Three years after the Harry Potter series transformed Joanne Rowling from a struggling single mother to a global celebrity, Wyman Max of The Vancouver Sunasked a surprising question of the soft-spoken children’s author, then 35: “Are you a Christian?”
“Yes, I am,” she replied. “. . . Every time I’ve been asked if I believe in God, I’ve said yes, because I do. But no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether ten or sixty, will be able to guess what’s coming in the books.”
Four years after the release of the final novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and anticipating this weekend’s arrival of the last Warner Brothers film based on that book, it has become more apparent than ever why Rowling feared that her religious views, if widely known, could have spoiled her legend’s ending for millions of fans.
The final confrontation between Harry Potter and nemesis, Lord Voldemort
Sacrificial love, death, the soul, the afterlife and resurrection define and fuel this adventure. And whether you adore or detest The Boy Who Lived, the final chapter of his story—both on the page and at the cinema—intrudes upon subjects long considered the domain of religion. And the secular world is noticing.
“Harry’s final tale can in some respects be boiled down to a resurrection story . . .” wrote Shawn Adler for MTV Movies. “It starts with the premise that love can save you from death and ends with a proclamation that a sacrifice in the name of love can bring you back from it. Harry Potter is followed by house-elves and goblins—not disciples—but for the sharp-eyed reader, the biblical parallels are striking.”
This week, legions of fans will witness those parallels in blazing 3-D, and many will realize for the first time why Harry Potter has cast such an unbreakable spell over their minds and hearts. Indeed, more Christians than ever before may discover what lies behind the almost supernatural appeal of the fastest-selling book series of all time.
SPOILER ALERT: Extensive plot details from both the novels and films follow.
“How lies have fed your legend, Harry,” croons the serpentine Dark Lord during the climax of the fourth film. Surrounded by a hooded cadre of his closest followers, Ralph Fiennes acting the part of Voldemort gloats over a petrified Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), who can only look on from his bonds as his newly reincarnated foe prepares to murder him.
“Shall I reveal what really happened that night thirteen years ago?” asks Voldemort. “Shall I divulge how I truly lost my powers? It was love. You see, when dear, sweet Lily Potter gave her life for her only son, she provided the ultimate protection. I could not touch him. It was old magic—something I should have foreseen.”
That “old magic” which shielded the cradle-bound Harry Potter from his adversary’s Killing Curse bears a startling resemblance to the Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time which C. S. Lewis imagines in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. That magic, according to Aslan, reverses death itself when a willing victim lays down his life for love’s sake.
“Your mother died to save you,” Professor Dumbledore tells Harry in The Philosopher’s Stone. “If there’s one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign . . . to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”
At the core of the Harry Potter series, infused in every page of the seven novels, and emblazoned upon nearly every scene of the films, fans encounter a conflict. Forecasting via book reviews and movie trailers, one might expect the story to revolve around the conflict between a boy wizard and a dark lord. But in the final analysis, the fictional personas of Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort serve merely as players in a much graver (and more beautiful) parable of good and evil striving for a common goal: eternal life.
All the Difference
For the combatants in Rowling’s titular war, achieving immortality means treading two profoundly different paths. Lord Voldemort (whose name, by the way, is French for “flight from death”), sees the grave as his great enemy. “Only I can live forever!” we hear him chant in the teaser trailer for the final film. And in the preceding films, he has spent time, blood, and lives seeking new and better ways to secure the unending days for which he yearns.
Like Ponce de León scouring the West Indies for his illusive Fountain of Youth, Lord Voldemort has exhausted his life probing the depths of known and unknown magic for a means of cheating his own mortality. In his desperation, he fractures his very soul and hides its mangled shards abroad, hoping that death will never find and claim all of him.
For Harry Potter, death has been the sole constant in a world of uncertainty. The deaths of his parents before he could walk, the deaths of his classmates during the continual struggle against the Dark Lord, the death of his godfather, Sirius, and the death of his headmaster and friend, Albus Dumbledore, have all taken their toll on his heart and resolve by the time the final battle confronts him.
But as Rowling reveals in the last stage of her magical drama, Harry, like his mother, possesses a power that Voldemort cannot grasp. And it is that power which reaches beyond death and works the great miracle of the Potter saga:
“I should have died—” says Harry. “I didn’t defend myself! I meant to let him kill me!”
“And that,” replies Dumbledore, “will, I think, have made all the difference.”
After laying down his life to destroy the final piece of Voldemort’s shattered soul and spare those dearest to him, Harry cannot understand why he finds it possible to return from death.
But for Christians—who bear witness to the real Deeper Magic of resurrection—very little head-scratching is necessary.
“We long for the experience of love’s victory over death,” says Professor John Granger, author of Looking for God in Harry Potter. In an interview with American Daily, Granger explains what changed him from an anti-Potter parent to one of the series’ most passionate Christian defenders. “Those who have been immunized against the real thing enjoy it in these stories and this experience and their enjoyment prepare them for a time when they may be more open to the real world acceptance of Christ. These stories aren’t grooming readers, young and old, for the occult; they prepare the ground in their spiritual center or heart for the seed thrown by the Sower Himself. . . .”
For those who have hitherto opted to forego Harry Potter in favor of more explicitly Christian fare, Deathly Hallows Part 2 may come as a pleasant shock. This is especially true for fans of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia, which Granger contends provided much of the inspiration for Harry Potter -- particularly its final installment, where some of Lewis’ favorite themes take center stage. At the heart of Rowling’s grand finale, a plot of sacrificial death and resurrection echoes the theology of those same phenomena in both Aslan’s Country, and the core of the Christian faith.
But even believers who still manage to deflect Harry’s charm will likely reap a harvest of knowledge (and perhaps souls) from understanding the powerful and intentional parallels which make the Potter series—especially its triumphant ending—so spellbinding to the human heart.
G. Shane Morris is Web manager for BreakPoint and the Colson Center.
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