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Christian themes part of 'Harry Potter'

Christian themes part of 'Harry Potter'

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Christian themes part of 'Harry Potter'
British author J.K. Rowling at the June 20 release of her latest Harry Potter book, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," at the Natural History Museum in London.

(Spoiler alert: If you want to avoid learning anything significant, finish the seventh book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," before you read this column.)

J.K. Rowling gets the last laugh on the dwindling number of conservative Christians who have attacked her "Harry Potter" saga over the past decade: The most important plot point of the seventh and final book is unambiguously Christian.

Rowling cleverly scattered so many red herrings amongst the loaves and fishes in the previous books that she made it difficult to see the trail clearly except in retrospect. The Potter story is not a linear Christian allegory. And Harry's World is insistently devoid of explicit religion, right through the final chapter.

But "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" finally reveals plainly what the author had said for many years: that her Christian faith undergirds her fictional creation.

Let's build some suspense Rowling-style by first laying out the religious stuff that is not a part of Harry's World.

There is no mention of God, gods, heaven or hell. There's no prayer. "Deathly Hallows" includes a wedding, a funeral and the announcement of a birth. Any one of them offered Rowling the chance for a snippet of religious ritual or sacred language. None appears.

The practice of magic continues to be as un-occult and mechanical as, say electrical engineering. Dark Arts are dark because of their effects, not because they draw from a power source that's different from the White Arts. (But Rowling never explains where the power for any magic comes from.)

Almost every character is revealed by the end of the final book to be a mix of good and bad, but equipped with the free will to choose a side. (The most notable exception is the totally evil Voldemort. But he's more Hitler than Satan.)

Most of the themes in Harry's saga are common to many faiths: loyalty, love, friendship, courage, maturity, sacrifice, moral judgment. Ditto for many of the symbols laced through the books. The phoenix and unicorn, for instance, were borrowed by Christians from much older cultures.

But in "Deathly Hallows," the religious identity of Harry's family is made stunningly and suddenly explicit. He visits the grave of his parents, on Christmas Eve in a church-side graveyard, and reads the inscription on the headstone: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."

The book does not say that's 1 Corinthians 15:26 (KJV), from a passage where Paul is discussing the resurrection of Jesus.

Much more essential to the Christian nature of the saga, however, is a theme introduced in the first book: The greatest power in Harry's World is the substitutionary sacrifice of one's life, when offered only for love, and with no hope of survival.

In "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" (bowdlerized to "Sorcerer's Stone" in the American editions), we're told that Harry survives because his mother, Lily, sacrifices herself for him. The act somehow confers magical protection on her infant son.

In "Deathly Hallows," the murder scene is replayed in great detail. "Take me," Lily begs Voldemort. "Kill me instead."

This theme - the transcendent power of the freely given supreme sacrifice - is the fulcrum upon which the final battle in "Deathly Hallows" turns.

Harry believes that only his demise will save his friends. Like his mother, Harry is willing to choose that death without fighting. The final battle includes death and resurrection, spiritual power carried by blood, and an apparent total loss followed by ultimate victory.

Distinctly Christian? I'd say so.

Rowling has been asked many times about her faith and the religious themes in her work. She said that she is Christian, but "if I talk too freely about that," she told the Vancouver Sun in 2000, "I think the intelligent reader - whether 10 or 60 - will be able to guess what is coming in the books."

That may overstate the case a bit; her plotting was far too knotted for easy guessing. And her strongest Christian critics probably will not be mollified.

Jeffrey Weiss is a religion reporter for The Dallas Morning News who had analyzed the previous books in the Potter series for religion content.

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