Harry Potter and the Christian Fear of Imagination
“Tell me one last thing,” said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”
Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry’s ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
I love this quote from The Deathly Hallows, which comes from the final lines of the “King’s Cross” chapter (aptly titled, considering the not-so-subtle Christian metaphors of the book). I love it because it’s a sort of justification for the whole Harry Potter phenomenon—for all fantasy literature, I suppose. These books are complete and utter whimsy, fantasy, fiction, make-believe, etc. They are fun to read, fun to immerse oneself in, but nothing more, right?
There is a bias towards this kind of literature that assumes—because it is so fantastical and un-like reality—there can be no relevance or bearing on the real world. It is the same bias that dismisses abstract painting because it doesn’t represent anything. People are afraid of the unknown, the imagined, the make-believe.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Christians are so hard on Harry Potter. In addition to being about—gasp—witches and wizards, these seven books are simply a waste of time, they might say. Whereas The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings can be justified as time-well-spent (because of their much-publicized, if a bit over-emphasized, Christian allegorical elements), Harry Potter is just a lot of hocus pocus frivolity.
I spoke with several Christians after I finished Hallows last week, and told them how explicit and wonderful the Christological elements were in the last hundred or so pages. Most of the Christians (who were not Harry fans) responded to this with a quick dismissal, saying “Oh…” or “that’s neat,” or “well, isn’t that how all epic literature ends?” The overwhelming sentiment seemed to be that surely Harry Potter could not end up being Christian—after all these years of polemics between Harry and evangelicals…
But the truth is Harry Potter does indeed have much to say about Christianity—the end of Hallows especially. I can honestly say that J.K. Rowling, like Lewis, Tolkien, L’Engle, Shakespeare, and many others before her, has illuminated the sacred through the mythical, the real through the fictitious.
Tolkien wrote in “On Fairy Stories” of creating fantasy as a “human right” that is endowed to us through the incarnation: “we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.”
Lewis went even further in his defense of myth. He eloquently wrote of the gospel as a myth become fact:
Now as myth transcends thought, Incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens–at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.
~C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, “Myth Became Fact” (1944)
So, I urge you to read Harry Potter, and other books like it, and not feel guilty for wasting time in childish worlds of superfluous fiction. There is much value in the imaginary, and in the mythical. After all, there is much more going on in this universe than our non-fictional, scientific, empiricist minds can articulate.