On my favourite Harry VII discussion site (see link in a previous post), someone finally gets around to asking whether the scene in which Harry goes to meet his death reminds anyone of the scene in which Aslan does the same. She doesn’t get much by way of response. The fans who write on this site are very smart and very savvy, but most of them aren’t tremendously familiar with Christian imagery.
The Christian imagery in HP is buried, but not deeply. On a scale running from LWW (an avowed, lightly-disguised retelling of the passion narrative) to Lois Lowry’s The Giver (a non-avowed, heavily-disguised retelling of the passion narrative), HP falls in the middle. To be sure, JK isn’t faithful to the Christian story in a linear way. And, like many Christians, she has her own particular theological understanding: she values love more than faith, for instance, and she’s fascinated (though confused) by the after-life. But the books are gospels, for sure.
The basic requirements for such a re-telling are that the hero dies in order to effect a salvation, is reborn, and following the rebirth becomes a powerful heavenly figure or exemplar who can be turned to for help. Dumbledore fulfils the requirements best: he dies to destroy the horcrux stone (and in a way that saves Malfoy), and he’s reborn as a spiritual essence who continues to move earthly events. Harry is a secondary Christ figure—the good Christian. Since Dumbledore’s already done it, Harry doesn’t have to die, but he does have to be willing to follow the God’s example if called on to do so. In such cases, if all goes well, one finds oneself embodying Matthew 10:39, “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” For Harry, the line refers, first, to having to give up the search for Hallows (to cling to life, but in the wrong way) in favour of the search for Horcruxes (to stop someone else clinging to life in the wrong way), a decision that’s rewarded with the possession of the rejected Hallows (which give Harry life, in the right way). Second, and more importantly, it refers to his death march, where he gives his life up and consequently gets it. All of this funky Christian dialectics could be played with endlessly, but the point is that, while JK has doubled up her Christ, she’s placed most of the role’s onus on Dumbledore.
She’s got a similarly doubled-up Judas, splitting the role between Snape (who kills the Christ: an act that, in a bold theological move, JK acknowledges as heroic) and Malfoy, who is slated to kill the Christ and who does whatever betraying surrounds the moment of the passion. Snape’s got the greasy hair, the hooked nose, and the desire to sleep with the shikse goddess, but he does not betray: the little Nazi boy steps up for this.
Finally there’s a third doubling: the Jews. Now, despite what I’ve just said, I am perfectly sure that JK is not an antisemite. This is NOT an implication of what I’ve said, or am going to say. But if you retell the gospels, you need people to do the nasty things that move the plot along, and if a few stereotypes slip in here and there it helps get the point across. The ugly manifestation of the Jewish presence is the goblins, about whom enough already. The more interesting manifestation is the Ministry of Magic, for the MoM is unquestionably the Pharisees. Cornelius Fudge (aka Rabban Gamaliel) is the main figure here. He wants to do what’s right, but he’s a small-minded, cowardly man, and his fear of anything that threatens his authority makes him insist on the rules over the truth. It’s not just Fudge, though. The Ministry in general is the kind of institution that insists on not breaking the laws of the Sabbath even when life is at stake; they’re legalists, with the old way, the wrong way, the loveless way, of striving for what is right. Heads in the sand, all of them, trembling in front of the Truth, the Way, and the Light, and calling it falsehood, the garden path, and the dark. They mean well, but reality is too much for them. They aren’t wrong to be afraid of Dumbledore; he’d get rid of all their money lenders. And, for his part, Dumbledore is right to be afraid of them. Well before HP VII shows us the power of the institution gone bad, the Ministry harbours people like Umbrage. In fact it encourages these people, as it encourages systemic discrimination against non-wizards. Institutions are like this; they can’t help it. It’s the ministry mentality (fortress mentality/ legalism/ bureaucracy) that’s the source of the real evil that exists in the world. Umbrage is far more frightening than Voldemort.
Only, in the new dispensation, the Ministry can be good. In a recent interview, JK says that following the end of HP VII, “the Ministry was de-corrupted and, with Kingsley at the helm, the discrimination that was always latent there was eradicated.” Get it? The political result of the salvific acts in HP VI and VII is that the rabbinate becomes the church.
Since this is going out in the world, I must add here the clarifying remark that the portrait of the Pharisees offered in the Gospels is historically incorrect. But what a great tale it is. And how clever JK was with the Ministry! There is truth in all of this; it just doesn’t have anything particularly to do with Jews, ‘kay? I should add as well that the link between the Ministry and the Pharisees was first pointed out to me by my father, Sam Ajzenstat, after book IV.