A few important observations concerning Harry Potter and his magic world
by Janneke Smits
My name is Janneke Smits, I live in the Netherlands and at this moment I am 19 years old.
In 2006/2007 I had to make a final paper for my school. I chose fantasy literature, or more precisely: the Lord of the Rings (Tolkien), the Chronicles of Narnia (Lewis) and Harry Potter (Rowling). I am quite interested in these books, maybe even more in Tolkien and Lewis than in Rowling, but anyway, my greatest investigation was for Harry Potter.
I found out that there are many different opinions about Harry and the magic world he is living in. I collected these opinions and thought them over; this article is the result of my research. It deals about magic, good and evil, the growing darkness, alchemy and more interesting items.
Magic is necessary
If Harry were to be a student at a normal boarding school, many things could happen, and a very exciting story could be told, but it is the magical element that provides so many more possibilities.
Harry's world is not accessible to everyone. It is hidden from those who live in the normal world-the world of non-magical people. Harry lives in the normal world; yet, he also lives in another world. This duality resembles the position of today's Christian. We live in this world among other people; but, we also live in another world. This second world cannot be defined by borders or described with familiar words. There are people who know nothing about this other world. There are people who do know, but wish that they did not. These are the people who deny and dispute it. To others, this world is invisible; for Christians, it is more than real. It is alive for us. Christians and the people who populate Harry's magic world have something in common. They all believe in a world that binds people together. Not everyone can enter this world; but, for those who know the way to it, there is a shared connection.
This is why magic works so well in the Harry Potter books. This special and inaccessible second world is different from the visible normal world. In the second world, there are more possibilities. There is another dimension and more perspective. There is more than what meets the eye.
People living in the magic world do not choose to be there. They have something inside of them that makes them a part of this universe. They have strength and a magical capability that distinguishes them from those who do not share these qualities. Harry does not know anything about this realm of magic until he is told about it by a messenger from the other world. Harry's aunt and uncle have always known about the existence of the magic world. They felt no need, however, to visit and learn about it; so, they stayed away. They are not interested, because they do not have a special inner strength. Harry does recognize the magical strength inside of him.
In reference to the normal world, the attitude of Harry's aunt and uncle calls to mind the difference between someone who is familiar with the gospel of Christ and someone who is not familiar with it. The person familiar with the gospel is someone to whom the gospel has been revealed, and he is eager to know more. He has something the other person has not. The person who is unfamiliar with the gospel sometimes perceives something about it; but, because it is not real for him, he turns away.
Young readers and, in particular, those who are familiar with Bible stories understand Lewis' story about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In their mind, these readers have joined in the fight, and they dream about Aslan. They just know that Aslan is good. They believe that Aslan is Jesus, and they want to be with Aslan. There are many children who want to live in the land of Narnia, together with Aslan and the Pevensies.
How does this desire arise in children? I think that children simply see the difference between good and evil. You do not have to tell them that the White Witch is wrong, and that they have to choose Aslan. This is why the Harry Potter series is so popular. One may choose to either deny or believe in the magical world; but, magic shows how different and special this second world is.
Good and Evil
Books and movies depicting good and evil are a success because everyone is affected by good and evil. It is no accident that The Lord of the Rings is a beloved book. There is a reason that the movies are well received by the audience. Everyone desires to have the courage, when in the thick of the fight between good and evil, to choose good, war against evil and, finally, gain the victory. I think that the theme of good versus evil appeals to everyone, and that this is one of the reasons why the Harry Potter series has been received so enthusiastically. Harry is not just a common pupil attending a school for witchcraft and wizardry. He is an individual, in an invisible world, where he has to fight against evil. He must, and wants, to choose good. Many children sympathize with this human boy and wonder whether he will persevere. Children wonder whether he will he keep on fighting for good.
Good and evil are easy to distinguish in Harry Potter's universe. Harry and his friends are good; his enemies are evil. Children are absorbed and interested in this antithesis. Harry's magic realm, however, is not limited to good and peace-loving people. Everyone in the invisible world knows that there is an enemy who is a serious threat to the magic world. Non-magic people have little, if any, trouble with this enemy and his followers. In later books, this enemy and his followers use violence against the people in the non-magic world.
The people in the non-magic world are still unaware of the existence of this enemy, who is named Voldemort. He is so frightening that most people in the magic world are afraid to say his name; they call him You Know Who. He has a lot of power and influence; but, he uses these powers in the wrong way. Voldemort fits very well with our image of the two worlds; namely, the common world and the invisible Christian world. Christians know that, inside the second world, an enemy is present-an enemy who has a lot of power and many followers. Christians know that this enemy and his followers may attack us from the inside. Although he is really dangerous, he does not have the last word. We notice his presence and know that he is busy. We see the results of his actions in both worlds. Some deny him, and some see him. It is necessary to choose good and defend against him, so that we can triumph.
This is our story-the story of Christians. This is also Harry's story. We have seen resemblances between his life and our life. We have seen that Harry's situation is quite similar to ours. We, along with Harry, live in two worlds and ally in a fight in which we have to choose between good and evil.
Christians are divided and have different views. Some say that Harry Potter is a diabolical occult series, and that the books are not suitable for Christians to read. Others say that the series is instructive, constructive and symbolic for Christians. Both views base their theories upon the Bible; but, how is that possible?
The ability to distinguish
Christians must be able to distinguish good things from evil things. On the surface, the books seem to be just nice stories. In fact, though, they cover ancient magic and wizardry in a new and innocent form. There are people who understand the ancient magic and wizardry in the books. There are others who say that the books can never be viewed as Christian books because they do not speak in any way about the real war between light and darkness. These arguments are not valid, and this is why: all seven books do tell about the fight between good and evil, and Harry has to combat either Voldemort or his servants in each book. The main theme of the books is that the good have to defend themselves against the dark powers in the magic world. This central theme is what the Harry Potter story is about. It's also about making choices, falling, and standing up again. This is also the reality of the Bible.
Regarding the ancient magic, the author describes it in an airy way. Magic is necessary, however, as was discussed earlier in this paper. It creates more perspective when compared to the normal world. The second world has a surplus value - another dimension.
The people who are saying that we must be cautious of occultism are absolutely right. However, this does not mean that we have to renounce Harry. There is no reason to assume that Harry and his friends lead children to the evil side of magic; that is, black magic, even though occult web sites and organizations have joined the craze surrounding Harry Potter. In this respect, the films have had a negative impact on some people's perceptions.
Can we blame a book for the way the readers read it? Can we blame an author for what readers do after reading a book? When Die Leiden des jungen Werthers was published, many teenagers committed suicide. Was Goethe responsible for this? The way that a person reacts to a book is dependent upon the type of reader a person is; for example, what does the reader extract from a book, and what is his reaction to what he has read?
Some time ago, a sect in America censured everything that could possibly be a bad occult influence, including the Bible. Do we have to do that again? The Bible also writes about magic and wizards, fortune-tellers, evil spirits and violence. This does not mean the Bible is wrong. Accordingly, mentioning magic, or describing it, does not mean the book is wrong and that we have to avoid the books. The Bible mentions these things so that we can learn something. Also, reading requires scrutiny and the ability to distinguish.
It is a fact that not everyone can read the books of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Some readers are more sensitive and cannot distinguish between good and evil; others do have that ability. That's okay, though. There is not just one point of view. No person can decide for all Christians what they should read or not read. The reason is simple; it cannot be known with certainty how readers will react. Two Christians opposing each other, both with the Bible as their base, shows us that the reaction of readers is not easy to predict, and that interpretation of a particular book has to be more personal.
Another objection is that the stories contain elements which refer to black magic, such as witches, wands and ghosts. No witch or god is worshipped; they are just there. Magic is a thing by itself in these books. That is the distinction between ancient magic and the author's fantasy. In the books, only inauthentic incantations and spells are used.
Another misunderstanding is that human beings are sacrificed; but, this is not true. Harry's mother does sacrifice herself when she saves her infant son from Voldemort. However, this is no real sacrifice, according to the Bible. The Bible calls self-sacrifice a virtue; so, this argument is not valid.- There has been talk of drinking animal blood in the series. While this does occur once, with Voldemort drinking the blood from a unicorn, no one else dares to do this. Everyone in the magic world has been warned that drinking the blood of a unicorn will cause the drinker to be cursed. Only depraved people dare to do this; therefore, this argument is not valid.
Still another objection to the Harry Potter books is that the author writes about ghosts being conjured and manipulated. This is not true; no ghost is conjured and brought to life. It is possible to see a deceased loved one in the Mirror of Erised. This is a mirror in which a person can visualize his deepest wish. When Harry looks into this mirror, he sees himself with his deceased parents. One can also envision a loved one by thinking of them. However, deceased loved ones do not actually return to life. Dead remains dead in the Harry Potter stories.
Maybe the author has borrowed a few things from mythology; but, this does not matter. Children do not have knowledge of this subject; so, they are not curious about it. It is the same with C.S. Lewis' creation, Mr Tumnus. Some people say that this faun is a copy of the god Pan, who was a symbol for all kinds of evil practices, such as fear, perversity and superstition. This is hard to believe when you've read the story about the anxious faun who helps a girl escape from the White Witch. Children who have never heard about Pan just sympathize with the little faun who is in the snow with his umbrella. There is nothing wrong with this story. It is only when parents react hysterically that the pleasure of reading good books disappears. Children can become lost, and their pleasure of reading good books can be spoiled. There is no need for this to happen.
The growing darkness
When you look at these arguments a little closer, and examine whether they are really applicable to Harry Potter, they become invalid. The author had a certain intention when she started writing the books. Maybe she just wanted to write a series full of fantasy. It is also possible that she wanted to tell about the things that are very important in her life, such as the war between good and evil, and the final victory of the good. Joanne Rowling is a Christian. Therefore, she writes with a Christian view of this world. Consequently, there are Christian elements and symbols in her books.
The main theme in the stories of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling is the battle between good and evil, and the final victory of good over evil. In the books of all three authors, it is easy to distinguish light from dark, and it is easy to know what choices to make and how to act. However, you know also that if you were the main character, you could possibly choose the wrong side. Beneath the fantasy, one recognizes the reality of Christianity. The main story remains the same; but, you begin to recognize that there is a deeper meaning that you did not notice before.
In the Harry Potter books, there is murder and the darkest kind of magic ever imagined. It can be said that, sometimes, this darkness goes a little too far - further than is actually needed. The tension increases, along with the darkness. Perhaps, this is not suitable for young children. People who do not like tension may seriously question it, but we must not forget, however, that there is no accounting for taste, and that everyone's taste is unique. It is absolutely true that the combination of fantasy and tension produces queer situations. Nevertheless, the decision of whether or not to read these books remains the choice of children and their parents.
Harry Potter for Seekers
I wrote to Hans Andréa, the owner of www.harrypotterforseekers.com, and asked him for his opinion regarding the increasing darkness and tension. Hans, as well as some of the members of his discussion group, commented as follows:
The darkness is not at all growing. The story starts with a double murder and an orphaned boy who's left to live with a terrible family. How can the tension possibly grow? However, this is not a really strong and convincing argument, and Rowling agrees. She is a Christian and an author; so, that makes her a Christian author. This fact, however, does not make her an apologist.
Her books are growing in intensity because the characters are growing up, and the world around them is changing. It is becoming dangerous and hostile, the Dark Lord is present. The worlds of fiction and fact are coming to their ends; so, what else would one expect?
Besides, J.K. Rowling may write about violence and war, because the story in which she believes is, after all, one of violence and war. The Gospel talks about violence in order to make us aware that we must change, in order to gain the Kingdom of Heaven. As for Harry, he behaves wrongly sometimes, and he does make errors. He is just a normal human being. He falls and rises again, as do all of God's children. The author has made Harry imperfect, because she wanted to tell about the purifying mental journey of a boy who is lost in this world, but seeking a better world. This is a very long process. (See chapter three regarding alchemy.)
If Harry were an accurate paragon of virtue, there would have been no purpose in writing the series, as no one would ever learn anything from it. It would have been a boring story. It is Harry's struggling and wrongdoing which enables him to overcome his enemies. That is where the real tension lies, it lies not with the Dementors and Death Eaters. The glorious moments are when Harry overcomes his personal frailties. This allows Harry to emerge victorious over his enemies.
Rowling considers the books to be a moral story about love and death. She writes about what is happening in this world (and the other world), and it does no good to tell children that there is no evil in this world--no enemies and no dark side. It will harm them more if you tell them that there is no evil, nothing can personally harm them, and there is noting to fight against. For children, it is valuable when they know that, whatever is happening, even when things are going wrong, God is always there to help and empower them. Maybe evil people are around us; but, God is inside us. When you can face evil, it means it cannot get hold of you - ever. When you face your fears, you are made stronger.
Finally, the author does not write only about dark and evil things. She also writes about good things; namely, friendship and love. In the common world, there is no time left to question why we are here, who we are and Who sent us. The books answer these questions. The books serve to remind us of a call that we do not remember hearing - a call that we have forgotten about during the course of our everyday lives.
Harry, on the contrary, has heard the call, and he has begun the journey to find the answers. He struggles along the way; but, he keeps on going. He knows that the common world is not his final destination. He knows, and believes, that there is more, and this is why he has gone on a quest for it. He is the prodigal son who is returning to Father. The books are filled with light, and Harry leads us home to our true identity.
As for the fantasy animals, some say that they are occult and refer to black magic, but, that is unlikely. I mean, the griffin, the phoenix, the stag, the centaur and the hippogriff are just magical animals. Although one can set up a beautiful theory about it, my opinion is that the author has not shown that these animals point to Christ.
Alchemy and literature
Alchemy is a practical nature philosophy in which elements of astrology, religion, chemistry and medical science are combined. Alchemists try to transmute base metals into gold. Furthermore, they try to find the Sorcerer's Stone, which will make them immortal. The transformation of base metals into gold can be compared to a purging process.
Authors sometimes use alchemy in their books to show the purging process of the main character in their book. The most common process consists of three phases: the black phase (nigredo), the white phase (albedo) and the red phase (rubedo). Authors sometimes incorporate alchemy into their books, because the three phases run parallel to the spiritual journey of people in today's world.
Alchemy is also used in the Christian tradition: black phase - sorrow, obedience and the break from this world; white phase - lightening, purification and remission; red phase - we will not reach the third phase in this life; but, it is the final destination for each Christian, which is the holiness in God's glory by His mercy. In literature, this equates to a new start and a better life.
Alchemy and symbolism
Everyone reads the books in his own way. Every person has his reasons for why he reads the books, and what he finds interesting about them. We have seen that the story about the orphaned boy relates much to our personal story, which is seeking the Truth and the Light. We have seen that the main theme, and a few smaller details, is Christian based.
I do not believe, though, that the author uses animals such as unicorns, griffins and hippogriffs in her books because of their (sometimes dubious) significance. I also do not believe that she had the idea of using fantasy animals because they relate to Christ. This is what some people are saying, in their enthusiasm to find a message in Harry Potter.
There are also extensive theories about the names in Harry Potter. These theories are really amusing to read, as they are very inventive. However, other than the desire to honour her friends and favorite writers, the author does not attach any special significance to the names in her books. There are, though, names that refer to the alchemical phases (see chapter three). The names also do not have an evil meaning. J.K. Rowling has said in interviews that they are chosen for no special reason.
Alchemy applied to Harry Potter
Harry's life is more or less set firm. Every year, he goes to school and then returns home during the summer holidays. This routine is not really interesting, at first glance. Now, however, we are going to look at his life in another way - alchemically.
Alchemy can be described as the transformation of something common into something special; that is, lead becomes gold. Today, alchemy is no longer existent, and is only used as a synonym for magical transformations. J.K. Rowling has also used alchemy in her books to show Harry's mental journey. Alchemy can be seen in the following ways:
- The title of the first book is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (also, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone). Finding this stone is what all alchemists were aiming for. - There are also a few names which refer to alchemy. The head of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore, was Nicholas Flamel's partner. Flamel really existed, many years ago. He was a famous alchemist. In the book, he is the owner of the sorcerer's stone.
- Hermione Granger, a friend to Harry, can be a reference to Hermes, because Hermione is the female form of Hermes. Hermes Trismegistus was a great alchemist, and he was the one who founded alchemy. - Harry's father is named James, and James was the patron saint of the alchemists. Harry's mother, Lily, is possibly a reference to the alchemical process, because the lily is a symbol for the purifying second phase. - Harry himself transforms in each book. He learns to let go of invaluable things, and no longer to be dependent on the outside world, because Voldemort will use this weakness to attack him sooner or later. - In alchemical theory, sulphur and mercury play a significant role. The lead becomes purified with the help of these two things. Sulphur and mercury refer to the male and female side of life. Sulphur is the impulsive male pole and mercury the cool female counterpart. They affect the lead, both together and alone, in order to make gold. In the books, the sulphur and the mercury are represented by Harry's two best friends, Ron and Hermione. Ron, an impetuous boy, is the sulphur, and Hermione, an academic young woman, is the mercury. Due to their friendship, and thanks to their quarrels, Harry develops his true identity.
- There are three people who represent the three phases in Harry's life. There is Sirius Black, who represents the first phase, which is black. Albus Dumbledore represents the second phase, which is white. The word albus, in Latin, means white and sparkling. Rubeus Hagrid represents the third phase, which is red. The word rubeus, in Latin, means red. All three of these people are good friends to Harry. Also, a red lion is used in the last phase. The red lion is the symbol of Harry's Hogwart's house, Gryffindor.
In every book, Harry goes through three phases. These phases begin at home, where he lives with his terrible aunt, uncle and cousin. Harry experiences nothing but trouble and meanness from his relatives when he is there. When Harry returns to school, it is while he is under the supervision of Headmaster Dumbledore that Harry is being purified. A lot of challenges come his way, and he has to go through great pains to save everyone, including himself. At some point, he usually becomes separated from either Hermione or Ron, or both. Harry then endures a final challenge - a fire-ordeal - which is the last phase. Harry usually dies a figurative death and is brought to life again by love. He emerges victorious, becomes more famous, and receives praises and even applause. Sometimes, his house wins the house cup. Once Harry has passed through this cycle, at the end of the year, he returns to his mother's family, where he prepares to go through the next year's three phases, perhaps wondering what is going to happen the next year.
The books are each alchemistic in tone; but, the overall theme of the Harry Potter series is related to alchemy. Harry starts each book as someone who is depressed and enduring a lot of trouble. He then goes to school, where his time there can be violent. He usually has to defend himself against his enemies, and almost dies a few times. He is saved by the love of his friends, who believe in him.
In the first phase, Sirius Black dies; in the second phase, Albus Dumbledore dies. Maybe Rubeus Hagrid dies in book seven to begin the third and last phase in Harry's life. This third phase will begin a new life for Harry. He will be rid of his enemies and his own frailties. This phase ignites a life of light.
Great authors have used the language of alchemy, because it helps us to make contact with the place in our heart that is destined to react to the Great Story. The Great Story is the promise of us living in Christ. This empty place, which has the shape of the Gospel, is present in everyone's heart, because we are all made by our Heavenly Father. In spite of all the trash and unconcern that attacks us every day, and a culture and schooling that has made us almost immune to the Great News, we become happy and desirous for it when we see just a shadow of it in narrative literature.
Hans Andréa said something like this: J.K. Rowling uses a secret language, a language of symbols. This language is very old, but is still used a lot. Carl Gustav Jung, a psychologist and philosopher, studied this language during his life, and he called it the collective unconscious. Collective, because we all understand it, in spite of being separated individuals, and the symbols affect us all in the same way; unconscious, because it simply slinks into our minds, while we are reading, or something like that. A few of these symbols are called archetypes, and one of these archetypes is the hero. Everyone immediately understands this hero. He appears in many of the great stories of the past and present.
In The Lord of the Rings, Narnia and the Harry Potter books, he is present. This is another reason why the series is so popular. The story of this boy and his adventures seems familiar to readers. The reader feels that he knows him, because he recognizes him as the hero. Their unconsciousness resonates with the archetypes in Harry Potter. Because every soul is a Christian soul (we are all made by the Great Potter), people all over the world love the Harry series. However, many people lack the secret code that enables them to see this. They have closed their minds to it, and do not see the wood for the trees.
The message of Harry Potter
There are many opinions about Harry and the world in which he is living. Is it diabolic and occult? Or, is it Christian? People try to find answers, with the Bible in their hands. I think that perhaps, without herself knowing it, Rowling has used a language which everyone understands; namely, the language of symbols, with the archetype hero as the main character: Rowling's hero is Harry. In addition to this, I think that she has also used the alchemy theory in her books in order to show the mental journey of her main character, Harry.
Harry can teach us about how to fight against evil and how to choose the light. Because of the language she uses, and her Christian background, it may appear to be intentional that the author is teaching about how to fight evil; but, I do not think that this was purposeful on her part.
When one looks at the books in a negative way, one sees wands, pointed hats, the errors Harry is making and the dark powers which are present in his world. However, when one looks in another way, one sees a son of man who, like us, fights for the good side, struggles, falls, stands up again, cries, laughs and, finally, gains the victory. The real characters, recognizable and authentic, attract the readers, and readers recognize themselves in Harry.
You cannot judge a book by its readers, because everyone discerns different things from the books. People who understand and recognize the universal language in the story, and want to listen to it, know what the boy can tell us, and to which story Harry Potter is referring. In fact, everyone should understand it; because, everyone is meant to search for the Light. This is why so many people like the books. On the other hand, many people do not want to think further about a story concerning wizards and magical adventures. The Harry Potter books have a deeper meaning; but, many have locked their hearts to it.
The darkness is growing in the books. That is no more than a realistic representation of what is happening in our world. This world is ending, and decay can be seen everywhere. It is of no use to deny that. Harry's world is also coming to its end, as the darkness grows. We must fight to defend ourselves against the evil enemy. It is useless - perhaps, even harmful - to feign ignorance and act as if there is no evil. Despite the growing darkness, Harry Potter tells a story about love, friendship, life and victory. When the battle is done, the fighters will be purified and perfected. They will emerge victorious, knowing that their suffering and struggling were not in vain.
Harry lives, as do we Christians, in two worlds; namely, a normal world and a world full of light. This world of light is our destiny.
Following is a Bible verse which really does apply to the main thought of my paper:
But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you. To him be the glory and dominion for ever and ever.
1 Peter 5:10
Janneke Smits, 2006-2007
Edited by Jayne Johnson