Monday, August 20, 2007

What Bothers Me About the Ending to Harry Potter


I am discussing the ending to Harry Potter and the Seven Deathly Hallows, so if you don't want to know what it is, then go read another blog....NOW.

Many people are going back and forth arguing whether the Harry Potter series is Christian and whether Harry is a Christ Figure like Aslan clearly is in Narnia. After reading the last book, it is evidently clear that this is what Rowling intends.

While we've pretty much always known that Harry and Voldemort would have to face off at the end, it is revealed in the last chapters that Dumbledore always knew that in order for Voldemort to be destroyed, Harry would have to die at the hands of Voldemort. When Harry learns this, he goes alone to face a waiting Voldemort, who is surrounded by his Deatheater henchmen. Without defending himself at all or uttering a word, Harry allows Voldemort to kill him (there is A LOT of really good plot wrapped up in this, but I am cutting it down to the bare bones).

Harry then wakes up in a very white hall where Dumbledore waits. Harry asks where he is, and Dumbledore replies "I was hoping you would tell me." And Harry recognizes it as Kings Cross Station, only very white and pure. I am sure there is symbolism in that choice of location. (Other than that, it reminded me of every other out of body movie-type experience ever since "Heaven Can Wait.") But the conversation is very good and Dumbledore reveals quite a lot to Harry.

In the course of this conversation, Dumbledore lets Harry know that Harry isn't dead and that while he has a choice in the matter, he should return to once more face off against Voldemort.

So Harry wakes up on the floor of the forest. When Voldemort's spell struck Harry, it also knocked out Voldemort. Harry pretends to be dead, and the one person who knows, Narcissa Malfoy, feels his beating heart, lies and proclaims that Harry is dead after Harry assures her with a quiet whisper that her son is alive at Hogwarts.

Voldemort and the Deatheaters march into Hogwarts carrying Harry's limp body, the conquering and triumphant army. But what puzzles Voldemort is that the people continue to still rail against him. When he casts spells to silence or harm them, they don't hold, despite having the most powerful wand in the world. Harry and Voldemort face off, and Harry explains everything to Voldemort, including why Voldemort's new wand won't work - because when Harry died for the lives of the people there, the same charm that protected him all of these years--that his mother had willingly died to protect him, protected those fighting against Voldemort from any lasting harm. Harry calls him to repent or "try feeling a little remorse" but instead Voldemort again tries to kill Harry, but the spell glances off of Harry's and returns to kill Voldemort.

My problem. When Voldemort killed Harry, Harry didn't die.

Now I don't know if that should bother me, because after all, Frodo didn't die in Lord of the Rings so it doesn't have to be quite so literal (but then again, while Frodo destroyed the ring, he was really not the Christ figure), and as Pastor Stuckwich points out, it is a different world, going by different rules.

But this is why it strikes me so hard. Rowling herself lists C.S. Lewis and Tolkien as her major influences, and that is clear in her work. In fact, I can't read the scene where Harry goes before Voldemort without noticing how similar it seems to the scene where Aslan surrenders himself to be destroyed by the White Witch. But Aslan did die and rise again.

Dumbledore and Harry himself make it clear that Harry never died. When Harry explains what happened to Voldemort, Voldemort even retorts: "But you didn't die." and Harry tells him that it didn't matter. It was enough that he was willing to.

That bothers me....a lot.

Especially in today's world with the liberal church proclaiming this all the time.

And while the Bible has examples of people being resurrected after dying, in Harry's world, it is clear from the ghosts that are present and the reality of how the resurrection stone worked, there is no place for the dead to really live reeks "swoon theory" to me. This is the belief that Christ didn't really die, because he couldn't come back if he did. He passed out on the cross and revived in the tomb.

The books are full of Christian symbolism pertaining to baptism, crosses, the battle between good and evil. The moral positions are even stronger, but morality does not have to be Christian. I think she does make a very pronounced point regarding how if we ignore evil for the sake of keeping the peace and avoiding discomfort, even stronger evil will completely engulf us.

I have not read anything pertaining to Rowling's belief in the resurrection, and according to Wikipedia, she belongs to the Church of Scotland, which has a takes a strong position of tolerance of various theological beliefs regarding God and Scripture.

Now my husband, who has not read one of the books of this series, did point out that many Christian authors who create a Christ-like character cannot bring themselves to desecrate, per se, Christ by taking their character all the way through death and resurrection. I sincerely hope that is the case here, and to be fair, she only tried to portray Harry as a typical teenage boy with a huge burden, not perfect and powerful like Aslan.

But with all the build up to Harry's necessary death and then the statement that it was only enough to be willing to die, I still am left to wonder. And so in the end, after eight years of eagerly following the stories, all that I am left with is doubt and speculation about what was the author was truly trying to say, and I still can't conclusively answer the question, "is it Christian?" I mean REALLY Christian.


Susan said...

Harry is quite obviously a sinner. Besides the fact that Harry didn't really die, his sinfulness is enough to tip us off that there's not a one-to-one correspondence between Harry and Jesus.

Bebemiqui said...

My hubby had a great college prof who taught a section on Christian themes saturating modern media. I think that in a world created by God that humanity cannot help but continue to find things of Him inspiring and moving. Any good author or movie try to move us in an emotional direction. All good fantasy series seem to have God splashed all over them because they need the hope and awe that comes with Him to pull it off. I would say this is so, given the horrible writing (I'm talking about writing style only of "The Da Vinci Code" and "The Golden Compass" series.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I was a little bothered by the fact that Harry didn't actually die, in the same way that you were. I think it is partly due to a rule that Rowling made for herself from the beginning, that characters who die would stay dead, and that no magic would be able to bring them back. That was not a rejection of life after death, but a solid position against the false hopes of trying to avoid death (like Voldemort). This is connected, I'm quite sure, to Rowling's process of dealing with her mother's death. The ghosts, who were afraid of death, and those spectres who are brought back by the "resurrection stone," don't really return to life, but to a shadowy partial existence in this world, which prevents them from "going on" to the next world.

The other thing to consider, which I believe is really quite important, is that Harry isn't a "Christ-figure" in these books; not the way that Aslan is in the Chronicles of Narnia. Remember that the fictional world of Harry Potter is neverthless set within the context of this real world of God's creation. They celebrate Christmas and Easter, they get baptized and have godparents. In other words, there already is a Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, even if He isn't mentioned by name in the books; He's there in the background all along. This is why I have always said that what Harry is learning is to live after the pattern of Christ, learning mercy and compassion and forgiveness and self-sacrificing love for others, even for his enemies. But he's not Jesus, and his "death" isn't the Cross; it doesn't need to be.

Anyway, it has also occurred to me that what you do have with Harry's sacrifice and then his return from "King's Cross" is rather a good expression of the paradox in our Lord's words: "He who believes in me shall live, even though he dies; and he who lives and believes in me will never die." I really think it is something along these lines that Rowling was trying to express. Despite what Dumbledore says, that Harry isn't really dead, the fact is that he is at the "crossroads" between life and death, and he can choose to "go on," or to "go back." So there is a paradox to be held in tension and not logically resolved.

It is all very much like the early martyrs, in my opinion. Which is what the whole Order of the Phoenix appears to be. All these people give their lives for the sake of what they believe in, which is most simply summarized in the books as love. In striking contrast to Voldemort and his death eaters, who inflict pain and death on others, but who fear death above all else, the Order of the Phoenix go to death with the confidence that it is but the beginning of the next great adventure. Dear Luna points Harry to that life after death at the end of Book 5, and it is the one thing that comforts him in his grief and anger and guilt and pain. And when he walks willingly to his death in the forest at the end of The Deathly Hallows, he is strengthened by the "great cloud of martyrs with he is surrounded," who assure him that dying does not hurt; and death clearly doesn't get to have the last word.

In Harry's case, he gets to return to living in this world after all, but he has had confirmed for him that those who have died are not "dead and gone," but alive and happy. He's seen his parents, and Sirius, and Lupin, and Dumbledore, and he knows what awaits him after death.

So those are my thoughts on the matter. I was troubled at first, as you have been, but I think it is alright in the end. Rowling has pulled off a literary "death" and "resurrection," in the hope and confession of the real thing. But while Harry is Christ-like, he doesn't take the place of the One who was and is and is to come, who died, and behold, He lives forever.

Dr. Luther in the 21st Century said...

The one thing that comes to mind when I read the final chapters is this, "no greater love have a man than to die for his friends, you are my friends..."

True Harry didn't really die, but he did willingly go to his death in facing Voldemort, knowing that it would be his death that would save his friends. Thus he fulfills what has been a driving point throughout the series the power of love. And love does play an important role in our salvation as it is because God so loved us that He sent His Son into the world. So, while Harry is not a perfect Christ-figure, he does play the role in the books.

Faith said...

I thought I remembered something about Kings Cross being built over where Queen Boudica died - apparently I was right, according to Wiki. If you read the history and the fiction associated with, I think it makes sense why she chose Kings Cross for the whole series, not just the scene with Dumbledore.

Des_Moines_Girl said...

Great discussion!

My two cents - I see Harry as more of a representative of all Christians than as a "Christ-figure."

Harry tries to defeat Voldemort on his own with the quest for the Horcruxes. He is successful on some level but not completely. It is not until he finally surrenders himself - putting his faith in something bigger - that he finally succeeds. He "dies", is "born again" and is finally free of Voldemort's soul that was trapped inside him.

As Christians we are unable to save ourselves. We can not get to heaven through good works. It is our faith in Jesus Christ that saves us and frees us from our sin.

It's still not a perfect representation - not like the Narnia series which was written to reflect Christianity much more intentionally but there are still some strong Christian themes.

I liked "The Deathly Hallows." I thought it was very well written but I had some problems with the last few scenes from a literary point of view. I thought the scene with the resurrection stone when Harry speaks to the ghosts of his parents felt weak.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

Des Moines girl,

I agree...though I do kind of take the stance that others have of taking comfort in the sacrifice of those who have gone before us, whom we love. I found the King's Cross thing very weak and overused. How many times have people died (or had a near death experience) and gone to a white room to have the truth revealed to them and then come back to do their jobs?????

I am not bagging on Harry Potter. I love the series and have spent 7 years defending it. And a big part of me does see him as representative of the Christian rather than of Christ. And I never overlooked his sinfulness.

I guess what bothers me is that there still is the element of his being the Christ figure, and I do really understand that Christ figures don't literally have to exactly follow the path of Christ. In the end, it isn't that he doesn't die...its what is said about why he didn't die.

I guess in this day and age though, with the heresies that we face, and the whole list of comparisons to Christ that have come up either in the book itself, in the media, and in discussions, that it didn't culminate in "it wasn't necessary to die, it was only necessary to be willing to," especially by an author who belongs to a denomination that at very least has liberal leanings.

And it isn't that I am rejecting the series because of it. It is an amazing piece of literature. And I've defended the Christian messages in it in the face of accusations of elements of gnosticism, and the magic issues, and using of creatures that are considered evil and portraying them as good (and I know, there was a point to that).

It is simply that this ending has left me with a gnawing sense of annoyance...a nagging doubt that Rowling is trying to point to the Christian and instead is saying something about Christ.

I look at the series and see an amazing amount of Christian imagery, but I can walk into the hugely massive All-Saints Episcopal Church back in Pasadena and see crosses and and see images of baptism and Holy Communion everywhere, but know that what they teach does not point to Christ in the least (in fact, if they weren't so huge, the Episcopal Church might question what to do with them).

I hope I'm wrong. I may very well be wrong. But I think it is a valid concern, in the face of the heresies we face today.

Anonymous said...

This isn't about Harry Potter, but I love all of the books!!! Anyway....I've really enjoyed reading your blog. My husband of is going to be ordained in December and I am flipping out. He was a DCE, but the pastor's wife thing scares me to death.
The hardest thing is not having any friends at church...everyone wants to talk to my husband and they only make small talk with me. If my husband and I have an argument or I'm upset about something...who am I going to talk to? Not a parishoner...oh well.

Anyway. Keep blogging!! It's fun to know that there is someone else out there kind of like me...

- J.

Pastor David said...

I think part of what you may be picking up on, especially in regard to Rowling's influence by the Inklings, is the dispute between Tolkien and Lewis regarding allegory. Lewis was strongly in favor of using allegory, and thus Aslan is a direct parallel for Christ. Tolkien, however, did not approve of the use of allegory, and did not have an x=y relationship between the aspects of his books and his faith; instead employing the meta-narrative of Christianity throughout. And so, you can pick up on aspects of a Christ-figure in Frodo, but also in Boromir, Aragorn, and of course Gandalf.

Rowling, for me, seems to side more with Tolkien, inviting the reader into the story through allusion and aspects of the Christian meta-narrative, rather than using direct allegory.