Ms. Rowling Discusses Christian Content of Novels

by John on October 17, 2007

Well, folks, it finally happened. The Main Stream Media finally asked Ms. Rowling about the Christian content of her writing, she acknowledged it openly and frankly, and the reporter writes that the “religious parallels” were “always” evident to the “sharp-eyed reader.” What a hoot. I argue for years against the current of opinion and the day Ms. Rowling acknowledges her faith and its place in Harry Potter, the religious meaning and specifically the Christian meaning is now, as she said herself, “obvious.”

And MTV breaks the story! Not quite the Quibbler or National Enquirer, but not the LA Times or Washington Post, either, and they were at this news conference, right? Really, this story is funny. Two months ago in Time magazine Lev Grossman says the books are about the death of God and the victory of secular literature; we morons here who thought otherwise were just projecting our beliefs into the storyline. Now we are part of the crowd who knew it all along. People are funny; reporters are hilarious.

[Please note that the reporter who wrote this up unwittingly serves as the mouthpiece of the Star Chamber Catholics who want us to believe the pope as Cardinal Ratzinger condemned Harry Potter. Some stories will never die.]

Anyway, thoughts on the high points of this article…

The title and sub-title of the piece:

Oct 17 2007 11:20 AM EDT
‘Harry Potter’ Author J.K. Rowling Opens Up About Books’ Christian Imagery
‘They almost epitomize the whole series,’ she says of the scripture Harry reads in Godric’s Hollow.
by Shawn Adler

I am reminded of Madame Pince writing me this February when she posted the 1998 article on Accio Quotes that included Ms. Rowling’s alchemy comments. The feeling I had then — “Wow, I was right; I’m not crazy” — is what I thought when TMatt and Amy Sturgis sent me this article. I’m asked at every book store, church, and school where I talk if I have spoken with Ms. Rowling and if she has acknowledged the books have Christian meaning. Now I can say I haven’t met her but she has acknowledged the Christian content of her novels and that she thought this content was “obvious.” That is a nice change from, “No, I haven’t met her and, no, she hasn’t discussed or confirmed this.”

Back to the story with my emphasis added in places:

HOLLYWOOD — It deals extensively with souls — about keeping them whole and the evil required to split them in two. After one hero falls beyond the veil of life, his whispers are still heard. It starts with the premise that love can save you from death and ends with a proclamation that a sacrifice in the name of love can bring you back from it.

Harry Potter is followed by house-elves and goblins — not disciples — but for the sharp-eyed reader, the biblical parallels are striking. Author J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books have always, in fact, dealt explicitly with religious themes and questions, but until “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” they had never quoted any specific religion.

That was the plan from the start, Rowling told reporters during a press conference at the beginning of her Open Book Tour on Monday. It wasn’t because she was afraid of inserting religion into a children’s story. Rather, she was afraid that introducing religion (specifically Christianity) would give too much away to fans who might then see the parallels.

“To me [the religious parallels have] always been obvious,” she said. “But I never wanted to talk too openly about it because I thought it might show people who just wanted the story where we were going.”

Indeed, at its most simplistic, Harry’s final tale can in some respects be boiled down to a resurrection story, with Harry venturing to a heavenly way station of sorts after getting hit with a killing curse in Chapter 35, only to shortly return.

Again, this is both wonderful to read and very funny. Ms. Rowling thought readers would guess where the stories were going and how they would end if she had discussed the “religious parallels”? Two thoughts come immediately to mind. First, C. S. Lewis’ 1939 comment, when almost every UK reviewer of his Perelandra missed the Christian meaning, symbols, and references that saturate the work, that English novelists could smuggle the Gospel shamelessly because readers were unable to see the obvious if wrapped in fiction. Ms. Rowling gives her readers and the media a lot of credit. Which leads to my second point. Since my first reading of the books in 2000, I got the “religious parallels.” And I tried very hard to predict where they were going and how they would end. As you know, Travis and his bunch at Sword of Gryffindor and all the HogPro All-Pros and I tried to dope out the direction and details of the ending of Deathly Hallows — and none of us came close, really. I’m glad I wasn’t alone, at least, in missing the obvious!

Speaking of missing the obvious, has anyone seen a note from Lev Grossman about Deathly Hallows or Ms. Rowling’s comments today? If I blush because Ms. Rowling thinks the religious parallels should have revealed the ending, then the guy who missed the Christian content entirely, who argued the books had none in an international periodical, has to be crestfallen. No? I wonder if Mr. Abanes or Ms. Kjos are reading this story. What are they thinking? Could this news break the back of resistance to Harry Potter in Christian enclaves? Let’s hope.

Back to the article…

But if she was worried about tipping her hand narratively in the earlier books, she clearly wasn’t by the time Harry visits his parents’ graves in Chapter 16 of “Deathly Hallows,” titled “Godric’s Hollow.” On his parents’ tombstone he reads the quote “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death,” while on another tombstone (that of Dumbledore’s mother and sister) he reads, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

While Rowling said that “Hogwarts is a multifaith school,” these quotes, of course, are distinctly Christian. The second is a direct quote of Jesus from Matthew 6:19, the first from 1 Corinthians 15:26. As Hermione tells Harry shortly after he sees the graves, his parents’ message means “living beyond death. Living after death.” It is one of the central foundations of resurrection theology.

Which makes it a perfect fit for Harry, said Rowling, who was talking about those quotes for the very first time.

“They’re very British books, so on a very practical note Harry was going to find biblical quotations on tombstones,” Rowling explained. “[But] I think those two particular quotations he finds on the tombstones at Godric’s Hollow, they sum up — they almost epitomize the whole series.

Besides the “central foundations of resurrection theology” part where Shawn Adler tries to open up St. Paul for his readers, this was the money part of the article: Ms. Rowling saying that the books are “summed up” and “epitomized” by the scriptural passages Harry and Hermione read in the Godric Hollow graveyard on Christmas Eve. The stories are about Love’s victory over death and the importance of making the right choice about where to keep your treasure.

The debate about the author’s intention and the Christian meaning of the books is over. Close curtain.

As the one to bring together all three magical Deathly Hallows, Harry, in fact, becomes the “Master of Death” by novel’s end, able to bring back the spirits of his parents, his godfather, Sirius Black and his old teacher Remus Lupin. It’s a conclusion that ends Harry’s three-book-long struggle over questions about the afterlife, which begins when Sirius falls through a veil connecting this world and the next at the end of “Order of the Phoenix.”

“Deathly Hallows” itself begins with two religiously themed epigraphs, one from “The Liberation Bearers” by Aeschylus, which calls on the gods to “bless the children”; and one from William Penn’s “More Fruits of Solitude,” which speaks of death as but “crossing the world, as friends do the seas.” No other book in the series begins with epigraphs — a curious fact, perhaps, but one that Rowling insists served as a guiding light.

“I really enjoyed choosing those two quotations because one is pagan, of course, and one is from a Christian tradition,” Rowling said of their inclusion. “I’d known it was going to be those two passages since ‘Chamber’ was published. I always knew [that] if I could use them at the beginning of book seven then I’d cued up the ending perfectly. If they were relevant, then I went where I needed to go.

“They just say it all to me, they really do,” she added.

The HogPro All-Pros get some credit for doping this out the week after Deathly Hallows appeared (my thoughts and yours can be read here). That she chose these passages after Chamber of Secrets was published (1998) confirms for how long the last third of Deathly Hallows shaped and drove the other books in the series, which is to say, “from the beginning.” It’s always been about love’s victory over death.

But while the book begins with a quote on the immortal soul — and though Harry finds peace with his own death at the end of his journey — it is the struggle itself which mirrors Rowling’s own, the author said.

“The truth is that, like Graham Greene, my faith is sometimes that my faith will return. It’s something I struggle with a lot,” she revealed. “On any given moment if you asked me [if] I believe in life after death, I think if you polled me regularly through the week, I think I would come down on the side of yes — that I do believe in life after death. [But] it’s something that I wrestle with a lot. It preoccupies me a lot, and I think that’s very obvious within the books.”

In The Christian Content of Deathly Hallows (A), the first part of my Featured Talk at Prophecy 2007 in August, I discuss this point at length. Harry’s struggle with his belief in Dumbledore and with his mission in Deathly Hallows is a reflection of Ms. Rowling’s struggle to believe and the importance of the choice to believe, especially for postmodern skeptics. It hurts, of course, to read that an interpretation that I made (and which has not been greeted universally as the right one) is an understanding that the author believes “is very obvious.” It always hurts when I laugh this hard. Outside of Travis, Odd Hove, Merlin, Amy, Regina, TMatt and a handful of others, I can’t think of many readers to whom this sort of thing was “very obvious.” The reporter doesn’t acknowledge that he missed this when he read Deathly Hallows but he wants to be sure you know the pope didn’t get it and the fundamentalists were way off:

That, by the author’s own acknowledgement, “Harry Potter” deals extensively with Christian themes may be somewhat ironic, considering that many Christian leaders have denounced the series for glamorizing witchcraft. When he was known simply as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Pope himself condemned the books, writing that their “subtle seductions, which act unnoticed … deeply distort Christianity in the soul before it can grow properly.”

For her part, Rowling said she’s proud to be on numerous banned-book lists. As for the protests of some believers? Well, she doesn’t take them as gospel.

“I go to church myself,” she declared. “I don’t take any responsibility for the lunatic fringes of my own religion.”

Again, it’s too bad today’s welcome admission by Ms. Rowling of her faith and how it shaped her novels had to be colored by a repetition of the “Pope Condemns Harry Potter” nonsense. I had to love, though, that the closer in this reporter’s write-up of Ms. Rowling’s public confession of the Christian content of the best-selling books in history had to be what he considers her Parthian shot at her Christian critics. In effect, “Jo Rowling doesn’t like stupid Christians either so she’s still okay, even if she has written a Christian book.” I wonder if the Fourth Estate will ever come to terms with Rita Skeeter and Ms. Rowling’s depiction of reporters and newspapers in her Daily Prophet, not to mention the importance of the Christian content of the books in understanding Harry Potter….

That revelation and epiphany will have to wait for another day. Today, the HogPro All-Pros can enjoy hearing from Ms. Rowling herself that the books are what we’ve been saying they are and discussing for several years now. Raise a glass of your favorite beverage tonight, dear friends, to the Boy Who Lived and the author who at last confirmed the Hidden Keys to Harry Potter, her religious beliefs and struggle to believe.

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