AT THE BEGINNING of J.K. Rowling’s internationally popular phenomenon, Harry Potter was first viewed with suspect, and then damned outright by religious conservatives claiming that Rowling’s stories encouraged children to embrace witchcraft. The fallout from this controversy has included law suits, worker strikes, book burnings, and several campaigns to educate Christian families against the evils of Harry Potter. The “boy who lived” became Jesus’ arch-nemesis: the icon or rallying point behind which infuriated Christians could gain support (and a much needed platform) against a society embracing vampires as boyfriends, witches as heroes, and monsters as merely misunderstood. None of this slowed the success of Harry Potter, whose books, and then the movie franchise produced by Warner Bros, have been both an unchallengeable model for marketing strategy and economic success, and also an integral part of the lives of millions of fans who have watched Harry grow up – and grown up with him.
As we reached the end of this journey, the final coming of Harry Potter was treated as Messianic; blogs called the release of the first installment of Harry Potter 7 (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I) “A historic event”. However, the tension between Jesus and Harry has not been forgotten. A few extremist groups continue to burn books or protest movie openings or mount the pulpit in frothy defense of Christianity against the madness of modern culture’s obsession with wizardry; but at the same time, the general Christian stance towards Harry Potter has taken a profound shift after the publication of the final book, in which Harry dies a sacrificial death, is tortured using the Cruciatus curse, and has an afterlife experience of sorts at “King’s Cross”. Potter then comes back to life and triumphs over his evil adversary, Voldemort. These motifs have guided many Christians to ask whether Rowling consciously crafted the Harry Potter story after the Passion of Jesus Christ. Is Harry Potter a Christ-Figure?
In fact this question had been asked by sharp-minded readers since the early days of Potterdom. Many bloggers correctly guessed that the details of Harry Potter’s life would mirror at least the sacrificial death of Jesus. In 2002 Beliefnet.com hosted an online debate between several scholars who had published books on the subject, called “Harry Potter, Christ Figure”?
When the 7th book was released in 2007, these early musings seemed justified; especially in light of several comments by Rowling herself to the effect that she knowingly copied parts of her story around the biblical story of Jesus Christ. Suddenly preachers were making headlines, not for burning Harry Potter, but for championing him. Harry Potter was claimed to be a Christian story, which parallels the story of Jesus Christ and thus can help open a dialogue between Christians and the broader public.
And yet the most fascinating question has so far been ignored: Why do these similarities exist at all? Although it is easy to accept that Rowling crafted the literary character of Harry Potter after the figure of Jesus, shouldn’t it pique our interest that Jesus – a monumental figure in modern world religion generally believed to have been historical – has so much in common with the obviously fictional fantasy world and character of Harry Potter?
The main distinction, it will be argued, is that Jesus Christ is real: Jesus has traditionally been viewed as a historical figure, while Harry is instantly recognized as fiction. But does this distinction apply to the many seemingly mythical elements in the gospels? Can Jesus’ miracles be separated from Harry’s magic tricks because they really happened – or will we allow that certain features of the gospels were exaggerated or intended to be literary. And if so, where do we stop? What protects Jesus from the claim that he is, like Harry, a fictional character?
This is the starting point of Jesus Potter Harry Christ; an innovative treatise into religious history, comparative mythology, astrological symbolism and contemporary culture. From ancient mystery religions to modern fairy tales, from fictional Hogwarts to the ruins of Jerusalem, Derek Murphy, PhD in Comparative Literature at one of the world’s top universities, zooms in on one crucial question: How do we separate the obviously mythical literature of Jesus Christ from the historical man himself?
Whether you’re a newcomer to historical Jesus research, a passionate believer or a well-read scholar, Jesus Potter Harry Christ will challenge everything you thought you knew about the historical Jesus.