Harry Potter and the Sisters of Mercy, or Goth Like Me

Hermione? Is that you?
Like millions of others in their 20s and 30s with no reservations (or shame) about reading a series of books intended for people half their age, I’m currently devouring Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And yes, the first thing I did after buying the book was skip straight to the epilogue; without giving anything away, J.K. Rowling wraps it up about like I expected. Knowing how it all shakes out – or at least who’s still around at the end – hasn’t diminished my enjoyment one bit. And for the final time, Rowling’s wizarding world is strikingly similar to another group of people near and dear to my heart, people who are almost as misunderstood, persecuted, and ostracized as Harry and his friends.

That’s right, I’m talking about Goths. I don’t claim to be one, but God, I love Goths.

The recent onset of emo paranoia – lurid media-spun yarns like this one of a generation who “celebrate sadness and pain” through morose music, self-mutilation, and suicide – has taken a little of the heat off, but overall Goths still can’t catch a break. The latest bit of Goth-related madness comes to us from Medicine Hat, Alberta, where earlier this month a 13-year-old girl was found guilty on three counts of first-degree murder in the stabbing deaths of her parents and younger brother. She thus became the youngest person in Canadian history to be convicted of multiple homicides.

Her sentencing is scheduled for later this month. During her trial, witnesses told the court she and her boyfriend were involved in Goth culture, including posting messages and pictures on the Internet’s Goth central, Vampirefreaks.com. This, naturally, sent red flags up all over the place. This boyfriend, also charged with three counts of first-degree murder though yet to be tried, sounds like a real piece of work. Not only is he a full decade older than the girl, a week or so before the murders, he allegedly told his friends he was a “300-year-old werewolf who enjoys the taste of blood.”

To be fair, what werewolf doesn’t? But let’s get back to Harry Potter, shall we?

Goths themselves are of different minds over whether to claim Harry as one of their own. “My love of Harry Potter has nothing to do with me being gothic,” writes Helen Damnation, moderator of the Deathly Hallows message board at www.gothicbeauty.com. “If anything, the character of Harry himself is a geek – I’m a Neville woman and proud of it!” [Neville Longbottom is Harry’s botanically gifted pal.] However, both the new Potter book and movie have been enthusiastically received on Vampirefreaks.com, and here’s an entirely convincing Goth makeover of Harry, Ron and Hermione, who makes an especially hot Goth.

Think about it for a second. Notwithstanding Deathly Hallows’ title itself, Harry and his friends spend most of Hallows on the run from “Death Eaters,” followers of the “Dark Lord” Voldemort, whose name roughly translates from French as “flight of Death” or “thief of death.” (Click here for a full Potter glossary and etymology.) A super-wand sometimes called the “Deathstick” figures heavily in the plot. Seriously, how much more Goth can you get? Well, since you asked…

Several of the book’s key scenes are set in prime Goth locations: graveyards, dungeons, spooky forests. And even when not dodging Death Eaters, Harry grows evermore obsessed with the dead (his parents and former mentor/headmaster Albus Dumbledore, who was killed off in the last book) and feels increasingly isolated from best friends Ron and Hermione. And any Anne Rice reader will testify that Goths possess romantic streaks second to none; Harry spends what little free time he has in the book pining for Ron’s sister Ginny. In other words, he’s basically a Cure song waiting to happen.

Both Goths and wizard-folk are often stigmatized and ridiculed (or worse) by society at large. Thus, both rarely socialize or otherwise interact with outsiders unless absolutely necessary, and even then with a great deal of mutual distaste. Furthermore, bitter debates have erupted within both communities over how “pure” one must be to merit the full rights and privileges of membership. Both have a penchant for peculiar garb, especially robes, and body art. He certainly didn’t ask for it, but Harry has had a lightning bolt scar/tattoo on his forehead since infancy. Voldemort’s followers are likewise branded with the “Dark Mark” on their arms, and both Harry’s scar and the Dark Marks burn when the Dark Lord is feeling particularly peeved.

These days, when Hot Topic is traded on NASDAQ and AFI plays Al Gore’s Live Earth concert alongside Kelly Clarkson and Bon Jovi, it’s hard to tell who’s Goth and who’s not, even at redoubtable batcaves like Austin’s Elysium or the HaVoK nights at Numbers in Houston. Looking at me, you’d never guess I harbor such tendencies. I don’t have any tattoos or piercings. My hair is in a Mohawk right now, but it’s the same darkish-blond shade it’s always been. I own a respectable amount of black clothing, but my wardrobe is hardly monochromatic. But if there’s a bigger Cure, Bauhaus, Love & Rockets, Siouxie & the Banshees and Sisters of Mercy fan in Houston, I sure as hell would like to meet them.

This, I think, is what makes Rowling’s books so appealing, to Goths and everyone else. Being Goth, or a wizard, isn’t about what you look like or how you dress. It’s about finding like-minded people who won’t harass or ridicule or look down on you for your taste in music or spells or friends. The same way Harry Potter’s battles with Voldemort and his minions are ultimately a simple metaphor for any teenager’s struggle to grow up and find his place in the world, somewhere deep down – not so deep for some – there’s a little Goth in all of us. – Chris Gray

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