Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Faith Works 8-6

Faith Works 8-6-11

Jeff Gill


The Boy Who Lived, Come To Die



To say that Harry Potter is a Christ-figure is not exactly a stretch at this point.


I don't believe I need a "spoiler alert" anymore to note that Harry Potter dies for others in the final movie, eighth of that series, seventh of the books.


And yes, there's a resurrection stone involved (or is that a Resurrection Stone?), but I'll leave it at that for the five of you who haven't made it to see the movie yet.


As with Jadis, the evil White Queen of Narnia, there's a nasty glee in Voldemort's noseless face, upon finding a point of vulnerability in goodness, which turns out to have hidden deep within that wound a possibility of transformation and inversion which their greed and selfishness kept them from seeing.


For Aslan, the allegorically exact Christ-figure of the Narnia books (and movies), it was the revelation that when a willing victim presented themselves blameless as the blood ransom for a traitor, as did Aslan himself, he knew that "though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know... the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards."


For Voldemort, there was the unexpected outcome of someone, out of love, throwing themselves in front of his Killing Curse. The rebound set in motion the plot of all seven volumes . . . and at the end, has the Dark Lord learned anything? Nope. He's so infatuated with technique, in love with his skill and his own magnificent self, that he can't see how selfless love confounds his charms.


Is Harry meant to be Jesus? I'm certain I speak for J.K. Rowling when I say absolutely not. But if you look at most beloved works of narrative art, whether books or movies or even many songs, there is a pivotal figure of sacrifice and transformation, whether it's Syndey Carton in "A Tale of Two Cities," Neo in "The Matrix," or Jean Grey in "The X-Men." The Christ-figure is one of the central plotlines of Western storytelling, just like the ever speeding-up assembly line is a central plot device in TV sitcoms ever since Lucy & Ethel worked at the chocolate factory.


What fascinates me is not so much the ways Harry Potter carries the mark of life & death on his body, but the symbolism of the place where he goes to be transformed himself. I refer, of course, to Hogwarts.


The boarding school to which all the young students of witchcraft and wizardry are sent is somewhere in the Cumbria-Scotland borders, with a deep loch and dark woods and a rocky promontory on which is set . . .


Well, is it a castle? Not exactly. There's not much of traditional castle strongpoint architecture to Hogwarts, as the students and faculty realize in their great battle with the Death Eaters. Hogwarts, frankly, is an old monastery, with a church and refectory and chapter house and cloisters and dormitories all tangled around each other on an isolated perch.


And that pensieve. C'mon, folks: you don't have to know much of anything about art & architecture to see that it's a baptismal font. A vessel in which you can reconcile past and future, where time and truth come together.


I could go on in this vein, but my main interpretation is this: I'm not saying I'm telling you "what Rowling really meant," but there's a way to read this story that is so comprehensive that I have to say this must have had some kind of place in her subconscious as she wrote.


In sum, magic is science & technology. In the wizarding world, and in our own, there are those who quickly and readily speak the involuted language of engineering, mathetmatics. Others may not have the knack, but hard work and support can get them there. Either way, there are those who understand how a piece of plastic that looks like a half empty gum packet holds the entire contents of the Library of Congress, and there's all the rest of us.


The world of science has its own traditions and rituals, and is woven into almost every element of our world, but the vast majority of it is effectively invisible to almost all of us. And this inner cosmos of science & technology grew out of the great colleges & universities (Oxford, Cambridge, & St Andrews foremost among them all, let alone in Great Britain), which are themselves outgrowths of a monastic tradition that is all but forgotten, except when we don gowns and mortarboards for academic rituals.


(Continued next week!)


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story you love at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.