The ‘gospel’ according to Harry Potter


I have finally been to see HP 7 pt2. I say that because it’s been in the cinemas for weeks and I just haven’t been able to go  but actually I could also say ‘finally’ because it feels like it’s been a very long journey since 1997 when I remember reading book 1 in the bath (we lived in a house with a jacuzzi bath, so these were memorable occasions!) and worrying about whether or not I should  allow my children then aged 7 and 9 to read a book all about witchcraft.

The ‘children’ are now 23 and 21 respectively and the Harry Potter story has been the backdrop of their teenage years, together with that other great story that came out episodically Lord of the Rings.  But it’s the true story, the good news about God, the world, and everything that I’m depending on to do more to form their view of life, the universe and everything.

So where are the links? I know it’s a theme that others have explored in detail but I’d like to add my penny’s worth, simply to show my appreciation to Ms Rowling. She has told a story that,  like a mirror reflects, sparkles and casts light on the story of the gospel. And I found this profoundly moving.

It’s hardly surprising that if you are going to write a story about a struggle between good and evil that you are going to have to borrow the best bits from the story of good and evil.  What is remarkable is that someone who makes no claim to Christian faith, should be able to write with such  insight into the Christian story. And she pretty much nails it. Leaving aside the fact that Harry never claims to be God, the only other missing bits are the ascension and the bodily resurrection of those who have died.  These three things do go  a LONG way to explain why the Christian story is a better story than Harry Potter – forgetting for the moment that one is based on  facts that are open to interpretation and the other is pure fiction.

What do the stories have in common?

Harry realises that he has to die and that he has to die at the hands of utter evil and that it’s only by dying that he will defeat that evil.  What’s more he has to die alone and he dies so that others wont die. (Yes, the film really does lay it on that thickly, you’d have to be pretty ignorant not to spot the Christ connection)

Harry’s ‘Gethsemane’ scene where his dead parents and god-father appear to him to console him with their presence is oddly touching, even if the ‘we were always with you, you carry us in your heart’ bit is sentimental religiosity at its best.

Jesus’ Gethsemane moment was far less comforting. His very much alive friends, fell asleep.

But both knew they were about to die, both go willingly.  No gory crucifixion for Harry, just a swift Abracadabra to finish him off. I thought there was a bit of uncertainty about whether he was actually dead or not. He was supposed to be, otherwise the plot wouldn’t work but he did keep twitching! Not actually dying of course, rather undermines the resurrection moment as you can’t be resurrected if you haven’t actually died. Whatever!  I think the film hints at a near death experience, something bad enough to kill off the part of Voldemort  embedded in Harry and enough to send Harry temporarily to a Heavenly version of Kings Cross. (Stroke of genius that, St Pancras just wouldn’t have worked in the same way)

They both rise again from the dead. But Harry’s destiny (after the battle is all over) is simply to arrive safely at staid middle-age and to reproduce (which does seem a bit banal after all those teenage heroics).

Jesus on the other hand properly died, was properly raised to life and then ascended to be still alive in Heaven’s throne room. On these facts our hope is founded, that he died to defeat evil and that evil is therefore defeated. ‘Now is the time for judgement on this world, Jesus said of his death before he died, ‘now the prince of this world will be driven out’ (John 12:31) and ‘the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work’ ( 1 John 3:8)

I loved the fact that after Harry’s ‘resurrection’, he fights on with ‘You-Know-Who’ but this time you know (because of what you’ve seen in Kings Cross) that ‘You Know Who’ is already defeated and all that remains is to kill the snake which contains the last part of his soul.

And that’s the point we have reached in the Christian story:  evil has been defeated, victory is secure but we fight on, knowing that ultimately victory is certain but the snake still lives and we live in world wrecked by evil, we inhabit ruins and there are still casualties and fatalities.

Although it is yet unfinished, the Christian story is also better because in it, the dead don’t remain dead. Whereas in Harry Potter world, they remain cut off forever as ethereal spirits. Christians who recite the creed state that  ‘We believe in the resurrection of the body’, such a hugely important phrase. One day we will be raised and have ‘more than real’ bodies.  Even as I write that it seems an incredible (literal meaning ‘unbelievable’ ) thing to believe but I do believe it and with good reasons. The evidence for the empty tomb is convincing for those who care to examine it carefully and for those who choose to stand on the fact, there is the confidence that what God did for Jesus he intends to do for us. That’s what it means when it says in Romans 6 ‘Now if we died with Christ (ie we benefitted from his death) we believe we will also live with him‘.

I am moved that so much truth should show up in a fantasy story. I love the way that each story ended with a brilliant, pithy, wise comment from Dumbledore that seemed to sum up what Harry had learnt that year. This final one was beautiful in its profound simplicity.

Harry asks, ‘Is this real or is this all just going on in my head?’

‘Of course it’s all just going on in your head but why ever would that make it not real?’

Thank you, JK

3 thoughts on “The ‘gospel’ according to Harry Potter

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  1. I enjoyed your insights. I too wrestled with whether or not to let my kids read the first book at ages 6, 8, & 14 (now 20, 22, & 26) and likewise found HP as the background for their later childhood/adolescence. BTW I was privileged to get to meet J.K. Rowling. She IS a professing Christian (Church of Scotland) and said that her faith helped shape the story but she didn’t want to talk about it because she was afraid it might tip her readers off to the ending. She planned the two Bible verses for the tombstones in book 7 all the way back when she was writing book 2. Thanks for a good post! Connie Neal (Author: The Gospel according to Harry Potter)

  2. When you think about it the church has a fantastic opportunity to reach out to a new generation through Harry Potter; they may not have been taught the Bible in school but a lot of them know Harry and have grown up with his story. My wife and I were concerned about whether to let our children read them but in the end we were all hooked and 1 copy was enough for all 4 of us to have read the final 2 books with 7 days of publication. I have only seen the first 2 films as I find myself thinking ‘That’s not like the book/how I imagined it’ every time I see a film of a book I’ve read.

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