Today brings the second installment (8th film) of the seventh Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, to the big screen. Millions of devoted Potter fans will line up for one last time—bringing their enthusiasm and garish costumes—as the epic film series comes to a close. It was not too long ago that J.K. Rowling’s world first came to life in 2001 with the release of The Sorcerer's Stone and, over the span of the last ten years and 20 hours of screen time, has accumulated over 6.3 billion dollars or revenue (before DH II) worldwide.
Beyond the movie theater, many visit the Universal Studios replication of Hogwarts, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, to experience first-hand what it feels like to be in the magic world. Many dreams come true as one can easily gulp down a tasty butterbeer at the local Hogsmeade bar, Three Broomsticks, or buy a bag of Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavor Beans at Honeydukes candy shop. The best of the best involves the Forbidden Journey where patrons get to tour the legendary Hogwarts castle. It’s truly a marvelous delight for any HP lover.
For those unable to make the grand excursion to Florida, the internet is a fine alternative. Rowling recently announced the creation of an interactive website, called Pottermore, to launch by October 2011. Viewers will be able to read all seven books online but Rowling is offering a unique “reading experience” beyond the typical e-book (also available exclusively on the Web site). Loyal fans will also get more information on the HP world as Rowling plans to reveal new parts of the story. Everyone gets something, but more importantly, kids continue to read.
Let’s face it, the world has Potter fever. But what does the Harry Potter series say to Christians? Is there something deeper beneath all this hocus pocus?
Different from the Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter is more ambiguous with its characters and symbols as Rowling identifies herself as a Christian but the books are written for an audience of seekers. Unfortunately, early publications brought much tension as several Christian groups labeled the series heretical and dangerous on the grounds of witchcraft. But HP’s reputation changed dramatically over the years. Several books have now been published on the series’ positive relationship with Christianity and now universities, such as Yale and St. Edward’s University to name a few, offer courses in the religion department
More recently, the Vatican newspaper praised the new film for promoting Christian values; sacrifice and friendship. To provide context, one can look at Voldemort’s death. The dark lord is not defeated by some glorious power struggle or trickery—the evil one is far too intelligent and strong. Rather, Harry calims victory by giving up his own life in death for his friends (even uses a disarming spell in the process). This act is theologically rich as it echoes the path of Jesus Christ but also points to the vocation of all Christians; sacrificing ourselves for the love of others.
Friendship (along with community/relationality to be more specific) is another great theme immersed throughout the series. One of the most misleading advertisements is the famous poster of Harry and Voldermort fighting one-on-one. This could not be any farther from the truth. Harry’s relationship with his family and community is vital towards his maturity and identity as “the chosen one.” Never does Harry achieve anything alone but constantly receives help from others (especially Ron and Hermione). If anything else, Harry Potter teaches us about vulnerability and the virtue of trust.
All these points boil down to Rowling’s God figure in the series; Love. It is love that gives life and ultimately defeats evil in the end. This finds theological grounds in scripture, “God is love, and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them” (1 John 4: 7-8). Rowling's theology fits more more appropriately to her audience as the series highlights questions of meaning rather then doctrine--bringing to surface reasons why we live and why relationships matter. Those relationship do not call for self-interest (like Voldemort), but ask for a deeper gift of self. In the end, this truth is at the core of both the Harry Potter series and the Christian tradition.