Deathly Hallows II– The End of Harry Potter

We have been muggling along for thirteen plus years now with the Harry Potter saga.  It’s been an interesting and sometimes wild ride into the imagination of the good Ms. Rowling.  Ms. Rowling readily admits her influences, most obviously  Tolkien and Lewis, and says she is also a professing Christian.  It is thus not surprising that in this final episode of the Potter saga, a ‘resurrection stone’ plays a key role in the revival and final triumph of Harry Potter over evil in the form of Voldemort and his buddies.   We saw this film in IMAX 3D, something new for Harry Potter with a packed crowd in a theater in Durham N.C. Many of the young people had come dressed in costume, and were ready for a celebration.    This movie however is not a party, it is a battle, full of action and intrigue, and I would say that on the whole it is the most satisfyingly dramatic of the entire series resolving as it does most of the major plot lines of these novels.

Unfortunately for the real fans who read the novels first, while the films are very enjoyable, there are always issues about the way they are adapted for the silver screen, and not just adapted, but changed.   Our daughter Christy was ticked off with some of the changes.  For example, there any destroying of the elder wand.  The director missed entirely an opportunity to emphasis how it was Harry’s mother’s spell that was protecting him through life.  And if you’ve got the resurrection stone and you want to come back to life, why would you drop it in the forest?  The movie does not explain.  I could go on and on with a list, but this brings up the issue of why movie makers think they know better than authors how the story should go and what makes for a good ending.

On the plus side, the three central characters are just as likeable as ever.  We could use a little more humor in this episode, but humor was not entirely lacking.  The visuals in IMAX 3D were spectacular, as was the interaction between the main characters.  The music was also effective.  When set beside Deathly Hallows I, this movie was all the way around a far better, more interesting, more dramatic, more satisfying film.    The flash-forward at the end to 19 years later is a nice light touch to bring the series to a close.  My favorite line in the film was that of Dumbledore when Harry is in the afterlife and asks, ‘is this all in my head, or is this real?’  Dumbledore replies “Well of course it is in your head, but why in the world would that make you think it isn’t real?’  Why indeed!  The subjective world may be stimulated by and mirror the objective world.

Perhaps you will remember how, quite unnecessarily, there were lots of protests from very conservative Christians, about these novels and then movies.  This sort of knee jerk reaction shows Christianity off at its obscurantist worst, especially when the essential elements in these novels are no different than what we find in Lewis and Tolkien.   The issue of magic, both black and white magic, is an important issue for those who believe in the supernatural.  Magic by definition is the attempt of humans to control forces larger than ordinary life, something humans have always been trying to do since Day One.  Miracle by definition is a top down view of things, believing God is in control and will intervene and help, even in stupendous ways at times.   The Harry Potter movies raise the same kinds of issues about miracle and magic as did Tolkien and Lewis.  How we resolve those issues raises the right issues about what we believe about God, and trusting God with our lives.

Here’s to Harry and Hermione and Ron and friends.  They have made us think and wonder, and when you lose your ability to have a sense of awe and wonder, you have lost your ability to ‘turn and become as a child, and so enter the Kingdom’.

  • http://aerycksmusic.wordpress.com Eric J. Sawyer

    Long Live ‘Harry Potgieter’ ( South African joke ) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqhbPrjhbXE

  • http://matthartke.wordpress.com Matt

    Good review Dr. Witherington. I thought they did a great job with the movie as well.

    Regarding the knee-jerk reaction of many Evangelicals to this series, I would add that the writers of Scripture often pull on myths of their own surrounding culture to use as metaphors for an entirely different story. Take the so-called “Combat Myth”, for instance: the psalms and prophets often use this myth as a vehicle when speaking of creation or the exodus, but that doesn’t mean that they are supporting that particular story. We have to distinguish between what is being said, i.e. the referent, and the vehicle used to convey it. The same goes for the use of magic and sorcery in the Harry Potter series. Personally, I consider the Deathly Hallows to be one of the greatest pieces of Christian literature of this generation, because it creates an engrossing mythical world in order to tell a profoundly Christian story.

    Regarding some of the ways the movie drifted from the book, I should note that Harry’s posthumous meeting with Dumbledore and Hagrid carrying Harry’s body are both very pivotal details in the book. Chapter 35 (“King’s Cross”) is dedicated entirely to the meeting between Harry and Dumbledore. And in the next chapter Voldemort forces Hagrid to carry Harry’s body back to Hogwarts while they all think he’s dead. Also, the resurrection stone can’t bring anyone back to life, it just enables one to communicate with the dead, as Harry does with his parents, Sirius, and Lupin in both the book and the movie.

  • Thorn

    I think this film is my favorite of the entire series. It is a satisfying end, but sad to think the story is over.

    Another good movie was released this weekend, Winnie the Pooh. Good story. Great animation. Great songs, sung by Zooey Deschanel.

  • http://www.chadelliott.wordpress.com Chad

    Perhaps you will remember how, quite unnecessarily, there were lots of protests from very conservative Christians, about these novels and then movies. This sort of knee jerk reaction shows Christianity off at its obscurantist worst, especially when the essential elements in these novels are no different than what we find in Lewis and Tolkien.

    Bravo, Ben, for stating so clearly something that my wife and I have been asserting for years. It is very frustrating to see otherwise reasonable Christian brothers and sisters balk at applying the same standards to Harry Potter as they do to the Lord of the Rings or Narnia movies. And you are dead on when you state that how we resolve the issues raised in these movies raise the right issues about what we believe about God, and trusting God with our lives.

  • Rick

    Ben —

    I was just wondering to myself if you would be reviewing this, and I’m pleased to see you liked it. It’s not clear (to me) whether you’ve read the books, but if not I think you will enjoy the almost-explicitly Christian themes (which Matt already mentioned). If you have read them and don’t see them as much, I would highly recommend John Granger’s How Harry Cast His Spell. Lots of great stuff in his book about alchemy, Christian symbolism in literature, and the like. I noticed some of the things he said were also true in Lewis.

    Rick

  • ben witherington

    Thorn I liked this concluding film and it was satisfying in various ways, but not in focusing on the relationship of the core three characters, Hermione and Ron only play bit parts at most, and I would like to have seen more of their interaction towards the end. But still a good conclusion to the series. It’s not up to end of the Lord of the Rings standards, but its certainly better than the Narnia movies.

    BW3

  • David Weinschrott

    I have come to respect the Harry Potter series – initially buying into the widespread “evangelical” criticism.

    Still the issue that bothers me the most in the series is the subclass status give to the muggles. While the worst sort of this attitude comes from Voldemort and his ilk – nevertheless the best attitude among the rest of the wizarding community is benign condescension.

    By contrast is the sentiment of Gandalf in LOTR when he responds to Frodo’s wish that Bilbo had ended Gollum’s existence. Gandalf said, in effect, it is a terrible act consider putting another to death – one never knows the part they may play for good. (my paraphrase). Throughout LOTR the wizards elves, etc. wearing the white hats have immense respect for the common people (muggles).

  • http://occupy-till-i-come.webs.com/ Andrew Patrick

    I read the books of this series a few years ago, and I have not seen the movie so I do not know how they actually differ, but I have a couple observations:

    * Harry Potter himself bears a mark on his forehead, his soul is shared with an immortal being of extreme evil, he also speaks as a serpent, he sacrifices his life to defeat this being, and comes back from the dead on his own power. And maybe I am remembering this wrong, but I don’t remember a resurrection stone in the books.

    * When Harry Potter encounters the words “O death, where is thy sting, o grave, where is thy victory” on a tombstone, he attributes it to “Death Eater [devil] propaganda.” His normally astute friend Hermione suggests that it probably has a more innocent meaning but otherwise does not recognize the quote.

    I do not think that it is a knee-jerk reaction on my part to recognize a literary figure of an anti-Christ when it is described in such terms. Does no one else recognize this symbolism? This Christ figure has the same soul as the devil and practices witchcraft.

    One must also wonder what was the purpose of the scene with the tombstone quoting 1 Corinthians 15. Rather than leaving Christianity out of her world, she has thus said that this setting is the real world where the deluded muggles may have scripture, but the witches have true power and magic and see things “as they really are.” The dead muggle beneath that tombstone died in vain, for in this world his Christ will not return (so why did she introduce this scripture into her story?)

    I am curious as to how the actual movie dealt with these elements. Did they present them in the same way as the books, or were these edited for the audience?

  • http://occupy-till-i-come.webs.com/ Andrew Patrick

    For the folks that said that Harry Potter was “great Christian literature” I would like to have their opinion about the BBC production “Torchwood” season one.

    In this series, Captain Jack is obviously set forth as a Christ figure, for battles the devil himself (complete with horns), dies in the struggle by consuming it with his life force, and comes back from the dead after three days. Would this also count as “great Christian literature?”

    After all, we should all judge literature by the same standards, shouldn’t we?

  • Jon Altman

    I can’t tell if Dr. W. has read the book either. If so, he has forgotten the the “resurrection stone” was misused by Dumbledore and actually caused the fatal illness that would have taken his life not long after Snape killed him. No one really “needs” or should have the “resurrection stone.” Also, Voldemort actually “killed” the part of Harry that was his own “soul.” Harry was “the last Horcrux,” the one Voldemort didn’t intend to make. That’s why Harry was able to “rise.” Of course, Harry “laid down his life for his friends,” which sounds vaguely familiar.:)

  • http://matthartke.wordpress.com Matt

    Andrew,

    I think this is a case of missing the forest for the trees. The reason Harry bears that mark on his forehead is because Voldemort tried to kill him with a powerful curse and his spell backfired. Why did it backfire? Because Harry was protected by a greater spell, a “deeper magic”, which was his mother’s loving sacrifice on his behalf. C.S. Lewis would be proud. This theme–the theme of love being stronger than death, and stronger than self-serving power–is the overarching motif and moral of the Harry Potter story. Harry’s mom is the prototype, but it doesn’t end there: Dumbledore, Dobby, Snape, and ultimately Harry himself all follow down the same path, the path of sacrificial, self-giving love.

    Voldemort, by contrast, believes that might is always right, i.e. that there is no right or wrong, but that power is the only thing that matters. His thirst for power leads him to seek everlasting life by a special killing curse that splits his soul in pieces. That’s why a piece of his soul lives in Harry, because he accidentally turned Harry into a horcrux, one of the objects that keeps him unnaturally alive. And that’s why Harry misunderstands the quotation of 1 Corinthians 15, because the only kind of deathlessness he knows of is the evil, unnatural, self-seeking immortality of Voldemort and his cohorts. But at this point Rowling is beginning to hint at the reality to which Voldemort’s lust is the parody, the deeper magic that Voldemort cannot understand, the truth that love is stronger than death.

  • Jon Altman

    Like Dr. W, I did not care for what the filmmakers did with the Elder Wand. They went for one or two seconds of action rather than several minutes of “talk.”

  • Rick

    Andrew, I’d also add that Rowling has stated in interviews that the two biblical quotes sum up much of what she is trying to say in the series — not Harry’s confused reaction to one of them, which Matt has addressed. The profound Christianity of the books has been amply demonstrated in the book I cited, and if you’re familiar with the books I would highly recommend reading the book I mentioned for Ben. Rowling describes herself as a confessing Christian, and while we cannot personally administer the “confesses-Christ-came-in-the-flesh” test to her, it seems doubtful to me that she would leave so many Christian hints in her books and yet try to turn Christianity on its head. Harry is repeatedly protected by Christ symbols and battles demonic symbols. That he himself is oppressed by a demonic spirit is entirely in keeping with Christian theology.

  • Rebecca

    Although I don’t have kids, a while back I decided that I needed to be able to speak intelligently to the HP phenomenon, so the books became my “vacation read” for a couple of years. Thoroughly enjoyed, I might add! One thing that I found interesting is that Rowling had Voldemort startoff as a fairly “normal” young man, but that as he went farther and farther down the path of evil, his appearance became less and less human. I thought that puts it very well, because going the other direction with that thought, as we become more Christlike … we become the humans that we were created to be.


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