Warning: There are definitely spoilers in this post. If you have not read all the books yet, STOP reading right now! (I’m looking at you, wife.) Instead, go read these delightful books for yourself, before the movies or other people spoil the story for you!
I wrote in my last post about my journey, as a Christian, towards becoming a Harry Potter fan. In this post, I will talk about how the Harry Potter books actually have some pretty good theology embedded within them. This does not mean that they are perfect in every regard, but that they embody some good theology.
This is the central theme of the books, and it is also the central theme of theology. Dumbledore is constantly ridiculed by Voldemort for his insistence that love is more powerful than any magic could ever imagine to be. And in the end, Voldemort is undone by love: the love of Harry’s mother for Harry, the love of Snape for Lily Potter, the love of Harry, Ron, and Hermione for each other, and the love of Harry for everyone that he gives his life for. Even Narcissa Malfoy betrays Voldemort in the story’s climax for the love of her son Draco. Love is more powerful than any power that would seek to dominate and crush. It has deep pathways that evil simply cannot travel or understand.
Evil is real in J.K. Rowling’s world. While Voldemort is essentially a “pure” evil, most of the other characters appear to be a realistic mix of good and evil, but where they differ is which path they have predominantly chosen to follow.
The notion of sacrificing oneself for another shows up not once, but twice in the novels. Lily Potter saves her son in his infancy by giving her life for his. This defeats Voldemort, who only survives via his abominable Horcruxes. But then Harry, realizing that he must die so that Voldemort may finally be destroyed, willingly gives his life for all of his friends and companions at Hogwarts. He gave his life for the good of the many, and this is why Voldemort could finally be defeated.
Harry comes back to life after willingly sacrificing his life. While this is explained in terms of magic in the last book, it is simply incredible that the most fastest selling book ever published portrays its central hero returning to life to finish the defeat of evil that had been inaugurated by his willing sacrifice.
While Rowling’s notion of the soul has a little too much body-soul dualism for my tastes, she swims against the popular mindset by portraying some part of the person enduring beyond death. Not only this, but evildoing in her world does real harm to the person’s soul. Voldemort fractures his soul when he kills, enabling him to make Horcruxes. And the maimed, whimpering infant representing Voldemort’s soul was grotesque and pitiable. There are real, even eternal, consequences on our souls for the lives we lead in Rowling’s world
Although Harry is the hero, the fact that he could do nothing along the way without the help of Ron, Hermione, and a cast of other rogues and misfits. They don’t always get along or see eye to eye, but Harry never entertains for long the idea that he can accomplish anything without the community that surrounds him in love.
Odds and Ends
There is much more than this; more than I could mention in one blog post. Racism is critiqued, as are politics of fear and domination. Good does win over evil in the end, but the good suffer nonetheless. Nobody is beyond redemption: even Voldemort is urged to repent by Harry (“try for some remorse, Riddle”). In fact, there are so many good theological themes in Harry Potter, that I’m sure I’ve missed many. Rowling has given us a believabe—and lovable!—world, and one that does not skirt difficult issues about life.
Perhaps this is part of Harry Potter’s phenomenal appeal. A world in which evil is real and yet defeated by love is the world that I believe myself to be living in, but my society tells me otherwise. Perhaps Harry Potter is not escapist fantasy. Perhaps it helps us to escape the illusions that we live under. If it manages to do this, Christians and theologians should rejoice at the opportunities granted to us by Harry Potter.