Blogalogue

Blogalogue


The Moral Universe of Harry Potter

posted by prothfuss

By Orson Scott Card
(I’m assuming that anyone reading this essay has already finished “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” If you haven’t, stop reading now, and get back to J.K. Rowling so you’ll know what I’m talking about, and I won’t spoil the story for you.)


Until this seventh book, the answer to “Is Harry Potter a Christ figure” has been “no.”


And even now, despite the obvious similarity, I still say a qualified no.


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Yes, Harry does voluntarily go to his death in order to save, not the lives of his fellow war fighters (for no one believes that Voldemort will actually keep his word), but rather the future of the human race, from domination by irresistible evil. And he does so knowing that his “father”—Dumbledore—wishes him to do it.


Yes, after being slain by the evil enemy, he spends a short time in a sort of nonce world and then returns to life. In a sense he has already beaten Voldemort, but there is yet a final battle between them, in which Potter is triumphant and the world is saved. Not only that, but he continues to bear, not the stigmata, but still a stigma—the lightning scar.


But these similarities are relatively very slight, and such hero-sacrifice myths are common to many cultures.


Let’s take just a moment to note the huge dissimilarities:


Harry returns, not as a resurrected immortal, but as a mortal being who will marry and have children and live to raise them.


Harry is not a figure of divine power or wisdom. He is far from being the best wizard alive, nor is he the cleverest. Nor is he even the bravest, or the purest. In no sense does he approach divinity.


Harry was conceived in the ordinary way, and his mother, while lovely, was not of immaculate conception. (Please don’t start theorizing to me about “Muggle-born” bearing some resemblance.)


Harry’s “resurrection” didn’t resurrect a single other soul. In fact, he specifically rejects the opportunity theoretically offered by the Deathly Hallows to gain power over death. Since gaining power over death was an essential part of what Christ was doing, this is a glaring dissimilarity.


Harry’s sacrifice gave him no power of redemption. Sinners will still bear the consequences of their sins and Harry will have nothing to do with saving their souls. The only soul that Harry saved is his own.


But…the similarities exist, and the differences exist.


Some will say that what matters is what Rowling intended. Did she mean us to think of Harry as a Christ figure.


But I say, so what if she did? Or didn’t?


When you say that a literary character resembles Christ or fulfills a christic function in a story, what does that actually mean? How is the story’s effect on the reader changed by such a thing—except insofar as the reader notices the christicity of the character and is distracted from the story by wondering if the writer is committing the sin of allegory?


Whatever Rowling intended, here is what she did: She made Harry so real, so detailed, so believable, so completely himself, that if we are reading properly, we do not experience the last book analytically, we experience it emotionally. What matters to us is not that someone resembling Christ is going through these adventures, but rather that Harry Potter is.


The moral, as the aesthetic, quality of a work of literature is not seriously influenced by what other works of art or real-world events or artifacts the story might call to mind.


How Fiction Works, Morally


If a storyteller is doing a good job, readers immerse themselves in the tale. Readers allow the storyteller to fill their minds with memories. If the storyteller can lead the readers to care about and believe in the tale, and if the tale is clearly told, then those memories will be vivid.


The readers will remember having lived through the events that the author depicted. Those memories become part of the deep store of mindlore that shapes the readers’ perception of the real world. While the readers—the sane ones, anyway—will, at a conscious level, never forget which events were imaginary and which were real, at an unconscious level the brain makes scant distinction.


That is, when you remember a story that you read, you don’t remember gripping the pages of the book, decoding the marks on the paper. You remember the images that came to mind, the choices the characters faced, the decisions they made, the price they paid, the rewards or punishments they gained. You remember the sequence of events.


Any part of the reading process you do remember (standing in line to buy the book, having your father read it to you in a moving car, talking about it with your friends) remains a separate memory, associated with the story but not part of it.


The key differences between fictional memories and real ones is that you understand, in the fictional story, why things happen. Not only that, but whatever the author ends up saying about causality remains true forever—within the story.


In the real world, we never understand why people do the things they do, or why the world works the way it does. People offer “helpful” ideas—“It must be part of God’s plan!” “It’s in our genes, there’s no escaping it.” “Life sucks my friend, and that’s all.” “It’s karma; what goes around, comes around”—but we know that they don’t know what they’re talking about.


They aren’t even trustworthy when telling about their own motives. We aren’t even trustworthy when we tell ourselves about why we did the things we’ve done.


Haven’t we all had the experience of doing something for perfectly clear reasons, and then—days or months or years later—realizing that the real reason we did it was completely different?


But in fiction that never happens. When Huckleberry Finn does not turn in Jim as a runaway slave, it would be absurd for some critic to write that his real reason for this was because he hoped to get a better price by selling Jim downriver in New Orleans.


Such a critic could offer no proof—no newspaper clippings, no eyewitness accounts, no newly-discovered documents—because Huckleberry Finn does not exist.


The very fictionality of fiction means that whatever the author says about causality within the story is final. The author is the only authority.


That doesn’t mean that by reading a book you will come to believe absurd things, just because the author says so.


Obviously, sane adults don’t come out of Harry Potter believing that there are really wizards and witches secretly confunding or imperiusing us and getting us to do their bidding. But then, the author does not intend us to believe that. Rowling keeps the boundary line between the real world and the fantasy world clearly drawn. We have entered one of the many lands of Faerie; it is an imaginary place.


But within that place, she has created clear rules. Magic functions according to set principles.


In the real world, the distinction between wands of different manufacture is meaningless. If you wish to make a wand like Harry’s, then your problem is finding a phoenix feather, not dealing with the magical hijinks that will ensue once you have found it.


hp7_harrywand.jpg
But in the fantasy world, it matters whose wand it is, what it’s made of, and who your opponent is. And when Rowling says that the Deathstick or Elder Wand only confers its powers on its rightful owner, and the rightful owner is not the one who kills the previous owner, but the one who disarmed the previous owner, no matter which wand he took away — well, it’s not as if we can argue with her. She has the final word on that.


Yet she also has no intention of persuading us that this is how the Elder Wand really works because wands don’t really work.


The place where the causal chains of fiction apply in the real world is specifically in the realms of human motive and moral analysis—and these areas are inseparable.


Motive Is Everything


Every child knows this, as does every parent. When daddy catches you with your fingers under the lawnmower or pointing a gun at your brother, he will, at some point, look at you with consternation and say, “What did you think you were doing?” To which the child will say, “I don’t know.”


The real question is: Why were you doing something that you knew to be stupid and dangerous? And the answer is: I was tempted to do something perilous; I ignored the consequences because the attraction was greater than my resistance to it.


Five-year-olds don’t talk that way—nor do fifteen-year-olds (and they’d probably get grounded if they did). But that’s the moral situation that’s going on.


There’s a judge, holding someone accountable for their choices, good or bad. But in making just judgment, motive always plays a role.


When daddy says, “What did you think you were doing?” if the child says, “I made sure the gun was unloaded, just like you taught me, Daddy. But Jimmy had stuck his finger in the barrel and his finger’s so tiny it got stuck. I had just barely managed to get it unstuck when you came in, and the gun was still pointing at him.”


If that story is consonant with what the just judge (daddy) witnessed, then chances are very good that junior will get off. In other words, what seemed a sin ceases to be a sin when the motive is right.


(And if someone is going to accuse me of situational morality, I will simply reply that there is no other kind. Cain would have been fine killing Abel if he had done so to keep Abel from killing Seth. Only the fact that Abel was innocent of wrongdoing and posed no threat to Cain or anyone else makes the killing a cold-blooded murder.)


In the real world, there is no just judge. We’ve certainly had enough examples in recent years of innocent people being convicted of crimes and sentenced to death. And which of us has not judged a friend or family member harshly, only to discover later that we simply did not have enough information, so that what seemed a just judgment was unjust after all?


That goes both ways, of course. We will often judge someone to be honest and bestow our trust, only to discover, when more information comes, that he was a liar from the start.


In fiction, characters can (and do) go through the same process. Harry idolizes his father. Then he discovers that his father was a bully, every bit as cruel to Snape and others he deems his inferiors as Snape has ever been to Harry Potter himself.


hp7_snape.jpg
As for Snape, Harry has hated him, and in book 6 it seems clear to Harry that Snape has proven that Harry was right about him all along, when Snape seemingly kills Dumbledore in cold blood. There are hints (which some of us wrote about at great length—see my essay “Who Is Snape?” at www.hatrack.com) that Harry is wrong about Snape—but he’s wrong because he has insufficient information, and no motive to try to get more. It is, to him, a settled question.


So Harry is an unjust judge, and some readers might have been as well. But the novel is not over; the writer is not finished.


We are given more information, very near the end of the final book. At last Harry gets full access to all the relevant parts of Snape’s story, and realizes the reason why Snape has hated him and yet been unable to leave him alone. He even understands why Snape wanted to die while looking directly into Harry’s eyes.


All is transformed. Harry not only understands why Snape killed Dumbledore, but also why Snape was unable to judge Harry fairly and misinterpreted everything that Harry did, assuming motives for him that were not there. For Snape was doing just what Harry, in his ignorance, wished—he was linking the son to the father, and thus the sins of the father were visited upon the son.


Only when the story is complete and all that we are ever going to know is known can we ascertain the moral flow of the story.


And, except where the author has explicitly raised the issue (as with Snape’s motive for killing Dumbledore), we are rarely aware of what the moral statements of the fiction are.


The author will show certain characters as admirable because of certain actions taken for certain motives. We will either agree or disagree—but not consciously! If we are comfortable with the moral universe of the story—which things are admirable, which despicable—then we will scarcely notice it. But if it makes us uncomfortable, we rarely understand that our response is a moral one.


Most people think “morality” in fiction means whether people do bad things. But morality in fiction means why people do bad things, and whether we are expected to admire or despise them for it. When an author makes us live in a moral universe that is too different from our own to bear it, we may say, “I don’t believe the story,” or “I just lost interest and never finished it,” but rarely will we realize that our rejection is actually on moral grounds.


Nor, when the story takes us outside our previous moral framework and we like it, will we recognize that we are being morally transformed—that our moral worldview is different now, because this story is a part of our memory.


There is, of course, a third response, neither accepting nor rejecting the moral contradiction: We simply edit our memories so the story does conform with our previous moral worldview. I have had readers of my work swear up and down that a character did something which, in fact, I never had the character do. They will remember events that are not in my book, or forget events without which the rest of the story makes no moral sense at all.


Because reading is not passive; it is not a one-way transaction. Our stories are laid into minds that have a preexisting moral framework. Our readers are quick to embrace stories that reinforce what they already believe about human behavior, and when the story is different from what they believed, they are more likely to reject the story or edit their memory of it than to change, at a deep level, what they believe is wrong or right.


But still…they change often enough, especially in response to stories of great emotional power, that some literature goes a long way toward shaping a culture, rather than merely reflecting it.


With all of this as groundwork, then, we come to this: The moral effect of the Harry Potter series has little to do with Harry as a king-sacrifice or Christ figure or whatever other category you want to push him into, and everything to do with which acts are evil and which good, which motives are worthy and which not, and above all, how it is that good overcomes evil, and what the good life turns out to be.


So before I tell you my answers—what I think is going on in Harry Potter (or rather, a small part of what I’ve noticed is going on)—think about it yourself. What is it that makes good good, and evil evil? How do you end up ranking the evil of Lucius Malfoy, or Narcissa Malfoy, or Draco? How good is Harry? Dumbledore? Snape? What motives excuse bad actions; how much do good action redeem bad ones? (Wormtail’s momentary hesitation in the Malfoys’ dungeon, for instance—hardly enough virtue to save him, but enough to save Harry!)


Think about it, and check back with me in a day or so.


Meanwhile, I’ll also look at Patrick’s response to the book and, if he dares to disagree with me on any point, I’ll sic the Dementors on him and suck out his soul. That’s just the kind of guy I am.



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Janet Zuk

posted July 25, 2007 at 9:40 pm


The same goes for me about spoilers first and foremost.
I also do not think that Harry truly represents a “Christ” figure in the books, and more especially in Book 7. I do however think that there is much evidence that the characters act in the spirit of Christ. One of my favorite things about Book 7 was the expansion and the parallelism of Lily and ultimately Harry sacrificing themselves for, in Lily’s case, Harry, and in Harry’s case, all of Wizard kind. In Harry’s final confrontation with Tom Riddle he states “I’ve done what my mother did. They’re protected from you. Haven’t you noticed how none of the spells you put on them are binding? You can’t torture them. You can’t touch them.” In fact, the final chapter and the epilogue exemplify many of the most dearly held Christian beliefs: sacrifice (the aforementioned), forgiveness (that of Harry forgiving Snape), remorse (Harry asking Voldemort to find remorse within himself), and love (and of course this is throughout all of the books). In some ways, I think the idea of Voldemort finding remorse is one of the most intriguing examples of Christian thought. Earlier in the book Hermione mentions that the only way for someone to repair the damage to their soul after tearing it apart was through sincere remorse. I was thrilled when Harry gave him the opportunity, and part of me hoped that Voldemort would take it even though I knew that it would absolutely ruin the story. Anyway, that is my two cents.



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Jestrfyl

posted July 25, 2007 at 11:36 pm


I came away from the ending thinking more of Frodo and Sam Gamgee than of Jesus. I also thought more of Aslan than any other Biblical figures (did you notice there were no lions in the books – at least I don’t think there were)For all the reasons Card stated, the parallels to Jesus do not work. I think that was very intentional by Rowling, therby avoiding all manner of problems. Rowling borrowed more form Epic battles than from Biblical stories. The epilog, in 2016, summed many things up nicely.
However, I need a while for it to sink in. I only finished the book a few hours ago and I am still mourning the loss of Doby & Fred and Tonks & Lupin, among others. I am thrilled at Neville’s role – I knew he had it in him! And thank Rowling that Hagrid survived!!
This was a fitting and appropriate end to an amazing series of books. By the way, do you suppose Rowling may be composing a collection of The Tales of Beedle the Bard? I hope so.



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Janet Zuk

posted July 26, 2007 at 12:01 am


I too thought of epics, but in real life as well: more specifically the epic of totalitarianism in history. It seemed remarkable to me the similarities to history: the likeness of Potter Radio to similar radio broadcasts during WWII, the likeness of the hiding of “unspeakables” to that of hiding the Jews, the likeness of the control of The Daily Prophet and the Pamphlet campaign to that of controlled censorship and book burnings during WWII, the likeness of the takeover of Hogwarts to that of Hitler Youth, and in the likeness of the pure-blood mania in general to that of Hitler’s regime. I think one of the reasons that I enjoy the Potter books so intensely is because it is true Fantasy and expounds on philosophical and moral issues. In many ways, I think Science Fiction and Fantasy authors are our modern day philosophers and moralists. In addition to Tolkien and Lewis, I think that you could definitely find some Arthurian elements in the story as well (pulling the sword from the lake).
I agree though such references were neither intentional nor emphasized by Rowling, much like Tolkien disputed such similarities in his stories. I think that she wanted them to stand alone from religion and politics so that we could see what we would in them and therefore make it easier for us to connect to them.



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Bill

posted July 26, 2007 at 12:45 am


Mr. Card, I am a huge fan of yours. Obviously like so many others I loved the entire Ender saga but I’ve also read many of your other works, including your “Maps in a Mirror” collection of short stories and some of your non-fiction like “How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy” (yes, I want to be a writer; no, I haven’t yet gotten there yet). Also, I’ve regularly kept up with your blog on Hatrack River; your insights into politics and world events have always seemed to me to be thoughtful and mature, practical and solid. I find myself agreeing with you more often than not.
All that is to say that I for one am waiting with bated breath to read your follow-up to this post … your answers to “what is going on in Harry Potter” will, I believe, be very interesting and illuminating. You nailed the Harry is a Horcrux position (and assorted details around that theory) long before I read it anywhere else, and, in my opinion, you seem to have a far firmer grasp on “what it all means” than most of us grognards. I guess the “inside baseball” part of your thoughts on HP is what would be most attractive to me.
Ergo, as a well-established writer of popular speculative fiction (with ever-present and strong social elements, something that has always set your work apart for me), you have insights into the work of Rowling, and the world of Harry Potter, that many of us miss.
For all of that I am grateful to be able to read your thoughts on these matters. Please enlighten us! Your thoughts, please? :-)



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Christian Seehausen

posted July 26, 2007 at 2:03 am


Hey Scott,
I’ll be most interested to see whether you were, as was I, a little disappointed by the route Rowling took to reach the conclusion of the series. I mean, everything ended up where it ought to have ended up, so in that sense I’m happy with it.
But I did feel that she missed some excellent opportunities (particularly involving Snape) and unnecessarily over-explained other things, to the point of confusion and contrivance.
Still, I came away satisfied, if slightly underwhelmed. I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts on the ending.



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Barb

posted July 26, 2007 at 11:27 am


Why is anything to do with Harry Potter being put on the Christian page ? We choose, as Christians, to go into the Christianity page of Belief Net and I am confused as to why Harry Potter would be on any Chritian web page. It is in contradiction to what we believe. Please explain this to me.



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Jestyrfyl

posted July 26, 2007 at 11:38 am


Barb,
I think it is easy. The overarching themes of Abrahamic faith are oprevalent and stressed throughout the Potter books. Chritian lessons on forgiveness, redemption, and hope are all blanketed by lessons on trusting, communicating, awareness, and loving. Just because Jesus is not mentioned by name does not mean these are not appropriate reading for Christians, or for anyone else.
Scot,
I neglected to mention in my earlier posting that I am a dvout fan of the Hatrack River stories (a great interpretation of a significant period in American hostry for anyone who has not read them). I thought often about Alvin and Calvin Miller as I read Rowlings unfolding of the Dumbledore family saga. Also, anyone who has followed Ender, Petra and Bean could not miss the similarities in Harry, Hermione, and Ron -except the differences are as profound. The Fantasy genre has many themes that are reworked and swirled by each author. Part of the fun is seing how authors take the components and use them in their own way to tell their story.



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Will

posted July 26, 2007 at 2:09 pm


Scott,
I truly appreciate your comments regarding the nature of a “Moral universe,” not as a universe wherein EVERYONE acts morally, but rather, wherein certain actions are considered moral, while others are not. After all, if everyone within the universe behaved in a proper and moral fashion, there would be little (if any) cause for conflict, and then we would end up with, instead of epic themes of good vs. evil, good vs. not-quite-as-good, which really isn’t as thrilling. I am curious, however, about your thoughts on what is essentially Hermione’s mind-rape of her parents towards the beginning of the book.



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Charlotte King

posted July 26, 2007 at 2:35 pm


I am disappointed that this so-called Christian web-site would stoop to put anything about Harry Potter!
This certainly changes my mind about your Website. I have come to your page to learn more about and think about Jesus and more about the true Spiritual realm that than of witches and wizards. How dare you call yourself “Christian” when you write about the dark side of life rather than “The Light of the World, Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior”. You, too, will answer to this. “But if someone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to lose faith~ It would be better for that man if a huge millstone were tied around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.
Mark Chapter 9, vs. 42



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Will

posted July 26, 2007 at 3:16 pm


Charlotte King, Barb,
I think that this is actually a very spiritually apropos discussion, regardless of one’s faith. No religious belief exists in a total cultural vacuum, as it must address all aspects of a person’s life. As a committed Christian myself, I have found that even while I do not particularly agree with all of the ethical/spiritual/moral tennets in a given fantasy universe, there nonetheless remain ethical/spiritual/moral truths that can be extracted from them. The authors involved in this debate are not talking about the actual practice of witchcraft/wizardry, but rather are engaged in a literary discussion about the moral and spiritual qualities of a fantasy series. These qualities have less to do with the substance of magic, and more to do with the human actions of individuals. Magic is just the window-dressing for what is at its core an attempt to say something about the human condition, for good or ill. Think of it as the spoonful of sugar to help the proverbial medicine go down.



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SJM

posted July 26, 2007 at 3:27 pm


To Will:
That’s an interesting question. Looked at from Hermione’s point of view, and through her motives, I think it too strong to call it “rape,” which after all implies both violence and exerting power over someone for the sake of domination.
Hermione was trying to simultaneously protect her (utterly magically defenseless) parents as well as Harry and his mission, since as she admitted, she had “told them quite a bit” about Harry. Certainly she intended it as a temporary measure that she would lift as soon as Voldemort had been defeated, and even hopefully keep them safe if that hope failed. And it must be said, the fact that she was terribly pained by it herself absolves her to some degree.
Of course, as a parent, I admit that the thought is awful, particularly of having the knowledge that you had ever had a child removed. However, given that her parents were so completely defenseless against Voldemort that they were essentially children in that sense, it seems the best of the painful choices available. If it were a parent defending his or her children in that way, would it seem only right that he or she would protect them even at the cost of their ever knowing them? Even though it would have been against their will (though it doesn’t tell us whether Hermione consulted her parents first) and without their free choice involved? Of course, this is tricky territory. I’m also curious as to Mr. Card’s response.
To Mr. Card:
I have written a response to this question of what makes good good in the Harry Potter universe. (It seems clear that goodness is judged by love.) It’s turned out so long however, that I am hesitant to post it here as a comment. At the risk of people not bothering to follow the link, I am going to post it on my personal blog here:
http://falwyn.wordpress.com/2007/07/26/hp-moral-universe/
I eagerly await your take on the subject.



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Nate

posted July 26, 2007 at 3:48 pm


This is my first post (Yay me!!!)
Ah. I love OSC. He always explains the things I want to, and in a much better way.
Barb, there are themes in Harry Potter that some feel could be allegorical to Christ’s life. That’s why it’s on the Christian page.
Charlotte, it worries me that you feel that Christianity is so frail that a Christian blog becomes ‘so-called’ by the discussion of possible Christ themes in a controversal book. I know my faith in God hasn’t been shaken from reading the Harry Potter books.
This is where I find people are less than reasonable. Let’s face it. Had ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone’ been marketed as a Young Adult ‘Christian’ book, everybody would be fine with it. The story wouldn’t change, the cover would. They would slap on a line in the front saying ‘Harry learns about the power of friendship and cooperation’, and in the back it would have made a reference to Romans 12: 4-5 “Just as our bodies have many parts, and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of his one body, and each of us has differnet work to do. And sine we are all one body in CHrist, we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others.”
The idea that older children are going to wave wands around and think that magic is real is unrealistic. And the idea that they will emulate those behaviors of Harry’s that are less than desirable (Since he isn’t perfect) is also in error. How many children fell away from their faith, because Susan did in ‘The Final Battle’? And how many have absorbed all of Edmund’s traits after reading ‘Prince Caspian’? And how many have stolen a train after reading ‘The Boxcar Children’?
If children do absorb any of these traits, it’s clear that they are too impressionable to read those books, or any books for that matter! This applies to all fiction, and isn’t limited to Harry Potter, or any fantasy book, or movie.
I have a great deal of sympethy with those who think that Harry Potter is inappropriate for Christians, because I used to be one of them. Given, I was much less rabid, but, still, that’s what I believed. However, after being persuaded by a close Christian friend of mine that they were more than okay to read, I did so, and loved the books! It is not evil, but there is evil in the books.
There are people who are bad people who do bad things. Even the characters that are ‘good’ aren’t perfect, and sometimes fall short.
I think that, perhaps, people don’t have a problem with Harry Potter as much as they do with any fantasy book that doesn’t have a ‘heroic’ protagonist. Lord of the Rings, and the Chronicles of Narnia, and even Earthsea are all okay, because they have characters we admire.
Harry Potter is a character that, although we admire him, is primarily there to be understood by us readers.
I think that that is the main problem people have with the books.
And, by all means, Harry Potter *is* inappropriate for those who are unable to understand that good people slip up. If not for the grace of God, etc.
Anyway, I’ve rambled long enough. :~)



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tammy

posted July 26, 2007 at 4:42 pm


those of you who are closed minded you might take a closer look at ALL this site has to offer there is links to many different beliefs and that is what makes this site valuable to ALL visitors i enjoy opening my mind to other beliefs not all do i agree with but every person has a right to thier own faith i m not a potter fan but i can discuss it with others by what i see, hear and read from any site you want others to not judge you for whatever reason you should give the same courtesy to others!



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Bitner

posted July 26, 2007 at 8:26 pm


Beliefnet is not just a Christian site. It is a place for people of all faiths to come and discuss religion. Check out the menu under ‘faiths and practices’, you’ll see what I mean. I’m sure there are plenty of exclusively Christian site you can go visit. Please do so, and let the rest of us who are strong in our own faith mingle freely.



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Cecilia

posted July 26, 2007 at 10:40 pm


While reading the last chapters of “Deathly Hallows,” I experienced the “moral rejection” that OSC refered to. It seemed to me that in Rowlings world, the only people who were denied passage to the afterlife were people who’s souls had been split. This would mean that Umbridge would go on to the afterlife, despite being sadistic and cruel. However, since she didn’t kill anyone directly, she would be permitted to go on. As a Christian, I can’t help but find this morality far too lenient. Any thoughts?



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Sally Bird

posted July 26, 2007 at 11:50 pm


The Harry Potter series is all made up. I really like the Harry Potter books, but I would never put him as Christ Like and Alubs as God. Harry just wants some justice and defeat the bad in the world. There are people in our towns that try to make it a better place for everyone to live and work and hopefuly we tell them Thank You, but we should not put them up whith Christ for they are a human being. Christ is different.
Christ answers prays, helps when we ask for it, but Harry can’t do that.
To the person above me who wrote about the “The Boxcar Childern” books. To help you out- they did not steel a train they just barrowed a boxcar that was on the side of the tracks. I laughed so hard when you brough that. We have read a great many of thoes books:):):) in our family when the boys were younger. Good books.
Thank you, Sally



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jestrfyl

posted July 27, 2007 at 12:06 am


OK, why is no one mentioning the overt Christian references in the book – specifically the graveyard?
Cecilia,
I’m afraid you may be very surprised – as in disappointed – in “Heaven”. The admissions requirements may be quite different than you expect. Of course, we don’t know what the requirements are – but that is what makes life fun. Justice, kindness, and humility seem to be key clues. Joy, peace, and hope are right there too. Faith and love are simply the result of all this. ANYthing else is our own supplementary amendments, which are likely to mean nothing. Now, would you be angry at God for letting someone like Umbridge in or would you simply accept that as part and parcel of God’s grace?
This, of course, assumes you are getting through the Pearly Gates.
A major factor in my constant delight in B-net is that there ARE so many perspectives and viewpoints. If it were nothing but another saccarine fan site for J*E*S*U*S I would not give it a second look.



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Cecilia

posted July 27, 2007 at 8:17 am


Thanks for your imput, Jestrfyl. I wasn’t trying to be closed-minded (or presumptious), just wondering what other people got out of the story. Does it seem to you that Rowling was trying to make a judgement about what will “get you in” to heaven, or am I just reading too much into this?



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Anonymous

posted July 27, 2007 at 9:58 am


i am just responding to the end of harry potter…. thank god i hate stupid harry potter movies is it really the end….. i hope, so sick of harry potter



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SJM

posted July 27, 2007 at 12:02 pm


To Caecilia:
I didn’t get the idea that Umbridge (or the Death Eaters for that matter) would be going to some shiny happy afterlife, or even necessarily that the afterlife in the books was all one place (are the choices afterlife or non-existence, or different kinds of afterlives, i.e. a heaven/hell or other sort of set up?). I don’t think Rowling really gives us much info on that aspect, probably purposely, but maybe it would be more of a C.S. Lewis, Last Battle, dwarves-in-the-shed kind of thing. Or maybe not, that’s probably my personal association.
I’m not completely sure what the deformed baby-thing in the Kings’ Cross station was supposed to be — the piece of Voldemort’s soul that died when Harry “died,” or the piece of Voldemort’s soul that was left in him (Voldemort) and because it was linked to Harry, was temporarily … in suspension? Since it says that he too was unconscious/just recovering when Harry awoke in his body again, and because Harry says something in their final confrontation about “I’ve seen what you are, try for some remorse,” I lean towards the latter. But even then I didn’t necessarily get the sense that even Voldemort’s soul was going to just disappear or not go to an afterlife at all — only that it was so damaged and deformed that, wherever it went it would be miserable. I would be inclined to extend that to other characters — perhaps murder results in the ultimate tearing of your soul, but other forms of evil must surely damage it as well.
Regardless, it didn’t seem to me that there was any indication of letting other “evil” characters off scot-free. For instance, Harry didn’t see Wormtail when he used the ring in the forest. (Nor even Snape, for that matter, but probably some of who Harry saw was determined by who he most wanted to see.) I didn’t really feel that “George Lucas” moment coming, that OSC mentioned at the end of his Snape essay on Hatrack.
In other words, I interpreted that whole aspect differently than you. :) Anyone else?



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Nate

posted July 27, 2007 at 3:28 pm


Sally Bird,
I, too, read a great many of those books (I’m already experiencing a wave of nostalgia just from mentioning them).
I was just equating the idea that kids will emulate Harry’s angst just from reading the books to the idea that kids will steal a train because the Alden’s lived in a boxcar.
J.K. Rowling made no real references to the afterlife, that I know of. We don’t even know if Harry got into ‘heaven’. We just know that he went to some place and talked to Dumbledore, some sort of neo-heaven.
I read the shrivled creature to be what was left of Voldemort’s soul, the part that accompanied Harry when he met Dumbledore. Horocruxes were not the only way to commit evil, in the series. There was a whole different magic system that consisted of the dark arts.
Although the exploration of that system never really went farther than the avada kadavra curse, Snape dabbled in it quite a lot, as you may see by his unique curses in ‘The Half Blood Prince’.
Anyway, I didn’t think JK Rowling made any implications to whether or not Umbridge or anybody else got into ‘heaven; furthermore, I don’t think she ever really implied the existence of a heaven or hell.
:~)



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Kelly

posted July 27, 2007 at 6:08 pm


It’s been said (and rightfully so) that Harry Potter is a series depicting a struggle between good and evil, but as Mr. Card so eloquently details, Rowling’s tale is one of many moral facets and shades. Characters with sick and twisted goals are motivated by equally warped but raw love (as in the case of Bellatriz Lestrange and her passion for Voldemort) and even the Malfoys love their son, in the end, more than Voldemort and his schemes. However, the characters’ motivations and redeeming qualities together do not justify a morally relative world view but just reveal the basic human truth that people are not all good or all bad. The Malfoy parents’ love for Draco, for example, does not “make up” for their sins against humanity, but their love is still pure, and Mrs. Malfoy’s saving Harry’s life by not revealing that he is indeed alive is no small act…Even if she had her son’s life in mind more than Harry’s, she saved Harry and that is a redeeming, powerful act. In the same way, Wormtail’s life of cowardice and betrayal is every bit as immoral as it seems, but his moment of compassion at the end of his life that allowed Harry to live was a beautiful example of how, in all of us, there is still that impulse for good and for doing the moral thing. The people themselves are not moral or immoral, they are simply humans who make both moral and immoral choices. The sum of their choices is ultimately the sum of who they are.
It’s tricky when the question of morality’s constitution comes up, because if morality is indeed as relative as so many in today’s world insist, it is impossible for there to be any true morality, any clear right and wrong, good and evil, at all. If motivation can justify atrocious acts, we would have no prisoners and no personal responsibility. Everybody has a story, and these stories, while serving to explain how humans could possibly do the terrible things that humans are, unfortunately, capable of doing, rarely excuse hideous behavior.
Therefore, morality has to be somewhat flexible, but it cannot be a malleable clay from which every person builds his or her own pillar of right and wrong. Self-sacrifice is, as the Harry Potter series shows so well, the ultimate good with the power of redemption and renewal. The opposite, Voldemort’s self-seeking, ruthless, murderous ambition, is the ultimate evil. And within the huge crevass separating those two extremes of human behavior are all the motivations and choices drawing people in one direction or the other. Judging Wormtail or Bellatrix or the Malfoys is, ultimately, between those individuals and God because only He can take the sum of a person’s life and determine his fate. (This is what Dumbledore is getting at when he tells Harry in the King’s Cross Station in-between-world that Voldemort’s wimpering, screaming soul is beyond their mortal help. In times of judgement, and in times of crucial human choices, only God and the individual can determine the course of events.) However, we humans can judge actions and with conviction determine that there are some motivations that do not justify certain acts, and some choices that are indeed good and evil. Just because somthing seems right, just because if feels right, doesn’t make if morally right.
So what is the unwavering point of morality? And what is the gamut of motivations that may justify certain otherwise-immoral behavior? To what extend do the ends justify the means, or do they ever? And, the question Harry and Dumbledore themselved grapple with, how does “the greater good” figure into moral choices? It seems, in Harry’s conversation with Lupin, that sacrificing oneself for the greater good is justified and moral while Dumbledore’s youthful williness to sacrifice innocent, helpless individuals for the greater good is painted in the book, anyway, as not only immoral but Nazi-like in the magnitude of sinfulness. Actions with great motivation can be catastrophic in affect, and there are consequences to moral choices just as their are consequences to immoral choices.
All things considered, these are questions we all have to think about for ourselves and discuss as a society. It is part of the grand human experience, and the art of fiction, as Mr Card illustrates, to work out and ponder these moral dilemmas and form some concrete understanding of what is good and what is evil. Morality is influenced by situation, as all choices (both right and wrong) are driven by different motivations. However, the situation does not ultimately determine morality or else right and wrong would be nothing but gray and all efforts to ascertain the “right” choice would be in vain because individuals’ varying wills would supercede all else. I’m just glad Harry Potter has gotten so many of us thinking and talking about this tricky topic.



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chris moffatt

posted September 6, 2007 at 1:31 pm


Please can any of you tell me why you-all are expending so much time and energy on this? What on earth does it matter? The HP books are very clever fiction – nothing more than that.



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