Horcrux – from the J.K. Rowling “Harry Potter” books
Stop reading now if you intend, one day, to read book six, and haven’t.
Possibly the biggest plot development in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was the introduction of the devices? spells? known as Horcruxes (more on the exact plural later). It turns out that the reason the rebounding Avada Kedavra spell did not kill Lord Voldemort was that he had divided his soul into parts for safe keeping. The destruction of his body did not leave him dead, but in a state of half-life.
Etymology and legend
The word “Horcrux” appears to be a J.K. Rowling invention. The idea of keeping one’s life essence in a separate place for safe keeping is not new – an old Russian legend tells of the magician who kept his heart in an egg. The princess whom he held as prisoner eventually prised his secret from him, and her lover crushed the egg. A host of other tales exist, roughly along the same line. The life of the person – whether that be their heart, their soul, or their breath – is kept somewhere else (but appears to be destroyed distressingly often…). See Frazer’s Golden Bough for a discussion of “the External Soul”.
Anyway – though the idea of removing the soul from the body is older than Nicholas Flamel, Rowling’s word for the object containing the soul is new. Also, the Golden Bough doesn’t mention any split souls – only whole souls or hearts kept externally to the body.
The term “crucio” is known to most readers of the Harry Potter series as the incantation for the cruciatus curse – the unforgivable curse that causes incredible pain. The word comes from the Latin meaning pain or torture – which in turn comes from the word crux – for cross. On the other hand – the crux of an argument is its essence or its centre. Hor- may come from horrere (horror or dread), or more likely horreum – for storehouse. So the meanings of Horcrux have been suggested as horror and pain, as the storehouse of pain, or the storehouse of the essence. I prefer the last.
According to Latin buffs, the plural of Horcrux should be Horcruces. However, Rowling used the plural Horcruxes, so either we must conclude that the wizards using the phrase were incorrect, or that we are. Or, of course, that different realities have different rules, and that it would be wrong to jump up and down about a minor technical detail.
And lastly, Rowling consistently capitalises the word “Horcrux”, and I have followed her example. It’s her word, after all.
Mainly through Dumbledore’s instruction of Harry in the Pensieve (a collection of memories) we are shown that as a boy in school, Lord Voldemort, or Tom Riddle as he was then called, was obsessed with immortality. He pursued knowledge of Horcruxes, and learned, through typical flattery of a teacher, that a wizard skilled in the Dark Arts could split his soul by committing murder, and use a spell to implant the severed soul fragment in an object. The wizard would then be immune to death while the Horcrux survived. Anyone wishing to kill the wizard would have to destroy the Horcrux, and then kill the creator.
Voldemort is the first wizard known to have created more than one Horcrux. Knowledge of the spell was hard to come by, and so far we have no explanation as to how Voldemort learned the exact spell. We are told that other wizards have created Horcruxes, but not who, or when, or how.
The making of a Horcrux appears to maim not only the soul, but also the physical being. Voldemort changed from a handsome boy to a hideous and loathsome thing: with a waxy, mask like face and red slits for eyes. This change occurred gradually, and Dumbledore has indicated that he believes the creation of Horcruxes to be the cause.
Through Dumbledore and various memories we learned that Voldemort’s soul had in all likelihood been split into seven pieces – one piece remaining to him, and six in different Horcruxes. Dumbledore had destroyed one – contained in Salazar Slytherin’s ring – at the cost of severe damage to his right hand. He believed (and Dumbledore, of course, is never wrong) that Harry himself had destroyed another Horcrux – in the form of Tom Riddle’s diary (which made its debut and exit in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”). As Riddle’s diary was obviously intended to be a weapon as well as a Horcrux, it first gave Dumbledore the idea that Voldemort had split his soul more than once. As one of many Horcruxes, the diary was less valuable and Voldemort could afford to risk it.
Harry and Dumbledore made an attempt to destroy a third Horcrux towards the end of book six. Dumbledore believed that a locket that had once belonged to Salazar Slytherin was another Horcrux, and that he knew where it was kept. However, after diverse dangers and adventures, including Dumbledore drinking an extremely nasty potion, the locket was not found. Instead, an ordinary locket with a message to the Dark Lord was in its place. The writer signed off as R.A.B., and stated that his (her?) intent was to destroy the original Horcrux as soon as possible.
This covers the “known” Horcruxes. Dumbledore made a guess (based on his access to other people’s memories, and his knowledge of Tom Riddle) as to the nature of the other Horcruxes.
Voldemort seems to have made Horcruxes only out of significant objects and on the occasion of significant deaths. Dumbledore feels that Voldemort would have intended to make his final Horcrux with Harry’s death. For readers wishing to deduce the locations of the other Horcruxes, profitable lines of enquiry would be Voldemort’s murders, and the places where significant events occurred.
J.K. Rowling has stated in interviews that readers can identify at least one of the Horcruxes. The possibilities so far put forward, in various arenas, include:
- Harry: Voldemort intended to make a Horcrux when he killed Harry – since the death of the boy prophesied to defeat him was a significant killing. Voldemort had completed the spell and attempted murder – thus splitting his soul, and transferring the fragment to Harry. This would explain Harry’s share in Voldemort’s powers, but does not cover why Harry, and not the intended object (whatever that was) became the Horcrux. A related suggestion is that Harry’s scar is the Horcrux.
The potion: The sneaky suggestion was made that the extremely nasty potion that Dumbledore drank to get to the fake Horcrux was itself the Horcrux, and that the person who drank it would need to be killed in order to destroy it. This has several points that make it quite a nice hypothesis. The person who drank it would have to be a great wizard and a deadly enemy of Voldemort’s. Voldemort would probably consider it worthwhile losing a Horcrux if he killed his enemy. Meanwhile, this great wizard would be protecting the Horcrux themselves, and wasting time looking for the last Horcrux. Ooh, sneaky. I wonder if it’s true!
Wormtail’s silver hand: Not a particularly impressive suggestion – as it has already been seen that Voldemort wanted significant items as Horcruxes. Also, the spell to create a Horcrux is presumably fairly complex, and Harry should have noticed all this going on.
The theories start getting silly now. I can’t decide whether it’s more likely that Rowling will choose to have Dumbledore’s theories confirmed, or whether she’ll want to surprise us with a Horcrux that none of us have guessed. Other theories put forth on the net include:
- The goblet of fire
- Lily Potter’s eyes (weird)
- Voldemort’s wand
The Seventh Book
J. K. Rowling has stated that she sees books 6 and 7 as two parts of the same book. Harry intends not to return to Hogwarts for his final year, but to seek out and destroy Lord Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes, and then kill Voldemort himself. He will begin the search in Godric’s Hollow – at his parents’ house. Book seven will hopefully be released in 2007.
The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion by Sir James George Frazer