Harry Potter and the Christian Fear of Imagination

deathly-hallows2.jpg

“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.

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9 responses to “Harry Potter and the Christian Fear of Imagination

  1. Nice post. Some of my favorite novels are childen literature (Harry Potter and Bridge to Terabithia come to mind)

  2. I’m a big fan of Harry Potter and anything else that makes great use of imagination (and symbolism like Rowling does so well). It’s my firm belief that imagination, and by extension creativity, is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. It baffles me that so many Christians dismiss the arts and anything that isn’t 100% real or at least blatantly ‘Christian.’ It seems important to note that what we believe is often beyond simple explanation, just like some of the greatest art. That being said–great article. I just read your article of Relevant about facebook and it also gave me something to think about.

  3. I don’t get it. How is this a Christian reference?

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  5. Thank you for your comments. But I would like to gently suggest that your use of the term “Christian” and their response to art and imagination is misplaced, in that it is too broad. Perhaps “Protestants” or “evangelical Protestant Christians?” For indeed, for two thousand years, great art has been produced by Christians, who have never had a bit of problem seeing it a holy thing to use our God-given imaginations to explore mystery. The suspicion of art and imagination entered the Christian stream in full force with the Reformation, and it is only fair to recognize that fact, and give due credit to the great course of Christian art that preceded and succeeded that moment.

  6. Mark – how can you say that the Protestant Reformation is responsible for suspicion of art? Can you give me some examples. Looking at history and the great Christian artists that flourished during the Reformation (Rembrandt, Milton, Etc.) followed by the increasing of secular art. It would seem that the Reformation liberated the arts from the oversight of the church.

  7. Pingback: Harry Potter, grace and the Magician’s Book « Mustard Seed Kingdom

  8. Levi, During the Reformation Catholic churches were wiped clean of elaborate murals when they turned Protestant. Of course their are 100′s of brands of Protestentism some forms were completely anti-image. The Amish are even anti-buttons, because it is too decorative. The examples are too numerous. As far as Rembrandt he was Jewish (also an anti-image based religion along with Islam), he just lived in a largely protestant country with the policy of freedom of religion. I believe the Protestantism has largely been anti-imagination too. I like the Protestant church I grew up in very liberal UCC but even here bread and wine only “metaphorical” become body and blood of Christ not literally. In a very real way the Catholic Church preserved all forms of imagebased Paganism: holidays, gargoyles, Roman, Greek, Celtic, Teutonic myths, alchemy was taught in church schools, etc. But I think the huge diference is Protestantism relies on “the word” understood and the Bible translated and preached while the Catholics believed “the word” as mystery said in Greek or Latin – Logos.

  9. Pingback: Specials: Bourne, Batman, Potter, Wenders, Derrickson, Bjork, Sunshine, and more.

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