Harry Potter and the Age Old Story

Tonight is the opening night of the final installment of the Harry Potter movies. I have lots of feelings about this.

A little over a year ago I was still refusing to read those little children’s books about a boy named Harry Potter. I was overworked in graduate school, am not exactly an early adopter, and am an unashamed book snob, so despite my friend’s absolute insistence that I would LOVE the Harry Potter books, I had managed to resolutely ignore the whole franchise. And then one day I borrowed the first book.

I finished book seven (for the first time) a few months ago. I had started listening to the books on CD (performed by the incredibly talented Jim Dale) since book three. It had become a matter of habit for me to listen on my long drives to visit my family on weekends, or in the evening when I was engaged in a project that required the use of just my hands, such as washing dishes or working on this blanket I still haven’t finished.

I loved the books. I loved each story, and I loved the over-arching narrative. I loved the way the kids were growing up, I loved their teachers, and I loved the magical, fantastical world they inhabited, that still managed to be so much like our own. But as book seven wound to a close, I became engaged on a whole new level. I sat perched on the edge of my couch with my hands over my mouth, waiting to hear what happened next. As the war waged on at Hogwarts and Harry made the decision to do whatever he needed to do to save the lives of his friends, I heard the old familiar story that our faith is built on come sneaking out of the wand-waving and spell-casting.

J.K. Rowling’s novels retell the epic story of good verses evil, of true-love verses self-love, of sacrifice verses grasping for power, of death verses life. I don’t think it’s over stating it too much to say she tells the story of Christ by renaming him Harry. I don’t know anything about her or her faith, but I don’t really need to. Her books are truly good, not the least because she has engaged a whole generation of children in a story about the importance of goodness, love, friendship, trust, and self-sacrifice. She has shown them, without a word of religious jargon, that it is indeed true that “greater love has no man than this, than he who lays down his life for a friend.”

In a world where a third (fourth?I’ve lost track) movie about trucks that turn into giant robots (or aliens? robot aliens? I should pay more attention) is the highest grossing movie of the year, a story as meaningful as Harry Potter’s deserves every bit of the excitement it is getting. If you haven’t read the books yet, read them. Read them out loud to your children and enjoy. The movies are good too, but the books make the movies better.

Bear with me here, as I’m sure some of you will disagree, but I find myself profoundly grateful that this story was not only written and published in this “day and age” (for I, personally, think it carries an equal measure of the loveliness and glory of the Narnia series), but that it has been embraced so whole heartedly by the oh-so-secular Western world.

I know a woman who’s atheistic heart began to open to the possibility of the love of Christ from reading stories that reflected the way God’s loving universe works. Harry Potter’s story is one of those stories in which real love, God’s love–even when it isn’t named as such–shines through. Maybe we should be praying tonight that the thousands upon thousands who will be waiting in line at midnight to watch an epic tale of love and self-sacrifice will find their hearts softening too. And maybe, just maybe, we should thank God for J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter.

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