Harry Potter's Magic

The Potter controversy shows that the struggle between science and magic isn't entirely settled.

Continued from page 3

Near the end of the second book, after a terrifying encounter with Voldemort--his third: Voldemort had tried to kill Harry, and succeeded in killing his parents, when Harry was a baby, and Voldemort had confronted Harry again in the first book--Harry confesses his doubts to Dumbledore:

"So I should be in Slytherin," Harry said, looking desperately into Dumbledore's face. "The Sorting Hat could see Slytherin's power in me, and it--"
"Put you in Gryffindor," said Dumbledore calmly. "Listen to me, Harry. You happen to have many qualities Salazar Slytherin prized in his hand-picked students...Resourcefulness...determination...a certain disregard for rules," he added, his moustache quivering again. "Yet the Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor. You know why that was. Think."
"It only put me in Gryffindor," said Harry in a defeated voice, "because I asked not to go in Slytherin..."
"Exactly," said Dumbledore, beaming once more. "Which makes you very different from [Voldemort]. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." Harry sat motionless in his chair, stunned.

Harry is stunned because he realizes for the first time that his confusion has been wrong-headed from the start. He has been asking the question "Who am I at heart?" when he needed to be asking the question "What must I do in order to become what I should be?" His character is not a fixed, preexistent thing, but something he has responsibility for making; that's why the Greeks called it character, "that which is engraved"--the metal is capable of receiving and retaining a distinctive impression, but the impression once made is hard to erase.

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