Harry Potter: The Boy Who Corrupted Youth?
Flashback to 11 years ago. My ten-year-old self had just been told by another little girl that I was going to hell because I read Harry Potter. This comment was followed by a list of ways I could repent and save my soul from the devil. I was home schooled all the way until college, so these scenarios weren’t really that rare. Some were more subtle with concerned parents telling my mother, “Well, don’t you think those books are about witchcraft?” Either way, reading Harry Potter and being a Christian were considered a big “no, no” in the home schooling circle. When I think of Harry Potter, I think of good winning over evil and exceptional values such as friendship, love, and sacrifice for the greater good, but according to the American Library Association, the Harry Potter series holds the No. 1 slot for the most banned and challenged books for the decade of 2000-2009.
Many sects of Christianity associate magic with the devil. This belief stems from the days of suspected witchcraft in which it was thought that “witches” were possessed by or working for the devil. It has always been sad to me that children were forbidden from reading the series because their parents had been told it was about witchcraft and devil worshipping. These children missed out on powerful lessons that would have enforced their religious beliefs instead of diminishing them. J.K. Rowling herself said that she thought the religious parallels in her work were obvious from the beginning, but she didn’t want to call too much attention to them in case they spoiled the ending for some readers.
In the Sorcerer’s Stone, young Harry releases a snake from the zoo, and from that point on his life is different. Similar to the story of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, Harry has opened the door to sin in a symbolic fashion, and for the next seven years he has to fight to keep Voldemort at bay. Of course, Voldemort and certain evils had existed before Harry freed the snake at the zoo, but this is where Harry’s particular story finds its beginning. Also introduced in the first chapter of Sorcerer’s Stone is Dumbledore’s Put-Outer. This device is of his own creation, meaning Dumbledore alone has the ability to take light away and bring it back. To quote Genesis 1:3, “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” Throughout the series Dumbledore is seen as a God figure, possessing all the answers and being “the greatest wizard of all time.” Of course, in the end we learn of his flaws and weaknesses, but that is because Dumbledore is a human character, and his godly representation is not literal. Also important to note is the configuration of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Within the names of the players there lay nods to the Christian faith. Angelina Johnson has the word “angel” in her name. Alicia Spinnet’s last name is a kind of organ used in churches. Then there is Katie Bell, with bells commonly being associated with church bells. Finally, the team captain’s name is Oliver Wood. The olive branch is a symbol of eternal peace with God.
From the beginning there have been insinuations of resurrection. In the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry ventures below the school to have a stand-off with Quirrell/Voldemort. This confrontation is below ground, and there is fire involved, referencing Hades or the Underworld. After Harry is knocked unconscious in this scene, he awakens three days later in the hospital wing. It should be noted that Christ dies and then rises on the third day. Harry’s wand core comes from a phoenix, the resurrection bird. Then there is the quote from Dumbledore in the very first book: “To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” In the Deathly Hallows, we find a similar quote to the words Dumbledore uttered way back in Book 1. On the Harry’s parents’ grave marker is a verse from Corinthians 15:26: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” This effect of circling back to the beginning served as a clue as to how Harry and Voldemort’s final showdown would end. The most apparent and most talked about similarity between Harry Potter and Christ himself came in the form of one final resurrection. In the climatic end of the series, Harry walks into the forest to sacrifice himself for the future of humankind, taking on the role of a Christ figure dying to save those he loved. Through this act of sacrifice, Harry was able to live once more. He had willingly and selflessly let himself be killed and therefore couldn’t really be removed from the world.
With all these Christian messages throughout the text that are similar in approach to the Chronicles of Narnia, a series that has long been heralded as acceptable fantasy books for children in Christian families, why have the Harry Potter books been so often burned and forbidden? Thankfully, it seems that some strides are being made by more Christian sects to accept the books now that the conclusion with familiar themes has been revealed to them. In fact, one journalist who wrote, “Harry Potter is a large doorway to the occult, and if we lead children to it, there is a possibility that they may nudge it open,” now has recently issued an apology and suggests the presence of positive Christian messages within the text. I’m glad to see that some religious sects are more open to the Harry Potter series in recent years. I think it’s important to accept these books and the moral and life lessons they offer for youth and young adults. I don’t know if I would be the same person with the same beliefs I have today if I hadn’t grown up with the teachings of love, sacrifice, and fighting for what is just that Harry Potter implanted in my mind at such a young age.