Saturday, 16 July 2011

Harry Potter reflections: Opening Remarks

The Harry Potter series of novels is one of my favourite reads. They are texts I can return to again and again and find new meanings within the text. In particular Christological and theological readings. This is not to say that Harry is Christ, or that Hermione, Ron and the others represent the Disciples, but rather that the stories in themselves reflect the basic Christian story, but also try to understand the nature of such diverse elements as: redemption; love; friendship; failure; weakness; and how what may appear to be weakness or failure can in fact reflect the nature and victory of love over evil.

Much has been written on the Harry Potter novels, one of my favourite writers is the Hogwarts Professor, John Grainger, whose work explore the Christian, English literature and alchemical readings of the texts. His writings show the multilayered readings of the text and how thought through the novels are. He also shows how the novels are deeply theological and Christological. My aim in this blog is to expose these readings and to try and show how they have influenced my own readings of these texts.

Redemptive Arcs

Examples of redemptive love litter the Harry Potter novels like fallen leaves following an autumn storm. In particular redemptive paths can be found in Dudley Dursley, Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy. On first reading none of these characters have anything going for them. All are bullies, all seemingly hate Harry and all that he stands for. And yet each of them responds to redemptive love.

Both Dudley and Malfoy are fairly easy to fathom. At the beginning of the novels, both are obnoxious little boys, spoilt to the point of ruination, they see power and authority over others as their right (over Harry in particular) and choose to reinforce their view of power by coercion or outright violence. Interestingly both of these boys share a similar narrative ark and both find redemption in similar ways – being saved from death.

Both Dudley and Malfoy are the children of abusive relationships: Dudley has been spoilt from birth and has been given no boundaries - what he wants, he gets and when he doesn’t get he throws a tantrum; Malfoy is similarly the child of abusive parents, but the abusive is more subtle and malign. Like Dudley, Malfoy sees power as his right, power over others or power in situations beyond his control. He has been taught by his parents that power is his right and that he should expect subservience from others, who are automatically his inferiors. Everyone else is inferior to Draco, whether because they are poorer than him (the Weasley family); because of race/ birth (Hermione); or, because he feels threatened by innate goodness and wholesomeness which sits at the heart of some people’s characters (Harry).

The narrative ark is easily to follow. Both start out as abusive little boys, gradually turning into older bullies, flexing their muscle, usually by using sycophants as their tool. Both nearly reach rock bottom: Dudley turns to quasi-gang violence to intimidate others; Draco agrees to kill Dumbledore if it will allow him and his family to live. Both, however, have their lives saved by Harry, both metaphorically (they are turned away from their downward narrative ark) and literally. Dudley is saved by Harry’s Patronus from marauding Dementers. Malfoy is saved from the balefire unleashed by his friends in the Chamber of Secrets.

Both redemptions are not wholly selfless however. On both occasions Harry is in the process of saving himself from danger when he comes to save Dudley or Malfoy as well. These are not then totally selfless acts, but they are all the more human for that. Harry is not Jesus and therefore does not act in a Messianic way, he is a young man left with a terrible geas/ burden, yet his redemptive act is ‘Christlike’.

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