WARNING: There are spoilers in this post regarding the entire Harry Potter series.
It started just because Michaela Siobhan, my oldest daughter (11), was so into Harry Potter and it was such a big part of her world that I wanted to know more.
And so just before JK Rowling’s final book in the Harry Potter series – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – came out in July, I started listening to Jim Dale‘s masterful audio rendition of Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone. I had actually started reading this book some years ago but – to be honest – just didn’t find it engaging. This time was different, I think, because of Dale’s approach. He is an actor and he approached reading Rowling’s books as an actor. He ended up recording over 250 voices for all seven books. I found listening to Dale’s rendering more compelling than reading the text alone.
I’m, in fact, a little embarrassed to admit that reading these books was one of the most enjoyable fiction-reading events I’ve ever experienced. The vast majority of books I read are non-fiction. But every few years I’ll go through a period where I’ll read most if not all of the books of one particular author who’s caught my fancy. The last collection of books I enjoyed this much was the Ender series by Orson Scott Card.
I finished the seventh book – Deathly Hallows – just a few days ago. I was also happy that I was able to read all the books in one fell swoop over the course of a few weeks instead of having to wait the 10 years it took the author to write the seven book series!
I know that the magic component of the books has been controversial in Christian circles, but it also seems to me that if the inclusion of magical elements is problematic in the Potter books, then it’s also a difficulty in Tolkien‘s body of work.
As I was reading the book, I sensed homages – whether intentional or not – to the Christian faith. In the world of Harry Potter, for example, muggles (non-magic folk – click here for a complete Harry Potter dictionary) celebrate Christmas along with witches and wizards.
But the most compelling potential implicit references to Christianity to me were Harry Potter’s mother Lily‘s sacrificial death for Harry and Harry’s own sacrificial willingness to die on behalf of his friends in the seventh book. We discover that Lily’s death was what caused Voldemort‘s Avada Kedavra death curse intended for Harry to rebound back to himself and nearly destroy him. And in Deathly Hallows we learn during the climactic confrontation between Harry and Voldemort that Harry’s earlier decision to sacrifice his own life and submit without defense to Voldemort’s second curse attempt effectively protected all those defending Hogwarts from the Dark Lord during the last battle of the magical war.
In the world of Harry Potter, these sacrifices are examples of the ways in which love is deeper than magic itself. Dumbledore tells Harry, “That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never gasped” (emphasis mine). Within love, Harry learns, is even Voldemort’s own last chance for redemption. Dumbledore continues, “[Voldemort] took your blood believing it would strengthen him. He took into his body a tiny part of the enchantment your mother laid upon you when she died for you. Her body keeps her sacrifice alive, and while that enchantment survives, so do you and so does Voldemort’s one last hope for himself” (emphasis mine). And so in Harry’s last confrontation with Voldemort, Harry shocks the evil wizard by saying, “Be a man…Try for some remorse….” And I thought it was telling that even at this climactic moment, Harry still only employs the Expelliarmus spell, for mere disarming, against the Dark Lord.
Many of the Rowling’s characters are not two-dimensional but have some complexity. Harry adores his godfather Sirius Black, who’s completely dedicated to his young godson, but Sirius had no regard for house elves and treated his own cruelly. Even the great Dumbledore in his youth planned for the eventual enslavements of muggles with Grindelwald, who was a dark wizard.
While not as intentional in its satire as, say, a Gulliver’s Travels, the Potter series nevertheless even touches upon race relations and the incompetence and inconsistencies of government.
I found the books not only highly entertaining, but with other values as well.