Potterpalooza on Tor.com

Why “The Boy Who Lived” Lived

Here’s a question for all of you Potter fans out there: Was the final book ever going to live up to the hype?

Ten years after the publication of the Philosopher’s Stone, the end of the Harry Potter saga was upon us. Once everyone had finished reading Deathly Hallows, the online maelstrom began, and it seemed very clear that readers were divided into two solid camps—those who thought the finale worked and those who didn’t. It is the Great Fandom Gap, in a way, much worse than any fight you’ll see between Battlestar Galatica fans or even Star Wars fans (since finding a fan who will defend the prequels is like finding a white Bengal tiger in the Sahara Desert). And the fight rages on. There are still people who are disappointed by the end that Harry met (or rather, didn’t meet) at the hands of Voldemort, and the epilogue that followed.

It probably comes as no surprise that I’m in the camp of satisfied fans, but it’s not because I have a deep, nostalgic love for the material. In fact, I think if Harry had died, it would have gone against the most important points of Rowling’s narrative, starting with the first essential action of the series:

Lily Potter sacrificed her life to save her son.

It is the defining moment of the story, the point that marks Harry forever as the chosen one. But it’s far more than that: how can this action carry the same weight if Lily saves her son only to have him die anyway, at the hands of the very villain she was desperate to save him from? Lily Potter did not save her son so he could save the world. She saved him so that he could grow up and have a wonderful life with or without her. Belittling that choice by making Harry a martyr would have been an insult to her and to the choice she made in having a child when her world was at war.

Even without considering Lily, there is another element in the “Harry should have died” argument that concerns me: this is ultimately a children’s series. Now I know full well that plenty of children’s stories are dark and terrifying and full of death. But Harry Potter is not a folk tale or a fable, it is a set of books clearly designed to teach life lessons. Lessons about love and friendship and how to do the right thing, even when you are faced with teasing, or being ostracized, or life-threatening danger. If Harry dies, the lesson becomes “do the right thing and people will remember you did it.” Of course, adults are aware that sometimes there is no reward for doing the right thing, but as a child, I needed to believe the opposite. I think most children do. Having Harry bite the bullet to be realistic, or to make the sacrifice carry more weight smacks of trying to be gritty just because you can.

I know it’s easy to forget with the current trends in fiction, but some stories are meant to have happy endings.

Which brings me to the epilogue, probably the most controversial piece in all seven books. Draco and Harry still don’t get along, everyone has kids and they’re all seeing them off on the Hogwarts Express.

What, exactly, is wrong with that picture? Did the gang not deserve to have a relatively nice and normal (by wizard standards) life after the hell that they went through in their childhoods? They’re all still doing good things day to day as Aurors and wizard lawyers. And yes, they did decide to have kids because family is the most important theme in the entire work. This should not be a surprise or an upset.

I know, Draco Malfoy and Harry aren’t buddies in their middle age. Considering the terrible things they did to each other, that wasn’t likely to happen. There are ways that they can grow past the previous generation — they are not as openly hostile to each other as Snape and Sirius Black were — but there are still too many wounds there to shake hands on and have done with. And frankly, Draco was never destined to be a great, likeable guy — some people just aren’t. He was raised to believe he was superior, and some part of him will always think that’s the truth.

And then there’s the chance at redemption; upon hearing his fears that he might be Sorted into Slytherin, Harry tells his son Albus that it’s okay — he can be whatever he wants to be. The thought that a Potter might end up in Slytherin House is the real hope at the end of this book. The journey begins again. Maybe not as epic this time around, but that’s life for you. One generation fights wars and the next changes the social landscape. It’s all about baby steps.

The Boy Who Lived still lives. He has boys of his own, and a girl, and a wonderful wife, and they live together in a house with broomsticks that fly and owls that deliver mail. For the lad who spent his first years living in a cupboard under the stairs, that is the greatest miracle of all.

All artwork © Mary GrandPre

Emily Asher-Perrin hopes that Scorpius Malfoy and Albus Potter became best friends and gave their fathers terror-induced heart attacks. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.


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