The End of Harry Potter: A View from Britain
Instead of focusing on the dominant individual, British novels often examine how individuals fit into society—and how society divides itself. Americans like to believe we are a classless society with endless possibility for mobility (statistics do not bear this out), but in England, class is still on the radar. Where people went to preparatory school, or college; how they speak, even (note in the first Potter story how little lord Malfoy talks about "the right sort of person" and the Malfoys and Weasleys are constantly contrasted because of their diametrically-opposed amounts of money and style). The question in a British story often is where does one fit in, and how does one's community aid or detract from one's possibilities?
Here is where a very British story can provide a vital corrective for many Americans, who believe in rugged individualism at least as much as they believe in the God of Abraham and Sarah. As I argued in my book on the Potter epic, One Fine Potion, community is one of the central themes Rowling sketches. She builds a world in which people of all sorts are called to work together. The vision underlying Hogwarts School, (although like most visions, rarely lived up to in its entirety) was that four very different magicians would set up houses around their dominant qualities and together, the students of those houses would study together, rub against each other-and maybe rub off on each other.
To hear Rowling talk about Hogwarts in practice—or to witness best friends Harry, Ron, and Hermione in action—is to hear the Apostle Paul discussing the body of Christ, the necessity of difference, the contributions of all the members. The community forms us as individuals, which we should know but usually forget, and this very Christian message underlies these very British novels and films.
Rowling might be satisfied at this. She has identified herself repeatedly as a member of the Church of Scotland, and told the media when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published in 2007 that the Bible verses quoted in that volume represented the thematic core of the entire series. It's a lovely final irony—in largely post-Christian Britain, the most popular export since tea has its basis in the Bible, in faith, and in the Church.
Greg Garrett is the author of works of fiction, criticism, and theology, including Faithful Citizenship from Patheos Press. He is Professor of English at Baylor University, and a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.