Tuesday, July 24, 2007



In C.S. Lewis's book "The Great Divorce," the author writes, "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says...'Thy will be done.'" To Lewis, hell is populated by people who refuse to see beyond themselves and their own desire for power or control.

Author J.K. Rowling presents a similar philosophy in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." The characters who are truly evil are concerned only with themselves and their souls will suffer in the afterlife. The heroes on the other hand take a greater good into consideration. Their concern for others - even though it's minor at times - allows for the possibility of redemption that will save their un-horcruxed souls.

Rowling has created an engaging world and story in the Harry Potter series but her greatest accomplishment lies in her multi-dimensional characters. Too often in fiction and in real life, we judge people based on one opinion they hold or something they've done to offend us. That one trait/incident becomes their defining quality in our eyes. Very few people, however, are truly one-dimensional and lack any redemptive qualities. That's something Rowling demonstrates throughout "Deathly Hallows."

Take Dudley Dursley, for instance. He has acted like an arrogant ass toward his cousin Harry for years. Apparently Harry's saving him from the Dementors in "Order of the Phoenix" changed his perspective. He actually tells Harry, "I don't think you're a waste of space." As Harry says, "Coming from Dudley, that's like 'I love you.'"

This is the first scene in the book during which Harry reaps the benefits of the kindnesses he's shown others, even those who didn't deserve it. These actions by Harry and friends are essentially moments of grace between people. Webster's Dictionary defines "grace" as "unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification." Harry's assistance may not be divine but it's certainly unmerited at times.

Case in point - Ron and Harry save Draco Malfoy after he tries to capture them and hand them over to Voldemort. They have every reason to let their malevolent classmate die except for the fact that it's simply wrong. Showing compassion and mercy to an enemy doesn't come naturally for most people but strength of character allows them to make that choice. Based on the Epilogue, it may even have changed Draco for the better. Not completely, but it seems he's not a total "waste of space"anymore.

Voldemort of course never chooses mercy so it's funny that choice bites him in the butt virtually every time. The most obvious is in the big reveal that Snape has actually been working on Dumbledore's side for many years. Snape had an unrequited love for Harry's mother Lily and asked Voldemort to spare her life. When he killed her anyway, that was Snape's breaking point. Most people have a line they won't cross and he had been pushed over it. Snape could no longer serve the Dark Lord and therefore became a double agent for Dumbledore. Similar incidents happen with the Malfoys and the now-deceased Regulus Black. It's ironic that showing mercy and compassion would actually have worked in Voldy's self-interest here. But the self-absorbed are always too blind to see those simple truths.

Rowling also deals with our tendency to put people we admire on pedestals and expect them to be perfect. That's unrealistic. Nobody's perfect. What makes people heroic is that they act for the good in spite of the temptation to do otherwise. And when they stumble - as they usually do, they can acknowledge their mistake and move forward doing the right thing.

That essentially is the backstory of Dumbledore in this novel. We discover that as a young man he was arrogant about his power and considered joining forces with an evil wizard who wanted to make wizards the rulers of everyone "for the greater good." Dumbledore came to realize that tyranny was really not "good" for anyone. That desire was about power and control. As a result, he committed himself to being headmaster at Hogwarts despite offers to lead the Ministry of Magic. Dumbledore realized that his weakness was power and that he shouldn't be trusted with it. In one sense, that revelation brings Dumbledore down from the pedestal on which Harry put him. On the other hand, it makes him more admirable because he was able to acknowledge that flaw and rise above it.

Dumbledore admits that Harry is actually a stronger person than he ever was because Harry has an extraordinary ability to act selflessly. He doesn't do it in a superhuman way. Harry definitely struggles with the heavy burden of doing the right thing. Yet through the love and support of friends, he is able to do them nonetheless.

Harry's selflessness is put to the ultimate test when he learns that he has to allow Voldemort to kill him in order for the Dark Lord to be defeated. Harry's acceptance of his fate is the most moving, poignant, even humbling sequence in any of the books. Harry's life was saved because of his mother's love and self-sacrifice. Now he's doing the same for his friends. His decision calls to mind the Scripture verse, “he who saves his life will lose it and he who loses his life will find it.” Or as the spirit of Dumbledore tells him, "You are the true master of death because the true master does not seek to run away from Death. He accepts that he must die, and he understands that there are far, far worse things in the living world than dying."

In this case, Voldemort's curse doesn't kill Harry because he faced death willingly. Harry's love and concern for a greater good save him. Even then, Harry tries to save his enemy. He encourages Voldemort to "try for some remorse." Rowling writes, "Of all the things that Harry had said to him, beyond any revelation or taunt, nothing had shocked Voldemort like this." A man who has never acted out of love, compassion or mercy doesn't know anything about remorse. Voldemort ends up losing his life because he only cared about saving it.

In fairness, Harry Potter may be the title character but he's not the only one willing to lay down his life for his friends. In fact, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Luna, the Weasleys, and all the fighters at Hogwarts are willing to lay down their lives for Harry. Kind of like Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life," Harry is the "richest man in town." (And that's probably the only time you'll ever see Harry Potter linked with "It's a Wonderful Life.")

There are many more worthwhile themes in "Deathly Hallows." (For further reading, try Busted Halo, Christianity Today and Beliefnet.) But for now this post has gone on long enough. Though God is never explicitly mentioned in the Harry Potter books, the stories and characters are models of Christian values and rich with Christian imagery. If you're looking for an engaging read with some depth to it, "Deathly Hallows" - and all the Potter books for that matter - are definitely worth your time.

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