It’s the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross. What does that have to do with Harry Potter? I don’t try to hide the fact that I’m a Harry Potter fangirl. I’m often reflecting on the plot and themes, whether kids should read the series, and how Molly Weasley is fantastic.
(SPOILER ALERT: Do not continue if you haven’t completed the series.)
One of the most memorable scenes in the series depicts the last moments of Hogwarts Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore’s life. He arrives at the tallest tower of the Hogwarts castle in a weakened state when a boy–Harry’s nemesis, Draco Malfoy–arrives on the scene with the intent to murder him. Harry helplessly watches the whole exchange. Dumbledore has frozen him so that he cannot interfere and be in danger.
Dumbledore’s attitude is remarkable. He does not seem afraid or threatened. He begins talking to Draco in a way that is not only dignified but offers dignity to his would-be killer.
At one point Draco comments, “You’re in my power…I’m the one with the wand…You are at my mercy.” And indeed, it appears that way. Dumbledore has been disarmed. He is weak. And a healthy young man is pointing a wand at him with the intent to kill.
But Dumbledore responds in a surprisingly way: “No, Draco. It is my mercy, not yours, that matters now.”
What a strange thing for a powerless man to say! But is it strange? Perhaps the real problem is that we misunderstand the meaning of true power.
In modern fantasy, this theme of self-sacrifice conquering the most powerful foes comes up again and again. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, the White Witch foolishly thinks she can conquer the lion Aslan by killing him. Her obsession with power makes it impossible for her to comprehend that death is no match for the deep and ancient magic of sacrificial love Aslan will awaken when he lays down his life for those he loves. When things seem most hopeless, love turns the tables (or in this case, the table is broken by the power of love).
Tolkien’s weak little hobbits begin a quest that seems so foolhardy that it’s barely noticed by the evil Sauron who seeks to destroy all they love–but despite all odds, friendship, courage, and love are stronger than armies of orcs. And the mercy of Frodo toward the undeserving Gollum, results in the salvation of Middle-earth.
And here in Rowling’s world, we have Dumbledore patiently trying to explain to Draco that power lies in sacrifice, love, and mercy, not in a well-aimed weapon.
All of these stories make me think of The Story, the cosmic story: God’s love for humanity is victorious at just the moment when hope is almost gone. There is God himself on the Cross. Powerless, weak, being executed at our demand. Jesus is in our power. In the hands of a broken humanity that would rather kill God than face our need for Him. He is at our mercy.
But it is his mercy that matters now. “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” We call for his blood, and he pours it out over our heads, not to condemn us, but to heal us and wash us clean. He is the one with the power, because his love surpasses death. Because his death redeems his killers. Holy victim. Spotless victim. Christ the King.
It is His mercy that matters now. And He offers it to us with arms open wide, nailed by us to the Cross, yet ready to embrace us if only we will run to him.
image 1: Michael J. Bennett (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
image 2:© Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar / CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Thank you, Arenda!
Haley, I love your posts. This is what it’s all about! You have such a gift for blogging (particularly on the HP subject matter and how we can view it as Catholics). I (and I’m sure so many others) wish I lived on your street and we could meet for coffee at least once a week and discuss books, theology, and of course, Harry Potter!
You are an inspiring blogger with a lot of spark in your writing, and I’m so happy to be a part of your readership.
Aw, thanks Hannah! That is so kind. And I would love weekly coffee dates 😉
Karen Edmisten says
Thank you, Karen! That means a lot coming from such a lovely writer. <3
This is great. My friends and I just decided we were going to read the HP series and actually think while reading it (we all feel like we haven’t been learning from the books we read since high school, when it was required to think critically and have discussions…). I’m going to share this with them!
Reading thoughtfully for fun is the best! Thanks for sharing the post 😉
I LOVE this! I love HP & it’s so wonderful to see posts which relate it to our Faith.
Thank you so much!
Great post. I’m a fairly new reader, so forgive me if this is something you’ve already covered, but have you ever read “Baptizing Harry Potter” by Luke Bell? Great take on all the Christian and Catholic symbolism in the book series. Made me go back and reread (again) the whole series in a whole new light.
Wow. Beautifully said. I love how you drew your examples from high fantasy old and new(ish). I also really love pointing out how many Christian themes can be found in the books when some people were/are intent on decrying it as satanic or evil (the books were banned in my private elementary and middle school right at the onset of Potter mania). Really great post.
One of the reasons JK Rowling said she withheld her religious beliefs (Christian) in the beginning was because she said if she revealed them, people would be able to figure out her books too easily. Basically the series is Christian-based morality. So I’m betting the scene of Dumbledore acting Christ-like was exactly what she had in mind.
Beautiful post! I just finished reading the Harry Potter series aloud to my 10 year old boys and I was struck time and time again by the redemptive messages I found throughout, much like you mention here. In the last book I think I actually gasped out loud and shouted “like the communion of saints” when Harry found the resurrection stone and his loved ones accompanied him on his sacrificial journey.
Fr. Isaiah Mary OP says
Thanks for this post! This reflection reveals well the richness of JKR’s work.
What does power mean? What does mercy mean? What is love and sacrifice? Your reflection is insightful and concise.
Being a potterhead myself, I have occasionally used the series to illuminate the deepest truths of Christianity, with mixed results.
Thank you for this!
I’m coming to this post late, but I’m a fellow Catholic and Harry Potter fan. The message of Mercy is so strong in these books. I tell my kids who’ve been allowed to read to #7 that the most important line in the whole series is when Harry tells Volemort to try for a little remorse. Being sorry for what he had done would have made all the difference. It made me a bit sad that they skipped that part in the movie, because it means that there are so many people who didn’t see the importance of it. There’s so much to unpack in these books :-).
I love your reflections on Harry Potter. I’ve read the first story to my six year old. And she’s watched a few of the movies and heard the first two stories on audiobooks. We play pretend Harry Potter too. And I refer to it quite frequently as a way to show how the Christian life can be lived out. Just the other day, we were walking home talking about worst things that could happen. She said that death was the worst thing. I said there are things worth than death. She immediately connected it to “not knowing love” like Voldemort. It was pretty amazing.
Olivia Briscoe says
This is a great comparison. Thank you for sharing. I finally finished the Harry Potter series as an adult and love the books so much.
I totally agree with what you said and the comparisons you made between Dumbledore’s mercy and Jesus’ mercy. I am happy to find another Catholic Harry Potter fan. As a young Catholic teenager, I appreciate your insights on The Harry Potter series. Although it is a secular series, I agree that it has many Catholic themes.