William Michael Riley: The Deathly Hallowed Trinity Montage

The idea that the Three Brothers in Deathly Hallows are story pointers to the Dark Lord, Severus Snape, and Harry Potter was discussed here in the weeks after the book’s publication in 2007. Alan Jacobs, however, I think was the first to publish the idea (if only as a hint) in his Christianity Today review of the series finale, ‘The Youngest Brother’s Tale.’

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.

I have quite a few problems with Prof. Jacobs’ patronizing review of Deathly Hallows (read that here) but I hope he was pointing to this internal connection of Harry and the youngest brother by his condescending allusion above.

Your thoughts, please! Are the three brothers of the Beedle Bard’s tale the story-within-the-story telling the story’s heart before we get to that end in the proper story order? And what do you think of the Riley montage above? The floor is all yours —

Hat tip to Nadja for the foto link. See the Facebook page here.


  1. I certainly thought it was accurate, except for the second brother. The second brother didn’t die for lost love; he died because he tried to get it back. Dumbledore is actually (really) killed by the curse he gets when trying to use the Resurrection Stone, to see his dead sister to apologize to her. He has a far clearer connection to the stone than Snape. There’s also the problem that Snape’s sacrifice was presented in an extremely positive light, whereas the actions of the second brother are not. The second brother tries to bring his love back from the dead. Snape, rather than trying to bring back Lily, does his best to see that her sacrifice was not in vain, to carry forth the good she wanted to see shine forward into the world, never trying to bring her back.

  2. Excellent points all. Thank you for joining/starting this conversation!

  3. Yes, I meant to comment when this went up that I believe the earlier connection of the second brother and Dumbledore are correct. Both had understandable desires with which anyone could have sympathy. But their desperation made them selfish and foolish, and they used the stone to their own destruction. In Dumbledore’s case, he was not the only one to pay a high price for using the Stone.

    Severus clung to Lily’s memory and her goodness, not to Lily herself. An interesting juxtaposition is that Albus pretty much ignored his sister in life and obsessed over her in death. Severus obsessed over Lily in life; although she’s his reason for living after her death, he takes on her Patronus without resorting to occultic methods to keep her.

    Both men, however, suffer shame and remorse over their lost ones, who suffered at their hands.

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