Ernie Rea on Religious Themes and the Christian Allegory in the “Harry Potter” Books
In the latest episode of BBC Radio 4’s Beyond Belief, presenter Ernie Rea discusses the Christian allegory and religious themes in the Harry Potter books, joined by Dr. Beatrice Groves (research fellow and tutor in English at Trinity College, Oxford and author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter), Vanessa Zoltan (cohost of the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text), and John Granger, who has been described by Time magazine as “the Dean of Harry Potter Scholars.”
The Harry Potter books have “introduced millions of children to the pleasures of reading books [that] explore a moral universe,” and while in 2007 J.K. Rowling admitted the influence of her Christian faith on the Harry Potter story, when the first book was published in 1997, Christian voices criticized it for “introducing children to the cult and satanic practices.”
“The church’s greatest missed opportunity”
Rowling once described her books as “the church’s greatest missed opportunity.” Groves believes the books are about a “hero who is good and… the triumph of love,” whereas Zoltan’s take on Rowling’s comment is that the books are ultimately a resurrection story about sacrifice.
It’s a story about how sacrifice is the greatest way we can engage with love.
With the release of the books came “Potter panic,” which raged through churches, especially in the United States, and Granger was part of that.
I was introduced to the books by a New Age woman, and she wanted me to read stories to my clan of seven, and I thought that was absurd, reading books about sorcery to my Christian children, and then I read the books so I could explain to them why we don’t read trash like this and immediately was engaged and realized that they were at least as Christian as the Chronicles of Narnia and that the children had to read them instead of being prohibited from reading them.
Zoltan directly compares the views and actions of the Dursleys to “Potter Panic.” They are fearful and scared of what Harry is and allowing magic into their house, and they fear the unknown. The Dursleys show what fear can lead to and how destructive the fear of the unknown can be.
“People don’t ask me if I’m Christian.”
Despite her family not being Christian, Rowling chose to be baptized at the age of 11, once commenting that “people don’t ask me if I’m Christian, which is good because it would give away the ending of the books.”
There are parallels between the Harry Potter books and the Bible, so why would discovering Rowling’s Christianity have given away the ending? The big question for readers was “will Harry live or will he die?”; Harry dies and then comes back to life, reflecting Jesus’s resurrection.
Harry’s death can be seen as a Christian moment because Harry had the chance to defend himself but instead removed his wand and Invisibility Cloak and disposed of the Resurrection Stone, offering himself to death “without any defense.” This was sacrificial, and the nature and intention of Harry’s sacrifice reflect how Jesus died for us; Harry also chose to die to save the people he loved.
Finally, is the reason young witches and wizards receive their Hogwarts acceptance letter and enroll at the school at the age of 11 because Rowling joined the Christian faith at the very same age?
Other topics discussed include the religious quotes found on James and Lily’s grave and Dumbledore’s tombstone, Rowling’s wrist tattoo that alludes to purification and eternal life, and how the “terrific” story of Harry Potter can be further transformed by realizing Rowling’s religious references.
What are your thoughts on the Christian parallels with the Harry Potter books? Do you agree with Groves that “there’s something that draws people in about this story” ?
Whether or not you’re religious, we think Granger’s comment resonates with us all: “Every person will read it within the context of their own traditions and experience, but they’re all talking about that same spiritual capacity and… our victory over death.”