J K Rowling's 'Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince'
Read our original article on the Harry Potter phenomenon - 'A Christian parent's nightmare?'
The detective problem
The first three Harry Potter books were largely self-contained ('Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' ('Sorcerer's Stone' in the USA), 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,' and 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'). The problems raised in each book were resolved in that book.
From 'The Goblet of Fire' onwards, there has been a greater sense of continuity - of the books being part of a larger whole. So, not surprisingly, 'Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince' (the last-but-one book in the series) is in many ways the most incomplete. After finishing the book we are left with a whole collection of mysteries: Who is the mysterious R. A. B? Where are the remaining Horcruxes? Whose side is Snape really on and what is his real motivation? These questions relate to what Dorothy Sayers would have called the detective problem of the books. There are clues in the published volumes that point to their answers, and we can be assured that they will be answered by the end of the last book.
The human problem
However, there is another set of questions relating to what Sayers would have called the human problem of the books - questions that concern matters of ethics and wisdom. Throughout the books we have been presented with a series of detective problems, many of which have been resolved along the way. We have also been presented with a series of ethical questions, such as:
- is it always right to obey authority?
- How do we find the right balance between loyalty to friends and honesty and impartiality?
- How should we respond to those who hate us?
The characters, both good and evil, represent a whole range of responses to this kind of question. None of the good characters are perfect but some, especially Dumbledore, come closer to Rowling's ideal - which seems to be that a person should aspire to be both wise and loving.
We are left with a set of questions arising from Dumbledore's relationship with two people, which relate to both the detective and human problems:
1. Draco Malfoy
Dumbledore has known for some time that Draco has been trying (albeit halfheartedly) to kill him. He has not acted, even though this has put him at risk, out of a desire to protect Draco. Even when his life is threatened he seems as much concerned to save Draco from becoming a killer as to save his own life. He sees Draco as someone who is still redeemable. Is he right in this attitude, especially as his failure to act against Draco puts many other people at risk?
Just as Dumbledore believes Malfoy is redeemable, he seems to believe that Snape has been redeemed - that he has repented. Yet it seems that he has been mistaken in this. The reason he gives for trusting Snape seems highly implausible, rather naive. Is he wrong to trust Snape? Is his faith in the capacity of human beings to change misplaced? Is this, as Voldemort would believe, a fatal weakness? Do those who are good tend to see good in others when it is not there? Dumbledore's attitude to Voldemort, even as a child was not at all naive. So why does he seem to be so with Snape?
It is only when we have all seven books that we will be able to see Rowling's moral vision clearly. As an example of people being misled, some Christians criticised the earlier books because of Harry's unchristian attitude in hating his enemies. The mistake here was to regard Harry as a moral example, rather than a well created character. Now we have, in Dumbledore's attitude to Draco, a superb example of someone loving his enemies. We can see what that might cost, and in spite of that there is a strong sense that Rowling herself feels he was right in doing so. In comparison, Harry's attitude to Malfoy seems to be understandable but immature. Rowling has made this central tenet of Christian ethics seem both attractive and achievable. Dumbledore is no plaster saint, but he is a genuinely good person.
I do not agree with every aspect of J. K. Rowling's moral outlook. However, I do think that it is one that is substantially compatible with a Christian worldview.
'The Gospel According to Harry Potter: Spirituality in the stories of the world's most famous seeker'
See also Connie Neal's earlier title:
What's a Christian to do with Harry Potter?'
A Closer Look at Harry Potter
by John Houghton
Harry Potter and the Meaning of Life
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