Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows vs The Gospel

pics[Disclaimer: This is a (relaxed, impersonal research) paper that is piggy-backing off of a semester of papers and conversations between myself and my professor, and is continued in a later paper.]

The most important theme when looking at Christian fantasy, or the Christian myth within fantasy, is sacrificial love, in my opinion. It is also the most significant aspect of the entire Harry Potter series. It is how Harry survived as a baby, how he continued to survive, how Dumbledore died and Harry (inadvertently) got the elder wand, and how Harry saved the Wizarding world. Lily dies to save Harry, Dumbledore dies for the greater good, and Harry dies to save all, each sacrifice made out of love. Even Snape, in his own way, died for the woman he loved (and, by proxy, her son). Each of these, in their own ways, reflect the greatest gift of sacrificial love ever: when Jesus died on the cross. He died to save His children, like Lily. He chose His own death because it would defeat the enemy, like Dumbledore. And He died and came back to defeat the enemy once and for all, like Harry. In each act of sacrificial love seen in Harry Potter, especially the last one in The Deathly Hallows, readers see the story of the Gospel.  The first paragraph of chapter 34 show Harry’s understanding and decision to sacrifice himself in an act of love, so that the enemy may be defeated. Rowling writes,

Finally, the truth. Lying with his face pressed into the dusty carpet of the office, Harry understood at last that he was not supposed to survive. His job was to walk calmly into Death’s welcoming arms. Along the way, he was to dispose of Voldemort’s remaining links to life, so that when at last he flung himself across Voldemort’s path, and did not raise a wand to defend himself, the end would be clean, and the job that ought to have been done in Godric’s Hollow would be finished: Neither would live, neither would survive. (Chapter 34)

Attebery says Christian fantasy “rearranges, reframes, and reinterprets” the Christian myth, and even if Rowling did not do this explicitly on purpose, we see it happening (2).

Towards the end of chapter 36 of The Deathly Hallows, Harry explains to Voldemort that there is a power he does not know, which is why he will be defeated. Voldemort says, “Is it love again?… Dumbledore’s favorite solution, love, which he claimed conquered death,” (Rowling). Readers can foresee Voldemort’s downfall here, that he still had not learned his lesson, the one Harry had been learning for seven books. The lesson that love does matter. That it is the power Voldemort will never master. Love as a motivation is what has undone Voldemort; readers see it in everyone who betrayed the Dark Lord, such as Snape, who loved Lily, and Narcissa, who loved Draco; people can’t help but love, and it’s the most powerful force in the world. The sacrifice and act of love is the only reason Harry was able to defeat Voldemort.

C.S. Lewis says that a mark of a good book is when it stays with the reader, or when the reader returns to its pages time and time again. For me, this is the truest for Harry Potter. It is one of the most successful franchises that has impacted our generation, and our world, today. I believe a large part of this is how purely the themes and values of the book reflect the Gospel. MacDonald said, “we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker,” (145). When Rowling wrote this series, she, whether inadvertently or purposefully, wrote in the image of God, which would then resonate with the reader. Humans need to believe in something bigger than us. We also need to love and want to find love and adventure and sacrifice and a happy ending, which is all given to us in the pages of Harry Potter. Tolkien says that a good fairy story must have a happy ending which he calls “Eucatastrophe.” The last line of Harry Potter reads “The scar had not pained Harry for 19 years. All was well,” (Rowling). This is one of the most literal forms of a hopeful, happy ending that Tolkien wrote about that I have ever seen. Though the novels are filled with pain and loss and death and hopelessness, they end on a victorious, joyful, and hopeful note.

J.K. Rowling is not as explicitly Christian as Tolkien or Lewis, but she has claimed that religion influenced Harry Potter and there are religious themes in the novels (Petre). She even chose a bible verse to go on the tombstones of James and Lily Potter, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death,” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Dumbledore quotes part of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 6 for the inscription on the tomb of his mother and sister, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” (Matthew 6:24). How are Christian readers meant to take this addition in the novels? These quotes are obviously verses, so what does this mean for the Harry Potter universe? The verse on the Potters tomb must have to personally relate to the Potters themselves and the verse only works if the Bible, the Christian religion, exists in this world. By sacrificing themselves, the Potters defeated death, or rather helped Harry defeat death. Taking the verse into consideration, are the Potter somewhere beyond death? We know from the Deathly Hallows story that once someone dies, they no longer belong here in this world with us. They were happier where they were. In addition, James was a descendent of the youngest Peverell brother, the one that “greeted death as an old friend.” In the story, he outwitted death and defeated it before returning willingly. Just as we see Harry do at the end of The Deathly Hallows.

In Philippians, Paul explains that he may die in prison and return to Jesus, or he may be set free to continue preaching the word of God. He says he would prefer the former, writing “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” but he knows he would choose life so that he may help spread the good knew, thus seeing more people saved through the sacrifice of Jesus (Philippians 1:21). We see something extremely similar in The Deathly Hallows when Harry, who is alive and safe through the sacrificial love of his Mother, has the choice to “board a train” into the afterlife, or return. He wants to board the train, but he knows he has to return, finish what he started, and effectively save the Wizarding world. Take this conversation between Dumbledore and Harry for example:

“I have to go back, haven’t I?”

“Oh, that’s up to you.”

“I have a choice?”

“Oh, yes. We’re in King’s Cross, you say? I think if you so desired, you’d be able to board a train.”

“And where would it take me?”

“On.”

Harry chooses to return and defeat Voldemort. He defeats death, which becomes a sacrifice, in order to save the rest of the Wizarding World. Rowling said, “But I think those two particular quotations [Harry] finds on the tombstones …they sum up, they almost epitomize, the whole series,” (Petre). These are some of the most literal references to the Bible, and thus the Christian myth, that I see in Harry Potter. (Though there are a dozen others I could refer to). Rowling wrote to discover. She does not know what comes after death and she wanted to explore this idea (Petre). Readers are invited in this exploration with her, and perhaps see themes and values of the Gospel in it. Lily Potter covered Harry through her sacrifice, through her death. How much more are we, as humans, covered through the death and resurrection of God? Manlove says “the Bible is often written in the form of a fantasy” and describes Christian fantasy as “a fiction dealing with the Christian supernatural, often in an imagined world,” (2, 5). Both of these statements can be argued as true when looking at Harry Potter, though the series is a child’s fantasy more than it is a Christian fantasy.

It would also be worth our time to look at the novel and the entire series in the context of the Hero’s Journey, because each one, and the overall story, follows it almost perfectly. From the call to Adventure (“Yer a wizard, Harry”), to the tests (there’s seven books, each with their own round of obstacles and tests), to the Resurrection (when Harry comes back after being killed), and finally being Master of two worlds (life and death, Muggle and Wizard). There is a supernatural aid: the wand, the sword of Gryffindor, each Deathly Hallow, and a Mentor: usually Dumbledore, though other’s fit this description as well, such as Remus Lupin or Sirius Black. (Campbell)

There are a dozen other things I could bring up, such as how Harry Potter works as a child’s fairy-tale. Lewis says children “want to be a little frightened,” which definitely happens at multiple times throughout the series (40). Attebery writes that fantasy often stands on “religious grounds” which could be seen in Rowling’s books (1). Attebery also says that it is “fundamentally playful,” something that helps make the series a successful children’s story as well as a successful Christian Fantasy. We could talk about the physical fight between good and evil, or light and dark. Sirius Black says in The Order of the Phoenix, “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” This idea is shown time and time and again in each book of the series, and the consequences of each decision is shown. We could discuss who Dumbledore can represent: God, Death, or the Mentor. (There is an awesome fan theory about Dumbledore being Death) MacDonald says, “a wise imagination, which is the presence of the spirit of god, is the best guide that man or woman can have,” which is extremely important when reading the novel and getting out of it what one can, and important for the characters themselves. Each of these ideas could earn paragraphs or papers of their own. Harry Potter may not have been meant to be a Christian fantasy, or sold as one, but it definitely shows the themes of them. It also has the opportunity to act as one, to speak to readers how only fantasies can, and communicate the values of the Christian religion the fantasy veil.

 

Works Cited

Attebery, Brian. “Fantasy as a Route to Myth.” Stories about Stories: Fantasy and the Remaking

of Myth. Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 1–31.

Campbell, Joseph. “Part One.” The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Meridian Books, 1956,

  1. 1–215.

MacDonald, George. “The Fantastic Imagination.” E-Texts,

http://www.george-macdonald.com/etexts/etexts.html.

MacDonald, George. “The Imagination: Its Function and Its Culture.” E-Texts,

http://www.george-macdonald.com/etexts/etexts.html.

Manlove, Colin N. “Introduction.” Christian Fantasy: from 1200 to the Present. Palgrave

Macmillan, 2014, pp. ix-11.

Petre, Jonathan. “J K Rowling: ‘Christianity Inspired Harry Potter’.” The Telegraph, Telegraph

Media Group, 20 Oct. 2007, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/fictionreviews/3668658/J-K-Rowling-Christianity-inspired-Harry-Potter.html.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. National Braille Press, 2007.

Tolkien, J. R. R. “On Fairy-Stories.” The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays, by

Christopher Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin, 1984, pp. 109–161.

 

 

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