SPOILERS ahead for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011, David Yates).
He is far from the first film hero to visit this chamber.
The protagonist, in the moment of great adversity, en route to completion of his destiny, may at some time find himself in the White Room. It is, if you will, sort of a Room of Requirement … an Antechamber of Secrets. It is the hinge on which the adventure turns, and the place where he is girded for the Last Battle.
In the White Room, time is suspended. If the story were a piece of music or a poem, this would be its caesura. There is no motion, no conflict, just a pure state of being, and the hero must be ready to arrive at this point, or the door is closed to him.
The white light of the skandha of form in its basic purity, the mirror-like wisdom, dazzling white, luminous and clear, will come towards you from the heart of Vajrasattva and his consort and pierce you so that your eyes cannot bear to look at it. … At that moment, do not be afraid of the sharp, brilliant, luminous and clear white light, but recognize it as wisdom. Be drawn to it with faith and longing, and supplicate it, thinking, ‘It is the light-ray of Blessed Vajrasattva’s compassion, I take refuge in it.’
— The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Fremantle & Trungpa translation
In the White Room, we meet with our elders or betters. Harry Potter colludes with the late Dumbledore one last time. Dave Bowman is a guest, interface, and tool for the fantastically advanced aliens who dispatched the Monolith. Percival meets the Grail King. The original “Battlestar Galactica” shows its Mormon roots with a lecture from creatures who might as well be angels.
And Black Elk comes to sit among the progenitors of his tribe.
Then as we walked, there was a heaped up cloud ahead that changed into a tepee, and a rainbow was the open door of it; and through the door I saw six old men sitting in a row. … And the oldest of the Grandfathers spoke with a kind voice and said: “Come right in and do not fear.” And as he spoke, all the horses of the four quarters neighed to cheer me. So I went in and stood before the six, and they looked older than men can ever be — old like hills, like stars. The oldest spoke again: “Your Grandfathers all over the world are having a council, and they have called you here to teach you.”
— “Black Elk Speaks,” John G. Neihardt
- With black curtains
One must have died, to all physical intents and purposes, to visit the White Room. The man entering the chamber is lost to the material world, after great trials and self-sacrifice.
But the White Room is not the endpoint. It’s a branching of ways, a stasis before either the final reward, or the return to a place among the living.
Limbo (“Borderland,” from Latin limbus or border) was a region borrowed from the pagans but put to a new use. Christian tradition came to include three Limbos. Limbo infantum was for unbaptized babies whom nobody (yet) was willing to consign to Hell though they could not, without the sacrament, go to Heaven; down the centuries there would be many theological attempts to rescue these innocents. Limbo patriarchum was for pre-Christians, particularly Old Testament patriarchs, and limbo paganum honored pagans like Plato who were disadvantaged in that they had enjoyed no opportunity to believe in Christ.
— “The History of Hell,” Alice K. Turner
Crucial knowledge is available here — the Grail secret, the explanation of your life’s meaning, the next step to fulfill your fate. Here you may become empowered and return to your world with fresh armor and sword — but you’re also granted a new challenge, one you may not wish to face.
- Near the station
As a transitional point, the White Room is tied to other realms while still apart from them. There is usually some passageway leading onward, which beckons; the harder step is moving backwards. Neo has a choice of doors, but Trinity’s at risk. Warren Beatty has a plane to catch, but he still hasn’t met Julie Christie. Harry Potter has the option of stepping on a train in his mind’s-eye version of King’s Cross station and never looking back.
But that’s not what heroes do. The adventure shapes the adventurer. The White Room is the quenching after the forge.