“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

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

“Deeper Magic” in Harry Potter and Narnia

At this point, I have finished tracing what I find to be the most significant Christian themes throughout Harry Potter – themes conveyed in descriptions of evil, love, and death that bear a striking resemblance to ideas in Christianity. Before moving on to summarize these themes, especially as they come together in Harry Potter and his battle with Voldemort, and then to make several other observations of various other images/ideas/events in the books, I pause to note an especially curious description which Rowling uses on several occasions:

Sacrificial love in particular, but also mercy, justice, loyalty, and innocence are referred to with such phrases as “old magic,” “ancient magic,” and “the deepest laws of magic.” Most of these instances have been noted in previous posts. Voldemort himself is aware of the power of Lily’s sacrifice, recalling that “this is old magic, I should have remembered it, I was foolish to overlook it” (GoF 653). Similarly, Dumbledore explains to Harry that “love, loyalty and innocence…have a power…beyond the reach of any magic” (DH ch. 35). Perhaps most interesting is the “deep magic” that occurs when one wizard saves the life of another. Dumbledore explains this to Harry:

“You did a very noble thing, in saving Pettigrew’s life…Pettigrew owes his life to you. You have sent Voldemort a deputy who is in your debt…When one wizard saves another wizard’s life, it creates a certain bond between them…and I’m much mistaken if Voldemort wants his servant in the debt of Harry Potter…This is magic at its deepest, Harry…the time may come when you will be very glad you saved Pettigrew’s life.” (PoA 426)
All of these ideas – love, mercy, justice, sacrifice – are similar in that they are things of objective value, and more precisely, things with a moral quality to them. That these things are repeatedly described as having such a deep, powerful magic sheds light on why Rowling has often described her books as “very moral.” Furthermore, when she uses these phrases, Rowling is almost certainly drawing on C. S. Lewis’ Narnia, where the power of a just sacrifice to overturn death is described similarly:
“Though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.” (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)
Not only is the language of “deep magic” here, but also ideas such as evil characters being limited in their knowledge, the power of sacrifice, and victory over death, which are so enormously significant in Harry Potter. We encounter here even more explicitly the idea of substitution – the victim gives himself in the traitor’s stead just as Harry and Lily substitute themselves in the places of others.

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