The Passion of the Potter
The final book in the Gospel according to Rowling
Well, the Harry Potter series is over, and Harry still has not accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. Sorry if I just ruined the ending, but you should know a few more things too: in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last novel in the series, Harry does not celebrate his long-delayed bar mitzvah, he never does make it to Mecca, and he gives no indication of knowing Buddha’s eight-fold path. Still, even if Harry’s not religious, he’s not exactly cutting pentagrams into goats for the Devil either. In fact, he fights someone else called the Dark Lord (his nemesis, Lord Voldemort) and their epic battle contains more Christian imagery than the previous six Potter installments combined. While the book transcends any one religion, its central theme—that only love can conquer death—is about as Christian as it gets.
At first, however, death is conquering love. The Deathly Hallows features the only two epigraphs in the entire series, both about the dead, and the story begins with the Wizard World in mourning for Professor Albus Dumbledore, Harry’s mentor, who was killed at the end of book six. Other major characters are quick to follow in book seven, as the body count rapidly eclipses the rest of the series. Lord Voldemort’s followers, the Death Eaters, are gradually taking over everything, and the Dark Lord’s rise-to-power seems unstoppable.
Our only hope lies in Harry and his friends, Ron and Hermione. They’re on a mission from Dumbledore: they have to destroy all of Voldemort’s horcruxes, magical objects that contain pieces of his soul, as those are why Voldemort can keep coming back, book after book. They don’t really know what these horcruxes are though, or where they are, or how to destroy them. The answer might lie in the legend of the Deathly Hallows, if only they understood it. Meanwhile, the three must avoid the Death Eaters who are after the 10,000 galleon price on Harry’s head. Author J. K. Rowling brings out all of Harry’s old adversaries, but, luckily, she also brings his old friends, managing the almost impossible task of wrapping up nearly every loose end in the seven-book series. The novel is also a tour of Harry’s Greatest Hits, exploring many of the locations in the previous novels and answering questions left unresolved since book one. It’s probably the best book in the series, and it provides a satisfying ending for devoted readers. If you want finality, you’ll find it here.
So does that mean Harry dies? Prophecies throughout the series hinted Harry’s end was nigh, and business analysts argued killing Harry would prevent unauthorized sequels and spin-offs. The first chapter in the series was titled, “The Boy Who Lived,” the nickname Harry earned for being the only person ever to survive a killing curse. Voldemort had tried to kill baby Harry because of a prophecy that Harry would be the one to destroy him, yet Harry lived because his mother and father died to protect him; his mother’s self-sacrificing had deflected the spell back to Voldemort. Harry’s death would only be fitting: Harry survived the Dark Lord because of someone else’s martyrdom; he should destroy him once and for all with his own. By all of these calculations, it would make sense that most readers expect “The Boy who Lived” would become “The Boy Who Died.”
Or does he? To explain why the novel both satisfies and challenges these expectations would give away too much, but, suffice it to say, more than any novel in the series, The Deathly Hallows is about the power of resurrection, and while its theme could be Christian, it could as easily be the universal belief that the Phoenix will rise from the ashes, or that Spring will come out of the cold. Too many of Harry’s loved ones have died—his parents, his godfather, his mentor, and many more by the end of this last book. Yet he comes to realize that he is never really alone, and that, though the ones who have loved him have died, their love lives on, a reminder that greed, not death, is the enemy of love.
A constant theme throughout the series has been the pursuit of immortality, of a way to cheat death. Like the Holy Grail or the fountain of youth, the eponymous Deathly Hallows promise such an opportunity, but it is not until the end of the novel that Harry realizes he does not need them. Only the loveless need fear death: it’s Voldemort who wants to live forever, and Voldemort who is most afraid to die. Because if love is the only thing worth dying for, then love is the only thing stronger than death. While Harry is not without his faults, his capacity for love is certain, even if his life isn’t.
Harry’s willingness to sacrifice his life might make him similar to Prometheus or even to Christ but The Deathly Hallows is not The Passion of the Potter. Some readers might criticize Harry Potter for not being Christian enough, others may claim that Harry’s story is actually a Christian allegory, like The Lion the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In reality, the book is neither, though the combination of themes, images, and events present a world that should resonate spiritually for any Christian. Evil exists, and it feasts on pride, even the pride of the well-intentioned. Redemption is possible, even for those who appear completely lost. You can never fully know another’s soul. Love is our source of strength, and our reason for existing. Goodness is its own reward. Death is not the end.
For the past decade, J.K. Rowling has entertained millions of readers of all ages from around the world with what might appear to some to be a children’s story. But like all great storytellers, Rowling’s genius lies in her ability to create a world that crosses all boundaries and engages audiences personally and universally. Harry and his crew might inhabit a universe filled with wizards and giants, incantations and flying broomsticks but through some strange authorial magic we feel like we’re losing a part of our own universe as well by the end of book seven. So what if it’s just words on a page? As a wise friend says to Harry near the end of the novel, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”