Let me be clear from the outset: I have thoroughly and gleefully surrendered myself to the Harry Potter fandom. I can, for example, pronounce myself a proud Ravenclaw and brag about the rarity of my 10 ¾ inch Vine and Phoenix Feather wand to a room of fully-grown adults without shame, and I actually squealed and clapped my hands like a 5-year-old when stepping aboard the Hogwarts Express at Warner Bros. Studios in London for the first time. I have never been able to resist the urge to try and pick J.K. Rowling’s story apart and take a good look at the threads that hold her narratives together.
If you’re anything like me, you will no doubt be familiar with many of the fan theories that have emerged online since the first instalment’s publication in June 1997 – proclamations that Draco’s a werewolf, Sirius is gay, and Ginny only managed to bag herself the Boy Who Lived through trickery and love potions (to name but a few) have been coming thick and fast, particularly after the seventh book was published in 2007 and those of us who were completely addicted to the HP Universe had to try and fill the void created by the end of the series (although Rowling has helped significantly in this respect, creating new content for Pottermore and bringing out textual accompaniments to the main narrative such as Hogwarts: A Incomplete and Unreliable Guide, Quidditch Through the Ages, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard).
Some of these fan theories are more credible than others, but one of the most impressive IMO has to be the assertion that Beedle the Bard’s ‘The Tale of the Three Brothers’ actually mirrors the narrative arc of Rowling’s story, and that the characters of Harry Potter, Severus Snape, and Lord Voldemort each share characteristics with three brothers of the story, who are in turn based on Antioch, Cadmus, and Ignotus Peverell – the creators of the Deathly Hallows… and Dumbledore? Oh, yeah, he’s Death.
J.K. Rowling has actually given this fan theory her personal seal of approval on Twitter, commenting that ‘it’s a beautiful theory and it fits.’ As if you need any more convincing!
So, how does this theory fit together, you ask? Read on to find out!
The First Brother: Voldemort
The first and eldest brother – Antioch Peverell – is widely believed to have created the Elder Wand, an immensely powerful wand with a bloody history, although in Beedle’s story this is gifted to him by Death himself (more on that later). Antioch is described as “a combative man” who wishes to be “more powerful than any[one] in existence.” Remind you of anyone? Yup, that’s right, Lord Voldemort fits this description more closely than any other character is Rowling’s novels.
Lord Voldemort’s obsession with becoming powerful is the very reason that he creates Horcruxes, generally terrorises the wizarding world, and seeks to kill Harry before he can become a sufficient threat. Lord Voldemort prioritises personal gain and glory above all else – for instance, killing Hepzibah Smith to gain possession of her treasures despite this drawing unwanted attention to him, turning his resurrection into a bizarre ritual where he is glorified by his Death Eaters (robe-kissing much?), and creating a Horcrux with the specific purpose of proving he is the rightful successor to Salazaar Slytherin. More importantly, he is constantly expressing his determination to prove his worth in combat. I mean, why else would he re-arm Harry in the graveyard in Goblet of Fire, or forbid anyone else to kill him during the Battle of Hogwarts, if not to show that he could finish him off without help?
He receives his most deadly weapon, as the first brother does in Beedle’s tale, from Death (who is the wise, clever and ancient stranger who the brothers believe they have tricked, aka Dumbledore). Voldemort literally takes the Elder Wand from Dumbledore’s dead hands after he breaks into his tomb, cementing the metaphor of Dumbledore as Death, and far from being able to use it to take out his deadly enemy and become invincible – the same aim expressed by the first brother in the story – he actually ends up being killed and passing the Elder Wand onto his rival. Bummer. Should have paid more attention to the children’s section in the Hogwarts library, Voldy. #sorrynotsorry
The Second Brother: Snape
The second brother, thought to be based on Cadmus Peverell, is thought to be the original possessor of the Resurrection Stone, although as we know, it passes through the hands of many characters including Marvolo and Morfin Gaunt, Voldemort, Dumbledore and, of course, Harry. One character who does not actually lay hands on the precious little stone, but whose desires and misfortunes closely mirror those of the second brother, is poor old Severus Snape. Snape is a complex character who is the literary equivalent of Marmite – you either think he’s a sadistic loner whose infatuation with a dead teenager and dalliance as a spy doesn’t justify years of child abuse and general nastiness, or you sobbed uncontrollably at the end of Snape’s last chapter and can’t hear the word ‘always’ without becoming a gibbering wreck – and so many might quibble my choice of Snape as the second brother.
I mean, sure, he’s not the only one to desperately miss the dead, but unlike other characters such as Sirius and Harry, Snape is well and truly stuck in the past. Just like the second brother, he is consumed by his grief and longing for the ‘girl he had hoped to marry before her untimely death.’ His entire existence since Lily’s death has been dedicated to bringing about the downfall of the wizard who killed her. Although he has already failed to save her, he carries on with his dangerous task because he is reminded by Dumbledore that Lily ‘lives on in Harry.’ Ergo, by protecting Harry, he is desperately trying to bring Lily back to life. Dumbledore’s role as Death is significant here again as it is he who orders Snape to become a spy, using his love and grief for Lily as leverage, thus placing him at Voldemort’s mercy (or lack thereof). He is also the one who puts him directly in the line of fire – after all, Voldemort never would have killed him, if not for the fact Snape killed Dumbledore.
Of course, we all know that Snape despises Harry, which makes this life decision all the more interesting – unlike Hagrid, Sirius, Lupin and Slughorn, whose interactions with Harry help them move past the pain of losing James and Lily and become a source of positivity and hope, Harry’s hybrid appearance is a constant reminder to Snape that Lily loved his enemy and therefore cannot bring about any positive feelings. Much like the second brother gains no satisfaction from resurrecting the object of his affections, Snape is driven mad by hopeless longing (as we see in his replication of her Patronus, a symbol of his infatuation) and eventually dies as a result. True, Snape’s death is not a suicide per se, but I would argue that agreeing to go undercover as a Death Eater is a suicide mission and by undertaking it, Snape reveals his self-destructive (if rather noble) tendencies.
The Third Brother: Harry
The third brother corresponds, of course, to Harry. This is the simplest connection, given that Harry’s confirmed to be a descendant of Ignotus Peverell and subsequent inherits the Invisibility Cloak in The Philosopher’s Stone (passed onto him by Dumbledore, as Death does in Beedle’s story), but it goes deeper than that. Firstly, the third brother is described as ‘the most humble and wise’ of the three brothers – the admirable nature of Harry’s character is referred to repeatedly throughout the books, from his ability to look past immortality and riches in the Mirror of Erised in The Philosopher’s Stone to his gaining the trust of unlikely allies such as Griphook and the Grey Lady in The Deathly Hallows due to his humility and lack of personal agenda. In the final book, Dumbledore claims he is the only one in the book ‘worthy’ of uniting the Deathly Hallows, and this again reinforces the idea that Harry is wiser, humbler and generally better than everyone else.
Perhaps most interesting, though, is that Harry does indeed remove his Invisibility Cloak in order to meet his death at a time of his choosing, and who is he presented with in the strange, King’s Cross limbo Rowling imagines? Why, it’s your friendly neighbourhood Death, Dumbledore himself. They meet ‘as old friends’ and as ‘equals’, just like in the story, and although Harry does return from his make-believe reunion, he has nevertheless shown that he does not fear Death and will meet him willingly when the time comes.
Another point to consider is that the Cloak’s greatest strength is that it can shield others, and by meeting his death, this is exactly what Harry manages to do – shield everyone from Voldemort, so that his magic cannot keep him silent, or bound, or really do anything evil to them for more than a few seconds.
All in all, I think it is fair to say that this HP fan theory is pretty convincing… but what do you think? Let me know in the comments!
(Images: Warner Bros Studios)