Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Harry Potter is a Saint - literally


Is Harry Potter a Saint?

The answer is a clear and resounding yes!

By the end of The Deathly Hallows, Harry is indeed a Saint - indeed the seven book series is an account of the making of a Saint who can save the world from the personification of evil.


Of course Harry does not start out as a Saint when we first meet him as a 10 year old boy - but following his numerous trials and tests, symbolic deaths and rebirths, and actual death and restoration to life, by the last pages of the last book Harry really has become a Saint:


In saying that HP is a Saint I am aware I appear to be contradicting both JK Rowling and John Granger (aka The Hogwarts Professor), both of who have categorically stated that Harry is 'no saint'.

Who am I to go against the author and the premier Potter Scholar?

My understanding is that JKR and JG would not disagree with my explanation of why Harry becomes a Saint, but in saying HP is 'no saint' they were trying not to be misunderstood by the average reader - because the average reader profoundly misunderstands what is a Saint.


JKR and JG are also probably trying to be clear that for most of the series Harry is not a Saint, indeed nothing like a Saint.

But that applies to many real Saints too - for much of their lives they were not Saints.


The corrupt and secular (legalistic) mainstream modern definition of a Saint is (roughly) a person without flaws, who never does anything wrong.

But by this kind of 'zero-tolerance' definition - not only is Harry no saint, but nor was any real-life saint a real Saint. All real Saints were fallen humans (except perhaps the Blessed Virgin Mary, according to recent Roman Catholic doctrine), lived in this world, and had flaws when their lives as a whole are surveyed.

(Except that some Saints probably did achieve a 'flawless' perfection after long struggle and shortly before death.)


In what follows, I hope I am simply sticking somewhat closer to the idea of a Saint being someone who, while still living on earth, has their deepest being turned-toward God, their soul in communion with God (feet on earth, head in heaven).


Real life Saints are a result of a long process of 'theosis', sanctification, of purification - this is what is happening to Harry in the first six and three quarter books.

Harry is tried, again and again, and comes through these trials a better and braver man: indeed, by the end he is the best and the bravest (as Dumbledore tells him in King's Cross).

Then Harry accepts death in a spirit of loving self-sacrifice, is killed and chooses to return to life.

Thus he becomes a martyr-Saint - which (sadly) is the most abundant type of Christian Saint: but unlike most martyr-Saints, Harry is restored to life to intervene in the world, to save the world.


(Harry is not 'resurrected', which would suggest a new and perfected body - but Harry's soul, having vacated the body and been endowed with greater wisdom and sanctity, then returns to and reanimates his briefly-dead body.)


Harry's loving self-sacrifice renders immune to the enemy not just himself but all his loved friends, all the good forces defending Hogwarts - after Harry returns to life, from that point onwards nobody among the defenders of the castle is killed, nobody is injured nor even hit by a curse.

This means that Harry is a miracle-working Saint - a wonderworker.


Harry returns from death by martyrdom as a wonderworking Saint, a saviour and messenger.

Only a great Saint could save the world from Voldemort - who has become, by his choices, not so much a human but more a kind of demonic servant of (implicitly) Satan.

(Satan is, of course - but implicitly, the source of Voldemort's extraordinary powers, the source of all 'Dark magic'; although Voldemort himself does not realise it, since Voldemort's pride is such that he will not acknowledge any other will, but claims everything to himself.)


'Saviour' because Harry's self-sacrifice enables him to save the world from Satan's emissary Voldemort; returning from death Harry immediately realises that is now immune to the Cruciatus curse (cough cough - symbolism alert).

Harry is given power (uniquely, nobody else could do it) to kill the un-dead Voldemort - but pauses in order to offer him a chance for remorse/ repentance.

Voldemort cannot even comprehend the offer.

And it is through his invincible pride in persisting in trying to kill the invulnerable Harry that Voldemort kills himself with his own rebounding death curse.

A beautiful, deep parable.


(Harry knows, because he has seen Voldemort's soul and because Dumbledore has told him, that Voldemort almost certainly cannot be helped. Humans can always repent, but Voldemort - with his multiply-fragmented soul - is hardly human, almost a demon. (And for various theological reasons, fallen angels/ demons cannot repent). Why then does Harry try to bring Voldemort to feel 'remorse'? I think it is 'just in case'. Since Voldemort is an unique kind of maimed being, Harry is not sure of what he is capable. Harry knows (from Dumbledore in King's Cross) that Voldemort cannot be saved by another person's will. Repentance cannot be done by others. So Harry offers Voldemort a final choice to repent and 'save' his remaining fragment of soul (although it is unclear what that might mean) - because Harry cannot be sure that such a choice is impossible to Voldemort.)


Harry is a 'messenger' because he has learned about ultimate reality - beyond death - from Dumbledore in the King's Cross chapter; Dumbledore himself has become a prophetic messenger from the other side.

When restored to life, Harry brings this divine revelation back to earth for the benefit of the world.

This is typical of great Saints - they are divine messengers and intermediaries; explaining, clarifying, amplifying revelation.

Indeed, only Saints can really understand Christian teaching. So far as we know, by the end of the series, only Harry, in the whole world, can really understand the nature of the world.

Harry thus takes over the role of 'Spiritual Father to the wizard world' from Dumbledore, but as a greater - because better, albeit less magically powerful - man than Dumbledore.


So, I would say that, at a deep and mostly implicit level, the Harry Potter series is precisely about 'the making of a Saint'.

And is not that a remarkable and wonderful thing?

That the best-selling and most widely-read book series of recent decades (in some respects, of all time), this in a modern world apparently without any living Saints, should ultimately be about the making of a Saint?


Note: the above analysis is built-upon the work of John Granger

And his vastly-documented insight that the Harry Potter series is, without any doubt, an essentially Christian work: both by intent and in achievement.



Alan Roebuck said...

You have said that Harry Potter is a Christian work. But is it not true that the sine qua non of Christianity is the forgiveness of sins by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ? In other religions, if sins are to be remitted, it is by hard work, but Christianity is the announcement of what God has done for us, in Christ. Is this element present in Harry Potter?

Also, I observe that symbolism is lost on most people, especially deep symbolism. I think that when the average child sees Harry Potter he sees, not Christianity symbolized, but the idea that some people are endowed by God (or god, or whomever) with supernatural magical abilities that can be developed through instruction and practice. Yet the Bible repeatedly warns us against playing with the occult, for it is the realm of Satan and his minions.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Alan - two words: John Granger. Maybe look at some of the interviews linked on the Wiki page.

JG is a Russian Orthodox Reader.

For a Protestant take on HP watch this video of Jerram Barrs:

Quite aside from the enjoyable content, Professor Barrs has just about the most soothing voice since Bob Ross!

Alan Roebuck said...

Thanks. I’ll examine the links you suggest.

As one who has studied the Harry Potter works, could you give a quick summary judgment: Does HP show a Christlike individual whom we are to admire and try to emulate, or does it show a savior in whose finished work we are to trust? This is the crux of the issue. The first option is common even among non-Christians, whereas the second is the heart of Christianity.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Alan - I'm not quite sure what you are getting at. If you are asking whether Harry Potter is an allegory of the Gospels, then the answer is no.

If you are asking whether it is about the unique saving necessity of Christ, the answer is no.

It is not designed to convert - either explicitly or implicitly.

But for a Christian who tunes into it, then HP can be a profound devotional book - as well as fun, exciting, characterful etc.

It is Christian in a way which is not like any other book I can think of - not an allegory, not like Tolkien, not a supposal like CS Lewis.

If you search this blog for Harry Potter, you can find some of the reflections provoked by the series. This is an example:

Baduin said...

The following topic is much too complex for a simple comment; I am trying to write an essay on it, but perhaps it would be worthwhile to mention it.

Harry Potter, similarly to much of the epic fantasy, is in many aspects a typical dragon-fighting story, with Voldemort being a quite typical dragon.

Two of such stories are mentioned by Tolkien in "On Fairy Stories"

THE SEA-MAIDEN. Popular Tales of the West Highlands by J. F. Campbell Volume I [1890]

The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body

The fundamental version is preserved in Iran.

However, Harry Potter does not correspond to the most typical hero of those stories - a third son.

He is clearly another type of hero, also a dragon slayer - a sun-hero, a shining master of all arts, such as Lugh, Sigurd or, in Mahabharata, Karna.

The peculiarity of this type of hero is best shown in Mahabharata. The light of Karna, like that of his father, the Sun, is not the ultimate light of God. He is perhaps the most accomplished of the heroes, but he fights on the wrong side, supporting the (morally) blind king, and not the rebels - who are right.

Harry Potter is exactly that kind of saint - he is personally good, but he fights on the wrong side.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Baduin - "Harry Potter is exactly that kind of saint - he is personally good, but he fights on the wrong side."

I don't understand, is this a misprint? Or do you mean HP fights on the opposite side than 'Karna' in the legend you previously cited?

Baduin said...

Harry Potter (USA and modern West in general) fights on the right side in the fight against Voldemort (Hitler), of course.

But since he clearly supports modernity, equality etc, his (that is ours) side is wrong itself.

Baduin said...

The same (or analogous) characters appear in two different myths:
1) Myth of the Dragon-King

2) Myth of the Great Battle

1) In the Dragon-King myth (which corresponds to the typical epic fantasy, including Harry Potter), the Dragon is usually defeated by a warrior representing the Thunder-God (eg Indra). However, in some cases the dragon can be defeated by another hero, representing the Sun-God (eg Lugh).
This doesn't have much importance for the Dragon-Myth itself; both heroes can defeat the dragon perfectly well.

The heroes can be distinguished by certain marks, with Harry Potter possessing many of the typical elements of the Karna-hero: Invulnerability, a visible sign of divine descent, brought up by common people etc.

2) In the Great Battle Myth, the old king goes blind and loses his way - morally. There is a great battle between him and the rebels - who are right. Karna hero supports the king and is defeated.

Whereas the Second World War and Harry Potter series are similar to the Dragon Myth (with Hitler as the dragon), our current situation is much nearer the Great Battle myth. We have lost the correct direction. And the problem is, that ideals and people represented by Harry Potter - which are good in themselves - will fight to support the Blind King of modernism.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Baduin - I can't go along with your analysis - since I agree with John Granger that HP works on two levels - the superficial 'post-modern' and politically correct level, in which HP fights against Nazi-type Death Eaters whose main crime is their prejudice against 'mud bloods'.

But this is to neglect the deeper level, which is just as real and more important, in which HP is a traditional, orthodox Christian struggle of Love against Pride; with a special role allocated for that least modern of virtues - courage.

Baduin said...

Why do you think there is any contradiction there?

Christianity (ie the Catholic Church and later Protestants) created modernity and supported it for a thousand years, despite continuous attacks of modernity against it. A great number of saints supported modernity - in principle, although of course making (absolutely ineffective) exceptions against some especially egregious parts of it.

I do not any signs that the majority of good Christians - such as you consider Harry Potter to be - is going to turn against modernity. They will support modernity, even when it is eating them alive - not because they are evil, but because they are blind.

When Love is employed to supports the enemies of God, Life and Reality, and Courage to oppose those who want to defend them - then the Enemy is strong indeed.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Baduin - I see what you are getting at.

Unlike Tolkien, Rowling is writing about the modern world, and therefore Harry's heroism 'merely' serves to restore 'normal' modernity and to save England from something even worse.

This amounts to saving semi-nihilism en route to pure nihilism from pure nihilism here-and-now. So, it it something like England fighting Nazi Germany 1939-45.

And this reflects a difference between Rowling and Tolkien as individuals - Tolkien was a great soul, and Rowling is - it seems - not.

Nonetheless, in the context of advanced modernity, Harry Potter may be serving a really important role by planting the germs of eternal and Christian values - even though it does not follow them through to their conclusions.

Stacy said...

There's another aspect of Harry's growth into sanctity that is often overlooked, but which I appreciated: he does not do this work alone. It is in relationship with his friends, his mentors, and even his enemies that he develops wisdom, self-control, and compassion. I loved that fact that even though he is the only one who can defeat Voldemort, others are needed in the battle as well, both for the sake of the battle and for the good of the saints.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Stacy - I agree it is very important.

I wrote about this: