Is There Philosophical ‘Meat’ in Harry Potter? Yes and No

I get email because I put my address in each of my books at both front and back. Frankly, outside of meeting readers at schools and conferences and the many friends I have made, this sort of correspondence is the best fun of living in Gilderoy-ville. Today’s note is from the UK where a student wanted my input on the philosophical side of Harry Potter. I hope you’ll chime in here as I am, as usual, way over my head in this subject area; I’m confident Ms. George would welcome your answers and expertise! The letter then my answers to her four questions —

Dear Mr Granger,

My name is Jenny George and I am a 6th form student at Priestley College, Warrington, England. I am currently completing an extended essay project titled What are the Philosophical and Religious themes within The Harry Potter Series and to what extent did they incite controversy?

I am writing to enquire as to whether it would be possible for me to conduct a short interview with you via email? It would simply be a short series of questions pertaining to the subject and your personal and professional opinions. Obviously there is a huge amount of knowledge to be gained through reading your essays and books, however I feel a more succinct and personal interview would add to my essay immensely.

I am thrilled to be completing an extended essay on this topic as I am a huge Potter fan and getting the opinion of experts in the field such as yourself, outside of what I have learned through reading your books  and listening to Pottercast , will go a long way to improving the essay.

I would be grateful for any help you can provide me with.
Jenny George

I love this sort of thing, believe it or don’t, so I asked her to send her questions, which she did. With her permission and for your comments, questions, and counter-answers, I post my responses below:

1. Do you believe there are strong philosophical influences in the Harry Potter series?

Yes and no! Yes, there are certainly Platonic, Coleridgean, and specifically Christian wisdom in Harry Potter; I’d argue, in fact, that it this heft which is the substance and engine of Potter Mania. I do not believe, however, that Rowling is a card carrying member in any philosophical school or academic ideology.

a. If so which Philosophers do you believe most influenced the series?

C. S. Lewis has to be right up front (for Lewis as philosopher see David Baggett’s book on same). Behind him would be all those who influenced him: I think especially of Coleridge’s epistemology and natural theology. Jane Austen’s anti-empiricism is important, too (see Rodney Delasanta for more on that).

2. To what extent do you believe the religious influences affected the way in which the books were received by the public?

Eliade’s thesis that entertainments and books especially serve a mythic or religious function in a secular culture is, I think and have argued in all my books, both the most succinct and best explanation for Potter Mania. Readers long for a means to transcend their ego-selves in story and love best those stories which affect such transcendence. As laden as the Potter books are in Christian themes and imagery and alchemical structures (especially the formal ring compositions of each novel), they meet this need like no other books of recent memory.

3. Do you believe there would be a benefit to having the series taught alongside classic novels in schools?

Absolutely. As the shared text of the 21st century and beholden to the English literary tradition, the seven novels serve as a natural gateway to the best in the fictional canon.

4. Do you believe the religious and philosophical undertones that can be found in the books were a deliberate choice by JK Rowling?

To end as I began, ‘yes and no.’ The resurrection theme and Harry as ‘Christian Everyman’ on an alchemical journey to his near-perfection in Christ (his victory over self and death) have to have been deliberate because they are woven into the structure of each book, most notably Harry’s rising from a near death in the presence of or as a symbol of Christ. But, no, I don’t think Ms. Rowling did this to evangelize a sectarian belief or specific philosophical school.

The books are postmodern in being written by a postmodern author for a postmodern author on postmodern themes (the high virtue of tolerance, the centrality of choice, the evil of the metanarrative, etc.). But they also, in being Christian and positing love as not only the true metanarrative but the fabric of reality and substance of thinking, they are a corrective to postmodern excesses like relativism, nihilism, materialism, etc.

I urge you to contact David Baggett, full-time philosopher and published Potter Pundit, at Liberty University to ask for his take on these questions for a much more challenging perspective than the nonsense I offer above in haste.

Thank you for thinking of me!



Please offer your answers to the four questions in the comment boxes — and remember to tell us which question you’re answering!


  1. Bruce Charlton says

    Little known fact: Warrington was, for a few decades of the 18th century, the home of The Warrington Academy (for Nonconformist dissenters) probably the best higher education establishment in England – a better education, by most accounts, than Oxford and Cambridge:

  2. Great website. I am a philosopher and a fan of Harry Potter. I didn’t know there were resources like this. As with any great writing, one cannot easily exhaust the philosophical content.

Speak Your Mind