Alan Jacobs: Harry Potter is not a Christ Figure

Wheaton College’s Alan Jacobs has written a review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for Christianity Today’s Books and Culture magazine called “The Youngest Brother’s Tale.” (Hat tip to Karl!) It is well worth reading and I look forward to reading your thoughts about his perspective and comments.

My first impression is that Prof. Jacobs goes out of his way to be both laudatory and patronizing in this review. I suspect this will become a preferred posture among the academic mavens of literature because it will allow them to admire Ms. Rowling’s accomplishment without having to admit it to the Halls of Serious Literature above and beyond the dumpsters of fascinating Cultural Artifacts. Prof. Jacobs’ celebration of the books as cliched writing and penny dreadful “kid lit” done very well achieves something like what the New York Times’ creating a Childrens’ Book Best Seller List did: isolating Harry in a lesser category of reading for applause appropriate to this lesser fare. Parents applaud a Nutcracker performance with their children in it with as many decibels as an audience of real ballet aficionados applaud the real Nutcracker at the Balshoi — but there is a difference, even if both dramas receive standing ovations. And the difference is that the kids’ dancing was great only for kids’ dancing.

His comment about Harry as a Christ figure is telling so I’ll quote it at length:

Many readers have already exclaimed that Harry’s final quest marks him as a clear Christ figure. This is wrong, seriously wrong, and I think J. K. Rowling goes out of her way to tell us so. People (characters in the books as well as readers) think that Harry is a unique person of unique power, but at a dozen points in the series we are clearly shown that he is not: he is called the Chosen One, but he is chosen by Voldemort, and Dumbledore emphasizes to Harry the sheer contingency of this choice. The work of the Cross is done by Christ alone; Harry always has help. (It’s worth emphasizing that while each of the Horcruxes is destroyed, each is destroyed by a different person.) At his moment of agony Christ was abandoned; at the end of his quest Harry is supported and comforted. As my friend Jay Wood has noted, if Harry resembles a biblical figure it is not Christ but rather Stephen the Protomartyr. But the comparisons with Stephen are limited too: for a more precise analogue, I encourage you to rummage through your children’s books until you find an old copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Surely you have one. Read the story of the Three Brothers, and pay particular attention to the youngest. You’d be surprised what you could learn.

It should be obvious at this point that the Harry Potter books amount to something more, far more, than your average penny dreadful. But they belong, firmly, to that moral universe, even as they expand it beyond what we might have thought possible. Many years ago Umberto Eco wrote that the greatness of Casablanca stems from its shameless deployment of every narrative cliché known to humankind: “Two clichés make us laugh. A hundred clichés move us. For we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, and celebrating a reunion.” The Harry Potter books are like that: every trope and trick of the penny dreadful raised to the highest power and revealed in all their glory.

Jacobs clearly means when he says that Harry is “not a clear Christ figure” that he is not meant as a one-to-one allegorical representation for Jesus of Nazareth and His Passion and Resurrection. I have yet to read anyone claiming that, if Connie Neal comes distressingly close. What I have said since 2002 is that Harry is a Christian Everyman, from his name to his status as seeker, which in no way diminishes the edifying and symbolic meaning of his serial near deaths and faux resurrections, not to mention his sacrificial death and victory in Deathly Hallows. Prof. Jacobs is a very serious reader; can he really think that Harry must be either an allegorical stand-in for Christ, point-by-point, or not carry any symbolic weight whatsoever?

Jacobs’ point here and the review in general are not quite “damning with faint praise,” but awkwardly close, even if he allows the books are “something more, far more” than Kid Lit. Ms. Rowling’s peculiar genius and remarkable artistry he slips over by categorizing her as the master of cliched story-telling. I’m disappointed, especially because Prof. Jacobs wrote in The Narnian, far and away the best critical biography of Lewis, that he thought Ms. Rowling’s books were “better” than Lewis’ Narnia novels (Preface, page xi). Couldn’t he have said what the Potter novels might be if they are “far more” than the only books he describes in the review? Prof. Jacobs seems willing to distance himself only so far from Yale’s Harold Bloom; he risks in this excess of prudence joining the critical contemporaries of Shakespeare, Dickens, and Tolkien in undervaluing the literary merits of what is current, what is popular, and what is not yet canon. Perhaps he fears this fate less than whatever backlash he must experience at Wheaton for admiring Harry Potter in any way.

I ask for your comments and correction.

Comments

  1. Actually, my first reading of Professor Jacobs leaves me with a much more pleasant flavor in my mouth than in yours, John. Remember Professor Jacobs’ area of public expertise, and his typical audience – the fact that he is going before all those “more literate than thou” sort of folk, and saying, “Hey, you guys – this Harry Potter stuff talks about really, really important things, and it’s a great read, too!” – I think this is pretty significant. I suggest you read his article again. I don’t think he is arguing that the stories are childish and foolish. But I DO think he is challenging the Harold Bloom types to receive these stories like children, like uncomplicated people. In other words, it’s our intellectual snobbery that’s going to keep us from delighting in, and being instructed by, these and other great stories. Same thing with the Best Story. Also, most of us heartily agree with Jacobs that Harry is not a stand in for Christ. But, do you really think he is arguing that Harry’s experience and nature has NO symbolic import? I didn’t think he was saying that.
    By the way, it was Professor Jacobs’ interview with Ken Myers on a Mars Hill Audio journal that first made me even think about Harry Potter in the first place. A Christian professor who admires C.S. Lewis AND J.K. Rowling? Hmm, I thought…maybe I needed to rethink my OWN intellectual snobbery that kept me from reading Harry Potter for so long…

  2. If you’re struggling to find your copy of Tales of Beadle the Bard, here is the paragraph about the Youngest Brother that Prof. Jacobs urges us to re-read both in his article (quoted above) and in his choice of title:

    But though Death searched for the third brother for many years, he was never able to find him. It was only when he had attained a great age that the youngest brother took off the Cloak of Invisibility and gave it to his son. And then he greeted Death as an old friend, and went with him gladly, and, equals, they departed this life.

    Deathly Hallows, Chapter Twenty-One, “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” Scholastic page 409

    Prof. Jacobs suggests that Harry is the Youngest Brother rather than a Christ Figure, and that, if we pay “particular attention” to this passage, we’ll be “surprised” at what we learn.

  3. Jacobs has made no bones about his love for the Potter series, previously writing several thoughtful published essays in praise of Rowling’s work. I don’t think he means any slight to the books by placing them in the category he does. Nor do I read him to suggest that Harry carries no symbolic weight just because he isn’t an allegorical Christ figure in the mode of Aslan. It may be too early to sort out exactly where JKR’s work fits in terms of category. As Jacobs wrote elsewhere, perhaps she has authored a work that is truly sui generis.

    I admit that I bristle a bit at the idea of this series being merely “the greatest penny dreadfuls ever written.” But is that because I myself am too concerned that my tastes be acceptable to highbrows?

  4. Dear John,

    as I’m still quite new on this list I’m somewhat reluctant to jump in, but… maybe you should take another look at Jacobs’ review? Why would he quote Eco’s words about the *greatness* of Casablanca, countless cliches and all ( this film is Eco’s all-time favourite!) if it’s his intention to damn Harry Potter with faint praise? Reading his review, I greatly enjoyed the enthusiastic tone. Also, I was very amused at what I saw as a subtle, post-modern subverting of the usual criteria by repeatedly pointing at the fairy-tale motive of the three brothers, the youngest of which is invariably the best and the wisest – just like Harry is wiser than his elder brothers Voldemort and Dumbledore. Eco is a great subverter, too. Rowling is in good company there.

    I wonder why you are so eager to see the Harry Potter series admitted to the Halls of Serious literature right away. Sure, as a long-time Tolkien fan I do recognise the wish – it used to be my own once. No more, though, not even now that Tolkien’s work has gloriously survived most of its initial detractors (who were worse than Harold Bloom). Part of those halls are full of sound and fury anyway and immediate admission is no guarantee for lasting fame. I knew what The Lord of the Rings was worth before the literary guru’s started to admit that maybe it had some merit after all, and I don’t care about their judgment now.

    On to the “Harry is no Christ figure”. As far as I understood, you don’t disagree with Jacobs there, adding that nobody claimed as much except perhaps Conny Neal. But I’ve read several other people making such a claim. Maybe Jacobs has, too, and merely felt the need to point it out.
    The only thing in his review that made me frown was the statement that Lily tried to save herself *and Harry* in vain. This is so weird that I can only see it as a slip of the keyboard.

  5. This is why I write here. Three intelligent and charitable readers have read an article and my thoughts about it. All three think I am wrong and showing my intellectual insecurities, i.e. wishing that Harry were considered real or high-brow literature so that my expertise on this subject would have greater value than it does.

    And I think they’re correct. There are problems with the Jacobs’ review but it is not as negative and off-base as I thought at first. My apologies for being so negative and off-base myself.

    Back to “The Youngest Brother’s Tale:”

    Does everyone think that filit’s suggestion that Harry (Cloak) is the Youngest Brother of Voldemort (Wand) and Dumbledore (Resurrection Stone) is what Prof. Jacobs’ meant by pointing so urgently to the Youngest Brother’s Tale? If Harry is “the wiser brother” in not pursuing the Wand or Stone for personal advantage and power, what does this mean in light of Harry’s sacrifice of self in the Forest? Is that his glad walk with Death as an equal from this life?

  6. I did not see Prof. Jacobs’ review as negative either. At least not toward HP. (I did not know that concern for marriage and children was the exclusive province of the bourgeoisie; but that’s why I read Slate, to learn stuff like that.) (snicker!)

    And yes, I think that Harry as the Youngest Brother makes sense. Voldemort failed the test and fell to the temptation of the Elder Wand, killing poor Severus as collateral damage, Dumbledore passed the test of the wand, and wielded it harmlessly for fifty years, but fell to the Stone. And Harry passed all the tests. As his distant forebear Ignotus (John, can you pull any insights out of the names of the three brothers Peverell?) walked with Death as an equal and a friend, Harry walked with his beloved dead into death. His whole life was a long series of lessons in how to “deny yourself, take up the cross and follow Me.” By the way, why does everybody blame the Wizarding community for Harry’s ignorance of the Christian religion when he wasn’t raised by the Wizarding community? At a very minimum, Mrs. Weasley knows enough to thank God when appropriate. Dumbledore and Luna Lovegood both believe in life after death, and Dumbledore apparently knows enough Scripture to find apposite epitaphs: surely responsibility for Harry”s ignorance falls squarely in the lap of the Dursleys?

  7. Travis Prinzi says:

    Hmmm. I read this earlier, and here are my thoughts:

    Yes, Harry is Ignotus. I’ve been saying that since I read the book (and, no surprise, someone at HP Essays skewered me for the suggestion). But he’s not only Ignotus. He’s Ignotus up until he walks, invisible, into the Forest, and then drops the cloak and willingly walks into death.

    Then he comes back from death, has defeated the power of evil on behalf of the entire wizarding world, and at that point, he is very much a “Christ figure,” particularly after the “Christus Victor” reading of the atonement.

    One doesn’t have to be a flawless character to be a Christ figure; one has to be a flawless character to be a one-to-one Christ allegory.

  8. John what a gracious response, not the norm for blogdom.

    Lest anyone need further proof of Jacobs’ enthusiasm for Rowlings’ books, see this quote from the just-before-release edition of his monthly “Rumors of Glory” column entitled “Waiting for Harry”:

    “Not long ago I got a phone call from an editor who had a request: Would I be willing to blog my reading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for his magazine’s website? Write an entry a day, recording my responses, until I had finished?

    “A flattering and intriguing request, which I had to turn down. For on the early morning of July 21st, I will go to my local Borders, pick up a copy of the book, and then return home, there to read without stopping until I know the fate of Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Lord Voldemort. The proposed blog could therefore only have a single entry, which would in effect be a review of the book—and since I have promised John Wilson that I will review Harry’s final adventure for Books & Culture, I shouldn’t do that for anyone else.”

    The whole column is enjoyable reading:
    http://www.christianitytoday.com/books/features/rumorsofglory/070625.html

    Jacobs has also in the past assigned JKR as reading for his students at Wheaton. Probably (I am guessing) for this class – check out this syllabus for a class most of us probably wish we could have the opportunity to enroll in:

    http://ayjay.backpackit.com/pub/624129

    For more of Jacobs’ reflections on Potter, see if you haven’t already his post-HBP essay “Opportunity Costs” here:

    http://www.hp-lexicon.org/essays/essay-opportunity-costs.html

    and his oft-quoted first column on HP, “Harry Potter’s Magic” here:

    http://www.hp-lexicon.org/essays/essay-harry-potters-magic.html

    On the topic of your question John, my initial thought is that Harry will take his glad walk with death at a ripe old age. Having faced death once, Harry will greet him as an old friend when the time comes. My guess is that JKR (and/or Jacobs) is suggesting parallels or similarities beween the tale of the three brothers and the choices of characters in this series, but not requiring one-to-one correspondence of detail. More strong allusion than strict allegory.

  9. I think the younger brother theory is a good one, but since I do not read these books allegorically, but more typologically/symbolically, I don’t believe we have to see it as the only theory.

    And I was a little surprised at first when reading your thoughts, because I remember Jacobs article in First Things, January 2000: “Harry Potter’s Magic”.

  10. Considering the overall theme of the story as “Conquering Death” then the Hallows each represent a solution to conquering death. The wand is power to resist death, the stone the power to reverse death, and the cloak the power to hide from death. The wand doesn’t work when used that way because death sneaks up on you anyway. The stone won’t work because it leads to despair, a form of death. The cloak used to hide from death doesn’t prevent getting old and tired and must eventually be cast aside as well.

    Harry has each Hallows in his possession at some point but his use of each is wise not foolish. Harry uses the stone to overcome the despair of the Dementors and then casts it aside. He lays aside the wand after using its power to repair his own wand. He takes the cloak off to face Voldemort. So, that does tend to support the idea of Harry as like the third brother.

    There is another little piece of information that I think is important, too. The Cloak of Invisibility is Death’s own cloak. Put another way, the true use of the cloak is not to hide from death but to “put on death.” You cannot live in fear of death and hope to conquer death. Only when you embrace your own mortality have you conquered the fear of death and, paradoxically, that is what it means to “conquer death.” Harry can do that because of the hope of an afterlife – the next great adventure. The realization of that fact gives Harry the strength to face Voldemort in the forest.

    This is a very Christian idea as well: he who saves his life will lose it; he who loses his life will save it. Romans ch. 6 talks about being crucified with Christ and resurrected with him as well. Harry is better seen as the saint on a journey following Christ rather than as Christ, as many have already pointed out. The “sin” of Voldemort buried in Harry can only be excised by dying to self out of love in imitation of Jesus. The hope of resurrection gives one the courage to do so.

  11. Arabella Figg says:

    I liked Jacobs’ essay. He had a very important point–that truth, honor, nobility, sacrifice, etc., through which we display the finest of ourselves, are found without irony in children’s literature more than in sophisticated adult fare. (And that these kind of children’s books have valuable, lasting impact and are worthy of rereading.) A sad commentary on things left behind upon emergence into ambiguous adulthood, where disparaging those things which once made hearts race with conviction and idealism too often becomes de rigueur.

    Rather than patronizing, I felt the essay might charm hesitant Christians into viewing the books more positively and perhaps reading them. After all, Wheaton and CT are bastions of evangelicalism.

    I also appreciated Jacobs’ analogy of the brothers/HP characters. I don’t feel Harry’s walk into the forest was a happy/equal walk “with” death, though; it was more a determined, resigned facing “of” death. The “glad” aspect of the walk was the encouraging fellowship of his loved ones.

    This essay proves the power of Rowling’s magic–to inspire so much “diagonal” thinking.

    Kitties think diagonally all the time…

  12. RenaBlack says:

    Caveat Lector: Impending (friendly) soapbox–

    It seems to me that the biggest issue surrounding analysis of DH is the use of the term “Christ figure.”

    In literary terms, I’ve never heard it used to mean one-to-one Christ allegory. In fact, that’s why the term allegory exists…

    Rather, “Christ figure” is a term that should, legitimately, apply to all Christians and beyond. Because of that incredible mystery, Jesus’ humanity, the our making in the image of God is also a making in the image of the sacrificial Lamb. A Christ figure FIGURES, or images, the archetype of human goodness.

    It’s very rare that a literary Christ figure images the *divinity* of Christ. Maybe a superhero I’m not familiar with? But the arc of the Paschal Mystery (passion, death, resurrection), as John and so many others have pointed out, is ingrained in the human experience. Sooo, when authors write human characters with any sort of reality, there is bound to be a resonance with the Great Story. As C.S. Lewis put it, we are all called to be “little Christs”–to pick up our cross daily and die to ourselves–and this is exactly what Harry illustrates. If we die with Him, so we will rise.

    Without making a theological statement here, there’s something in our growing closeness to Christ that is liberating for other human beings. Both in destroying Voldemort (“will for death,” right?) and approaching Death as the friend Christ first met in full, Harry changes the world a little. So we, too, have to look death in the face not with fear but with trust that the One who went before us transformed the consequence of our sin into the truth of our redemption.

    Harry’s parallel with Ignotus (I always want to read Ignatius…) is not unrelated. St. Francis spoke lovingly of Sister Death, hoping without morbidly longing. It’s at the point of death that our Christlikeness becomes real.

    That said, you all are wonderful! Thanks for all your analysis; my honors thesis is coming along beautifully thanks to your thought-provoking comments. 🙂 Now off to Moral Philosophy…

  13. Professor Jackson says:

    This is my first post here…and I’m compelled to it by my surprise over Dr. Jacob’s blatant misunderstanding of the literary concept of “Christ figure”. While I do not read the review as negatively as did John (at first), I do think Dr. Jabobs has been a bit sloppy in his criticism.

    It is not the norm in literary criticism that a character must be fully analogous to Christ in order to be identified as a “Christ figure”–only that developed aspects of that character be clearly designed to explore aspects of Christ’s character or life or work. In other words, Simon in “Lord of the Flies” can be called a Christ figure because he is the truthful (and spiritually resonant) innocent who is slaughtered, Frodo can be called a Christ figure because the development of his character explores some aspects of the priestly function of Christ, Billy Budd is thought of as a Christ figure because his death mirrors in many ways the Passion. In all three of these cases, and most others that one can name, the fictional character does not correspond in whole to Jesus Christ (thank goodness!). They are flawed characters, or mute characters, or ineffectual characters. Yet they serve as a mirror to some aspect of Christ and are therefore often termed “Christ figures”.

    I must assume Dr. Jacobs means to suggest that Harry is not a allegorical reference to Christ. In this, of course, he would be correct. Harry is not Aslan. However, to deny that there are enough parallels to the life and work of Christ to call Harry a “Christ figure” seems foolish.

    I’ve got to think about the Younger Brother aspect a bit. First gut response that came to me is that the Younger Brother corresponds to our lives as Christians (Harry as “Christian figure”), cloaked in the blood of the Lamb and therefore protected from the consequences of sin (death). But I suppose that doesn’t carry through all the way, does it? Hmmmm…

  14. Arabella Figg says:

    Re the Chesterton quote about the Penny Dreadfuls.

    Victorian literature for the young was stultifying, with morals heavy as bricks. “Good” children, lisping pious phrases no normal child would recite, were immensely rewarded—often with a beautiful death and escort to heaven by angels to enjoy bliss forevermore. “Bad” children suffered terrible fates. Much of this “literature” was poorly-written pap, designed to scare children, like the bogyman of old, into behavior acceptable to adults.

    Along came Louisa May Alcott, a revolutionary children’s author of that time. Her children were fully real, got into and out of trouble, learned lessons more through example and experience rather than authorial moralizing and, despite youthful antics, mischievousness, etc., managed to grow up into upstanding adults. Her novels were tremendously popular with and eagerly awaited by girls, boys, and adults.

    Today we read Alcott’s books and find them rather quaintly moralizing, but how lively and three-dimensional they still are! I continually find new things in rereading them.

    It’s easy to see why the Penny Dreadfuls were so popular in such a repressed period, when boys, especially, were held to unreasonable expectations. Such exciting adventures were certainly more appealing than Victorian scolds. Yet, as Chesterton points out, these books were filled with morals, values and ideals; perhaps you might say they also “sneaked past watchful dragons” in their time.

    In my comment above, I wrote: “A sad commentary on things left behind upon emergence into ambiguous adulthood, where disparaging those things which once made hearts race with conviction and idealism too often becomes de rigueur.”
    Perhaps, in these disposables, we could also include the Great Story, relegated to fairytale status. Faith is dumped in the toybox along with other “childish” things.

    Like Alcott in her day, Rowling has written revolutionary children’s literature. See John’s The Five Keys to learn more.

    The kitties don’t want morals, they want treats…

  15. I actually loved Jacobs’ piece. I posted a link to it, along with some high praise, over my blog…before I came here and saw the discussion!

    One of the most interesting points Jacobs seems to raise is that the villain of the series failed to take children’s stories seriously and they turned out to contain important truths that could have saved his imperiled soul if only he had been willing to read those stories and listen to what they were saying. It’s an obvious point but one worth pondering, especially as we contemplate Rowling’s own stories.

    Rowling’s stories are not *just* for children, but they are written with children at their heart. Good stories, I think, transcend category…they may be marketed to a certain niche in our day and age, or relegated to the nursery shelves in other ages, but good stories last. And I think Jacobs is saying that Rowling’s stories, touching on and transcending some of the important, everyday virtues (including many that have seemed lost to our culture) will last and should last.

    I didn’t get the sense that Jacobs was stating that he didn’t see Harry as a “Christ figure” purely on the basis of objecting to people who only saw that in terms of a one-on-one allegory (although given that he’s a Lewis scholar, one might be able to excuse him if he’s leaned in that direction, given how many people push Lewis’ work on that exact point). In fact, I think many of his points, about Harry’s “ordinariness” and his reliance on the help of others and grace “outside” lend more power to John’s helpful thesis that Harry really is an “everyman.” After all, Jacob compares him to Stephen, the first martyr, and certainly Stephen was “Christ-like.” I still think Lily as Christ-figure seems far more clear within the story.

    I need to think more about the Harry as younger brother image…

  16. cogent thoughts. RenaBlack has hit a lot of what I was thinking of regarding Christ-figures. I hadn’t thought about Harry ‘being’ the youngest brother, although he was descended from him. Clearly Rowling intended the connection, but I don’t know if she’d create ‘allegory’ within her own work.

    I sensed very much a rather Tolkienesque approach to Christ-figure-hood. In LotR, Frodo is the most obvious ‘candidate’ for Christ-figure, but while his experience has the clearest resemblance, he is not the only one, nor is he perfect, and he, too, is an everyman of sorts. The beauty of Tolkien’s work is that every good character is at times flawed and Christlike– and sometimes it is the less-noticed or less conspicuous good that mimics Christ the most (meet Sam Gamgee, selflessness hobbit-fied).

    Throughout, we know that Harry is flawed, struggles with doubt and to do the right thing, and that he fails to believe and do the right thing at various times. That does not make him not a Christ-figure, nor does being a Christ-figure negate that he is an everyman. What is the Christian Everyman if not one who strives to be Christlike, despite his infirmities of will?

    I don’t know if this is very clear, but basically, I don’t see any of these theories (third brother, Christ-figure, everyman) as overruling the other two- I think they work quite well in concert.

    And I’ll refrain from quoting the great GKC (as some of you may have noticed my proclivity for it) as Jacobs has done it for me!

    ~Nzie

  17. Arabella Figg says:

    Thanks, Beth, for also and eloquently commenting on the literature aspect of Jacobs’ essay. I sent the following link to you, John, but feel it fits well here. It’s for a Christianity Today post DH article called “Spoiler Alert,” discussing how we fail to present the Gospel as a riveting story. http://www.ctlibrary.com/48546

    Speaking of links, Thudders is eyeing the remains of the breakfast sausage…

  18. I think Jacobs is suggesting Harry is not a Christ figure in a strong enough sense for that to be the primary way he is viewed. If we want, we can turn every character who has positive attributes into a Christ figure.

    As Tolkien responded in a letter to someone who asked whether one of his characters (I can’t remember which, because you can make the argument re. several of them) represented Jesus Christ Tolkien disavowed any intentional allegory or even any intentionally-drawn parallels, but then went on to say that the character WAS an example of a “good and noble” person in many respects and, as such, who ELSE could they be like?

    In THAT sense, yes, Harry is “Christ-like” in some ways and so are all the “good characters” in varying ways. But if you define “Christ figure” that broadly, it begins to lose its meaning, IMO. A character doesn’t need to be an allegorical figure like Aslan in order to be a Christ figure. But they need to be more than just a person with some good and Christlike qualities, or who does one or two things that Christ also did. I think you could argue that Harry still qualifies as a Christ figure in some respects. His voluntary sacrificial death and resurrection, which provides his friends a measure of protection against Voldemort, is certainly more than just an incedentally shared character trait. But I like Nzie’s comment above, suggesting that while in some ways a Christ figure, Harry can also, if not more so, be seen as an Everyman as John suggests, and the younger brother from Beadle’s tale as well. I think both of those understandings of Harry carry through more consistently, and explain him better throughout most of the series, than seeing his primary identity or role in the story as that of a Christ figure.

  19. Professor Jackson says:

    I agree with you, Karl. A Christ-figure in literature cannot be defined so broadly as to say that any positive characteristic can be compared to Christ. A Christ-figure is not simply a character who can be compared to Christ, but one who, in one or more aspects, alludes to Christ. Furthermore, in most cases it is evident that the allusion was accomplished with clear forethought on the part of the author. (Consider the character of Santiago in Old Man and the . Sea…Hemingway is purposeful in his construction of the scene which portrays Santiago carrying the mast to parallel Christ carrying the cross. It is not an accident; the author has created a character that points to Christ. That’s a Christ-figure, whether we like what the author is trying to say or not. It is interesting to note that not all Christ-figures in literature arise out of a Christian purpose or context. Christ is a powerful image whether or not one professes him.)

    I think that Rowling places many hints that Harry may be a Christ-figure (too many for it to be dismissed out of hand–I don’t have my book here, but I did start noting them), but I think it is much more likely that he is so in parallel (or better stated, in tandem) to his being a Christian Everyman. I do not think it is necessary to separate the two: Christians reflect Christ, Christ lives in Christians. If Harry in some way (it does not need to be the only way) is symbolic of the believer’s journey, then it can be considered natural that he also allude to Christ. Perhaps this is part of Rowling’s point?

    Just an aside–Tolkein said that no one character represents Christ and that he did not work to create a Christian/Catholic tale. That is true. However, it is a well-explored concept in Tolkein criticism that his Catholicism and classicism shaped much of the characters, symbols, and images of the book–and that, as a result, one can argue that Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn all serve, in part, as Christ-figures (prophet, priest, and king). Of course, it is also a tradition of literary criticism that one can argue any symbolic meaning one wants–regardless of the opinions of the author!!

  20. I believe that Harry is a Christfigure through his being an “everyman Christian.” And one Bible verse comes to mind, Col. 1:24: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”

  21. This guy says that Jesus was alone when he was going through the passion. I am sorry, but I strongly disagree. He was with God, especially in the garden of Gesthemnine, Mary his mother, the holy, virgin mother, Mary Magdalene, Joseph and the disciples were scared and denying him, but it was only Peter and Judas, right. Correct me if I am wrong, but I would not call that alone. If that were true, then we are alone and without God.

  22. Professor Jackson, thank you for that helpful and clarifying definition of Christ-figure. I think we agree. I did like Jacobs’ suggestion that in DH Harry is also and perhaps best understood as a figure of the youngest brother in Beadle’s tale. But in order for that to be true I don’t thing we have to exclude also understanding him as Christian everyman or a limited Christ figure. I am fighting the urge to get sidetracked into long Tolkien discussions, but there are other places and times for that. I agree with what you say, and have enjoyed reading JRRT’s letters (Humphrey Carpenter, Ed.) and the work of Tolkien scholars, and indeed one does get a glimpse of just how profoundly his faith shaped the world of LOTR and the Silmarillion.

  23. Rumor,

    Actually, at the moment of His crucifixion, Christ was without God. Remember, He called out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” God had to withdraw Himself from Christ’s human body, as He couldn’t die with God’s touch still on Him.

    The faith and bravery it took for Christ to face that moment really bring home the sacrifice He made. To me, Christ is the ulitmate Gryffindor.

    susan

  24. “To me, Christ is the ulitmate Gryffindor.”

    And the ultimate Slytherin: “be ye therefore wise as serpents”

    And the ultimate Hufflepuff: “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

    And the ultimate Ravenclaw:”Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.”

    “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

    ALL the virtues find their fullest expression in Christ, though I suppose
    we can be excused for noticing most the ones we find most congenial. 🙂

  25. sdurnil:“The faith and bravery it took for Christ to face that moment really bring home the sacrifice He made. To me, Christ is the ulitmate Gryffindor.”

    That’s an interesting thought. Though I wonder if instead of one house it would be the perfect union of all of them. Which brings to mind an old thought I had once:

    The Hogwarts Houses remind me of the Church. Many different branches and when not in order, disastrous, but when in unity strong enough to assault the very gates of hell. (Or in Harry’s case Voldemort’s regime.)

    -Shane

  26. Arabella Figg says:

    Helen, that was beautiful, supported so well with Scripture.

    And, Shane, I agree. I believe the splintering of the Church has rendered it effective in ways we may be too blind to see (“take the log out of your own eye so you can remove the splinter from another’s”–loose translation).

    Someday, no more division, contention, competition and predjudice amongst our “houses.” We can be Ravenslythergryffinpuffs. I so look forward to it.

    Oops, I hear growls and hissing…

  27. Arabella Figg says:

    Oops, in my previous comment, a typo. I meant to write “has rendered it INeffective.”

    As I am in keeping Thudders from…no! Thudders!

  28. Sdurnil, you’re absolutely right. Notice also, that, in speaking of Harry as a Christ figure, the people he brought back through the resurrection stone could be likened unto God the Father. They are with him up untill the very end, when he has to go alone, as did Christ at his final moments.
    I agree, though, that there can be more than one Christ figure in a book, and that perhaps Lily is a Christ Figure as well.
    If someone were to write a story involving each of us or all of us, we might be considered “christ figures” as well – because we strive to imitate Christ in our lives, just as certain characters end up immitating Christ throughout the story. That we share similarities w/ Christ in no way says that we would consider ourselves parallel to Christ as Aslan is, but that we have the spirit of Christ living in us, and that we try to act like him, just as Harry adopts Christ-like characteristics. In that way, then, Harry is easily both the everyman and the Christ figure rolled into one.
    In that sense, though, you could make out a great number of characters to be Christ figures – practically all the protagonists, which I don’t think would really work w/ the normal idea of what a Christ Figure is.
    And I think you’re right about the youngest brother, John.

  29. wordsaremagic says:

    So, Alan Jacobs has realized that HP is not an allegory!

    Ho-hum…