Thursday, August 9, 2007

Harry Potter and the Culture of Death

The following contains spoilers:

Years ago, whilst at college, I wrote an absurd article concerning liberalism and Harry Potter, in which I dismissed the series’ liberal qualities – not to mention its absence of God – as simply part of the fantasy. I was and remain a fan despite my reservations regarding its politics and my oft-repeated suggestion that the books shouldn’t be read by their intended audience (children). It is not for a political reason that I, nor any other HP fan, read these books. Rather, I read them for their characters (particularly Snape, about whom these books are written whatever their titles or their author may protest) and for the immersive escapism they afford. Most of all, I read them because they are about love – and an uncommonly accurate understanding of love at that – or so I thought.

“Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Love is not a feeling or a passion. Love is self-sacrifice, pursuit of the other’s good with disregard of self. This theme movingly appears throughout the HP series. From the self-sacrifice of Lily Potter’s life to save her son, to Harry’s own sacrifice for the good of all as he walks to his certain death at Voldemort’s murderously acquired Elder Wand, it is clear that the Potters understand what love is and what courage is and what price they demand. Such depiction of unselfish love has become rare in contemporary storytelling, which often centers on passionate self-gratification rather than on the dispassionate self-sacrifice that is love.

I long held that HP was an exception to this – that it depicted love rightly. Here, at the very end, to my disappointment, I learn that the Harry Potter series is actually just another product of the culture of death.

There is a chasm of difference between laying down one’s life – which is the very definition of love – and suicide. Dumbledore’s suicide – Snape’s murder – is presented as heroic. Suicide, whether called assisted suicide or euthanasia, is never morally permissible, let alone heroic. Hey, he was going to die anyway, right? Besides, he did it to save Draco from Voldemort’s wrath, didn’t he? We must not do evil that good may come of it. We are not the masters of life and death. Acting as though we are is what creates the culture of death. Our lives are not our property to dispense with at will for what seems best to us. Lives belong only to their Creator.

Harry's response to Dumbledore's cry, "KILL ME!" in chapter twenty-six of The Half-Blood Prince is the moral one. He deceives Dumbledore by saying, "Just drink this... It'll be over...all over!" In fact it wasn't all over. Harry did not kill Dumbledore.

When Dumbledore makes the same request to Snape, thereby tempting a morally conflicted man with a great evil, Snape obliges. Dumbledore turns out to be an arrogant, manipulative, self-satisfied sinner who is doubtlessly burning in hell and has taken Snape down with him. Pity. And he was on the road to redemption too….

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