Christ and Culture: Harry Potter, part I

I have not always been a fan of Harry Potter. But, in recent weeks I have found myself engulfed in the series. The sub-plots and tangential episodes contained within each book do not grip me. Sometimes I’m annoyed by them. But, the major plot-line that stretches across volumes is undeniably compelling. Why?

The meta-narrative of Harry Potter is compelling because it retells an age-old story. It is a tale long told at many times in many places. Allow me to provide you with a fly-over explanation of the main story and from there we’ll explore it from a decidedly Christian perspective.

His birth was surrounded by death. A murderous tyrant rampages across the land leaving death and destruction in his wake. From infancy he was set apart. Rumors began to spread about his identity. As he grows and matures his enemy attacks from every angle. The boys’ greatest foe speaks the language of serpents. The conclusion of his second year at Hogwarts finds him locked in a battle against a murderous serpent. That serpent lands a poisonous fang. The boy crushes his head.

J.K. Rowling borrowed this plot. She adjusted the setting and circumstances making it uniquely hers. But, the story is borrowed. There is another story that begins in tragedy. Another murderous tyrant visited death and destruction on the land. Prophecy spoke of a boy who would crush the head of another serpent. It is the tale of tales.

Genesis 3:15 is the spotlight of hope against the backdrop of tragedy. Fashioned by the hand of God in a custom-made universe, humanity was lead astray through the malicious whisperings of a usurper. Yet, in the midst of death and destruction, rebellion and tyranny; hope breaks forth. A boy will crush the serpents head.

I hope you recognize that I am speaking of two different books with similar stories. Harry Potter is, undeniably, a Christ-figure. He is a unique boy who wages war against great evil at his own expense. Only one can live. One will certainly destroy the other. Rowling grips our attention with a tale long-told that mirrors that of the gospel. I don’t believe she intended to write a tale so filled with Christian imagery. But, I do believe that she demonstrates our longing for deliverance.

Deliverance is meaningless without something from which we need to be delivered. There would be no “Problem of Evil” if the average person needed instruction to recognize the existence of evil. In other words, everyone knows this world is broken and it’s plain to see that we cannot save ourselves. The tragedy in Harry Potter’s world is the very same tragedy of the modern world. Evil is growing and spreading while many influential voices are denying that evil is even in the world at all. “Evil flourishes when good men do nothing” said Edmund Burke.

Christians know that the world is drowning in evil. This world is hemorrhaging in pain. Some prophets declare “peace” when there is not peace. The greatest act of evil in our day is to declare that the days are evil. Ours is a confused world.

This is the first part in a multi-part series exploring Harry Potter from a Christian worldview. There is more to these books than potions, wands, broomsticks and witchcraft. I want to explore the themes and images present in the literature of Harry Potter in order realize the more compelling vision of the Gospel.

Posted in Culture, Theology

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