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!

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

you can't also forget the parallels of free will demonstrated in the differences and similarities in Voldemort and Harry's lives. *SPOLIER* Also think of the willing death of Dumbledore at the end of book six, his willing death, the manner of his death (lying with arms spread wide in a tree), and the line of it is not your mercy that matters but mine.

I may argue that Harry represents more of a humanity figure than a Christ or Messiah figure but I think it could go either way.....You did pull a lot of things that I hadn't thought of yet and I appreciated your analysis of the books =)
Shalom,
Troy

Anonymous said...

Hmm... I for one rarely go looking for Christian symbolism in books, but some of the things you pointed out are pretty interesting.

I'm especially intrigued by the Deathly Hollows symbolizing the Holy Trinity. The Elder Wand in particular makes a lot of sense -- after all, it is decided that it is too powerful and that no one should wield it, i.e. no one should 'play god'.

The loss of the resurrection stone could be taken to mean that Christ will not be resurrected a second time. However, the stone is not destroyed, it is merely lost in the forest.

But I am mystified as to how the invisibility cloak symbolizes the holy ghost, especially as Harry wears it all the time. The holy ghost is supposed to lead people to faith, but the cloak is an item of concealment; I suppose it could be taken literally in that it makes one ghost-like, but not holy ghost-like.

Anonymous said...

overall, HP is an awesome series, my favorite, in fact. The seventh book was disappointing to me, because there were many unexplained things that suddenly pop up... like the elder wand. we had no idea this even existed until halfway through book 7. same goes for the resurrection stone. we knew about harry's cloak, but it became one of the most powerful objects in the world before our eyes. also, there are no clues of its power, for example, mad-eye moody can see through it, though its supposed to be "impenetrable." then, we have the question of the diadem. harry suddenly knows to ask the gray lady how she died(which happens to be because she was killed by the bloody baron). these ghosts are hardly mentioned throughout the series. then we have ron getting into the chamber of secrets, when (+only+) the heir of slytherin is supposed to be able to get in(remeber, harry is related to salazar slytherin [and therefore lord voldemort through the peverell family]which is why he can enter.), but ron says "he imitated the noises harry made." if anyone could just imitate parseltongue, the chamber wouldve been found YEARS ago. plus, this is irrelevant to the story, because the diadem gets burned, not stabbed with a fang. another problem is the elder wand in draco malfoy's hand. what if he and his friends were fooling around over the summer and they disarmed him. harry wouldve never gained control of the wand, and therefore, may never have beat voldemort. harry got VERY lucky on this instance.

there is then the exapmle of snape's loyalty. many saw coming that he was the good guy (myself included) for one reason only; dumbledore believed him innocent, so that was that, snape must be good no matter what. he is my favorite character, however, and if there was one person i'd like to see live was him. it wouldve been great to see snape and potter unite as friends, even for a moment.
as for the weasley twins, you cant have one without the other, so weasleys seemed slightly diminished without him. however, it was fitting that he die in his last laugh.
hagrid was presumed deaed, then found by death eaters. how did they get him, he was in the midst of dozens of acromantulas!
and you have to admit, wormtail's death was pretty lame. the way dumbledore talked about life debts, you'd expect him to die heroically for the cause of good(he's a gryffindor, where's his bravery?!), but no, he gets strangled by a magic hand, and doesnt help harry whatsoever.
also, there were way to many hair's breadth escapades in which they just escape with there lives. the malfoy manor was an irrelevant chapter (unless you count the fact that harry gains control of the elder wand, [which lets face it, couldve happened to anyone if they were practice dueling draco]), and on top of that, everyone's favorite elf dobby is killed because of harry's stupidity in saying voldemort's name.
in godric's hollow, i was again disappointed, hoping dumbledore would've left the sword there, maybe putting a play on the words godric's hollow(if there were a statue of goric gryffindor, maybe "gordic is hollow"),but the sword didn't turn up. i also was 99% positive harry was going to go into his old house and have a look around, maybe see where his parent's died. but he didn't, and instead escaped voldemort and his supporters for about the millionth time. there was only one thing i was absolutely sure of in godric's hollow, and that was that voldemort would come.
yet another hole in the plot is again about the three objects no one knew existed, the deathly hallows. surely, harry might've picked up on these objects over his 6 years in the wizarding world, possibly from dumbledore, or luna, who's father surely would've told her about them. but we don't get a single hint of these objects and then it turns out that the whole series relies on hallows vs. horcruxes. usually, Rowling is good at dropping hints that go unnoticed (most prominantly in the case of professor snape), but we have no hints of these hallows, unnoticede or not. even with these "plotholes" of the seventh book, harry potter remains my favorite series, and i hope to see more of her books soon.

Marcella said...

Part 1:

In response to the post on plotholes: Yes, there are several "plot holes" in Book 7, but several points you mentioned can be answered. Additionally, several are not plot holes at all, but simply aspects of the book you don't like. I will address each.

"we knew about harry's cloak, but it became one of the most powerful objects in the world before our eyes. also, there are no clues of its power, for example, mad-eye moody can see through it, though its supposed to be "impenetrable.""

I actually agree with this. Another thing to notice is that in all the other books, Harry "threw it over himself" like a blanket. In book 7, it was more like a literal cloak, going around his shoulders and over his head, like a hooded cloak. Which kind of implies that every part of the body does not need to be covered to become invisible.

"then, we have the question of the diadem. harry suddenly knows to ask the gray lady how she died(which happens to be because she was killed by the bloody baron). these ghosts are hardly mentioned throughout the series."

I don't think it was a plot hole. Harry saw her several times in the series, but never spoke to her. It appears that she didn't really speak to many students at all, given that she told Voldemort about the location of the diadem and he became who he did. Additionally he didn't ask her "how she died." He asked her about the diadem and she told him how she died. It actually makes a lot of sense that he would ask the Ravenclaw ghost, as she had been at Hogwarts amongst the Ravenclaws for God knows how long. He got lucky in that she was Rowena Ravenclaw's daughter and the one who told Voldemort about it.

Marcella said...

Part 2

"then we have ron getting into the chamber of secrets, when (+only+) the heir of slytherin is supposed to be able to get in(remeber, harry is related to salazar slytherin [and therefore lord voldemort through the peverell family]which is why he can enter.), but ron says "he imitated the noises harry made." if anyone could just imitate parseltongue, the chamber wouldve been found YEARS ago. plus, this is irrelevant to the story, because the diadem gets burned, not stabbed with a fang."

Well, think about it. Only direct descendents of Slytherin could speak parseltongue. I don't recall whether this is specifically stated in the book, but it is at least implied. If ONLY a relative of Slytherin can speak parseltongue, it is implied that ONLY the heir of Slytherin can open the chamber, given the words that must be spoken to open it. Harry could speak parseltongue because of the bit of Voldemort's soul in his body. Ron heard him speak parseltongue to open the locket, imitated Harry, and got the Chamber to open. And I disagree that the chamber would have been opened years ago. Consider these facts: ONLY Slytherin's descendants can speak parseltongue, and no one knew where the opening to the Chamber of Secrets was anyway. Keep in mind that it WAS found "ages ago" by someone who spoke parseltongue - Voldemort, and clearly he was the most gifted wizard in his family in a long time (look at the Gaunts). The chances that another of the very few parseltongue speakers who existed would have gone through the school saying "Open" everywhere until they found it are very, very slim. Harry only found it because Voldemort took Ginny down there and he followed to rescue her.

"another problem is the elder wand in draco malfoy's hand. what if he and his friends were fooling around over the summer and they disarmed him."

I wholeheartedly agree with this plot-hole. I have reconciled it, however, to make the story work for me--perhaps wands ally themselves to the winner of the wand, but still have some alliance to the original owner. Harry has been disarmed several times, in DA practice for example, and his wand is still his. Perhaps dueling doesn't count, because wands can tell that it wasn't a real battle. Or perhaps Harry was indeed extremely lucky--Malfoy probably wasn't very much in the mood to duel and joke around with friends over the summer, given other things (like Voldemort and his life and family) on his mind.

Marcella said...

Part 3

"it wouldve been great to see snape and potter unite as friends, even for a moment."

This isn't quite a plot-hole, but wishful thinking on your part. And I wholeheartedly disagree. Upon my first reading of Book 7, I said, "Oh my God, Snape actually loved Harry!" However, I have read through the whole series, including book 7, twice since then, and I realized a lot. Snape DID hate Harry. Harry was the spitting image of his father, and Snape hated Harry's father for several reasons--not only because he tormented him in school, but also because he took the woman Snape loved. Since Harry looked so much like his father, Snape probably saw much of James's personality in him (mostly the negative aspects), even though they weren't there. Additionally, Harry was the manifestation of the love between James and Lily, proof that James had won her over Snape. Snape didn't protect Harry for Harry's sake, but for Lily. Harry is lucky as hell he had Lily's eyes. When I first read book 7, I thought Snape was one of the most complex characters in the book. He is not. He is self-serving, spiteful, and vindictive. He hated Harry for things his father did, he drove Sirius into recklessness with no visible remorse. He only cared about the one person he loved--Lily--and his revenge on Voldemort for her death. For all we know, he only protected Harry because he knew Harry had to be the one to finish Voldemort. A couple things I do like about Snape, though--he is further proof of what Dumbledore says about the power of love and how Voldemort underestimates it. I don't think Harry could have defeated Voldemort without Snape (although Snape probably made it harder than it needed to be throughout the series because of his spiteful, vindictive nature). Yes, Snape is complex enough I guess, but I wouldn't give him as much credit as so many other people do. He is by no means the type of person I'd want my kid to grow up to be, for example.

"as for the weasley twins, you cant have one without the other, so weasleys seemed slightly diminished without him. however, it was fitting that he die in his last laugh."

I agree, I feel that this was one of the more unnecessary deaths. I understand that she wanted to show how no one is safe, anyone can die, etc, but damn. You can't split up Fred and George! You just can't!"

Marcella said...

Part 3

"hagrid was presumed deaed, then found by death eaters. how did they get him, he was in the midst of dozens of acromantulas!"

Hagrid's pretty tough, he either escaped and was found by the Death Eaters on his way out of the forest, or fought the spiders off until the Death Eaters arrived and fought them off with their wands.

"and you have to admit, wormtail's death was pretty lame. the way dumbledore talked about life debts, you'd expect him to die heroically for the cause of good(he's a gryffindor, where's his bravery?!), but no, he gets strangled by a magic hand, and doesnt help harry whatsoever."

I took issue with this at first as well, until my friend explained to me. After Harry saved Wormtail's life in book 3, Dumbledore said that Wormtail is indebted to him. This much was true--Wormtail could have killed Harry, but he spared him, undoubtedly because Harry reminded him that he saved his life. We must keep in mind that Voldemort created Wormtail's hand, and it was evil. Wormtail spared Harry's life, so the hand killed him. Perhaps it was punishment for his "weakness." Or perhaps the hand had already started the act of strangling someone and when Wormtail denied it the pleasure of killing Harry, it still wanted to kill something so it strangled Wormtail instead. Either way, Wormtail died because he didn't killed Harry because Harry saved his life, which fits neatly with the events of Book 3.

"also, there were way to many hair's breadth escapades in which they just escape with there lives."

Yeah well that kind of occurs throughout the whole series. Wouldn't have been as exciting without them, I'm sure, and I'd rather them escape than die in, say, book 2, and deny us the pleasure of reading the rest of the series. One big issue I have, though, is the way she executes some of his escapes. The "7 Potters" was completely unnecessary. Harry could easily have walked out of Number 4 under his invisibility cloak and Disapparated somewhere. Or he could've just Disapparated from Number 4 with someone via side-along apparition, or even with a portkey. Their excuse was "it is an imprisonable offense to Apparate here or place a portkey," but honestly, VOLDEMORT IS HUNTING DOWN HARRY AND THE ORDER ANYWAY! I highly doubt an unauthorized portkey would really make things much worse. They clearly had unauthorized portkeys in several places just one chapter later. Come on!

Marcella said...

Part 4

"the malfoy manor was an irrelevant chapter (unless you count the fact that harry gains control of the elder wand, [which lets face it, couldve happened to anyone if they were practice dueling draco]), and on top of that, everyone's favorite elf dobby is killed because of harry's stupidity in saying voldemort's name."

I think it is a very important chapter. Let's see--they get the Elder Wand, the goblin, and the wandmaker there in one fell swoop. Dobby's death was unnecessary, though. What took him so long to Apparate back after he left with Luna, Dean, and Ollivander? he could've come back, taken Harry and Ron, and grabbed Hermione and gone. They could even have used Harry's invisibility cloak or something. I honestly think that in several parts of book 7, she just finds excuses to have people (or houselves) killed. I don't think Dobby needed to die.

"in godric's hollow, i was again disappointed, hoping dumbledore would've left the sword there, maybe putting a play on the words godric's hollow(if there were a statue of goric gryffindor, maybe "gordic is hollow"),but the sword didn't turn up. i also was 99% positive harry was going to go into his old house and have a look around, maybe see where his parent's died. but he didn't, and instead escaped voldemort and his supporters for about the millionth time. there was only one thing i was absolutely sure of in godric's hollow, and that was that voldemort would come."

Yeah you were disappointed, but this was Rowling's choice as an author. No plot holes here, just your disappointment. If Harry found the sword in Godric's Hollow, another very important scene would not have occurred--seeing Snape's Patronus; having Ron rescue him from the lake; Ron coming to terms with his inner demons, destroying the Horcrux, and reaffirming his loyalty to Harry. A very important chapter.

Marcella said...

Part 5/6 (oops I numbered wrong)

"yet another hole in the plot is again about the three objects no one knew existed, the deathly hallows. surely, harry might've picked up on these objects over his 6 years in the wizarding world, possibly from dumbledore, or luna, who's father surely would've told her about them. but we don't get a single hint of these objects and then it turns out that the whole series relies on hallows vs. horcruxes."

This bothered me at first, too, but we must consider several things. Firstly, not everything was mentioned in every book. Neither the Quidditch World Cup nor the Triwizard tournament were mentioned until book 4, which the whole book was centered around. The Room of Requirement, very significant, was not hinted at until book 5. Additionally, Harry would not necessarily have picked up on the story of the Hallows in the wizarding world. It seems like little more than a conspiracy theory in the wizarding world, far-fetched like the idea of Atlantis in the muggle world and only followed by very few wizards. Also, keep in mind that most wizards DO know about the Hallows--they all heard about them in stories growing up as kids! It's only "conspiracy nuts" who believe in the story and seek the wand, just as people in real life search for Atlantis or UFOs, but most people don't believe they exist. Dumbledore didn't tell Harry about them because either he didn't think they were important at the time, or didn't feel the time was ripe for Harry to know--as with so many other things. As far as Luna not mentioning them...come on. She mentioned many other things, and I doubt she mentioned every single weird little idea she had. There is even a chance her father didn't let her in on the secret. And if he did, like I said, Luna would not necessarily have mentioned it to Harry.

"even with these "plotholes" of the seventh book, harry potter remains my favorite series, and i hope to see more of her books soon."

Ditto. There are several more plotholes that I have found that I will likely discuss in a later post. I agree that she is an amazing writer. I look forward to the possibility of a book (or a few) on Dumbledore's life!

Anna said...

The Room of Requirement is hinted at in Book 4 at the Yule Ball when Dumbledore says,

".I took a wrong turn on the way to the bathroom and found myself in a beautifully proportioned room I had never seen before, containing a really rather magnificent collection of chamberpots. When I went back to investigate more closely, I discovered that the room had vanished. But I must keep an eye out for it. Possibly it is only accessible at five thirty in the morning. Or it may only appear at the quarter moon - or when the seeker has an exceptionally full bladder."

Anonymous said...

This is all in your head. JK Rowling has said herself that whatever religious analogies are apparent are completely unintentional.

Anonymous said...

Even if the author didn't "intend" symbolism, there is something to be argued for reader interpretation. Just depends on your theory of litary critism.

Also, the messianic hero is a staple in the fantasy genre. As the original post nicely pointed out, Rowling borrowed from established tradition (which, incidentally is why we understand and love her story, instead of discarding it as "lunacy"). Perhaps the elements of this archetype are consequences of borrowing other features.

RyanBruner said...

"This is all in your head."

Undoubtedly. Such is the way of literary analysis, which the poster after you pointed out. I'd wager that most of the stuff found in literary analysis is all in the head of the reader, rather than the writer.

It is a reflection, not only of the writer's conscious intentions, but also the influences of their experiences and knowledge at a subconscious level. A great many people who have no believe in any kind of God end up writing stories with a Messianic character because it is so pervasive and familiar, regardless.

I posted these thoughts because I saw something in these books that I wanted to share, not because I'm suggesting Rowling was attempting to show us this.

In fact, I indicated this in my post: "How much was intentional on J.K. Rowling's part, I don't know."

Katelyn said...

Harry is not able to be at King's Cross for 3 days other wise that would mean that Voldemort was knocked unconscious for that long and the Death Eaters would have taken Harry away even if Voldemort was not awake yet. all the different symbolism from the phoenix to the 3 days that harry was unconscious after he defeated Voldemort the first time in The Sorcer's stone is very Fasinating.