Chapter 8 is a gem: “Harry Potter and the Triumph of Self-Sacrificing Love” (pp. 125–46). It’s the best treatment I’ve read that (1) responds to Christians who think that the Harry Potter series is evil and (2) exults in its dominant (Christian) theme—self-sacrificing love.
A few years ago I appreciated watching this 7-minute video of Jerram Barrs reflecting on the last book of the Harry Potter series:
Chapter 8 fleshes out what Barrs expresses in that video. Here’s the outline with some excerpts (some numbering added):
The Harry Potter books are an extraordinary success story in the publishing world. . . . Their translation into Chinese was reported to be the biggest publishing event in China’s history. . . .
[T]here have been many passionate attacks on the Harry Potter series, in particular by Christians. . . .
Criticisms of the Harry Potter Books
. . .
- [T]he strongest criticism has come because the books bring readers into an imaginary world of magic and wizards; and therefore, many Christians say that it is abundantly clear that the books offend against the biblical condemnation of witchcraft and wizardry. . . .
- [M]any Christians simply say that fantasy is dangerous, and that to present this kind of fantasy or magical world to children is automatically hazardous to them. . . .
- [T]he books teach a rebellious attitude toward authority. . . .
Why I Like the Harry Potter Books
- The seven Harry Potter books are great fun to read. . . .
- Rowling has created a delightful world of the imagination. . . .
- The Harry Potter books are well written. . . .
- One test of a good writer is whether one can read the books over and over with growing pleasure and understanding each time. I read the final book six times over the first six months after its publication and enjoyed it more each time.
- Another test is whether one can read a book aloud and find that it communicates well. . . .
- A third test is whether these books encourage people to read. . . .
- Fourth, are the books well constructed so that each reading reveals more and more of the interconnectedness of every part of the story? The whole series indeed has this interconnectedness, and Rowling herself says that she knew where her final book would go when her first one was published.
- There are a multitude of interesting characters in the books. . . .
- These stories are imbued with a strong message about moral behavior. . . . There are beautiful and enjoyable human relationships among the characters, and there is a depth of commitment and faithfulness among them. The characteristics celebrated in the relationships are friendship, loyalty, integrity, kindness, and mutual service. . . .
- [T]here is a very clear portrayal of the distinction between good and evil. . . .
- [T]hey consistently include the three fundamental themes—echoes of Eden—that can be found as a subtext in almost all good literature: the beauty of creation, the appalling reality of evil, and the universal human longing for redemption and a better world. . . . [T]he stories show how a better life comes primarily through self-sacrifice. . . .
Responses to the Criticisms from Christians
- [T]he Word of God calls us to be prepared to celebrate anything that is good and true wherever it is found. . . .
- [O]ne cause of distress about the Harry Potter books is their critics’ deep suspicion of fantasy. . . . [T]he same criticism is made of the Narnia stories and The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. . . .
- [A]ll children indulge in fantasy play from a very early age. . . . Sometimes these fantasy games that children play will last for weeks or months and will have an extraordinary inner consistency. . . . An active imagination that can create, enter into, and rule over fantasy worlds seems to be an essential part of childhood and development. Parents need to do everything they can to encourage and commend this kind of play rather than discourage and crush it as dangerous. . . .
- Lewis is right; by “dipping” good and evil in myth, in fantasy, in an alternative universe, we see them more clearly than we tend to see them in “real life.” The people in a fantasy world are indeed “visible souls.” Adults sometimes lose the capacity they had as children to live in worlds of their imagination, and this is not a gain but a sorry loss. Yet, a good story, a fine fantasy, can restore this capacity to the most jaded adult and help to make his or her own daily life more interesting—and more serious. . . .
- None of these books encourages occult practice. The magic is simply a part of the imaginative worlds that Lewis, Tolkien, and Rowling have created. In such an imaginary world, people can become invisible, animals talk, mythical creatures like unicorns and centaurs exist, and rings and spells work wonders. In all of these books the magic serves to help us see the battle between good and evil more clearly. Magic is simply a device to unveil the world of virtue and vice to us. . . . Rowling herself has repeatedly stated that she has no interest in the occult or magic and that she certainly does not wish to promote it; indeed, she was astonished when she first heard that people had made this criticism. . . .
Responding to Culture as Christians
Some 450 years ago John Calvin encouraged people to read books by the great writers from Greece and Rome. . . .
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
At its heart Rowling’s last Potter book is a reflection on the two biblical quotations included in the story: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” and “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” . . .
The question at the heart of the book is this: Will Harry keep going with the task that Dumbledore has given him, the task of finding and destroying the Horcruxes created by Lord Voldemort, Horcruxes that contain pieces of his fractured and wicked soul? The central issue is, where will Harry’s treasure lie? For where his treasure is, there will be the devotion of his heart. Will his treasure be the longing for power? Or will his treasure be the commitment to fight against evil, whatever the cost to himself? . . .
Will Harry pursue this task of searching out and destroying the Horcruxes, as this is necessary for Voldemort to be defeated? Or will Harry become distracted by the Deathly Hallows and give himself to searching for these instead? . . . [W]here is Harry’s treasure? Will it be Hallows or Horcruxes? . . .
After struggling with this decision, with even Ron pushing him toward the Hallows—for Ron assumes that the Elder Wand will enable Harry to destroy Voldemort, the evil lord—Harry chooses the path of giving himself to destroy the Horcruxes. . . .
Self-sacrifice is a central theme in all the books. . . .
There are many echoes throughout the book of the temptation narratives in the Gospels, and also of the accounts of Christ preparing for his suffering and death.
Harry has to set his face toward his death, just as Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. He has to recognize that his free offering of himself to death is what Dumbledore was preparing him for, all through his years of friendship and schooling at Hogwarts. When Harry sees his friends suffering and dying in the fight against Voldemort, he is eager to give himself up, to drink the cup that has been prepared for him. He must leave his dearest friends, Ron and Hermione, behind, lest they try to dissuade him from his chosen path, and he must commit himself to take his final walk alone. . . .
Harry wins his battles not by wisdom and not by strength, but by things thought foolish and powerless by the world. . . .
Above all, he wins his battles by self-sacrificing love. At the climax of the book he walks calmly to his death, and his enemies laugh at his folly. He does not draw his wand; he does not fight; he simply gives himself up and Voldemort curses him with the curse of death. Precisely because he offers himself up to death and to defeat—just as does Christ—he conquers death, for it cannot hold him.
Remarkably, just as with Satan at the cross, Voldemort himself is struck down by his own act of seeking to destroy Harry. He survives this encounter for a brief time, but with his power greatly reduced. . . .
It should be evident to anyone reading the above summary how many remarkable parallels to the gospel story there are in this final book of the Harry Potter series. I found myself weeping with joy many, many times as I read and reread this wonderful reflection on the work of Christ. . . .
Christians should thank God for J. K. Rowling and for her clear presentation of the central values that are at the core of Christian faith and practice.
- Rebuked about Harry Potter
- Harry Potter Is Filled with Implicit and Explicit Christian Themes
- Successful Rereading: Maintaining the Magic
Update: I try to show how Harry Potter illustrates biblical theology in this 4-minute video: