Forget Scooter. Forget Hillary. Forget Barry Bonds.
For millions of Harry Potter people around the world — young and old — here is an MSNBC update on the story that need not be named, the story that lives (maybe):
TODAYshow.com: With the final book coming out, do you ever get a sense of impending doom? Do you think you will survive “The Deathly Hallows”?
Daniel Radcliffe: I think I might die in it, but that’s just my prediction. I think so, but I’ve no idea at all; I have no inside hints.
On the surface, the upcoming Potter apocalypse does not seem to have much of a religion angle.
I disagree, strongly, and I am not just talking about the small armies of conservative religious folks who hated the witchcraft and wizardry angle from “hello.”
A few years ago, I attended a global forum on Harry Potter studies in Orlando (honest) and was surprised to find out that the room was divided primarily between two groups of people: Gay Wiccans and evangelical homeschooling moms. I kid you not. There are lots of Christian people out there who are getting deep, deep, deep into the Potter canon, and some of them are convinced (count me in) that the books are soaked in Christian symbolism and themes, most of a medieval variety.
Harry Potter froze in terror as the hellish Dementors rushed to suck out his godfather’s soul.
But he was not powerless, because he had learned the Patronus Charm for use against the evil ones. So the boy wizard focused on a joyful memory and shouted, “Expecto Patronum!”
Salvation arrived in the form of a dazzling silver animal that defeated the ghouls and then cantered across the surface of a lake to Harry. It was as “bright as a unicorn,” but on second glance was not a unicorn. It was a majestic stag that bowed its antlered head in salute and then vanished.
If C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien had written this scene in “The Prisoner of Azkaban,” literary critics and Christian apologists would know how to break the code, according to John Granger, author of “The Hidden Key to Harry Potter.” They would parse the Latin charm and study author J.K. Rowling’s delicate use of medieval symbolism.
“The key is that stag, which is often a Christ symbol. But she is not content to make it a stag. It’s a stag that looks like a unicorn,” said Granger, who teaches Latin and Greek. … She’s saying to the reader, ‘A stag may be a reach for you. So I’ll have it be a stag that looks like a unicorn, since that has been a universally recognized Christ symbol for ages.’ It’s almost, ‘Let me make this clear for you.’”
Harry, of course, is able to battle supernatural evil with supernatural forces of his own, and Rowling is quite clear that she doesn’t personally believe in that kind of magic — “not at all.” Is she a Christian?
“Yes, I am,” she says. “Which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I’ve been asked if I believe in God, I’ve said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what’s coming in the books.”
The ultimate question does seem to be whether Potter will live or die and, if in dying, Rowling is taking her sub-creation (hello J.R.R. Tolkien) closer to the kind of truly tragic ending that is going to push millions of readers — secular and religious — to wrestle with big, even eternal, issues. Is she, in effect, a kind of postmodern, progressive Inkling?
So here is the deal. We have already seen some rather straightforward “Gospel of Harry Potter” stories out there in the mainstream. And The New York Times has already run a rather effective piece on how important all of this is to the Potter generation.
But no one seems to be connecting the big book sales with the big issues very well.
So please help me find the best Potter stories that “get religion,” when it comes to digging into the ultimate questions in these books. Keep your eyes open. And have fun. Here is what Granger has to say about all of that in the Times:
John Granger, a professor of Latin and English at the Valley Forge Military Academy & College in Wayne, Pa., has written two books about the series and edited a third called “Who Killed Albus Dumbledore” that is filled with predictions.
He also runs a discussion group at HogwartsProfessor.com. “I’ve seen really intelligent, really literate women and men discuss these points and provide more than cogent arguments that Snape is X, Y or Z, and they all make sense in terms of all the clues she’s given in the book,” Mr. Granger said. “This has probably been the most fun that intelligent people can have with their clothes on in the 21st century.”