The Harry Potter Apocalypse

James Pautz II THE 310 – Apocalyptic Literature Prof. Lehninger December 2, 2010

Pautz 1 It has sold more than 400 million copies worldwide. It set and broke four records for being the fastest selling books in history. It has been translated into 67 different languages. It has become the highest grossing film franchise of all time. It is symbolic, visionary, and prophetic. It is good versus evil. It is apocalyptic. “It” is the Harry Potter series. Harry Potter has increased the literacy of children, teens, and adults alike by opening them up to reading. It has given opportunities to more authors of similar literature. Less obvious than its records, merchandise, and revenue, Harry Potter is more than just commercialistic young adult literature. Because of its apocalyptic elements and characteristics, the Harry Potter book series can and should be included in the genre of apocalyptic literature. Before any more is said about Harry Potter, one must understand what is meant by the word “apocalyptic.” Generally speaking, it is defined as “outstanding in revelation, prophecy, or significance.”1 Apocalyptic literature more specifically possesses some or all of the following characteristics: symbolic, visionary, prophetic, written during oppressive conditions, eschatological, encouraging to believers, hopeful,2 and featuring elements of good versus evil.3 “As a literary genre, “apocalyptic” is a way of investing space-time events with their theological significance; it is actually a way of affirming, not denying, the vital importance of the present continuing space-time order, by denying that evil has the last word in it.”4Apocalyptic literature is written to instill hope and assurance in the readers that evil will not surely prevail, even if it seems impossible.

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Apocalyptic: Dictionary.com, Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition (HarperCollins Publishers), http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/apocalyptic (accessed: October 14, 2010). 2 Dorothy Jonaitis, Unmasking Apocalyptic Texts (New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2005), 13. 3 Dr. Paul Lehninger, lecture, August 31, 2010. 4 N.T. Wright qtd. in David Dark, Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, The Simpsons, and Other Pop Culture Icons (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2002), 9. [emphasis added]

Pautz 2 For Harry Potter and his friends, the task of defeating the most powerful evil wizard of all time was excruciatingly daunting. They were teenagers up against Voldemort, who in an effort to make himself immortal, split his soul into seven pieces hidden across the continent. Yet this was their task, or more specifically, Harry’s task. This was the ultimate good versus evil. If they failed, evil would reign forever. Good versus evil is the most obvious apocalyptic characteristic the Harry Potter series embodies. This theme is present in every book in the series, in the grand story of the series, and within the characters’ daily lives. For example, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the young 11 year old Harry Potter is up against the one who killed his parents, who tried to kill him. Harry, by himself, stood no chance. It was the love that his mother had for him when she sacrificed herself to save him that prevailed. Good defeated evil. Before good can preside as the victor over evil, hope is present. Hope is a necessary virtue for success, especially when conditions are difficult. Texts that contain apocalyptic imagery “are meant to bestow hope.”5 “Hope has two fundamental causes: anything that makes things possible and anything that makes people consider something possible.”6 For Harry Potter, the hope that he needed came from those who loved him. It came from those who died and those who lived so that he might succeed. The Harry Potter series is filled with hope up to the end of the series. Hope is what leads Harry Potter to face utter death and to accept the burden that only he could bear. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, hope was dwindling for Harry and his friends. His best friend Ron even left them for a while when he lost hope. Yet, their hope was renewed in the assisted discovery of the sword they needed to win the war against Voldemort.

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Jonaitis, Unmasking, 13. Jonaitis, Unmasking, 15.

Pautz 3 Prophecy—or part of a prophecy—is what motivated the evil Lord Voldemort to kill Harry Potter’s parents and try to kill Harry. The apocalyptic element of prophecy may not be a main or recurring characteristic of the Harry Potter series, but it is a key plot point that should not be overlooked. In the series, there was a prophecy given about Harry shortly before he was born: The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches ... Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies ... And the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not ... And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives ... The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies...7 Voldemort, only hearing the last two lines of the prophecy, realizes it points to Harry and decides to kill him as a baby to eliminate the potential of his downfall. Harry survived because the love Harry’s mother showed when she sacrificed herself to protect her son gave him a protection from Voldemort. Voldemort’s body was destroyed, but because of dark magic, he was still a bodiless soul to roam the earth until he eventually regained power. Later in the series, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, another prophecy is given telling of Voldemort’s return to power. With the death of Harry’s parents come another characteristic of apocalyptic literature: oppressive conditions. As the first book of the series starts, Harry has some personal oppression from his aunt, uncle, and cousin. They make him live in a cupboard under the stairs, they are never nice to him, and they do not treat him like family. Later in the series, Voldemort regains a body and power. He and his followers cause the conditions of the whole world to be oppressive. They kill many people (both in the magical world and the non-magical world). Conditions get so
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J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, (New York: Scholastic, 2003), 841.

Pautz 4 bad in the seventh book that the Ministry of Magic, the government for the magical world, is taken over by Voldemort and his followers. Wizards or witches born of non-magical parentage were forced to register and had their wands taken away. Those who resisted were forced to flee. Conditions were similar to those of God’s people during the Babylonian Captivity and also to the Jews in Nazi Germany. Harry Potter can be a comfort to those people who feel oppressed in today’s world as well. This can fall under the “encouraging to believers” characteristic of apocalyptic literature. The main theme in Harry Potter is that of love, and in a world where love is lacking, this can be encouraging. Sacrificial love, love of friends or family, and even romantic love are highly prevalent. Love is why Voldemort was destroyed. I believe that we can identify a clear, reconnective meta-story in the HP series — centered not around explicitly religious practice but around an implicitly religious view of love and paradox. The story is about the paradox of love — in the specifically Christian sense of treasuring the life of others as deeply as one’s own. The paradox lies in the apparent weakness and foolishness of love when compared with other kinds of magic. However, those like Voldemort who master the external forms of magic but are only interested in protecting their own lives are ultimately powerless, whereas those who possess (or have been given) the inner power of love and are able to relinquish hold on their lives emerge, paradoxically, victorious.8 Voldemort never knew love, he did not respect its power, and he could never understand it. This ignorance led to his downfall. Jesus said in John 15:12-13, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus laid down his life for the whole world. Similarly, Harry went willingly to his own death for the lives of his friends and others in the world. Yet even Voldemort could not kill
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Mike Gray, “Between Conversion and Subversion: Narrative Transformations in the Harry Potter, Left Behind and His Dark Materials Novels,” 2005, http://accio.zymurgy.org (accessed December 1, 2010), 12.

Pautz 5 Harry in the end; love was not only was Harry’s greatest strength, but it brought many to his aid and was the final downfall of Voldemort. The magic in Harry Potter can be interpreted as another apocalyptic component. The whole wizarding world and the magic of it make visionary. The book of Ezekiel and other apocalyptic books of the Bible feature visions in which God opens the eyes of someone to see things that people do not normally see. “The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel…by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the Lord was upon him.” (Eze 1:3) Likewise, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, creatures called thestrals are introduced. Thestrals can only be seen by someone who has seen death. In the case of Harry Potter, death opens the eyes of people to see things not normally seen. In the visions that Saint John had in Revelation, there were many instances of angels guiding him and telling him what to do. In the same manner, Harry has a pure innocent creature trying to help him9 and eventually saves his life10 in Dobby, the house elf. Another case of the visionary characteristic in Harry Potter is more direct. Beginning in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (book four) Harry has visionary episodes. Sometimes they are dreams and sometimes they are waking visions, but they occur because of the connection made with Voldemort when Harry was a baby. Harry’s visions are visions of what Voldemort is seeing. Because he cannot control them and he does not always understand them, Harry’s visions are similar to the visions that God gave John in Revelation. Whether it is intended or not, one can always find some meaning and symbolism in almost everything, including Harry Potter. One example of symbolism is the mascots of the four houses of Hogwarts. Harry’s house, Gryffindor, has the symbol of the lion. The lion is a

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J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, (New York: Scholastic, 1998), 12-338. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, (New York: Scholastic, 2007), 472-474.

Pautz 6 symbol of power and good. In Ezekiel 1, the creature in the fire had four faces, one of which was the lion, representing the strongest of the wild beasts (Eze 1:10). In Revelation, Jesus is referred to as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev 5:5). Another Hogwarts house, Slytherin, has the serpent as its house mascot. Slytherin has the reputation of graduating the most dark wizards and witches, one of which is the Lord Voldemort. In the Bible, Satan took the form of the snake in the Garden of Eden when he tempted Eve. One could also equate the phoenix Fawkes, who is Headmaster Dumbledore’s pet, with the resurrection of the dead. When a phoenix dies, it burns up and from the ashes it is reborn.11 Similarly, Christ died and was raised from the dead. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you” (1Pe 1:2-4). Just as Christ’s resurrection brings hope to believers, Harry Potter’s Fawkes brings hope to those who seek it in him. Another symbolic interpretation of Fawkes is that of the Holy Spirit.12 Throughout the Bible, when someone was “filled with the Holy Spirit” they were given courage, strengthened faith, and a comforter guide.13 Fawkes’s presence does indeed comfort Harry in the ‘there, there, never mind’ sense, but, far more importantly, he imparts courage to Harry when it is needed most… Fawkes sings a single note, and ‘Harry felt as though a drop of hot liquid had slipped down his throat into his stomach, warming him, and strengthening him’ (GoF 603). So here

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J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. (New York: Scholastic, 1998), 207. Lisa Cherrett, “Harry Potter and the Bible,” 2005, http://accio.zymurgy.org (accessed December 1, 2010), 5. Acts 13, Ephesians 3, Romans 15, etc.

13

Pautz 7 Fawkes acts as the Comforter, encouraging and fortifying, equipping Harry for the task in hand.14 Just as the Holy Spirit is essential in the Christian’s faith to encourage and guide, Fawkes fills that role for Harry on numerous occasions.15 16 Just as the apocalyptic books of the Bible have applications to believers, the Harry Potter series has applications for Christians as well. Harry Potter stresses the importance of love. Harry’s mother’s love saved his life. Love for his friends gave Harry the courage to face death. Similarly, Christ’s love for us saved us from hell.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1Jn 4:7-10)

Finally, Harry Potter mirrors Revelation, Ezekiel, and the other apocalyptic books of the Bible to assure believers of the final victory over evil. At the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry Potter defeats Voldemort. Likewise, in the end of this life, God’s people will join Him in heaven because of Christ’s victory over death and the devil. Although Harry Potter is a work of fiction and an integral part of popular culture, it exhibits the characteristics of apocalyptic literature and also has applications for the faith lives of believers. Harry Potter embodies the good versus evil quality of apocalyptic literature, as well as demonstrating the power of hope, especially when burdens are heavy and the task is daunting. There are also elements of prophecy, oppressive conditions, visionary, and symbolic apocalyptic
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Cherrett, “Harry…” J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, (New York: Scholastic, 1998), 315-325. 16 J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, (New York: Scholastic, 1998), 695.
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Pautz 8 literature. Through its alignment with these characteristics, the Harry Potter book series should considered more that just a young adult novel: it should be considered a work of apocalyptic literature.

Pautz 9 Bibliography Apocalyptic. Dictionary.com. Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/apocalyptic (accessed: October 14, 2010). Cherrett, Lisa. “Harry Potter and the Bible.” 2005. http://accio.zymurgy.org (accessed December 1, 2010). Dark, David. Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, The Simpsons, and Other Pop Culture Icons. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2002. Gray, Mike. “Between Conversion and Subversion: Narrative Transformations in the Harry Potter, Left Behind and His Dark Materials Novels,” 2005. http://accio.zymurgy.org (accessed December 1, 2010). Jonaitis, Dorothy. Unmasking Apocalyptic Texts. New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2005. Lehninger, Paul. Lecture, August 31, 2010. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1997. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic, 1998. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic, 1999. Rowling, J.K., Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, 2000. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, 2003. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Scholastic, 2007.