Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Harry Potter Analysis, part two

Note: As with my previous post, this post contains spoilers for those who haven't read the complete Harry Potter series. Proceed with caution.

The Messiah figure is quite common in literature...and particularly in the genre of science-fiction and fantasy. One reason for that is, in the world of science fiction and fantasy, unlike other more "realistic" genres, coming up with a way to have a character die and come back to life is easier. It simply takes a bit of magic or whatever.

But not all Messiah figures are created equal. Take The Matrix. Neo is, undeniably, a Messiah figure. He was "prophesied" as being "the one" (and even his name is a anagram of this). And, at a key moment in the movie, he dies. Only after his death and subsequent resurrection does he have the power to defeat the agents that led to his death.

And despite later symbolism, such as Neo's "ascension into heaven" at the very end of the movie, and his ability to raise Trinity from the dead in the second movie, Neo, as a true Messiah figure, kind of falls flat. Nothing leading up to his death and resurrection really can make him like Jesus Christ.

In Lord of the Rings, we have Gandalf, and his death and eventually resurrection as well, after dueling the "demon". But, again, his role as "Messiah figure" is limited. He, ultimately, isn't the salvation of all...but merely salvation of some of his friends. Of course, Tolkien didn't set out to write allegorically.

Harry Potter is different. While he, too, was prophesied as the one who would save the wizarding and muggle worlds, and while he eventually dies and comes back to life (in a sense), he is a stronger representation of the true Messiah, Jesus Christ. Why?

First, the true Messiah was a model of perfection. He lived a perfect life. This was key, because in order for him to be the final sacrifice for all, he had to be the "spotless lamb" that God had required of the Jews for generations. And while Harry wasn't exactly perfect, what is clear is that he, unlike even Dumbledore before him, approached his role as "savior" with a pure heart. He was never seeking anything for himself. He was seeking truth. Repeatedly, Dumbledore admired Harry for his pure heart, his ability to love, and the love that was shown to him through his parents. He was able to secure the Deathly Hallows because he wasn't, as was the case of Dumbledore, seeking to raise himself up as powerful. He wasn't proud.

And it was this very quality that made it possible for Harry to defeat death, and ultimately, Voldemort.

Harry also had his "disciples" prior to his death, including friends Ron and Hermione, as well as others. But he also had his "pharisees". The kids (and grown-ups) who despised who he was. The Malfoys, for example.

As the Messiah figure, Harry ultimately defeated death, "Satan" (in the form of Voldemort) and brought about a "heavenly kingdom"...that is, a wizarding world that no longer had to live in fear.

Now, the figure I find more complex in is Dumbledore, so I'll attack that another time.

Friday, August 03, 2007

A Harry Potter Analysis

I'd like to warn anyone who hasn't read through the final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, to stop reading now. This entry contains spoilers. You have been warned.

Back in college, I took a science fiction literature class. Despite my love of sci-fi, it was probably the hardest class I had ever taken in my four years at U of M. See, I never was one who took much stock in finding symbolism in books and movies. Mostly, that's because I didn't see. But in order to pass this class, I had to learn to see it. It wasn't until several weeks in that I noticed a strong pattern of Christian imagery showing up in science fiction. The Messiah figure, for example. So, it hit me. I know about Christianity, being a Christian myself. Christian imagery was something I could do. So, I skated by (barely) through the rest of the class finding Christian imagery in everything we had to read (even if it wasn't there).

So, you might not be surprised for me to note the strong Christian imagery found in the Harry Potter series. How much was intentional on J.K. Rowling's part, I don't know.

It starts before the beginning, with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and a prophecy. Throughout the series, Voldemort is portrayed as being snake-like, speaking in the language of snakes, and even having a "pet" snake, Nagini. You can't help but compare this to the Genesis account of the serpent, representing Satan, in the Garden of Eden.

In Genesis, the serpent is cursed after leading Eve astray: "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heal."

Voldemort attacked Harry's mother, killing her. But her love protected him, and ultimately Voldemort merely "struck Harry's heal", leaving the scar. But this scar wasn't enough, and ultimately, in the end, it would be Harry who would "crush Voldemort's head".

Like Satan, Voldemort sought absolute power. And like Satan, Voldemort managed to lead many astray (Death Eaters compared to the fallen angels or demons). Incidentally, I think Death Eaters, as a symbol, represents multiple things, this only being one of them.

Another comparison to the demons or fallen angels are Dementors, soul-sucking creatures who come to serve Voldemort. If viewed as spiritual beings, the only defense against Dementors are another "spiritual" being, the Patronus. Our word "patron" is derived from the Latin word patronus, which means protector. The Patronus, in Harry Potter's world, is represented by light, compared to the Dementor's darkness.

Once Harry has been "marked" by Voldemort, he became "the chosen one", the one expected to be the salvation of the magical (and muggle) world. As a side, I can't help but see the magical and muggle comparison similar to the Jews and Gentiles. Anyhow, as we finally learn in Deathly Hallows, Harry must die in order to defeat Voldemort. But death, alone, is not enough. And with the help of the Deathly Hallows, Harry ultimately overcomes death. While he spends time (3 days in the tomb?) in the King's Cross station, he ultimately "raises back to life". Harry was, with no attempts to hide it, the Messiah figure. And once Harry defeated death, Voldemort had no power over him.

The Hallows, themselves, seem to be a symbol of the trinity, at least in my view. It is only through this trinity that power over death comes. We have the Invisibility Cloak, which I would equate to the Holy Spirit. Then there is the Resurrection Stone, symbolizing Christ. Finally, there is the "Elder" wand. God the Father (ultimately elder). I don't know that the symbolism goes beyond that. For example, I'm not sure that the Elder Wand's actions/power is supposed to be compared to God the Father.

That's enough for today. I'll follow up with more in a later post!