Friday, August 24, 2007

J.K. Rowling's Last Metaphor

One of the reasons that the Harry Potter series has been so successful is Rowling's ability to illuminate problems with her society by portraying slightly altered versions of the same issues in the her fantastical wizarding world. For example, wizards who are not direct descendants of other wizards are considered "half-bloods" if one of their parents is a Muggle (the wizard term for a non-wizard) or, worse yet, "mudbloods" if both their parents were Muggles. This problem is absurd to the reader, which is partly Rowling's point because such name calling is shockingly similar to much of the racism that occurs in our real world. Countless other such metaphors are found in the series, exploring the issues that she finds important in her life through the fictional lives of Harry and friends.

While most of these metaphors make a lot of sense, the one thing that I have never understood is the reason why many in the wizarding world are unwilling to call Voldemort, the main "bad guy," by his real name. They prefer to call him "You-Know-Who," or if they are very serious about the whole thing, "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named." Harry never believed in this taboo about Voldermort's name, prefering instead to follow Dumbledore's advice that "fear of the name only increases fear of the thing itself." Rowling obviously included this phenomenon for a reason, for yet another social commentary, but I had up until now not been able to figure out why.

It took the death of an old classmate of mine about two weeks ago to enlighten me. While pondering how sad it is that he died, I've reflected upon how we as a society don't really discuss death until it affects us immediately. I've been lucky in that I haven't had to experience much death in my young life, but this classmate was one of the first people my age who I had known for a long time, whose house I had been over to, and who had made an impact upon my life. I think there are many reasons why death is such a hushed topic, one of which must be a fear that it will lead to unnecessary melancholy.

Through this reflection I believe I understand Rowling's last metaphor, the most convoluted yet one of the most powerful points in her series. Fear of a "name," or fear of talking about something, will only increase fear of the thing itself. The less we talk about death publicly, the more we will fear it privately. Do you agree?