The Owls of Harry Potter -- Book 7 Spoilers
By Laura Erickson (a.k.a. “Professor McGonagowl”)
This page contains a serious spoiler with regard to Book 7. Please do not read it if you don’t want to know important plot elements.
I am angry beyond measure at how J. K. Rowling dispatched Hedwig in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’d expected her to kill off Harry’s owl in this book, because I thought (mistakenly) that Harry was destined to end up with Fawkes, Dumbledore’s phoenix. So I’m not all that upset that Hedwig died. But I’m furious that JKR killed off this majestic owl by having the Death Eaters shoot her down while she was caged.
If JKR needed to get rid of Hedwig to eliminate one extraneous plot complication, she could have had Harry send the owl off to the owlery at Hogwarts. Then she could have been killed while bearing a message for Harry, as so many pigeons died carrying messages for the British military during WWI and WWII. Or Harry could have instructed her to not bring any messages to him no matter what, but to stay put until he returned, if JKR wanted to just leave her out of the bulk of the book. If JKR wanted to kill the owl in that first battle to make sure readers knew how serious this war would be (as Spielberg did with the golden retriever getting offed in Jaws), she could have had Harry release her to Hogwarts when the seven Potters left the Dursley’s house, and the released Hedwig could have turned around when Voldemort was pursuing Harry, sink her talons into his wand arm while he was aiming, and go down in a blaze of glory trying to save her boy, rather than as an impotent prisoner reduced to a pile of singed feathers at the bottom of a cage.
It was bad enough that throughout the series Harry too often kept the owl in a cage that was far too small for anything but a mere travel conveyance. Yeah, yeah — this was mainly at the Dursleys, and Harry did act apologetic about caging her. But the movies made having an owl in a cage look pretty darned appealing — leastwise, that’s what I hear from lots of children and adults who wish they could also have an owl for a pet. To make a noble and worthy character die in such a pathetic, meaningless way was just plain wrong, and the way she did it, it sure looked to me like Rowling saw owls as nothing more than wizardy toys that would enhance the magical feeling of the book, not living beings with value and worthiness in and of themselves. Hedwig was a wonderful creation and deserved better.
Fortunately, the movie version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 addresses my concerns perfectly. Spoiler: Hedwig still dies, but Harry had set her free from her cage before he flew off, and she came back to save his life.
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