Richard Abanes, author of "Fantasy and Your Family": Harry is no Christ figure. Jesus of Nazareth sacrificed himself for his enemies. Christ died for the ungodly. He died for us while we were yet sinners. This is agape love--self-less, self-giving, god-like. Harry seems only willing and able to sacrifice for his friends. This is more akin to phileo love, or brotherly love. The parallel, therefore, does not exist.

Killinger: I suspect Rowling is much more deeply Christian than you think and simply doesn't choose, for whatever reasons, to make it a matter of public record...British literature from Beowulf to Bernard Shaw is deeply steeped in the Christian understanding of life and the world, and any writer coming out of that tradition is indelibly stamped and shaped by it. In fact, I'm sure you know that Rowling has said she loved C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein growing up. Could someone suckled on their writings fail to know and use similar structures in her novels?

Harry is indeed a Christ figure, in the same way that Dostoevsky's Prince Myshkin, Mauriac's Xavier Dartilongue, John Irving's Owen Meany, and numerous other literary characters are Christ figures. A Christ figure is a literary device, a particular way of shaping an important character in a novel. He (or she) may not conform in every instance to the biblical image of Jesus, but bears enough of the traits or characteristics to suggest the relationship and send us looking for important messages in the text.

In Harry's case, his unusual wound, his strange, miraculous childhood (remember the hair that grows back, the sweater that shrinks, his leaping over a building while running from Dudley?), his readiness to sacrifice himself for others, and his sustaining the Cruciatus Curse (in the latest book) are sufficient clues to link him to Jesus.

Another important clue is in the very first novel, "Sorcerer's Stone," when he is in a coma for three days after battling Voldemort. Consider too the scene in the second volume, "The Chamber of Secrets," when he leaps into the gaping maw he has opened up to the chamber and hastens, with no thought of his own safety, to rescue Ginny Weasley. Classically, this is similar to the "descent into hell" or "harrowing of hell" of classical Christianity, when Jesus was said to have assaulted the gates of hell to rescue sinners imprisoned there.

Dumbledore, a kind of God-the-Father figure, watches over Harry and gives him help from time to time as he battles Voldemort. And Harry gives himself unstintedly to the fight for the sake of all wizards and, ultimately, Muggles as well.

It's important, this question of whether Harry is a Christ figure. If he is, his battle with Voldemort is cast in very Christian, very apocalyptic terms. I strongly suspect that Rowling knows this and that it is going to play a big role in how the seventh and final novel turns out.

Abanes: This is all speculation. Rowling has never admitted to such allusions. Second, every three day moment in a novel is not a reference to Christ. Third, there are many similarities between the New Testament story of Christ and myths/legends throughout history. In novels there is often a messiah-like deliverer. As C.S. Lewis observed, the Christ story is the world's true myth come to life. At best, Rowling's novels are terribly derivative of age-old myths, legends, and stories. In fact, she habitually borrows from older (and better told, I might add) tales to flesh out her stories. Rowling's work is really nothing but a long string of mini-derivations dressed up in 21st century garb.

Killinger: Why do writers use Christ figures? It gives psychological and historical depth to their characters and their stories by linking them to the great Ur-figure of Western faith. Power flows into the character when this identification is made. In a flash, the entire landscape of the story is illuminated and transformed.

This is what happens to the Harry Potter stories when we recognize Harry as a Christ figure. We need to see it, and tell readers this is what they're seeing, and why they like it so much, i.e., they like it because it's about the most important story in history. The Rowling stories aren't just fantasies; they're literature of the stature of the Arthurian legends, Dante's "Divine Comedy," and the Miltonic poems.

Abanes: Harry's ethics, his selfishness, disregard for authority, and his "end justifies the means" mentality is hardly comparable to [other Christ figures in literature].

Patrick Madrid, editor of the Catholic magazine, Envoy: There's no question that the Harry Potter books are wildly popular, but I must respectfully but firmly disagree that they are "of the stature of Dante's "Divine Comedy." In narrative technique, character development, plot structure, and literary sophistication, Ms. Rowling might be ranked with Tom Clancy or Stephen King (though even that would be debatable). But the moral and philosophical depth of her stories do not, in my view, anywhere near approach the profundity of the Divine Comedy.