If you had to choose seven horcruxes to house your soul, what would they be? Yes, this is a Harry Potter question, one discussed over late night lattes by me and another bookish friend. For starters, I tried to guess her horcruxes (it seems to me the true test of friendship to be able to guess where someone would hide parts of their soul). But, before I get ahead of myself, for the uninitiated—
What is a horcrux?
“Horcrux” is J.K. Rowling’s term for a hiding place for a wizard/sorcerer/magic user’s soul or life force hiding. Another name for it is “soul jar.” The idea being, with the soul safely removed from the body, the user is neigh impossible to kill. Destroy the soul jar, and you either kill the owner, or weaken them enough to allow the deed by more conventional means.
A brief (personal) history of horcruxes
My first experience with a soul jar comes from Lloyd Alexander’s Taran Wanderer, the fourth book in that Welsh-myth-based wonder of a series, The Chronicles of Prydain.
In it, our hero Taran comes across an evil sorcerer who has put his life force into a bone removed from his pinky, and hidden it in a box in a tree. A tree that Taran stumbled across beforehand, and discovered the box with its odd contents. You can imagine what happens next.
Other soul jars you might be familiar with are the one ring in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Only by destroying the ring can Sauron also be destroyed.
The same goes for the eponymous portrait in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Why grow old and twisted when you can have your portrait do it for you?
Of course, all of these soul jars came later in my reading career. But I tackled the Chronicles of Prydain when I was nine years old. It made me look askance at chicken bones and people’s pinkies. (It occurs to me now that sorcerer might have also be yakuza. It might also be why The Simpsons will never be cancelled.). On the plus side, I fell in love with Welsh mythology. Which, as it happens, were heavy influences on both Tolkien and Rowling, and possibly Wilde as well. (The British Isles are a font of faery lore.)
But soul jars also appear in other folkloric traditions. In Russian mythology, there’s Koschei the Deathless—a wife-stealing, shape-shifting, undefeatable warrior.
This guy did soul-jarring right. Like a hardcore matryoshka doll or a turducken of epic proportions, it’s hidden inside a needle inside an egg. Inside a duck. Inside a hare. Inside a chest that’s buried on a distant island. Even if you find the island and dig up the chest, have fun catching the newly-freed hare. And, if you manage to do it and cut the hare open, get ready for round two chasing the duck. Once you get the egg, you can control Koschei. If you crack the egg and break the needle, it’s lights out.
But who has the energy for all that? Your stolen wife will understand. Or find the damn needle herself. (Insert clever “How am I supposed to sew these sock holes without a proper needle?” ploy. Because he seems like the kind of guy who’d expect his captives to sew for him, and he’s probably he’s really hard on socks.)
While I’m sure there are more examples, here endeth the brief history. Now, back to—
The Original Question
If you were to choose seven items to be your horcruxes, what would you choose? In Voldemort’s case, he chose items of value and importance so that they would a) never be destroyed accidentally, and b) offer palatial accommodations for his gunky garlic soul. (Yes, that’s a Grinch reference). Personally, I’m for choosing items with staying power that reflect the soul the harbor. Which leads me to take it take it a step further: if you could only choose books, which seven titles would you use to hide your soul?
I like the idea of living on in a bunch of books. The Library of Congress warehouses would be a great, well-protected place to hide your immortality. Of course, you could choose really boring books at a small, well-kept library so nobody ever checks them out and they never get sold off at a rummage sale. Or how about a collection of Gideon Bibles in hotel nightstands around the world? Or the book the Statue of Liberty is reading? That’s a great one. Even by the end of The Planet of the Apes, my girl is still holding her book!
Of course, another good answer is, “My own books.” Because we pour both our hearts and our souls into our work and it only takes reading a bit of Lady Murasaki or Shakespeare or Ovid to realize a writer can live on through their writing.
So, what will you choose? Think on it, and then get back to creating your horcruxes, whatever they might be. That’s what Rowling the Deathless did—seven books, but millions of copies.
What a bestselling way to attain immortality.
Sherri L. Smith is the award-winning author of six young adult novels: Lucy the Giant, Sparrow, Hot Sour Salty Sweet (all contemporary), Flygirl (historical), Orleans(speculative fiction), and, in fall 2016, Pasadena (mystery). Her first middle-grade novel, The Toymaker’s Apprentice (historical fantasy) was published in 2015.