Themes of Death in Harry Potter & Creatures Found in Mythology

In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Professor Dumbledore says that the “ability to love” is “the only protection that can possibly work against the lure of power.” Love, power and death are the biggest themes in Harry Potter. Death the most conclusive. The opening of the story is the death of Harry’s parents, and then there’s Voldemort’s obsession with conquering death at any price.

In the story, we learn that Harry was intended to be murdered along with his parents, but was mysteriously spared. He was left with nothing but a scar; a constant reminder of the night he should’ve died. Harry not only loses his father, but also his godfather Sirius Black and his mentor Albus Dumbledore. These two men were the only father figures he had growing up without his biological father, James Potter. And for a long time, he thought professor Snape was “bad,” but right after his death, he examines Snape’s memory and discovers that he was good all along. So Harry is left with the thought that Snape could’ve been his friend and mentor during his time at Hogwarts.

In the last two books, you will find references of mastering and controlling death. First, the inscription on the gravestone of Harry’s parents reads, “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death,” reminding Harry of Voldemort’s greatest ambition. The Deathly Hallows are objects that will allow the owner to be the master of death. The meaning of that is ambiguous and could change in different contexts. The Hallows promise immortality and are exemplified in three different objects. First, you have the Elder Wand, which is the most powerful wand in the history of wizardkind. It was created by Death himself. The second object is the Resurrection Stone, which gave its owner the power to bring back people form of the dead. But they become more physically solid than a ghost, but less so than a living body. The last object is Cloak of Invisibility, a cloak that would make you invisible and will provide everlasting protection.

Lord Voldemort’s never-ending obsession with attaining immortality leads him into using Horcruxes. A Horcrux is a powerful object in which you can hide a fragment of your soul. In order to create one, you have to perform dark magic, and possibly murder. The more Horcruxes you create, the closer you get to true immortality. But this process diminishes your humanity, and even physically disfigures you.

A lot of reflections and meanings of death are offered in the story. First and foremost, death is irreversible. There is no spell in Harry Potter that would reawaken the dead. And according to Professor Dumbledore, death is not to be feared.  When Harry is sad at the thought of death, Dumbledore tells him, “to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” In an interview in 1998, Rowling said: “The books do explore the mis-use of power, and there’s an attempt to make some sense of death.” When Harry couldn’t deal with the loss of his godfather, he asks one of the ghosts how he remained a ghost for five centuries. The ghost tells him that the only reason he has remained, is because he feared death too much, and failed to move on. Because of this, he is “neither here nor there.”

Gilgamesh & Lord Voldemort Comparison

After Gilgamesh loses his best friend Enkidu, he undertakes a long journey full of hardships to find immortality. During the journey, he learned that the gods created humans to eventually die. The only way to achieve true immortality is by being remembered for your deeds. Unfortunately, in Harry Potter, Lord Voldemort was not able to grasp that concept. He does not know the meaning of love, friendship and self-sacrifice. He played with the circle of life, murdered so many people, and performed the darkest magic to achieve immortality. The exact opposite of what makes Harry a hero, is what makes Voldemort the “villain.” Yet they’re a reflection of each other, both trying to achieve contradictory goals.

Magical Creatures in Harry Potter Similar to Creatures in Mythology

Dementors

Rowling lost her mother to cancer during the writing process of Harry Potter and she was clinically depressed. You can see a reflection of that in many aspects within the books. For example, Dementors are inspired from her depression. A Dementor is one of the darkest and foulest creatures in the world. They are cloaked figures that feed off human happiness, and cause despair to anyone near them. They can also consume your soul, putting it in a fragile lifeless state. Dementos are a little close to Cu Sith (pronounced “coo shee”), which is an evil fairy dog of Scottish and Irish mythology. It is highly feared like a Dementor, but its sole mission is to carry the souls of people to the afterlife.

Merpeople

Merpeople are beasts that live underwater. They refused to be called “beings” in favor of “beasts.” Like Mermaids in Greek mythology, their society is based around organized communities, and has a great love for music. Their language is Mermish, and it can only be heard properly underwater. It sounds like a loud screeching when spoken above water. Merpeople, however, are not a mixed species between fish and humans. They are species of their own.

Veela

Veela are a race of semi-humans with their own different magical powers. They’re similar to the Sirens of Greek mythology, and Encantado of Brazilian mythology that resides near the Amazon River. Their biology is unknown, but they appear to be young, beautiful human females. Their appearance and dance moves are seductive to almost all male beings, which causes them to perform strange actions to get nearer to them. When they’re angry, they transform into scary beasts. Their faces turn into bird heads, and long wings burst from their shoulders. They can also produce balls of fire from their hands.

Basilisk

The Basilisk is a giant serpent, known as the King of Serpents. It is resulted by a chicken egg hatched beneath a toad. It is considered one of the deadliest creatures ever, and breeding them is illegal in the Harry Potter world. In the second book, a Basilisk was created in the Chamber of Secret, a room found under the dungeons of Hogwarts. The Basilisk was created by one of its founders to guard the Chamber of Secrets. This is very reminiscent of snakes in mythology, where they were regularly chosen as guardians of the Underworld, or messengers between the Upper and Lower world. If you make eye contact with a Basilisk, you die. This is similar to Medusa of Greek mythology.

2 responses to “Themes of Death in Harry Potter & Creatures Found in Mythology

  1. Love this potterhead post! Plus, house elves are practically brownies, mythical creatures that clean houses and are only freed when given clothing.

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