This article is the second in a series about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. To read from the beginning, click here for the first article, “The Harry Potter Controversy”. In this second installment of the series, I make the positive case for Christian allegory in Harry Potter.
Allegory in Harry Potter
In making a case for allegory in Harry Potter, my point is that certain characters and events in these books stand as symbolic representations of central characters and events in Christian theology.
I should also be clear that the parallels I see between the narrative in the Harry Potter novels and Christian theology are broad and general. In other words, I reject approaches like John Granger’s (as explained in Is Harry Potter a Christian Allegory? Does Harry Potter Teach Christianity?) that seem to see Christian symbolism under every rock and bush of the Potter story. On a micro level, I think the Harry Potter series is mostly just an exciting story with great character development. For example, unlike John Granger, I don’t think the centaurs in the Forbidden Forest are symbols for the donkey on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem, and I don’t think the name ‘Harry Potter’ is a reference to the Son of God in the convoluted way that Granger seems to think it is.
However, with that said, I do think Harry Potter is obviously a type of Christ in these children’s books. The central evidence for this is that in the last book, at the climax of the entire series, Harry must voluntarily surrender himself to death in order to defeat the Dark Lord Voldemort, who is an obvious type of the devil. Moreover, a short time after doing so Harry returns to life. Now, if that is not an obvious and direct parallel with Jesus’s devil-defeating death and resurrection—THE central event of Christian theology—I’m not sure what is.
Harry’s portrayal of Christ is further illustrated by his mental connection with Voldemort; Voldemort is somehow part of Harry, and this fact torments Harry. Through the lens of this connection, we see Harry as Christ the second Adam of Christian theology—Christ the representative of human beings who took on frail flesh, was subjected to all manner of temptations and suffering at the hand of the devil, and yet prevailed.
If Harry stands for Christ, Professor Dumbledore is a type of God the Father at various points in the story. The most obvious reason to think this is that Dumbledore is repeatedly referred to as the most powerful wizard alive, “the only one he [Voldemort] ever feared” (Book 5, p. 807).
Moreover, in the penultimate chapter of the fifth book—Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)—a disgruntled Harry meets with Dumbledore, who explains to him (via a special prophecy spoken about Harry before his birth) Harry’s role as “The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord.” It turns out that the course of Harry’s life has largely unfolded according to a plan put in place by Dumbledore, and that Dumbledore has recently been distancing himself from Harry because of his loving desire to protect him. Here, then, is a picture of the fiercely loving, yet sometimes distant, Father God, who (according to Christian theology) set the difficult, prophesied path for Jesus to walk.
The world of wizards, witches, and magic—juxtaposed against the world of ordinary non-magical “muggles”—seems to be another allegorical element Rowling uses in her children’s books to illustrate the relationship between the ordinary physical world and the deeper unseen realm of spiritual power to which Christian theology attests. To be a wizard or witch at Hogwarts school of magic is simply to be someone involved in that spiritual world. Moreover, the distinction between good magic and dark magic is always very clear in the Potter novels, just as the distinction between the spiritual forces of good and evil are clear in the New Testament. The cosmic battle in Harry Potter’s magical world, then, is a type of the cosmic spiritual battle that Paul tells us about in Ephesians 6:12.
Viewed from this perspective, Rowling’s use of magic as a metaphor for spiritual activity and power is no different from C.S. Lewis’s use of magic in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Recall that Lewis’s Aslan defeats the White Witch by way of “a magic deeper still,” i.e., a magic of which the White Witch knows not. Thus, in her metaphoric use of magic Rowling does little more than follow in Lewis’s footsteps.
Finally, it is interesting to note that in his generally negative New York Times book review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows the outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens—author of the God-hating book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything—concludes by encouraging Potter readers to “graduate” to Phillip Pullman’s explicitly anti-religious fantasy children’s books (e.g., The Golden Compass). Could it be that Hitchens is so down on Rowling’s books because he sees in them obvious Christian allegory? If such a strident atheist dislikes these children’s books, perhaps skeptical Christians ought to take a second look…
In the third and final article in this series I will respond to some possible objections to my argument thus far. Specifically, I will take up the issue of divination and its role in the Harry Potter novels. Click here to read “Harry Potter: Divination and Prophecy”.
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