Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Harry Potter as a Christ figure

I went to watch the final Harry Potter film last week. I’ve not read any of the books, but my kids had suggested I watch all the films in preparation for this grand cinematic finale. (For my review of Deathly Hallows part 1, with a focus on character, go here).

The theological part of my brain came away thinking about Harry Potter as a Christ figure. Lloyd Baugh, Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film , divides Jesus films into two categories.

First is films which tell the gospel story of the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth (eg King of Kings, Godspell, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Gospel according to Saint Matthew). Obviously that does not apply to Harry Potter.

Second are movies which on the surface are simply telling a story, but offer deeper links and parallels to Christ. Baugh calls this the arena of analogy; “They are not unlike the parables of Jesus which, when “read” on a literal level, remain brief narratives of human experience, but when interpreted metaphorically, fairly explode with theological and christological significance.”

Baugh suggests 11 elements by which to assess whether or not the characters in these movies function as Christ figures:

  • mysterious origins
  • conflict with authority
  • performing of wonders
  • attracting a group of followers
  • becoming a scapegoat
  • withdrawing to a deserted place
  • acting as a suffering servant
  • showing a commitment to justice
  • entering passion
  • reaching out to the repentant thief and
  • a metaphorical resurrection.

Baugh asserts that, since “the filmic Christ-figure does not always reflect the totality of the Christ-event”, the eleven elements are descriptive and generative rather than exhaustive.

So let’s place the 11 alongside Harry Potter (after the fold line cos of spoilers) .

  • mysterious origins – Harry’s birth story defines his life and is a recurring theme
  • conflict with authority – certainly the Ministry of Magic
  • performing of wonders – magic
  • attracting a group of followers – Harry, Hermoine, Ron, plus the students of Hogwarts
  • becoming a scapegoat – ?
  • withdrawing to a deserted place – the crux of much of Part I, in which Harry and his disciples, spend time in the wilderness
  • acting as a suffering servant – Harry often has insights which connect him with the suffering of Voldermoort
  • showing a commitment to justice – Harry is determined to rid the world of evil, come what may
  • entering passion – Harry endures much pain
  • reaching out to the repentant thief and – Harry does offer Voldermoort a chance to turn
  • a metaphorical resurrection – Harry is killed by Voldermoort

Updated: Hence all eleven elements of a Christ-figure apply in some degree to Harry. Which leaves one final climatic scene. With victory won and Voldemort defeated, Harry snaps the Elder Wand. In so doing, he rejects the power inherent in the most powerful wand in history. Which suggests a twelfth element of voluntary vulnerability should be added to Baugh’s typology. This element is an echo of Christ Jesus who “made himself nothing, by taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:7).

Such is the path of power by which the boy who died, come to live.

Posted by steve at 06:13 PM

1 Comment

  1. Harry was also made a scapegoat – while it may not have come through that well during the Part One of the deathly hallows, Harry is declared to be an ‘enemy of the people’ – basically the Ministry of Magic’s version of the FBI’s Most Wanted. It was the reason that Xenophilius Lovegood attempted to betray Harry into the hands of the Deatheaters/Ministry of Magic in exchange of the life of Luna.

    There have been a few books written on linking the Gospel story with Harry Potter – equally there have been just as many books saying that anyone who reads/watched Harry Potter is going to hell, so…

    I think that the HP Series has been a great story, with some certain Christological implications.

    Comment by Simon — July 19, 2011 @ 7:32 pm

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