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.
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.
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
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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