Potter “according to the Scriptures”?

The Deathly Hallows book coverThis weekend, my wife and I finished reading the latest and last installment of J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series, The Deathly Hallows. I must admit I have been a late-comer to the Potter craze, having read the series only in the last year or so. I suffered from the weariness that many have had regarding Potter, worrying about its lack of reference to God (or even a god), as well as its glib portrayal of “magic.” Being raised in a Pentecostal setting — where folks could suffer from the “demon of vitamin B-12 deficiency” — I thought more than twice before delving into the witchery & wizardry of Rowling’s world. Still, my wife had read the series repeatedly, and as far as I could tell, she had NOT started to projectile vomit green pea soup, and her head never did start revolving. So, I thought it might be safe to read the books myself. (Don’t mind the ethical problem of using my wife for a spiritual guinea pig!)

Anyway, back to The Deathly Hallows. In this latest installment Rowling makes her first overt allusions to Scripture. Two verses are quoted:

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt 6:21/Luke 12:34; Hallows, 325)

and

“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 15:26; Hallows, 328)

Rowling does not explicitly cite these passages as Scripture, and the characters in the story do not recognize the texts as Christian Scripture. Indeed, regarding the passage from the Gospels, Harry “did not understand what these words meant” (326). Also, Harry mistook Paul’s words about death as “a Death Eater idea” (328). Hermione corrected him, explaining that “It means . . . you know . . . living beyond death. Living after death” (328). These verses “pop up” at a key part of the book, and they fit with overarching themes of the series, and indeed this latest volume. (I won’t go into detail, as I’d rather not contribute to the mass of spoilers on the web.) I will say this. These clear references to Scripture actually pale in comparison to the symbolism (dare I say typology?) of this book.

I will be interested to see whether or not Christian opinions of Rowling’s work will change in the upcoming months. Will she be viewed as the postmodern Lewis or Tolkien? Will she be seen as an “angel of light” seeking to draw folks in to a syncretist faith? It will also be interesting to see how Rowling responds to Christian critics and fans in the near future, given the note upon which the series ends. In the year 2000, when asked about her own faith — whether she was a Christian — Rowling responded:

Yes, I am, . . . Which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I’ve been asked if I believe in God, I’ve said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what’s coming in the books.*

Similarly she responds about her belief in God/magic:

JK: I do believe in God. That seems to offend the South Carolinians more than almost anything else. I think they would find it…well that is my limited experience, that they have more of a problem with me believing in God than they would have if I was an unrepentant atheist.

E: You do believe in God.

JK: Yeah. Yeah.

E: In magic and…

JK: Magic in the sense in which it happens in my books, no, I don’t believe. I don’t believe in that. No. No. This is so frustrating. Again, there is so much I would like to say, and come back when I’ve written book seven. But then maybe you won’t need to even say it ’cause you’ll have found it out anyway. You’ll have read it.**

Now that the last book is published, and the final plot revealed, perhaps Rowling will be more forthcoming about her faith, and whether she intended to tap theological themes in a manner similar to Tolkien and Lewis.

I’m tired. I’m going to take my vitamin B-12 supplement and go to bed.


* Quoted from Max Wyman, “‘You can lead a fool to a book but you can’t make them think’: Author has frank words for the religious right,” The Vancouver Sun (British Columbia), October 26, 2000 [reproduced at accio-quote.org].
** Quoted from Evan Solomon, “J.K. Rowling Interview,” CBCNewsWorld: Hot Type, July 13, 2000 [reproduced at accio-quote.org].

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