With the seventh and final of the books
(Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)
and the fifth of the movies (Order of the
Phoenix) both released last July, how
can anyone deny that J.K. Rowling’s
fictional world relies on Christian
I was not introduced to Harry, as
most adults were, by their children,
but by a professor at a Catholic university.
She sees these books in the tradition
of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien,
both of whom wrote fantasy with
I immediately fell under the spell of
the boy with the lightning-shaped scar
on his forehead and Hogwarts School
of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I’m not
alone in my love of the series: A record-breaking
8.3 million copies of the seventh
volume sold just in the United
States within a day of its release. The
new movie’s box office reaped $261
million the first month.
So when a telephone poll conducted
by a local TV station showed that 58
percent of viewers consider Harry
Potter “dangerous” rather than “harmless,”
I was shocked.
Good and Evil, Not Black and White
Most people who think Harry Potter is
dangerous probably do so because they
connect magic with Satan. But the
Harry Potter series is not built on the
demonic sorcery that the Bible forbids.
No spell taught by Hogwarts ever starts
by invoking the devil.
Rowling’s world is divided into wizards
and Muggles (non-magical folks).
The villain of her series, Voldemort, is
promoting the purity of the wizard
“race.” The ultimate of this kind of
racism shows up in Deathly Hallows,
with scary echoes of Nazism and ethnic
cleansing. Christians should applaud
making prejudice, racism and arrogance
the cardinal sins in this universe.
Admittedly, the series is sophisticated
in its depictions of characters.
Rowling moves her readers from seeing
her characters as all-good or all-bad to
having bits of light and dark in each of
them. As Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black,
points out to him, the world is not
divided into good guys and Death
Eaters (supporters of Voldemort).
Rowling even allows us in Half-Blood
Prince to understand the kind of childhood
that made Voldemort who he
became—but she does not excuse him.
In Deathly Hallows, she depicts Hogwarts’
beloved headmaster, Albus
Dumbledore, flirting with the Dark Arts
in his youth and discovering his weakness
for power; even Rowling’s “wisdom
figure” had to struggle to be good.
We are what we become by our
choices in life. What more Christian
idea is there than this?
Those Who Go Before Us in Faith
It was the self-sacrificing love of Harry’s
mother that saved him as a baby. Lily
Evans Potter tried to protect Harry
rather than save herself. That kind of
love is reminiscent of Jesus’ death on
the cross. Love, says Dumbledore, is
the one thing Voldemort does not
understand and always underestimates.
Rowling is a practicing Christian
(Church of Scotland-Presbyterian). She
relies on Christian symbols (unicorn,
phoenix, serpent) and allusions (veil
of death, hallows, King’s Cross). Specific
lines of Rowling’s text echo the Bible.
For example, Dumbledore tells Harry
that help will always be given at Hogwarts
to those who ask (“Ask and you
will receive”—Luke 11:9).
Two of Rowling’s biggest themes are
essential Christian dogma: Death is not
the end of our lives and the communion
of saints surrounds us.
Dumbledore tells Harry that death is
the “last great adventure.” His pet
phoenix, Fawkes, dies and rises again
and again (Books 2 and 5).
In real life, Rowling endured the lingering
death of her mother from multiple
sclerosis and admits she struggled
to keep her faith. But in her books, she
puts forth a shining Christian affirmation
of the afterlife.
And she draws strength from the
communion of saints—not that she
calls them saints. The “saints” in
Harry’s life (his parents and parents’
friends) intervene in his world, giving
him protection in the duel with
Voldemort in Goblet of Fire and reassurance
and company in his “death
scene” in Deathly Hallows. I don’t think
there’s ever been such a comforting
portrayal of the communion of saints
as this last. In Rowling’s scene, I see
my grandmothers standing beside me.
The Real Magic of the Series
Harry Potter’s magic “draws on the
forces of love, redemption and forgiveness
to conquer Voldemort at last,”
writes Teresa Malcolm in National
Catholic Reporter (August 3, 2007).
According to John Granger, author of
Looking for God in Harry Potter, Rowling’s
series employs “magic that shows—in
story form—our human thirst for a
reality beyond the physical world
Professor Granger, who is Greek
Orthodox, took some convincing to
appreciate Harry Potter. At first he tried
to keep the Harry Potter books out of
the hands of his seven homeschooled
children. But then he read them.
Now he says, “I am convinced that
the fundamental reason for the astonishing
popularity of the Harry Potter
novels is their ability to meet a spiritual
longing for some experience of the
truths of life, love, and death taught by
Christianity but denied by secular culture.”
In fact, Harry Potter can reinforce
the values that many of his
current critics hold dear.
Granger says the Harry Potter stories “sing along” with the Great Story
of Christ. And I hear that harmony,