By Patrick Rothfuss
Spoiler Alert: Jesus Dies.
Fair warning: I’m going to speak plainly about book seven here. Also, I’m going to talk about what happens in the end of the Bible, and give away some of the major plot points of the Tao Te Ching. So if you’re worried about having the endings ruined, you’ll probably want to go finish those books first and come back later.
Harry as Jesus
I agree with Orson. I think we can very comfortably put the whole issue of Potter-as-Christ-Figure to bed.
When answering the question “Is Harry a Christ figure?” Orson exhibits wisdom and moderation, giving a qualified no. I, however, being neither moderate or wise, am willing to go all the way and answer with a unhesitating “no.” Extra no. Double-plus no.
Yes, yes, there are a few similarities. Yes Harry is willing to sacrifice himself for others. He dies (kinda) and comes back.
But after that, you really have to start scrabbling to come up with connections. I spotted a chart where someone lists all the multifarious similarities between Harry and Jesus. The list includes the fact that they both had father figures. (Harry: Dumbledore. Jesus: God the Father.) They both suffered. (Harry: Cruciatus curse. Jesus: Hung on the cross.) Both of them even had a decent into the “nether regions.” (Harry descends into the Chamber of Secrets. Jesus descends into hell.)
Well, this brilliant and insightful list got me thinking. Last night I had a descent into my basement where I did some laundry. It was dark down there, and I stubbed my toe really hard. (You know how much that hurts when you bang your little toe? I bet it’s as least as bad as the Cruciatus curse.) Then my dad called me on the phone and I realized that I have a father figure too! Wow! What are the odds?
So does this make me a Christ figure? No. Anyone thick enough to believe that would be really shocked to hear the words that came out of my mouth after I stubbed my toe. Trust me, it wasn’t anything so noble and plaintive as, “Eloi Eloi….”
Of all the irritating literary games people play, Find-the-Jesus is one of the most wearying to me. Not every book has Christ symbolism. Let it go.
People use stairs. People suffer. People have fathers. People make noble sacrifices. And, in fantastic stories, people come back from the dead. Odin did it. Osirus did it. Sherlock Holmes did it. Buffy did it. Spock did it. Hell… Voldemort died and came back. It takes more than that to make a Christ figure.
You want good Jesus symbolism in a fantasy story? Go to Aslan in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. There’s a Christ figure for you. Harry is, at best, just following a standard sacrificial hero archetype. It’s a storyline that was old before Jesus was born.
I think we’re good here. Let’s move on.
The Unasked Questions
In his last post, Orson mentions Rowling has brought us into an imaginary world, and that “within that place, she has created clear rules. Magic functions according to a set of principles.”
I can only half agree with this. While she has certainly created some rules, they aren’t particularly clear. We’ve spent seven years of following Harry through a wizard’s school, and honestly, I have no idea how magic works. While magic does seem to function according to a set of principles, those principles seem ill-defined and fluid, subject to change according to the author’s whim.
A few examples: Harry gives Kreacher a locket. While he is obviously delighted with the gift, he’s still in Harry’s thrall. Why doesn’t this gift free him from servitude? You wear clothing. You wear a locket. What’s the difference?
Is clothing only something made of cloth? Does metal lack the requisite mojo? And if that’s the distinction, if it is the material itself that’s the key, does it need to be an organic fiber? Are we lucky that Harry wasn’t wearing polyester socks the day he tried to free Dobby?
If the cloth is the key factor, would a towel count as clothing? You can wear a towel. You can wear a washcloth on your head. What are the rules? We just don’t know.
Another example: When Severus takes George’s ear off, we learn that it’s for good. Mr. Weasley says, “I can’t make it grow back, not when it’s been removed with dark magic.”
When did this become a rule? Just now, apparently. How is it that Harry has lived in a wizard’s school for, say, seven years and never heard this valuable little tidbit? Personally, that would have made my ears perk up a little.
What’s more, this new rule goes against other things that have happened in the earlier books. Severus himself heals the damage done by the Sectumsempra curse in the previous book. And what about when Lockhart dissolved all the bones in Harry’s arm? They fixed that. What makes those situations different than that one?
The truth is, I suspect, that the difference is that Rowling wanted some tragedy early in the book, so she wrote in a new rule. Easy as pie.
But even more irritating than the abrupt insertion of a new rule into the story, is the galling fact that everyone shrugs and gives up. Even George. It just doesn’t ring true. Why doesn’t he say, “Are you sure? I mean, we are wizards, right? We have potions and stuff. Voldemort found a way to tear up his own soul and come back from the dead. He got a whole new body. Are you really telling me you can’t grow back my friggin’ ear? Seriously, quit being all weepy, get some books, and look in the index under: Ear – regrowth.”
But nobody looks for a way out. Why? Not because the rules of magic are against them, but because the author is against them. The author wants him maimed, and you can’t fight the author.
This irritates me, partly because an author has a responsibilityto make their stories plausible and internally consistent. But even more because the behavior the characters show goes against what we know about human nature. It’s one thing for a question to go unanswered, but it’s another for it to go unasked.
Here’s what I mean. If a character in a book asks a question and can’t find an answer, that’s not a big deal. As readers, we’re used to that. It’s familiar because our own lives are a series of unanswered questions, or at least questions where the answers open to a great deal of speculation and interpretation.
But still we ask. It is one of the defining characteristics of human beings. Even if we can’t get the truth, we like to grope toward it as best we can.
But in the Harry Potter novels, nobody asks questions. Nobody really seems curious about the nuts and bolts of how magic works. Nobody tries to figure out the details. For example, what exactly makes some spells “Dark Magic”? Why is casting a death spell more dark than simply stunning someone off their broomstick so they fall to their death? What makes the Imperius curse more dark than a love spell that enslaves a person?
What counts as clothing? And for that matter, what counts as a gift? Technically, Malfoy didn’t give Dobby a sock. Giving implies an intention. Malfoy threw a book at Dobby and Dobby caught it. By this logic, Dobby could have freed himself by hiding under Malfoy’s bed and caching a pair of dropped underwear before it hit the ground.
We also know that not all magic requires a wizard to have a wand. Elves don’t. Goblins don’t. Harry makes a sheet of glass disappear without a wand in the first book. Tom Riddle works some serious mojo on the other kids in the orphanage growing up. But if wands aren’t necessary, how come nobody pursues this? Why doesn’t anyone even talk about it as an option? Let me tell you, if I were a wizard, and I knew that there was a war against evil brewing on the horizon, I’d make a point of learning all the tricks available to me. It’s a better option than being completely helpless as soon as your drop/lose/break/forget/are disarmed of your fragile magic stick.
Snape and Dumbledore invent new spells when they’re students. Why don’t Harry, Ron, and Hermione attempt something like that?
There is so much good in these books, and I do enjoy them. But I’ve grown increasingly disappointed as this list of unasked questions gets longer and longer. Each one is a missed opportunity for characters to be clever and resourceful. When the characters fail to even consider these things, I lose respect for them. Magic might be inscrutable. Fair enough. But they’re wizards. It’s their job to scrut it. Or at least make a passable attempt.
In my next post, I’m going to tackle what, in my opinion, is the most glaringly unasked question in the Harry Potter universe. What is the nature of the soul?
Tune in. It’ll be a good time.