Harry Potter and the Communion of the Saints

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In the category of preaching to the converted:

Each book of the Harry Potter series is imbued with great Christian lessons. We might argue over Rowling as stylist or Rowling as successor to Tolkien and Lewis or Rowling as literature; however, to the reader who has spent any time with the books, Rowling as devout and informed Christian is nowhere in doubt. Each book teaches something about the believer in Christ and how that believer behaves in certain circumstances.

The particular event of interest occurs at the end of the fourth book of the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It is spectacularly portrayed in the movie, and caps the book off with a scene horrifying, dramatic, and stirring. Harry Potter and Cedric Diggory have both touched a device that transports them to a place where the bane of the series Lord Voldemort await the arrival of Potter. Upon arrival, Cedric is summarily dispatched and Harry's blood is used to revivify the skeletal, embryonic Voldemort.

Then ensues the duel in which Voldemort attempts to finish off what he began so many years ago--the death of Harry Potter. The two engage.

Now the remarkable instance--in the course of the engagement Harry sees Cedric, Harry's mother and father, and (in the book, if I remember correctly) a whole host of those whom Voldemort has killed over time. Harry's mother tells him, "We can only give you a little time." The host descends upon Voldemort giving time for Harry to run to Cedric's body and transport the two of them back to Harry's world.

If, in this instance, we allow Voldemort to stand-in for sin, which, as we know from St. Paul leads to death (hence the derivation Vol-de-mort or "flight of death"--which will have several meanings in the series) we can see the communion of the Saints as it works. We engage in a battle with sin, temptation. We are the combatants. The fierceness of the battle and our faith summons help from Heaven's throneroom, the Saints, who engage through prayer the powers, principalities, thrones and dominations, that trouble Heaven and our own world. As Harry's mother advises, they can only give respite, it is up to us to flee from sin--but they can and do intercede for us providing the out--we can escape if we move away (of course aided by the Saints and God's will).

This image is reinforced later when Dumbledore, unpacking the experience for Harry, reminds him, "You know, we can never bring back the dead." Harry doesn't seem to understand this for what it means, but it is very clear to the reader that we cannot bring back the dead because, in fact, they never leave us. They are a cloud of witnesses gathered about us thickly and participating in every event of our lives--those tied to us by blood, most fiercely, but aided by all the warriors of Heaven (It is my hope that, undeserving as I am, the chiefest of those warriors is the Holy Mother of God and the Great Redwood of God, St. Therese.)

Thus, embedded, entangled, and completely blended throughout her series of novels, Rowling gives us lessons and views of how Christianity really operates. "But no one ever goes to Church or prays, or anything Christian." And of course, as anyone knows, that is less than nothing as an objection because the same holds true for both Tolkien and Lewis, her forbears in the art of bringing the truth of Christianity to the unsuspecting reader.

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Is it only the reader who is unsuspecting? Do we know enough about J. K. Rowling's beliefs to say that she believes in the Communion of Saints?

Dear Tom,

You ask a pertinent question--and one that has been discussed back and forth over a wide range of conversations. I believe she is a communicant in the Church of Scotland, and I am not qualified to comment upon their position on the communion of the Saints in the way we understand it. (Although even the Baptists would argue that the Saints in Heaven plead for those on Earth before the throne of God--so in that limited sense of the Communion, I don't think there's much difficulty.)

But I will note that the question asked is essentially irrelevant in literary studies where it is acknowledged that authorial intent can never fully be known because the Author him or her self is not fully aware of all the influences on the work. There might be a stated intent and that can inform some of one's interpretation of a work, but one examines more than that and looks at the leitmotif and the symbolic and semiotic analyses that hold the work together and interpretation sits in those realms rather than in the strict realm of authorial intent or even authorial conscious knowledge.

For example, many people acknowledge and read Wallace Stevens' "Sunday Morning" as the poem of a atheist at the height of his conviction against religion. And yet, if read carefully, I believe there are already traces there of the conversion that would come late in Wallace Stevens's life.



I love Harry Potter. You asked once what books I read and I forgot to mention this series. I began to read them because my oldest son was interested and I wanted to know what he was reading first. I got hooked pretty quickly.

I'm hardly the literary critic, but I think Rowling is an excellent writer not just because she tells a good story, but sometimes she is very good at conveying the sites, smells, and sounds of a scene as well as the emotions that the characters experience.

Dear Goodform,

I know that I enjoy her writing. I recognize that others are better stylists, but I like Rowling anyway.

Also, I think she is a good writer because she does grapple with very big, very important issues but doesn't tend to sermonize and lecture about it and shows some of the failings and foibles of even well-intentioned actions. In short, she seems to be interested in the truth and in telling children the truth in the course of a ripping good yarn. While religion never overtly obtrudes on the discourse, the whole alchemical work and the web of significant names--Dolores Umbridge, for example in a recent work, make for a very rich reading experience.



My son also turned me on to the Rowling books. I hadn't thought of the books in the way you present here, but wanted you to know you've given me a shiver. Wonderfully written, and a lot to think about.

I read not long ago that Rowling was in the US for a thingie with Steven King and another famous author who's name escapes me. When she went to the airport to return to England, security demanded that she check her manuscript for the last book (This was just after the terror threats about planes being blown up between England and America and no carryons were being allowed). Apparently, her manuscript for the last book is handwritten and is the only copy... she would not part with it and was prepared to stay in America if they tried to make her... they finally relented and she flew back home. :)

Can't wait for the final book!

I love this analogy of the scene in Goblet of Fire. The people who come out of Voldemort's wand are all those he has murdered, and I never thought before about them as a sort of "communion of saints" about Harry, helping him, as they do, to hang in there, hold tight, until he can escape death. Good thoughts.

And I think, as Tom points out, that because this is a series in progress, we can't know everything about Rowling's beliefs. She herself has indicated that if she talked more about her faith, it would give away the ending of the books. It would be like asking JRRT after LOTR was first out: what do you believe? Is this Christian allegory? metaphor? and JRRT would probably have said, let me write the books first. Then we'll talk about them.

I think Rowling will be much more apt to discuss the contents of her books and her faith once the series is finished, so I eagerly await the seventh and final book. Because I think her views are not just Christian, I think they are very Catholic.

Dear Ms. Brown,

Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. Especial thanks for leaving a return address. I'm so sorry I have been unaware of your blog until this post. It looks like there's much good stuff for homeschoolers and others. Thank you.



You're welcome, and thanks for the kind post about my upcoming study guide, which should be out within about a month.
Now I have to search and see if you've posted more about Harry Potter.

"imbued with great Christian lessons"... indeed. To the extent that ANY story, pagan, Christian, "post" Christian or even anti Christian harmonizes with the One Story (the only story which is both story and true, see GKC's "The Everlasting Man") it will necessarily teach such truths.

Yes, like my friend Nancy, I expect that we shall hear a good bit of the "underpinnings" once the stories are completed. Hence I would also like to augment Nancy's comment with an interesting line from one of John Dickson Carr's mysteries:

"Are you working?"
"No, I was reading a detective story."
"Oh. Is it - is it good?"
"I don't know. It's reasonably well written. But I can't tell whether it's good until I've finished it."
[John Dickson Carr, The Dead Man's Knock, 2]

The HP stories might be classified in many ways, depending on what one is trying to prove - but I have always considered them to be detective (or mystery) stories, wherein a puzzle is stated, clues are uncovered, and (eventually) the explanation is given, much as the Divine Detective explained His own murder, while walking with Watson(s) on the road to Emmaus... This suggests another quote, from another powerful author:
"...she writes detective stories and in detective stories virtue is always triumphant. They're the purest literature we have."
[Dorothy Lee Sayers, Strong Poison, 127]



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 19, 2006 9:17 AM.

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