by Dan Miller
At midnight tonight is the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. This seventh and final book about “the boy who lived” will be released about 10 years after the completion of the first book of the series. The books, of course, are wildly popular. As of this writing (July 16), more than 1.3 million copies of book seven have been pre-ordered on Amazon.com. In the first printing, 12 million copies have been reserved for the U.S. market alone.
Over the last several years, there has been great speculation regarding what will happen to Harry and his fellow characters. It has also been a period of concern for Christians regarding the appropriateness of children reading books that include magic. This summer, the speculation will be over, but the concern will continue. How should Christians regard these books?
I could easily write several papers on this series. First, we might consider whether the presence of “magic” in the books is objectionable. In this paper, I don’t intend to offer a conclusion about whether the reader should allow Harry Potter in his life and home. Instead, I hope to offer some information about material the books actually contain. The reader should use information about the books to make his own judgment about reading them.
It would be great to address the question of danger in the books. Dr. Kevin Bauder has already done that (The Christian and Fantastic Literature, Part 7, The Harry Potter Books), and I largely agree with him.
It’s possible that some of our members view Harry Potter as evil. That fact, in itself, would make an interesting discussion. Rowling does do some important things to place barriers between the magic in her books and that which her readers might find in the real world. But I have to say that I don’t think she does that as well as C.S. Lewis did. I would say that this aspect of the books earns Rowling a poor grade. It should give us caution, and because of it individuals might refuse to read the books, and many parents will not allow their children to read them. The magic does serve to make the series more interesting and colorful. But the stories are not about magic. They are about good versus evil. They are about making good choices and depending on help from good people.
It also would be appropriate to discuss the moral values of the books. Do they teach appropriate mores and taboos? Is wrongdoing punished? I won’t try to answer these questions here, but parents of children who read these books should understand how to discuss morals in the books. Harry undergoes positive character development in each story, and parents should be able to point that out to young readers.
This paper centers on the question of whether the series contains anything of positive value. Some have questioned whether the books have anything valuable to say. I believe the books have a lot to say. The most important thing about these stories is the way they echo the greatest story every told—the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If you have viewed these books as evil, my statement might surprise you. J.K. Rowling is a member of the Church of Scotland. We would view the Church of Scotland as theologically liberal but one with some good basic creeds. Rowling has said that C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books are among her favorites. Rowling has said that she does not believe in magic or witchcraft, and she refuses to speak of her faith until after the series is published, saying that the revelation would give too much away in the plot of the last book.
In light of the above, before explaining the Christian symbolism, I need to make a couple disclaimers:
1. Rowling has not explained her faith. I am not claiming that these symbols are Christian. And I am certainly in no position to judge Rowling’s faith.
2. The books do give exposure to magic similar to what we find in our world. That and the moral questions should make us cautious. Therefore, I am not wholeheartedly endorsing these books. Nor am I recommending that everyone read them. What I do want to do is give information about the books. This way, Christians will be able to intelligently discuss the books and hopefully use those conversations to point others to Christ.
So how do these books echo the great story of Christ? And why would SharperIron readers care?
Spoiler Alert: The rest of this paper addresses events that occur in the first six books. I will be giving away endings. So if you want to read the books with a sense of mystery, not knowing what will happen next, you may not want to finish this paper.
Harry’s story begins when he is one year old. Voldemort, the villain of the series, tries to kill the infant Harry, but Harry’s mother blocks his first attempt when she throws herself in front of Voldemort’s killing curse. This loving self-sacrifice provides the most powerful “magic” in the books. It gives Harry the protection he needs to survive the second curse Voldemort aims at him.
Each book in the series has a plot of its own, but all books follow a predictable pattern for Harry’s final conflict. At the end of each year, Harry descends to a place associated with hell or death, calls for help or makes a statement of faith (usually), dies (either nearly or figuratively), is helped by something or someone in the story (a picture of Christ), and is raised again.
I have included a chart of these event below. Though I created this chart from memory, John Granger, author of Looking for God in Harry Potter and other works concerning the first four books of the Harry Potter series, has previously discussed much of it. I am in debt to him for some of the symbolism here.
|The Philosopher’s Stone*||The Chamber of Secrets||The Prisoner of Azkaban||The Goblet of Fire||The Order of the Phoenix||The Half-Blood Prince|
|Descent and Death||Harry goes down past the three-headed dog, through Devil’s Snare (i.e., into hell). There he battles Voldemort, who tries to kill him, but Dumbledore comes to the rescue.||Harry goes down to the lair of the serpent, the Chamber of Secrets. There, while defeating the serpent, Harry is pierced by a poisonous fang.||Harry goes down to the lake by the forest, where he is attacked and nearly killed by dementors.||Harry goes to a graveyard. There he battles Voldemort, who again nearly kills him.||Harry goes down into the Ministry of Magic. Some of the battle occurs in the “death room.”||Harry goes down to a lake, which is filled with the dead. There he is nearly killed and added to the dead of the lake.|
|Christ Picture||1) The Philosopher’s Stone
It transforms base metals into gold.
It produces the elixir of life.
It is “blood-red.”
He is aloof throughout most of the books. While not consistently depicting God, he does at times seem to depict a child’s idea of God.
|Fawkes, the Phoenix
He dies and is resurrected.
He has healing powers.
(See Clement, ch. 25-26 and Turtullian)
|1) A hippogriff
Having the hind of a horse (lord of land) and the front of a griffin (lion-eagle, lord of sky), the hippogriff depicts the human-divine nature of Christ. Harry hears the hippogriff being killed. But after an amazing turn in the plot, we discover that the hippogriff was not actually killed. Plot-wise, he is resurrected.
2) Harry’s patronus
Patronus is Latin for “one like the Father.”
He is heard in the song that comes from the wands. The wands contain tail feathers from Fawkes.
Before they escape from the lake, a basin of horrible liquid must be drunk. As Dumbledore drinks 10 cups of liquid, he reacts as though he feels pain and guilt.
Dumbledore dies soon after this. His last words to Harry are, “I am with you.”
| Call for Help
or Expression of Faith
|Harry’s purpose in entering the final conflict of the book is to keep Voldemort from getting the stone.||It is Harry’s expression of faith in Dumbledore that brings the aid of Fawkes.||To draw near the hippogriff, Harry must humble himself by bowing before him. Harry’s patronus is produced by Harry’s statement of belief, “expecto patronum” (“I am expecting one like the father”). The word expecto may be found in the second to last line of the Nicene Creed.||In Harry’s final confrontation with Voldemort, Harry’s love for his friends protects him.|
|Help from the Christ Picture||Dumbledore rescues Harry in the presence of the philosopher’s stone.||Fawkes pecks out the deadly eyes of the serpent, removing that sting of death.||Harry’s patronus takes the form of a stag. It defeats the dementors, saving Harry’s life.The hippogriff carries Harry up and away from the forest/lake.||Fawkes’ song encourages Harry and weakens Voldemort.||This time he gives his life to save Harry and Dumbledore.||Dumbledore drinks the cups of guilt (?). He then makes fire, which allows them to escape.|
|Help from Others||Ron and Hermione help Harry overcome various obstacles.||Harry is given a sword from Godric Griffindor, one of the school’s founders. Godric lived long ago; the exact time is unknown.||Ron and Hermione are again by Harry’s side.||Echoes of Harry’s father and mother distract Voldemort while Harry escapes.||Multiple members of the Order of the Phoenix fight on Harry and Dumbledore’s behalf.||Multiple members of the Order of the Phoenix fight on Harry and Dumbledore’s behalf.|
|Ascent||After driving off Voldemort, Dumbledore carries Harry up to the hospital wing. Harry awakens three days later.||Fawkes carries Harry back up out of the chamber.||The hippogriff carries Harry up to the highest tower, where they set the “prisoner of Azkaban” free.||Harry is returned to the school from the graveyard.||Dumbledor’s magic brings Harry up and out of the “death room” and the Ministry of Magic.||Dumbledore and Harry escape from the lake of the dead and return to the castle.|
*The Philosopher’s Stone was published in the United States as The Sorcerer’s Stone.
So why should SharperIron readers care about Harry Potter? Why not just ignore the series? Perhaps we should make use of the current popularity of these stories. We should say to our friends and acquaintances, “Do you know why the books are so good? They are good because they are echoes of an even better story—the true story of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Many are interested in the series, even if they aren’t fans. We should see the popularity of Harry Potter as an excellent opportunity to speak about our faith in a different and culturally relevant way.
I do not mean that I think we should use Harry Potter to explain the gospel on a general basis. I mean only that the books can give us a point of contact. With it, we can bring up the subject of Jesus Christ by connecting with something some people like.
Again, don’t take this article as an endorsement of the books. I like them, and I have greatly enjoyed trying to figure out what comes next. I’ll go on record with only one prediction: Sadly, Hagrid will die.
I am interested to see where Rowling goes in her seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. But tonight will also be somewhat sad—the greatest interlibrum of my lifetime will be over.
|Dan Miller is an ophthalmologist living in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He received a B.S. in Premed from Bob Jones University in 1991 and an M.D. from The University of South Carolina School of Medicine in 1995. He serves as youth leader and board member at Cedar Heights Baptist Church, also in Cedar Falls. He has been happily married to Jenny since 1992. His opinions are not necessarily those of his church or SharperIron.|