After I finished the Lord of the Rings series for the first time as a child I remember putting the final book down and being filled with such a poignant sadness because it was over, yet it was a sadness that was only poignant because it was filled with so much hope. Frodo and the fellowship had won the day and it seemed like everything bad might just “come un-true,” but the pain they experienced on the journey left them all scarred in some way and in the end the only place they could turn for solace was in the Grey Havens, to the “far green country and to a swift sunrise.”
It was a complicated emotion for a young child to feel. In some way or another I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since. All my favorite pieces of art capture that sad hope. I take it as a sign that I am not at home in this world and as a promise that this journey that seems like lost wandering is truly a homecoming. I take it as my truest religious sense, which art helps me to awaken. Awake, I am able to look out at the world and see the tragedy of its bondage and long for it too to experience it’s promised awakening.
Finishing Harry Potter again recently I could not stop thinking about The Lord of the Rings. J. K. Rowling has created a story as powerful and original as Tolkien’s, awakening the same longings in me for justice and truth, and promising their inevitable fulfillment. It may seem “childish” to react so deeply to a children’s book, but, if so, it says more about the world of adults than it does of the world of children.
Each book in the Harry Potter series is a story in and of itself, but each of them contributes to the larger story going on in the whole series, which culminates in the seventh book. If you have not read it yet, let me say that the culmination does not disappoint. Rowling satisfactorily answers the questions she raises, and as you turn the last page of the book you find that you were being prepared for the moment from the very first page of the first book. It all holds together in the most wonderful way like few stories I have read.
Rowling has received much criticism for her books, much of it, I am sorry to say, coming from the Christian community. The stories concern magic and wizards and some have accused Rowling of writing the occult into her books. (Jerram Barrs addresses this concern and more in part one and two of his lectures: Harry Potter and the Triumph of Sacrifical Love. I recommend them.)
It is an important question, because it calls into question the moral value of reading these stories. The first answer one might give is to point out is that while these stories involve magic and wizardry the stories are also happening in a moral world. Evil is shown as being really evil, with disgusting consequences. Rowling makes you love the people you are supposed to love in a moral universe. Harry Potter and his friends are children any parent would want their kids to grow up and be like. They love each other dearly, and, while they are not perfect, the series is full of instances of the reconciliation, redemption, and forgiveness that true community draws out of us. The magic in the Harry Potter series is portrayed as being a tool like any other, neutral in itself. Its goodness or badness depends on the person who uses it.
There is so much to be said about the parallels the themes of the books have with the Christian worldview. They show that evil falls back on itself and bears its own judgment within it. Rowling has written a complex understanding of idolatry into her stories. In the seventh book, Harry comes across a verse of the Bible scrawled into a tombstone which puts voice to one of the books themes. The verse says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The verse is like a key to understanding each characters motivations, just as it is in life. The series mirrors the Biblical worldview in that it plays out in a world that has gone terribly wrong, and the drama is the work of putting it to rights again. There is a climax and good wins, however, there are also echoes of a deeper hope beyond death, as another Bible verse on a tombstone suggests, “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
Finally, you cannot talk about the parallels between Harry Potter and the Biblical worldview without talking about what the books say about the triumph of sacrificial love. In each book Harry sacrifices himself to stop evil from happening to his friends. In this he is a true hero, and, at the end of the series, we find that this is exactly why he is able to overcome. He has as deeper magic than all Voldemort’s might, which Voldemort does not know about. It is the magic of love, and the series portrays the truth of Christ’s words when he said, “greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
I am reminded of what another great english writer, C. S. Lewis, said to a young boy who was worried that he loved Aslan, Lewis’s mythical lion in the Narnia series, more than he loved Jesus. Lewis told the boy that his love for Aslan was the same thing as his love for Jesus, that Aslan could help him love Jesus better. The Harry Potter series makes me love Jesus more and draws me to worship God because of his gifts to writers like Rowling and for seeing the Great Drama played out in miniature on the page.
I recommend the books to you and to your children. I will certainly read them to mine.