Martyrdom in Harry Potter and the lessons learnt


Tom Marvolo Riddle
Recently, a friend of mine brought this to my attention. A form of martyrdom is very common in the Harry Potter series. Firstly, I remind all that this post does NOT intend to offend anyone, regardless of religion, or belief.
Historically, a martyr was one who died for their religious belief. However, in more modern times, it is applicable to anyone who gives their life for a cause that they believe to be just. This can be seen in many members of the Order of the Phoenix, who die fighting Voldemort. In fact, Harry's parents are martyrs, because they were killed by a Dark Wizard for fighting against him. However, it is said that he who mercilessly kills one that becomes a martyr is doomed for eternity. Hence, Voldemort is doomed for eternity because of that, as well as the fact that he drank a unicorn's blood in Book 1. So, in a way, we can regard Mad-Eye Moody as being good, because he "never killed if he could help it". As a result, he did not forcefully or mercilessly make any man a martyr, and can thus be regarded as a strict, yet kind-hearted man.
The seemingly endless struggle between good and bad in Harry Potter has made many martyrs, but also a lot of innocent victims. The people that Wormtail killed in the street are not martyrs, because they did not represent the cause Wormtail was fighting against- that of good. As a result, they can also represent the first casualty in any war- that of innocence. I thought that it was nice of JKR to add this issue to her novels, which, to many youngsters reading Harry Potter, inspires a certain difference between fighting and dying for what you believe in and dying as a result of a certain struggle in which you are neutral. Throughout history, this issue can be seen, and although not often discussed, is a necessary part of one's knowledge on how the world works. Even though the state of martyrdom is never referred to in the books, the fact that people die for what they believe in gives the plot a lot of depth and mirrors today's society, when, in various wars and ethnic struggles, people die everyday. In that sense, Harry Potter shows us the pointlessness of war and conflict ("What was there to be gained by fighting the most evil wizard who has ever existed?"), and attempts to teach tomorrow's generation a new, more tolerant mentality.


afraid of my own shadow
That is pretty profound for a 16 year old!

I must say though, JKR is ending this series, and the war, in my belief, will end too. To be constructive, if she was indeed purposefully including this mirror of society, she would have to end this war with the prospect of another. The truth of the matter is that war is never ending, and however hard we seek peace, the only place we will ever find it is within ourselves, and only once we accept that global peace is, dare I say it, impossible. For as long as we all think independently, there will be disagreements and, unfortunately, wars.
I don't know how JKR can incorporate that into the books, or whether she even will.
I'm not sure that she is actually telling of the pointlessness of war. Not yet, anyway. At the moment, this war is leading up to the world being rid of a tyrant, and evil 'man' who has something worse than death in store for him.
I think JKR is showing us the pointlessness of the deaths during war, though. What real good has come from any of the deaths so far? What good ever comes from any death? The only good will come from the death of Voldemort's reign. As long as he has no control or power, goodness can prevail.

There are most definately martyrs in the series. I don't think there are many though. Lily Potter is, in my opinion, a martyr, as her sacrifice saved others. She may not have known it, but what martyr really does know how their death will affect a cause?

James Potter is a hero to the Order. I can't recall him being mentioned by anyone else in a way to suggest that his death really made an impact. This may be due to the fact that no body really knows what happened that night though.

I consider the Longbottoms living martyrs. They most definately suffered for their cause, and would have died too, but something stopped that from happening.

I'd like to see some more examples if anyone has them...Do you think there is a lesson behind each of the deaths?
Lily's lesson is and will be about love, James' about bravery in the face of danger.

I hope I have followed your post, George, and added to it constructively. I'd really like to discuss it with everyone!


Pops in randomly
To help us all follow the discussion, the following are definitions of a martyr from -

1) One who chooses to suffer death rather than renounce religious principles.
2) One who makes great sacrifices or suffers much in order to further a belief, cause, or principle.

3) a. One who endures great suffering: a martyr to arthritis.
b. One who makes a great show of suffering in order to arouse sympathy.

I have actually always considered Harry to be a self-inflicted martyr. In most of the books, there is a time when someone has to go do something extremely painful, scary, potentially life-threatening and Harry always goes and tries to stop his friends from coming with him. He takes the responsibility upon himself even though he knows there might be great suffering and perhaps death involved.

Also, really, anyone in the series who has died/suffered greatly for a cause they believed in could be considered a martyr by those definitions above. So, yes, the Longbottoms, anyone who died in the Order while fighting Voldemort, etc.

JKR has said before that she is trying to show just how evil true evil can be. She made Cedric's death as cold and surprising as possible to show how cruel war can be. She has also told us that many more people will die in the years to come, so I believe that there will be many more martyrs and innocent lives that will be lost in the series.

As for lessons learned from the martyrs, it usually strengthens the resolve of the others in the cause when someone they loved and trusted and was fighting with them dies to further it. For a very few, it might make them rethink if they want to risk their lives in such a manner. And for others, it might make them want to become a part of the cause if they weren't before because they want to avenge the person's death or because they realize how much they want to defeat the other side.


Professor of Potterology
Ok. I have really enjoyed reading this thread and there isnt anything I can add as I am not a very smart person (but I can lift heavy things!) I will continue to read as the posts come and will post if I feel I can add something constructive.

Great thread George!


Tom Marvolo Riddle
Well, I'm kind of surprised! After I posted this thread, I thought that everyone would treat it as a sort of taboo. Thanks for the enthusiasm shown be several fellow members! Now, a very interesting point has been made by kashile- deaths and the lessons learnt. Thanks for giving me something to rattle on and on about, kash!
It is my belief that behind every death lie a thousand reasons, motifs and purposes. Allow me to state the philosophy I most enjoy! Newton, ladies and gentlemen, said that for every action in the universe there is an opposite and equal reaction, so that an object's forces will remain constant. The same is true with emotions and human nature. Every death that occurs in Harry Potter has its reasoning. Its effects are felt within the world Harry is in. This can link it back to the martyrs. The actions through which Voldemort creates martyrs eat away at his substance. The reasoning behind this statement is easy: Lord Voldemort, however Dark Magic transformations he goes through, will still have a little human in him. This will inflict heavy damage upon his inner psychology- taking away the lives of those who have done no wrong to you will have its reverberations inside of your head. As a result, Voldemort grows weaker by the day, and relies on his cause to pull him through so he gets by. But, when his sandcastles fall, he will perish like a grain of sand in an ocean. So going back to my first point: the ACTION of Voldemort killing someone and causing a martyr's death will cause the REACTION of damage to his inner self. Understand? So, the reason Voldemort has for killing is that he wants to get rid of as many people from the opposite cause. The reason nature has intended for these deaths is that they slowly destabilise and eventually damage Lord Voldemort. This can be seen in GoF, in the Priori Incantatiem chapter (not sure about spelling). The people Voldemort has killed fire a shot from beyond the grave, and ruin his plan of killing Harry. We may see another similar example in Books 6 or 7.
Continuing with philosophy and trying to link it to martyrs. The deaths of Lily and James Potter- yes, they were martyrs. Harry would not have been, since he could fit under the category of innocent victim. HOWEVER, there is one major mystery that is still unresolved. Exactly why didn't Harry die? Yes, yes, spells and charms. That can't be it. David Hume teaches us that no matter what has happened in an event on previous occasions, there is always the possibility that variation will occur. As a result, one cannot predict the future based on past precedent. So, in Voldemort's case, something strange happened, because he overlooked the possibility that things may go wrong, thus taking the life of an innocent in vain. Fate played games with him, and rebounded the curse onto the man who emitted it. So, he died. Almost. This may happen again and lead to his downfall, the ultimate cause of it being that Voldemort would not simply settle for making martyrs, but also innocent victims. It is simple. Hence his downfall. <Looks at the audience, bows, and wipes a tear out of his eye>. Thank you. Thank you all.


Time Turners
I think I remembered why I dont post as much. Most of the members are a hard act to follow :eek: . It is hard to find a good post to follow such masterpieces. Kind of like Fox's problem over the years with finding a good tv show to follow Simpsons :D

But I have to try :cool:
Cedric Diggory, not just because of Boing's 3rd definition of martyr but because of the whole thought behind it. Cedric wasnt stupid. He knew there was a trap at the end. It was his idea to get the wands out (verbally). He would have died helping Harry regardless.
Cedric's death prompted Dumbledore's speech with the 3 words that I have hanging up at my desk. Remember Cedric Diggory. It is also a good random way of finding out who is a Harry Potter fan at the office but thats not the point ;)
Cedric's death told the other students, whose fathers werent already death eaters, that there is a possibility of coming up against V and his crew of baddies.
A loved teenager getting killed brings the reality home to the school and it helps prompt the DA. No one would care about the DADA lessons if they thought they never had to use them in the real world.


Staff member
OK - the use of the word may apply but I think it is somewhat out of context.
What we are looking at is a war - a war between 2 sides that feel they are just.
It isnt about a religion or a god - it is about principles and what people choose as being right for them.
In a war - say WW1 or 2 - when the soldiers died - they werent called martyr's - some were called hero's - in fact in the eyes of the beholder is what you classify them as - but my point being just because you die for something you believe in doesnt make you a martyr.
The factions in Harry Potter make a choice between 2 sides of the fence - they then fight for the cause and some lay their lifes down - that doesnt make them anymore a martyr than a soldier dying for his/her country.
IMHO of course :)


Time Turners
I think in many ways that JKR, through the continuing story of Harry Potter, is really just following in the footsteps of all the classical writers before her of telling a story of good against evil, the consequences of evil, and the pain, suffering and sacrifices that are sometimes required to vanquish that evil. It is a fairly 'typical' type story in that respect whereby it sets out, without ever becoming preachy, sentimentalist or 'religious' in any way, to teach kids the right way of doing things; through trust, friendship, love, loyalty, honour, courage, etc. and that bad deeds, or evil, can never ultimately win.
The fact that she's wrapped it all up in so much 'mythology' (for want of a better word), and made the characters so likeable, and important to the readers, and kind of hidden any 'obvious' good-versus-evil' type motiff in such a spellbinding story that is so clearly poised to always set out that good-versus-evil theme, yet lets it all get so clouded/hidden by the day to day events in the life of Harry and his friends, so that you really see that you are being told another type of parable, is frankly, brilliant!!
The first time that I read Philosophers Stone I was transported back 35 odd years into my childhood, and I must admit, I received it like I would have done all those years ago, with that wide-eyed sense of wonder, and longing for that world of seeming innocence with magic all around! The flying broomsticks, ghosts, spellwork, and stuff just bowled me over and even when the story took a dive to the darker side of things with Quirell, it was pure excitement, and still wonderment at the world that I was seeing through the book, and an odd childish longing that it really could be like that 'for real'!! How many of YOU felt like that when you first read Philosophers Stone, eh?!?
But.... (and I know one shouldn't start a sentance with 'But', however, I don't care!!) when you sit back afterwards and look back on that first book, all it really boils down to is that 'good versus evil' lesson. Hopefully the kids that are reading these books are picking up on this and will start to learn values and morals that they may not be getting elsewhere, and actually learn from them. That is afterall, the purpose of this type of literature I suppose, but JKR has done it in that clever British style and made it not so's almost a subliminal message. I don't wish to sound offensive, but the majority of American literature, or TV shows of this type will make it so obvious and sugar-coat it within the first few pages or minutes that you almost don't want to read/watch because it's so patronising, or one instantly wants to rebel against it because it almost comes over as insulting! Sorry....that's my observation and opinion of what I have experienced. For the message to be effective, it has to be almost absorb it without realising, otherwise they will rebel...
The way that JKR has written it, everything, down to the way that friendships are formed is so subtle....Harry and Ron being alone on the train found a few things in common, and started chatting and sharing, and laughing together, and before you realize it, Harry is almost an adopted brother by the Weasley family! It's all so natural!
As for the 'martyrs' issue...yep, I agree, and there have to be a few I suppose if a story of this magnitude is to work, and when you're up against an enemy like Voldemort, then anyone who is an ardent enemy of his, and works aginst him who dies, could be considered a martyr to the cause. I think Boings' earlier thread there sums up the martyr issue very nicely!

Oh bloody hell....I think I may have been a bit 'preachy' there myself, sorry! I think I'll just sidle off now and let you all get on with this good thread!

Where's m' coat?


afraid of my own shadow
I agree with Blaise to some extent - those fighting in the war chose to fight for either side, but those who died are heros - to their side. What do we call the dead enemy? We know they are heroes to their side, but...we politely refer to them as casualties of war.

It is why I think Lily is more of a martyr than most of the others. What she did was well deserving of martyrdom IMO. Not many people would have done what she did. Yes, they'd fight to save their family, but Lily sacrificed herself to save her son. If she too knew of the prophecy then she knew what she was doing would save more than just Harry.

Dumbledore will be seen as a martry, as long as the DiE theory doesn't happen...

The Frozen North

Bloody Cold in Norway
kashlie said:
Not many people would have done what she did. Yes, they'd fight to save their family, but Lily sacrificed herself to save her son.

I don't kow your situation Kashlie but as the father of 3, I can assure you that any parent would sacrifice themselves for their child, at least all parents I know well would do so without hesitation. As a parent I can only see a future for my children where I have already had a chance to live (at least a significant part of) my life. Trust me, love of a child goes far beyond love for a parent or sibblig. In the case of a child you have dedicated your life to their's. A Christian principal (and true regardless of personal belief) states that you can not help but love the ones you serve. With our children we serve them from even before birth and continue for as long as we are able, quite litterally a lifetime.


afraid of my own shadow
I would fight for my children, and I would die for them too. I think what I meant there (it was a while ago :eek: ) was that she didn't try anything else but stepping in front of him. No begging (I would have), no fighting, just simply blocking him from view. Of course, being the wizarding world, it is a bit different.


Staff member
kashlie said:
I would fight for my children, and I would die for them too. I think what I meant there (it was a while ago :eek: ) was that she didn't try anything else but stepping in front of him. No begging (I would have), no fighting, just simply blocking him from view. Of course, being the wizarding world, it is a bit different.
Dont be embaressed by that observation - because I for one totally agree and yah once again this is under discussion in another thread.
Lily's actions were passive in approach - contradictory to what pretty much anyone would do if a child was in danger ...

Dr Winterbourne

Time Turners
Lately I have been trying to think of contempory issues that the books can be allegorically linked to.

I find the actions of the Ministry of Magic comparible to those of the governments involved in 'The Coalition of the Willing'. The sentences without trial recall Guamtanomo Bay; the warning messages and useless secruity measures remind me of the 'anti-terrorism' fridge magnets sent out by the Australian government.

I don't have enough examples really at present - as I say, it is something I've been trying to think of, rather than something I have a firm take on as yet.

On thing though, that often occurs to me in regards to a contempory issue, always comes back to me when I read Order of the Pheonix: Harry is urged, repeatedly, to master his emotions. In chinese Buddhist philosophy, there is a concept known as 'Qing' - often translated as 'sentimentality'. Qing is the force that allows humans to remain human in this realm, although they originally come from another, more 'divine' 'dimension' (for want of a better word.

It is qing to prefer one food to another. It is qing to prefer one person to another - the Buddist ideal is to treat all people with benevolence, not to 'love' one above any other. Some may feel that without these 'human' feelings we would not be human. That is precisely the idea of high-level Buddhist thought - if you can escape from qing, you can indeed no longer be human, but return to your true home in the Heavens. This is not so far from Christian belief - except the Buddhist accepts responibilty for the dissolution of his own 'karma', with the aid of Buddha, where a Christian who follows what Christ genuinely told them to do, allows Christ to have paid for the burden of their 'sin'. Both can then return to their Heaven. (Please accept I am speaking philosophically, and I'm really not trying to offend anyone).

Harry cannot master qing - he is tested in this regard in OotP by his infatuation with Cho Chang (hey, the only Chinese character). After a tiff, Snape finds Harry's mind pathetically easy to enter. Harry needs to master his emotons, to escape from qing.

The issue this reminds me of is the persecution of the followers of the Falun Dafa philophy in China at the moment. Those who are being tortured there, by the 'Red Dragon' of the CCP, are attempting to end the persecution, not through war, but through educating the world about what is going on. They suffer the torture with forbearance, trying not to feel qing towards their torturers, but rather compassion for them. That this persecution is going on... it is the worst crime, in my opinion, that is taking place in the world at the moment. To kill people because of their belief in a peaceful philosophy is heinous. They are martyrs, as those that oppose the Lord Voldemort's regime are martyrs.

I see media attention being given to many humanitarian issues in the world, to wars and celebrities, but like the Daily Prophet ignoing Voldemorts return, this issue is largely ignored.

Hmm, got a bit preachy there. But I guess the point that was that Harry is learning to master his emotions and to accept his pre-ordained destiny as a scourge of evil; and ultimately perhaps, be so separated from his qing that he can martyr himself out of compassion for the world. Hate wont defeat Voldemort - if he is emotional, it is only going to make Voldemort's task easier.