Who will answer?

I’ve been reticent about posting a review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, knowing that many here in the cafe have not yet read the book and did not want to spoil it for them.

If you have not read the book – and plan to – please close your eyes and scroll down. I want to raise an issue or two with those of you who have read the book.

I have been a fan of the series by J.K. Rowling from the moment I read my first book, which was actually the third one in the series, the Prisoner of Azkaban. I had put off reading the books for quite a long time, even know different members of many family gave me copies and told me over and over again how much I would love the books. I finally saw the first two movies and then picked up the third book and that was that.

I am the author of the opening essay of a book called The Plot Thickens, which is still available through Borders, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. It is a series of essays on the Harry Potter series through the fifth book. My essay is called “Iceberg Ahoy: Why the New York Times Should Restore Harry Potter to the Best Seller List.” In fact, the Harry Potter series had dominated the New York Times Best Seller List for so long that other authors and publishers were complaining (everyone wants to have #1 New York Times Best Seller on their dust jacket) and so the New York Times created a “Children’s List” and stuck Harry Potter over there. But many of us who are adults and had read the series realized that this was far more than children’s books. They are accessible to children in some ways, but now that we have come to the end of the series it is clear that there is an entirely new world underneath the one known to children. Like an iceberg, Jo Rowling reveals the top portion to her readers, but it what is underneath the water that really matters.

Over the years I have joined reading groups and study groups and even taken courses online on the series. I’ve met many other fans of the books who have enjoyed unlocking the mysteries in the series. But, until very recently, I was often alone in discussions when delving into what looked more and more like Christian mysteries in the book – by the time we had all finished the sixth book, The Half Blood Prince, it seemed to me that we had another modern-day Inkling on our hands. That view was rarely shared and if it was discussed, it was often in hushed tones. The “religion” factor of the series was either neglected or overlooked.

There are some major exceptions to this and chief among them is the author John Granger, who wrote among other books on the series, “Finding God in Harry Potter.” He is the moderator of HogwartsProfessor.com and he is chiefly responsible for unearthing all the Christian-style alchemical symbols throughout the book. There are others who follow in similar ways and many of them can be found at HogwartsProfessor.

In the past few months I’ve read lots of commentary on the books, listened to many podcasts on the books, and have listened to others talk about the books. Well, sort of. What is striking me now is how quiet things have gotten – and how quiet they got soon after the books came out.

Jo Rowling had warned us that many may not like how the book concludes (and I’m not talking about the Epilogue, but the final battle at Hogwarts). Christian imagery is all over those closing chapters, especially in terms of such weighty topics as substitution, sacrifice, redemption, repentance, and judgment. Strong orthodox understanding of classical Christianity have their marks not only all over the series, but all over the closing chapters of the final book.

I have listened and read many commentaries that are filled with the struggles readers are having over understanding what happens to Harry during the Battle of Hogwarts. There is a certain discomfort that in order to really discuss those closing pages, one is going to have to discuss classical Christian theology. The book is immensely theological and now millions and millions of people have read the book.

One of the big questions – and one of those questions that many seem hesitant to ask is – what is the theological significance to being “cover by the blood?” Christians sing about it, they participate in Eucharists, and they certainly read about the power of the blood, being covered by the blood. But what does it mean and what affect does it have on us?

What I am finding now, as the weeks go by, is silence. When the sixth book came out the response was deafening. We could point to the fact that we were left with some significant mysteries and those mysteries demanded to be solved. The series has now concluded and all is wrapped up – or is it?

There are some significant mysteries in the final book, but to begin to explore those mysteries will mean diving into significant Christian theology – not liberal progressive theology, but the orthodox kind, the traditional kind, the kind that includes sin, rebellion, sacrifice, and redemption. They aren’t just nebulous themes, but are key to understanding the series. We see in these books that Jo Rowling did more than just skim through the books of CS Lewis. In fact, it seems she has read more than just The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It appears she may have also at least read The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, and A Grief Observed. If she hasn’t, I’d still recommend readers of the series know those books. And Jane Austin as well, another Christian believer, who used satire to comment on – often humorously – on society. Jo Rowling does the same thing.

One person I know has just finished reading the book. She had read all the others and we had many fun conversations about the books and the characters. But she is not a believer, in fact, she is rather hostile to Christianity and she will not talk about this book. To secular eyes, how shocking is the book? Should secularists be worried? The greatest irony of the books is that for a long time the wrong people were upset.

There does seem to be a strange silence over the series – that may be challenged soon as Jo Rowling arrives in America for a book tour. She was asked once – and by a child, not the secular media, about her faith. By the time she gets here, though, more people will have actually read the book, had time to think about it, talk with others about it, and question the mysteries in it that are quite profound in ways that all the other mysteries of plot and character pale in comparison. Perhaps that is why Jo Rowling has made no secret of her admiration for Dorothy Sayers, another honorary Inkling, who saw mystery writing as a particularly “Christian” genre. Jo Rowling seems to have followed – more significantly and more profoundly – in her footsteps. In this mystery genre (which is far more what the series is then a simple series of children’s stories) we learn about great Christian theological concepts such as generational sin, blood sacrifice, redemption, suffering, death, atonement, the human soul, immortality, heaven, hell, and the particular power of agape love. There are many many more. Having read the final book, what does it mean then to sing this Gospel song:

Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you over evil a victory win?
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

Would you be free from your passion and pride?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Come for a cleansing to Calvary’s tide;
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

The final sentence of the book is “All was well.” It caused me, as I’ve written all ready over at Shell Cottage about this particular hymn. I write there:

What’s come to my mind has been the hymn, It is Well, since it is about all being well in the midst of great suffering. Written by a man who lost his children at sea, he returns to the place where they were lost and writes:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

-Horatio Spafford 1873

Since so much of Deathly Hallows, and the Harry Potter series is about the state of Harry’s soul. When we finally get to the closing, we learn that – through the immense amount of suffering and pain that Harry Potter has endured – now all was well. His soul was restored to wholeness – he was healed.

These are topics, issues, subjects, themes of great spiritual and theological depth. It seems to me that a great opportunity is before all of us who have read the Harry Potter series – now is a season to ask questions. Millions have read the books and have questions – who will answer them?

NOTE: I continue to post over at Shell Cottage. Please feel free to drop by for a cup of tea. In my opinion, Harry’s visit to Shell Cottage is the turning point of his entire life. We’ll write on that topic soon, perhaps while we’re waiting for word from the Bishops of the Episcopal Church.