Harry Potter, Death, and the Christian Experience

Harry Potter is a kids book, right? Just a fantasy book about magic and wizards that caused a stir among some religious communities?

Not exactly.

Talk to the readers who made J.K. Rowling the first and only billionaire author by purchasing 400 million copies and you’ll hear a different story: these are stories about overcoming adversity, showing enormous moral character, coming of age, the rise of a fascist dictator, and the fight of good versus evil. Although placed within the container of a magical world and fraught with mythical creatures and powers, what captivated millions was what was beneath the surface. Love. Friendship. Fortitude. Adventure. Virtue. Life.

For millions, it is the best adventure series they will ever read, one that has touched them deeply in a way that can never be forgotten.

And yet, talk to Christian readers, and you’ll find that there’s something even more. While Harry Potter fits nicely into the teen/”coming of age”/fantasy book category with The Hunger Games, Percy Jackson—albeit not as well written—there is something fundamentally different about what J.K. Rowling has done. Beyond the teenager themes of self-idenity and overcoming difficulties present each series, there is one theme that, I would argue, defines the Harry Potter apart from the rest: death. From the very first page to the last, death is pervasive. The whole series is built around the murder of Harry’s parents. Roughly 100 characters are mentioned to have died throughout. Harry himself (spoiler alert) dies in the seventh book… until he comes back to life. For the Christian, an adherent of a faith that is built upon a death and so has a particular understanding of the experience, this is something that immediately captures our attention. Is Harry Potter subtly Christian?

My answer? No. Harry Potter is overtly Christian. In the way it understands death, in the role that Harry plays for his friends, and most importantly, the way we should live our lives, I think that J.K. Rowling had a strong understanding of Christian theology when she penned this series. For me, Harry Potter is not just an amazing series of well-told stories, it is a glimpse into our faith.

That was the focus of my talk last Friday evening at Immaculate Conception Church: Harry Potter, Death, and the Christian Experience. I’ve included the whole 30 minute talk as well as 12 minutes of questions. If you have any questions of your own, please don’t hesitate to ask!

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7 Comments on “Harry Potter, Death, and the Christian Experience

  1. “spoiler alert” —- NO. Spoiler alerts are never justified, Casey. I haven’t read the 7th book yet, and I am not alone. It touches a nerve whenever someone takes it upon themselves to share anything that needs to be labeled “spoiler alert”. I am bordering on angry right now that that storyline was revealed. To make it worse, it wasn’t necessary in order to make the point of the post (which I haven’t finished). Arghh. But I still love you. Just never again, ok?

    • I’m very sorry for ruining that for you. In my defense, the books have been out for almost ten years… and for the purpose of my talk, it’s very necessary. My entire talk is based on that spoiler (meaning, you may not want to watch it yet!) Happy reading!

  2. Hi Friar Casey, Pax et bonum! I don’t get a chance to look at all your posts (although I have greatly enjoyed them), but I felt compelled to read this one when I saw that the subject line contained a Harry Potter heading.

    I am a Secular Franciscan, and currently I am the Regional Formation Director for the St. Margaret of Cortona Region (covering MD, VA, WV, DE, PA, and D.C).

    I became very concerned, however, when I saw your endorsement for Harry Potter. I have worked in the healing and deliverance ministry for years and never felt comfortable with the Harry Potter series. I wanted to send you a couple websites that a priest has familiarized me with. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/harry-potter/8915691/Harry-Potter-and-yoga-are-evil-says-Catholic-Church-exorcist.html

    Also, this is a wonderful video on Fr.Joseph Marie-Verlaine, who was once very involved in Yoga. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Yd8-e3lVmqs . Fr. Zygmunt Kurzavinski told me about it, and I have watched it numerous times.

    I hope some day our paths will cross, and perhaps we can talk more about our Franciscanism in person.

    In Francis and Clare, Victoria Spalding, OFS Regional Formation Director St. Margaret of Cortona Region 301-481-1864

    Sent from my iPad


    • Hi Victoria,

      Do you have any personal experience with Harry Potter, experience outside of what people have told you?

      Br. Casey

  3. Just saw the pbs short story
    On the 150th anniversary of
    Our lady of Lourdes apparition

    Check it out on pbs.or
    Bro Casey keep up the good work!

  4. The pbs video is only 11 minutes long.
    Fr james Martin was involved with the documentary
    God bless ft Martin for this nice news for a. Change
    Let us continue to pray for our brothers and sisters who are being deportted
    May god bless them and
    Watch over them

  5. I refused to read C.S. Lewis when I was younger, because of the blatantly overt allegorical themes. I have read five of the Potter books and up until now enjoyed them immensely. What I did not get until reading this, is the fiercely allegorical theme that runs through them. I will not be reading the last two, no matter how stunningly depicted Harry’s Resurrection is portrayed.

    Allegory always seems like a form of trickery that an author wants to slide in, and J.K. Rowling has done that very nicely. That spoiler spoiled more than the ending of the last book. Sadly.

    Perhaps in those talks you should mention that anyone who hasnt read the last book should leave the room. That’s a very expensive spoiler.

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