Monday, July 25, 2011

Something about Harry

Yes, I did it. I saw the last (?) of Harry Potter this weekend and glad I am, too. [Spoiler alert for those who didn't read the books!]
I'm one of those who believes that every truly human story is a Christian story: that the Incarnation means that Christ came to inhabit all our stories, too, not just to tell stories of his own. Not that Harry Potter is an allegory--it's just a good (and truly human) story that can't get away from its roots in a Christian culture, even though that culture has long since lost its moorings. Even the Latin-derived spells can't help but sound sacramental and (to those who know some ecclesiastical Latin) make "present" to the mind realities that far exceed the thoughts of the fictional characters who use them.
There are two main directions the stories (and that final movie) lead me. One is the theme of power: it is so prevalent a theme that in Harry's world, magic serves the role that electricity serves in ours. There is no electric power in Hogwarts, and the power that is available in that world (just like in ours) can be used for good or ill. Doesn't the use of power reveal the measure of the person who wields it?
In the "Deathly Hallows" Harry comes to posses the three most powerful objects in his world; in the last scene, he is holding the wand that makes him invincible, the "Master of Death." This wand was the object of the evil Voldemort's lust, and (as with the ring of power in Tolkien's myth), even after Voldemort himself was destroyed, the world really wasn't safe while the wand was intact, not even in Harry's hand.
The other theme that pervades the series is that of community. Harry does not ride into town on a white horse (okay, broomstick), a man without a country. Although he was an orphan, he was "adopted" into his ancestral people and brought up, as we learn finally, to give his life for them. But even that he could not do alone. He is supported every step of the way by friends, teachers, even the departed. He is accompanied through most of his ordeals by Hermione and Ron, who also dispatch a Horcrux for him. And that last crucial encounter with Voldemort would have been a stalemate if not for the contribution of Neville Longbottom. Harry is not a savior; he is a member of a community with a unique vocation, who must depend on every other member of the community if he is to fulfill that vocation.
If I were teaching Sunday School, I would find any number of helpful images from the Harry Potter series, things that may be taken for granted by those who get nervous about possible occult imagery and overlooked by those who see the series as pure and simple fantasy.


Rachnrolla said...

Fantastic post!

Sr Anne said...

Here's a short piece that places Harry in the British fiction tradition--an important lens for interpreting the whole!

Sr Anne said...

I got two @ messages on Twitter about this post; one a "bravo!" and the other an "oh, no!" The "oh, no" feared that adolescents today have no other way of interpreting Potter's magical world than the occult (which, in Potter's world, would be called the "dark arts" and which was consistently recognized as the abode of evil). All the more reason to engage them in conversation about good and evil, and about power and the way we make use of it. ("Does the fact that you can do something mean that it's right to do?") We have some pretty dark arts available to us, all of us, even without a wand.

Mister Snitch! said...

You make an excellent point: Jesus 'inhabits all our stories" (at least the better ones) and yet Christian "culture has long since lost its moorings". One would not think BOTH could simultaneously be true, yet over and over I see that this does seem to be the case. So from my POV, this is well-observed.

I just found your blog so I don't know if you've had anything to say about the 'witchcraft' in Harry Potter, but I've had some insights. Mainly, I've noticed that Potter's 'witchcraft' is not the alternative to the worship of God as portrayed elsewhere. In fact, I think there's a significant difference between the 'magic' in Potter and the 'witchcraft' portrayed in other media. Harry's magic does not replace ideals of honor and virtue, there's no Satan-worship.

In fact, magic in Potter serves two purposes: (1) It's a plot device (that invisibility cloak was peerless in that regard), and (2) it's a way of romanticizing and appreciating activities we take for granted. For example,m we don't think much of the miracle of blogs and email - or even of the written word - but we pause in wonder when our messages are delivered by owls.