Mailbag: Wise Men and Wizards

I received this note in today’s morning flock of email owls:

I have a question for you. Maybe you addressed it in one of your books, I can’t remember right now. But Christmas triggered this question among my friends: why the Wizarding Community celebrates Christmas, since everything Jesus did could have been done by a wizard? The only thing we thought could be impossible for a Wizard is resurrection, but then again, if Muggles were the only witnesses, why would Wizards trust them? And seen by Muggle or magical person, why wouldn’t the Wizards check that testimony themselves (via Veritaserum or Legilimency?)

My response was close to a non-response but it raised an important point. More after the jump!

I wrote back this non-answer to the fun question:

Thank you for this note!

As you know, I have written several books and continue to write online about the Christian content of the Potter novels and Rowling’s post-Hogwarts books and screenplays.

I think I’ll take a pass, though, on your question about imaginary wizards and their relationship with and understanding of Jesus of Nazareth. Here’s why —

The one world is fiction, however edifying potentially, and the other is the fabric of reality Himself. It’s best not to blur in any way the distinction between the two because it suggests that they are somehow equal in both being in some sense “narratives.”

Harry Potter and any other imaginative story, in other words, may point to or away from the Way to life in God through Christ, and, in that pointing, even imaginative shadowing, serve as Eliade suggested an important “mythic or religious function” in a secular culture. But Harry Potter is nothing like a Sacred Text, as the wonks at Harvard Divinity School sell in the lucrative marketplace of naive ‘Spiritual Not Religious’ seekers — and it is, frankly, a shameful thing to suggest it is.

It is important, consequently, I think not to play the fandom game of pretending Rowling’s Wizarding World subcreation really exists in any way with respect to the Gospel narrative and the reality of transformation and salvation available in Christ’s Mystical Body to members of His traditional Orthodox Church. Boundaries are important and none perhaps as important as protecting the Good News and remembering the exclusive reality of Christ as Creator and Redeemer.

If you have to ‘go there,’ though, I think it’s best to stop at the facts that Dumbledore, the epitome of wisdom in the seven novels, is familiar with the Gospel, accepts them as true sufficiently to quote from Scripture on his mother and sister’s headstone, and perhaps, if Bea Groves is to be believed, designed Harry’s confrontation with the Dark Lord on the model of the God of Love and Light’s deception of the Evil One.

How did Dumbleore came to that acceptance? I’ll leave that to the author to describe, should she choose to explain it. Personally, I hope she won’t.

Thanks again for your note and fun question!




  1. Minor points here in deference to John’s more important point, but the other piece I would add is that the closest a Wizard could come to being Jesus properly in the narrative — and this is still problematic for other reasons that only a theologian could parse rightly — would be if J.K. Rowling herself incarnated in the books. Said in another way, the minor reason they celebrate Christmas and not some other holiday of Wizard incarnation is that Wizards do not acknowledge Rowling as author or maker of their world and therefore as the incarnation of the Wizarding World maker. The major reason, of course, is that Rowling does not contain the cause of her own being and therefore even authorial incarnation would be insufficient.

    Which, I might add, is the very question I’m working on in my own series: not either/or, but can there be both? Can a narrative acknowledge — explicitly — both creation and subcreation in the narrative, through the narrative, as the narrative?

    Questions to be answered for another time, I suspect, but starting with Lewis’s Seeing Eye is a good start:

    Looking for God — or Heaven — by exploring space is like reading or seeing all Shakespeare’s plays in the hope that you will find Shakespeare as one of the characters or Stratford as one of the places. Shakespeare is in the one sense present at every moment in every play. But he is never present in the same way as Falstaff or Lady Macbeth. Nor is he diffused through the play like a gas.

    If there were an idiot who thought plays existed on their own, without an author (not to mention actors, producer, manager, stagehands, and what not), our belief in Shakespeare would not be much affected by his saying, quite truly, that he had studied all the plays and never found Shakespeare in them.

    The rest of us, in varying degrees according to our perceptiveness, ‘found Shakespeare’ in the plays. But it is a quite different sort of ‘finding’ from anything our poor friend had in mind. \

    …One might imagine a play in which the dramatist introduced himself as a character into his own play and was pelted off the stage as an imprudent imposter by the other characters. It might be rather a good play; if I had any talent for the theatre I’d try my hand at writing it. But since (as far as I know) such a play doesn’t exist, we had better change to a narrative work; a story into which the author puts himself as one of the characters.

    He moves on to Dante. Aside from Lewis’s nested way of calling Soviet astronauts “idiots,” it’s fascinating that he says no one had written it — he’s writing this article in 1963 and clearly had not seen and likely had not read the posthumous publication of Chesterton’s play The Surprise which did just that. He had read enough of Chesterton to reach Chesterton’s conclusion without reading the conclusion itself.

    The Surprise by Daddy GKC responds to Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello brilliantly. The original question seems to be more in line with the errors of Pirandello — even of those of the Russians — than the arguments of Chesterton and Lewis.

    Said another way, a Wizarding incarnation would still be predicated both on an authorial incarnation and upon Christmas itself.

    And these are only minor points in deference to John’s more important points.

  2. Also, quick addendum, but this is why books like Philip Pullman’s DARK MATERIALS or the WHEEL OF TIME or other books that try to “kill God” are so silly: the characters never kill the author in such a way that the book itself ceases to be.

  3. Lancelot Schaubert says

    …though Vonnegut made some hilarious jokes to that effect.

  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Lancelot Schaubert, and mine Host,

    I was thinking of that, too, but misremembering that it was GKC’s 1913 play, Magic. But Lewis also appears as some versions of himself in the first two Ransom books, in The Screwtape Letters (in one preface draft of which we know – thanks to Brenton Dickieson – Ransom was acknowledged as their translator!), and in The Great Divorce – even as Chaucer appeared in both The Hous of Fame and The Canterbury Tales, indeed much as Dante before him.

    I think Williams’s Shadows of Ecstasy is relevant, here, too – what if one of the Adepts had managed to rise again from the dead? – how would that be like, or unlike, the son of the widow of Zarephath, the man in 2 Kings 13:31, the son of the widow of Nain, the daughter of Jairus, St. Lazarus, St.Tabitha/Dorcas, or Eutychus in Acts 20?

    I have read Jewish scholars who think Jesus may have risen again, without recognizing Him as God the Son Incarnate, even as He is elsewhere presented as Born of the Virgin without the majority of interpreters who revere that text accepting Him as Christ Our True God.

    I think fiction as well as scholarship can occasion our reflecting fruitfully on the uniqueness of the Fructiferous Incarnation.

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