Fate in Harry Potter and Sabrina
The issue of fate versus free will has been in constant debate throughout the centuries with many philosophers discussing its effects, debating the prospect of unity between the two, or creating distinctions between them. Novelist and other authors have also been discussing these concepts throughout the ages. In this article, we will discuss the Harry Potter series and The Chilling Adventures Sabrina series. Adapted from novels and comic books, the films and Netflix TV series both discuss the concepts of free will versus fate, and also whether fate is subject to preceding events and causes. This article examines how the adaptations of the Harry Potter series and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina explore the abstract philosophy of fate versus free will and determinism and argues that fate is actually an intertwined conglomerate of aspects including free will and antecedent conditions.
When discussing the concept of fate and free will, it is always important to look at Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophies on the subject. Nietzsche himself believed that fate is “not merely a transcendent power… but an amalgam of diverse determining aspects.” (Grillaert, 49) Such determining conditions or aspects have a wide range, including manipulation and environmental causes. He also believes that fate and free will are “two counterbalancing forces that complement each other in … opposition” (Grillaert, 51), and that “free will is equal to the human spirit and temperament” (Grillaert, 49). There is a predestined plan for each of us, but many options are available. We can become a free spirit if we have “the will to self-determination…—all [of which are] necessary conditions for breaking free from the traditional morals and becoming a free spirit.” (Grillaert, 47). Both Fate and Free will are essential forces in our lives as Nietzsche believes, and man can thus, determine his own Fate by making his own choices.
The Stoics, on the other hand, believe that fate isn’t a divine being with complete control. They believe in determinism—where fate is subject to antecedent conditions, entirely lost to a chain of causes. This “chain of causes was thought … to be the substance of fate [thus] to say that [everything is] in accordance with fate is to say that [everything is] in accordance with antecedent conditions” (Gould, 18). But what are these conditions, and what determines them?
The Stoics believed that Fate had that role—to decide the antecedent conditions. Yet they also believed that we each have a cause within us, a free will that isn’t “competing with or cooperating with fate, but [is] a part of the network of causes constituting fate” (Gould, 22). The Stoics also gave man the power to agree with their own fate, saying that “even when my assent is fated, and caused, it is still not necessary” (Brennan, 267). Hence, they believe that Fate is subject to antecedent conditions, and these causes may influence us to choose our fate with our own free will, yet nothing is necessary for our fate to unfold.
Thirdly, we shall discuss how Josephus and the ancient Jews thought about fate. “Josephus speaks of “fate”, which can be defined broadly as the belief that things are brought about, of necessity, by set causes or impersonal powers” (Klawan, 47). In Josephus’ time the philosophical Israel was split into three different sects: the Essenes, who believed “in the predetermination of all events, to the exclusion of human freedom” (Klawan, 51); the Sadducees, who denied all acknowledgment of Fate as a higher power; and the Pharisees, who took the middle ground. Overall, Josephus agrees with the Essenes compatibilist paradox, where “All is foreseen, but freedom of choice is given” (Mishnah Avot 3.16. translation by Danby, n. pg.). They recognise man’s freedom of choice, whilst also acknowledging that all is predetermined in this life.
A series that incorporates all these aspects of Fate, Free Will and Determinism into its core is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and the adaptations into film by Warner Bros. Pictures. Following the adventures of a young orphaned wizard, Harry Potter, and his two friends, Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger. In a fictitious world, where Harry battles against his own terrible Fate, which entwines him with his mortal enemy Lord Voldemort. Within this world we can see:
“such evidence as Harry’s decisions, [and] Dumbledore’s insistence on moral action… often convinces readers of … free will, [however,] I argue that such magical tools as the Sorting Hat, wands, the Goblet of Fire, and prophecies provide equal evidence for fate’s power.” (Pond, 182)
The Harry Potter series comments on both the power of Fate and Free Will in the protagonist’s life, whilst also leaning towards the side of Determinism—where fate is subject to antecedent conditions, such as choices, manipulation and other causes.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets has elements of prophecy and fate proclaimed throughout the movie. In this film, Harry faces the prospect of being the heir of Slytherin. He finds that he is able to speak to snakes, and is believed to be Salazar Slytherin’s heir and the one who has opened the Chamber of Secrets, releasing the monster within—“The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir, beware” (43:35). Harry struggles with his fate trying to come to terms with his similarities to Voldemort. He questions everything that’s happened to him, the choices he’s made, and the choices that have placed him where he is now. For instance, he questions whether he should have been put in Slytherin house. Dumbledore, however, explains Harry’s predicament to him saying “If I’m not mistaken Harry, [Voldemort] transferred some of his powers to you, the night he gave you that scar” (2:19:38), and he affirms his belief that “It is not our abilities that show who we truly are. It is our choices” (2:21:00). Hence, Harry isn’t bound by his fated abilities and prospects, but rather can choose his own path, and frame his own future.
However, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, we receive more confirmation that fate and prophecies have an overarching power. The power of prophecy is accentuated throughout the film as Harry receives two different prophecies relating to what is to come. He receives a prophecy of death—“Oh, my dear boy. My dear…you have the Grim.” (Trelawney); which is “among the darkest omens in our world. It’s an omen of death.” (31:00)—and later on in the movie, Trelawney prophecies that:
“He will return tonight… he who betrayed his friends, whose heart rots with murder shall break free. Innocent blood shall be spilt and servant and master shall be reunited once more.” (1:21:30)
And so, Harry is supposedly bound by these prophecies. Yet, the events prophesied play out a little different than expected. The prophecies are vague, and they do not include free will and other antecedent causes such as identity. Hence, the power of the prophecies isn’t all-encompassing, but rather subject to other causes and conditions, although still having an overarching effect.
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire we can clearly see the effects of antecedent conditions such as manipulation on fate. The character Professor Moody, throughout the film, helps Harry through the tri-wizard tournament, and, with his help, Harry wins the tournament, but gets transported to a graveyard, where Lord Voldemort rises once again. At the end of the movie, it is explained that this Professor Moody is, in fact, a Deatheater named Barty Crouch Jr., and that he has been manipulating the events so that Harry would end up in that graveyard—“You won because I made it so, Potter. You ended up in that graveyard because it was meant to be so” (2:13:30). Here we see the effect of manipulation on fate. It was fated that Harry be in that graveyard, but it was manipulation of events that caused him to be there. Hence, fate and manipulation are intertwined, with one informing the other.
Through a single prophecy in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Harry’s fate is revealed. Here we find the binding contract that Harry must follow in order to save his friends and the whole wizarding world:
“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches, … but he shall have power the Dark Lord knows not—for neither can live while the other survives.” (The Prophecy – Trelawney, 1:47:50).
Harry’s fate is revealed, his future is sealed. What can he do about it? Well, once again the prophecy withholds information—it is vague. The fulfilment of this prophecy is an unexpected turn of events. Harry submits to his fate, but the choices he makes leading up to its fruition ultimately alter the outcome.
For in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Harry learns of events (antecedent causes) that brought about his fate. In this film Harry is called to “confront your fate” (1:11:50) by Lord Voldemort, who, in acknowledging that he must be the one to kill the boy, also submits to Fate. Dumbledore and Professor Snape also realise that Harry must die:
Dumbledore: “…the curse rebounded. … a part of Voldemort’s soul latched itself onto the only living thing it could find … A part of Voldemort lives inside him.”
Snape: “So, when the time comes, the boy must die?” (1:20:00)
Dumbledore: “Yes, he must die. And Voldemort himself must do it. That is essential.” (1:22:50).
Harry had to die; it was his Fate. Yet, Harry was also a horcrux, and in dying he made Voldemort vulnerable. Thus, it was also fated that Harry return from the dead and kill Voldemort, now that he was weak, as Harry says—“I have to go back haven’t I?” (1:33:40)—but Dumbledore assures him that “that’s up to you”. Harry can choose whether to accept death or return to confront his Fate once again. Without this choice Harry’s fate would be void. Hence Fate, Free Will, and Determinism are all intertwined.
The Archie comic The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, illustrated by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and Robert Hack, also supports the notion of antecedent conditions informing Fate. Although not as clear as in the Netflix series, the comic book also demonstrates manipulation, tradition, and the power of Fate. Following the life of young Sabrina Spellman, a half-witch, who’s fated to do great things, the comic shows her journey, and the choices she makes, to become a witch. It also shows how conditions such as manipulation and tradition can affect someone’s free will, and ultimately their Fate. As Sabrina journeys towards the ‘path of night’ tradition holds her back from diverging, and manipulation forces her to choose the Dark Lord. These preceding conditions affect her fate and her ability for self-determination.
Within The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina comic book, Fate and Free Will are expressed quite clearly, as being powers we cannot fully change, but can affect. For instance, Fate is clearly identified in the following passage, when Sabrina is about to sign the Book of the Beast:
“And the Devil will set his book on the altar and say: ‘You danced for me, girl. You spilled blood for me. Now, write your name in my book and become my had-maiden.’ And since He is your Master, you will step up to the altar… you’ll know… there is no other way your dark destiny could have played out…” (Sabrina comic, n. pg.)
Yet the event that follows, stopping this signing, has been caused by a precursory manipulation of Harvey. For here, Harvey Kinkle, Sabrina’s boyfriend, interrupts the ceremony, stopping Sabrina from signing her name. But before this happens, Ms. Porter manipulates the situation, by feeding information to Harvey and telling him that he must stop the madness. So, this earlier conditioning affects Sabrina’s fate by stopping her from signing the Book of the Beast.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Netflix TV series accentuates the power of antecedent conditions over Fate, especially in reference to manipulation, and choice. The series follows the journey of a young girl, Sabrina, who is half-witch, half-mortal trying to choose between the ‘path of light’ or the ‘path of night’. This choice is often misinformed and her fate manipulated by agents of the Dark Lord, in order to make her willingly choose the ‘path of night’ and become a witch. Throughout the series Sabrina is faced with incredibly hard decisions, as she wants to keep her own free will but also needs the power, that comes with being a witch, in order to save her friends—it is up to her to choose, using her self-determined will, what she wants. Altogether, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Netflix series, shows the battle between Fate and Free Will, but also show how antecedent conditions affect both powers.
As mentioned above, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, holds, within the Netflix series, a commentary on Fate and Free Will. In Season 1 Episode 2, “Chapter Two: The Dark Baptism”, Sabrina is offered a chance at power, granted that she accepts Satan as her Master. In this episode, at the altar, Father Blackwood says, “Our Dark Lord teaches us there is no law beyond ‘do what thou wilt’.” (43:00) advocating free will, yet it becomes evident that pledging herself to the Dark Lord will not allow her to have it:
Father Blackwood: “you swear to obey without question any order you may receive from the Dark Lord…you swear to give your mind, body and soul unreservedly to the furtherance … of our Lord Satan.”
Sabrina: “You said I would have free will…” (45:00)
In order to gain witch powers, become a witch, and fulfil her fate, Sabrina must give up her free will. She must submit to Fate and lose her self-determination, but as is clear by her response—“my name is Sabrina Spellman and I will not sign it away” (47:30)—she decides that her free will, to choose her own path, is more important.
However, often, when it comes to Fate, we don’t have a choice, even if our fate is manipulated by others. This specific condition or cause of Fate altering is clearly evident in Episode 10 of Season 1 —“Chapter Ten: The Witching Hour”. The manipulation of Sabrina’s fate is mainly caused by Ms. Wardwell, who doubles as Madame Satan. She makes it so that “Sabrina would have no other option. There would only be one path to save the mortals—the path of night” (36:35). Sabrina must fulfil her fate and sign her name in the Book of the Beast, otherwise her mortal friends will die. Her fate is sealed, through the manipulation of events by Ms. Wardwell. The Dark Lord takes her free will—“When I call on you, girl, you must answer” (40:30)—and now her fate becomes reality. She must do the Dark Lord’s bidding, it is her fate. And she will do it, no matter how hard she tries to choose not to, her fate works outside of her hands, because it is being manipulated by others.
Her fate finally comes to fruition in “Chapter 19: The Mandrake” (2.8) when a prophecy about her is discovered, and she accidentally fulfils it. This prophecy calls her a “Herald of Hell” and describes how she will “play a key role in bringing about the apocalypse”, as Ms. Wardwell explains (5:50). She will “precipitate the end of days” (29:30) by performing certain miracles. Yet, once again, she tries to facilitate her own plan and exercise her own free will, but in doing so, brings about the end of days. She realises she is being manipulated, and removes it, yet through her own choices—her own free will—she precipitates the end of days anyway. So, in essence, this episode shows how both Free Will and antecedent conditions work together to form Fate, for both the manipulation of Ms. Wardwell and the free choices of Sabrina worked to fulfil the prophecy.
Fate is therefore a conglomerate power, formed up of antecedent conditions and causes; free will and self-determination; and predetermined factors. As Nietzsche himself said, Fate is “not merely a transcendent power… but an amalgam of diverse determining aspects.” (Grillaert, 49). Considering the evidence from both Harry Potter, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and ancient philosophies we can come to the conclusion that Fate is a power that predetermines all things, yet is not all-encompassing, and is a combination of many factors, including Free Will, and antecedent conditions or causes.
Brennan, Tad. Fate and Free Will in Stoicism: A Discussion of Susanne Bobzien, Determinism and Freedom in Stoic Philosophy [Chapter]. Oxford University Press, 2001, pp. 259-287.
Danby, Herbert. The Mishnah: Translated from The Hebrew with Introduction and Brief Explanatory Notes. Oxford University Press, 1933, p. 452.
Gould, Josiah. “The Stoic Conception of Fate”. Journal of The History of Ideas, Vol. 35, no. No. 1, 1974, pp. 17 – 32., Accessed 27 May 2019.
Grillaert, Nel. “Determining One’s Fate: A Delineation of Nietzsche’s Conception of Free Will.” The Journal of Nietzsche Studies, vol. 31, 2006, pp. 42-60. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/nie.2006.0002
Klawan, Jonathan. “Josephus On Fate, Free Will, And Ancient Jewish Types of Compatibilism”. Numen, Vol. 56, no. 1, 2009, pp. 44 – 90., Accessed 27 May 2019.
Pond, Julia. “A Story of the Exceptional: Fate and Free Will in the Harry Potter Series.” Children’s Literature, vol. 38, 2010, pp. 181-206. Project MUSE, muse.jhu.edu/article/380767.
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