Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 “expelliarmus”-ed old box-office records faster than a Golden Snitch flies, boasting the highest-grossing opening weekend ever ($169.2 million in the U.S.). Ticket revenues for the entire franchise have topped those of both the James Bond and the Star Wars franchises, making Potter the highest grossing movie series of all time.
By almost any measure the Harry Potter books and movies have been a success. Most meaningful may be the devotion of Harry’s fans. One eleventh grade blogger wrote (for www.ypulse.com) that the new film marks “for many Millennials . . . the end of this generation’s childhood . . . [But] Harry Potter will live on because these stories are a part of us.”
Stories can do that. In the early years of Harry’s popularity, some Christians worried that his stories would encourage unhealthy interest in the occult. Now that the saga is complete, many see similarities between J.K. Rowling’s stories and the stories of Scripture. (Rowling herself has said, “To me [the Christian parallels have] always been obvious.” ) While Harry Potter isn’t “Christian literature,” it can shape us for the better by affirming the power of self-giving, self-sacrificing love—a love Christians cannot help but recognize as the love of God we experience in Jesus.
Beyond the Reach of Any Magic
Such love pervades Harry’s story from its beginning. His mother, Lily, died to save him. As Professor Dumbledore tells Harry in the first book, “to have been loved so deeply . . . will give us some protection forever.”
It is his mother’s love that Harry shares with those who defend Hogwarts in the final book. As Harry tells Voldemort (on the page but not onscreen): “I’ve done what my mother did. They’re protected from you . . . You can’t touch them.” Harry refers to the fact that he was willing to die in order to save his friends and, in fact, the world. He surrendered himself to Voldemort, fully expecting death. In his “near-death experience,” Harry learns that his willingness to sacrifice himself was (as Dumbledore says in the book) “a power beyond [Voldemort’s] own, a power beyond the reach of any magic.”
But Harry is not the only selfless character. We learn in Deathly Hallows that Professor Snape, whom Harry has always regarded as an enemy, actually had dedicated his life to protecting Harry. Other characters who demonstrate self-sacrificing love include Dobby the house-elf, who dies while helping Harry and his friends escape Malfoy Manor; and Remus Lupin, who is killed “trying to make a world in which [his son] could live a happier life.”
Not everyone who shows such love in Harry’s world dies! Rowling’s story celebrates life, not death. But it also demonstrates that the only real power is love; and truly loving means putting oneself at risk for the good, and the lives, of others.
For Christians, Rowling’s lesson on love resonates with our core affirmations about Jesus, who was God’s self-giving, self-sacrificial love in the flesh. He did not cling to his life at all costs, but selflessly poured it out, emptying himself “even [to] death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8)—not only out of obedience to God’s plan for our salvation, but also out of love for us. As Jesus told his first followers, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
Such love cannot help but change us. It protects us for eternal life, but it also motivates us to live in new ways here and now. We may not ever be called to die a martyr’s death, but we are called to love, seriously and selflessly.