“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Conclusion: Harry Potter is a Christ Figure

“Dumbledore’s favorite solution, love, which he claimed conquered death.” – Voldemort (DH 592)
At the beginning of this series of posts, I stated that the idea of love overcoming death was the central theme in Harry Potter, and I have done my best to explain in depth exactly how love overcomes death in Harry’s story: see especially “The true master of death accepts that he must die,” “The Protective Power of Sacrificial Love,” and “Jesus Christ Was a Horcrux.” The two main themes of love and death come together at the end of the final book, in which Harry gives his life for his friends, and by his death triumphs over death and saves his friends through his sacrificial love. Death may be an enemy beyond the reach of magic (“no magic can raise the dead”), but the “deeper magic” of love can and does conquer death in Harry’s final battle. As an overall theme, this is a peculiarly Christian idea. Throughout these posts I have identified a number of Christian themes in Harry Potter. Here I summarize these key similarities between Harry’s story and Christianity:

  • Harry “accepts that he must die,” and by his death he becomes “the true master of death,” uniting the Deathly Hallows, and defeats Voldemort. Similarly, Jesus went intentionally to his own death, and by his suffering and death he defeated death (1 Corinthians 15:26, 54) and evil (Colossians 2:15).
  • Harry loves his friends and gives his life for them, and because of the power of his sacrificial love, they are shielded from harm (just as Harry was by his mother’s love). Similarly, Jesus loved us and laid down his life for us (John 15:13, Romans 5:8), and because of his atoning sacrifice, we are saved from our sins.
  • Voldemort cannot kill Harry because he had taken his blood and “tethered him to life.” Similarly, death could not keep its hold on Christ (Acts 2:24) because by dying Christ destroyed sin, the sting of death (1 Corinthians 15:56).
  • Harry bears in his body an evil that must be destroyed if his enemy is to be defeated, and in his "death" this is accomplished. Similarly, Christ bore on the cross the sin of mankind, which had to be destroyed if evil was to be defeated and humanity redeemed, and in his death this was accomplished.
  • In Harry’s story, love is revealed to be a power “more wonderful and more terrible than death” – love conquers death. In the same way, the cross of Christ made it beautifully and powerfully clear that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).
Of course, the parallels are imperfect and incomplete, and there are significant differences between Harry and Jesus, some of which I have already noted. Perhaps most significantly, when Harry returns from death, he returns to mortal life – to the “same side” of death as before. Presumably he will die again. Christ, on the other hand, conquered death once for all, and his resurrection was that of eternal, imperishable life. Even more obviously, Harry is not God, and Jesus Christ is God.

Nevertheless, the similarities that are present are very striking. Harry is of course not meant to be identified with Jesus in the same way that, say, Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia is a supposal of what Christ might actually be like if he became incarnate in another world. But he is most definitely a “Christ figure” in the sense that he reflects qualities of Jesus Christ. His character and choices, in some ways, resemble those of Christ, and his story bears distinct similarities to the story of Christianity. To “the lowly, the enslaved, the dregs of the magical world,” says Dobby, “Harry Potter shone like a beacon of hope for those…who thought the Dark days would never end” (CS ch. 10). He was “their savior and their guide” (DH ch. 36). In much the same way, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is to Christians a beacon of hope in a broken world. He is our savior and our guide, our captain and our banner, our victor over death, our Lord.

Rowling’s septology is filled with beautifully interwoven images and symbols of the many facets of Christ’s death and resurrection and of the story told by Christianity. It is a reflection or partial retelling of the Great Story in a different world. Reading it and other such truth-reflecting stories can be very enriching. Through these stories, we can approach the cross from a new angle and thus gain new insight – about what happened on the cross, the nature of good and evil, love, death, morality, etc. To use a crude analogy, when we stare directly at the sun for too long, we are blinded, but if we study other sources of light, such as fire, we can learn new things about the sun. In the same way, there are countless stories that tell the Story of Christianity in another world and in a different language, and studying these stories can take us closer to the truth, and to God.

Granted, it may not be that J. K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter with every single one of the parallels I have suggested consciously in mind,* but it is plain as day that the core themes have a strong Christian element to them. It’s no wonder that Rowling remarked “there was a Christian commentator who said that Harry Potter had been the Christian church’s biggest missed opportunity. And I thought, there’s someone who actually has their eyes open.” Columnist Jerry Bowyer notes “So much of the religious right failed to see the Christianity in the Potter novels because it knows so little Christianity itself…the gospel stories themselves, the various metaphors and figures of the Law and the Prophets, and their echoes down through the past two millennia of Christian literature and art are largely unknown to vast swaths of American Christendom.”

*Even if she didn’t intend some of these, it is acceptable to draw those ideas out as long as we recognize that they are our own and not the author’s. Regardless of whether it originated with the author or not, each idea has the possibility of proving to be a beautiful image or reflection of something true.

1 comment:

  1. I definitely agree with you about Harry being a Christ figure. In fact, I've written about Aslan, Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn, and Harry Potter as Christ figures in my book, The Lord of the Hallows. You can read excerpts from it on my blog if you are interested.

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