The Mythopoeic Society will be celebrating their 41st annual conference at the Crowne Plaza Suites Hotel in Dallas, Texas from July 9-12, 2010. I am delighted to announce that I will be attending this conference for the first time, and I will be presenting a paper that I wrote entitled “The Lord of the Horcruxes: The Immortal Soul and the Eternal War Between Good and Evil in the Fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien and J. K. Rowling” at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, July 9. Here is an excerpt from my paper:
The ancient mythological concept of prolonging one’s life by placing one’s heart in an object for safekeeping has been made familiar to modern audiences through such films as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. In these fantasy adventure films, the villainous Davey Jones has prolonged his life by keeping his heart locked away in the Dead Man’s Chest. The protagonists in these high-seas adventures must find the key to unlock the magical chest in order to destroy the heart of Davey Jones, and thus end the villain’s physical immortality.
Tolkien was very familiar with the type of folklore that inspired the Pirates films. He was intrigued by folk tales in which a character prolongs the span of human life by removing his “heart” (a metaphor for the human soul) and hiding it away in an object. Tolkien described this in his essay “On Fairy Stories.”
…the life or strength of a man may reside in some other place or thing; or in some part of the body (especially the heart) that can be detached and hidden in a bag, or under a stone, or in an egg. (The Tolkien Reader [Reader] 44)
The notion that the heart can be hidden away to prolong one’s life is alluded to in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when Ron and Harry examine the locket Horcrux.
“Can you feel it, though?” Ron asked in a hushed voice, as he held it tight in his clenched fist.
“What d’you mean?”
Ron passed the Horcrux to Harry. After a moment or two, Harry thought he knew what Ron meant. Was it his own blood pulsing through his veins that he could feel, or was it something beating inside the locket, like a tiny metal heart? (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows [Hallows] 276)
From time to time Harry thought, or perhaps imagined, that he could feel the tiny heartbeat ticking irregularly alongside his own. (Hallows 278)
Rowling also made use of this fairy tale concept in “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart” from The Tales of Beedle the Bard. The villain of that tale, like the Immortal Kashchei and Lord Voldemort, locked his heart away inside an object to gain invulnerability. Dumbledore’s commentary on this tale says that, “The resemblance of this action to the creation of a Horcrux has been noted by many writers.” (TBB 58) One can only wonder if Dumbledore (or J. K. Rowling) has been reading Tolkien. It is significant that the passages from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows quoted above are from the chapter called “The Thief” in which Harry, through Voldemort’s eyes, sees Gregorovitch the wandmaker tortured for information about a thief. Remember what Tolkien said about the dangers of placing one’s heart or soul in an external object: it is “exposed to capture or destruction with disastrous results to oneself.” (Letters 279) The object may be stolen or destroyed; both Tolkien and Rowling emphasize this notion in their fiction.
Gollum (as Smeagol) stole Sauron’s ring from Deagol, Bilbo Baggins took the ring from Gollum and eventually gave it to Frodo, who embarked on a quest to destroy it in the fires of Mount Doom.
Likewise, Dumbledore was able to obtain the ring Horcrux from Marvolo Gaunt’s home and destroy it. Regulus Black was able to steal the locket Horcrux from the cave of the Inferi. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were able to break into Bellatrix Lestrange’s Gringott’s vault to steal the cup Horcrux. And finally, the trio gained access to the Room of Hidden Things to search for the diadem Horcrux, which was then destroyed in the fire conjured by Vincent Crabbe.
J. K. Rowling said in a 2007 interview that the two Bible quotations found in the graveyard scene in Godric’s Hollow “sum up—they almost epitomize the whole series.” (Adler, 2) With reference to the Horcruxes, let’s examine the Bible quotation on the Dumbledore family tomb:
Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Hallows 325)
This quotation is from Matthew’s gospel, from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. To put the quote in context, this is what Jesus Christ had to say about earthly treasures:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21, NRSV)
There is a lesson in this that Dumbledore learned but Voldemort did not: do not put your heart and soul in the material wealth and pleasures of this world, because these treasures do not last and can be taken from you. They are temporal pleasures, finite like life itself. Rather, store up treasures in Heaven, which, like your soul, is eternal. Unfortunately, the sinful nature of human beings often prevents them from doing this.
When young Tom Riddle asked how a Horcrux is made, Slughorn explained that this is done by splitting one’s soul and hiding part of it in an object outside of the body. Then, said Slughorn, “Even if one’s body is attacked or destroyed, one cannot die, for part of the soul remains earthbound and undamaged.” (Prince 497) When Riddle seeks the knowledge of how to split one’s soul, Slughorn’s response is chilling.
You must understand that the soul is to remain intact and whole. Splitting it is an act of violation, it is against nature. [And it is done] by an act of evil—the supreme act of evil: By committing murder. Killing rips the soul apart. (Prince 497-498)
A Judeo-Christian explanation of the effects of evil (sin) upon the soul is essential to fully understanding this passage. A Biblical Hebrew lexicon reveals that the word ra’a means “to be evil,” and one definition of this term translates as “to break, shatter; to be broken in pieces.” To do evil, to sin against God, means literally to ruin one’s soul by breaking it into pieces. This is exactly what Voldemort has done by creating his Horcruxes. But once a soul is broken, can it be mended? Harry, Ron, and Hermione discussed this in Chapter Six of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
“Isn’t there any way of putting yourself back together?” Ron asked.
“Yes,” said Hermione with a hollow smile, “but it would be excruciatingly painful.”
“Why? How do you do it?” asked Harry.
“Remorse,” said Hermione. “You’ve got to really feel what you’ve done. There’s a footnote. Apparently the pain of it can destroy you. I can’t see Voldemort attempting it somehow, can you?” (Hallows 103)
Rowling has demonstrated in this passage that she has a clear understanding of how difficult repentance can be. To be truly repentant for one’s sins is to be destroyed, to allow the old self to die in order to be born again in Christ. This is what the sinner must do in order to make his or her broken soul whole again. There are no temporal earthly pleasures or possessions worth more than the human person’s immortal soul. Not only has Dumbledore learned this lesson, he also sees that Harry is living proof of the value of living free from the temptations of physical longevity and earthly treasures.
In spite of all the temptations you have endured, all the suffering, you remain pure of heart, just as pure as you were at the age of eleven, when you stared into a mirror that reflected your heart’s desire, and it showed you only the way to thwart Lord Voldemort, and not immortality or riches. (Prince 511)
This passage refers back to Dumbledore’s earlier quote in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, in which he explained how humans usually choose “as much money and life as you can want,” that is, they choose what’s worst for them. This is a Biblical lesson:
What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36)
During the folly of his youth, Dumbledore learned of the fatal weaknesses of evil. Evil embraces power, pride, pleasure, materialism, self-centeredness, and hate. Evil cannot comprehend the value of weakness, humility, suffering, death, selflessness, and love. Once again Dumbledore shares his keen understanding of Voldemort’s folly:
I do not think he understands why, Harry, but then he was in such a hurry to mutilate his own soul, he never paused to understand the incomparable power of a soul that is untarnished and whole. (Prince 511)
This excerpt will probably be familiar to those of you who have read The Lord of the Hallows or those who went to my presentation at Azkatraz 2009. There’s a great deal more to the paper that I haven’t posted here, of course. Comments are welcome.
If you are interested in purchasing my book, The Lord of the Hallows, it is available at www.outskirtspress.com/thelordofthehallows. For more information about MythCon 41, please visit www.mythsoc.org. The complete schedule of events can be found at http://www.mythsoc.org/assets/mythcon-41-schedule.pdf.