Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Harry Potter: The Difference Between a Good and Great Story

Just Wait Till the Craze Dies Down. . .
At the prodding of my friend, Phil Shahbaz, I recently read through the seven Harry Potter books. I know that I was ridiculously far behind the trend, but I didn't have a great deal of interest in them when the craze was at its height. Phil told me that he thought the books were a wealth of illustrations for the gospel, so I thought it would be worth reading through them.
Overall, I thought that the books were very well done. I know that there are some questions about whether or not the books serve as a door into the occult and I think there is validity to parental awareness of this. At the same time, the core story is not about the occult. The core story is an epic tale about Good vs. Evil. It is certainly not a Christian allegory in the sense of The Chronicles of Narnia, but there are still powerful images in the books that serve as conversation-starters about several subjects, including the heart of redemption.

Heroism through Sacrifice
Many stories, whether intentional or not, reflect the sacrifice of Jesus. Most great epics depict a heroic character sacrificing his life so that his people can be free. It appeared to me that this was the direction of the Harry Potter sage. As I drew closer and closer to the conclusion it seemed certain that Harry would save his friends, and the whole world, from the evil Voldemort (that's right, I used his real name!), but that he would lose his life in the process. In fact, I was certain that I had heard somewhere that this was the conclusion of the story.
I know it is hard to believe that anyone would not know how the story ended considering the insane craze about the books and movies. But I truly didn't know how it was going to end. But I could swear that I overheard that he died in the end. Moving through the final book, I prepared myself for this fact.
I prepared myself for it, but I didn't like it.
I remember thinking, "I guess it will make for a good ending. At the same time, I want to see what his life and his relationships would be like if he was to live. I just think it would make for a better story." But I kept telling myself that a hero giving his life for the freedom of his people is still an awfully good story.

The Surprise
Spoiler warning (not that anyone other than me would need a spoiler warning at this point).
Harry did die. Kind of. He died, and then he came back. And when he came back, he defeated Voldemort, freed his people, and went on to live the full life that his mother had died to give him.
This ended up bring a wonderful surprise for me. I was so certain that he would die that I was delighted when he ended up living. He not only experienced a resurrection of sorts in the story, I experienced his resurrection in my heart because I had been so certain of his impending death. My heart was filled with joy as I read the happy conclusion, not just for Harry's friends, but for Harry himself.
(By the way, when Harry dies, and before he comes back, he is in a train station at King's Cross; that is a not-so-subtle gospel reference by Rowling.)

Resurrection is Better than Sacrifice
It is a good story when someone gives his life in order to set his people free. A good story, not a great story.  The reason this is not a great story is because death still wins a half-victory. While death is defeated and held off from the people, it still claims the life of the hero. Sacrifice is a good story, but not a great one.
Resurrection? Now, that is a great story. It is great because the people are free from death, and the hero is also free from death. Death is utterly defeated. It claims nobody!
Throughout the Harry Potter saga, death did claim several beloved characters: Harry's parents, Cedric Diggory, Sirius Black (a moment of silence, please, for my favorite supporting character), Albus Dumbledore, Mad Eye Moody, Fred Weasley, Lupin and Tonks, and Severus Snape (my other favorite). But the ending was delightful because the heroic Harry won a double victory. His friends all lived and he lived on with them.

The resurrection is a wonderful surprise because it seems too good to be true. Jesus not only gives his life for the freedom of his people, but he himself lives on with them. A truly happy ending snatches new life from the grip of death. Any story that reflects the delight of this surprise is a good story.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Dan, how I miss hearing you speak at church. :-( I am so glad to read your blog here though. I just came across it on Facebook and have been reading my way through.

    You were not the only one who never read Harry Potter. I had read the first one five or six years ago and was just coerced into reading the rest by a friends daughter. I also had no idea how it ended but like you, I really enjoyed the books. We are now in the middle of watching the movies. I was devastated when Sirius died and even more so when Dumbledore did. I don't remember Harry dying but hmmm...I guess I need a review lesson. It has only been a couple of months and already, it is fading. Can't wait to finish the movies. I hope you and the family are adjusting well to life in California.