Sunday, July 29, 2007

Discussing Christian Themes in Harry Potter

This is a very long post, so be warned. I did break it up into sections with headers to you can skip read or pick and choose, but I think it's worth reading and discussing. Most of the parallels presented I thought of on my own, although a few I got off of this site and put them in my own words:

Before I get started, I want to know what you think of the Harry Potter series and other classic books such as “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Lord of the Rings.” Do you think they are similar? Do they contain Christian themes? Can a book with occult themes have Christian parallels?

If you have read any of my previous posts on Harry Potter (linked at the end of this post), you know I believe that the series imagined and written by J.K. Rowling is full of Christian symbolism. I do not claim that Rowling inserted Christian meanings in her books on purpose; I only want to bring out the Christian meanings I personally found within the books, specifically “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” I find it wonderful how you do not have to look very far to come across the great story of the Bible showing itself, even in secular media. I do warn that the following review contains major spoilers in the plot. If you have not yet read the seventh book in the series and do not wish to know what happens before you read it yourself, do not read more than the next paragraph.

Harry Potter became an instant hit the moment it was published. Ironically, the character of Harry Potter never wants to become famous. Content with becoming an average wizard, greatness is thrust upon him. I’m sure J.K. Rowling never expected a similar greatness to thrust itself upon her name. I wonder if a single person exists in America or Britain who does not know who Harry Potter is. What about this young wizard boy intrigues so many? Perhaps we find comfort in reading about a hero we can relate to. On the other hand, Harry’s popularity may simply come from the wonderful stories that abound in these books. Maybe we enjoy reading about a nobody becoming a somebody. The list goes on and on. I would like to suggest that one reason exists above all others: the stories and characters found in the Harry Potter series echo the greatest true story of them all, the story of Jesus Christ.

You may burst out laughing or completely disagree, but I think Christian themes and morals have a way of making it into literature without anyone realizing it. Everything seems to exist and to have come into being that way. No matter how hard you try to get away from the truth, it will still keep popping up. God created things so that they would point back to His glory. We can even find parallels between the Bible and Harry Potter.

Some Small Pieces
Although Rowling may not have intended the Harry Potter series to be "Christian," it nevertheless contains strong Christian themes. From the many sacrifice characters must make to keep friends safe to small characters such as the snake, Nangini, that follows evil Lord Voldemort around, Christian elements are everywhere in these books. George, trying to protect Harry, loses an ear to a spell cast by Snape, who actually cast it in an effort to protect Harry, but missed. This incident harkens us back to when Peter cut a guard’s ear off to try to defend Jesus. After Dobby the house-elf dies to save Harry and friends, Harry buries him outside Shell Cottage, which belongs to one of Ron’s brothers. Harry watches as Luna Lovegood, one of those saved by the elf, arranges “sea lavender” on Dobby’s grave three days after burial. Although a simple scene, the number of days since burial and the arranging of sea lavender points to an important point in the Gospels: When the women came to Jesus’ grave three days after burial to anoint Him with spices. During Christmas time, Harry and friends visit Godric’s Hallow. People are gathered at the local church and outside the church the graveyard where Harry’s parents are buried lays. On their gravestones are quotes from the Bible. When Harry walks to his death willingly towards the end of the book, spirits of those dead walk with him, including a James (Harry’s father), a Peter (Sirius), and a John (Lupin). Harry pretends to be dead until the right time to fight arrives. As the fight breaks out, he uses the invisibility cloak to disappear. Everyone wonders where his body has gone, a reference to the empty tomb of Jesus. These are just small Christian pieces in “Deathly Hallows,” there are much larger themes yet to explore.

The Theme of Good Versus Evil
When you think of themes in Harry Potter, one of the first topics to hit your mind will most likely be good versus evil. Lord Voldemort wants to rule the wizarding and non-wizarding world. Fate drops the job of destroying Voldemort on the shoulders of Harry Potter. As Harry grows from boyhood to manhood, he must solve the mystery of how to destroy Voldemort’s evil. This battle of good versus evil resembles the battle between God and Satan. Christians realize that God has already won, but Satan will never give up until God does Him in permanently. Satan continues to do his best to keep us from bringing others to Christ and to keep others from coming to Christ. Similarly, Voldemort refuses to accept his probable defeat and does his best to bring as many pure-bloods to his side as possible. He does not understand the meaning of love. In early books, he finds that he cannot harm Harry because Harry’s mother sacrificed herself to save Harry’s life. Satan does not understand the importance of the sacrifice Christ made to save us from the consequence of our sins. Once we accept Christ, he can only harass us; he cannot possess our souls.

Purebloods and Mudbloods - Jews and Gentiles
Voldemort’s agenda in the wizarding world also resembles the way many Jews treated Christians as Christianity began to spread. Some Jews were too proud to admit they were wrong. Others did not want to believe that Gentiles could have equal salvation with the Jews. The Jews were God’s chosen people, but many did not understand that God chose them to act as a light to the nations. Salvation was not just for the Jews. Even James and Peter had trouble understanding this, but God corrected them. Likewise, many of the pure-blood wizards in Harry Potter believe that only they should have magical abilities and the right to rule. They do not want mudbloods (wizards with non-magical parents) and half-bloods (wizards with only one magical parent) to have equal status with them.

In but not of the World - Snape's Example
The character Severus Snape originally pledges his loyalty to the dark lord; but once he experiences love (in this case, he loves Harry’s mother, Lily), he changes sides and risks all for Harry’s sake. We find more than one lesson in Snape’s story. Snape’s work as a reformed death eater parallels the way we as Christians must be in the world, but not of the world. He lives with the death eaters, but works with and for Dumbledore.

In another chain of events, at Dumbledore’s order, Snape kills Dumbledore. Some may think of this as another Judas betrayal, but I prefer to see it as another sacrifice. Voldemort has ordered Draco Malfoy to kill Dumbledore, who sees the damage his murder would cause to Malfoy’s soul. Dumbledore accepts his death willingly, forcing Snape into an unpleasant but necessary role reminiscent of the Old Testament priesthood. The Old Testament priesthood, in turn, should remind us of how God the Father sacrificed his only begotten son, the righteous for the unrighteous.

Dumbledore: God-like figure or Human?
In the first few books, Dumbledore shines as a God-like, father-like figure to Harry. I believe that this impression still exists, even if his character takes on a completely different meaning in the final book. First, in “Deathly Hallows,” rumors circulate about Dumbledore’s past. Is he as wonderful as he seems? Or does he have a dark past that changes everything? As it turns out, Dumbledore is not perfect. He has his faults. Still, not all of the rumors are true. In a similar way, Satan will circulate rumors in our world and put thoughts into our mind that make us question the truth of the Bible.

Second, Harry wonders why Dumbledore never told him the complete truth during their times together and finds that he cannot have a complete understanding of the mysteries until the very end. We can’t expect to understand everything in the Bible, but we can ask God for the ability to discern what we read in the Bible. As Harry learns, we must have patience. There would be little point to the mystery if it were unveiled to us all at once. Sometimes we must discover the truth for ourselves. When we’re ready, we’ll learn what we want to know and will be able to use that knowledge wisely.

Third, because Dumbledore has faults, we see that no one is perfect. The fact that Dumbledore has faults agrees with what the Bible tells us about human nature. All sin and fall short of the glory of God. No one is perfect.

It is worth mentioning that although Dumbledore does not resurrect in the final book, he does return a few times in two forms. His brother, Aberforth, becomes essential to Harry’s survival. Also, Harry meets Dumbledore’s spirit in a place called “King’s Cross.” Only here does Harry learn the complete details of Dumbledore’s past and how to defeat Voldemort permanently. Similarly, only in heaven will we learn the complete details of the mysteries of our roles in God’s grand scheme.

King's Cross and the End of the Story - The Afterlife
There are six (the anti-Christ’s number) main horcruxes, but Harry learns from Snape that he, himself, is a seventh horcrux. Horcruxes are pieces of Voldemort’s soul stored in random items. In order to defeat Voldemort, Harry must willingly allow Voldemort to place the killing curse on him. He faces death bravely, knowing that death is inevitable, and sacrifices his own life for the lives of his friends, reflecting the character and actions of Christ. When Harry dies, he wakes up at King’s Cross railway station, an otherworldly realm where he meets Dumbledore. Dumbledore explains an error by Voldemort that enables Harry to return to life. His sacrifice, however, defeated the piece of soul that attached itself to Harry, leaving him with a clean soul of his own. God attached our sins to Christ as the King of Kings died on the cross --Part of Voldemort’s soul was attached to Harry as he made his journey through death to King’s Cross. This sacrifice parallels the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made for us when he died on the cross (pun intended). Harry died so his friend could live, but also rose again to defeat Voldemort once and for all.

For a short period, Voldemort really does believe he’s killed Harry Potter. Satan probably thought he had defeated Christ when Jesus died, but instead, the resurrection defeated Satan. We find another example in this part of the book. At King’s Cross, Dumbledore tells Harry, “Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love.” This has a two part meaning. First, Dumbledore makes the statement in reply to Harry’s reaction to a crying baby nearby. He tells Harry there’s nothing they can do for the child. The baby represents the soul of the unsaved at death. Those who die unsaved cannot find comfort because they are separated from God forever. Second, we must not let the deaths of those we love keep us from shining as a light for Christ in this dark world. We are needed in the world. Harry must choose whether to heed that call and return to save his friends, or to run away. He chooses to stay. We will always have the comfort of Christ by our side while we go through trials, as Harry has Dumbledore to comfort him at King’s Cross. Second, with Harry as a Christ figure, as Harry comes back for those he loves his sacrifice places protection on his friends. Voldemort can no longer permanently bond any of those Harry died for.

Death and the Theme of Sacrifice
One of the main themes of the seventh book is death. Harry must die to himself in order to live. We must pick up our crosses, dieing to ourselves, and follow Christ. Without Christ, our sins pronounce our death sentence; but with Christ, we no longer need fear death.

The theme of sacrifice recurs throughout the entire Harry Potter series. Lily, Harry’s mother, sacrifices herself to save Harry from Voldemort. This leaves a mark on Harry and keeps him safe from harm for many years. Dumbledore sacrifices himself for the soul of Draco. In the fifth book, “Order of the Phoenix,” Harry saves his cousin Dudley from the Dementors. In the seventh book, Dudley finally pays Harry back for the service. Dudley pronounces he does not think Harry is a waste of space and leaves tea by Harry’s door as a present. At the beginning of “Deathly Hallows,” several of Harry’s friends risk their own lives to keep Harry safe and one of them, Mad Eye Moody, dies. When Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Luna are captured and imprisoned in the Malfoy mansion, Dobby the house-elf rescues them, but dies in the process. Countless others die throughout the book, mainly in the battle for Hogwarts.

The Battle - Community
The battle for Hogwarts reflects a theme that came out full force in the fifth book: community. In most of the book, Harry, Hermione, and Ron are on a secret mission. The three rely on each other; without any one, the other two cannot do well. Harry’s friends provide support and loving care to him, encouraging him in his fight against evil – not to mention his fights against his own hormones. Also, by the end of the book, they find that they still need the help of others to accomplish their goals. Members of the Order of the Phoenix and other good wizards join together to fight the death eaters, giving Harry time to find and destroy the last horcruxes without interference. Likewise, we as Christians have many battles to face. We find support in community. We pray for each other and treat each other as we wish to be treated. We find that we all have a part to play in the building up of the church, and no individual God-given gift can accomplish anything on its own.

The Decision is Yours - The Deathly Hallows
In the end, however, we cannot make decisions for one another. We cannot save another person by praying the salvation prayer for them. The individual must make the choice to accept Christ into their heart on their own, and Harry alone can conquer his own arch enemy. He must decide to run and stay safe or to confront death and sacrifice himself for all his friends.

The choice of the individual becomes important in more than one way. The name of the book is “Deathly Hallows,” but what are deathly hallows? The deathly hallows are three items that, when united, make the possessor a master of death. The items include a resurrection stone, a wand called the Elder Wand that always wins a duel, and an invisibility cloak. Dumbledore attempted to find the three items at a young age, but found that he could not trust himself with such power. The items are tempting and in the wrong hands can create chaos. From Dumbledore’s experience, we learn that gaining items we desire will never fill our empty spots. We cannot find fulfillment in earthly power or possessions. Only Christ can fill the holes in our lives.

The three deathly hallows carry individual significance, as well. Harry finds use for the invisibility cloak throughout all seven books. It serves as a shield that keeps him from the eyes of others. Faith serves as a shield for us. God always protects us, even when it does not seem like it. Harry must choose to put on his invisibility cloak. When he uses it, it protects him. Without it, his presence is discovered and he loses his shield. He must discern when to use it and when not to use it. Similarly, we must choose to act by faith, but we must do so with wisdom, not blindly.

The resurrection stone brings allows people to talk those they have lost, but users find that those they bring back often do not want to come back. We learn to let go of those we’ve lost. Also, there is always hope. As Harry finds in his short time at King’s Cross, we will one day join those we have lost. Dumbledore hides the resurrection stone from Harry in a snitch that he leaves Harry in his will. Only at death does Harry realize how to take the stone out of the snitch. He whispers, “I am about to die,” and the snitch opens. Now, Harry has become mature enough to use the item properly. He conjures up the spirits of those he has lost to encourage him and walk with him as he faces death.

On a side note, Dumbledore leaves a book that tells the story of the deathly hallows behind for Hermione and a deluminator, a device that controls light, to Ron. The story book resembles the Bible in that it contains the truth and the path to ultimate deliverance. Ron finds that his gift has more significance than he thought. At one point in the book, Ron does not expect the heroic voyage to take so much time and effort, and tires of waiting for the destruction of Voldemort. Realizing things aren’t going to be as easy as he hoped, he decides to leave Harry and Hermione. When he recognizes his error, a light from the deluminator enters his body and leads him back to Harry and Hermione. Similarly, Christians often expect that once they accept Christ, all will go perfectly well for them. They forget that many will persecute them for their faith and that the Bible will not always make sense to them. This misunderstanding often leads us to turn away from God, but God will plant lights and seeds in our lives that will lead us back to Christ. Ron’s journey also resembles Peter’s denial of Christ before returning to Christ and becoming an even stronger witness and missionary for Christ than ever before.

The final deathly hallows item, the Elder wand, has a long and dark past, but finds its ultimate significance in the final battle between Harry and Voldemort. The Dark Lord possesses the wand and believes he has gained its allegiance. As it turns out, the wand really belongs to Harry and will not kill its own master. When Voldemort casts the death spell on Harry, it backfires and kills Voldemort instead. Similarly, according to scripture, Satan attempted to use God’s Word against Christ, but Jesus used scripture to rebut and defeat Satan.

“Deathly Hallows” contains much of the great story found in the Gospels. We have more than enough reason to read and enjoy the Harry Potter books. Many may balk at my statement or laugh at me when I say I am both a Christian and a Harry Potter fan, but I say that this statement is not a contradiction. You may think that many are led astray by these books, but I say Harry Potter is no worse than the Easter Bunny or Santa Clause. We can teach our children what is fact and fiction in these books and discuss the evident themes found within them. By discussing them with an open mind, we can learn from the series. Harry’s story is full of Christian themes and is a great way to introduce others to the greatest story of them all: the story of Christ.

Previous Harry Potter Posts
Click here to read a short on a TIME Magazine article that claims Harry Potter has no God-like character:

Click here to read my book review on "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows":

Click here to read my joyous exclamation at getting the 7th book:

Click here to read a short on the leaked endings to the 7th book:

Click here to read my review of the movie "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix":

Click here to read some random thoughts on Harry Potter and to watch a clip from the movie "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix":

1 comment:

Shinade said...

Okay I fess up I didn't read the entire article...but, I too found Harry Potter to be filled with perfectly wonderful Christian morals. We encouraged our grandchildren to read the first ....which they did...I don't know about the follow-ups. I too find Christian themes running throughout many things....the most thing that amazes me is when I read posts written by Athiest that have Christian belief running all over the pages. Excellent share...I am joining your neighborhood...adding you as a fave on Tech. and I am so pleased you added me as a friend. I do so hope you will join my neighborhood as well.:)~jackie