Harry Potter and Thanatophobia: Is Death Natural?

Recently I’ve been getting into the hobby of Dungeons and Dragons. This is, I admit, an odd way to start a conversation about Harry Potter. The reason I mention it is that in the spell lists of D&D there is resurrection magic. Online communities for D&D openly discuss what the meaning of resurrection means for their game table. Mechanically, it means that a player can continue playing their character that they’ve grown attached to. While I was ruminating on resurrection, I began to think of the most influential fantasy text of my generation. When it comes to healing and resurrection in the world of Harry Potter it is a painful, slow process that more often involves potions than spells.

In the few instances that we see resurrection magic in Harry Potter, it is a perversion. It’s the result of a climatic duel or a powerful deathly artefact. The only time we see a positive example of resurrection is the return of Harry Potter to the world of the living. The experience of being a ghost is described as a very unpleasant one. The Resurrection Stone drives those mad who use it to speak with their deceased loved ones. I’m not disparaging any of this, but it’s a choice. Rowling made the choice that resurrection is unnatural. Why?

From a narrative perspective, it makes perfect sense. Harry Potter is an orphan who parents were killed by a powerful Dark Wizard. If resurrection weren’t nothing but a thang, then all the gravitas of Harry’s story would be removed. However, it sells a worldview that death is a natural part of life. Unless you’re the Chosen One, of course. The whole final book revolves around this concept. Voldemort, the villain, wants to overcome death. Among his many evil characteristics, including magical racism, his fear of death is what the final book hinges on.

Voldemort creates Horcruxes to avoid death. He seeks to master death in his pursuit of the Deathly Hallows. His preferred spell is the killing curse ‘Avada Kedavra’. This is a massive pillar of the final book and Voldemort’s death avoidance is perhaps his fatal flaw. However, consider this. Hogwarts students receive a wand at eleven. While the knowledge on killing curses is tightly secured (though how secure if Harry can be taught it at fourteen, unusually but it was still possible). There is nothing stopping the wrong eleven-year-old learning the wrong word, pointing their wand at a fellow student, and Bam! No more, let’s say Neville Longbottom as an example.

I realise I’m stretching the possibility of the world, but theoretically, this could happen. What recourse is there in this world then? Neville is dead, he has shuffled off this mortal coil, he’s run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible, this is an ex-Gryffindor. How dramatic. Now, this is very much like our real world. Dead is dead. However, it doesn’t have to be. Rowling is writing a fantasy series. She may be writing this fantasy series for the first generation to eliminate death is we achieve some sort of singularity.

Look, I may not be in the majority here, but I believe that with our increasing understanding of the world and the rapid improvement of technology, we as humans are close in the grand scheme of things to circumnavigating death itself. There are lobsters that we know are functionally immortal. We could live forever. Rowling’s series posits that death is natural and that avoiding it is unnatural. Need it be so?

Now, your theology might dictate that there is another life after this one, a better life. My agnosticism leads me down a path where there is nothing after death. Therefore, from my view, preventing death is the only thing that makes sense. Life is categorically the only experience we have as humans, that we know of so far. It follows that we should want to extend that life as far as possible. Rowling was following a grand tradition when it came to her themes surrounding death. However, as the world changes, perhaps we should introduce new stories that do not position death as natural but as something that will one day be eliminated. Death is a limiter we convinced ourselves is immovable. Let’s remove the limiter.


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