So, while pondering the Game of Thrones Finale (I think all the Stark kids wound up as kings of different kingdoms, as karmic payment for that time Ned Stark didn’t claim the throne after the Battle of the Trident), I got to thinking about death, and, Harry Potter. I know, it’s timely.

Really, what got me thinking was the stigma carried by cancer survivors, combined with Jim Valvano’s point, in 1993, that the funding for cancer research is 1/50th that of HIV/AIDS, before pointing out that he had terminal cancer. Which, in conjunction with everyone in the corporate world telling me I need to be very quiet about “coming out” with this illness, made me realize how many of us are forced to go back and die in the shadows. If you have this disease (reminder: that’s half of us before we die), you do kind of owe it to everyone else who has this disease to let them know they’re not alone, and there are far too many of us to make de facto discriminatory policies economically feasible. Which made me further realize that Americans have a serious phobia about dying and tragedy, hence the stigma and constant victim-blaming for everything from sexual assault to heart disease to lung cancer. After all, if you just make different choices than us, it won’t happen to you, right?

Which made me think about the fundamental message of the Harry Potter books. Which are, deconstructed, all about murder and death. A nigh-immortal sorcerer tries to kill Our Hero, who then spends seven books figuring out how to make the villain mortal, and kill him. Come to think of it, that’s also the plot for Big Trouble in Little China, and The Mummy. It’s a classic retelling of The Hero’s Journey. On a more serious note, despite the blatant child endangerment and negligence (apparently, the fourth Unforgivable Curse is, “in loco parentis!”), the series is all about developing healthy coping mechanisms to deal with one’s own mortality. Admittedly, this literary hypothesis/analysis might have a few holes in it (just like the plot of Harry Potter, but I digress).

Delving into more detail, the villain of the series is driven — ruled by — his fear of death (and vague Nazi-style racism), to the point where he concocts and enacts overly-elaborate plots and schemes involving mind-numbing amounts of murder and other nastiness (not to mention recruiting all the high school bullies into positions of power)(there may be a few aspects of this series that are applicable to current GOP leadership, I should probably stop before things get too depressing). The game-changing MacGuffins are, of course, the Deathly Hallows; a magic robe, top-hat, and slippers worn by Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Day (I might not have that right, it’s been a few years since I last read the books)(I mean, uh, adult stuff! Pseudo-maturity!). There’s an elaborate back-story about how these three items can grant immortality (I would think that dying and coming back from the dead would encourage Voldemort to just buy a condo in the Bahamas, and quietly live out his days on the beach, rather than stage a splashy Vegas-style comeback special)(but I guess that’s the thing about Nazis of any sort; they do like their rallies)(but I digress), but that same elaborate back-story notes that the best strategy is to avoid death as long as possible, but try and lead a good life.

Eventually, Harry Potter gets all three of the Deathly Hallows, and, for once in fiction, uses that rarest of super-powers; common sense, and doesn’t actually use them. There are numerous good reasons for this, not least of which is that you probably shouldn’t play with anything that has a lengthy folk legend warning against it. However, I’d argue that H. Potter just had to look at the absurd lengths that Voldemort went to avoid death (which included dying)(it’s a fantasy series, don’t apply logic too strenuously), which drove him to madness, depravity, murder, and, ultimately, complete ruination, and realized that, maybe, becoming obsessed with avoiding death isn’t a good life strategy.

Of course, I’m saying all of this as a victim of America’s misplaced thanatophobia which has become warped into necrophobia; but, at the same time, when the hero of a children’s book has a healthier view of death and the process of dying than most modern politicians and executives, maybe he (Harry Potter) has a point.

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Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

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