Harry Potter and the Anabaptist Vision

July 19th, 2011 – by Laura Lehman Amstutz, Editors Blog

[Note: This post contains spoilers of the final Harry Potter book and film.]

The release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2 on Friday, July 15, marked the end of an era. These seven books and eight movies have held children, teens and adults spellbound for the past thirteen years as author J.K. Rowling and an army of actors, directors, producers and film crews cast their literary and cinematic magic.

As with most fantasy, Christians have not always known what to do with Potter’s magical world. The popularity of this young adult series about a boy wizard raised unsubstantiated accusations that Rowling promoted witchcraft. Critics believed that the portrayal of magic functioned as a kind of gateway for children to get involved with “real magic” by packaging wicca in an attractive and appealing package. I am thankful that evangelical Christians seem to have stopped criticizing the series.  This week, Christianity Today praised Rowling for her use of traditional literary devices and her portrayal of Harry as the ultimate hero and Christ-figure. Much has been made of Harry as the sacrificial Christ-figure and the role that love plays to protect and guide him. I love that aspect of the story – but I also believe that Anabaptists have even more to celebrate in Harry’s story.

At his core, Harry is a non-violent hero. While the films depict Harry battling evil with shooting lights and primal screams, they ignore Harry’s preference to disarm his enemies rather than harm them. Harry’s signature spell is the expelliarmus, a disarming spell and in the final novel, it both exposes him and later saves him. In the first scene, the pursuing bad guys identify Harry among a group of look-a-likes, for his refusal to stun an enemy flying through the air on a broomstick. Harry instead disarms his pursuer, since the stunning spell would cause him to plummet to his death. In the novel’s climax, Voldemort is defeated when his own killing spell rebounds off of Harry’s disarming spell.

Rowling depicts the effect that killing has on the perpetrators. In books six and seven, she suggests that killing another person is no less than splitting your soul in pieces. Deep, serious and painful remorse is the only way to put the soul back together again.

Sometimes I wonder if those of us who really believe that killing is wrong and against the way of Christ are able to tell stories this compelling. I am sometimes embarrassed by the Bible’s blatant descriptions of what happens – not only to those who murder – but also to those who are angry.

” ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire.” Matthew 5:21-22.

Rowling is not far off from Matthew here, for what is hell, if not a soul or spirit maimed by anger and hatred? Rowling contends that the more Voldemort murdered and killed, the less and less human he became. Is this not what our own scriptures tell us about how hatred and anger – killing and murder – damage us?

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:44, 48

Is not the perfection of God a soul intact, unharmed by hatred, undamaged by murder? Harry knows this. Rowling knows this. We know this. When the world hands us a hero who acts as Christ, not just in his ability to love, not only in his willingness to sacrifice himself, but also in his conscious choice to disarm rather than kill, we need to celebrate it. In a world where war heroes are venerated in movies and novels, Anabaptists have something special to appreciate in Harry Potter, the boy who lived, not because he killed others, but because he chose a different path.

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3 Responses to “Harry Potter and the Anabaptist Vision”

  1. Harry Potter: Nonviolent hero | The Peace Pastor | a Chron.com blog Says:

    [...] fear. Anyone remember how JK Rowling presents what happens to the soul of this murderer? Laura Lehman Amstutz says in her blog Work and Hope, “Rowling depicts the effect that killing has on the [...]

  2. Alyssa Says:

    We must remember, however, that Rowling plainly states that she means no allegory whatsoever in her stories. But I add that God also speaks through those who do not know him in order to reach those who need to be woken up. We must not search for the Truth in every secular media outlet, but the Spirit may move in His timing and reveal to us what we most need in this current desert.

  3. Brian Gumm Says:

    I’m late to the party here (was in Ethiopia when this was posted) but…AWESOME review, Laura! This particularly resonated:

    Rowling depicts the effect that killing has on the perpetrators. In books six and seven, she suggests that killing another person is no less than splitting your soul in pieces.

    The fields of restorative justice and trauma healing also help us see this. The line between “offender” and “victim” is often indecipherable in perpetrators of violent crime, who so often have had violence perpetrated on them, sometimes for a lifetime. That “he who shall not be named” was destroyed by his own evil is quite a sobering image, just as Harry’s refusal of offensive violence is a powerful example.

    It kind of reminds me of the more pacifistic impulses in the Star Wars universe, where the Force is not to be used as an expression of aggression. But there it seems much more ambivalent than HP, since heads often roll (or arms fall off) when even a Jedi walks into the room…