Is Harry Potter a Christian Allegory?

Boy Reading Harry Potter
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When Christians talk about the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, it’s most often to complain about them - for example, their use of magic. A few Christians, though, argue that the Harry Potter books are not only compatible with Christianity, but in fact contain implicit Christian messages. They compare Rowling’s books with the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis or the books by Tolkien, all works imbued with Christian themes to one degree or another.

An allegory is a fictional story in which the characters or events are used in place of other figures or events. The two groups are connected by suggestive resemblances, and therefore an allegory is often described as an extended metaphor. C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series is an obvious Christian allegory: the lion Aslan offers himself to be killed in place of a boy sentenced to death for his crimes but rises again the following day to lead the forces of good in their defeat of evil.

The question, then, is whether the Harry Potter books are also a Christian allegory. Did J.K. Rowling write the stories such that characters and events are supposed to suggest some of the characters and events central to Christian mythology? Most conservative Christians would reject this notion and even many moderate and liberal Christians probably wouldn’t think it likely, even if they see the Harry Potter books as compatible with Christianity.

A few, though, are convinced that the Harry Potter books are more than compatible with Christianity; instead, they metaphorically present a Christian worldview, Christian message, and Christian beliefs. By communicating Christianity indirectly, the books can both help current Christians reinforce their beliefs and perhaps lead non-Christians to Christianity by laying the groundwork for acceptance of Christian doctrines.

Background of Harry Potter and Christianity

Many in the Christian Right see the Harry Potter books and the resulting cultural phenomenon as an important issue in their general “culture war” against modernity and liberalism. Whether the Harry Potter stories really do promote Wicca, magic, or immorality may be less important than what they are perceived to be doing; therefore, any argument which can cast doubt upon popular perceptions can have a significant impact on the wider debates.

It’s possible, but not likely, that J.K. Rowling has no intentions or message behind her stories. Some books are written merely to be entertaining tales that are enjoyed by readers and make money for publishers. This does not seem likely in the case of the Harry Potters stories, however, and Rowling’s comments suggest that she has something to say.

If J.K. Rowling intends her Harry Potter books to be Christian allegories and to communicate basic Christian messages to her readers, then the complaints of the Christian Right are about as wrong as they could be. One might be able to argue that Rowling isn’t doing a very good job at communicating Christian messages, such that she is too easily misunderstood, but the argument that she is deliberately promoting witchcraft and magic would be completely undermined.

J.K. Rowling’s intentions will also be important to non-Christian readers. If her goal all along has been to create a Christian allegory that lays the basis for adopting Christianity itself or to make Christianity more psychologically appealing, then non-Christian readers may want to adopt the same cautious attitude towards the books that some Christians have now. Non-Christian parents may not want their children to read stories designed to convert them to another religion.

None of this holds true, though, if the stories merely use themes or ideas that happen to appear in Christianity. In that case the Harry Potter stories wouldn’t be Christian allegories; instead, they would simply be products of Christian culture.

Harry Potter is Christian

John Granger is the most vocal proponent of the idea that the Harry Potter stories are really a Christian allegory.

In his book Looking for God in Harry Potter, he argues extensively that just about every name, character, and event points in some way to Christianity. He argues that the centaurs are Christian symbols because Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. He argues that Harry Potter’s name alludes to “Son of God” because the Cockney and French pronunciations of Harry are “Arry,” which sound like “heir to,” and God is described as a “potter” by Paul.

The best evidence that there are Christian intentions behind her books comes from an article in American Prospect:

  • “Rowling initially was afraid that if people were aware of her Christian faith, she would give away too much of what's coming in the series. "If I talk too freely about that," she told a Canadian reporter, "I think the intelligent reader — whether ten [years old] or sixty — will be able to guess what is coming in the books."”

If more knowledge about her Christian beliefs would lead an intelligent reader to accurately guess where the books are going, then naturally the plot of the entire Harry Potter series must somehow be inspired by Christianity. It must be possible to map people and events from Harry Potter onto people and events of the Gospels, and this means that Harry Potter is an allegory of the Gospels.

Harry Potter is not Christian

For Harry Potter to be a Christian allegory, it must be intended as such and it must employ uniquely Christian messages, symbols, and themes. If it contains themes or messages that are part of many beliefs, including Christianity, then it could function as an allegory for any of them.

If it is intended as a Christian allegory but doesn’t contain uniquely Christian themes, then it’s a failed allegory.

John Granger’s premise is that any story which “touches” us does so because it contains Christian themes and we are hard-wired to respond to those themes. Anyone working from such an assumption will find Christianity lurking everywhere if they try hard enough — and Granger tries very, very hard.

Often, Granger stretches so far that you can tell that he’s getting desperate. Centaurs exist as basic figures in mythology and cannot be connected to Christianity except by the most elaborate stretching of imagination — especially when they don’t do anything particularly Christ-like to justify saying that they are references to Jesus entering Jerusalem.

Sometimes the connections Granger tries to draw between Christianity and Harry Potter are reasonable, but not necessary. There are themes in Harry Potter about sacrificing for friends and love triumphing over death, but they are not uniquely Christian. They are, in fact, common themes throughout folklore, mythology, and world literature.

The exact details of J.K. Rowling’s beliefs are unknown. She has said that she doesn’t believe in magic “in the sense” that her critics allege or “in the way” it is portrayed in her books. This may merely mean that she believes in the “magic” of love, but it may also mean that her beliefs are not quite the same as orthodox Christianity. If that is the case, treating Harry Potter as an allegory for orthodox Christianity — like the Narnia books are — may be mistaken.

Perhaps she’s actually writing an allegory of the history of the Christian church, not of Christianity itself.

Resolution

Most of the arguments for the idea that the Harry Potter books are a Christian allegory rely on very thin comparisons between the books and Christianity. To call them “weak” would be a gross understatement. Even the best comparisons are of messages or symbols that occur throughout world literature and folklore, meaning they aren’t unique to Christianity and therefore are a very poor basis for creating a Christian allegory.

If it were J.K. Rowling’s intention all along to create a Christian allegory, which is certainly plausible given her statements, then she will have to do something in order to match Harry Potter more closely with Christianity and Christian messages. If she doesn’t, then it will amount to a failed allegory. Even if she does, though, it will be an arguably weak allegory because so much has happened thus far without the connections to Christianity being very clear.

A good allegory doesn’t beat you over the head with its message, but after a while, the connections should start piling up and the purpose of the story should become evident, at least to those who are paying attention. That hasn’t been the case with Harry Potter, though.

For the time being, then, it would make the most sense to conclude that the Harry Potter stories are not a Christian allegory. All of this could change in the future, however. Something might happen in the final books which is much more explicitly Christian in nature — the death and resurrection of Harry Potter himself, for example. If that happens, then it would be hard not to treat the stories as a Christian allegory, even if they don’t start off doing it very well.

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Cline, Austin. "Is Harry Potter a Christian Allegory?" ThoughtCo, Mar. 24, 2017, thoughtco.com/is-harry-potter-a-christian-allegory-250152. Cline, Austin. (2017, March 24). Is Harry Potter a Christian Allegory? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/is-harry-potter-a-christian-allegory-250152 Cline, Austin. "Is Harry Potter a Christian Allegory?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/is-harry-potter-a-christian-allegory-250152 (accessed November 19, 2017).