Looking for God in Harry Potter by John Granger

[Spoilers through Deathly Hallows.]

The pile of books beside my bed (and the list stuck to my computer) was threatening to overwhelm me, but I knocked a few out and I feel slightly better about things. This week I read was Looking for God in Harry Potter by John Granger. I am of two minds about it . . . I read (actually, I own) The Hidden Key to Harry Potter a long time ago, before Order of the Phoenix came out, and I enjoyed his theories, though I thought that some of his ideas were a bit of a stretch. This book makes a good companion to Hidden Key, and, again, I think that some places are a bit of a stretch, though I enjoy the examination of the names (some of which I honestly do think are more than JKR intended) and the pairings/doppelgangers in the book, as well as some of the alchemical explanations and the discussions of each book. Whether I completely agree, I can appreciate that he’s looking at the books from a much more academic perspective than, say, the MuggleNet boys. I think the main question for me is whether JKR did, as he claims, put some of this in there on purpose. After reading some of his Deathly Hallows commentary and being reminded that JKR herself did say that she’d studied alchemy pretty extensively when coming up with the magic, I have to think that even if I remain skeptical about some of the ways that he interprets details, he had the overall right idea about some of those alchemical themes.

Without a doubt, my favorite passage was this one [it’s kind of long]:

Expecto is an ellision of ek or e (“out from, out for”) and specto (“look, watch”). Expecto, consequently, doesn’t mean “to throw out” (that would have been expello–as in, “I punched the teacher so they expello-ed me from school”). What it does mean is “to look out for, await, long for expectantly.” In the Latin version of the Apostle’s Creed, the “await, look for” conclusion (“I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”) begins with the word expecto.

Patronus can mean “guardian.” But in the context of Prisoner of Azkaban, it’s good to realize the word comes from the root pater, which . . . means “father.” Patronus means “little father” or “second father,” which is obvious in the English word that is derived from it: “patron,” the person–like Dad–who pays the bills. The word can be used as “godfather,” . . . “guardian,” or “deliverer” (as in “from danger”). In this last sense, “savior” is not a bad or infrequent translation.

Expecto Patronum
, consequently, can be interpreted a couple of ways. Because Harry’s Patronus comes in the shape of his dad as animagus, you could say it means, “I look for the figure of my father.”

The way Rowling uses this phrase, however, echoes its use from the Apostles’ Creed–“I long for my savior and deliverer.” The charm is said in joyful expectation and in faith that deliverance is coming . . . [there is lots more in this chapter, but I think this is enough] . . . Muggles, we read in Harry Potter, cannot see dementors, but they can feel them. Certainly I have felt frightened and alone, Muggle that I am, and my only escape from such fears and isolation is faith in Christ. Harry Potter, and especially the Prizoner of Azkaban installment of his annual adventures, is support and encouragement in the faith and in battling the demons of our culture and times.

I have no idea whether she intended that or not, but . . . I never think that truth is dependent on the author’s intentions. I just like it as a good reminder for myself, the power of calling on our Father and how it can help us ward off despair. The Harry Potter series has been full of moments like that for me. We knew next to nothing about JKR as an author (or the controversy surrounding these books) when we read the end of Sorcerer’s Stone, and I was very moved by the discussion of Lily’s protection, that to be loved so deeply by someone leaves its mark forever. I couldn’t help but think of Jesus. I was in a place in my life where I needed very much to be reminded of God’s love, and Harry Potter did that for me there. And, in the same vein, I do feel that Deathly Hallows has some very strong Christian themes (and she did confess that you could see her struggle with belief/struggle to believe in the book), but I don’t know exactly what she was intending when she had Harry struggle with his Hallows/Horcruxes choice. To me, though, when Harry thinks it over, considers his options, and chooses faith/obedience rather than power/impulse, it’s a great picture of what faith in the real world is like. Just as Dumbledore turned out to be quite a complicated man, our understanding of the way the world works is complicated. Good people die, the wicked do seem to prosper, and God can be very distant. In the end, faith and belief are much more about choice than anything else. (I happen to think she did intend that one, but it doesn’t matter much to me whether she did or not.)

I hadn’t really intended this to be a post that was about Looking for God in Harry Potter. I just thought I’d talk about it for a second in passing, but I guess I’ll stop here. To be honest, I’m a bit Pottered out after this past weekend’s concert with The Remus Lupins and The Whomping Willows, but that’s a story that will have to go without being told, I think. Suffice it to say that I am ready for a break from Harry Potter for a while. Earlier this week I started Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (and then paused to read two other books, but I promise to finish the Kingsolver very soon. It just seems easier to read in small pieces). Prepare yourself for some crunchy, tree-hugging posts.

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