What Harry Potter has Meant to Me: On Coping with Mortality

Part 2 of 3

When I was fourteen months old, I was diagnosed with type I diabetes.  I have been insulin-dependent all my life.  The thing about diabetes is that it isn’t a disease that simply prevents one from indulging in sweets. It can cause a plethora of other conditions, putting diabetics in danger of everything from blindness and nerve damage to bone loss and heart disease. Typically, the life-expectancy of a young child diagnosed with diabetes is about twenty-five years shorter than average. This may have improved some over the years with medical advancements and technology, but still, diabetes makes life precarious at times.

Needless to say, I have spent some time dealing with mortality. I used to wonder if I would be married or have kids before I died.  Today, I often think about whether or not I will be around long enough to see my children graduate from high school or college, get married, or start their careers.  I frequently question if I will ever hold my grandchildren.

As one may expect, these thoughts, and the trails down which they lead, have the ability to take me to a very dark place. In my earlier twenties, this happened quite often, and I spent many days being depressed because I felt I had been dealt a poor hand by God. And, I feared death.

This is where Harry Potter comes in.  More so in the final three books than the others, death, immortality, and the afterlife become major motifs.  Sirius Black died unexpectedly, leaving his friends and family to cope with grief in the aftermath.  Dumbledore, the greatest wizard in his universe, was killed right in front of Harry, who thought the professor would always be there. Voldemort’s ultimate and consuming goal was to live forever, so much so that he twisted his soul into something fragmented and warped. It would seem that the wizards, despite all their wondrous talents and abilities, felt the same way about death as we do here in the real world.

Note: the rest of this essay contains plot-spoilers concerning the final book/ movie, so you may want to wait until after you finish the series to read today’s post.

 

The final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is where I learned something about coping with morality.  One significant recurring theme was that humans have struggled throughout the ages attempting to overcome death. Alas, according to Dumbledore, “human efforts to evade or overcome death are always doomed to disappointment” (The Tales of the Beedle Bard 94).  This is a hard lesson to learn, perhaps, but the implications of avoiding its message are worse.

Tom Marvolo Riddle feared death above all things.  He was exceptionally talented, and exceptionally bitter.  He turned his talents toward  “evading” death, even to the extent of giving himself the persona of the Dark Lord Voldemort, or “He Who Must Not be Named.” He desired that his very name strike the same fear in the hearts of mankind as that which the Angel of Death struck in his.  He even went so far to avoid death that he committed an unthinkable form of sorcery: murdering innocents and using the abominable magic which resulted from that act to shatter his soul and contain the fragments in tangible items, thus the horcruxes.  As a result, Voldemort was cursed to live a half-life, the most tragic side-effect of which was the inability to experience love or human connection in any way.

In the end, though, nothing in this world lasts forever, and the horcruxes were eliminated one by one. At the climax, Voldemort still succumbed to death. For all of his fighting, for all of his evil, for all of his desperation, the angel of death still came for him.

Here is the moral of the story: what Dumbledore said is true, and no one in this life escapes death.  The only thing we can free ourselves from is the fear of death, or a preoccupation with death. Voldemort feared death so much so that he became enslaved to it, and in the end it prevented him from living a life. In The Tales of the Beedle Bard, the final brother was simply unafraid of death, and when he died “he greeted death like an old friend, and went with him gladly, and, equals, they departed this life” (93). Harry, in the end, overcame his fear of death and went to face it.  As a result, Lord Voldemort’s soul was ultimately destroyed, and Harry was given one more opportunity to live.  It wasn’t mastering death that allowed Harry to be victorious that morning, but it was Harry’s mastering the fear of death.

Through the Harry Potter series, I learned that when I accept death as an inevitability and cease fearing it, then I am no longer enslaved to it; I am truly free to live.

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