Harry Potter: learning from a childhood friend

5 years ago Triangle 0

By Dhember Viera
Triangle Writer

'Hogwarts Express' photo (c) 2009, Chris Shervey - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

For those of you who aren’t Harry Potter fans, I need you to imagine a whole new series. When I think about the Harry Potter I read about on some Christian websites, and then I pick up my battered copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, I see two entirely different works. One presents the series as manuals of witchcraft that will lead you to hell, but the story contains a lot less darkness than a Christian novel or two. It’s a story about a lonely boy who had to grow up way too fast. A story that stuck the hearts of the kids in this nation because of its honesty and characters that felt so alive.

Where we see truth and beauty, we see God. He is the source of everything good. He breathed man and it was good. He wrote the first, and the ultimate best seller – the one that has saved lives and souls. Ultimately, he is The Word. He chose to write songs, historical facts and letters of advice, and he chose to thread it all together into a narrative with  His people – us –  breathing poems that He writes on the palms of his hands.

Stories are important; they are woven into the fabric of the world. Stories save and break and smash mountains down. And is it any wonder why someone would get so passionate over seven books full of the most fantastic stuff that’s ever been written? Every good story echoes the Good Story. Harry Potter’s similarities to Jesus aren’t even subtle. Without giving the ending of the series away, you’d have to be blind not to notice the parallels between Harry and Jesus. Self-sacrifice is a quality found in the best of heroes, and Harry isn’t lacking it; but unlike Jesus, Harry has flaws. Harry’s like us.

Why Harry Potter?

Bravery and selflessness, the classic arcs of heroic development, bouncing back to connect to our own lives. Humor, tragedy and characters so three-dimensional, so real, that you swear they’re your own friends. If we should ever have to choose between what is right and what is easy, Albus Dumbledore is there to tell us that there’s only one way to go: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” Because “The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution,” and because “one can never have enough socks.” There are so many nuggets of truth between these pages that have been pitifully ignored.

Because racism is battled so clearly in these books, and family means so much. Because outcasts are never as black as they’re painted. Because of the cozy nights staying up and too much homework, because of feasts, because of magical creatures. Because “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much” – because “All was well.” Because good versus evil. Because loyalty. Because courage. Because death. Because life. Because love. Because I believe that if you’re a human being, made in the image of God, there is something between those pages for you. That’s why Harry Potter.

Now… Why Not?

At the core of the fantasy book genre, runs magic. This applies to such beloved works as The Lord of the Rings and Narnia, and it isn’t as if magic is a simply evil force in either world. Gandalf has the same title as Harry, and uses his magic all over the place. Peter, Susan, and Lucy are given magical presents from Father Christmas in the Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Harry Potter’s main plot point is, “a boy goes to wizard school.” This probably would have still produced some hype, but the cherry on the icing was the fact that JK Rowling didn’t stop at “wizard” but threw in words like “witch”, “warlock”, and school subjects, besides the pure fantasy classes like broom riding and charms (where one learns to do things like enchant pineapples to tap dance), like the more shifty “divination” and, say, “ancient runes”. Things a kid could go over and pick up a book on. Yes, the way I could walk over to the mythology section after watching Marvel’s Thor and start praying to the Norse gods.

You may have seen the Headlines: JK ROWLING IS A WITCH! JK has said herself that she doesn’t believe in magic. That, I think, might be some of the problem. Since she doesn’t believe in magic, I’m guessing that she doesn’t have any problem picking up some of these names and applying them to her fantastical, phoenix and dragon wand-waving group. Rowling is an extremely, extremely detailed author, and will utilize historical names and suspicions with a twist – witches have always been rumored to ride brooms? She gives us a sport where people ride on racing brooms like the Comet 260, and gives us a history book about its origin (which is all completely made up) – laughing off any historical relevance this might have had with her humorous retellings. Even when concepts aren’t jokes or comic relief, they’re not meant to be taken from our world. She does this in other, innocent areas, too, like the creatures in her stories. Hippogriffs? What are those? They’re from ancient legend, like dragons, and have been researched down to the last speck.

This isn’t to say I commend her for doing this; she perhaps should have taken these real-life forces more seriously. But if she never meant these things to be taken seriously within her made up world, maybe we should calm down about the series just slightly. JK Rowling has also said she has never met anyone who has said they want to be a witch after reading her work. That’s not what Harry Potter is. It doesn’t take you by the hand and say, “Look, here’s a bunch of magic. Wouldn’t it be cool to learn it? Why don’t you go and do that in real life?” Like any good fantasy story, like Narnia or Lord of the Rings, it pulls you in saying, “Look at this world I’ve made, where the laws of nature are different, where all-too-human emotion is pushed to the breaking point by situations that happen outside our sphere of living, where good and evil shine through so much the brighter, so much the clearer”

It’s true, though, the more power something has for good, the more power it could have for evil. Harry Potter can be misused – if you wander off and start applying any fantasy to real life, often things will get seriously messed up.

For example, there’s this thing called the Internet that all the kids are on (Have you been hearing about this? Apparently it’s supposed to be awesome) that is horrible and life ruining. Actually, I think we should all shun those that use Wi-Fi. Do you know how many terrible issues there are on here, teaching kids how to use it right, working through the principles, practicing good judgment and discerning what it’s wonderful to build on and what parts of it weren’t meant to be invested in,  that would be silly!

Some say the Harry Potter books are too gory or scary, and frankly, that’s a little ridiculous. Read through the Old Testament and tell me if everything you find there is rated PG. That might seem like an invalid argument because it’s showing us how we are not to live, but Harry Potter is doing just that, as well. Light will never shine without some darkness.

There is a worry that, in Harry Potter, the line between good and evil is blurred, when both sides use magic. Is this a legitimate concern? Not as much as you might think. Harry has moments of arrogance, and pays little attention to school rules, but he gets called out on this. When Harry and his friends go all-out and start a mini rebellion at Hogwarts, it is because the school has been corrupted by people who are too comfortable with the safe world they think they inhabit. Too comfortable to realize that they must be ready, because evil is coming and they must be prepared to fight. Not every act of mischief is repaid, and no character escapes flaws, fights, and the effects of the human condition, but that is what makes these stories so successful. The characters are absolutely, one hundred percent human.

The Harry Potter series, as I have said, has many excellent themes. They’re not just played out in an intriguing, well-mapped, and endearing setting that you could read about for hours and still be surprised and enchanted by. They’re not just peopled by characters that live, breathe, break and mend your heart. I’ve listed a lot of the best themes, but allow me to go into a little more detail here.

Good and Evil: this runs through all seven books, with Lord Voldemort as a very clear and evil presence, and various characters as secondary villains, all quite dastardly, being battled by Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, McGonagall, and a team of people who still care. Comeuppance is doled out in the Deathly Hallows, though I’m not going to spoil it by telling you to whom, or how much.

Love: For the most part, the romance is good and healthy. Love, especially familial love, is an important and protective thing throughout this Harry Potter series. Without giving spoilers, I can’t say too much, but I’ll let you know that one of the main villains is the way he is because he was born out of a fake, formulated relationship induced by love potion (which is shown very obviously to have no comparison to real love). Dumbledore, the wise, Gandalf-type character, says, “Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love.” Love is said to be the only protection against lust for power.

Death: Especially in the last books, death is examined and we are taught that, while it is devastating and terrible, it is not something to fear overmuch. We see that it is not the ultimate terror, empty, cruel, twisted life can be worse. This is one thing the villain, Voldemort, fails to see, as he seeks immortality and values his own existence as the highest thing in the universe.

Racism and Bigotry: Voldemort has a lot of parallels to Hitler. Again, I don’t want to give a lot away, but I will say that this issue is brought up in the second book and is part of the good vs. evil plot the whole way through thereafter, developing fantastically. Made-up concepts are substituted for racial discrimination, but the message remains, and outcasts who are shunned for less-than-honorable reasons are examined through the eyes of children, who are far less prone to see colors or peoples’ outsides than adults are.

Friendship: It carries us along on an adventure of proven and re-proven loyalty, and is always there in the dark. It goes through its ups and its downs, as real relationships do, but some things are meant to last, and this is one of them.

Family: Harry has lost his parents. It is revealed in book one that he wants nothing more than to meet his mom and dad again, and throughout the series, family is explored with a rather wholesome air. It is something to be desired. Harry’s best friends come from very different families. One is an only child, and one comes from a clan of seven children guided by two loving parents, who, despite being rather poor, are always ready to welcome Harry in and give him a haven. Throughout the seven books, several father figures watch over Harry, teaching him and giving him good advice and love.

These themes and others put focus on things that are noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy and, best of all, things that are true.