Re-Reading Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkaban ch. 16-18

Well. It seems like all the pieces are falling into place. Professor Lupin is a werewolf, Sirius Black is innocent, and Peter Pettigrew has been hiding in the form of a rat for years. For the first time, we’re offered a glimpse at the previous generation that goes beyond Lily and James’ deaths. We learn about the Marauders’ childhood friendship, their rule-breaking exploits, and the tragic end to their story.

I’m still not sure who I pity the most. James and Lily, who died at 21 because of a friend’s betrayal? Sirius, who was framed for said betrayal and spent twelve years in prison, surrounded by creatures that suck all the happiness and hope out of you? Or Remus, who was left completely alone, believing two of his childhood friends to be dead and the third to be a traitor?

Harry Potter as a whole isn’t a tragedy, although it has elements of one. It deals with serious themes such as injustice and corruption. It puts its characters in horrible situations and often requires them to be far braver than any child their age should have to be. By the end of the series, many beloved characters have died, including all of those I mentioned above. And yet, there is always hope. The more tragic aspects of the story never outweigh the hopeful ones. In the end, good triumphs over evil and the world is set right, and Harry sends his children off to school nineteen years later in a world where “all was well”. A true tragedy would have left him dead in the Forbidden Forest. Order would still be restored, but at a much heavier price.

And yet, the stories of many minor characters are indeed tragedies. The Hogwarts founders, who were unable to coexist in peace and left behind a legacy of division rather than unity. Ravenclaw’s daughter and the Bloody Baron. Dumbledore and Grindelwald. Credence from Fantastic Beasts. Andromeda Black. Regulus Black. The Weasley twins. Neville’s parents. Cedric Diggory. There are only too many characters whose stories end tragically, whether due to a tragic flaw, a mistake realized too late, or simply bad luck and bad timing. The story of Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs is all of those things. Their suspicion of each other, Peter Pettigrew’s cowardice and betrayal, Lupin’s uncontrollable condition, Sirius’ impulsive nature and unpleasant family, and a whole lot of bad luck all contribute to their eventual downfall.

Tragedies don’t usually end with a victory for the villain. Rather, they end with things set right, but at a horrible price. The Montagues and the Capulets stop feuding, but only after their teenage children’s suicide. Hamlet’s father’s murder is avenged, but Hamlet dies in the process, as do Ophelia, Polonius, and many other innocent people who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Edgar survives and becomes king, but almost every other character is dead, including Lear and Cordelia. From Sirius Black or Remus Lupin’s point of view, the war against Voldemort is a tragedy as well: one in which good wins in the end, but at the cost of everyone they loved, as well as their own lives.

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