The final Harry Potter movie comes out the middle of July. There will be lots of hype – mild understatement! Many older children and Potter fans of all ages who have already read the books and seen the other movies will be rereading and reviewing them looking forward to this final installment. Some will attend the movie dressed in costume. In short, it is a big deal.
It is also a big deal that has some great connections to the Christian story and hence some possible worship connections. I’ll point out some related to specific texts in the posts during July. Here I am “popping off” about the overall themes. I do this after reading two books which might be of interest. Both talk above the heads of children but in so doing prepare us to talk with the children about this already classic tale.
The Gospel According to Harry Potter, by Connie Neal, was first published after book four was written to speak to Christians who wanted to ban Harry Potter claiming it directs children toward the occult. She works through the details of the stories pointing out their decidedly Christian messages. The Revised and Expanded Edition that came out after the final Harry Potter book adds events from the last three books.
How Harry Cast His Spell, by John Granger (no relation to Hermoine in the bookJ) is more of the English teacher’s review of the Harry books. He describes Harry Potter as following the classic English epic format (think Narnia or Lord of the Rings or even King Arthur). Symbolism is explored in detail. Characters are analyzed as mythic types. I was fascinated, but children would be bored, even offended.
After reading all the Harry Potter books over the years (and forgetting lots of the details), seeing all the movies (some more than once), and reading the two commentaries, I’d say….
$ The main attraction of Harry Potter for children is that a kid and his friends save the world. True, they are young adults in the final book, but readers have claimed them as friends when they were ten year olds. So, they feel like one of us – kids. So it is possible to become one of the heroes as they are wielding wands and saving the world from the evil Lord Voldemort. Perry Glazer of Baylor University put it this way, “Children need more than a set of virtues to emulate, values to choose, rules to obey, or even some higher form or reasoning to attain. They long to be part of a cosmic struggle between good and evil. And that is why children want to read Harry Potter.”
That by itself is worth a great deal. But writer JK Rowling writes from a very Christian world view. Some of her major themes preach.
$ The major theme is that love is more powerful than anything. Harry’s mother’s love saved him from death as an infant and protects him throughout his life. In love for his friends Harry does many very brave things. Dumbledore explains to Harry that love is the one power Lord Voldemort simply doesn’t get and is indeed undone by. He also says, “Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living and, above all, those who live without love.”
The last book is filled with examples of Harry exercising the power of his love by taking big risks for those he despised. He protects the Dursley family that kept him under the stairs, went back into a raging fire to rescue Draco Malfoy and Goyle, protected Draco from the death-eaters, and in their final encounter offers Voldemort a way out. In the end, of course he allows himself to be killed when he realizes that his death is necessary for Voldemort to be killed. (Much ink is being spilled about this as a Christ image, but for children, it is just giving yourself completely to save your friends and the ultimate act of love.)
$ Choices matter. Dumbledore instructs “It is our choices, Harry, that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Harry and his friends have to make repeated choices. In each one they decide what kind of person they will be. Whether they are making a choice about how they treat a friend in class or how to deal with a magical enemy in an enchanted forest, in each choice they decide what kind of person they will be. At the beginning, Harry and Voldemort are both boys with very similar magical powers. Both were orphans. Both were lonely. Voldmort chose to try to make himself immortal even though it required the destruction of many people. Harry chose to love the people around him and to take care of others. In the final battle he chose to die in order that others would be able to live.
Over the course of the books, Harry becomes aware that he is “The Chosen One.” But, it is clear that he has free will. He must choose to do the brave, loving things needed to be “The Chosen One.” At any point he could opt out.
$ The chief sin in the book is prejudice. The Gryffindor students distrust all Slytherins. Many wizards distrust all muggles (non-wizards), even half bloods (the children of a wizard and a muggle). And, house elfs are oppressed by all. In the end all these prejudices are proven false. Much is also made of characters like Severus Snape whom everyone, including Harry, thought was evil, but who turned out to be on their side. Turns out the rush to judgment is a problem even in the magical world.
$ In Harry Potter’s world there are no 100% saints or 100% bad guys. Harry’s hero Dumbledore it turns out has done some awful things. Harry repeatedly breaks rules and abuses his powers. On the other hand, Draco Malfoy, who we love to hate, does not kill Dumbledore and steps in to protect others. In the final scene Harry addresses even Lord Voldemort by his given name, Tom Riddle, and realizing that he is in many ways like him offers him the way out. The way out is for Riddle is to “try remorse” for all the damage he has done. Author Rowling says clearly that to be a mature human is to fail and to feel remorse. Dumbledore can feel remorse. Harry does. Voldemort in the end cannot and is killed by his own killer curse.
$ In Harry Potter people grow and change. Harry began as a frightened boy trapped under the stairs in the home of a family who dislikes him. He has no idea who he is or what he is capable of. Throughout the story he grows into a powerful, self-sacrificing hero. And it is not just Harry. Neville Longbottom goes from a timid soul who is the class joke into the one who leads the resistance at Hogwarts and kills the monstrous snake Nagini, Lord Voldemort’s final protector. All this becoming-more-than-you-can-imagine feeds the hopes and dreams of children. They too may become people who make a big difference for good in the world.
Without intending to, J.K. Rowling has provided us with sermon illustrations that preach. Children, hearing us quote their literature, both conclude that they are a real part of the worshiping community and listen carefully to whatever point we make using the world of their hero Harry Potter.
The first Harry Potter book was delightfully scary to older children. Each succeeding book of necessity becomes darker and scarier. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a violent story and will probably be quite graphic on the screen. The advertizing poster gives you a sense of how far we've come. It is definitely not a film for children who have not already worked through the other books/films. Be careful not to suggest to parents that this is a great family movie to take in unprepared.