Atheism and the Afterlife in the Potterverse

posted by Paul Raushenbush

I’m at the end of my maiden voyage here on Beliefnet, and I’ve had a great time.
In addition to the fun I’ve had chatting with Orson about the Harry Potter series, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the readers’ comments. Not only is there a high signal-to-noise ratio, but even when disagreeing, people are generally very polite. As a result, reading the feedback has turned into an unexpected pleasure.
In fact, while reading the last series of comments about how different readers became disenchanted with books in the past, I realized that devoted readers and religious believers have something in common: Faith.
Llyralei suggested (very politely) that I was being a little lazy as a reader when I complained that Rowling’s rules of magic seemed ill-defined, or contradictory, or, in some cases, non-existent. She encouraged me to use my imagination. The implication being that I should work harder to invent explanations as to why everything in the books makes sense.
In general, I think this is good advice. It’s the reader’s job to take the pieces and put them together. The reader is supposed to draw conclusions and fill in some of the blank spaces in any story.
However, it’s the author’s job to make sure that there are enough pieces. And that they fit together. And that once they’re assembled, that a sensible picture is revealed, and not just a bodged-together mélange of Dobby-ex-machina.

Llyralei’s comment is interesting to me, ultimately, because what she’s really doing is encouraging me to have faith. She’s suggesting that I have faith in the story, and by extension, faith in the author.
I believe all readers come to a book with a degree of inbuilt faith. We show up expecting something good. Hope springs eternal.
Then, as we read, two things can happen. Our initial faith can be rewarded and reinforced, or our faith can be abused and we become dissatisfied. Effectively, we can lose faith in the story.
I never appreciated the complexity of this interaction until I became a writer myself. Not only do all readers start with differing degrees of faith in your story, but each reader has different peeves they find intolerable to varying degrees. For some folk’s its typoes. [Gotcha –Ed.] Or sentence fragments. Other times, a sentence ending with a preposition will turn a reader off.
Thematic elements can do the same thing. Sexism, racism, classism, various flavors of politics or religion can make the reader give up on a story. Everyone has some sort of deal breaker. For my girlfriend, it’s the abuse of a child. We sat down to start watching Battlestar Galactica together a few months ago, and 30 minutes in, one of the cylons kills a baby. She turned to me, gave a fierce, brittle smile, and said, “I’m done.” Nothing in the world would convince her to watch another second of that show after that.
However, the main thing that builds or breaks the faith of the reader is the storytelling itself. Are the characters realistic, clever, and interesting? Is the world believable? Does the plot make sense? Is the tone of the story consistent and pleasing? There are a lot of ways for a reader to become disenchanted with a story. And if that disenchantment goes too far, the reader will eventually abandon the story.
The same is true of religion. I’ve known people who have gone through rough stretches in their lives. Times when terrible, nonsensical things have happened to them. Because of this they eventually gave up on the concept of god-the-author. They lost faith and decided that god was either nonexistent, or cruel, or inscrutable. Either way, they gave up on the idea that someone out there was going to bring everything to a good conclusion.
Only now do I realize that they stopped going to church for the same reasons that I stop reading a book. Loss of faith.
What does this have to do with Harry Potter specifically? Two things.
The first is this comic that I read a while back. It seems to encapsulate this whole idea pretty tidily.
The second is this. Most people are introduced to religion early in their lives. Similarly, a lot of folks started reading Harry Potter when they were young. What’s more, many older readers picked up Harry Potter without ever having read a fantasy novel before, which makes them young in a different way.
Faith comes easier to us when we are young. We are less cynical, crotchety, and emotionally calloused. Sometimes the article of faith is simple: Harry Potter is a cool book.
Sometimes the article of faith is more complex: there’s an old man with a beard in the sky, and he wants you to be good. If you say the name of Amida Buddha you will be reborn into the Western paradise after you die. These things are easier to believe when we are children, because everything is easier to believe when you’re a child.
When I was a child, I thought as a child. But now that I’m older, I’ve sharpened my critical capacity and can’t help but ask questions when things don’t make sense to me. That goes for both religion and for books.
I once heard someone compare faith to a glass of water. They explained that when you’re young, the glass is smaller and easier to fill. But as you get older, the glass gets bigger and the same amount of faith won’t fill it to the top anymore.
Again, I think this works for religion and for books. I know I’ve gone back to read some childhood favorites and cringed at the storytelling. The book is the same; I’m the one that’s changed. I simply don’t have same degree of unquestioning faith that I used to.
So while I do have a certain amount of faith in the Harry Potter books, it’s not blind faith. There is a difference. And while I trust Rowling’s ability to tell me a story, each unanswered or contradictory element erodes that faith. Now, after so many of these things, I’m having trouble fully enjoying the later books.
But that’s me. For others, obviously, this isn’t the case. As with all matters of faith, it is a personal thing.
The Atheistic World of Harry Potter
During the endless speculation about Harry’s potential death before Book Seven came out, I keep butting up against a question: What happens when someone dies?
In the early books, the fact that this question isn’t addressed wasn’t a big deal. But later on it seemed increasingly odd that there wasn’t more attention given to the subject. When main characters started to die, there still wasn’t much discussion on the subject.
It took me a while to realize the problem. What happens after death is a profoundly religious question, and, simply said, there isn’t any religion in the world of Harry Potter. It’s conspicuously absent to the point where we know that the author must have intentionally left it out.
Orson made some very good observations in his most recent blog about this. He credits Rowling for leaving religion out of the books due to reverence. He suggests that rather than deal with it lightly, she chose not to deal with it at all.
This proves that Orson is a better person than I am. My suspicion was that Rowling was avoiding religion because bringing it into the story would open up a very difficult, very messy can of worms. I like his thought better than mine, so I’m going with him.
But leaving religion out of the story has, effectively opened a different can of worms. As the books progressed, it was almost like someone had gone through and blacked-out the remotest hint of any sort of religion with a heavy marker, like those censored government documents you see in the X-Files.
For example, during Dumbledore’s funeral, we don’t know if anything religious was said. The same thing is true of the wedding ceremony in Book Seven. The result is that there is an increasingly large hole in Rowling’s world where religion would normally be.
And that means the questions religion is designed to answer can’t be dealt with. What happens when people die? In the Potterverse, no one knows. No one speaks of it.
Well…that’s not entirely true. When Severus dies Harry does some asking around. He talks to Nearly Headless Nick. But oddly, Nick doesn’t know anything about the afterlife.
Who is the only person who hints that such a thing exists? Luna. At the end of OOTP Harry asks her:

“…has anyone you known ever died?”
“Yes,’ said Luna simply, “my mother. She was a quite extraordinary witch, you know, but she did like to experiment and one of her spells went rather badly wrong one day. I was nine.”
“I’m sorry,” Harry mumbled.
“Yes it was rather horrible,” said Luna conversationally.” I still feel very sad about it sometimes. But I’ve still got Dad. And anyway, it’s not as though I’ll never see Mum again, is it?”
“Er – isn’t it?” said Harry uncertainly.
She shook her head in disbelief. “Oh, come on. You heard them, just behind the veil, didn’t you?”

And that’s it. It seems like the only person willing to suggest the possibility of life after death is the crazy girl who wears radishes in her ears and believes in the Crumple-Horned Snorkack.
While it might have started as reverent avoidance of a subject, at some point this omission became glaring. When Luna mentions seeing her mom again, Harry stutters and looks confused, as if the thought has never even occurred to him. It’s almost like Luna has gone off-script and Harry knows if he uses a word like “heaven” in his reply, the censors are going to yank the film out of the camera and burn it.
The Nature of the Soul in the Potterverse
I’ve already run long in this, my final blog post. Since I’ve been so impressed with the comments people have been making so far, I’m going to throw out a few open-ended questions about the nature of the soul for all you big thinkers out there to chew over when I’m gone.
1. What is a soul?
We know that souls exist. The Dementors threaten them. Voldemort tears his up and hides pieces of them all higgledy-piggledy over England. But we don’t know what a soul actually is. Is it different than a person’s mind? Is it different than a person’s life-force?
C.S. Lewis said: “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” Does this seem to be the case in Harry Potter? Is the soul the seat of being, or a just the piece of a person that doesn’t die?
2. Are the ghosts in Harry Potter trapped souls?
Nearly-Headless Nick claims that “wizards can leave imprint of themselves upon the earth, to walk palely where their living selves once trod.” That seems to take soul entirely out of the picture. These aren’t spirits. They’re imprints.
However, Nick also says that “very few wizards choose that path.” What’s more, he says it somewhat mournfully, as if implying that becoming a ghost isn’t a particularly wise thing to do, and that he regrets his own sorry state. If a ghost is just an imprint, the soul should be free. So why do wizards avoid doing it?
2b. How do the conscious portraits differ from ghosts?
They possess the ability to think and reason, and they can act of their own free will. Dumbledore doesn’t become a ghost, but he does continue to direct events from his portrait after his death. If it’s really him, then does that mean a piece of his soul is trapped in the picture?
3. Do only wizards have souls?
Only wizards can become ghosts. Only photos of wizards become animated. Only wizards can do magic. This seems to imply that either Muggles don’t have souls, or, at the very least, that wizards’ souls are way better.
If that’s the case, was Voldemort right all along? If not in his methodology, then at least in his assertion that wizards are a superior class of human being?
That’s all I’ve got room for. Thanks again, it’s been fun.

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posted August 2, 2007 at 8:03 pm

Why can a dememtor suck out your soul without killing you? (BTW, Harry told Dudley that the dementor was trying to suck out his soul, so apparently muggles have souls.) I’m not really sure what a soul is in Harry Potter, but I started to think of the talking photos and such as a kind of magical artificial intelligence that can be programmed to be like someone. That was my imagination’s contribution to that question. Maybe mine is a bit less lazy than yours? Anyway, that still doesn’t answer the question of what a soul is or where it goes or, really, what it’s good for. If the dementor sucks out your soul without killing your body, then why not just rig up a magical AI of your soul and stick it in your body? It feels like a soul is expendable if a photo, or an echo from a priori incantatem, or a ghost, is pretty much like having a soul around.
Why can you split up your soul and stick it in things? How is this different from the magical photos? How is the diary of Tom Riddle darker magic than the talking photo of Dumbledore? Why is one animated by a piece of soul and the other just some magical AI, if they amount to the same thing? What is the difference between magic and soul? If soul is so important in these books, we need to know why – what it is, what it does, what exactly magic can do to it, whether it is some kind of magic itself.
Why can magic destroy your soul? The fact that this can happen makes me think souls are not immortal.
I think Rowling uses most people’s belief in the uniqueness and immortality of the soul to drive the drama in the books, but the facts of her story contradict that belief. The result is a reader (me) who says, “Who cares what people do with their souls?” We haven’t been given any reason to care except for the belief we already bring to the book (if we do happen to have that belief). The magic in the book says repeatedly – the soul is reproducible and divisible and can be destroyed. The characters in the book accept as a matter of course that the soul is something big and special, but they never discuss why.
Why is the soul something special in Harry Potter? A reader who had no previous belief in or understanding of a concept of a soul would be mystified by Harry Potter.

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posted August 2, 2007 at 9:03 pm

While the Dursleys don’t seem to be churchgoing, the idea of an afterlife does seem to be pretty foreign to Harry. I do think, however, that Luna is a good representative to bring the concept up—while she is somewhat “loony,” I think she also demonstrates a kind of serene, silly wisdom, somewhat like Dumbledore. Ms. Rowling once commented that Luna was kind of the opposite of Hermione, since she accepts everything on faith instead of reason—so in some ways, Luna is the perfect person to represent the religious folks.
But dang, I found the funeral annoying…I mean, yeah, who is this guy? Not even a passing explanation, some vague term like “priest” or “minister,” or even something more secular, like being a represenative from somewhere—he’s just “some wizard” giving the eulogy. After his appearance at the wedding, I’ve just decided he’s the world’s one Roman Catholic Wizard priest, but I think there should be some kind of identification.
As for the questioned:
1.) I think the ghosts are “trapped souls,” while Nick’s comment on being an “imprint” is just his kind of gloomy comment, that he’s no longer “really” there—in that he can’t really “live,” so while his soul is there he’s just an “imprint” or imitation of a living person. Or something.
2.) Not so sure here; I think J.K. intends them to be more just “imprints,” like the thoughts and personalities of the people but not the soul. But I’m not sure. I notice Harry and Dumbledore’s portrait don’t discuss anything that happened in “King’s Cross” dimension, so we don’t get a clue there, but then, Portrait Dumbledore seems to know that Harry knows what KC Dumbledore mentioned…but then, how could the “real” Dumbledore be both? Or are portraits souls that just kind of wait around in KC, and can occasionally peek out into the living world through their pictures?
Maybe it comes down to the Fantasy Law of Mystery: if you give too many rules to magical occurrences, then they stop being as mystical and become bland and scientific.
3.) I wouldn’t say that we’re supposed to assume Muggles are soulless, or less ensouled; rather, if we think of ghosts as magical creatures, it makes sense that only wizards can do it. Magic is not really defined much, but I think it’s supposed to be more of a “genetic” thing or something, as in some people are just born wizards and some aren’t, and the soul isn’t really involved in that, according to Potterverse rules.
God bless.

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Orson Scott Card

posted August 2, 2007 at 9:04 pm

I could not agree more with Patrick: Rowling IS leaving religion in the background, and it DOES open a can of worms, and she DOESN’T make the rules clear.
When reading passages in Snape’s memory where Dumbledore’s PORTRAIT tells him what to do, I was stunned. I really thought that going to a portrait to get new instructions on new developments was a cheat. If THAT is possible – if portraits are that aware and conscious – then why should there ever be a new headmaster at Hogwarts? Why isn’t the portrait of the original Headmaster still in charge? – literally a figurehead!
But then I realized that, as Patrick so ably points out, Rowling is fuzzy on what constitutes a sentient being. She was careful to explain Tom Riddle-in-the-diary as a horcrux, so there’s a fragment of soul there; but frankly, it seemed to me that a lot of this stuff she just made up as she went along.
That’s not really a criticism. Heck, I do that, and so does every writer I know. You can’t, in advance of writing, think of EVERY possible contingency (or if you CAN, it delays writing so long that you might as well change careers). So sometimes you’re going to way, Wow, can I have a character do this?
The problem with HP is that Rowling seems to think of this question about two books late. And sometimes I wonder if she doesn’t just wince, whisper, “Wow, that’s a hard one, I hope nobody notices,” and then move on. Not a crime, as long as most readers DO forgive or overlook the flaw. But frustrating to the perfectionists who try to make the novel series into a realish world.
I think the core problem is that Rowling DOES include religion more than she should have! Using the word “soul” and having an afterlife brings in all the Christian associations that come with those words in Anglophone culture.
When I needed something like that in my later Ender books, I coined a word (well, adapted it from conjectural Indo-European), “aiua” and gave it a very careful definition that was specifically NOT tied to ordinary Christian notions of the “soul.” I actually DID have characters who were Christians in the book, but I worked very hard to keep my readers from having to decide whether they believed the same way – which is why, where a “soul” mattered in the story, I gave it a completely new name and rule-set, to keep my novel from forcing people to make a decision of real-world faith in order to receive my made-up-world novel.
Rowling would have been better served to do something similar. She could have used, for instance, “essence” or “core” or “inself” or any number of other terms and coinages, and then she could have, without reference to religion, set up clear rules governing the item.
Now, this is still the most successful literary work in all of history – during its own time (staying power is never judged until the original audience is pretty much gone). Obviously, readers have not been repelled from the books by such issues.
But the issues are there, Patrick has laid them out very effectively, and would-be fantasy or sf writers should learn an important lesson: DON’T make your readers decide about their personal religious beliefs in order to receive your book; DO make the rules of magic or science or technology that is used in a story very, very clear, so that readers don’t feel like you’re pulling rabbits out of your hat by making up new rules or new exceptions whenever you need to write your way out of a problem.

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Ben Heneghan

posted August 3, 2007 at 7:49 am

I sort of wondered from the first book onwards whether God and religion were going to be skirted round. Christmas and Easter are acknowledged and celebrated in a completely secular way at Hogwarts, which seems very odd in a society for whom the supernatural is part of everyday life. Why have these feastdays at all? There is no point (IIRC) in the seven books at which anybody pays even lip-service to specifically Christian beliefs.

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Katie Angel

posted August 3, 2007 at 9:22 am

I think this whole discussion is the result of having writers making dong the commentary. I doubt that you will find many of the “average” readers worrying about this sort of nonsense. Rowlings stories are (as my father-in-law puts it) “ripping good yarns” and for those of us outside the hallowed halls of authorship, that is enough. I don’t go to fiction to find my faith any more than I go to church to hear fantasy stories (of course, there are people who think that everything in a church is a fantasy story). :-)
Up until these last posts, I have been enjoying reading your perspectives but these last couple of posts (particularly by Patrick) seem to be more about finding flaws and deconstruction of things that were never meant to be there. Rowlings has made in clear in her interviews why she did not include a specific religious point of view and what her overall viewpoint was. Get off your santimonious high horse and just go along for the ride. :-) Everything doesn’t have to have a Greater Meaning or convey Greater Truth – it can just be fun and escapist and happy.

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Ian Lynch

posted August 3, 2007 at 11:36 am

I have a hunch that JKR doesn’t portray a well-formed belief set of any kind in her wizarding world because she doesn’t have one personally. Of course, I could be all wet here and she may have well-examined and deep beliefs. In any case, the absence of religion in the books does allow the reader to enter in on the journey wherever one is in his or her spirituality. The metaphor of Harry as seeker is a thread throughout the books (even in this one where no Quidditch is played, perhaps the lack of literalness makes it even livelier this time). It wouldn’t work if Harry had a clear religion that he followed. In a sort of parallel to Tom Riddle’s pieces of scattered soul, there are pieces of belief scattered around Harry in his friends and family: Hermione’s faith in reason, Luna’s belief in things unseen, Dumbledore’s belief in the greater good (and how that belief grows and changes). I’m sure if I gave this more thought I could identify more.
In short, the absence of religion in HP allows us all to bring our own beliefs to the story and find both support and challenge. Just as darkness is required to bring out starlight, and silence is necessary for the space between musical notes, this absence in the stories allows for a different sort of faith formation. JKR doesn’t give us a standard that we are measured by. Luna may indeed be loony but she is clearly wise in her own way as she and her father prove to be among the “good guys” and their ways and beliefs become vital to the ultimate triumph of right.
This indeed is a “good rippin’ yarn” and that is what makes the fictional story “true.” JKR is showing us reality in a fantasy because she is speaking to us about truths. As Dumbledore might say, “Of course it is a fantasy story, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

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posted August 3, 2007 at 1:14 pm

I’m surprised more readers haven’t been turned off of Harry Potter. I’m an average reader. I’ve never written anything. I’m not one of those people who scoffs at the outrageous stuff in science fiction and fantasy. I love that stuff. If you tell me a space ship can travel faster than the speed of light, that’s fine. I don’t even ask how it works. But if the space team needs to get across the galaxy fast, there better be a reason why they can’t use the warp speed. All you have to do is say there is some kind of instability in that area of space, and I’m happy. But if you don’t say anything about why they can’t use it, and you have them sit around and whine about how they can’t get across the galaxy fast enough without discussing why, I’m not happy. If a member of the space team dies in outer space, fine. If, in the next book in the series, you meet that character’s soul, or imprint, or whatever, on a foreign planet, you better have the characters be amazed – or a reason why they aren’t. There better be some questions asked and answered. I’m not just going to read about the tear-filled reunion and think, “I’m so glad he’s back.” It isn’t because I’m a Christian, or a Buddhist, or an atheist. I don’t get offended when events in a book contradict my beliefs. I do get offended when events in a book contradict each other.
I hope Patrick’s comparison between faith in fantasy and faith in religion isn’t accurate. Are people as careless and unquestioning in their religious beliefs as they are in their fiction? I hope not.

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posted August 4, 2007 at 2:18 pm

Wizards can’t be the only ones to have souls, or Dudley would not have been in danger from the dementors at the beginning of Order of the Phoenix. So Rowling has clearly established that everyone has a soul in her world.
Even rational, slow-to-believe Hermione believes in the existence of the soul, separate from the body, as evidenced by her exchange with Ron (on p. 104 of Deathly Hallows) about how it should be a comfort to him that his soul would still exist if his body was killed. This seems to imply to me that everyone in the wizarding world–even the most skeptical–sort of takes it for granted that the soul exists, and that it goes somewhere after you die.
As for why portraits can’t be headmasters… I don’t know. I always got the impression that they were something less than their human counterparts, although they would still respond and behave as their human counterparts would. But I could be wrong. Plus they’d have a hard time getting around the school, if they were needed. Unless they designate a new job for someone to carry them around all the time, or something. :-)
I think the reason Rowling left religion out of her books was probably more to keep from turning people off than anything else. She has also been quoted as saying “Every time I’ve been asked if I believe in God, I’ve said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what’s coming in the books.” (From the Vancouver Sun, Oct. 26, 2000) So maybe keeping religion out of the books had a little something to do with protecting her storyline, as well.

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posted August 4, 2007 at 8:56 pm

You made my day, Pat. :]
Though I don’t particularly enjoy picking the Harry Potter books apart as you and Orson [and, indirectly, I] have been doing, I did notice the conspicuous hole of religion when I began to write Harry Potter fanfiction [yes, I’m one of them XD] and I noticed that none of the characters ever swear by God; they always say “Merlin” instead. Even Harry and Hermione, raised by Muggles, never mention God. Either the people in England don’t say “God” [I dunno] or JKR was just avoiding it. Just a detail I noticed. ;]
I’m going to skip the question about souls, because I don’t have any answers to that one. xD; But as for the ghosts, I believe that Nick is rather regretful of his decision because, though he’s not necessarily a soul trapped in a ghostly form for eternity, it must get pretty depressing, having a human awareness [d’you know what I mean?] for eternity.
As for the portraits, I think they’re pretty much the same, only in a limited form, if that makes any sense. I think that they’re basically the same as, weird analogy here, a persocom, if you’ve ever watched Chobits [err…]. They’re, for lack of a better word, robots, and it’s possible [and has been done] to give them the memories and personality of someone who has died, but since they also have no true, human emotions, so they can’t be resentful. For example, Dumbledore’s headmaster painting probably retained the living Dumbledore’s final plan, as well as his personality, and such. I also think that portraits are the way they are, and have no room to grow. So the learning experience stops, and I think this is the reason a portrait can’t be a headmaster.
As for the final question, I don’t think only wizards have souls. I don’t actually recall it being said that Muggles couldn’t be animated in photos; I don’t know if it was ever mentioned at all. Wizards just have the ability [potion?] to animate photos and such. Again, I don’t know if it’s true that only wizards can be animated in pictures. And as for the magic, I personally don’t think that magic is related to the soul at all. Perhaps it’s a gene, or perhaps it’s a portion of your mind that Muggles can’t use.
So, it’s been an utter delight to be able to read and comment these blogs. I am a true blue Harry Potter series fan, so I most likely have a lot more tolerance for the flaws than other casual readers, heh. It was a pleasure hearing your opinions, as you have very interesting ones, and I only hope my opinions have been equally interesting. :]

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posted August 5, 2007 at 2:48 am

Llyralei, I like what you said about the portraits–that the learning experience stops for them. That’s pretty much how I saw it, as well. You could ask the Dumbledore portrait a question, and it would respond the way Dumbledore would have responded, but you’re not really talking to Dumbledore.
I noticed the “Merlin” thing too, but the characters *do* swear by God throughout the series, and moreso as they get older (as people tend to do, I suppose). I actually didn’t like this, as I grew up in a house where this just wasn’t done. But I distinctly remember Hermione saying “Oh my God!” when she finds out the O.W.L. exam results are winging their way towards her in Half-Blood Prince. I think we can give her a pass on that one, poor thing. :-)

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posted August 5, 2007 at 7:00 pm

Patrick, I think you’re trying too hard with the logic and your bemoaning of no overt religion in the Potter books.
You make one good point; I too notice the same thing about books I read as a child, that reading them now I see all kinds of things that didn’t raise an eyebrow then, but are jarring when I read them now. Makes sense, we are older and, presumably, wiser.
But the thing I believe you’re not taking into account, which is surprising to me because, as you say, you’re a writer, is that this is a WRITER we’re talking about, and her fiction works that we’re talking about. These aren’t religious tracts; these aren’t dissertations, or mathematical proofs — it is fiction. JKR is going to make mistakes because she’s human, but I’m not even talking about that.
A lot of the “logic” complaints I’m reading just don’t hold up under scrutiny. This stuff isn’t based on physics, or any science, really: it’s all made up. Who made it up? JK Rowling did, of course. Not you, the reader, not another writer, but she, the ONLY writer of this story, the “creator” of the Potter universe. And her story is not even science fiction, which typically has to have an underpinning of strong logic – Potter is fantasy. I’ll admit that there probably are some logic problems in the entirety of the Potter series; JKR herself would probably admit that privately. But I think many people are making much too big a deal out of certain things they don’t “get” – in short, they’re trying too hard.
Ginormous spoilers follow (I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will; don’t read this if you haven’t finished the entire Potter series).
Just for an example: what about the Elder Wand? This seems to be a major point of contention, it doesn’t make sense to people; there are tens of thousands of views of thousands of posts on the message boards about this one topic. And I personally just don’t get the confusion. Like Tolkien’s ring, or Lewis’s wardrobe, this device is an invention of the writer. Furthermore, it is a unique object, an artifact, and JO makes the special rules about it. Why COULDN’T it recognize Draco as its master when he defeated (by disarming) Dumbledore, then turn around and know (on its own) about Harry defeating Draco, which then made Harry the master of the wand? The wand chooses the wizard, right?
Did Jo say the wizard has to touch the Elder Wand to become its master? No. Can the wand think? Sure, what about Frodo’s ring, how many times did it think for itself, making itself bigger, etc? Did we complain then? The Elder Wand simply saw Draco, and then Harry, as winning a true duel and it chose them, respectively. And you people whining about how “if this were the way it really works then every duel would make the winner the master of the loser’s wand”, Jo never said that! Only the Elder Wand — a unique object — works this way, okay? Why is that so hard to understand?
The only thing I’ll allow is that if a significant portion of readers DIDN’T get it, and were truly bothered by it, then she perhaps should have done a better job explaining it; the customer (when you put all of them together) is always right. But I don’t agree at all with the blowhards who put on airs and say, sagely, “She just blew it with this thing, it’s all wrong, it doesn’t work.”
One more: the sword of Griffindor. Neville pulled it from the hat. Well, where did that come from, that doesn’t make any sense, Griphook had it, not the hat! It’s not logical! JKR blew it! It’s deux ex machina!
No, calm down, listen to Orson Scott Card and have some faith. Neville, a Griffindor, really needed it, he couldn’t have needed a weapon more than at that moment, and there it was: Griffindor’s sword, pulled from the Sorting Hat. Why didn’t I hear anybody complaining when Harry pulled it from the hat in The Chamber of Secrets? “It wouldn’t fit in a hat!” Why didn’t we hear people complain that only Harry could pull the stone from his POCKET in the first book? “How did it get there?” The sword, like the Elder Wand, is a unique magical artifact. Things like this DO have rules around them, but after all we’re talking about magic, where the rules are by necessity different than our own real-world rules. It’s ALL made up, and the author is the final arbiter of said rules. Have some faith!
I think that many of the “logic” problems people have are just like these; non-problems for the most part, and, at worst, JKR’s failure to explain something adequately so that the majority would get it (while, at the same time, not dumbing down the story).
Incidentally, I wonder if the problems at least some people are having with the books are due to their favorite theory being dashed; i.e., some of this carping can, in my opinion, be fairly attributed to disappointment. Prior to Deathly Hallows coming out I read many posts stating that if Snape turned out to be on Dumbledore’s team after all they’d lose all faith in JKR.
Why? Do they know the story better than the author, or understand her REAL intent better than she does? How foolish. I defy anyone to read the entire series and present to me a logical, complete argument that Snape couldn’t possibly have been on DD’s (and, by extention, Harry’s) side. This is faith in the author again. Have some faith!
Then there are those who decry Snape’s love for Lily, saying it’s too simple, that his childhood puppy love for her couldn’t possibly still be with him all these years later, making him do all these things. Why in the world not? I know many, many adults who are the way they are today precisely because of something that happened in their formative years, well before they were twenty years old. The central theme of Potter is love – and Snape hasn’t exactly had a surplus in the “being loved” department. Lily was someone very, very special to Snape; according to Book 7 they were best friends. He blamed himself, correctly, for Voldemort going to Godric’s Hollow that night. Ergo, the Snape/Lily connection and cause-and-effect stemming from that (and her death) made perfect sense to me.
Aside: prior to reading Deathly Hallows I accurately predicted almost everything about the Snape / Lily relationship, who “that awful boy” was, Snape pitifully mourning her death, his working for Dumbledore because of it, Snape protecting Harry, Snape keeping Dumbledore alive for almost a year (“stoppering death”), and the grand coup, Snape finally agreeing to kill DD because he was going to die anyway. In short, after reading Half-Blood Prince that entire plot arc was something I felt fairly certain about (except for Snape’s involvement with Lily BEFORE Hogwarts, which was a bonus because it made their relationship even more well-established than I’d ever imagined).
Furthermore, that particular plot arc of love and redemption, was to me one of the most meaningful of the entire series. Who cares, right? Do I get a cookie or a ribbon or something? No, I’m merely trying to make a point: maybe I’m biased in one respect, because my theory wasn’t dashed. Had Snape turned out to be Snidley Whiplash in Book 7 would I be on here arguing with other folks, complaining about how badly JKR had goofed up her story? Possibly. I’m man enough to admit that. Actually, I told my wife that if that happened I was going to go out onto the back deck and fling the book as far as I could in disgust. So I indeed do have some sympathy for those whose hopes were uprooted.
Enough aside, now to Ian’s hunch: “JKR doesn’t portray a well-formed belief set of any kind in her wizarding world because she doesn’t have one personally”.
My first thought was that this comment of yours sure is one bold, presumptive, and elitist comment, even couched in a hunch. But on the other hand, Ian, I agree with the ENTIRETY of the rest of your post. How’s that for straddling the fence?
Whew. Anyway, back to Patrick — why isn’t there overt religion in Potter? Well, why don’t you ask OSC why there isn’t any religion in Ender’s Game? He’s a bestselling author, too, I think he’d have some insight into this that would escape most of us. If you were to ask him, based on his essays that I’ve read, I think you’d get the same answer that JRK would give: there is a time and place for everything, and that story wasn’t the time or the place for that. Both OSC and JKR could have included specific religious scenes or dialogue in their stories, but they didn’t, I believe, mostly out of respect for their readers, who come in all stripes, sizes, colors, and shapes. JKR did everything BUT put explicit Christian religion in her story — the symbolism and parallels are there just as strongly as they can be.
She didn’t do any more, and she shouldn’t have — she made the correct decision by not putting explicit Christian (and more specifically, Anglican/Episcopalian) beliefs and such into her story. It’s more than “not turning people off”, I believe, it’s to write her story in such a way that it is accessible to the largest number of people. It’s like a virtuoso musician knowing what notes NOT to play, it’s the master writer knowing what NOT to write. You surely noticed that she didn’t put a lot of politics into her story either?
Let me give you a real-world example. One of the things I like to ask my friends who believe the Ten Commandments should be posted in schools is if they’d feel the same way if some Islamic tracts were up there on the wall right next to it — or, ten years from now, because the decision makers for that particular wall (or school) are more sympathetic to Islam, the Islamic tracts are up there on the wall INSTEAD of the Ten Commandments. Or maybe the wall is covered in excerpts from the Hindu religion, or from Buddhism. Or maybe a selection of quotes from David Koresh? Or maybe there is a wall running all the way around the school, 300 yards of wall in a school that is so inclusive it allows anybody to post anything from any belief on the wall. Well? Slippery slopes are called that for a reason.
Maybe putting stuff like that up on the wall is not such a good idea after all. Maybe, considering where we are today, in 2007, it’s better to leave everything like that off the wall. Time and place for everything? You’ve got to pick and choose your battles, my friend.
Patrick, you seem to have wanted a real, flesh-and-blood Christian send up at the funeral or the wedding, at least. Or some mention of the Christian heaven. Here are some thoughts. What if JKR had one of her characters have an abortion, and presented it in the story as a defense for a woman’s “right to choose”? What would that do to her audience? Some would have praised it, sure, but others would have roundly condemned it.
What if one of the characters turned out to have a sexual orientation with which many would feel uncomfortable, and she was using that character and the situation to preach tolerance? Some would praise, some would condemn. Some would howl from the mountaintops.
What if she put real-world terrorism into the story — Al Queda includes a few Death Eaters (swarthy, dark-skinned, and with Arabic accents, of course) who are working for Voldemort, for instance? Would that be okay? Would anybody have trouble with that?
Would you be one who’d praise her for choices like these, to include that kind of modern hot-button stuff? Or would you, instead, say something I’ve often said to myself, especially when reading Stephen King and Anne Rice, among others, “This is fiction, for crying out loud, why on EARTH is THAT stuff in there? This story belongs completely to the author when he or she writes it – I don’t care if he or she believes this or not, or supports this or not, couldn’t he or she have chosen to just leave that stuff OUT of the story and not try to ram it down my throat? It doesn’t advance the story; it throws me out of the story and irritates me.”
What about something a little more specific. What if Harry, Ron, and Hermione were Anglican and the Malfoys were Mormon (I know, it’s a giant stretch, but just for the sake of argument), and JKR used that dynamic to, from a Mormon’s point of view, raise the Anglican beliefs up on a pedestal and throw Mormons under the bus? Or what if the stupidest character in the entire story were a thinly-veiled Mitt Romney-type? Would OSC have enjoyed that? Methinks not. In fact, I think he’d be the first to say, “Why on Earth is that in there? She didn’t have to do that.” I think many non-Mormons would be agreeing with him.
Which brings me to my point, finally. JKR says over and over in the novel that our choices are important, that they, rather than our abilities, are what make us different. Choices. Our choices, her choices.
She chose to use symbolism and parallels and naming tricks (some of it subtle, some of it obvious) to evoke the things she believes. She, and her protagonists, for the most part, lived her life as she believes, by morally leading by example.
She chose NOT to use overt references to explicitly state what she believes. She did not beat us over the head from the pulpit.
Is that so wrong? I, for one, think that she showed true class and restraint. In my opinion these were excellent choices, and Patrick you are, in my opinion, completely missing the point, and are being short-sighted to condemn her. Another thing: she’s got many books ahead of her; maybe she’ll write something just for Christians someday.
I personally think that JKR should be appreciated for including what she did (first and foremost writing a morally upright series that has prompted millions of kids to read), and that the Fundamentalists who raved against her owe her a big apology. By the same token, you should try to be a little less harsh, more realistic, and more understanding about her choices regarding what NOT to include. These choices were hers to make, and her choices are what makes her different, what sets her apart.
I agree with OSC, that she left overt religion out of Potter out of respect. And I’m glad she did.

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posted August 5, 2007 at 9:31 pm

Bill: You are my hero.
You said: “I don’t care if he or she believes this or not, or supports this or not, couldn’t he or she have chosen to just leave that stuff OUT of the story and not try to ram it down my throat? It doesn’t advance the story; it throws me out of the story and irritates me.”
This is precisely why I will never pick up anything by Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) again. He can’t contain his snide political and religious jokes and comments that drag me out of his story and show me his utter contempt of my beliefs.

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Ian Lynch

posted August 6, 2007 at 5:07 pm

Bill, glad to see that you agree with me wholly…er, I mean the whole of my post :-) Seriously, you are right to challenge my way of presenting my suggestion. JKR very well have a well-formed spirituality but yet chose to show us the struggle. In any case, I think that Harry’s seeking of truth, finding his own answers through the journey through adolescents is at the heart of the grand arc of the story JKR is telling us.
The more I think about this, the more I realize how this resonates with me because of my own questions and the answers I was finding about God when I was 17. I love the fact that there is a lot of space for reading our own story…and the story of others…in the telling of the HP tale.

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posted August 7, 2007 at 2:31 pm

I’m probably coming to this discussion too late, but just wanted to say that I think there are some fairly clear references to religion and an afterlife in the books. The “King’s Cross” chapter to me is one of the most overtly religious, since Dumbledore tells Harry that, if he wants, he could board a train and “go on.” In that chapter, Voldemort’s soul appears to be represented by the “flayed, abandoned infant.”
In “Order of the Phoenix” Luna discusses the figures that can be heard “behind the veil.” Some critics have pointed out that the resolution of Book Seven bears some small resemblance to “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
The idea of redemption without the idea of souls doesn’t make much sense to me. Snape has a fairly miserable life, yet he is redeemed by his choices, but that fact doesn’t make him a less miserable person.
I do agree that there is a problem with both the ghosts and with the headmasters’ portraits in Dumbledore’s office. Are these mere “imprints” or are they actual spirits. It seems a bit unfair to me for the souls of these headmasters to be tied down to their portraits. Do some part of their souls “go on” while a mere imprint remains behind?

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posted August 9, 2007 at 9:17 pm

Let me briefly address the portraits and photographs issue:
In book 2 (I believe), Colin Creevey tells Harry how he’s learned that if you develop film in a special potion, the figures in them move. While they do appear to retain some qualities of the people in them (like Harry trying to get away from Lockhart in their photo together), their actions appear limited (maybe to their attitude at the time they were photographed?) and they don’t talk.
Portraits seem to be a little different, though there are definitely rules associated with them. They can move through the other portraits in the building they are in, and between buildings IF there is another portrait of themselves in another building. And of course, they talk. Also, you may notice, the portrait of Dumbledore appeared in his office almost immediately after he died. We’re just not told how they’re made (by the person themselves? some special spell or potion?) but it seems clear they’re a totally different thing than photos. My theory, at least in the case of Dumbledore’s portrait, is that he had a hand in creating it, or at least in making sure that it knew his entire plan.
Anyway, just drawing the distinction. I love the comment about the portraits’ learning process being over. Also — maybe they considered that one should only have the job of headmaster for so long? (We don’t even know if all those headmasters died while in the job, or just retired, surely that’s a possibility as well.)

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posted August 10, 2007 at 2:20 pm

I posit that the reason religion/spiritual issues shouldn’t have been given short shrift is because one of the primary themes of the book (according to Rowling herself) is Death. Death is profoundly spiritual, and one of the way we humans try to understand and cope with death is through religion.

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Norman Doering

posted August 10, 2007 at 4:13 pm

“…it was almost like someone had gone through and blacked-out the remotest hint of any sort of religion with a heavy marker, like those censored government documents you see in the X-Files.”
I think someone did, and that person was JKR herself. I don’t think it was done out of “respect” but for marketing reasons. You really can’t talk about religion, and especially Christianity, without alienating some group.
JKR is not unique in this — not many big, popular fantasies anywhere today explicitly engage existing religions — not Spiderman, not X-Men, not Star Trek (you get religions, but no Christians or Muslims), in all those worlds it is as if Christianity didn’t even exist.
You can’t say the Trek writers did it out of respect — most of them aren’t Christian.
I think we can see the reason why in the debate that happened here between Orson Scott Card, Dr. Mohler and their commenters — there is no one Christianity, no single Christian belief — there are thousands.
Make any Christian character and most of the other Christians will tell you that you’ve got it wrong. The less you say, the less faith you’ll loose.

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Jennifer Barrett

posted August 10, 2007 at 5:44 pm

The true power of a great fantasy story, like JK’s, is its ability to engage subjective readers in objective ideals, avoiding the messy ambivalence of “real life” experience by removing the trappings of the familiar. We become better people when we grow through literary experiences that strip us of bias and prejudice–things which do seem to tie up little pieces of our souls. Reading the series can make us feel more “whole.” Voldemort teaches by negative example what happens to those who fragment themselves in an effort to immortalize self-interest. The willingness to give up ego, subjectivity, self-interest for the sake of a bigger picture is the path of the hero in fantasy and real life. Just as meaning exists pre-verbally, so this heroic impulse exists, I believe, below the level of self-interest which becomes the daily habit of the little “me.” Fantasy allows the reader to sink past acquired “littleness” of mind into boundless new territory. All institutions and pre-defined forces (such as a traditional or doctrinal “God”) limit the mystery, the possibilites. JK gets it. I see the portraits as visually personified pensieves; the hallows, tokens tied to that deeper level of understanding.

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posted August 14, 2007 at 2:35 am

From the peanut gallery:
I think souls were very important in the Harry Potter books, but I don’t think they were religious. Harry Potter was about the struggle of human nature, of doing good things versus doing evil things, of love versus hate, discrimination, and indifference. For a lot of people these are religious issues, but as an agnostic, I don’t think they are. I think JKR left out religion so that it wouldn’t get in the way of the actual message, the overall theme of love, doing the right thing, and fighting those who would do evil.
I’ve had arguments with people who think Harry Potter is an evil series, against god, because of the witches and magic. And that’s just as ridiculous a thought to me, because Harry Potter is clearly about not being perfect but trying to do the right thing anyway. Good versus evil, to put it most simply, and the good wins.
I agree with the comments about portraits being as the person was before death, but with the learning process suspended. As Dumbledore pointed out, his guesses tend to be good, and he had a good idea of what he thought would happen when he died. From the knowledge he had at death, his portrait could have advised Snape as long as Dumbledore’s guesses didn’t go wildly wrong.
Someone said that it’s made clear souls can be destroyed, and I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Voldemort was steadily working toward destroying his own soul, but that was the only real evidence I saw toward a soul being destroyed. The Dementor’s Kiss, perhaps, although the rules here aren’t clear; perhaps the soul is made a part of the dementor, how are we to know?
It was also asked why a person can live after suffering the Dementor’s Kiss. First of all, I may be wrong, but I seem to remember that they can live, but the shock can also kill them.
Secondly, I felt it was made clear that the body without the soul was just a shell. All human feeling and will has departed the body. So it still lives because its heart still beats, but there’s not really anyone there.
Another matter of concern was mentions of the afterlife. There were relatively few of them, but I didn’t think there were any that strictly spoke of any one religion. And they were all presented in forms that allowed the reader to choose, if they wanted, that the character was wrong or that it wasn’t real. Luna’s personal belief is that she’ll see her mother again and that the voices behind the veil were of the dead, but that doesn’t mean she was right. And Harry asks Dumbledore if King’s Cross was all in his head. Dumbledore says yes, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real — but that doesn’t mean it IS real, either.
It really does depend on what you bring to the book, because if you want to see religion you will. If you don’t believe in an afterlife, you can choose to see the few mentions of it as being religious or pushy. I think it was left entirely up to the reader, but that’s just me.

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posted August 14, 2007 at 6:49 pm

This interview transcript might help (or cause even more confusion!)
Sunday, July 29, 2007
For the First TIme: J.K. Rowling speaks on her faith and its presence in the Harry Potter Series
Another Secret Revealed: From tonight’s NBC telecast of their interview with Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling. A young person asks about her religious belief. For those who are still reading the final book, it does become clear that the faith, her belief, is wholeheartedly Christian. NOTE: You can read the entire interview at Shell Cottage or at MSNBC. Please know that both sites are filled with HP Spoilers.
Young voice: Harry’s also referred to as the chosen one. So are there religious–
J.K. Rowling: Well, there– there clearly is a religious– undertone. And– it’s always been difficult to talk about that because until we reached Book Seven, views of what happens after death and so on, it would give away a lot of what was coming. So … yes, my belief and my struggling with religious belief and so on I think is quite apparent in this book.
Meredith Vieira: And what is the struggle?
J.K. Rowling: Well my struggle really is to keep believing.
Meredith Vieira: To keep believing?
J.K. Rowling: Yes.

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posted August 16, 2007 at 1:19 pm

I believe this is the URL of the interview cited above:
As to the questions in the original post, I think that there aren’t really any certain answers within the books. Despite their ability to explore whatever may exist beyond death to a slightly greater extent, it appears that the soul and the afterlife are just as mysterious to Wizards as to Muggles. In “Deathly Hallows”, a character (I can’t remember specifics at the moment) utters a line to the effect that they are in unexplored territority, that they are dealing with magic deeper and more subtle than any than anything encountered before.
However, in the spirit of “inventing explanations” I’ll put in my two cent’s worth.
I don’t think that the wizard portraits are any sort of continuation of the subject. Just as Muggle cameras imperfectly recreate the subject’s image, wizard cameras recreate imperfectly the person’s whole essence. I don’t think the portrait is sentient or conscious, it is just a sort of model of the subject.
The ghosts, I think, are something similar, but much more detailed and complete. A pale imprint is a very good of describing it.
Obviously, the inhabitants of the Potterverse have some sort of essence that can be divided (horcruxes), removed (Dementor’s kiss), and imperfectly copied (portraits, ghosts). However, it appears that this essence is not usually kept intact after death. It can be gathered and temporarilly reconstructed, as when Harry summons the dead with the Deathly Hallows, or in “Goblet of Fire”, when Voldemort’s wand disgourges images of those that have killed by it. Apparently, though a wizard’s essence leaves echoes and shadows of itself in the world, there is no afterlife for it to inhabit. It is easy to see how a person like Voldemort could be terrified by such a fate.

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posted August 18, 2007 at 5:05 am

This may be too obvious, but the characters in the book did celebrate Christmas and Easter. Or are those just school holidays?

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posted August 21, 2007 at 3:41 pm

Christmas and Easter were celebrated, but only very secularly. Presents and lights and cookies. No nativities or pageants or Christmas Stories.
In response to the comment (critism?) that life after death is not dealt with in the earlier books, what about Harry’s and Dumbledore’s conversation where the headmaster utters the line, ‘To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure’? Which book is this in? I remember it being in the firt or second.

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posted August 21, 2007 at 3:44 pm

Please excuse my clumsy spelling mistakes. I am literate.

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Katie Angel

posted August 23, 2007 at 8:54 am

That comment is made at the end for the first book – when Dumbledore and Harry are discussing that Flamel had destroyed the Stone and would, consequently, die.

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Katie Angel

posted August 23, 2007 at 8:57 am

Death is also addressed several times in Order of the Phoenix: between Luna and Harry in the Death Chamber, during the confrontation between Dumbledore and Voldemort and when Harry is talking to Nearly Headless Nick later in that book. As JKR states in several of her interviews, death is a central theme of these stories.

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posted September 3, 2007 at 1:59 pm

I must say that my own interpretation was that ghosts and talking portraits have nothing to do with souls per se. They are manifestations of magic. Both are the equivalent of AI copies of people so popular in some science fiction stories. Only Wizards can become ghosts for precisely the same reason only wizards can make a broomstick fly–because it requires the ability to manipulate magic. Ditto talking portraits.
Myself, I think Rowling wrote with a genuine respect for some fundamental mysteries in life. She didn’t pretend to know answers, but allowed her own faith to inform what kinds of characters arose from her imagination. Hence in general the very best characters believe something awaits us beyond. But what? Well, you’ll find out. Eventually.
Rowling has answered many questions about her world, incidentally, on her website and in interviews.

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posted September 12, 2007 at 4:33 pm

Well written and well said. I think more than HP being a Christ allegory–it is/ or can be read as a faith/reigion allegory. More so, the approach to the books as faith and the subsequent description was way too personally felt for me. I was raise with Faith as a integral part fo my life–in spite/or perhaps because of this innoculatuion I have outgrown faith–yet just like my initial unwillingness to acknowledge theer were serious issues/holes with Rowling’s book–because I wanted to believe in it so much–I did the same with God/religion.
Is it American society, western culture, human nature–or just me that makes it so damn tempting to want to believe in black and white–even when we acknowledge or live in the grey? Or is it perhaps because we live i the grey, we yearn for the black and white? I love the HP books, find them fascinating, good storytelling, reflective, inspirational and I deeply hope they do pass into the pantheon of great literature; however I am at odds with myself because I have serious issues with some of the things Rowling expects us to take for granted–sectumsempra and the nature of “giving clothes” being just some of them. Perhaps the biggest is that I want Harry to do more, be smarter, solve something on his own-I wnat him to be worthy of the hero love he is receiving. While I love the books I feel they come short in that aspect–as the “wisdom” of Dumbledore. And alas, I arrive at the point I was making from the beginning. When we start unravelling, and looking to closely, we see that once again; the emperor is indeed wearing no clothes. How do we balance this as a culture? Is it that we expect too much from our heroes–a tragic flaw in our collective character; or is it that there is simply no perfection, no black or white and eventually no absolutes in our world. Is that the task and fruit of maturity–the thing we learn in the afterlife? Eitherway, I love the harry Potter books in spite of my misgivings and questions–and each time I feel disappointed I remind myself it is only a book, just a story–get the good I want from it (whether enjoyment or metaphysical validation) and leave the rest to the rest. Perhaps that is a healthier way to look at religion as well.

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posted December 25, 2007 at 4:04 pm

The presents of anything Religious in Rowlings books would have made then isolating rather than encompassing. What is a Buddhist to think when the books are full of Christian icons? Without specific religion, we are left with general faith. We are left with a story that has universal lesson available to all with the imagination to see them.
Rowlings books are filled with examples of life after death. The most notable, as pointed out by someone else, is Dumbledore’s statement that ‘to a well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure’.
Ghosts establish that there is an essential Self that transcends the earthly form. In other words, you are not your body; you are something greater.
Images of Harry’s parents return to him on at least a couple of occassions. For them to return, something must exist after mortal death.
Luna points out that the dead we love are there waiting for us just beyond the Veil, and that we will see them again.
We have Harry and Voldemort in limbo, dead in the twighlight, but not completely gone from this life.
We know the soul exists. We know it represents our true essential self. It is Voldemort’s soul that remains earthbound when his own curse first rebounds on him and destroys his body.
How many examples of an essential soulful Self that lives on after death do you need?
I’ve alway said that Revelation is a far better teacher than explanation. The lesson and knowledge that come from inside us are far more powerful than all the moral lectures and pontification combined. That is what Rowling wants. She doesn’t want to tell us what is right and what is wrong, she wants us to realize it for ourselves. She doesn’t want to tell us that there is life after death, she wants us to realize it for ourselves. This is the great flaw of most stories attempting a moral lesson. They are going to tell us everything we need, and they invariably fail. When the story is simply told, and the morality springs forth from the story playing out, we therefore realize it for ourselves, then great moral lessons are truly conveyed.
Portraits are another matter, they are not the person, but a representation of the person, in the same sense as an actor playing a role. If I recall some physical essence (hair, skin, blood, etc) is added to the portrait to give it some essence of the original person to draw in in its recreation.
The Headmaster portraits, because the headmasters leave a strong magical aura of themselves behind, are much more realized than the typical portrait.
Magical photographs are like actors in a TV commercial, they are very limited caricature of the person represented. Regular portraits are more like actors in a TV sitcom; they have some realization, but it is limited. Headmaster portraits are like stage actors playing a role. They can do it very convincingly, but when probed at depth, they character falls apart; they are limited.

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Dear Heather: There are many aspects of popular Catholic faith that have sometimes shocked me and turned me away. Yet I well remember visiting the great Catholic shrine at Czestechowa, in Poland, where once almost a million people turned out for Pope John Paul II when he first pierced the Iron Curta

posted 3:48:33pm Nov. 12, 2008 | read full post »

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