My mother tells me she heard on the radio a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan say that the only times he escapes the unbearable tension of being in a war zone are “when I’m with Harry.” It’s a little more evidence for my contention that the Harry books, far from dark, are at every moment comforting and amusing.
So different from Jane Austen. There’s tension for you! Particularly in Emma and Northanger Abbey. In fact I had to stop reading the latter last night because it was too much for me: there was Catherine, against her better judgment out for a jaunt with the unspeakably vulgar Mr. Thorpe when she should have been looking for Miss Tilney in the Pump Room, and I couldn’t bear it! I will not be able to finish the book (though I know, of course, from my previous 14 readings that it all works out in the end). At this moment I do not need to deal with this anxiety.
Anyhow, I’ve been thinking about death in the Harry books. There are four kinds: two regular, and two special and restricted to a single character.
1. First there’s normal death. We have ample evidence that this involves an afterlife in which loved ones are reunited, and also that an aspect or aura of the dead can remain or be recalled, in photographs (a bit), or in portraits or with the Hallow stone (quite a lot, but it’s still not the real autonomous thing).
2. Second there are ghosts, dead people with unfinished business who can’t quite get off the ground. We’re given an explanation of this phenomenon and of why some few people become ghosts instead of moving on.
3. There’s Dumbledore. Dumbledore’s dead and not a ghost: he ought to fit into pattern one. But his portrait is way too powerful and alive — it can have all sorts of new ideas and mastermind events in way the aura-portraits can’t; it offers real, warm, living (albeit disembodied) communication from beyond the grave — and, worse, he can show up as a spectre in Harry’s mind telling Harry true things he didn’t know before. None of the other dead can do this: they just show up to offer their tag lines or cheer the heroes on, like good auras should.
4. Finally there’s Sirius, strangest of all. Sirius dies in a way that in all respects fits into pattern one, except for one thing: he takes his body with him.
I’ll give her everything except Sirius. The first two ways are consistently worked out — that’s fine. We know Dumbledore is god or something, so he can break the rules — that’s fine too. But, no, you can’t die and leave no body, and you certainly can’t do so with no explanation of what it’s all about, and I don’t need habeas corpus to tell me so.