This article was originally posted on 5 December 2008 at www.thinkingmatters.org.nz
The furore over J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series in Christian circles is now a cause for shame-faced admissions of mistake. One is reminded of a similar stir caused by the release of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, seen then to be an advertisement for the occult and guilty of leading children astray. While many were crying foul, others were convinced that Rowling was writing from within the Christian worldview. With Rowling revealing herself a Christian after the release of the seventh book, perhaps it is time to cede her the award for the greatest Christian fiction novel ever written.
These books show the wonder and beauty of creation. They are full of life, love and laughter, fantasy and fun. Just consider the game Quidditch, the joy of soaring unfettered in the air with the wind in your hair; the delight of discovery; the cute and cuddly Pinkie-Puffs; the humour of Fred and George Weasley; the myriad of magical creatures that Hagrid adores, all set in the beautiful grounds of Hogwarts.
In these books is the awful reality of sin, evil and suffering. See the creeping shadow of a man possessed, sucking the blood of a dead unicorn; the Dementors breeding despair, administering the kiss of death and sucking out their victims’ souls; the corruption of human government where “Magic is Might”; the cruel bigotry towards House-Elves, Goblins and Centaurs; the pride of Percy and the tears of Mrs. Weasley tormented by a Boggart.
In these books is a longing for redemption. The deprivation of family imbues Harry with a sense that something is wrong with the world, and this acute awareness drives him to protect his friends when in jeopardy. Consider his love of life, tempered by the willingness to give it up for the ones he loves. He sees the world around him as it is, and this brings a constant challenge to overcome injustice and cruelty with courage, grit and determination.
The underlying message becomes explicit when Harry visits the graveyard in Godrick’s Hollow and finds his and Dumbledore’s family burial-plots. Engraved in stone are the words, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” and “The last that shall be destroyed is death” – two scriptures that encapsulate the Christian themes of the series: death and redemption.
Rowling deals with these sensitively, expressing in her imaginary world truths that parallel our own. Where death is like moving just beyond the veil and the reality of an afterlife is shrouded in mystery. Where defeating Death means for one wizard reaching for immortality, and for another wizard reaching out to greet Death as a friend. Where one boy, destined and set apart at birth, freely gives his life for his friends.
Almost every character receives redemption. Kreature is radically transformed in a manner akin to conversion. The despicable Snape unexpectedly becomes “the bravest man I ever met.” Dumbledore’s death is at first a defeat, but eventually revealed as his greatest victory. His deeply human flaws are covered by his wise choices. In the climactic conclusion emerges a staggering analogy. Harry freely sacrifices himself to save the wizarding world. He is then resurrected; the magic in his blood protecting all from the Dark Lord whose power is broken – rendered useless. The world is made anew as the sun rises and light floods the Great Hall.
For the literary novice, the fantasy can be seen as a lure into witchcraft. For the more sophisticated reader, the series – and in particular this final installment – has been the most charming portrayal of powerful and profound Christian truth. There are few books as satisfying and enjoyable as Harry Potter.