I have to grin a little bit when I think back to the Harry Potter crisis of 2001 (the year the first Potter film was released). There were protests, book burnings, and even letters sent to Congress. “I bet Harry Potter would be a Democrat too.” Most of the murmuring came from church people. Harry Potter promoted witchcraft and darkness. It was the reason this country was going down the drain.
Even though the debate has slowed down since then, Harry Potter has yet to shed his dark image among many Christians. Questions are still being asked. Topics constantly discussed. Is the series inherently evil? Should Christians avoid all contact with Harry Potter? Can we watch the movies, just not read the books? Is J.K. Rowling the antichrist? The final film in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, seems to shed some light on the issue. The movie undeniably deals with spiritual themes, just not the ones we were probably expecting.
Deathly Hallows – Part 2 picks up exactly where the previous film left off. Harry Potter, along with his two best friends, Ron and Hermione, are desperately trying to destroy the evil Lord Voldemort. In previous Potter installments, the characters are surprised to discover that Voldemort has stored his soul in a number of different objects called Horcruxes. In order for Harry to defeat Voldemort, all the Horcruxes must first be destroyed. While searching for these mysterious articles, the inseparable trio eventually find their way back to the familiar surroundings of their old school, Hogwarts. There they confront Voldemort and all of his evil minions.
Near the end of the film, Harry is stunned to find that he is in fact a living, breathing Horcrux. When Harry was a child, Voldemort attacked his parents in an attempt to kill the infant son. Harry’s mother shielded Harry, causing Voldemort’s spell to rebound back onto himself. In a moment of chaos, the evil wizard’s soul latched itself onto the nearest living thing – Harry Potter.
Faced with this realization, Harry makes the decision to lay down his life in order to defeat Voldemort and save those he cares about. There is no other way to destroy his nemesis. He will die so that others won’t have to. In a powerful and gut-wrenching scene, Harry meets Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest and willingly allows the dark wizard to murder him. Upon Harry’s death, the evil soul attached to our young character is dispensed of forever.
After releasing the final book in the Harry Potter series, author J.K. Rowling opened up about the Christian symbolism embedded in her work. “To me, [the religious parallels have] always been obvious,” Rowling stated. “But I never wanted to talk too openly about it because I thought it might show people who just wanted the story where we were going.”
Upon review, Harry’s death in Deathly Hallows is a rich illustration of the substitutionary nature of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Like Potter, Jesus willingly gave up his life in place of those he cares about. Though innocent, he took upon himself the epitome of evil and it was only through his death that sin could be defeated. Peter says this about Jesus’ sacrifice:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24, ESV).
Jesus became our substitute and died so that we could truly live. The character of Harry Potter emphasizes the virtues of love, sacrifice, and humility, all of which are revealed by Christ.
When dealing with the atonement, every illustration ultimately breaks down. The same is true with Harry Potter. Yet, Deathly Hallows paints a beautiful picture of an innocent person who lays down their life in the place of others. I’m not sure we all have to come to the same conclusion regarding the Harry Potter controversy. But as followers of Jesus, might we be able to take themes from literature, film, and art to illustrate the spiritual truths rooted in the story of Christ?
For some, the idea of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is foreign and even a bit appalling. Christians, however, can point to stories like Harry Potter, where sacrifice is portrayed as a noble and indispensable quality, and explain that the idea of substitution is something already ingrained in the minds of humanity. We can logically see the need for substitutionary sacrifice. Harry Potter teaches us about God by reflecting the desires infused in us by God. Our Christian maturity, then, should make room for the junction of God and artistic expression. By thinking within this framework, followers of Jesus can help others grasp the concepts expressed within scripture.
Before I go, I will add just one more detail from The Deathly Hallows – Part 2.
Harry Potter didn’t stay dead. But then again, for Christians, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
What are your thoughts on the Harry Potter controversy? Has art (film, literature, music, visual media) ever helped you better grasp a biblical concept? Let us know in the comments section.