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Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels



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  #1  
Old January 28th, 2007, 10:03 pm
Rayjo  Female.gif Rayjo is offline
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Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels

Discussion for Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels by Victoria Saker Woeste.


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  #2  
Old January 28th, 2007, 10:34 pm
sondra sondra is offline
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Re: Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels

how right you are . great editorial


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  #3  
Old January 29th, 2007, 3:15 am
cdmHPfan  Female.gif cdmHPfan is offline
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Re: Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels

You are a professor of what???

Your knowledge and extrapolation are incredible!

I agree that Snape is the most interesting character with the most surprises ahead in book 7.


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  #4  
Old January 29th, 2007, 3:26 am
PolyesterRage PolyesterRage is offline
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Re: Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels

Woo, refreshingly good editorial. Loved the different parts, about Harry's freedom of choice and the "Snape loves Lily" theory, and how they were brought together. Not too sure about that last part though. "Mudblood" isn't a term that's used lightly in the wizarding world, and I don't know if someone who loved another (even if they were embarrassed by them) would use it. I guess we'll see though!

In conclusion, kudos to you.


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  #5  
Old January 29th, 2007, 4:42 am
T_Brightwater T_Brightwater is offline
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Re: Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels

Brava! I've been waiting for someone to do a serious theological analysis of HP.

I was especially struck by your point that Harry has not really been tempted. It is true that Harry has been given no reason to join Voldemort's side, no reason not to hate the Death Eaters. Anakin Skywalker is tempted, and falls victim to the Dark Side through his own pride, envy, and, ironically, his love for Padme and fear for her sake. Sam Gamgee is tempted, and resists the false promises of the Ring through his own humility and reason. Also, Bilbo, Frodo and Sam all refrain from killing Gollum at times when they have the ability and motivation to do so - thus, ironically, making the fulfillment of Frodo's quest possible.

However, there are several minor points of temptation in the books. Harry can't stand Hermione, but when the troll is loose, he knows that finding her and warning her is the right thing to do, even at risk to himself. Dobby causes Harry a great deal of pain and trouble, but Harry finds a way to free him - note that it is sympathy for Dobby that motivates him, and not the desire for revenge on Lucius Malfoy. He even saves his despicable cousin from Dementors. His instinct for protecting others seems so unerring that he comes to rely on it once too often; imagine his devastation when he tries, as he thinks, to rescue Sirius, whom he knows and loves, only to be the indirect cause of his death.

Then, in _Half-Blood Prince_, Harry makes a number of dubious moral choices. It starts with small things; he accepts what could be considered an unfair advantage in Potions and wins the Felix Felicis, which then encourages him to take advantage of Hagrid's grief and Slughorn's greed to get the memory Dumbledore wants. He wins a Quidditch game by distracting the Slytherin Seeker with a taunt. None of these are obviously wrong choices, but they have a gray tinge to them, and at last one of them takes him too far: he uses "Sectumsempra" on Draco, and is horrified by the result. However, his genuine regret is overwhelmed by his resentment of Snape and his desire to hold on to the book from which he learned the spell.

It is encouraging that even in the aftermath of Dumbledore's death Harry can feel some pity for Draco; it remains to be seen whether he can find compassion for Snape, and possibly even for Voldemort.


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  #6  
Old January 29th, 2007, 12:51 pm
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Re: Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels

This is an excellent editorial. There aren't too many of them that succeed in showing me a different perspective to the series. Snape is morally conflicted, whereas Harry really hasn't had to deal with temption yet.

The editorial did not talk about Wormtail, a character that represents what happens when a person chooses what is easy rather than what is right. Sirius would have died for his friends, rather than betray them, the morally correct choice. But Wormtail shows us what kind of power Voldemort has over those who are too weak to resist it.

I wonder if there is time in the seventh book to show Harry facing a similiar choice as Wormtail had to face. We assume that Harry would have acted as Sirius claims he would, rather than Wormtail did, but we haven't really seen it happen yet.


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Old January 29th, 2007, 3:02 pm
Shewoman  Female.gif Shewoman is offline
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Re: Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels

I really enjoyed this--thanks for all your hard work! I agree that Harry has yet to face the degree to which he is responsible for Sirius' death--partly because Dumbledore, who recognizes his own protective love for Harry as a fault, tried to claim total responsibility himself (and he does bear some responsibility). I think it's interesting that we see protective love as both helpful (Lily's self-sacrifice) and harmful (Dumbledore's not telling Harry about the Prophecy). And I think your take on Snape is quite accurate. Yea, you!

You're right that Harry's decisions are formed in large part because of things that happened before he was born. So are Voldemort's, in a sense; while similarities among the childhoods of Harry, Tom Riddle, and Snape abound, Voldemort is the only one who never knew a parent, who has some reason to feel abandoned by his parents. I think it's probably partly due to that that he "forgot" the ancient magic that a loving parent could invoke by dying to save a child.

Forgiveness is not Harry's strong point either. He has forgiven Ron when they've had spats and he was very patient with Sirius in OotP, but he does have a tendency to make his mind up and let it stay that way. It will be interesting to see how that plays out with Snape.

Some minor quibbles: Neville's parents were not tortured about him but about Voldemort; the Lestranges and Barty Crouch Jr. were sent there after Voldemort vanished at Godric's Hollow (as far as they could tell) to try to find out if these Aurors knew anything about what had happened to him. The Lestranges didn't know about the Prophecy (according to JKR's website and "The Pensieve," GoF [pp. 594-5, 602-3 US hardback).

Harry is the only one to survive being hit by an Avada Kedavra; he has twice managed not to be hit, as the editorial points out, but I doubt that he's unique in that respect. There's no magical spell to counter AK, but it can be dodged.

You quote Snape as saying Harry isn't special--but he's talking to a very suspicious Bella who is quite capable of killing him if she doesn't like what she hears (and who will probably be back in V's favor at some point--Lucius is in Azkaban but V's just not speaking to Bella). I'm not sure, therefore, that we can take all that he says at face value. It requires some stretching, for instance to see how his information led to Sirius' death--Snape told the Prophecy, which is why the DEs were at the MoM, and he told Sirius and the Order that Harry was at the MoM, which is why SIrius went there, but in neither case was this "information" intended to harm Sirius.

The editorial says, "But, if Snape loved Lily Evans, then he was honestly motivated to change sides. He deserted Voldemort and joined Dumbledore not because James Potter died, but because Voldemort killed Lily." In "The Pensieve" in GoF Dumbledore testifies that "Severus Snape . . . rejoined our side before Lord Voldemort's downfall and turned spy for us, at great personal risk" (pp. 590-1 US hardback). In "The Seer Overheard" in HBP Dumbledore says, "You have no idea of the remorse Professor Snape felt when he realized how Lord Voldemort had interpreted the prophecy, Harry. I believe it to be the greatest regret of his life and the reason that he returned--" (p. 549 US hardback). It was the interpretation, not the killing, that brought Snape back to Dumbledore. Snape was actually teaching at Hogwarts before the Potters' deaths ("Educational Decree Number Twenty-four," OotP [p. 365 US hardback).


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Last edited by Shewoman; January 29th, 2007 at 3:04 pm.
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  #8  
Old January 29th, 2007, 5:11 pm
juliweasley  Female.gif juliweasley is offline
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Re: Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels

Excellent editorial. Very well researched and stated and I agree most wholeheartedly. The fact that it was posted on the very day in the Catholic calendar that 1Corinthians was read is extremely meaningful. For those unaware of the passage: it is the "love is patient, love is kind.....The greatest of these is love....passage from St Paul. While preparing to read it as a lector, I was struck by the Potteresque signifiacance of one particular verse-
"Love never fails.
If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing;
if tongues, they will cease;
if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
For we know partially and we prophecy paritially,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away."

The prophecy, Harry's connection to Voldemort (his ability to speak parseltongue), Dumbledore's wisdom and knowledge all matter not in the series. It is the perfect, the person who has sacrificed the most, the one who gave up all to save Harry and their world, who will be "fully known" at the end. Severus Snape? Perhaps. One previous editorial suggested Neville Longbottom, an equally interesting theory. But definitely NOT Harry Potter.


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  #9  
Old January 29th, 2007, 5:18 pm
Hermione57  Undisclosed.gif Hermione57 is offline
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Re: Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels

Actually, I'm pretty certain JKR is a member of the Church of Scotland, not the Church of England (I don't mean to be nitpicky, but the two are actually very different)


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  #10  
Old January 29th, 2007, 5:23 pm
Darktimes  Undisclosed.gif Darktimes is offline
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Re: Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels

Well thought out editorial. The exposition is impressive.

However, there is a slight flaw in the Harry free will theory. All choice is determined, influenced or directed by the following: Nature, Nurture, Environment, Education, Wisdom, Wit and Perspective. There is never a clear path of free will/choice; obstacles are always part of the journey. What exists in the Harry Potter books is the element of the outcomes of choice. The variety of tangents that exist from one choice are infinite, the outcomes are finite. Using the prophecy as an example: When Dumbledore made the choice to interview Sybil Trelawney, it set in motion numerous tangents that have set in motion the entire Harry Potter story. However, the outcomes are limited to 2...Harry vanquishes Voldemort or Voldemort vanquishes Harry.

It is as Dumbledore states" It is our choices that define us ", because the outcomes will be judged and then the " why " of the choice gets examined.

As for the religous overtones, undertones and all of the tones in the middle: Does it really matter? The great debate is a good puzzle, as is all debate on the subject. But the morality of the books in essence is: Love vs. Hate. Tolerance vs Intolerance. Religion does not own the highgound on those subjects. If the books suggest anything in that regard it is that choosing a dogmatic point of view instantly creates limits to the vision of the world around you.

The examination is truly wonderful.....and obviously well thought out and documented....but let's not make too much of the substance lest we take the fun out of the books and Harry's journey.


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  #11  
Old January 29th, 2007, 5:51 pm
muggles_rock  Female.gif muggles_rock is offline
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Re: Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels

Excellent - you brought out points that have floated around in my head but I am unable to bring them out so eloquently.

However, I have to disagree that Harry has not been properly tempted yet. First Harry is tempted to befriend Draco Malfoy. Draco is the first fellow student Harry meets and is given a clear choice by Draco to associate with the "best" (in Draco's view) or with the likes of Ron. He was also tempted by Voldemort himself at the end of SS - Voldemort offers him to join with him. Neither of these instances may seem like much temptation to us but that is because we can see the "goodness" in Harry and see that those are things he does not even desire. It is similar to me in the temptation of Christ. The things Satan tempts Christ to do don't seem to be very enticing - therefore, not very tempting - but that is due to the goodness of the one being tempted.

Though I don't compare Harry to Christ; in my estimation, Dumbledore's actions are more "Christlike" and I would more think of Harry as a disciple.

I do agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts on Snape though.


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Old January 29th, 2007, 6:31 pm
N_H  Undisclosed.gif N_H is offline
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Re: Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels

Hallo Victoria Saker Woeste,


what a great and comprehensive editorial! I read your text with huge interest because you try to link so many usually isolated topics of the Harry Potter books, additionally considering their philosophical and theological implications.

I am especially fascinated by your convincing argument that Harry lacks full responsibility for his actions and therefore cannot act on a free will. You contrast Harry with Snape who you portrait to be more apt than Harry to embody the ultimate moral "lesson" of the Harry Potter series.

However convincingly you argue that Harry's choices are not fully free, I disagree to some extend. You point out that Harry cannot be made responsible for his moral actions since he is so much protected by his parents' death and controlled by his teacher Dumbledore. His fate seems to be set by Trelawney's prophecy and by Voldemort single him out.

This is all true, yet we have to be aware of the following. Lily's protection has been overcome by Voldemort, Dumbledore's expansion of the same protection to Privet Drive will wear off at Harry's upcoming birthday. Trelawney's prophecy does neither predict the exact fate of Harry and Voldemort, nor more importantly, the morality of the actions that will fulfil the prophecy. Harry's interpretation of the prophecy -- that he is to set out to kill Voldemort -- is his own choice. Of course, Dumbledore confirms that "one of [them] has got to kill the other" (OotP, chap. 37). Dumbledore also suggests that Harry should "try and kill" Voldemort (HBP, chap. 23). Nevertheless, he never forces Harry to do so, and after Dumbledore's death certainly less so. On the other hand, Voldemort can be killed, once all his Horcruxes are destroyed, which should provide Harry with the means to do so. Thus Harry ultimately can be be responsible for Voldemort's death. His choice to pursue this death is his free will, only he has to face the consequences, Harry's soul can and would be torn for such murder, something impossible before, when Harry's guardians, parents and teachers, assumed most of his responsibility and therefore reduced Harry's free will.

Although Harry's fate to vanquish Voldemort is determined by others, the means will finally be Harry's to choose. Harry should finally be able to tear his own soul, not only with respect to Voldemort's downfall. Harry and Snape's enmity have caused Harry to already attempt to use Unforgivable Curses on Snape. If J. Rowling follows through, Harry will be able to kill Snape, Voldemort, or any other opponent. Harry can and maybe will make immoral choices in Deathly Hallows, allowing for an inner conflict and for his love to play out more clearly in the Catholic sense you describe in your editorial. In the "absence of evil" there is no "salvation" as you say. Your statement is literally true for baby Harry Potter at Godric's Hollow. Through her sacrifice Lily takes all responsibility from Harry, all his free will. Therefore there is no salvation for Harry, he cannot even die. He remains innocent and alive, but not through his own choices. The same is true for Voldemort who loses his body, his power and his ability to do wrong. Throughout the books Harry gradually retains responsibility for his choices and for his life or soul, left more vulnerable every time, while Voldemort retains his body and power.

The end of HBP leaves protagonist Harry and antagonist Voldemort both powerful and morally responsible, probably mortal again. In other words, Deathly Hallows can show a conflict, if J. Rowling decides so, where both Harry and Voldemort are free to choose and suffer the consequences of their choices.

Kind regards,


N_H


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  #13  
Old January 29th, 2007, 7:03 pm
T_Brightwater T_Brightwater is offline
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Re: Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels

Quote:
Originally Posted by muggles_rock View Post
First Harry is tempted to befriend Draco Malfoy. Draco is the first fellow student Harry meets and is given a clear choice by Draco to associate with the "best" (in Draco's view) or with the likes of Ron.
Agreed, but this isn't really that much of a temptation. Draco had already got on the wrong side of Harry in Madame Malkin's by insulting Hagrid (the first person who has shown kindness to Harry since his arrival at the Dursleys') and expressing an opinion that kids from Muggle families didn't belong at Hogwarts. Then, on the train, he insults Ron, who has already befriended Harry. Harry doesn't have a good reason to want to hang out with a skinnier version of Dudley.

Another minor temptation comes from the Sorting Hat, which offers him the chance of "greatness" - but Harry has already formed a prejudice against Slytherin, which keeps him safe in this case. Since he knows so little about the Wizarding world and its politics, he relies on his instincts, which tend to be sound - until the disastrous trip to the Ministry.


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Old January 29th, 2007, 7:17 pm
muggles_rock  Female.gif muggles_rock is offline
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Re: Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels

Quote:
Originally Posted by T_Brightwater View Post
Harry doesn't have a good reason to want to hang out with a skinnier version of Dudley.
Since we know Harry, we know this is not really enticing for him - but how many people would choose the power of befriending a known bully rather than setting yourself up for being on the receiving end of the bully's wrath? For the simple fact that Harry was fully aware of the power a bully has (through his association with Dudley), this was a temptation for Harry because he could have jumped in on the "powerful" side immediately. He could have been the one to bully others rather than be bullied himself as he was so accustomed to from Dudley.


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Old January 29th, 2007, 7:27 pm
Shewoman  Female.gif Shewoman is offline
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Re: Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels

Free will is still an important element in the series--Snape's in telling the Prophecy, Voldemort in deciding Harry was the greatest danger, Snape's in "rejoining" the good side; Sirius' in setting up the S-K plan, Peter's in betraying the Potters, Lily and James in being willing to die to protect their loved ones (I realize Lily's death is the one that provides the protection), Dumbledore's to take a special interest in Harry, Voldemort's in making Horcruxes, using Harry's blood to get his body back, and being involved in the deaths of people Harry loves, Sirius' in deciding to go to the MoM against Dumbledore's orders, Snape's to kill Dumbledore. While few of us have such dramatic backstories, our lives are also bounded by the decisions made by others (both personally and nationally) before we were born. Harry at least understands that it his his choice to face Voldemort; he is not forced by the Prophecy.


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Old January 29th, 2007, 8:44 pm
vsw  Undisclosed.gif vsw is offline
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Re: Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels

Hi, everyone,

It took me until now (3:30 p.m. Eastern US) to get registered on the forum--hence my delay in acknowledging all your comments. I will try to answer as many of them as I can, but please be patient if I don't answer right away, or fully. I happily cop to being an academic--pretty obvious from the writing style, I suppose--with a full-time job and 4kids and a spouse. And a looming book deadline, not unlike another more famous, richer author we all know.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed. I enjoy the constructive engagement, and it's exactly what I hoped for when I submitted the editorial to Mugglenet. Although I originally wrote the paper for an academic conference, I wanted to reach a general audience of careful HP readers.

My point about Harry and free will is actually pretty simple. I am arguing that Dumbledore idealizes Harry's ability to act freely, that Dumbledore leaves me with the impression that he is less aware than he should be about the constraints on Harry's freedom (and about Harry's relative lack of maturity). Of course there is no such thing as absolute freedom (at least not in the real world) and I think Rowling makes it clear there isn't in the Wizarding World, either.

There was a comment about my using Snape's characterization of Harry from HBP (in conversation with Bella). True, Snape is acting cagily there. But there are plenty of other examples of Snape's dissing Harry--to his face and to others. See, e.g., POA (overheard conversation between Snape and Fudge).

My reference to JKR's being a member of the Church of England came from the interview I quoted. I'll check the source and if I misattributed her religious affiliation, I'll correct the paper.

Victoria Woeste


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  #17  
Old January 29th, 2007, 8:55 pm
EvanMcFusty  Undisclosed.gif EvanMcFusty is offline
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Re: Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels

*clap clap clap*
Congratulations, really!
I've been waiting a long time for somebody to finally voice - expertly - my beliefs about Snape and Lily. Most of us already believed that Snape was in love with Lily, but this article has gathered what seems to be ALL the available information to support this, as well as exposing some of the most realistic speculations I've ever read. You have put together many ideas I had in the past but was too lazy to think carefully about them and reach steadfast conclusions. The main idea being the fact of Snape’s silence, that he had never mentioned Lily in Harry’s presence, had never said anything offensive about her, while he has to insert a couple of insults about James every time he meets Harry. I just had an impression about this, but didn’t bother re-reading all the books bearing this fact in mind. But now, there it is. I’m now adamant-convinced that Snape indeed loved Lily, that he had all the reasons a normal man could have to loathe James, that his motives behind his saving Harry neck every now and then were sincere and larger than just a teacher’s worry over students, specially when he takes every opportunity to show how much he despises Harry. Harry’s appearance now proves to be extremely significant to the plot, as it has always been stated to be. I used to think, quite naturally, that it would be what Voldemort thought abut Harry’s appearance that mattered, but it was Snape all the time. Harry’s similarity to his father arouses Snape’s loathing while at the same time his green eyes – his mother’s – reminds Snape of all the love he once felt, the only and true love, the single chance he had in life to redeem, and change, and be happy. He lost all that. He misses all that. He blames James, but never Lily. He feels he owes her, and tries to pay his debt through Harry, despising him as he may.
I’m very glad to have read this insightful article, especially to see my own – our own – ideas so deftly organised. I’ll be back and re-read every now and then to come up with new theories for myself.
Once again, hat’s off for you. Keep up the good work.
Cheers


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  #18  
Old January 29th, 2007, 9:05 pm
Boromir  Male.gif Boromir is offline
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Re: Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shewoman View Post
I

You quote Snape as saying Harry isn't special--but he's talking to a very suspicious Bella who is quite capable of killing him if she doesn't like what she hears (and who will probably be back in V's favor at some point--Lucius is in Azkaban but V's just not speaking to Bella). I'm not sure, therefore, that we can take all that he says at face value. It requires some stretching, for instance to see how his information led to Sirius' death--Snape told the Prophecy, which is why the DEs were at the MoM, and he told Sirius and the Order that Harry was at the MoM, which is why SIrius went there, but in neither case was this "information" intended to harm Sirius.

.
One problem of this editorial is that it is ridiculously long. It took me the most concentration I have used in a long time and was more of an endurance test rather then thought provoking HP talk. The annoying thing being by the time you reach even the middle you've forgotton what went above and therefore struggle to raise your points on it very well and in any choronological order.

Nevertheless. the few posts above have somehow managed to raise most of my points on my mind, espeacially then one quoted.

Another thing is you mention this;

"Snape: “I am sure. I trust Severus Snape completely.” The rest of the Hogwarts staff isn’t as certain. The other side distrusts him, too; witness Bellatrix Lestrange’s interrogation of him in Half-Blood Prince. What proof would Snape have been able to offer Dumbledore to demonstrate that he had indeed turned his back on his evil master?

Sure it is clear the Bellatrix does not trust him, but we have got to remember that regardless of what she thinks would the "being in love with Lilly" thing be enough into hoodwinking Voldermort into thinking that Snape had hoodwinked Dumbledore, and thus that he was still loyal to him?

Some very interesting points, although far too many to recall and then remember to respond to unlesss you can sit here for a month.


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  #19  
Old January 29th, 2007, 9:05 pm
EvanMcFusty  Undisclosed.gif EvanMcFusty is offline
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Re: Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels

A-ha!! You're an academic!! I knew it! No ordinary HP fan could have written such a comprehensive and external references-filled article!! No offence, guys!
Now I’m not jealous of your brains anymore, I just expect I’ll get there one day.
Just saying this because I tend to think I’m always reading the words of some 18-year-old and feel distressed I’m not that smart, seeing that I’m older than this.
But that’s OK. We all aspire to learn and there’s always somebody who knows more than you do, it will never leave me, ****! XD
Anyway, nice job once more!


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Old January 29th, 2007, 9:28 pm
vsw  Undisclosed.gif vsw is offline
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Re: Moral Choice in the Harry Potter Novels

Dear EvanM,
Do not despair. I could not have written this paper when I was 18!

Apologies to those who found the length onerous. The ms. was 20 double-spaced pages. Rachael did a nice job of formatting it for the webpage. Not every idea can be expressed in a series of bulleted paragraphs. Perhaps it could have been tightened further but one cannot revise indefinitely.

vsw


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