TipriTV.com (Warning—contains spoilers)
While reading the final book of the Harry Potter series, it became even more readily apparent that the series has very little to do with magic. While magic provides a fun fantasy backdrop, the story is really about being human in the spiritual battle of good and evil. I say this because over and over Harry finds magic unable to save him from Voldemort—over and over it is the love of his friends and family that protects him. Harry is the first to admit that none of his victories have been won by him alone. He has always had the help of others.
In the end, Harry finally understands that he can not win on his own. He needs the help of everyone to defeat Voldemort. In the final battle, the weak come together to defeat what was perceived as the powerful. Voldemort and his death eaters are overcome by everyone valiantly and courageously rising to fight the forces of evil. And true to reality, loved ones do die in the battle—they sacrifice their lives to protect others from evil. However, Harry survives. With the help of others, he defeats Voldemort.
I am frequently asked why the Harry Potter series is so popular. Why has it captured worldwide attention? After reading the last book, my answer remains the same. In the series, we find ourselves. We see our own struggles, and we rejoice when the weak become strong. While magic is the backdrop, battles with death, bullying, poverty, injustice, prejudice, abuse, anger, jealousy, and others must be overcome. And magic does not help with any of these human challenges. When it comes to these issues, the characters are on the same playing field as us. And like us, they find that what matters most is love. As Christians, we know that love is God.
Another way that Rowling makes the series uniquely human and spiritual is through her symbolic use of the number seven. Like Lewis, Rowling told her story in seven books. Yet, there is more to it than the number of books. We also find that Voldemort divides his soul into seven horcruxes. To Christians, the seven horcruxes could easily represent the seven deadly sins. And surely, Voldemort displays all seven: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth. As parents, we could use the series to help our children understand and recognize these seven sins. Challenge them to find examples where Voldemort displays these seven sins. Lust may be the most challenging, but if you explain that lust is the craving for self-gratification, you will see that Voldemort has a lust for life and thus is unable to understand love.
In splitting his soul seven ways, he finds his demise. Interestingly, Harry learns to rely on the Seven Contrary Virtues (humility, kindness, abstinence, chastity, patience, liberality, diligence) to destroy Voldemort’s seven horcruxes. In order to defeat Voldemort and overcome evil, he has to also overcome the temptation of the seven deadly sins. Sometimes this requires Harry, Ron, and Hermione to wear the horcrux (deadly sin) around their necks. Again, symbolically, when they are wearing the sin (much like an albatross), they lash out at one another and display qualities of sin and evil. In order to overcome the evil presence of the horcruxes (sin) and destroy them, the three children must learn to live the Seven Contrary Virtues.
As the characters travel together to find and destroy the seven horcruxes (the seven deadly sins), they realize they must work together—and essentially they learn to act with virtue. While Rowling does not openly name these virtues, their actions can easily be seen to personify the virtues. This seems to parallel the use of the The Contrary Virtues in Psychomachia (“Battle for the Soul”), an epic poem written by Prudentius (c. 410). In the poem, the seven deadly sins become defeated through the virtues: humility against pride, kindness against envy, abstinence against gluttony, chastity against lust, patience against anger, liberality against greed, and diligence against sloth. Harry, Ron, and Hermione find victory in learning all of these virtues. Again, as parents, we can use the series to bring our children to understand the virtues and how they can also overcome the seven deadly sins. Ask them to find examples of each of these virtues; I assure you, together, you will find them . . . as I have. I am leaving you with the challenge.
And the number seven continues. There are the Seven Heavenly virtues (faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, temperance, and prudence), which are a combination of the Cardinal Virtues (prudence, temperance, courage, and justice) and the Theological Virtues (faith, hope, and love). And don’t forget The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy—which again are also displayed by the characters in fighting their battle against evil. Many of these can be found in Hermione’s work to help the house elves. Others are displayed by the three main characters. You will find them all. Again, I leave you with a challenge.
Other Christian themes also continue to emerge, as Mrs. Weasley proclaims “Thank God,” when her son, Bill, arrives safely after battle. The Resurrection Stone that saves Harry from death reminds us of the Stone Table of Narnia and ultimately Christ’s Resurrection that has saved us all. Harry’s reunion with his dead parents, friends, and Dumbledore also parallels our Christian belief in an afterlife. I have no doubt that the Harry Potter series will one day be embraced as widely by Christians as Narnia and Lord of the Rings have been. Those series were also feared by Christians as they first emerged.
For example, In Letters to Children, Lewis responds to a concerned mother who is worried that her son loves Aslan more than Jesus. Lewis assures her that the very qualities that attract her son to Aslan are the same qualities of Jesus. In getting to know Aslan, he gets to know Jesus. As he matures, he will realize that it is Jesus he loves—not Aslan. Will this not be true for our children who have fallen in love with the Harry Potter series?—especially if we help them to see how the story parallels our Christian faith. As Christians, we believe that God creates everything. While Satan works to pervert God’s creation, is it not our job to look for the good?
Gina Burkart is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Harry Potter (2005, InterVarsity Press) and Finding Purpose in Narnia (coming in 2008, Paulist Press).
The views expressed in this article is the opinion of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of TipriTV.com. Leading Christian thinkers have disparate views on the Harry Potter products, and how Christians should respond to them. We have offered several different viewpoints on our site so that you, the reader, can prayerfully decide what is the correct response for your family.