“But Obviously Dumbledore is not Jesus:” The Hogwarts Headmaster as Christ Symbol in Half-Blood Prince

I taught Harry Potter classes at Barnes & Noble University and co-moderated Discussion Rooms there before they changed to their new ‘Book Clubs’ format (and I will be joining them there in March for more “moderated discussion”). These electronic classrooms are a fascinating symposium and slice of Harry Potter fandom that includes not only a diversity of nationalities but the spectra of age, beliefs, and vocations not to be rivaled at any bricks-and-mortar school (six continents and four archipelagoes is the best we’ve done but the 400-800 students that post messages always represent an international community of readers). The best discussion room included a Zarusthustran, a Hollywood screenwriter and blogger, and a teacher in the Kanto Plain outside Tokyo.

When we were trying to make sense of the latest Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, when it first came out, the questions, themes, and theories we explored were respectably far ranging from the battle raging everywhere then in fandom, is Snape misunderstood or the murderer he seems to scenes-as-subtext questions, “What do the fox that Bellatrix kills, the telescope that punches Hermione, and the gnomes at the burrow mean?” and real puzzlers. I mean, when you’re asked if Horace Slughorn is Lord Voldemort’s agent inside Hogwarts, the man who brewed Malfoy’s Polyjuice Potion and the emerald phosphorescent frosty that tumbled Dumbledore, you’d better be prepared to argue at length about who this guy is and why (or why not) he is good (or EVIL).

There were a few questions that kept coming up in different forms, most having to do with the dearly-departed Dumbledore. Much of fandom was in serious denial and the other parts were trying to reconcile themselves to a Hogwarts without the affable Headmaster. Every Harry Potter reader, including the Harry Haters, were trying to make sense of his last hours and death (a Catholic seminarian from Louisiana sent me an owl a day for a week to convince me that Ms. Rowling was sending disturbing mixed signals to the children of the world about euthanasia and mercy killing with Dumbledore’s death).

The question I heard then from serious readers and now on this weBlog, especially from those who have read my book, Looking for God in Harry Potter (Tyndale, 2004), is about the Christ symbol in this book. Every Harry Potter adventure features a scene in the climactic battle with evil where Harry dies a figurative death and rises from this death in the presence of a traditional symbol of Christ because of love. The question for Half-Blood Prince has been “Is the sixth year’s salvific symbol Albus Dumbledore?” [Read more…]

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If you do, just click here. The link will take you to the Zossima Press web site shopping cart. I’ll autograph anything you order there that I’ve written. You betcha.

Shamelessly mercenary John

Harry Potter characters using Narrative Misdirection? (Scar-O-Scope 102)

Narrative misdirection is Joanne Rowling’s signature device as a writer. Using the narrative line to turn the reader from what is happening requires remarkable planning and care. This “trick” is so much a part of her way of thinking and writing that I suggested last week that the “big twist” in store for us in Deathly Hallows is learning how Dumbledore and Snape contrived to make Half-Blood Prince a case study in narrative misdirection. If you missed that post, take a minute to read it here and be sure to read the responses. Most are profoundly skeptical that the characters in Ms. Rowling’s novels are using her tricks to put one over on their opponents in VoldeWar II the way she does to us.

If she is doing this, it would not be the first time.

In Chapter 13 of Chamber, “The Very Secret Diary,” Ron and Harry find a diary in the girls’ bathroom where Moaning Myrtle “lives.” Ron tells Harry not to pick it up or read it because books can be dangerous. Harry laughs that warning off, picks up the diary, and is not satisfied until he learns how to “read” it. I wrote in Looking for God in Harry Potter that Chamber is largely a book about how to read books and how to discern what makes a book good and what makes a book dangerous. In Chapter 13 of Chamber we learn that books really can be dangerous, if not exactly for the reasons Ron gives. Trusting the narrative line, Harry shows us, can make us believe things we shouldn’t believe. [Read more…]

Gleam of Triumph? Narrative Misdirection is the Key (Scar-O-Scope 101)

I received this letter today in my john@zossima mailbox and thought I would share my answer to start an important conversation here. Is narrative misdirection the single most important key to these books? Have Dumbledore and Snape written a script in Prince to be acted out in front of Voldemort via Harry’s scar-o-scope? Is the plan to deceive the-ghost-in-Harry’s-machine about how far along their pursuit of Horcruxes was and to plant Snape in a position to kill the Dark Lord after all the Horcruxes had been collected and destroyed? To include the one on Harry’s forehead?

Lemmeno what you think. As I mention in the note, the scar-o-scope theory is detailed at length in Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader but here is an introduction to Ms. Rowling’s writing narrative misdirection, her signature artifice, into her story as a weapon of the good guys in VoldeWar II. She has done this with Voldemort at least twice; why not with the good guys?

The letter:
——————————————————————————–
Date: Jan 10, 2007 1:28 PM
Subject: the Gleam of Triumph
To: john@zossima.com

I just finished reading Looking For God in Harry Potter, the 2004 edition, and I was waiting eagerly for one explanation that never appeared. After the explanation of why Quirrell couldn’t touch Harry’s skin without burning, I was wondering why it was that after the rebirthing Voldemort *could* touch him without any apparent effect. The subject line of my email, of course, refers to Dumbledore’s gleam of triumph in his eyes after Harry relates this fact to him. Any theories, clues, directions to writings on this that I have missed?

Harry Fan in Ohio [Read more…]

PodCast at Sword of Gryffindor, Nativity, coming posts

Sorry about the absence from the weBlog this last week! End of term duties here at Valley Forge and our celebrations of Nativity on Sunday, not to mention re-organizing and re-writing Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader for the wizard at Zossima Press to send off to the printers, have kept me from the fun here! God allowing, I’ll post something brief more often as we prep for exams at school.

Today’s exciting news is that Travis Prinzi edited his podCast interview with Wendy B. Harte and myself that we did on western New Year’s Day. I hope I didn’t say anything especially bone-headed or, if I did, that Travis was able to cut it out during the edit. Please write out below all the mistakes you think I made!

I drove to Boston this weekend for Nativity services at the St. John Chrysostomos Mission in Saugus (if you live up that way, you really should go). My daughter Hannah drove the minivan with my wife co-piloting, so I was in the back with the other six children. What a hoot! We listened to Order of the Phoenix tapes (Scholastic, Jim Dale) and I was delighted by several inspirations about the Disillusionment Charm (and postmodernism), the Thestrals (and existential epistemology), and Voldemort’s narrative misdirection (and Rowling’s much bigger twist) that I look forward to sharing with you at HogPro.

Thank you for stopping by — and Merry Christmas!

Post-posting: If you haven’t been following the comment boxes on Dragon’s blood, you’ve missed a few more references from canon. Fascinating that Dragon’s steak has healing properties, no?