Just came back from watching the last Harry Potter movie with my beloved. The first Harry Potter book was published in 1997 and the first Potter movie was released in 2001. Like many, we felt the poignancy of the ending of a long story. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a great movie and has received many accolades already from critics and viewers alike. But I suspect that part of its power comes from the fact that it marked the end of the period that began with the first Potter movie, and subconsciously triggered for us emotional echoes of the key events in our lives over that period.
The Potter saga ends on a very orthodox note. Observe the following themes from the books/movies:
- Evil is personal, apparently unstoppable, but defeated in the end. Good wins over evil.
- Evil is punished in the end. (How many of you cheered when Bellatrix was finally defeated?)
- Sacrificial love finally wins the day. Some must die that others may live.
- Someone must willingly choose to die and rise again so that evil can be defeated.
- You must make a choice. Whose side are you on? Good or evil?
- None of us can go it alone. Friends are everything.
- Those to be most pitied are those who live without love.
Many churches were in a flap when the books first appeared, fearful that the popularity of the books would lead people astray and become a Trojan horse for witchcraft and all sorts of evil. We are not surprised that there has been a rise in interest in witchcraft since the appearance of the Potter books and movies. This is not cool. However, Bernice and I felt that if children were old enough, they shouldn’t be stopped from reading the Potter books. Instead we should help our children grow in their ability to discern good from evil.
Now that the books have been around for more than a decade, they no longer elicit a knee jerk reaction from Christians. You take away the witchcraft from Potter and you are left with a story with many Christological themes. And don’t forget that C. S. Lewis’s fantasy books had all sorts of supernatural beings, and Tolkien’s Gandalf was a wizard though Lewis and Tolkien were authors informed by a genuine faith in Jesus.
Lewis and Tolkien are right when they maintain that all good stories, all myths, are finally echoes of the one true Myth, the biblical story. Here is Tolkien on stories and The Story:
But this [Gospel] story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfilment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastophe of the story of Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none whichso many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. (J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories,” The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays, edited by Christopher Tolkien, Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1984, 156.)
Commenting on the above, Matthew Dickerson writes:
Emphasizing the reality of the incarnation, Tolkien uses the term history twice, and also twice uses the word true to refer to the actuality of the events of the Gospel story within history. Even the term eucatastrophe, which Tolkien coined, implies a real event: that is to say, an event with a real, sudden, and dramatic impact. Thus, the power of the Gospel story, which Tolkien describes earlier in the paragraph as containing “a fairy-story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy stories,” goes beyond words to the underlying truth, which in this case is the reality of history. (Matthew T. Dickerson, Following Gandalf, Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2003, 208.)
The Gospel story is true hope precisely because it is true. As Paul reminds us in Corinthians 15: 12-28, we are stupid and most to be pitied if we put our faith in a Christ who didn’t rise again from the dead. But Christ did. It is all true.
We all want our stories to have a happy ending. Even J. K. Rowling. She didn’t write a story where Voldemort wins in the end and love and goodness lose. The Potter stories, like all good stories, end with the triumph of good and love, echoes of The Story. And so much of evangelism is helping to point people from what they intuitively hope for, to the Gospel story.
As I write this column, I think of a good friend whose wife is probably in the final stages of her fight with cancer. I do not know what God will do in the days ahead. But they know the Lord and so I know how things will ultimately turn out. The stories of our lives may have many painful chapters but if we plug our stories into The Story we know how things work out in the end. It ends with joy.