I have just finished reading the Harry Potter stories again. Now I’m ready for the movies of the last book. Oh dear, that’s a confession that’s going to get me into trouble, but there you go. Some Christians do get rather worked up about these things.
I was impressed again with JK Rowling’s writing. I like her style, her use of words, her humour. She seems to know young people very well and effectively describes their fears and their progress through life. The magical world she created is also quite extraordinary. It’s not on the majestic scale of JRR Tolkien but it’s believable and it draws one in. There are one or two things one might quibble with or want to know more about but, like good science fiction writers, she gives you enough to enjoy and lightly skims over the bits that should not be examined too closely. It is truly a magical world. Owls deliver post; witches and wizards really do fly on brooms; and they even have a Quidditch world cup—a game played on brooms.
The great theme that runs throughout the series of course is that of good versus evil and, specifically, in the form of power versus love. There are instruments and positions of power; if any of them are sought for themselves alone, for the good of the holder alone, they will corrupt. The old adage, ‘power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely’ is explored throughout the series.
We fear weakness. We want to be strong or to be around those who are strong.
Of course the real baddy in the books, Lord Voldermort, has completely corrupted his soul in his pursuit of power. He has no interest in anyone around him, well not in their friendship, only in their service—their complete subjection to himself.
The good guy, the tireless warrior on the side of good, the headmaster Albus Dumbledore, is only too aware of his weakness. He knows that, given half a chance, he would be no different from Voldermort. Power appeals to him and he knows how easy it is to succumb to its allure; as a result he avoids positions (like the Minister of Magic) where the temptation would be too great, and he remains a teacher.
There is an interesting cameo from Dumbledore’s youth that is touched on in the last of the seven books but not explored. Dumbledore was tempted by a power-hungry fellow student and in plotting to conquer the world they convince themselves that their pursuit of power is “for the greater good”. The idea that “one man should die for the sake of the people” is of course something with which Christians are familiar. And the idea that the end justifies the means has been quoted to justify a host of horrors throughout history.
What appeals to me about Harry Potter himself (yet frustrates the adult in me no end) is that he is no super hero. Some things are so obvious to my adult view but I know that when I was Harry’s age (the books cover the seven years from Harry’s twelfth to his eighteenth year) I was even less socially adept than Harry and way behind him in political and social awareness.
Harry’s greatest strength is that he cares about people around him. He may hate with a bitter hatred those he sees ranged on the side of evil, but he will not kill them or leave them to die—even when their death would have been caused by their own attempts to destroy him.
The key to the defeat of Voldermort by Harry (and Harry’s own protection) is the love of Harry’s mother who died trying to save Harry life when he was one year old. The same theme returns at the end when Harry himself is prepared to die to try to save the lives of his friends. His action creates the force that finally destroys the evil Lord Voldemort. Once again we have the idea that one person should die for the good of all. The key difference is that men and women of power use the idea of the ‘greater good’ to cause others (never themselves) to suffer ‘all in a good cause’. For Harry, and for the Christian who follows Jesus’ call to take up his or her cross and follow Jesus, death for the sake of others is a choice. And it is the choice itself that brings life.
[For an interesting interview with JK Rowling about some of these themes, of which I was not aware when I wrote this post, see here] – added 23 Nov. 2010