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Love amidst the ruins: The Deathly Hallows Part 2 SPOILER ALERT

July 18, 2011 5 Comments

by Mathew Block

“It all ends” reads the tagline of the eighth and final Harry Potter film, The Deathly Hallows Part 2. As the words might lead you to believe, this is a dark film. The tension which has been growing throughout the series comes to its culmination here in the battle for Hogwarts as teachers, students and Harry’s friends face off against Voldemort and his evil army. It’s a conflict many beloved characters do not survive.

This film is about death. In fact, the entire series leading up to this point has been about death. From the first story, when Harry’s parents are murdered by Voldemort, to the death of Dobby the house elf at the end of Part 1, death is a prevailing theme. Now, as Harry faces off against Voldemort a final time, they both know only one can survive.

The name Voldemort reveals the series’ preoccupation with death. In French, vol de la mort means “flight of death.” The wizarding world fears Voldemort precisely because he is in many ways a grim reaper character; his presence inevitably means death and destruction.

But one can also interpret the French phrase vol de la mort as “flight from death.” This is Voldemort’s driving passion, as we see clearly in this final film. He is desperately trying to escape death. It’s the reason he splits his own soul and hides pieces of it in “horcruxes”; he cannot die so long as these magic objects remain safe and hidden. It’s the reason he seeks out the legendary “elder wand” believing that by making himself the most powerful wizard of all time he can conquer death.

But while the name Voldemort is likely taken directly from the French, J.K. Rowling (who holds a degree in classical languages) may have intended a secondary meaning to the name. In Latin, the name sounds similar to words for “I wish” and “death.” Voldemort’s “flight from death” is, in some sense of the word, still a death wish. No one can, by their own strength, cheat death—Voldemort’s assertion in this film that “only I can live forever” notwithstanding. He places his trust in his horcruxes, but even they cannot ensure for him eternal life. In this final film Harry, Ron and Hermione destroy the remaining horcruxes one by one.

We see him then, afraid—perhaps for the first time. He is vulnerable. He has not truly escaped death.

No man can prevent death’s coming. So what then is the proper escape? If, as is written on Harry’s parents’ tomb (and  written in the Bible) that “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death,” how is this death finally to be destroyed?

In the Harry Potter series, the answer is love—specifically, self-sacrifical love. It’s true of the death Harry’s parents faced before the beginning of the first film and book and it remains true all the way to the death of Dobby the House Elf.

While Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a film of death and destruction, in the midst of the ruins there is love. Despite the grief and pain, viewers find elements of forgiveness, mercy, and redemptive sacrifice, even glimpses of resurrection—light shining in dark places.

In Deathly Hallows Part 2, Harry learns at last that he must die to defeat Voldemort. When Voldemort had attempted to kill Harry as a child, he accidentally latched a part of his soul onto him—unintentionally making him into a horcrux. As long as Harry lives, a part of Voldemort will always live. He cannot die unless Harry also dies. Faced with this knowledge, Harry goes willingly to face his death—trusting that by his sacrifice others may live.

It is impossible to miss the thematic overtones of Scripture and the words of Jesus here: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Death never writes the final chapter; but love always will

But while the film’s tagline tells us It all ends, the message of Deathly Hallows Part 2— indeed, of all the Harry Potter films—is that it doesn’t all end. Death does not write the final chapter. It does not get the final word.

Harry falls, struck by the killing curse Voldemort casts at him. But he does not, in fact, die. Or perhaps it is better to say he does not stay dead. Harry awakens in an ethereal place, a heavenly version of King’s Cross train station. While given the opportunity there to “go on,” Harry instead returns to the real world to finish his destiny: to destroy Voldemort and the death he personifies. Voldemort is at last defeated.

But the film does not end with the Harry and his friends standing in the wreckage of the battle; there is an epilogue, set nineteen years in the future, in which we see new life and new love. The old horror has faded away. The wizarding world is again safe—a place where fathers can love and encourage their sons as they go off to school for the first time. Death never writes the final chapter; but love always will.

Let’s be clear here: Harry Potter is not Christian allegory. But it is deeply influenced by Christian symbolism, deeply influenced, according to the author herself, by her own Christian faith. The discerning viewer will see elements of that symbolism throughout the series, but especially so in this final film. And these themes, together with strong acting performances from the cast, beautiful special effects, and a deeply satisfying story, make the film well worth watching.

Mathew Block is a freelance writer and member of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Regina, Saskatchewan. He blogs at http://blog.captainthin.net/ 

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  • Alveric

    The Harry Potter series have nothing to do with Biblical Truth, and Rowling’s inclusion in her series of scriptural themes is reminiscent of the blasphemous act of lifting passages from the Holy Writ and inking them into a dark grimoire.

    It is very sad and even tragic to have the death of Harry likened with that of Our Holy Redeemer, for the transition of this fictional character is in no way comparable to the death of Our Lord: Harry’s death is one of necessity and thus not entirely selfless. He dies because he has no choice; he dies in order to destroy an enemy, thus making the lives of his friends a secondary purpose, the collateral outcome of a duel. All of this contrasts with Jesus’ suffering which was done not to destroy death, but to reconcile man with God; Christ died not because there was a taint in Him that only death could remove, but to remove the taint of others, even though He was Himself taintless. Christ’s death is entirely selfless because, from God’s point of view, it was completely unnecessary: God could have very well abandoned us to the sorry state in which our own disobedience put us in, and He would have been entirely right to do so; that in His endless Love and Goodness He chose to restore us makes the death of Christ the most sublime of His accomplishments and the pivotal act in the Great History that will continue in Eternity. This is why it’s very sad and tragic to portray Harry Potter as a Jesus figure. Harry’s death is more like Adam sacrificing himself after eating the apple, in order to get rid of the stain of the Fall.

    And this is a comparison that brings us to the points in all this contrived narrative that relies on drama to conceal its blasphemous nature where a person firmly grounded in Truth can easily glean the devil’s arrow-shaped tail: the ‘horcrux’ (the word is almost like a corruption of ‘crux’). Poor Harry has been tainted, and so he must die in order to free himself of the taint. Not only that, but he has been tainted with a portion of somebody’s soul.

    Christian doctrine teaches that a person’s soul is completely indivisible and united to his body in a manner that is profound without measure. How then can some one take portions of his soul and bind them to objects or other souls? Not even the Devil, who happens to be very powerful, can accomplish such a feat; only an omnipotent being could do it, and there is only One who is so omnipotent: God. To say that someone can perform this act is to say that such person is either God Himself or that he has the powers of God; in a word: blasphemy. God would certainly not condone the division of a soul. The whole concept is completely alien and offensive to Christian doctrine.

    Furthermore, Harry dying in order to free himself of the taint purports the notion –so endlessly portrayed and lauded everywhere in our society– that a man can be his own saviour. Can he? The answer is a resounding and irrefutable NO. This is heresy. It doesn’t matter if he saves others in the process or if the whole Universe becomes a better and safer place as a result (all of these are devices of the Evil One to divert the attention from the crucial fact of the heresy and/or to justify an evil act by arguing that some good comes out of it), and it certainly doesn’t matter if he happens to be the good guy: a man can simply NOT be his own deliverer. This was true even for Jesus Himself. Point in fact: though many at the foot of the Cross (the real Crux) encouraged Him to save Himself because they wanted to mock Him, there were many others who, because they loved or admired Him, actually expected Him to save Himself: but He did not. Christ saved others, but he couldn’t save Himself. He never performed a miracle on Himself, not even a tiny one. His deliverance was in the Hands of His Father. Christ’s death has ratified what Biblical Truth has always maintained: deliverance, happiness, mercy, even justice, ALWAYS come from some one other than ourselves, always from outside ourselves. This point alone suffices to condemn the whole Harry Potter series as most unbiblical. Added to the one I expostulated in the previous paragraph, and to others that have been exposed previously by other critics and/or shall in the future be, all of them stamp on the series the seal of ‘Christians Disapproved: for it is contrary to the Gospel’.

    In our redemption, God had choice: both in whether to redeem us or not, and in how to accomplish what we did not deserve. Jesus did not die because He had to: point in fact, a single drop of His Most Precious Blood would have been sufficient to remove the stain of the Fall and redeem the whole of mankind. Yet, He chose to spill It all in order to shew us how we are to love Him and others: to the last drop of our own sweat, blood and tears.

    And all without sorcery.

    • anotherone

      What I’m hearing, here, is a belief that Christians should basically never engage in art. Is this correct? With your logic, it would be blasphemous to see Sydney Carton (A Tale of Two Cities) as a Christ-figure, or Jean Valjean (Les Mis), or Aslan (Narnia), or Frodo (Lord of the Rings), or the good prince in a thousand fairy tales. The reason being: they’re mostly fallible; their humanity and imperfection means that their motivations are not perfectly pure. And there are also elements in some of these stories that are clearly fantastical (receiving help from magical fairies, splitting the soul, etc.) and therefore not hard, biblical fact.

      But what is art for the Christian, if it is not taking elements of this fallen world and shaping them so that, despite the fact that the human characters are *obviously* not perfect and that all metaphor falls short, something of God’s truth shines through, reflecting the greatest true story of them all? Should Christians only enjoy paintings that exactly resemble photographs, watch movies that are basically documentaries? Someone get on Jesus’ case for those parables. That rich man speaking from hell to Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom seems awfully fantastical…

      I’m also willing to give intelligent human beings the benefit of the doubt to realize that playing sports on flying broomsticks and fraternizing with house elves has ZERO resemblance to real-life practices like Wicca or medieval witchcraft. And yes, making Horcruxes is impossible. That’s why they call it “fantasy.” (And by the way, it’s certainly not condoned in the books; it’s understood to be EVIL.)

      No one is saying that Harry IS Jesus, or as good as Jesus. Harry is simply a fictional character whose life and actions, particularly the sacrificial death and resurrection, cannot possibly fail to remind a Christian of Jesus.

      • Alveric

        Please read this: http://annefeaster.accountsupport.com/id14.html

        Now you’ve seen that the disgust comes from the very controversial fictional character that we’re discussing here. To be a Christian does not mean to avoid art; point in fact, art is the window connecting the realm of the material with that of the supernal. Christians have always understood this, and the gothics took it to heart, made it their mission that ALL art should point towards God or else it was not art; it is by no whim or accident that they builded the most magnificent cathedrals ever, next to which our modern and bare churches of to-day are but sallow sparkles next to stars.

        Neither are authors never to imbue in a certain fictional character the attributes and suffering of Christ. Tolkien did so with Gandalf, another ‘wizard’; yet someone whose behaviour was irreproachable and never compromised his morals. Heroes are to maintain integrity at all times.

        No, it is the nature of the work and the misguided values that it promotes what makes it deleterious. It crosses into the realm of the outrageous when it is said to promote biblical truth and values. A black mirror can still reflect the light, but is this a reflection one could trust? The devil knows the Bible too; he often quotes from it, and uses it for his own wicked purposes.

        There is phantasy and there is phantasy. The fact that something is fictional is commonly used as an argument to hide or minimise its peccadilloes. This argument is weak. Fiction can be as didactic as fact; as a matter of, well, fact, it is so most of the time. It isn’t just that many who are into Harry Potter are still young and with consciences that are not yet truly formed and have yet to learn the limits that separate fact and phantasy, there is also the problem of the underlying messages that are imbibed by the viewer without his being aware of it, and that then go and influence his behaviour and perception of the Truth.

        Really, we cannot be looking at every self-immolating person or action and liken him/it to Christ. There was once a woman who walked into a river to drown just so that her husband’s life would be eased. Is she now a Christ figure too?

        In the vast universe of narrative, both factual and fictional, are there not enough men of integrity, not enough real heroes, not enough saints, that we should be looking at a sorcerous scamp in the hopes of finding the Five Wounds?

        • anotherone

          I’ve read the article and many others like it, and I’m not buying the double standard. Allowing LOTR and Narnia, as though they teach forgiveness and good values in a clear distinction between good and evil while HP *doesn’t,* is a huge cop-out. HP certainly does teach forgiveness, friendship, and self-sacrifice, with clearly-delineated good and evil (Voldemort tries to convince Harry in his first year that there is no good and evil, but only power; Harry denounces him as a liar). There is “good magic” and “deeper magic” in LOTR and Narnia as well, not to mention (as you said) good wizards, sorcerers, and elves with amazing powers. The reason that HP gets tarred is because there are simply more references to witches and wizards (even though they bear no resemblance to real Wicca) and because LOTR and Narnia were written by lucid Christian apologetics types. Tolkien referred to some of his crazy hippy fans as “my deplorable cult.” Even the best of books, fantasy or not, can be abused, misread, and misapplied by rabid fans. As you said, even the devil knows Scripture.

          Anyone paying attention to the stories cannot deduce from them that just anyone off the street can become a witch or wizard, so while increased interest in the occult is a negative offshoot, the stories themselves cannot simply be blamed as though they encouraged this. Does anyone really think that a very Christian England was suddenly converted to paganism because of HP? England was already pagan. Parents were already completely inept at explaining the differences between fantasy and reality to their children. They were not bringing them to church or monitoring their media intake, deciding what was appropriate according to the child’s age with any kind of Christian faith in consideration. Again, you might as well blame Lewis and Tolkien for setting the stage.

          I agree that good heroes maintain integrity. That does not mean that they don’t have feet of clay, especially the very mortal (i.e. non-Istari demigod) ones. If Harry had been made to be a near-perfect person, people would have been complaining that he was TOO perfect, and thus robbing Christ of glory in another way. He would also have been a terrible literary character, because 11-17-year-old boys are *not perfect* in their behavior at all times. This is ridiculous expectation.

          Excuse me for not being in step with the theology of a Charismatic Catholic on this issue. That testimony on the site explained quite a bit to me about where she’s coming from with her HP issues.