I read a comment last week on a blog review of Harry Potter that said, somewhat tongue in cheek, “I’ve read all the books but seen none of the movies….All the serious theological stuff must be in the movies.” And a follow-up comment questioned whether the author intended the messages or just wanted to write an entertaining story.
I don’t think it’s a question of either/or. Too often novels or movies that set out to teach virtues or values fall short because they lack imagination or creativity. And too much searching for messages can lead to tortured comparisons. I think of a professor I had at Marquette who insisted on finding a eucharistic analogy in every work of American literature we read.
As Catholics, we can see the great themes of Scripture and of our tradition in many different forms. Sometimes those themes surprise us all the more when they’re in a setting that’s NOT overtly religious. Like Jesus’ parables, novels and films can take us by surprise and nudge us to see something in a completely new light. It might not be perfectly formed, it might not be fleshed out in all it doctrinal glory, but it sparks a connection in our mind.
One scene from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, did this for me last weekend. Harry has just made the decision to sacrifice himself to Lord Voldemort to save his friends. The golden snitch opens, as promised, at the close. Inside he finds the resurrection stone, one of the three “deathly hallows.” Harry’s struggle through the series has been wanting to recover his lost parents and other loved ones who have died. The questions of death, resurrection and immortality are at the heart of this work, as they are in so much of human life.
As he holds the stone, his parents, his godfather, a beloved professor, the boy he’d seen murdered the year before, and several others appear in a circle around him. They tell him that they’ve always been with him, in his heart, in their love for him and his for them, and that they will continue to support him as he goes forward on this difficult journey. As I watched, my mind drifted to the concept of the communion of saints.
Believers can see these connections. As an English lit major from way back, I may have developed this skill more than some. And I’m more than a bit familiar with Scripture as well. But here’s the flip side. A child or young adult immersed in Harry Potter, conversant with the books, the characters, the themes, could also be well-primed to see in the Bible and the faith life of the Church a deeper, richer reality than the wonders penned by Jo Rowling. Understanding, insight—and grace—can work in both directions.
Photo: CNS/Warner Bros.