Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Very Christian J.K. Rowling?

(Image from Wikipedia)

Well, I've had a lot of fun with a couple of posts on Harry Potter, but all joking aside, let me say something more earnest about the latest (and last?) in the Harry Potter series.

As I noted in the humorous posts, a faction of evangelicals (and also other Christians, including some Catholics) are opposed to letting their children read Harry Potter because of the witchcraft, wizardry, and magic, which they see as anti-Christian.

Some fantasy writers are anti-Christian, of course. Philip Pullman, with the series His Dark Materials, comes to mind. Pullman, by the way, is a far better literary stylist and descriptive writer than Rowling but lacks the latter's storytelling skills ... in my opinion, of course.

Rowling has never struck me as anti-Christian. Her first book seemed simply to ignore Christianity, perhaps as irrelevant to her story, but as the books have grown darker and more serious in their exploration of evil, Christian symbols have begun to surface at key points that might indicate something more than purely 'pagan' going on underneath ... like finding Christ in Beowulf or in the reworked Celtic myths of Medieval English literature.

For instance, at a certain point in the story, Harry and Hermione visit Godric's Hollow, the place where Harry would have grown up if Voldemort hadn't murdered his parents. Harry and Hermione are on a quest to defeat Voldemort, and here are some excerpts that suggest Christian allusions:

The snow here had become impacted: It was hard and slippery where people had trodden on it all day. Villagers were crisscrossing in front of them, their figures briefly illuminated by streetlamps. They heard a snatch of laughter and pop music as the pub door opened and closed; then they heard a carol start up inside the little church.

"Harry, I think it's Christmas Eve!" said Hermione.

"Is it?"

He had lost track of the date; they had not seen a newspaper for weeks.

"I'm sure it is," said Hermione, her eyes upon the church. "They . . . they'll be in there, won't they? Your mum and dad? I can see the graveyard behind it." (page 323)
Now, the thing to note here is something easily missed. Godric's Hollow is a town where many witches and wizards live, perhaps even outnumbering the 'Muggles' (nonmagical folk), yet a church stands in the middle of the village. Moreover, Harry's parents are buried there among other witches and wizards.

Rowling takes this a step further in some of the wording on tombstones:

[Hermione] pointed to the dark stone. Harry stooped down and saw , upon the frozen, lichen-spotted granite, the words Kendra Dumbledore and, a short way down her dates of birth and death, and Her Daughter Ariana. There was also a quotation:

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (page 325)
Rowling doesn't identify this quote, but it's from Matthew 6:21, which in its original context was about laying up treasures in heaven rather than upon earth. Harry, raised by Muggles who seem not to have been religious, doesn't understand the quote:
Hermione was looking at Harry, and he was glad that his face was hidden in shadow. He read the words on the tombstone again. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. He did not understand what these words meant. Surely Dumbledore had chosen them, as the eldest member of the family once his mother had died. (page 326)
Some minutes later, they find the grave of Harry's parents:
And he knew by her tone that it was his mother and father this time: He moved toward her, feeling as if something heavy were pressing on his chest, the same sensation he had had right after Dumbledore had died, a grief that had actually weighed on his heart and lungs.

The headstone was only two rows behind Kendra and Ariana's. It was made of white marble, just like Dumbledore's tomb, and this made it easy to read, as it seemed to shine in the dark. Harry did not need to kneel or even approach very close to it to make out the words engraved upon it.

JAMES POTTER - - - - - - - - - - - - - - LILY POTTER

BORN 27 MARCH 1960 - - - BORN 30 JANUARY 1960

DIED 31 OCTOBER 1981 - - - DIED 31 OCTOBER 1981

The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

Harry read the words slowly, as though he would have only one chance to take in their meaning, and he read the last of them aloud.

"'The last enemy that shall be defeated is death' . . ." A horrible thought came to him, and with a kind of panic. "Isn't that a Death Eater idea? Why is that there?"

"It doesn't mean defeating death in the way the Death Eaters mean it, Harry," said Hermione, her voice gentle. "It means . . . you know . . . living beyond death. Living after death."

But they were not living, thought Harry. They were gone. The empty words could not disguise the fact that his parents' moldering remains lay beneath snow and stone, indifferent, unknowing. And tears came before he could stop them, boiling hot then instantly freezing on his face, and what was the point in wiping them off or pretending? He let them fall, his lips pressed hard together, looking down at the thick snow hiding from his eyes the place where the last of Lily and James lay, bones now, surely, or dust, not knowing or caring that their living son stood so near, his heart still beating, alive because of their sacrifice and close to wishing, at this moment, that he was sleeping under the snow with them. (pages 327-328)
Interestingly, whereas Harry misunderstands the words about defeating death, Hermione seems to know the meaning of the quote, which is again biblical (from 1 Corinthians 15:26) and which suggests that Hermione herself might have been raised by her Muggle parents as a Christian ... though whether in a personally significant way or in a merely cultural sense remains unclear.

I'm not sure what Rowling is up to with these quotes, and she may be using them in nonbiblical ways, coded statements containing clues for Harry to draw forth and interpret, but there is also this description of a moment in Harry's quest for the means of defeating Voldemort when he finds the crucially needed instrument lying at the bottom of a forest pool, the sword of Gryffindor:
He moved forward rather cautiously and looked down. The ice reflected his distorted shadow and the beam of wandlight, but deep below the thick, misty gray carapace, something else glinted. A great silver cross...

His heart skipped into his mouth: He dropped to his knees at the pool's edge and angled the wand so as to flood the bottom of the pool with as much light as possible. A glint of deep red... It was a sword with glittering rubies in its hilt.... The sword of Gryffindor was lying at the bottom of the forest pool. (page 367)
In Medieval Romance literature, a bejeweled Christian cross is sometimes symbolized by a sword due to their shared form, and that sort of thing may be happening here. Also of significance is that Harry drops to his knees. I don't think that such an expression could be chosen by an author in this sort of context without an allusion being made to Christian prayer ... not that Harry himself realizes this, for he seems not to.

What does this all mean? Is J.K. Rowling, like C.S. Lewis, writing Christian 'allegory'? I don't know. I still need to finish the book and do some more thinking.

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At 1:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Prof. Hodges,

You have been inattentive. See:

John Granger, “Harry Potter and the Inkings," CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C.S. Lewis Society, Nov./Dec. 2002, at , and

J.K. Rowling, Interview with Max Wyman, published in The Vancouver Sun (British Columbia), October 26, 2000, at

Glad you're not teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts.

As I understand they say at the Hogwarts near you:
Daw yawlshimhi kongbuhayhettnundaeyo!


At 2:04 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

I have seen post in which she is said to be promoting libertarian values.

At 2:37 AM, Blogger Jessica said...

There are some serious Jesus parallels in the last few chapters of the Deathly Hallows. You are definitely on to something. I'm looking forward to your later posts.

At 2:39 AM, Blogger Jessica said...

As an aside, are you interested in Last Call by Tim Powers--semiotics meets urban fantasy? Light, fun stuff.

At 4:44 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the two sources, 'Hermione,' which you were kind enough to provide. I was aware of them and had collected a list of such articles but had been putting off that sort of reading until I'd finished the series. Anyway, I read the listed articles yesterday after my post. You might be interested in this most recent one:

Dave Bruno, "Harry Potter 7 Is Matthew 6," Christianity Today, August 2007.

Dark arts? Yes, would that I knew some defenses against the dark arts. I'd be able to protect this site from attacks by the likes of ChickenHead Jon.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:44 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, I recall hearing something similar, but I don't remember where.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:49 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jessica, I'm going to post a little bit this morning but don't have much time because of a conference today in which I have to present a paper -- on celibacy in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Tim Powers? Never heard of him. I'll try to take a look.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Hodges,

Somebody told me irritating posts had been written under "Chicken Head Jon".

This is not me... but it does explain why you have been telling everyone that I am Silly Sally.

Please keep in mind that I only have posted on Lost Nomad and ROK Drop where I can reach a USFK-related audience. I have never posted on your blog before... nor do I have reason to.

Further, while I certainly can be irritating, I write in a specific and consistent style on a limited number of themes... mostly corruption/incompetence in USFK... which should be hard to mistake for anyone else.

While I have not seen the posts you are referring to I would be surprised if they are a convincing copy of my ideas or style of which numerous examples exist on Nomad/ROK.

As for the anonymous Silly Sally, our tactics in presenting information are quite different. I am not Silly Sally.

Further, I am hardly anonymous and I never been shy about speaking my mind under my own identifiable name. I have NEVER posted under a name other than ChickenHead.

I hope this clears things up. I may be an asshole... but I'm not this type of asshole.

If you have any questions,


At 5:52 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

J!, thanks for the comment. Yes, I had concluded that Silly Sally was a sock puppet for ChickenHead, but not because Silly Sally had explicitly identified as such here on my blog. Rather, some comments at Nomad and ROK Drop led me and others to think that Silly Sally was really ChickenHead.

From Googling just now, I see that on July 11, 2007, you posted a denial at ROK Drop that you are Silly Sally, so I see that you've tried to deal with this problem of confused identities.

I'll un-conclude that you're Silly Sally (your style here does sound different) and return to not knowing who Silly Sally is.

I'm sorry for the misunderstanding.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget the part where Harry notices a statue of Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus in the village. The statue catches his eye, because it reminds him so much of himself and the parents he lost a long time ago. Just as Jesus died on the cross and resurrected, it foreshadows Harry's death and his overcoming of it.

A Grade 12 Canadian Student =)

At 12:04 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, I'll take a look at that again. Can you remind me what page it's on?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:22 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


Actually that statue WAS Harry and his parents; that's why it just looked like an obelisk to muggles. But yes, you could think of it as symbolically represnting Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

But to reemphasize: the statue WAS of James, Lily, and Harry, left in their honor.

At 2:22 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Lunah.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:08 PM, Blogger kookaburra_1 said...

though these are christian, i find the inscriptions really quite moving, given the idea that hopefully harry will see his mother and father on the last day. i was really very touched by the inscriptions (both) and love j.k. rowling's use of imagery-i refuse to ask too many questions. i just believe in h.p.

At 2:54 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Kookaburra 1.

Jeffery Hodges

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