Can death be manipulated, cheated, humiliated, or, conquered? Even in the world of magic and witchcraft, death is considered to be inevitable. But there is a story in The Tales of Beedle the Bard, that speaks of the three elements that are together known as the Deathly Hallows. This Buzzle article discusses the meaning and analysis of The Tale of the Three Brothers in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Who were the three brothers?
For those who believed in this tale, it was said that the Peverell brothers were the original owners of The Deathly Hallows. While The Resurrection Stone was passed on to the descendants of the second brother, eventually coming to Voldemort, The Cloak of Invisibility was passed down from the descendants of the youngest brother to Harry Potter. This denotes that Voldemort and Harry were distant relatives!
One hears many stories, or to say, intriguing tales, in this world, especially the wizardly world. Even in the world full of magic, spells, charms, and wand-er-ous witches and wizards, tales exists. If we say that all who heard, believed in those tales, it would be wrong. Even Ollivander found no reason to trust in an old wives’ tale, especially the one related to the Deathly Hallows. But there were some who did, including Albus Dumbledore and Xenophilius Lovegood.
This tale is published as a part of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, the original copy of which was given to Hermione by Dumbledore in his will. While there were many other tales in the book, this particular one catches their interest due to the triangular symbol that kept cropping up when the trio was busy hunting horcruxes. Eventually, they find their answers when they visit Xenophilius Lovegood, in whose house, Hermione recites the tale.
The Tale of the Three Brothers
“There were once three brothers who were traveling along a lonely, winding road at twilight. In time, the brothers reached a river, too deep to wade through, and too dangerous to swim across. However, these brothers were learned in the magical arts, and so they simply waved their wands, and made a bridge appear across the treacherous water. They were halfway across it, when they found their path blocked by a hooded figure. And Death spoke to them. He was angry that he had been cheated out of three new victims, for travelers usually drowned in the river. But Death was cunning. He pretended to congratulate the three brothers upon their magic, and said that each had earned a prize for being clever enough to evade him.
So the oldest brother, who was a combative man, asked for a wand more powerful than any in existence: a wand that must always win duels for its owner, a wand worthy of a wizard who had conquered Death! So Death crossed to an elder tree on the banks of the river, fashioned a wand from a branch that hung there, and gave it to the older brother.
Then the second brother, who was an arrogant man, decided that he wanted to humiliate Death still further, and asked for the power to recall others from Death. So Death picked up a stone from the riverbank and gave it to the second brother, and told him that the stone would have the power to bring back the dead.
And then Death asked the third and youngest brother what he would like. The youngest brother was the humblest and also the wisest of the brothers, and he did not trust Death. So he asked for something that would enable him to go forth from that place without being followed by Death. And Death, most unwillingly, handed over his own Cloak of Invisibility.
Then Death stood aside and allowed the three brothers to continue on their way, and they did so, talking with wonder of the adventure they had had, and admiring Death’s gifts. In due course the brothers separated, each for his own destination.
The first brother traveled on for a week or more, and reaching a distant village, sought for a fellow wizard with whom he had a quarrel. Naturally, with the Elder Wand as his weapon, he could not fail to win the duel that followed. Leaving his enemy dead upon the floor, the oldest brother proceeded to an inn, where he boasted loudly of the powerful wand he had snatched from Death himself, and of how it made him invincible. ‘That very night, another wizard crept upon the older brother as he lay wine-sodden, upon his bed. The thief took the wand and, for good measure, slit the oldest brother’s throat. And so Death took the first brother for his own.
Meanwhile, the second brother journeyed to his own home, where he lived alone. Here he took out the stone that had the power to recall the dead, and he turned it thrice in his hand. To his amazement and his delight, the figure of the girl he had once hoped to marry, before her untimely death, appeared at once before him. Yet she was sad and cold, separated from him as by a veil. Though she had returned to the mortal world, she did not truly belong there and suffered. Finally the second brother, driven mad with hopeless longing, killed himself so as truly to join her. And so Death took the second brother for his own.
But though Death searched for the third brother for many years, he was never able to find him. It was only when he attained a great age that the youngest brother finally took off the Cloak of Invisibility and gave it to his son. And then he greeted Death as an old friend, and went with him gladly, and, equals, they departed this life.”
Analysis of The Tale of Three Brothers
This story revolves around the three brothers’ encounter with death, and their true character when it comes to their individual morals and desires. Being skilled in magical arts, they were successful in crossing the treacherous river that Death used to take many passersby with him. Yes, Death was angry, but also cunning, and in his cunning ways, he tricked the three brothers to only come closer to his trap, through the gifts they chose to take from him as a reward of their skills, skills that kept Death from taking them for his own, at least initially.
The first brother, possibly Antioch Peverell, is described to be a combatant man, who wished to become invincible, and therefore, asks from Death a wand that no one can defeat. And being rewarded so, he not only kills the wizard with whom he had quarreled, but proudly brags upon this “Stick of Death” that made him invincible. This invites more enemies into his life, and the greed for power gets him killed. In simple words, the lust for the most powerful wand costs him his life, and Death’s cunning plan worked in Death’s own favor.
The second brother, Cadmus Peverell, is an arrogant being, whose desired gift was asked with an intention of humiliating Death more than his elder brother. While the Elder Wand made the elder brother fight Death, the second brother wanted the power to bring back dead ones to life. The Resurrection Stone was nothing more than a mirage, where what came back was a shadow, not the entire living person, and therefore, when the second brother used the stone to call his beloved but couldn’t truly get her back, he killed himself, eventually falling into Death’s trap.
The third brother, Ignotus Peverell, is characterized as a humble and wise man who didn’t trust Death. He didn’t want to humiliate, belittle, or even face him. Therefore, he asked for a gift that would prevent Death from following him. Note that Death was hesitant, reluctant to grant this gift, but he did. The youngest brother lived a content life, he didn’t seek power over anything, but lived a modest life. And when he was ready, he himself removed the cloak, gave it to his son, and met Death as an old friend, greeting him as an equal.
Out of the three brothers, it was only the youngest brother who just wished to live peacefully being hidden from Death, while the other two brothers wished to conquer him, either by being able to resist it, or by reversing its effects. Ironically, those who wished to conquer death succumbed to its trap, and he who wished to not do so, lived a contented life and willfully removed the cloak when he was ready to die.
The Elder Wand, the most powerful wand in the world; the Resurrection Stone that can call back the dead; and the Cloak of Invisibility that can hide one from death, together, they make the Deathly Hallows, together they make on the “Master of Death.” However, at the end of it all, none of the owners of these articles could actually escape death, could they?
An Alternate Interpretation
Some speculators suggest that the characters of The Three Brothers correspond to Voldemort, Severus Snape, and Harry Potter himself, although, not completely. Voldemort was a lot like the oldest brother, who was hungry for power, quick in taking revenge, and killing all who came in between him and his quest for becoming the most powerful wizard in the world.
Speaking of the nature of the second brother, he was arrogant, and was still grieving upon the death of his love, quite similar to the plight of Severus Snape. And yes, although he didn’t hang himself to reunite with Lily Potter, she was the very person he lived for …, she was the very person he thought of when he died. Although we have hated Snape for his arrogance and humiliating tendencies all through the series, his best side shows only in the final book of the series.
The third brother’s humble demeanor is quite like Harry’s, who never sought power, or didn’t even think of being arrogant towards anyone. He just wanted to live a simple life, in peace and happiness. And so he did, using his inherited Cloak of Invisibility to help defeat the enemy, and eventually denying the ownership of the Elder Wand and the Resurrection Stone, both of which also belonged to him at the end of it all.
Moral of the Story
The story of the Deathly Hallows conveys a lot more than what words denote. It doesn’t just tell us about the fate of the three brothers, but also the nature of death itself. Death is cunning and treacherous, and what makes us all the more vulnerable to it is the fact that irrespective of knowing it to be inevitable, we wish to master it. What this tale teaches us all is the understanding of not meddling with the inevitable, not trusting the very thing/person whose nature is to cheat, such as death.
What saved the youngest brother from an untimely death was him being wise enough to not trust the treacherous and cunning enemy that pretended to be friendly at the time. As wise and clever we may think that we are, there are entities, situations, people who are slyer than our perception. Therefore, when facing the most unlikely situations, where an enemy claims to be a rewarding friend, or where your defeating move is appreciated by the one on the losing side, it is best to be as humble and modest as one can be. An enemy who has tasted defeat from you can never give you a fruitful gift on his own accord. Therefore, it is best to be like the youngest brother, who chose to go his own way, without being followed by death, be it in enmity, or “friendship.” This tale will be one of the many lessons that will stay with us all the while, as we recall the magical and enriching journey of Harry Potter.