Christian Symbolism in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One: Missed Opportunities
I have seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One twice now–first on opening day and again yesterday–and there is something that has been bothering me about the film for a week now. I am profoundly disappointed by the absence of the two Biblical quotations Rowling included in the novel and which were left out of the theatrical version of the film. The first was from Matthew 6:21.
Harry stooped down and saw, upon the frozen, lichen-spotted granite, the words KENDRA DUMBLEDORE and, a short way below her dates of birth and death, AND HER DAUGHTER ARIANA. There was also a quotation: Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows page 325)
This inscription is from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6, verse 21, which should be examined in the context in which it appears in the Bible: This quotation is from Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount.”
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21, NRSV)
We know that the tomb of Kendra and Ariana Dumbledore was designed for the film; a photo of it was published in the book Harry Potter Film Wizardry.
In an earlier blog post I explained the significance of the quatrefoil and the IHS which appear at the top of this grave marker. Here’s a quote from this earlier post: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/christian-imagery-in-deathly-hallows-film-photos-of-godrics-hollow-churchyard/
|Quatrefoil: ubiquitous in Gothic architecture, the quatrefoil symbolizes the four evangelists, as do the Winged Man (Matthew), Lion (Mark), Ox (Luke), and Eagle (John) — the four beasts of Ezeckiel and the Apocalypse.|
IHS: dating from the 8th c., this is an abbreviation for “IHESUS,” the way Christ’s Name was spelled in the Middle Ages (despite popular belief, the monogram stands neither for “Iesus Hominum Salvator” –”Jesus Saviour of Men” — nor for “In His Service.”) Popularized by St. Bernardine of Siena, the monogram was later used by St. Ignatius of Loyola as a symbol for the Jesuit Order.
I really missed seeing this Christian imagery in the theatrical version of the film. I also wanted the film makers to include more information about Dumbledore’s background and personal tragedies. Perhaps this need for more exposition in the film is the reason that the tomb of Kendra and Ariana was not shown in the theaters. Dumbledore felt a great deal of guilt about their deaths, a burden that he had to bear for the rest of his life. I think that Dumbledore learned a lesson that Voldemort had not been able to comprehend: his “treasures” were not possessions or objects of power, but the people that he loved. If they had included this Biblical quotation in the film, it could have been made to tie in nicely with Ron’s return. The light from Dumbledore’s deluminator went into Ron’s heart and then guided him back to the one he loves most: Hermione. Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.
The “heart” can also serve as a metaphor for the human soul. Where Voldemort’s “treasures” (the Horcruxes) are hidden is where Harry, Ron, and Hermione will find the Dark Lord’s “heart”– that is, the fragments of his torn and mutilated soul. They will be the thieves that break into Gringotts to steal the cup Horcrux in order to destroy it in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two.
The tombstone with the quotation from Matthew 6:21 is discussed briefly in the video game based on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One. (Harry remarks that he did not know that Dumbledore had a sister.) You can see a video of this part of the game in the blog post that I made yesterday: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/11/26/deathly-hallows-part-one-video-game-walk-through/ The Biblical quotation from Matthew 6:21 is not visible in the game walk-through however.
In the video game, Harry reads aloud the words inscribed on his parents’ grave marker–the second Biblical quotation Rowling included in the novel.
The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
This is a quotation from 1 Corinthians 15:26. The quote can be seen on the Potters’ tomb in the theatrical version of the film but it is not discussed by Harry and Hermione as it was in the novel.
This is Rowling’s description of that scene which was omitted from the film:
Harry read the words slowly, as though he would have only one chance to take in their meaning, and he read the last of them aloud. “ ‘The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death’…” A horrible thought came to him, and with it, a kind of panic. “Isn’t that a Death Eater idea? Why is that there?”
“It doesn’t meaning defeating death in the way the Death Eaters mean it, Harry,” said Hermione, her voice gentle. “It means…you know…living beyond death. Living after death.” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows page 328)
The theme of death and of life after death was one of the most important themes in the Harry Potter series. The omission of these lines from the film was a huge thematic flaw in my opinion.
Christian Symbolism in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One: What They Got Right
The theatrical cut of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One did have a certain amount of obvious Christian imagery, which was very well done. Early in the film, when Hermione has erased her parents’ memories of her and leaves home, she walks down the street in the direction of a building which may be a church. (This is a scene that was not in the novel.)
When Harry and Hermione arrive in Godric’s Hollow, the sound of a church bell tolling can be heard as they walk down the street. When they arrive outside the graveyard we do hear the sound of singing inside of the little village church. The congregation is celebrating Christmas Eve. When Harry looks through the iron fence at the church graveyard and asks Hermione if she thinks his parents are in there, she assures him with confidence that they are. Once inside the churchyard there many are cross-shaped gravemarkers that are visible. There is no mistaking it: James and Lily Potter are buried in hallowed ground.
Then there’s the Sword of Godric Gryffindor:
The scene is as I described it in The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.
It is on the day after Christmas that Harry and his friends begin to make real progress in accomplishing their mission to defeat Voldemort. Just as King Arthur’s knights followed the white stag through the forest to find the Grail Chapel, Harry followed the silver doe to a frozen forest pool where he saw a shape like “a great silver cross” (DH 367). It was the Sword of Gryffindor hidden beneath the ice. The sword is one of the most fundamental Christian symbols:
The Cross is God’s sword, held at the hilt by the hand of Heaven and plunged into the world not to take our blood, but to give us His. (Kreeft 224)
Harry, while wearing the locket, tried to retrieve the sword, but the Horcrux around his neck began to choke him. It was when Harry began to drown that Ron returned to save his life. Proving himself to be a true Gryffindor, Ron pulled the sword from the water and severed the locket’s hold on Harry. Voldemort, like Satan the Father of Lies, made a desperate effort to claim Ron as his own, and Ron, like the weasel who strikes against the venomous serpent, was able to strike the first fatal blow against Voldemort by destroying the locket Horcrux with Gryffindor’s sword.
This quote was from page 81 of The Lord of the Hallows. The quote within the passage above which describes the Cross as God’s Sword is from Peter Kreeft’s wonderful book Catholic Christianity. J. K. Rowling herself described the Sword of Godric Gryffindor as being shaped like “a great silver cross” in the novel on page 367, (emphasis mine).
I gave chapter 8 of The Lord of the Hallows the title “Belief in God in the World of Harry Potter.” Here’s an excerpt:
“How in the name of heaven did Harry survive?” asked Professor McGonagall at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (SS 12) This is the first of many examples of how the language of Christianity is used throughout the series. In book one there is a reference to the concept of sin in the warning given to those who would steal from the Gringotts goblins: “Enter stranger, but take heed of what awaits the sin of greed.” (SS 72) Harry, Ron, and Hermione even manage to escape from a deadly plant called the Devil’s Snare. (SS 277-278) In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Mr. Weasley asks, “Good lord, is it Harry Potter?” (CS 39) Draco refers to Harry as “Saint Potter, the Mudbloods’ friend.” (CS 223) Dumbledore even leads the Hogwarts students and faculty in “a few of his favorite carols” at Christmastime. (CS 212) In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the manager of Flourish and Blotts says “thank heavens” (PA 53), Draco Malfoy says “God” (PA 113), Hagrid utters “Gawd knows.” (PA 274), and Remus Lupin says “My God.” (PA 363) Lupin also helps Harry learn the difference between losing one’s life and losing one’s soul. (PA 247) In these numerous references and in many others, there is evidence of a belief in the Christian God in the world of Harry Potter. (The Lord of the Hallows pages 69-70)
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling’s use of Christian references and images becomes more obvious than in the previous novels. Good wizard characters say “thank God” (Harry on page 74, Molly on page 78, Ron on page 142), and there are jokes about a wizard being “saint-like” or “holy” (George on page 74). That George Weasley would call himself “holy” (“hole-y”) refers to his missing ear, which was cursed off during a battle with the Death Eaters. St. George was a Christian saint, who, according to pious legends, was a dragon slayer, taking up arms against Satan, who appeared to him in the form of a mighty serpent. (The Lord of the Hallows pages 72-73)
George’s “holy” joke is in the film, in a particularly well-acted scene between the Weasley Twins. I also noticed two exclamations of “Oh my God!” in the movie. The first was uttered by Ron Weasley when he is in disguise as Reg Cattermole at the Ministry of Magic. The second exclamation was made by Hermione Granger in the tent when she makes the realization that the Sword of Godric Gryffindor can destroy Horcruxes. The Deathly Hallow known as the Resurrection Stone is also mentioned by Xenophilius Lovegood after Hermione reads aloud “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” I loved the animation which accompanied her narration, particularly the appearance of the Angel of Death who ascends to Heaven with the third brother at the tale’s conclusion. We have seen the Angel of Death in a Harry Potter film prior to this one, in the graveyard scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
I am eagerly looking forward to the Christian themes and imagery that inevitably will be present in the film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two. If you are interested in the topic of Christian symbolism, imagery, and themes in the Harry Potter series, please consider reading my book, The Lord of the Hallows, which is available from www.outskirtspress.com/thelordofthehallows.
Comments are welcome!