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Of Myth, Fantasy and the of Albus Dumbledore
Beyond Hogwarts Guest Article
by David Nagore
Well, Rowling did it. She really did it. She said that a "major" character would and she was true to her promise. Yet despite her warnings, the ultimate revelation of Dumbledore's nevertheless sent shockwaves through her millions of readers, including yours truly. Yet in retrospect, to me he seemed the most obvious choice from a plot development point-of-view. I would have offed him had I been Rowling, despite the reaction I knew such an incident would cause with my readership. It fits the storyline perfectly, as far as I'm concerned.
Still, as this site entails, Dumbledore's begs one question: Is ol' Albus truly ? Frankly, I have my doubts, and it has nothing to do with any clues Rowling may or may not have in HBP. Part of her genius as an author is that she leaves just as many red herrings in her work as real clues, forcing us to guess wildly what happen until after the fact. Rather, my doubt comes from possessing a unique fluidity and transience, in deep connection with the supernatural and myth, which is not without precedent in fantasy works. In fact, the genre is replete with /rebirth examples, not only in modern literature but going back thousands of years to the ancient myths and folklore that are modern fantasy's progenitors.
It is important to note that, since the entire Harry Potter saga is, at its core, a children's story, the majority of its readership are still young people who have not been around long enough to be thoroughly read in the genre, although one would hope that current education hasn't degraded to the point where the most basic stories are now out of the curriculum. By seeing that and rebirth are well established within the genre, as well as the many forms they take, then perhaps Rowling's younger aunce understand Dumbledore may not be after all, or that his , if it is final, have a more profound and positive result than we now perceive.
As such, I barely focus on the sonata of the Harry Potter saga itself, but instead plant my attention squarely on the cacophonic symphony that is all myth, folklore and fantasy that came before it, and present to you, dear reader, with the tiniest snapshot to illustrate my claims.
First, let's take a look at two of the most influential early civilizations in Western culture, Egypt and Greece. Ancient Egypt's religion was almost entirely based on the notion of as a transient state. Aside from the phoenix myth, which Rowling has tied closely to Dumbledore, one of the most well-known Egyptian /rebirth stories relates to the of the god Osiris by his brother, Set, and his subsequent resurrection because of his wife, Isis, which signified the ancient Egyptian's view of nature's self-renewal.
The ancient Greeks had many cyclic, /rebirth myths. Zeus saving his siblings after their father, Kronos, ate them is one. Another Greek -renewal myth concerned the god Hades and his wife, Persephone. According to this story, winter occurred during the time of year Persephone spent with Hades to the netherworld, her absence reflecting, like Osiris' annual and rebirth, the and rebirth of nature.
Jumping centuries ahead to the middle ages, we find the legend of King Arthur and his own personal wizard, mentor and advisor, Merlin, the archetype for almost every wizard character in modern fantasy. This story, which has been and continues to be reinvented and reinterpreted countless times in both print (Sir Thomas Marlory's Le Morte d'Arthur, The Once and Future King by T.H. White, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley and many others) and cinema (Camelot (1967), the adult-oriented Excalibur (1981; sorry kids, not for you), the made-for-television stinker Merlin (1998) and again, others), nevertheless (most of the time, anyway, depending on how the legend is interpreted) depicts Arthur's loss of Merlin near the end of the story that is tied directly to or is in some way symbolically -like. Yet there also is the promise of Merlin's return when he is needed, or he actually does return. Arthur himself makes a bid for rebirth when, though mortally wounded at the end of his legend, he is taken to Avalon to sleep until England needs him once more.
From this perspective, we can view Harry as a kind of Arthurian hero. Near the end of his quest, he must now rely on his own ss to see him through, whether Dumbledore comes back or not.
Next, on to the 20th Century and modern fantasy. My first example needs even less of an introduction than Rowling and Dumbledore: J.R.R. Tolkien, his masterpiece The Lord of the Rings, and Tolkien's own nod to Merlin, Gandalf the Grey. In Fellowship of the Ring, as the Fellowship is trying to escape Moria, Gandalf battles a Balrog, a demon from Middle Earth's First Age when Sauron was just a glorified yes-man to that world's original Dark Lord, Morgoth. He defeats the Balrog, but in the process Gandalf himself experiences a form of , only to be reborn as Gandalf the White, a more powerful transcendent being. Tolkien leads us on initially, making his readers believe Gandalf is indeed gone until a good way into the second book, The Two Towers.
Michael Moor, one of the "New Age" fantasy and science fiction writers of the latter 20th Century, has built an entire career out of and rebirth. The adventures of his Eternal Champion, a single name for an infinite number of heroes inhabiting an infinite number of alternate realities known as the multiverse, take up almost every title in his huge catalogue of novels and short stories. Each Champion fights and s for the Cosmic Balance, only to be reborn in a different universe to fight and all over again.
Other modern fantasy works, such as in the dark fantasy/horror sub-genre, also make the use of and rebirth, but to more terrifying effect. H.P. Lovecraft, viewed by many as the father of modern dark fantasy, in his own fiction weaves a threatening undertone of , mad gods that once ruled the earth and mean to live once more and rule again. This darker side of the /rebirth motif lives on in the Potter novels, as Lord Voldemort regains his power and body in a new bid for tyrannical power.
I should also note fantasy's many appearances on both the big and little screen (some already noted above), much of the time, in the author's opinion, falling well short of the genre's great potential in that medium. One movie, despite its shortfalls, does rate a mention concerning the transient nature of and life in fantasy. The Paramount Pictures/Disney debacle, Dragonslayer (1981), is framed around a wizard's magical faux , as well as some of the best special affects for a dragon ever done in cinema, outstripping even the CGI work in Dragonheart (1996).
One of the better examples in cinema concerning fantasy's take on 's temporary nature comes from the original Star Wars movie trilogy. Granted, this is science fiction, but it borrows liberally from fantasy, particularly concerning the of its wizard, Obi Wan Kenobi. "You can't win, Darth," Kenobi says in his last duel with Darth Vader during the first movie, A New Hope (1977). "If you strike me down I become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." And this is spoken to a character that, as the story goes, was conceived by The Force! When he s Obi Wan does become more powerful, so much so he can even return from the in spirit form.
If Rowling brings Dumbledore back, how she do it? There are many other ways in Fantasy to rise from the grave besides those noted here. Or she can, as she has done so many times in the past, think up a new solution.
But we also must consider, just as we must now consider the possibility that Harry himself in the last book as Rowling also has hinted at, that Dumbledore is gone and gone for good. Does this invalidate him as a character, or his affect on the rest of the storyline? Certainly not. Harry and Company now have something that Voldemort and his Eaters have already proved they are incapable of comprehending: a martyr. When everyone thought Voldemort was ed in his first encounter with Harry, did the Eaters regroup? No. They scattered, were arrested, feigned ignorance or pretended to be cursed. We don't even have to look at myth or literature to see examples of martyrdom's power. Martyrs played a central role in early Christianity's growth, and our televisions show us daily examples of sad, deluded fools blowing themselves up on what they think is martyrdom's path. Harry and Company now have a symbol from which to derive a continuous and unlimited stream of inspiration and motivation to defeat Voldemort and his chumps.
In the end, we must place our faith in Rowling, just as she as a writer places her faith in the muse she follows as she writes. Her readership has been with her for the past sixth books, and the most important thing they need to believe is that she, like a good ship's Captain, guide them through the storm and resolve Dumbedore's with satisfaction, even if it is in a way that none of us expect. That is another aspect of Rowling's work I find admirable, as I'm sure you do, too. And like everyone else, I'll have to wait another two years to find out.
David Nagore lives in Tucson, Arizona with his wife and three kids. A University of Arizona graduate with a BA in Creative Writing, his fiction and nonfiction work has appeared in Dream International/Quarterly, Tucson Weekly, Western Outdoor News and others. A great lover of speculative fiction and fantasy in particular, his daughter turned him on to Harry Potter when she made him promise to take her to see the movie version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone. An admitted literary snob, he read the book before taking her, and before he know it had read every volume published to that point.
Published September 7, 2006
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