Harry Potter and the Philosophy of Choice.

July 18, 2007

What kind of Harry Potter fan would I be, if on the eve of the finale’s release, I did not bring some Dumbledore philosophy to the discussion?

At the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (book 6), we are taught by Dumbledore of the power of the ultimate choice: We are all 100% responsible for the way we choose to view our lives. We’re not always responsible for our luck, for the outcomes, for what happens to us, but we make choices as best as we can, and from there on, the ultimate choice we can make is how we view our situations: with optimism, with skepticism, through positive or negative outlooks.

What is perhaps the book’s – if not the series’ – philosophical climax, this idea ties in to the ultimate fight that Harry will have to face: He and Voldemort are embraced in a battle where only one will remain alive; for while they are both alive, neither can rest. Harry has learned this from a prophecy realized to him in book 5 (841):

“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… And the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal… And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…”

Harry has trouble understanding the concept; he believes he does not have the kind of power it would take to defeat his foe. Dumbledore explains further (book 6, 476):

“…Harry, never forget that what the prophecy says is only significant because Voldemort made it so… Voldemort singled you out as the person who would be more dangerous to him – and in doing so, he made you the person who would be most dangerous to him!

The power of choice; the responsibility of our outlooks. We choose to look at our conflicts the way we do. We formulate our own futures with every second we live in the present. We create our conflicts and we can create our resolutions. We can view our situations as miserable and feel stuck and negative. Or, we can view our situations within a totally different light – and in creating that point of view for ourselves, we are opening ourselves up to solutions.

As Dumbledore continues (476):

“If Voldemort had never heard the prophecy… would it have meant anything? If Voldemort had never murdered your father, would he have imparted in you a furious desire for revenge? …If he had not forced your mother to die for you, would he have given you a magical protection he could not penetrate? …Don’t you see? Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do!”

And perhaps, a clearer analogy from the greatest wizard for us Muggles – er, humans (477):

“Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realise that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back!”

Dumbledore continues by pressing Harry; he gets Harry to admit that if he had heard this dooming prophecy or not, it didn’t matter, he still would have gone off to destroy Voldemort. Harry does not have to feel dictated by a prophecy, the way Voldemort had. Voldemort doomed himself to the prophecy and created the situation where Harry would feel the need to destroy him (479):

“…in other words, you are free to choose your way, quite free to turn your back on the prophecy…”

Harry does understand in the end. As he thinks to himself after hearing Dumbledore’s explanations (479):

It was… the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but [some people] knew… that there was all the difference in the world.”

That’s a heavy lesson for children’s literature… But wouldn’t the world be so different if we all taught Dumbledore’s ‘philosophy of choice’ to our children at an early age?