
I do not censure you for this – it is, after all, rather clever. Certainly, Robert Frost might concur: “I have given up my democratic prejudices and now willingly set the lower classes free to be completely taken care of by the upper classes” (“The Figure a Poem Makes,” in Collected Poems).
Harry is clearly not “of the people.” He is of the upper class, the class that – if the conservatives are right – God established to take care of society … to protect it … and to fix the breakage, and to cleanse the stain.
That is why that old saw has been bandied about in past generations, but has been suspiciously set aside at present: tragedy is for aristocrats, comedy is for bourgeoisie, and farce is for peasants.
That there is no tragedy today is not because the peasants have no taste for it. It is because the people with loads of money are shirkers: they don’t own up to the ancient duty of the aristocrat, the noblesse oblige of the superior-abled. The ones who have the magic, or the privilege, are the ones called to sally forth when the eagles circle on the darkling plain.
This is where you come in, J. You’ve cooked up a character with whom many have fallen in love. He “images” their best and some of their worst, but he is well-intended all the same. What’s more, he can do so much better than anyone.
It is inevitable, then, that Harry must assume the fall and sacrifice. It can’t be anyone else, as you already know. A hero, or savior, is the one at the center of his world. In this story, everyone else is central only to sub-plots.
Real evil has entered your world, J., and someone must do something about it. People are getting hurt. Substance is getting bound up in damnation. The goods that are cherished are being threatened by destruction. Something must be done.
In this world, salvation demands the sacrifice of ego in extremis, ego in toto. For the hope of comedy ever, there must in the narrative of the world be first in succession the agony of tragedy.
I have to hand it to you: it is rare to see, in these foggy arts today, a scene of such a clearly Christian orchestration as you have, in seven books, assembled.
That remark, right there, might evoke a choir of guffaws. But it remains, because it obtains.
So on the brink, J., when the crisis comes, do your best to lead Harry into the night. Follow the tragedy through to the end. Let beauty arise. Let love be realized.