Harry Potter and the Prophet of Doom

Is Harry really fated to kill or be killed? A closer look at the seer's dire prediction.

As Harry Potter fans crack open

The Half-Blood Prince

, one of the things we're eager to learn relates to a prophecy revealed in the closing pages of the previous book,

The Order of the Phoenix

. But the very notion of prophecy--as the foretelling of future events--would seem to compromise free will. If Harry's future can be foretold, is he reduced to a kind of robot, doomed to play out a sequence of events controlled by someone or something else? This is a tension long experienced by believers in a number of different religious traditions. J.K. Rowling has hinted at these questions throughout the chronicles of Harry Potter, but they crystallized in the conclusion to

The Order of the Phoenix


The Haunting Prediction About Harry Potter

Deep in the Department of Mysteries, Harry and his crew find a dusty glass orb containing a prophecy revealed by Hogwarts' Divination teacher, Madame Trelawney, some sixteen years earlier. In the chaos of battle with the Death Eaters, the orb is shattered and the prophecy is released. But given all the commotion, no one can hear it, so only later does Dumbledore disclose the contents of the prophecy.

It announces that "the one with the power to Vanquish the Dark Lord approaches" and would be born "as the seventh month dies" sixteen years prior to this most recent disclosure--the year of Harry's birth. It further promises that "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."


The meaning of the prophecy seems quite clear. Even Dumbledore is convinced: the prophecy foretells a showdown between Voldemort and Harry. And Harry must be either murderer or victim.

But Harry's reaction is just what we would likely utter ourselves: Couldn't it be otherwise? Am I doomed to fate? How is that fair?

Prophecy: Magical vs. Biblical

With these questions, J.K. Rowling explores terrain common in many religious traditions. Prophecy, providence, and predestination are especially central in the biblical traditions that have emerged from the Hebrew scriptures: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

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