Since the first Harry Potter book was published in 1997, Christian parents have been deeply concerned about their children enjoying stories of witches and wizards. But the final scenes of the last installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, demonstrate the many biblical principles that these books contain.
The series chronicles Harry’s battles against the satanic figure, Voldemort, who is constantly associated with snakes and whose name means “flight of death” in French. Harry is known as “the boy who lived” because he mysteriously survived Voldemort’s attempt to kill him as an infant. His mother, Lily, whose name has overtones of peace and the resurrection of Easter, dies to save him, leaving behind a charm of protection created by her love.
In book five, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, we learn of the prophecy that Harry’s life and death are bound up with Voldemort’s. “Neither can live while the other survives.” Harry assumes that he must either kill Voldemort or be killed by him.
By book six, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we learn that Voldemort has split his soul into seven pieces in an attempt to cheat death and maintain his reign of evil. Harry’s task is to destroy each of the objects, “horcruxes,” that contain pieces of Voldemort’s soul. In the final book, we learn that Harry himself is a horcrux (a word that suggests the Latin for “horrible cross”), which is why Harry must die to defeat his enemy.
Harry’s identity as a Christ-figure is reinforced when he travels to his parents’ graves on Christmas Eve. The war monument in the town square, when seen with magical eyes, becomes a statue of Lily holding the infant Harry, replacing an image of violent conquest with one of the Madonna and Child. Dumbledore’s family gravestone contains a direct quote from the King James Version of the Bible, Matthew 6:21: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Harry’s parents’ grave contains another biblical quote from 1 Corinthians 15:26: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”
In the final scenes, Harry has his own Gethsemane experience when he realizes he must sacrifice himself willingly in order to save the world from Voldemort. His “disciples” are absent, leaving Harry alone to face the truth. Although he is initially furious at Dumbledore—his wise, white-bearded mentor who represents God the Father throughout the series—“Harry understood at last that he was not supposed to survive. His job was to walk calmly into Death’s welcoming arms.”
Like Jesus, Harry gives himself up to be killed. He places his wand inside his robes, and does not fight back. Immediately after dying, Harry finds himself in misty, ethereal afterlife that reminds him of King’s Cross station, another reference to Jesus’ manner of death. Dumbledore appears and tells him that he has the choice to go “Onward” into a heavenly realm, finally joining his loved ones, or to return to the world and take part in the final destruction of Voldemort.
Again like Jesus, Harry chooses to return to earth, following his death with the resurrection. One of Harry’s followers kills Voldemort’s snake, the only remaining horcrux, and the last battle ensues. Yet Harry does not kill Voldemort. Although his friends have always been concerned about his non-violent ways of fighting evil, he remains non-violent to the end. Voldemort is killed by his own rebounding death curse. Unlike the many action movies in which the hero violently kills the villain, this book reminds us that the only way to defeat death is for the Christ-figure to die and be raised to life again.
The most basic biblical principle in these books is that all of our actions have eternal consequences. Characters who die in the pursuit of righteousness do not die in vain. Whereas much of popular culture teaches children that all of their needs can be met by material possessions, Rowling joins C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien in their vision of the world as a battle ground of spiritual forces. We all have both good and evil tendencies, and it is our choices that define who we are.
While Christian parents do not want to encourage the practice of witchcraft, those who read and discuss these books with their children will discover many powerful biblical lessons. Rather than teaching our children to fear popular culture, we can teach them to engage their minds in understanding their place in a complex world.
Eleanor Nickel is an English professor at Fresno Pacific University. She teaches courses on literature and film and has published several articles on film and television, including Seinfeld and The X-Files, in academic journals. Audrey Hindes teaches biblical and religious studies classes at FPU. She is a graduate of FPU with a master’s degree from Graduate Theological Union.