Having recently finished reading the seven volumes of Harry Potter (British Bloomsbury edition) for the first time at age 70, I was struck by its great relevance to Christian themes, among other things. This is not a new idea since the author has stated that she used them in the series, and countless people have written commentaries on this overall idea. In fact, no less prestigious a place than Harvard Divinity School had a five-year podcast entitled Harry Potter and Sacred Text. Googling “Christian themes in Harry Potter” instantly brings up over four million results, so I don’t claim any originality in presenting this topic.
An important concept throughout the seven books is that of the soul — making it clear that its well-being is essential to human happiness. The horrible Dementors, for example, are much to be feared for their ability to take one’s soul away, thus rendering life to be not worth living. Doing evil deeds splits the soul — something to be avoided, unless you are the Dark Lord who hopes to gain immortality by soul-splitting.
The books are also infused with the theme of self-sacrifice as the greatest power, beginning with that of Harry’s mother as a means to protect her son as a baby. And Harry himself makes many sacrifices to respond to his duties as “the chosen one” — the one designated by Voldemort as his nemesis, and whom the Dark Lord is constantly pursuing. There are many more instances of self-sacrificial love throughout the series. This is commendable as it is often viewed as counter-cultural in our world where “being yourself” and serving the ego are given priority.
With the approach of Ash Wednesday in February this year, one can easily google “Phoenix and Ash Wednesday in Harry Potter” and receive over two million results. The Phoenix was Dumbledore’s animal companion as well as his “patronus” or protective shield. The Phoenix is important in Christian history, symbolizing the immortal soul and Christ’s resurrection when it comes to life again after death. Since the Phoenix burns up when it dies and is then reborn from its own ashes, it connects well to our Ash Wednesday custom of being signed with ashes.
In the final Battle of Hogwarts, Harry comes to realize that he needs to surrender to Voldemort — to surrender his own life so that hopefully the Dark Lord will stop killing others. As he reaches this conclusion, Harry achieves deep peacefulness, and as he goes towards his fate, the spirits of his deceased relatives appear and offer him support. The young wizard asks them if it hurts to die, and his late godfather says, no, not at all, since at that moment, all the pains and struggles of life come to an end.
Harry also encounters his beloved teacher and mentor, Professor Dumbledore, waiting for him on the other side. Dumbledore tells Harry that he can return to life if he wishes to do so — clearly the concept of resurrection here. But Harry is initially uncertain as he is finally at peace after a life full of immense struggles. However, he then realizes that should he accept such a return, he can bring much healing to the world. Harry finally agrees to go back. Then as he and the Dark Lord prepare to duel to the death in front of hundreds at Hogwarts School, Harry shocks Voldemort by saying, “But before you try to kill me, I’d advise you to think about what you’ve done… think, and try for some remorse.” Voldemort is utterly shocked, and Harry goes on, “It’s your one last chance… it’s all you’ve got left… be a man… try for some remorse.” But of course, the Dark Lord is utterly incapable of even considering such a thing. They have their final battle, and Voldemort is killed, not by Harry, but by his own rebounding curse.
Another theme of the Harry Potter books is the ongoing necessity to keep fighting against evil — to be always vigilant against the undermining of good in our lives and in our world. There are Christians who say that there is no such thing as evil — only good and a lack of it. Sounds sweet enough, but it fails, I think, to account for the immense evil operating in our world in so many ways. In early December, we heard reports that Pope Francis cried in public while reciting one of his prayers for the Ukraine. Clearly, he is aware of evil’s power in our world and laments the harm it does to so many people. In the same spirit, the Harry Potter novels emphasize that caring about the vulnerable, such as the house-elves and the non-magical humans who appear in the stories, is essential to goodness, and not caring is a prime example of the opposite.
So much more could be said on this subject, but hopefully these few examples I’ve mentioned will encourage those who have not read the books to have a go at them. Give yourself a treat and pick them up soon!