WARNING: Spoilers will follow as we discuss the conclusion of Harry Potter and how J.K. Rowling symbolically ended her series by demonstrating beautiful teamwork that allowed the antagonist to be defeated in all the ways we’ve come to expect.
Alright. So we all are already aware of the fact that J.K. Rowling is a genius. She did so many clever, immaculate things in the building of her universe that it typically beggars description. It isn’t just by luck that her career took off and her stories captured billions of dollars worth of interest. She has loveable characters, intricate plots (that get a lot better as the books progress), and the intriguing battle between two equally powerful and interesting forces. Perhaps her most fascinating achievement is the stunning way that she brings family and friendship to the forefront of everything. I must admit that I felt a little disappointment after book 6. I thought that she left Harry looking incredibly weak. It was hard for me to fathom what he could possibly do and discover and become in book 7 that would close the gap between his talents and Voldemort’s talents (especially considering the gap between he and Snape loomed so large in my mind).
Fortunately, Rowling out-thought her readers and brought the series back to what it has always been about. The forging of family. The dependency we have on one another. The idea that love can conquer. Her final book definitely equips Harry with a few items of power that he didn’t have before, but ultimately he wins by transforming the unique traits he possesses into weapons that Voldemort simply cannot stand against. Let’s dive in to the destruction of Voldemort and figure out how Rowling stripped the darkest wizard of his powers, once and for all:
Fun Fact #1 – Did you know that every single Horcrux was destroyed by someone different? Let’s analyze.
1. Harry destroyed the Tom Riddle diary with a basilisk fang.
This is a classic from stories, isn’t it? I like to refer to it as the Foreshadowed Defeat. The bad guy, whom we know to be a great and insidious force at work in the overall landscapes, finds a foothold within the life of our narrator. In Chamber of Secrets, Ginny becomes obsessed and then possessed by the diary and we even see Harry interact with it a few times. When that evil manifests into bodily form (though obviously, not as powerful as the true Voldemort), Harry faces and destroys it. This is the hero’s early success against a remnant of power. It foreshadows the darker and later showdowns, because neither the protagonist or the antagonist are fully formed. Harry? He’s too young at that point. In fact, take a look at how he destroys the Horcrux. He uses the very weapon that Tom Riddle intended to harness against him. It isn’t by some amazing power of his own. Later, they will face one another in fullness. This first defeat is almost a youthful accident, isn’t it?
2. Dumbledore destroyed Marvolo Gaunt’s ring with the sword of Gryffindor.
This method is equally familiar to us. Here we see the wise sage forging a knowledgeable path of inquiry back into the life of the antagonist. What dark secrets wait there? What do they mean and how can the heroes use this information against the present and looming threat? Dumbledore, in many ways, is my favorite character. I love the slow revelation of all that he has learned and the incredible lengths by which he has accessed this information. Eventually, he discovers the ring through a keen intellect and by piecing together clues that no one else could have, except perhaps Hermione. But let’s also look at the costs of this particular defeat. This portion of who Voldemort is pulls and tears at Dumbledore’s weaknesses. He tries to take the ring for himself, and is cursed by the mistake. We find out later it’s this curse that spelled his inevitable doom, a curse that not even his incredible intellect and spellwork could reverse.
3. Ron destroyed Slytherin’s locket with the sword of Gryffindor.
One of my favorites! Really, what an excellent scene this was in The Deathly Hallows. In literature, we often see versions of the Rescue from Without. Too often, their convenient and insensible. Deus Ex Machina finds himself at work and the characters randomly make it out of situations in which the reader must suspend both their disbelief and their expectation of good writing. Not in this scene. Ron comes storming back with the help Dumbledore’s deluminator (yet another example of how well Dumbledore knew the students he served AND the conflicts that waited for them). He dives down in the water, rescues Harry, and then faces an ultimate fear. Using the sword, he destroys both that fear and a part of Voldemort’s soul. The conquering of a dark fear for Ron results in Harry having one less demon to face. Talk about carrying a part of the burden on behalf of your protagonist. Look, too, at how the scene gives Harry the opportunity to encourage Ron to face that fear. Harry’s able to demonstrate his understanding of how this supernatural hunt works, saying that he believes Ron must be the one to do it. An excellent example of Rescue from Without done well.
4. Hermione destroys Hufflepuff’s cup with the basilisk fang
This is one of my least favorites, but it’s still necessary. Ron played his role by stepping bravely into the spotlight. Hermione, as the third member in the group, needed to shine in an undertaking of her own. I was disappointed that Rowling hoisted the intellectual discovery here into Ron’s lap instead. We get to see a “breakthrough” in their relationship as Hermione gives credit to Ron for remembering the basilisk fang, for whispering the words to gain entrance to the Chamber, etc. What a misfortune in my mind that Hermione, who quietly and patiently led them throughout book 7, doesn’t have an ultimate hand in the destruction of Voldemort. Yes, she is the one who uses the fang. But the legwork credit goes to Ron?
More importantly, this one also happens off stage. It is the “handling” of some dark component that must be completed before the hero can have his final showdown. We see it in movies all the time. So and so must throw the switch in order to get the ships through the barrier. It’s just not as fun because we don’t get to see the conflict faced on stage.
5. Crabbe destroys the Ravenclaw’s diadem with fiendfyre
Now, I love this one. I won’t go too deeply into the analysis, but I love the accidental destruction of power through the misuse and abuse of said power. Crabbe dips into a darkness he’s incapable of truly harnessing. What a great foreshadowing of Voldemort dipping into powers that he also doesn’t understand. The scene is action-packed, but more importantly it allows our Immediate Threat bad guys from book one to play a substantial role in how the story ends. We get a recall to several past encounters and we ultimately see a part of Voldemort’s soul destroyed by the same kind of darkness he used to create it. Poetic and well done.
6. Voldemort destroys the Horcrux inside of Harry using the killing curse.
This is the typical overconfidence of evil in the face of a final show down. We see Voldemort demonstrating a pride in all of the wrong things. He knows he’s the superior wizard. He thinks he has the superior weapon. He misunderstands the choice of Harry to come forward (to some degree). His actions all work outward from misunderstandings, mistakes, and flaws. As a result, he destroys himself inside of Harry. On the other hand, this scene shows Harry in utter, beautiful control. I absolutely loved Rowling’s writing of Harry walking through the woods. She dives into a more visceral prose than she typically used throughout the books to capture the choice of a young man to die, and sacrifice himself, for his friends. As Harry moves forward, he actually doesn’t know that he’s going to succeed. He just thinks that his choice will stop Voldemort from harming others. It’s the perfect scene and example of true, raw power backfiring against its wielder.
7. Neville cuts off Nagini’s head with the sword of Gryffindor
Oh, how perfect. The final portion of Voldemort’s soul is destroyed by the what if of the entire story line. What if Voldemort had chosen and marked the Longbottoms? What if Neville had grown up as the Harry Potter of their world and been the chosen one throughout the series? Her parallel of him throughout the books is excellent. I also love her forging of something new. The bumbling character? Common. The bumbling character that manifests into a force of rebellion and into a man that stands up boldly against evil, even to the very end? Uncommon. The choice results in another cocky moment out of Voldemort. He overplays his hand, doesn’t protect Nagini, and in a flash, the sword of Gryffindor strikes down yet another portion of his soul. This scene is all the excellent things. Yet again, Rowling tackles the archetype of having an unresolved hero step into the spotlight to aid our true hero.
So, as you can see, these 7 instances really act as mirrors to the rest of our world of literature. How is the evil going to be faced and destroyed in the end? You don’t have to look far in movies and books to see traces of the above archetypes at work in some of our greatest stories. It just so happens that Rowling had the opportunity to destroy Voldemort in 7 (technically 8) different ways. In each, she’s highlight a new character and yet another way in which good can triumph over impending evil. She’s the best for a reason.