“He’ll be famous – a legend – I wouldn’t be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter day in the future – there will be books written about Harry — every child in our world will know his name!” – Professor McGonagall
Over 400 million of the Harry Potter books have been sold worldwide, and the series has been translated into 69 languages. As stated on the BBC’s Christmas Special Harry Potter and Me, ‘Only the Bible has more translations. Every thirty seconds someone somewhere in the world begins a Harry Potter story’. Perhaps there is a reason why this story has sold so well in what can be considered secular times, and perhaps there is a reason it is so often compared to the Bible in terms of popularity and distribution across the globe.
The religious debate surrounding Harry Potter is one that has been in existence since the first books in the series were published. Some critics, such as the journalist and Christian writer Richard Abanes, believe that the series is of no worth to Christians and that it does more harm than good, promoting Paganism, Devil-worship, sinful behaviour and is in no way related to God or Christianity. On the other hand there are many scholars, such as Rev. Dr. John Killinger, who attempt to show the world that the Harry Potter series is entirely reminiscent of, even parallel to, many of the teachings and scenes we can find in the Bible and Christian tradition. Those, like Killinger, aim to show that Harry Potter is a series that we should encourage our children and even ourselves to read as it can teach us many of the vital characteristics needed to be a Christian in a way that appeals to people in current times. I will be supporting the view of those in favour of the Harry Potter series as a type of Christian text by discussing the parallels between the series and the bible and considering Harry Potter as a Christ-figure.
Both the authors mentioned above have discussed the idea of Harry as a Christ-figure, Killinger claiming:
‘Harry is the hero of faith par excellence–a wounded hero, a very modest one, who is ready to sacrifice himself completely in behalf of others and who opposes Lord Voldemort, the personification of hatred and evil, with all his strength. Like most great Western literature, the Potter stories are founded on the mortal rivalry of good and evil, and Harry is the Christ-figure with both extraordinary (wizard) and ordinary (Muggle) credentials who becomes the focus of the conflict. Is he spiritual? Not in any self-conscious way. But does his existence have spiritual consequences? Of course it does. Vast spiritual consequences. He is the very embodiment of spiritual meaning as we know it’.
Killinger understands that the series is in no way overtly Christian in an obvious manner however the underlying themes within the story suggest that there is definitely a Christian current throughout the books.
Despite views like this it has been argued that the Harry Potter series has created something of a moral panic among many Christians. Such moral panics occur when a particular social group, in this case a Christian group, feels that a certain issue threatens their social order. In this case the group feel that Harry Potter influences occult behavior that will turn people from Christianity and to the occult due to its portrayal of magic as ‘good’. This ‘Potter panic’ is not full-blown due to the division between different Christian groups however many, such as the Christian Right seem to have taken personal offence at the Harry Potter series and aim to ban it altogether. Abanes too, seems to have been lured into, and even fans the flames of, the moral panic surrounding Harry Potter and responds to Killinger by claiming,
‘Harry is no Christ figure. Jesus of Nazareth sacrificed himself for his enemies. Christ died for the ungodly. He died for us while we were yet sinners. This is agape love–self-less, self-giving, god-like. Harry seems only willing and able to sacrifice for his friends. This is more akin to phileo love, or brotherly love. The parallel, therefore, does not exist’.
Abanes seems to ignore the fact that Harry’s sacrifice will benefit not only his own friends, but all of those who did not stand against evil and even those who were on the side of evil, because ultimately the downfall of Voldemort would be a benefit to all. An example of this can be found in the Malfoys, who are enemies to Harry but who, by the end of the series, greatly benefit from Voldemort’s downfall.
Beliefnet claims: ‘A Christ figure is a literary device, a particular way of shaping an important character in a novel. He (or she) may not conform in every instance to the biblical image of Jesus, but bears enough of the traits or characteristics to suggest the relationship and send us looking for important messages in the text’. I will show that the parallels and similarities in the shaping of Harry Potter are such that it is clear to see how he is a Christ-figure. As this quote claims, there is not total conformity to the image of Jesus however there is enough to reveal to us Harry’s Christ-likeness and incur in us a sense of wonder and curiosity as to whether he will follow the same path as Jesus as the series progresses.
I will be considering Harry Potter as a Christ-figure rather than a transfiguration of Jesus because a Christ-figure parallels and symbolizes the messages and teachings of Christ and also mirrors some of Christ’s characteristics. A transfiguration of Jesus on the other hand is found in a more explicit parallel where the life of Jesus is precisely told and the character indentifies with the historical figure of Jesus rather than symbolizing his qualities.
It is also important to understand why such a connection should or could be made. In what can be argued as becoming increasingly secular times, perhaps there is need for some link from present secularity to past religiosity. According to Theodore Ziolkowski, ‘Following the Renaissance and with increasing rapidity during the Enlightenment … Western society underwent a process of radical secularization’. Perhaps then, the use of Christ-figures is necessary as they are easier to relate to and more believable than transfigurations of Jesus which must follow a set path in order to live up to its name.
I will be attempting however to show that the Harry Potter series displays Harry Potter as a Christ-figure by considering that he is not a replica of Jesus but in fact shares qualities and characteristics of Jesus and his life. I will do this by comparing Harry to Jesus Christ in two parts. First I will look at the characteristics of the life of Jesus, including Stigmata, Conflict with Authority Figures, Charisma, Friendship with Outcasts, Relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit, Relationship to Disciples, and Prophecy. Then I will consider the teachings and messages found in Jesus’ life, such as Love, Temptation, Sacrifice, Resurrection and Redemption.
Characteristics of the Life of Jesus
‘Suddenly, the war memorial in the centre of the village, itself a symbol of humanity’s age-old proneness to conflict and destruction, is transmogrified into a statue of the Holy Family – Mary, Joseph, and the Baby – or in this case Lily, James, and little Harry’ – J. Killinger
There are many resemblances between the character of Harry Potter and Jesus Christ. Some of these are physical, some can be found in the teachings of Christ, and some in similarities in their lives. Stigmata are marks resembling the wounds on the crucified body of Christ and such can be found on Harry Potter. Harry has the famous lightning bolt scar on his forehead and also received various other scars, the second most important being that on his hand from his detentions with Professor Umbridge. This scar symbolises his willingness to speak up against authority if they are corrupt or spreading lies. These can be paralleled with the scars Jesus received during the Passion. He too had wounds on his forehead, ‘And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head’, and his hands (and feet) due to the nails used to crucify him. The difference here however is that Harry gained his most important scar at the beginning of his life, whereas Jesus received his prominent scars at the end of his life. This notion of stigmata then can indicate a similarity between Harry Potter and Jesus which supports the view that Harry is a Christ-figure
Conflict with Authority Figures
Harry’s ability to stand up to corrupt authority figures also emulates Jesus’ life in that he too battled with authority figures who sought to bring him down and were acting in opposition to how they should, in their case in opposition to God’s law. Jesus stood up to such people by publicly speaking of their hypocrisy and immorality. Harry too did this by refusing to take the easy option of lying when confronted my such authority figures as Professor Umbridge and the Minister/s of Magic.
Like Jesus, Harry regularly fights against corrupt authorities, whether they are the Ministry of Magic in their attempts to cover up the truth, or Hogwarts teachers who have been taking liberties or attempting to overthrow Dumbledore. Kierkegaard claimed that ‘a true witness did not testify by preaching from a well-endowed and socially respected pulpit but by suffering for and because of the gospel’. Christ clearly did this as in many cases he was not respected but mocked and abused by onlookers. Harry continued to ‘preach’ about the return of Voldemort even when he suffered slander at the hands of the Ministry and was labelled ‘Undesirable No. 1’. It was important for Harry to face difficulty, just as Jesus did, because it proved that he truly understood the hardships he would face and the truths that he was telling people. Both Harry and Christ were considered criminals in the eyes of the authorities. Harry is considered to be a liar and was accused of aiding Dumbledore in an attempt to overthrow Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic; this was not the case. However, Harry and Dumbledore both still suffered the consequences of this. Even when the Minister of Magic changed, the corruption did not and Harry has to stand his ground yet again in the face of a new authority who wanted Harry to divulge private information. Jesus too was considered a political criminal, ‘He was convicted, of having claimed to be ‘king of the Jews’ – a political title,’ which was essentially what led to his death. The difference between these two here then is that Jesus’ death was at the hands of these corrupt authorities and their blindness whereas Harry’s death is at the hands of a different enemy.
Jesus acted out against the religious authorities many times, including when he drove out the buyers and sellers from a temple and began to preach:
‘Then they came to Jerusalem. And entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, ‘Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”? But you have made it a den of robbers’’.
The authorities’ reactions can be seen in the lines that follow, ‘And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching’. Jesus was clearly making enemies even thought he was essentially just doing the right thing – that which had been written by God.
Harry too, made enemies simply by doing what was morally right, fighting evil, and telling the truth. The Ministry of Magic tried to cover this up because they didn’t want to admit that Voldemort had returned as this was a frightening prospect and they probably felt that it reflected their weakness. This fear is understandable, yet they punished Harry for telling the truth and published news about him insinuating his fragility, delusion, trouble-making ways and claimed he was a danger to the public as well as a liar. These attempts to slander his name were done simply to discourage the public from believing his story.
We can see then that this notion of conflict with authorities is another parallel between Harry and Jesus, however in this case the authorities are both from different institutions. The authorities Jesus battled with were religious, whereas Harry’s authority conflict was with the Ministry. Although this is a difference it can be stated that both of these types of authorities were considered the most important institutions respectively. There was no higher authority than the church in Jesus’ time, and the Ministry rules supreme in the wizarding world that Harry is a part of.
Harry, like Christ, is a charismatic leader, although there are many times when he claims that he is no such thing, or that he cannot lead or teach. Despite this he still manages to convert many people to his way of thinking and rally them behind him in his fight against Voldemort. As is claimed in John 12:47, ‘I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world’. In the same way, Harry does not expect people to believe that he can defeat Voldemort or that he has superior skill. Harry is not interested in whether people believe him or not, his job is simply to save the world from Voldemort. Even the name ‘Harry’ means ‘ruler’ and implies that Harry is a leader, just as Jesus was often given the title King of the Jews, or King of Kings.
‘It is obvious, of course, that there must have been something special about this man [Jesus], to account for the fact that a person from such an obscure background rejected by his own society has risen to be the most influential person in a spiritual sense who has appeared in human history. But though he was obviously ‘special’, this does not separate him from the human race. As we have seen, he differs from other human beings in degree, not kind’.
Not only does this quote indicate that Jesus too was charismatic or inspirational in some way but it also speaks about the humanity of Christ. This is something that is also stressed as one of the qualities found in Harry Potter. Harry succeeds ultimately because he possesses many of the best traits of humanity – goodness, purity, bravery, compassion, ability to love – and not only this but he understands from the perspective of those who he is fighting for, because it is not only himself who would suffer if Voldemort prevailed but the rest of the world also. Christ’s link to humanity in his human nature, often seen as paradoxical, was ultimately that extra ‘thing’ that allowed him to be a worthy sacrifice and his human qualities were just as important in making him who he was. Christ had to be fully human as well as fully divine in order to make his sacrifice worthy; otherwise God could have made the sacrifice himself. This humanity is clearly important then in that it made him who he was and meant that we could relate to him in some way as he was human just like us.
By looking at this it is clear that Harry also displays charisma as Jesus must have done, the difference here is that Harry is more reluctant to lead. Not only this but both Jesus and Harry display dual natures. Jesus of course belongs to both the divine and the human whereas Harry is part of the wizarding world and the muggle world, which represent Jesus’ dual natures respectively.
Friendship with Outcasts
Harry also befriends many people who are considered outcasts during his time at Hogwarts, something which seems to parallel Jesus’ frequent associations with undesirable people which was greatly frowned upon by the authorities and society during his time. Jesus would spend time speaking or eating with women, lepers, sinners, criminals, tax collectors, prostitutes and the unclean. Jesus even cleanses those who others would not help, such as the leper in Luke 5:12-13. In a similar way, the Parable of the Good Samaritan highlights Jesus views that we should always help each other, even if it goes against the grain. Harry is similar to Jesus in this way in that he too is friends with those who others shun – Hagrid the half giant, Luna the oddball, Lupin the werewolf, Dobby the house elf, and even Ron the poor ‘blood-traitor’ and Hermione the muggle-born know-it-all. He even goes so far as to rescue Draco Malfoy from certain death by fiendfyre (an all-consuming magical fire) even though they are essentially enemies.
These examples show how Harry emulates Christ’s acceptance and love of all people regardless of their ‘label’ in society which is of vital importance when considering him as a Christ-figure as it was incredibly controversial when Jesus did this.
Relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit
Another way in which we can see personal similarities between Christ and Harry Potter is by comparing them respectively to the Holy Father and Dumbledore. Dumbledore represents the powerful father figure within the Harry Potter series and it is Dumbledore who moulds Harry in such a way as to prepare him for what he must do. After Dumbledore’s death it becomes difficult for Harry to carry on, he believes Dumbledore has left him without giving him any real plan or divulging enough information to him. These moments of despair are reminiscent of Jesus upon the cross crying out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ As McGrath claims, ‘Faith is not merely believing that something is true; it is being prepared to act upon that belief, and relying upon it… Faith is about being prepared to put one’s trust in the promises of God, and the integrity and faithfulness of the God who made those promises’. Harry then, trusts enough in Dumbledore and the truth in what they fight for to go ahead and sacrifice himself in the faith that it will save everyone else from Voldemort’s evil.
Another way in which we can consider Harry’s Christ-likeness is in his relation to his father and its similarity to Jesus’ relation to the Father. Throughout the series we are told that Harry looks exactly like his father, except of course, for his eyes, which are the same as his mothers. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry is attacked by dementors and is saved by a Patronus in the shape of a stag. This is his Patronus but is one which greatly resembles his father. As Dumbledore explains,
‘You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself most plainly when you have need of him. How else could you produce that particular Patronus? Prongs rode again last night…. You know, Harry, in a way, you did see your father last night…. You found him inside yourself’.
This shows us that Harry is not a separate entity from his father, just as Christ was not separate from the Holy Father: ‘Harry not only resembles his father physically, and understands what his father might do, but he also is much like his father in ways he does not fully realize: the spirit of James Potter seems to dwell within him’. By looking at Harry we can see James Potter, and in the same way by looking at Christ we see the Father. This is portrayed in John 14:7, ‘If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him, and have seen him’.
This idea also seems to incorporate the Holy Spirit in the image of the Patronus which makes this circle of Father, Son and Holy Spirit complete. Harry then, appears to be a Christ-figure in this way as he too seems to be part of a trinity just as Jesus was part of the Holy Trinity.
Relationship to Disciples
Finally we can consider Harry’s relationships with his friends as similar to Jesus’ relationship with his disciples as a marker of his Christ-likeness. Just like Jesus, Harry drew around him a close group of friends, or followers, who believed in what he believed – in this case, that Voldemort had returned and that they must fight him. Dumbledore’s Army, a group of Hogwart’s attendees, could be considered as reminiscent of Jesus’ disciples. Instead of the four initial disciples that Jesus chose, we could consider Harry to have two – his best friends Ron and Hermione. Ron Weasley seems to emulate the disciple Peter, who often seen to be a more prominent disciple of Jesus. Ron too falls into the pattern whereby he denies, or does not follow, Harry just as Peter famously denied Christ three times. There are only two instances however where Ron does not follow Harry by choice, as oppose to his being forced to stay behind (i.e. when he cannot accompany Harry and Hermione in saving Sirius and Buckbeak due to his leg being broken). The first of these times is when Ron does not believe that Harry did not enter his own name into the Goblet of Fire. Both boys fall out over this, and it is only after Ron realises the danger Harry is in that he reaffirms his faith in him. The second time that Ron denies Harry is during Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in which Ron leaves Harry and Hermione on their quest for Horcruxes because he is hungry, frustrated and tired. Killinger sums this up neatly, claiming,
‘Ron defects from Harry when they are under pressure, just as Simon Peter denied Jesus before his crucifixion, and Ron apologizes and asks Harry’s forgiveness, just as Peter confessed and was forgiven’.
There are three occasions then where Ron can be seen to abandon Harry, although one is not by choice. These parallels seem to show that Harry’s relationship with some of his disciples or friends, namely Ron, seem to emulate those of Jesus, especially when considering Jesus’ relationship to Peter. The difference however is that I believe Ron has much more faith in Harry. This is because it could be argued that the final example, his abandoning of Harry whilst searching for Horcruxes, could be blamed on his recent injury (he was splinched, left part of himself behind, whilst magically apparating to another place), his lack of food, and lack of comfort. However in the same way it could be argued that faith should transcend such physical and material needs, Ron perhaps should have stuck by Harry and had faith in him no matter how desolate the future seemed to him to be.
Although Harry does not have twelve disciples as Jesus did, this feeling of discipleship from his friends still appears in the series. Ron seems to parallel Peter in many ways and Dumbledore’s Army clearly follow Harry in a similarly disciple-like way, as we have seen.
We can also look at the notion of prophecy to consider how Harry Potter seems to portray Christ. ‘The first pages of the Harry Potter saga offer a flavour of the Matthean story of the so-called Massacre of the Innocents, when Herod sought the deaths of all male children in Israel under the age of two years in order to eliminate the Christ child’. Voldemort attempts the very same thing, in searching for Harry aged one year and trying to kill him, and like Herod he fails. Voldemort’s search and fears were also based on his hearing of a prophecy, just as Herod’s were – the difference here being that Voldemort had more precise knowledge of his victim as he only had to choose between two infants, rather than thousands, and he chose his adversary himself in that whoever he picked was automatically made worthy of destroying him.
When considering that Voldemort himself chose Harry to be his ‘enemy’, we can conclude that it was through this choice that he made Harry who he was, or who he was to become. Tillich writes: ‘Christianity was born, not with the birth of the man who is called “Jesus,” but in the moment in which one of his followers was driven to say to him, “You are the Christ”’. In other words, he became who he was meant to become not at birth, but when his disciples named him so and understood who he really was on a spiritual level. He had not changed himself in any way yet in this moment he became the Christ in that he became this person to others. In the same way, Harry is not born the person who would end Voldemort’s evil and save the wizarding (and muggle) world but becomes such a person through Voldemort’s decision that he is the child referred to in the prophecy. If Voldemort had chosen the other option, Neville Longbottom, then Harry would never have become ‘the Chosen One’. It is through this choosing of Harry that Harry gains the necessary qualities and strength needed to face the battle ahead. Also, in his friends’ support of him, ‘the boy who lived’, he becomes a greater force behind which others can unite to fight evil. This support from his friends and others around the World is necessary to spur him on. Although both Harry and Jesus possessed the necessary qualities to do what they had to, it can be argued that it was through other peoples’ validation and belief that they became who they were meant to be.
Harry fulfils the prophecy concerning him later in his life in that he succeeds in finding ‘the power to vanquish the Dark Lord’ as Dumbledore always believed he would. Harry’s coming meant that Voldemort could be destroyed in time and in surviving Voldemort’s frequent attacks on his life Harry became a symbol of hope. There were also many Old Testament prophecies made that later came to be associated with Jesus such as those describing times in his life where he was betrayed, crucified, resurrected, persecuted, and rejected by his own people, and these times can also be seen in the life of Harry (some of which I will try to show below) which seems to imply his Christ-figure status.
‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ – John 15:13
One prominent theme within the Harry Potter series that links Harry greatly to Jesus Christ is that of love. There is great emphasis placed on love within the series, and how it is a force far greater than evil, which closely mirrors the views of Christianity and Jesus. In Macnamara’s The Truth in Love he states that ‘if you ask people what Christian morality is about they are likely to reply that it is about love’, which explains why it is so important to considering when examining Harry Potter as a Christ-figure. There are many different kinds of love but here I am only really interested in agape love: ‘selfless love’ or ‘(Christian Theology) the love of God or Christ for mankind’. Macnamara also states ‘The Synoptics with Paul and John all give it a prominent place and it has become a constant of the Christian tradition that Christians are to love others’, which helps us to understand why Albus Dumbledore feels the need to drive this message home so often: he clearly believes to his core that love is the ultimate driving force we should have in our lives and Harry therefore adopts this view and carries the message on after Dumbledore’s death. Without this expression of love, Christianity would not exist as it is through this agape love that God sent his only son to us – ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’. In a similar way, Albus Dumbledore moulded and sent Harry out to save the world, and he did this based on his love of the world and his faith in love and people.
Within the Harry Potter series it is the great wizard Dumbledore who constantly reinforces this idea that love can truly conquer evil and that without it Lord Voldemort cannot be defeated. He believes that because Lord Voldemort does not know or understand love he completely underestimates it and takes no time to realise that this lack within himself is why he will never succeed. Dumbledore explains to Harry how his mother’s love protected him from such evil,
‘Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realise that love as powerful as your mother’s love for you leaves its own mark… to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever… Quirrell, full of hatred, greed and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good’.
Therefore not only did her love prevent Harry’s death at the age of one, but this act also meant that someone in league with Voldemort (in this case, Quirrell) could not touch Harry’s skin in an attempt to hurt him without feeling immense pain. This love and message of love was clearly transferred to Harry as it plays a vital role in defeating evil throughout the series,
“There is a room in the Department of Mysteries that is kept locked at all times. It contains a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than the forces of nature. It is also, perhaps, the most mysterious of the many subjects for study that reside there. It is the power held within that room that you possess in such quantities and which Voldemort has not at all”.
This quote from Albus Dumbledore highlights how crucial it is to show love, so crucial in fact that it is the ultimate opposite of evil, and is the only thing that can defeat evil. Harry does not seem to understand the truth in Dumbledore’s words until nearer the end of the series. Harry’s understanding of love and its importance becomes more clear after Voldemort attempts to possess his body in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix but cannot do so because Harry is so full of love that Voldemort cannot bear to reside in his body. This understanding reaches its peak towards the end of the final book when Harry learns that he must die in order for Voldemort to be destroyed. Instead of hiding from this fate, Harry knows he must accept it and greet death without putting up a fight. His decision to do this is based on the love he has for his friends, and even the love he must have for the world as Voldemort will surely ruin the world if he is not stopped.
On the other hand it could be argued that Harry does not display the type of love that Christianity aims for. Harry certainly does not love his enemies as is suggested by Jesus in Matt 5:43-45, ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’. The closest we find to this is Harry’s mercy on Draco Malfoy when he helps him escape from the fiendfyre and his willingness to accept that Malfoy, now a death eater, would not have killed Dumbledore even though they have been ‘enemies’ for years. Jesus too may have claimed to love all men but he did not seem to love the Pharisees when they were neglecting God’s law by allowing others to change money in the temples.
In the same way we can consider Jesus’ lesson to ‘turn the other cheek’ and how true this is for Jesus himself. Did Jesus do this when outraged by the Pharisees’ actions or did he take personal offence and act accordingly? Harry too cannot be said to have turned the other cheek in every situation. However, he picks his battles in that when necessary he does choose to rise above the situation, although usually he does let his temper get the better of him. Like Jesus though, Harry does on occasion ‘fight back’ but to a higher extent, he is after all a teenage boy learning to control his temper in the face of some of the greatest trials of his life. Perhaps then this is an example of how change is necessary when showing Biblical stories in a contemporary context. Just as secularisation occurred due to historians’ need to make faith historically accurate and myth-free, perhaps in the same way J.K. Rowling is attempting to make the characters more real by inserting flaws such as these into them. Of course Harry would have a temper he needs to learn to control, as a teenage boy full of hormones and uncertainty, and in creating such a character Rowling makes it easier for other teenagers around the world to relate to this character, and in relating to him they perhaps will feel that they could achieve not what he achieved, but something else just as intrinsically good.
Harry succeeds through love, a theme reminiscent with the Bible and Jesus, which seems to imply his Christ-figure status. One of the differences between Jesus and Harry though, can be found in the following, ‘“So when the prophecy says that I’ll have “power the Dark Lord knows not”, it just means – love?” asked Harry, feeling a little let down.’ This quote indicates that Harry does not at first realise the potential and the power of love whereas Jesus did not doubt love. It takes Harry time to understand why love is so important, but although this makes him different from Jesus it is necessary that this is the case in order for the story to progress. Once again we can refer to the fact that character development matters and Rowling clearly uses characters who are not initially ‘whole’ in order to allow the reader to relate to these characters.
”Don’t be a fool… Better save your own life and join me… or you’ll meet the same end as your parents…” – Voldemort
Voldemort is clearly meant to represent the most evil and opposite figure to light that one can imagine. He is similar to Satan in many ways, they both had the potential to be brilliant but fell, and both are deceptive, ambitious, associated with possession and serpents, and both seem to tempt Harry and Jesus respectively into giving up their causes.
‘The Devil and Voldemort have similar histories … Both gave up their high places in order to seek an even higher position and greater power. Tom Riddle desired to be immortal and the greatest sorcerer in the world.(80) Satan desired to be like God. Satan and Voldemort are both associated with snakes, and have both appeared as snakes.(82) Both Voldemort and Satan possess not only snakes, but also people’.
Voldemort tempts Harry in that he gives him the option to join him and prevent his death when they meet in Harry Potter and the Philsopher’s Stone and even claims he can bring Harry’s parents back from death. It is because Harry is so pure of heart, just like Christ, that he can resist such temptations. Not only that, but he is strong enough to resist powerful spells such as the Imperius Curse also. Harry also seems tempted to give up fighting Voldemort, and stay with his surrogate family, the Weasley’s, instead however he also resists this. This type of domestic temptation seems to be reminiscent of some of the temptations found in the film, The Last Temptation of Christ. Like the film, there is a scene of ‘domestic bliss’ found in Harry Potter, the last chapter of the final book tells of how Harry marries Ron’s sister Ginny and they live happily with their children. Although in the film this is not the case in reality, perhaps this final chapter illuminates Harry’s ascension. Perhaps instead of rising to heaven as Jesus did, Harry’s ascension to paradise is simply his life being safe and content, with the family that he always wanted.
A closer parallel of temptation for Harry and for Christ can be found between the Deathly Hallows and Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. We can see this by considering each Hallow as corresponding with one of the three temptations. The first temptation Jesus resisted from the devil was thus ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread’. This temptation resembles Harry’s temptation of the Resurrection Stone, a stone that can bring the dead back to life. ‘The temptation is that of restoring life in the wrong and unnatural manner’. Next the devil takes Jesus to the top of the temple telling him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down’, the idea being that the Father would protect him. The Invisibility Cloak is the temptation here for Harry then – ‘Just as Christ is tempted to presume on the protection of his father and avoid the suffering of the cross, so Harry could rely on the Cloak of his Father and avoid his fate, even when his hour has come (quite literally)’. Like Jesus though, Harry removes his temptation by removing his invisibility cloak and walking towards Voldemort with no shield. In the same way we can consider how Jesus often walked through the crowds of people who wanted to kill him but remained unseen by them in some way. The final temptation offered by Satan was an exchange; The devil offered Jesus the chance to rule the world if Jesus worshipped him. In the same way the Elder Wand is this final temptation in that it is the most powerful wand in existence and cannot be defeated, thereby giving its owner the power to rule over anyone or anything.
‘Jesus is tempted to grasp at rule in the wrong way. However, he must undergo the self-sacrifice of the cross. Only then will Satan be disarmed and the rule be given to him as its rightful possessor. Much the same thing happens with Harry. He must resist chasing the wand before it is given to him as its rightful possessor following his self-sacrifice’.
Both Jesus and Christ then pass these tests. Jesus stays faithful to God and true to his plan and Harry learns patience and trusts that Dumbledore did not mean for Harry to obtain the Deathly Hallows until he did not seek them for selfish reasons.
Linked to this idea of temptation and temptation by the devil is the idea that Harry might be tempted toward the Dark Arts (the ‘bad’ magic used by Voldemort and his followers). Harry however, despite everything he has lost and been through during the series is never tempted to join Voldemort or to use the Dark Arts. Dumbledore again claims that this because of Harry’s purity and his ability to love:
“…you have never been seduced by the Dark Arts, never, even for a second, shown the slightest desire to become one of Voldemort’s followers! …You are protected, in short, by your ability to love! The only protection that can possibly work against the lure of power like Voldemort’s! In spite of all the temptation you have endured, all the suffering, you remain pure of heart, as pure as you were five years ago, when you looked into a mirror that reflected your heart’s desire. Harry, do you have any idea how few wizards could see what you saw in that mirror?“.
Dumbledore is of course referring to Harry’s ability to get the Philosopher’s Stone simply because he wanted to keep it from Voldemort but not use it himself. It is this purity, this lack of greed and malice that keeps Harry from ever being tempted by the Dark Arts. As we are told on Harry Potter Wiki – ‘Love is the only protection against the lure and power of the Dark Arts, which are fuelled by hateful emotions’.
Harry is clearly tempted during the series. However, he manages to overcome temptation. Jesus was not tempted, he overcame temptation because it did not really exist for him. Harry on the other hand wants a normal life with a family and safety from evil, which is the constant temptation for him throughout the series. He does manage to walk away from this when he needs to however which shows that his willpower and strength to do what is necessary matches Jesus’. Harry is tempted by the Deathly Hallows but here too he manages to resist, as he knew he should, and continue on his quest to end Voldemort without becoming sidetracked by material fantasies, just as Jesus did.
‘There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved’ – Acts 4:12
The theme of sacrifice is also crucial to the Harry Potter series and links Harry to Christ in that he sacrifices himself for the salvation of others. Just as Jesus foretold his death knowing that it was God’s plan, Harry too knows he must sacrifice himself as this was Dumbledore’s plan for him from the beginning. The Christian notions of love and sacrifice are prominent even before Harry’s story has really begun in that his mother sacrificed herself in an attempt to save him:
‘Because Lily’s death was a willing sacrifice, not a mere casualty of war like James’s, Harry was marked with the protection of her love, and Voldemort’s Killing Curse rebounded off the toddler, destroying the Dark Lord’s body and temporarily defeating him’.
It is clear from the beginning then that love is the necessary ingredient to defeating evil in the world, and sacrifice is the tool which best expresses this love. ‘Christ’s weapon against Satan is also the purity and love in his heart. Love led Christ to sacrifice himself, and by his sinless life and pureness of heart he was a worthy sacrifice’. It does not matter that Harry is not without sin as Jesus was said to be because his love is pure enough to overcome the fact that he is human and therefore tainted by sin. Killinger finds this sinlessness a ridiculous notion as Jesus could never be fully human if he was completely devoid of all sin. He states ‘Dumbledore clearly makes mistakes – Harry Potter himself says so – and so does Harry, who becomes a sacrificial lamb only after exhausting all other options for halting the predatory Voldemort’. After all, these characters are fictitious, and there needs to be some level of reality that readers can relate to, in this case that the protagonist is somewhat flawed. The fact that he redeems himself of his occasionally scoundrel-like ways is enough. On the other hand, it can be argued that here unfortunately Killinger is not entirely correct. Dumbledore knew all along that it was necessary for Harry to be sacrificed in order for Voldemort to be killed, and his evil stopped. It is true that both Dumbledore and Harry attempted many other ways of destroying Voldemort but Harry really did always have to die. Fortunately Dumbledore ensures that Harry would sacrifice himself willingly in order to save those he loves which in turn sparks some very clever magic that his own mother once used to prevent his loved ones from harm and also allows Harry to return to life. Both Harry and Jesus are sacrificed in order to save, in one way or another, the people of the world. Jesus does this on a different level to Harry, as he is saving their souls from sin and Harry is saving their physical bodies from further harm from Voldemort, but both can still be considered saviours.
We can also consider the willingness of the other ‘good’ characters of the series to fight and even lay down their lives if it is necessary to win in the battle against Voldemort. It is this belief in Harry and Dumbledore that allows the Order of the Phoenix (the adults behind bringing Voldemort to an end) and Dumbledore’s Army (those in school with Harry who want to learn to fight against Voldemort) to believe in Harry and believe that they can defeat Voldemort. To highlight this, McGrath cites Luther’s The Liberty of a Christian, ‘Faith unites the believer to Christ’. The difference between Harry and Jesus here I believe is that Harry’s ‘disciples’ do no flee when evil comes for them (as some of Jesus’ disciples fled when the authorities came for him) and they believe that Harry is dead, but instead they immediately continue to fight for their cause because they know what he died for is exactly what they should be fighting for.
We can also consider the scene of Jesus’ Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane whereby he appeals to God, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done’. Jesus, however, followed the plan laid out for him in the same way that Harry continues on his path to death. Harry too has his fears, which he overcomes by using the Resurrection Stone. The ghosts of his loved ones that emerged from the Resurrection Stone give him strength, just as the Angel came to give Jesus strength in the garden. This parallel is further reinforced by the imagery of Harry walking through the Forbidden Forest to his death, just as Jesus was lead from the Garden to his death when arrested.
This notion of sacrifice clearly shows Harry to have Christ-like qualities and implies that he is a Christ-figure. This theme within the series is the most overtly Christian of all the themes I have considered as it is the clearest parallel between Harry and Jesus. Jesus sacrificed himself in order for the salvation of mankind and in his own way, Harry did too.
“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love. By returning, you may ensure that fewer souls are maimed, few families are torn apart. If that seems to you a worthy goal, then we say goodbye for the present” – Dumbledore
The theme of resurrection is also clear in the Harry Potter series just as it is in the Bible. One of the earliest references to this can be found in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone whereby Harry is in a coma for three days after his encounter with Voldemort. Harry has thwarted Voldemort once more but has been injured in the process and is in a coma for three days as a result of this, just as Jesus lay dead for three days before he rose again. The most prominent example of resurrection in the series however can be found in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows where Harry is seemingly killed by Lord Voldemort but makes the choice to return to the physical world. He is therefore resurrected and by doing so can fulfil the prophecy and finish Voldemort for good.
We can also consider the ‘Harrowing of Hell’ and its relation to Harry Potter in that we can see similar themes within the series. Some thinkers on this topic believe that Harry’s descent into the Chamber of Secrets is reminiscent of this descent into hell, but I am going to take an alternative approach. I believe that we can consider Harry’s return to life after his death at the hands of Voldemort as similar to the Harrowing of Hell. The Harrowing of Hell refers to the three days after Jesus’ death, and before he rose again, where he is said to have descended into hell and released hell’s captives. As is stated in Matthew, ‘For just as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth’. It seems to me that much of the scripture used to describe this event can also be mirrored by the events that occur during the ‘Battle of Hogwarts’ in the final book of the Harry Potter series. If we consider that Jesus freed these spirits from torment then we can compare this to Harry’s return to the fight. At this point in the Harry Potter story, Hogwarts (the school at which the majority of the characters attend) has been taken over by Voldemort and his ‘disciples’ and is no longer the haven they once knew but has been turned into a kind of hell. Harry, who is still thought to be dead, is brought here into the centre of the chaos where those who are opposing Voldemort (the good spirits) are waiting.
The first letter of Peter tells us that Jesus ‘went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey’. In the same way Harry returns to the hell that Hogwarts has become and fights for the protection and freedom of all those who are there because they are fighting for what is good, and because of his sacrifice these people will now be freed from Voldemort’s reign. As it is claimed in Acts 2:27 ‘For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption’ and Acts 2:31, Hades could not hold the crucified Christ and had to let him go free. In the same way Voldemort could not kill Harry no matter how hard he tried, and because Harry has sacrificed himself he had created a protection for the others in the battle and Voldemort could not hurt them either:
“Don’t you get it? I was ready to die to stop you hurting these people – I meant to, and that’s what did it. I’ve done what my mother did. They’re protected from you. Haven’t you noticed how none of the spells you put on them are binding? You can’t torture them. You can’t touch them”.
Harry then, is resurrected as Jesus was and can be said to parallel the Harrowing of Hell in an alternative way. These similarities to the story of Christ make Harry seem very much like a Christ-figure. It is true that there are differences between the two, such as the alternative view of the Harrowing of Hell. However, when taking this into consideration with Harry’s sacrifice we can see that the parallels are clear between Harry and Jesus.
‘He entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption’. – Hebrews 9:12
Christians believe that Jesus died on the cross in order to achieve redemption for the sins of man. Within the Harry Potter series this is not a parallel theme however it is touched upon by some of the main characters of the series. One way in which it is found in the series is after Harry has come back from death, he offers Voldemort the chance to stop and the opportunity to feel remorse for what he has done. This is an attempt on Harry’s part to allow Voldemort to redeem himself by truly understanding what he has done, and Harry does this because he has seen what will become of Voldemort if he does not – “It’s your one last chance, it’s all you’ve got left… I’ve seen what you’ll be otherwise… be a man… try… try for some remorse…”.
Another act of redemption that is crucial to the series can be found in the seemingly ‘bad’ character of Severus Snape, who by the end of the series we learn has been trying to atone for him sins the entire time. It is through Harry that Snape can be redeemed as it is Harry’s triumph over Voldemort that is necessary in order for Snape to have done everything he could have to make up for his wrong-doings. It was Snape who heard the prophecy when Harry was a baby and told Voldemort, however he did not hear the whole prophecy which explains why Voldemort sought Harry out without knowing he was giving him the powers to destroy him. Snape did not realise at the time who the prophecy referred to as if he did he probably would have kept the information to himself, seeing as he was and had always been in love with Lily Evans/Potter, Harry’s mother. Voldemort would not spare the Potters, so after their deaths in his despair Snape turned to Dumbledore who told him that he should aid Dumbledore in keeping Harry alive and, eventually, in preparing him to face Voldemort. By the end of the series we discover all of this and so does Harry, who we learn must forgive Snape as he gives his name to one of his children. Although Snape meets a grisly end the message is clear that he has been redeemed of his sins through his secret acts of good and largely this has been done through Harry.
The main act of redemption however can be found through Harry’s self-sacrifice for mankind, in order to free them from the wrath of Voldemort. In Christian theology redemption is the salvation achieved by Jesus through his death on the cross. This salvation is of sin and of evil, and can be easily paralleled with the salvation that Harry provides in the series. This theme is particularly important because without redemption, Jesus’ death on the cross would have been worthless. It is also an explicit way of portraying agape love. ‘It is this symbol of redemption that is the fulfillment of agapē love and the Christ figure, and it is this symbol that is found throughout and is intrinsically linked in Harry Potter’.
We can see then how Harry’s sacrifice makes him the redeemer but also Harry himself has been redeemed through the sacrifice of his parents’ lives. In this way he is Christ-like in that he allows redemption to be possible through the sacrifice of his life, in the same way that Jesus did. Through Jesus’ death, salvation and redemption became a reality and the same can be said of Harry’s sacrifice.
The significance of whether Harry Potter is a Christ-figure or not is great, as it indicates the truth behind the view that literature is now being created in a way that allows the public to relate to religion in an alternative way. This is done because of the increasing secularity in modern times. Ziolkowski indicates that the beginnings of secularisation were due to increasing historical findings and increasing need to fit the Bible, amongst other sacred texts, into a historical framework. In many cases this was done by removing myth, and replacing it with what was seen as more realistic truths, such as a miracle-working Jesus being replaced by a more ‘realistic’, historical Jesus. Perhaps then, the continuous use of fictitious literature as comparison with biblical stories throughout this ‘secular age’ can be seen as a way of attempting to draw readers back to religion. In many cases, there are even mythological occurrences in such texts, for example J.K. Rowling’s use of a world in which magic exists along with ‘fantasy’ creatures such as dragons. It is highly likely that these mythological happenings are put into texts as a substitute for the myths that we find in the Bible that are no longer regarded as ‘believable’. The fictitious happenings too are not believable however they provide a link between the myth and miracles of this fictitious world and those found in the Bible.
Ziolkowski claims that the unified faith broke down and this fracture has led to many problems in interpreting texts to be religious or not. He states that there are still different religious views, ‘But without the total context, the epistemological field provided by a unified Christian society, it is difficult to know whether or not an analogy is intended’. This makes it difficult to decide whether or not a text has successfully mirrored or represented the Christian faith, or even whether the writer intended it to do so. It is hard to say where to draw the line on how many or to what extent the religious parallels need to exist and how this has been portrayed in the various texts that may or may not be attempting to re-tell sections of the Bible, for example, in an alternative way.
There are many ways in which Harry Potter is different to Jesus Christ, but these can be claimed to be due to the fact that a realistic character that allows us to relate to Christ could not be identical to the historical Jesus we know of. The fact that Harry’s scars appeared at the beginning of his life and Jesus’ at the end show a difference between the two yet the fact that they both had these significant marks are enough to create a parallel between them. The same can be said about their respective conflicts with authorities. Jesus’ conflict was with religious authorities who eventually succeeded in creating his death. Harry’s conflict was with political authorities who were not the same enemies as those who caused his death. However, the fact that they both found conflict with authorities and both then suffered self-sacrifice is too big a similarity to overlook.
There are of course many ways in which Harry Potter is unlike Jesus Christ it is clear to see that there are also many similarities between the two, enough that we could fairly claim that Harry Potter is a Christ-Figure and has been created so as to follow a similar pattern within the Harry Potter series as Jesus goes through in the Bible. The reason Rowling does this is clear, as Douglas Grouthuis claims, ‘Spiritual discernment may be at an all-time low in both the Church and in the world’, and it seems that popular culture (in this case fictional literature) is a positive way in which religious motifs can be injected into mainstream culture. Abanes disagrees with the notion that Harry Potter represents a Christ-figure but even he agrees that ‘However one judges the literary calibre of Rowling’s books, it cannot be legitimately denied that she is meeting some widespread need shared by adults and children alike’. Perhaps this need is for spirituality to be expressed in contemporary ways using alternative devices and mediums.
In this case such a medium is fictional literature, in which Christ-figures are found and holy subtexts are created. ‘If the critic wishes to determine whether or not a figure in a modern novel is a “fictional transfiguration of Jesus,” he must establish the presence of a configuration of motifs and not be content simply with a single motif’. Such motifs must also be taken in context and understood in context. It is not helpful to claim that Harry Potter did not die on the cross therefore is not a Christ-figure, but yet ignore the fact that he still willingly sacrificed himself in order to save the rest of the world essentially. A holy subtext here can be seen in the following way: ‘In essence, a filmic narrative can have a dual nature, namely, an overt plot plus a covert storyline of varying complexity that is comparable to the metaphorical or symbolic within literature’. In the same way, literature can show this duality between plot and subtext, as highlighted in the Harry Potter series.
It would have been illogical for Rowling to create a perfect and flawless character who never strayed from the ‘good’ path as this would be hard for people to relate to. Before secularisation occurred, it may have been much easier for people to believe in a perfect Jesus as these people also believed in miracles and myths. As time has changed, so has the human mind and its ability to process such ideologies. In contemporary society it is more believable and popular to have a flawed character that we can relate to, who becomes someone much greater. No person is sinless, and in knowing this it is hard to say that any person could relate to a sinless character. Just as historians during the Enlightenment wanted to make the world more believable and realistic, Rowling is simply creating a more believable and realistic character, but one that can still be redeemed of his flaws and do good as Jesus did.
Harry Potter is a Christ-figure. He displays countless characteristics of Christ and the series exemplifies many of the key notions of Christianity, such as Sacrifice, Love and Redemption. This is significant because it portrays how contemporary literature is being used to bridge the gap between Christianity and modern secularization by showing a parallel between the protagonist and Jesus Christ in an alternative way. This alternative way is necessary to prevent people from rejecting the historical figure of Jesus and allows them to relate to him on a personal level because he is portrayed in a more realistic way. This is found within the Harry Potter series with Harry himself displaying many of the characteristics of Christ through the alternative setting of a wizarding world and through the use of flawed characters that grow as the series progresses, just as real people do.
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