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Views and Reviews - Page 2



   Warning!  The following article contains information about what happens at the climax of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  If you haven't yet read the novel, then reading any further will spoil some of the book's surprises.

The Quality of Mercy: Severus Snape and Judas Iscariot

   I won't pretend that I wasn't distressed by the death of Professor Dumbledore near the end of the sixth Harry Potter novel.  But my main feeling once I'd finished the book was relief; it could have been so much worse.  What with the werewolf Fenrir's boasting about attacking Hogwarts students, the bodies lying on the floor in the corridor, and grim hints I'd heard from elsewhere, I thought for a horrible few pages that Luna and Hermione (Felix Felicis notwithstanding) were among the dead.  In fact, the book ended with a flurry of small triumphs and reconciliations - for Fleur Delacour and Mrs Weasley, for Tonks and Remus Lupin, and even for Grawp the giant.

   But why aren't I more shocked than I am about Dumbledore's death at the hands of one he trusted?  I think it's because I'm trying to see it not from Harry's point of view, but through the eyes of the person who was most affected by the death; Professor Dumbledore himself.  I can't actually imagine him minding very much!  I can picture his image looking benevolently out of the painting in his old office with a wry and knowing expression, and saying something like 'Harry, there are two great and ancient mysteries; Love, about which Lord Voldemort knows and cares nothing, and Death, with which he is obsessed, and of which he equally knows nothing.'  In the very first Harry Potter book, Dumbledore said, 'After all, to the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure.'

   It's easy to see Severus Snape as a traitor.  There's no doubt that he killed Dumbledore . . . but that isn't actually the same thing as saying he was responsible for Dumbledore's death.  Could Snape actually have done anything to save Dumbledore's life, when the ailing Headmaster was wandless and surrounded by Death Eaters?  Almost certainly not, for we know something which Harry didn't know; Snape had made an Unbreakable Vow to carry out the task assigned to Draco Malfoy - to kill Dumbledore - if Draco failed.  If Snape had turned on the Death Eaters, he would have died of Breach of Contract, which wouldn't have been of much help to anyone.  And it may well be that Dumbledore was dying anyway.

   Professor Dumbledore knew that Draco had been plotting against him all year.  He knew (because Harry had told him) that Snape had been offering Draco his assistance.  And yet he said very clearly that he trusted Snape.  It looks as if he had a good reason for this, which he never revealed to Harry.  Might Snape have made another Unbreakable Vow, to follow Dumbledore's instructions no matter what they were?

   It's worth noting that Dumbledore's character judgement of Draco Malfoy, someone much less familiar to him than Snape, was entirely accurate.

   So might Snape have been acting on Dumbledore's instructions all along?  Did Dumbledore's final plea to Snape mean, 'I know you don't want to kill me, but you must'?  It's the sort of order Dumbledore would make - just look at his instructions to Harry a few chapters earlier: 'If I tell you to leave me, and save yourself, you will do as I tell you?'  Professor Dumbledore knew his own importance, but he also recognised that he wasn't the centre of everything, and he was comfortable enough with the idea of death not to hang on to life at too high a price.

   It hardly seems right to mourn Dumbledore's death and in the same breath accuse him of making a serious error of judgement.  Snape may be a traitor.  On the other hand, he could be a loyal agent, perfectly positioned in the enemy camp by his actions throughout the year and by Dumbledore's sacrifice.  It isn't reasonable to condemn Snape without knowing his mind - and that's a matter between him and his creator.

   It is written: 'Do not judge', and I think this is why; with our limited knowledge we can never, never be sure that we are judging correctly and not condemning the innocent.  We get it wrong all too often, whether it's suspected terrorists in illegal American prisons or Stan Shunpike in Azkaban.

   What does all this have to do with Christianity?  Quite a lot.  One of the keys to the success of Harry Potter is that the stories tackle the huge themes that are written into the very structure of the universe.  (The sermon Patterns of Resurrection on this subject, available on the Insights Page, is well worth listening to.)  These themes appear all over the place, and Professor Snape's apparent betrayal has a strong echo in another story, this time a true one: the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot.  The account bears the same mark of inevitability; if Judas hadn't handed Jesus over to the authorities, someone else would have done so.  I don't subscribe to the school of thought that believes the Crucifixion was an integral part of Jesus' plan, but I do believe that he saw it coming, accepted it, and turned its evil into something good.  The stories imply that Jesus knew what Judas was going to do, and allowed him to do it without blame or censure.

   If we can't condemn Snape without knowing his mind, how can we condemn Judas?  His thoughts, too, are known only to him and to his creator.  
Like Snape, Judas was disliked and mistrusted by those around him, but as Snape was part of the Order of the Phoenix, so Judas was one of the Twelve.  Jesus appointed him, and Jesus must have believed that he had a part to play, for good as well as for evil.  Have we, as a Church, done a great wrong in treating him as an outcast?  We shouldn't forget that Peter, too, betrayed Jesus.  If Judas had lived, I can't believe that Jesus wouldn't have welcomed him back as well.

   If it was up to me, I would give Judas the benefit of the doubt and enter his name in the canon of the saints; Judas Iscariot, the Patron Saint of Second Chances.

   And who else is it that Christians blithely condemn?  Pontius Pilate, who (rather like Draco Malfoy) put Jesus into a position where others could kill him, without wanting to take the responsibility himself.   As Dumbledore showed mercy to Draco, so should we show mercy to Pilate.  Jesus said, 'Forgive them, for they know not what they do.'  And we remind ourselves of Pilate's guilt every time we say the Creed.  Is this forgiveness?  Is this what we should be saying in our core statement of Christian belief?

   These themes recur again and again, and the ending of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince runs closely parallel to another great story, The Lord of the Rings.  Gandalf the wizard has fallen apparently to his death in Moria.  The Fellowship of the Ring is broken, and Frodo Baggins, fearful for the safety of his friends, sets off on his seemingly-impossible quest to destroy an object into which the Enemy has placed much of his power.  But his faithful friend Sam refuses to let him go alone, and sticks with him through all dangers.  The road ahead for Sam and Frodo - and for Harry, Ron and Hermione - is dark, but not hopeless.

   And what is it that finally brings down the Dark Lord of Tolkien's tale?  It isn't the great wizard, or the mighty armies of Gondor and Rohan.  It isn't even Frodo himself.  It is Frodo's pity for Gollum, the small seed of which was planted in him by Gandalf before his fall.  Professor Dumbledore's last act was to show mercy to Draco Malfoy, and in so doing he planted a seed of the very same pity in Harry Potter.  The greatest wizard of the age may have died, but in his death, Phoenix-like, something greater has been born.


by Alan Firth



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