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Archive for the ‘C. S. Lewis’ Category

Here’s an update on the episodes of The Secrets of Harry Potter podcast that you may have missed.

SHP079 Astronomy in Harry Potter http://harrypotter.sqpn.com/2012/05/04/shp079-astronomy-in-harry-potter/

In this episode, recorded live during the 2012 SQPN podcast marathon, the team of The Secrets of Harry Potter discussed the connection between the Black Family tree and astronomy. We also discussed the star-gazing centaur prophets both in Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia.

Some links discussed during the show:

  • The Harry Potter Lexicon by Steve Vander Ark
  • J.K. Rowling announced her new book for adults, The Casual Vacancy, will be released worldwide on 27 September 2012. Click here to read more about it.
  • Pottermore is now open. All of us are on Pottermore, and if you want to add us, please click here to know our Pottermore usernames. Also, please let us know what you think of your Pottermore experience!
  • For fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, check out the upcoming movie, The Lion Awakes. You can also follow them on Twitter: @thelionawakes
  • We’re being promoted on a Tumblr blog, Harry Potter Celebration. We were featured the first week in April. Find them on Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter.

SHP078 An Interview with John Granger http://harrypotter.sqpn.com/2012/02/08/shp078-an-interview-with-john-granger/

Ari, Jim, Lyn, and I interviewed the “Hogwarts Professor” John Granger in this episode. We discussed Christian symbolism in Harry Potter, how John became a Harry Potter fan, the Christian culture war over Harry Potter, alchemical symbolism in the Harry Potter series, the ring structure of the Harry Potter series, alchemical symbolism in the works of C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, Charles Dickens, and Shakespeare, the structure and symbolism of Harry Potter as compared to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the “eye” symbols in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the cyclical nature of the Harry Potter series compared to the cyclical nature of the Church Year, the four layers of literary meaning, and much more. (We also discuss Twilight and The Hunger Games.) This is one of my favorite episodes of The Secrets of Harry Potter. Don’t miss it!

SHP077 Numbers in the Harry Potter World http://harrypotter.sqpn.com/2011/12/21/shp077-numbers-in-the-harry-potter-world/

In this episode, Jim, Bob, Lyn, Ari, and I discussed number symbolism in the Harry Potter universe. We compared the symbolism of the numbers 3, 7, and 12 in the Bible, Catholic Tradition, and in the Harry Potter series.

SHP076 Is Harry Potter a Christ/Messianic Figure? http://harrypotter.sqpn.com/2011/11/12/shp076-is-harry-potter-a-christmessianic-figure/

This is a controversial topic In Harry Potter scholarship. Listen to our debate/discussion and let us know what you think. Is Harry Potter a Christ Figure?

Many of the arguments that I presented in this episode can be found in my book The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter which can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Lord-Hallows-Christian-Symbolism/dp/1432741128.

Please leave feedback on each episode that you listen to in the comments section of the SHP blog. (The links for each episode are in this blog post.) We may read your feedback on an upcoming episode of our show.

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This is the fourth part of a series of blog posts entitled “Harry Potter and the Bestiary of Christ.” You may want to read parts 1-3 before reading this one.  

All the ancient peoples knew about the phoenix. The Israelites did, and the bird appears in the Bible at least once or twice.”–Mike Aquilina in Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols.

In my own nest I shall grow old; I shall multiply years like the phoenix.”–Job 29:18, translation favored by ancient rabbis.

Coin depicting a phoenix from Antioch, Syria, 4th century A. D.

 

Harry Potter and the Bestiary of Christ Part Four: Phoenix Rising

          In The Magician’s Nephew, C. S. Lewis described the guardian of the Tree of Life  as a majestic bird which was “larger than an eagle, its breast saffron, its head crested with scarlet, and its tail purple.” (MN 92) The reader can only wonder what sort of creature this majestic bird could be, for Lewis does not immediately tell us what type of bird serves as the guardian of the Apples of Immortality.

It is not until the final Narnia adventure that Lewis reveals that this creature is, in fact, a phoenix. (LB 764) As with the griffin, Lewis did not include the phoenix in his novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but film director Andrew Adamson’s version of the story includes the magnificent bird among the good creatures that fight for Narnia in Aslan’s army.

          The mythology of classical antiquity described the phoenix as a majestic bird which flew to foreign lands to gather fragrant herbs and spices to heap upon an altar, set fire to them, and then burn itself to ashes, only to rise from the pyre after three days time. The early Fathers of the Church logically saw this myth as a typological symbol of the death of Christ, who rose from the tomb on the third day.

          The phoenix was adapted by the early Christians as a symbol of the Resurrection as early as the first century A.D. Drawings of the creature appear amongst the Christian murals and “graffiti” that identify the tombs of the martyrs in the catacombs beneath the city of Rome. St.Clement of Rome, who was pope at the end of the first century, wrote of the legend of the phoenix in his First Letter to the Corinthians. He used the story of how the bird died and rose again as a new phoenix to explain the Resurrection of the Christian faithful which will occur at the end of time:

“Let us consider the strange sign which takes place in eastern lands, that is, in the regions near Arabia. There is a bird called the phoenix. It is the only one of its kind, and it lives for five hundred years. When the time for its dissolution in death approaches, it makes for itself a sepulcher of frankincense and myrrh and the other aromatics, into which, when the time is fulfilled, it enters and dies. From its decaying flesh a worm is born, which is nourished by the juices of the dead bird until it grows wings. Then, when it is strong, it takes up that sepulcher in which are the bones of the bird of former times, and carries them far from the land of Arabia to the city of Heliopolis in Egypt; and there, in the daytime, in the sight of all, it flies to the altar of the sun where it places them; and then it starts back to its former home. The priests then inspect the records of the times and find that it has come at the completion of the five hundredth year. Do we, then, consider it a great and wonderful thing that the Creator of the universe will bring about the resurrection of those who have served Him in holiness and in the confidence of good faith, when He demonstrates the greatness of His promise even through a bird?”—from the First Letter to the Corinthians by St. Clement of Rome, 80 A. D. (Jurgens 8-9)

 

Phoenix depicted in a detail of a floor mosaic from Daphne, Syria, late 5th century.

 

 The Medieval bestiaries compared the phoenix, with the power to lay down his life and take it up again, to Jesus Christ. Like the lion, griffin, unicorn, and stag, the phoenix is a Christ symbol.

Pagans saw the phoenix as a symbol of the immortality of the human soul. In Mesopotamian and Egyptian art, this was symbolized by a winged solar disk, a depiction of the sun with wings.

It is possible that this image had some influence on the Old Testament prophet Malachi who wrote: “…the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings.” (Malachi 4:2, KJV) The Sun of Righteousness or Sun of Justice referred to by Malachi was later thought by the early Christians to be the Son of Righteousness or the Son of Justice who rises, that is, Jesus Christ the Resurrected Son. The image of the sun with wings was a symbol of the immortality of the soul, a symbol of resurrection which was also portrayed by the phoenix. We have seen the symbol of the winged solar disk portrayed as a physical object in Harry Potter’s world: it is the Golden Snitch.

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in the chapter entitled “The Will of Albus Dumbledore,” the professor leaves Harry the first snitch he ever caught in a Quidditch match. The snitch is marked with the words, “I open at the close.” When Harry goes to face his death at the climax of the novel, he opens the Golden Snitch to find the Deathly Hallow known as the Resurrection Stone hidden inside of it. Thus, Rowling has presented the readers with one resurrection symbol (the stone) hidden inside of another (the winged solar disk).

"I Open at the Close" fan art by Gold Seven.

Harry is most fond of his holly and phoenix feather wand, which he chose over the all-powerful Elder Wand at the end of book seven. It contains one tail feather from Dumbledore’s pet phoenix, Fawkes, as its power source. The wand is made of holly, and like its phoenix-feather core, the wood is symbolic also. Holly is said to be one of the plants used to make the Crown of Thorns. Another legend claims that it was used as the wood of the Cross of Calvary. Holly was thought to provide protection from lightning and to ward off evil spirits. Its evergreen leaves symbolize eternal life. Christian legends claim that holly berries were originally white but they were stained red by the Blood of Christ after he was crowned with thorns. Holly was also associated with Christmas because of a tale describing how the holly tree grew leaves out of season in order to hide Jesus, Mary, and Joseph from King Herod’s soldiers. For this reason, it is miraculously evergreen. In the Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum, in the unicorn tapestry entitled “The Unicorn is Killed and Brought to the Castle,” a holly tree grows behind the creature’s head, reminding the viewer that the unicorn is a symbol of Christ.

In fact, holly appears in all but the first and last of the Cloisters’ unicorn tapestries and in all six of the unicorn tapestries in the Cluny Museum’s collection. The holly and phoenix feather wand was an important clue about Harry’s destiny that has been present from the first book onward.

The symbolism of the phoenix has been important throughout the series. Harry met Fawkes, Dumbledore’s pet phoenix, in the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Fawkes saved Harry’s life by crying healing tears to heal a mortal wound Harry received from the deadly basilisk. The tears of a phoenix are the only known cure for the basilisk’s poisonous venom.

Fawkes’s song gave Harry renewed strength and courage in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when the young hero had to face Voldemort in the flesh during the wizard’s duel in the churchyard. Dumbledore’s patronus is a phoenix, and the name of the Anti-Voldemort league that Dumbledore established is called “The Order of the Phoenix.” All of the good adult wizards that Harry admires—Dumbledore, McGonagall, Hagrid, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, Tonks, Mad-Eye Moody, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley—are members of the new Order of the Phoenix. Harry’s deceased parents, James and Lily, along with Ron’s deceased uncles, Gideon and Fabian Prewett, and Neville’s parents, Frank and Alice Longbottom, were all members of the original Order of the Phoenix during the First Voldemort War.

We even witness Fawkes the Phoenix saving Dumbledore’s life when Voldemort tries to use Avada Kedavra, the Death Curse, to defeat him: “Fawkes swooped down in front of Dumbledore, opened his beak wide, and swallowed the jet of green light whole.” (OP 815) Only the phoenix, like Christ, could take the curse of death upon himself and rise again in glory, unharmed. From the earliest days of Christianity, the phoenix was a symbol of the believer’s hope of Resurrection at the end of the world. Its ascension into the heavens, like that of the eagle, symbolized the soul’s desire for union with God.

At the funeral which concludes the sixth book, Harry saw smoke rising from the white flames around Dumbledore’s body, and “Harry thought, for one heart-stopping moment, that he saw a phoenix fly joyfully into the blue.” (HBP 645)

“If resurrection is proved by means of an irrational bird…  why do they foolishly dismiss our claims, when we profess that He who has the power to create everything out of nothing, also has the power to restore the human body, and raise it up again after its decay?”–Apostolic Constitutions, Syria, mid-fourth century.

Please subscribe to this blog so that you don’t miss the next installment of “Harry Potter and the Bestiary of Christ,” which is entitled “Weasley Is Our King.” If you would like to order a copy of  my book, The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, it can be obtained from www.outskirtspress.com/thelordofthehallows.

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This post is the third part of a series which began here in part one, a discussion of the lion, eagle, griffin, serpent, basilisk, and badger: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2011/06/19/harry-potter-and-the-bestiary-of-christ-part-one/ and continued here, with a discussion of the unicorn: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2011/06/19/harry-potter-and-the-bestiary-of-christ-part-two/. Now on to the third installment…

The Hunting of the White Stag

          A Christ symbol that is closely related to the unicorn is the stag, whose earliest representation in Christian art can be found in the Roman catacombs and in baptismal font designs and basilica altar mosaics of subsequent periods.  It appeared as a Christ symbol in bestiaries, stories of the lives of the saints, and in medieval romances, such as the Queste del Saint Graal, where the stag served as a guide toward the object of the quest, the Holy Grail.

P. M. Matarasso's translation of The Quest for the Holy Grail (Queste del Saint Graal)

           The stag appeared as a symbol of Christ in the story of St. Eustace. This saint, like C. S. Lewis’s fictional character Eustace Scrubb in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, experienced a miraculous conversion.

Narnia' s Eustace Scrubb, like St. Eustace, experienced a life-changing conversion.

 The pagan Eustace was a Roman general who enjoyed hunting. On one hunting expedition, Eustace tracked a stag through the woods and prepared to kill the magnificent creature. Just as Eustace was ready to slay the majestic stag, a miraculous vision appeared to the hunter: a vision of Christ crucified appeared between the stag’s antlers. The hunter was converted to Christianity on the spot.  A similar tale of a hunter who converted due to a miraculous vision is in the story of St. Hubert. While out hunting on Good Friday the future saint encountered a stag with a crucifix between its antlers. A voice spoke to him from where the stag was. It asked why Hubert was pursuing him, and Hubert realized he had been searching for Christ for many years, and had finally found him. Hubert was converted at that moment. St. Hubert’s desire to find Christ was a thirst for God that manifests symbolically as a stag. This symbol of the soul’s thirst for God is derived from Psalm 42:1 (NRSV), “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”

          Because of the stag’s longing for streams of water described in the Book of Psalms, it became associated with the soul’s desire for purification through Baptism.

                   Just as the deer devours the snake,

                   Then rushes off his thirst to slake,

                   Lets spring the venom wash away,

                   So all is well, can Christian say,

                   For he is saved, sin’s trace is lost,

                   When in baptismal font he’s washed. (Biedermann 93)

This explains why the relief-work on many old baptismal fonts often includes representations of deer. Mosaics in some European churches, such as the mosaic above the altar in Rome’s Basilica of Saint Clement, sometimes depict a doe or stag drinking the water of life from the running stream described in Psalm 42. 

Stags drinking from the waters of life-detail from the mosaic above the altar of the Basilica of St. Clement in Rome. I visited this beautiful church when I toured Italy in 2008.

Early Christian texts such as Physiologus describe the deer as spitting water into every crevice in which poisonous snakes hide, then trampling on them, just as Christ strikes at the Devil with the heavenly water of Baptism. (Biedermann 92) The stag was thus seen as the symbol of the triumphant Christ. When a stag’s antlers break, they regenerate, and for this reason the stag became a symbol of the Resurrection as well.

Other ancient lore associated the stag with the discovery of dittany, a miraculous herb that cures all wounds. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Hermione carries a bottle of the essence of dittany to cure the wounds of her injured companions during their quest to destroy the Horcruxes. This miraculous liquid is mentioned first in Chapter 14 when Hermione heals the bleeding Ron Weasley, who has splinched himself while apparating. Hermione also uses dittany to heal Harry when he has been bitten by the snake Nagini in Chapter 17. In Cavallo’s The Unicorn Tapestries, the author quotes from Margaret L. Freeman’s book of the same title in the appendix, where it says, “Stags can shake off any arrows which they have received if they partake of the herb called dittany.” (Cavallo 119) J. K. Rowling must have had some knowledge of this ancient lore of dittany because she made great use of it in Deathly Hallows.

Hermione used dittany on Ron's splinch wound to save his life in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

In the Medieval religious story, The Quest for the Holy Grail, the Knights Galahad, Percival, and Bors were riding through the forest when they encountered a white hart escorted by four lions. The three knights followed the white hart, and it lead them to a chapel where the Mass was being sung. Inside the little church the four lions transformed into the four living creatures that symbolize the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), and the stag transformed into a man enthroned, Jesus Christ. The priest explained the symbolism of the miracle that the knights had witnessed. It is only after they have had the vision of the transformation of the white stag that they are able to find the Holy Grail. (Matarasso 243-245)

The knights Perceval, Bors, and Galahad were led to the Grail Hallows by a white stag. Galahad, a character who is himself a Christ-figure, is clad in the Eucharistic colors of red and white, and is shown kneeling among the white lillies, which are symbolic of his purity. An angel holds the legendary Grail Hallow known as the Spear of Destiny.

 In The Grail: Quest for the Eternal, John Matthews explains the symbolism of the white stag with relationship to the Holy Grail quest:

To reach the temple of the Grail, the knights who set out from Camelot must undergo many tests and experience terrible ordeals. But often, when the way seems darkest, the enigmatic white stag or hermit figure appears, to lead them forward through the mazes of forest and hill. In medieval iconography the stag was identified with Christ and the soul’s thirst for God, which accounts for its appearance in this context. (Matthews 88)

          In C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the author made use of the same symbolism that is found in the Grail legends. When Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie followed the white stag they were able to re-enter the wardrobe to return home to England. Recall the symbolism of the stag and the running stream in the book of Psalms which signifies the soul’s thirst for union with God. The Pevensies’ s quest for the White Stag is symbolic of the soul’s search for Christ, a search that will eventually lead the seeker further up and further in to his or her true home. This parallels the story of the knights who follow the white stag to find Christ and the Grail.

The stag appears in Harry Potter’s world as a symbol of his father. “Prongs” was the nickname given to Harry’s father James, an animagus who could transform himself into a stag. In the third novel Rowling spoke to her readership through Dumbledore, who told Harry (and us) that the ones who love us never truly leave us, not even in death. When Harry suffered from attacks from soul-sucking Dementors in The Prisoner of Azkaban, he had to learn how to conjure a patronus to protect himself. The words “Expecto Patronum!” translate as “I expect a protector!” and protection arrived in the form of a luminous, graceful four-hoofed animal, which Harry initially mistakes for a unicorn. (PA 385) It is a luminous stag, the form his father once took when he was alive, and the brilliant patronus, like a guardian angel providing protection, drove away the darkness and despair of the Dementors. Harry’s protector is a stag, which like the unicorn, is a symbol of Christ.

Harry's stag patronus. His protector is a Christ symbol.

The stag’s female counterpart is the doe. Just as the Knights of the Grail and heroes of Narnia followed the white stag, our hero must follow the silver doe in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. “The Silver Doe” is one of the most beautiful chapters in the novel:

A bright silver light appeared right ahead of him, moving through the trees. Whatever the source, it was moving soundlessly. The light seemed simply to drift toward him.

He jumped to his feet, his voice frozen in his throat, and raised Hermione’s wand. He screwed up his eyes as the light became blinding, the trees in front of it pitch-black in silhouette, and still the thing came closer…

And then the source of the light stepped out from behind an oak. It was a silver doe, moon-bright and dazzling, picking her way over the ground, still silent, and leaving no hoofprints in the fine powdering of snow. She stepped toward him, her beautiful head with its wide, long-lashed eyes held high. (DH 365-366)

"The Silver Doe" fan art by Harry_Potter_Spain.

Just as King Arthur’s knights followed the White Stag to find the Holy Grail, Harry followed the Silver Doe into the dark forest. The luminous creature led Harry to a frozen pool where, beneath the ice, lies a shape like “A great silver cross.” (DH 367, emphasis mine) The Silver Doe had lead Harry to the Sword of Godric Gryffindor, which lay trapped beneath the frozen water.

The Sword of Gryffindor lay like "a great silver cross" beneath the surface of the frozen forest pool.

Harry, wearing the locket of Slytherin Horcrux, dove into the frozen pool and was nearly drowned by the evil power of the Horcrux. Ron’s dramatic return to rescue Harry and destroy the locket occurred in a chapter filled with the imagery of baptism and words of reconciliation between the two best friends.

Please subscribe to this blog so that you don’t miss the next installment of “Harry Potter and the Bestiary of Christ,” which is entitled “Phoenix Rising.” If you would like to order a copy of  my book, The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, it can be obtained from www.outskirtspress.com/thelordofthehallows.

If you are wondering what other connections can be made between the quest for the Grail Hallows and the quest for the Deathly Hallows, you should read this blog post: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/09/26/the-deeper-meaning-of-the-quest-for-the-deathly-hallows/ You might also like https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/04/30/melissa-anelli-and-j-k-rowling-interview/. Comments are welcome! 🙂

 

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On an upcoming  episode of SQPN’s “Secrets of Harry Potter” podcast, we will be discussing chapter four of The Lord of the Hallows, entitled “Harry Potter and The Bestiary of Christ.” This week, I am posting excerpts from that chapter. Here’s the first installment.

“There might be eagles. There might be stags…”

Badgers!” said Lucy.

—conversation between Peter and Lucy Pevensie in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (LWW 112, emphasis mine.)

            In addition to the themes of free will, life after death, the immortality of the soul, and the power of love and self-sacrifice, the Harry Potter novels are rich in symbolism derived from ancient and Medieval folklore and legends. A wealth of information on Christian symbolism relevant to Harry Potter can be found in The Bestiary of Christ by Louis Charbonneau-Lassay.

This book was published in French in 1940 and in English in the early 1990’s. Much of the information in this book is a compilation of various Medieval bestiaries, which were treatises on animals and what they symbolized. Bestiaries were highly imaginative popular literature in Medieval times and were used to teach moral lessons and Christian theology. Some of the animal symbols in this book which are used in the Harry Potter novels include the lion, the serpent, the unicorn, the stag, the phoenix, the basilisk, and the weasel, among others. Our examination of animals used as symbols in the novels will begin with a closer look at the mascots of the four Hogwarts houses: the Slytherin serpent, the Gryffindor lion, the Ravenclaw eagle, and the Hufflepuff badger.

The Symbolism of the Four Houses

            During Harry’s first year at Hogwarts he is introduced to the Sorting Hat ceremony, a yearly ritual at the school in which the new students are sorted into one of four different houses, each house named after the four founders of Hogwarts: Salazaar Slytherin, Godric Gryffindor, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Helga Hufflepuff. The hat sings a song to explain the qualities that the four founders of Hogwarts were seeking when selecting students for his or her house:

 

            You might belong in Gryffindor

            Where dwell the brave at heart,

            Their daring, nerve, and chivalry

            Set Gryffindors apart;

            You might belong in Hufflepuff;

            Where they are just and loyal,

            Those patient Hufflepuffs are true

            And unafraid of toil;

            Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,

            If you’ve a ready mind,

            Where those of wit and learning,

            Will always find their kind;

            Or perhaps in Slytherin

            You’ll make your real friends,

            Those cunning folk use any means

            To achieve their ends. (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, page 118)

            The conflict of good versus evil at Hogwarts focuses on the enmity between two houses that are always in direct opposition to each other: Gryffindor and Slytherin. Harry Potter, our heroic Gryffindor, is a model of what this house stands for: chivalry and courage. Draco Malfoy, Harry’s Slytherin arch-rival, is also a model of his house’s ideals: ambition and pure-blood supremacy. Even the two characters names reveal their allegiances.  Likewise, Professor Albus Dumbledore, a Gryffindor, and Lord Voldemort, the Heir of Slytherin, have names that were carefully chosen for their symbolic meaning.

Harry’s name could be thought of as the verb “to harry.” The term “to be harried” means to be harassed or distressed by repeated attacks,” as when Harry is harried by the many attempts Voldemort has made to kill him. The name Potter has symbolic meaning derived from the Bible, where God is referred to as a “potter,” as in Isaiah 64:8: “But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we are all the work of thy hand.” (KJV) Other references to God as the “potter” can be found in Jeremiah 18:5-6 and Romans 9:20-21.

Harry, Hermione, and Ron are in Gryffindor House, the House of the Lion. Their friend Luna is in Ravenclaw House, but here Luna is showing her support for her friends on the Gryffindor Quidditch team by wearing her unique lion hat.

The name Albus Dumbledore means “white bumblebee.” An alb is the white garment worn by a Catholic priest, and dumbledor is an archaic word that means bumblebee. Tolkien made use of this word in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil in “Errantry,” a poem which tells of a diminutive hero who vanquished the giant insects in battle. (Tolkien Reader 214) According to the Bestiary of Christ, the bumblebee was a symbol of the soul’s survival after death. The bee disappears in winter and reappears in the spring, thus becoming a signifier of the Resurrection.

"Dumbledore means 'bumblebee' in old English and JKR said that she liked to think of him walking down the corridors, humming to himself, so I thought I'd draw him humming away to the first spring bumblebee."--fan artist penguin2006

Draco Malfoy, on the other hand, has a name that has very negative connotations. Draco is the Latin word for “dragon” or “serpent,” both traditional Biblical symbols of Satan, most notably the serpent who tempted Eve in the book of Genesis and the serpent described in Revelation 20:2, “…the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan…” (KJV) The surname Malfoy can be thought of as the French mal foi, which translates as “bad faith,” so Draco Malfoy’s name literally means “Dragon of Bad Faith” or “Serpent of Bad Faith.”

Draco Malfoy's Dark Mark.

            The most extensive serpent imagery associated with any one character in the novels is that imagery which surrounds the supreme villain, Lord Voldemort. He is a descendant of Salazaar Slytherin, the founder of Slytherin House. He, like his ancestor, is a parselmouth who can speak to snakes. Voldemort has a hairless, snake-like appearance, having two slit-like nostrils instead of a human nose.

Voldemort

His loyal minions, the Death Eaters, are each identified by the Dark Mark, a distinctive snake and skull tattoo. This is a symbol from Christian art: the skull and serpent are often depicted at the foot of the Cross of Calvary. The skull represents death, the punishment for the sin of Adam, and it is symbolic of the fallen nature of mankind. According to Jewish legend, Adam’s burial place was at Golgotha, the “place of the skull.” The skull at the foot of the cross was there to represent Adam’s skull, and the serpent was present as an allusion to Satan, the great tempter in the Garden of Eden who brought about the fall of mankind.

In this depiction of the Crucifixion by Fra Angelico, the skull of Adam is present at the foot of the cross.

As the teenager Tom Riddle, Voldemort opened the Chamber of Secrets and unleashed the great serpent, the basilisk, upon the Hogwarts School. The basilisk, or cockatrice, is another symbol of Satan which is mentioned in Isaiah 14:29 (KJV): “Out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a cockatrice and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.”  In The Bestiary of Christ, the basilisk is described as a symbol of Satanic evil. This is mentioned in a description of a little country church that was decorated with “the image of a knight on foot striking a helmeted basilisk with his sword. It is the struggle between Good and Evil, so often and variously depicted, and could be seen as Christ fighting with Satan.” (Bestiary 423) This imagery is found in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in the chapter that describes how Harry used the Sword of Godric Gryffindor to slay the basilisk.

The name Godric means “power of God,” reminding us that the Christian, like Harry, will not be abandoned in his or her fight with the Great Serpent. We have the “power of God” on our side in our conflict with the Dragon. Also note that the surname Gryffindor can be thought of as the French griffin d’or which means “griffin of gold.”  The griffin, according to the bestiaries, is a symbol of Christ because of its dual nature: it is both lion and eagle, just as Christ is both God and Man. The eagle is a creature of the heavens, symbolizing the divine nature of Christ, and the lion is a creature of the earth, representing Christ the Man. The griffin’s mastery of the earth and sky came to be associated with Christ’s Ascension. The griffin was, through its association with Jesus Christ, thought to be the enemy of serpents and basilisks who, as previously mentioned, are symbolic of the Devil.

Griffins from the recent film adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

The eagle, mascot of Ravenclaw House, was a symbol of Baptism because the ancients believed the eagle’s life was renewed by plunging itself three times into a body of water, hence its depiction on Christian baptismal fonts. The eagle was often depicted as a slayer of serpents in many cultures, and thus viewed as an enemy of Satan. Its ability to soar to great heights was associated with Christ’s Ascension, as well as with St. John, the evangelist who was considered to be the most “intellectual” of the four gospel authors. This association of the high-flying eagle with great intellectual acumen may be the reason J.K. Rowling made it the mascot for Ravenclaw, whose motto is “Wit beond measure is man’s greatest treasure.” The eagles in Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have a brief but important role, used symbolically to represent Divine Providence or Divine Intervention.

"The Eagles are Coming" by fantasy artist Michael Whelan depicts the rescue of Frodo and Sam in The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien

That the Gryffindor mascot is a lion is not surprising; the lion is a Biblical symbol of Christ and a symbol of the Resurrection.  In Revelation 5:5 Jesus is referred to as “the lion of the Tribe of Judah.” The lion was also a symbol of the Resurrection to the early and medieval Christians because it was believed that lion’s cubs were born dead. When the cubs were three days old, the father lion breathed on them and brought them to life, just as Christ lay in the tomb for three days before the Resurrection. This same symbolism of Christ the Lion is used by C. S. Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia. The character of Aslan is a magnificent lion and a literary “Christ figure” who sacrifices himself to save the life of a human traitor. He is gloriously resurrected due to the workings of “Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time.” We know that Jo Rowling read and loved this story as a child, and I believe that Lewis’s Narnian Chronicles had an influence on the plot and symbolism of the entire Harry Potter series.

Aslan's dramatic resurrection in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

Perhaps that is why Aslan’s colors are associated with Gryffindor House: Peter Pevensie’s shield was decorated with a red lion rampant, and his sword had a golden hilt. (LWW 160) Aslan’s army had tents of crimson and yellow, with banners depicting the red lion. (LWW 168) The colors of Gryffindor House are, of course, red and gold.

High King Peter, a knight of Narnia clad in Aslan's colors.

J.K. Rowling’s description of the Hufflepuff dormitories will seem familiar to fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: There are “little underground tunnels leading to the dormitories, all of which have perfectly round doors, like barrel tops,” she said in the Bloomsbury live online chat on July 30, 2007. This description sounds remarkably like the description Tolkien gave of Bilbo Baggins’ home, a comfortable hobbit hole called Bag End. Bilbo’s home is a cozy, luxurious tunnel-like construction with perfectly round doors.

Gandalf visits Bag End in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Hufflepuff House is known for the virtues of loyalty and hard work, and is represented by a badger mascot. Perhaps a Narnian influence can be detected here as well: in Lewis’ Prince Caspian the badger Trufflehunter is one of the Old Narnians that aids Caspian in the war with the wicked usurper, King Miraz. Trufflehunter the Badger is loyal to Aslan even in the darkest of times. Trufflehunter’s faith in the Great Lion remains strong, even when many other Narnians have ceased to believe. Likewise, there are many Hufflepuff students who are loyal to Harry: some are members of Dumbledore’s Army, and many more are among the large number of Hufflepuff students who stand alongside the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws who fight to defend the castle in the Battle of Hogwarts.

Loyal as a badger: Trufflehunter was known for his loyalty to Aslan in Chronicles of Narnia. Loyalty is also a virtue that the members of Hufflepuff House are known to display.
 Please subscribe to this blog so that you don’t miss the next installment of “Harry Potter and the Bestiary of Christ,” which is entitled “The Slaying of the Unicorn.” If you would like to order a copy of The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter by Denise Roper, the book can be obtained from www.outskirtspress.com/thelordofthehallows.

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Here it is! The Secrets of Harry Potter Episode #63–“Christmas at Hogwarts” is now available for download. (You can listen to this podcast on your computer’s speakers if you don’t have an ipod.)

http://secrets.sqpn.com/2010/12/23/shp-63-christmas-at-hogwarts/

The blog post that we were discussing is this one: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/christmas-in-harry-potter-and-the-deathly-hallows/ You can refer to it so see the photos of the Deathly Hallows film set that we were discussing.

Jim, Ari, Maria, Lyn, and I recorded this episode on Wednesday morning. Let me know what you think of it! 🙂

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I just read a fascinating interview with Daivd C. Downing, the author of the Inklings novel Looking for the King. His comments on C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Charles Williams are very insightful and exhibit Mr. Downing’s great knowledge of the Inklings’ personalities, interests, and other biographical information. I really love what he had to say about the quest for the Spear of Destiny and the theme of renunciation in The Lord of the Rings:

DOWNING: The spear of Longinus (the traditional name given to the soldier who thrust his lance into Christ’s side) is only one of many ancient artifacts associated with the Crucifixion. But it has a special aura about it because of its alleged powers. It is said that the Emperor Constantine claimed to have the spear, given to him by his mother Helena after her famous pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Legend has it that Constantine boasted he would never lose a battle so long as he possessed the spear. After that, all the conquerors seemed to lay claim to it.

Charlemagne said he had the spear, adding that it always brought him victory and even allowed him to read the thoughts of his enemies. As the fabled lance came to be known as the Spear of Destiny, it is said that both Napoleon and Hitler tried to lay their hands on it — though accounts differ widely about the veracity of these claims.

But if the Spear is seen as a talisman of power, that would make it almost the opposite of “Christ-centered.” Christ emptied himself of power on the cross, refusing to call down legions of angels to come to his aid. As Tolkien suggests in his Lord of the Rings epic, perhaps the truly Christ-like act is not to seek out such power, but to renounce it. That is a question I try to explore in Looking for the King.

Renunciation of power as a primary theme in The Lord of the Rings has intrigued me ever since I read Rendel Helms’ explanation of it in Tolkien’s World. Nearly all of Tolkien’s most noble, heroic, and admirable characters are tempted by the Ring (or some other type of power), and they exhibit their true worthiness by renouncing it. In the novel and in the films, we see that Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Aragorn, Galadriel,and  Faramir are all tempted by the power of the Ring and all of them exhibit great moral courage and strength of character by renouncing it. Another example of renunciation in The Lord of the Rings is when Eowyn renounces her “love” for Aragorn when she finally realizes her first desire was for honor and glory as a warrior and then afterwards, her desire was for power as the wife of a king. She then confesses that she no longer wants to be the Queen of Gondor when she finds true love with the humble steward, Faramir. The depressed and lonely Eowyn finds true love and happiness only when she renounces the selfishness of honor, glory, and the tempatations of power.

This Christian theme of renunciation is also found in the Harry Potter series. In the first novel of the series, Harry is able to take the Philospher’s Stone from its hiding place in the Mirror of Erised because he only wants to stop Voldemort from using it to obtain an immortal body. Harry has no desire to use the Stone for himself and gladly renounces the temptation to use it to obtain as much life and wealth as anyone could ever want. In the seventh novel Harry renounces two of the Deathly Hallows: the most powerful wand ever made–the Wand of Destiny–along with the Resurrection Stone. The uncanny similarities between the Wand of Destiny and the Spear of Destiny are described in my book, The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.

I also agreed with David C. Downing’s remarks about the recent controversial opinion voiced by actor Liam Neeson with regards to who or what Aslan represents in The Chronicles of Narnia.

LOPEZ: Could Narnia’s Aslan be Mohammed, as Liam Neeson recently suggested?

DOWNING: Neeson is a fine actor, but he is not a theologian or a Lewis scholar. Of course, Mohammed said he was a prophet of Allah; he did not claim to be divine himself. So the analogy doesn’t really work.

 I suppose what was meant is that Aslan could represent the God of any religion. That is high-minded and well-intentioned, but it doesn’t do justice to the Chronicles. You can pick up just about any guide to the Narnia books to discover how deeply rooted they are in Lewis’s Christian faith. In my book Into the Wardrobe, I argue that the Chronicles constitute Lewis’s Summa Theologica, the fullest and most comprehensive expression of his Christian worldview.

I wouldn’t presume to give Mr. Neeson any tips about acting. And I think he would do well to avoid any politically correct but puzzling remarks about the spiritual foundations of the Chronicles.

You can read the entire interview with David C. Downing here:  http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/255485/thinking-and-believing-interview?page=1

Also, I’d like to recommend this blog post to Christian fans of The Lord of the Rings. This is a link to a blog post about Samwise Gamgee made by my friend and fellow author Michelle Weston: http://www.mbwestonblog.com/2010/12/somewhat-daily-inspirations-i-am-samwise.html

Comments are welcome! 🙂

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I’ll be a guest on the next episode of “The Secrets of Harry Potter,” SQPN’s Harry Potter podcast. The topic of the show is “Christmas,” so with that in mind, I decided to share part of one of my lectures on Christian symbolism in the Harry Potter series with those of you who follow this blog.

Early in the chapter called “Godric’s Hollow,” Harry’s despair is overwhelming:

They had discovered one Horcrux, but they had no means of destroying it: The others were as unattainable as they had ever been. Hopelessness threatened to engulf him. (Hallows 313)

But it is when Harry begins to lose hope in the chapter entitled “Godric’s Hollow” that Rowling uses the strongest Christian imagery in the series thus far. Harry sees the “little church whose stained-glass windows were glowing jewel-bright” and hears the sound of Christmas carols which “grew louder as they approached the church. It made Harry’s throat constrict, it reminded him so forcefully of Hogwarts.” (Hallows 323-324)

The stained glass window design from the book Harry Potter Film Wizardry

Christ the King is depicted along with the Four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Notice the four angels hovering and the descending dove of the Holy Spirit.

      

   Then, as Harry and Hermione walk through the churchyard, they discover the gravestones of Kendra and Ariana Dumbledore, and of James and Lily Potter. The fact that these tombs are found in a churchyard means that the wizard and witches buried there were laid to rest in hallowed ground, which means the Dumbledores and the Potters were given a Christian burial.

 That James and Lily may have belonged to a church or believed in the Christian religion isn’t such a radical idea as some might think. In a 2004 interview at the Edinburgh Book Festival, J. K. Rowling was asked if Harry Potter has a godmother. Her response was:

“No, he doesn’t. I have thought this through. If Sirius had married…Sirius was too busy being a rebel to get married. When Harry was born, it was at the very height of Voldemort fever last time so his christening was a very hurried, quiet affair with just Sirius, just the best friend. At that point it looked as if the Potters would have to go into hiding so obviously they could not do the big christening thing and invite lots of people. Sirius was the only [godparent], unfortunately.”

In this interview, Rowling revealed that Harry was christened, meaning that he was baptized as an infant. Further proof that the Dumbledores and the Potters may have held Christian beliefs can be found in the quotations from the New Teastament which are inscribed on their grave markers.

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. (Hallows 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)

This passage warns against storing up earthly treasures, as Voldemort did by using valuable objects such as Slytherin’s ring and locket, Hufflepuff’s cup, and Ravenclaw’s diadem to create Horcruxes in attempt to cheat death and gain physical immortality. In his youth, Dumbledore did something similar by seeking the earthly treasures known as the Deathly Hallows in order to become the master of death. Unlike Voldemort, Dumbledore learned that earthly treasures can be lost or stolen. He learned not to try to escape from death, but to embrace it. Dumbledore learns that the only immortality worth having is not in this life, but in the life one receives after death.  In the graveyard scene, Harry has the notion that Albus Dumbledore may have chosen the inscription on Kendra and Ariana’s tomb himself. What we know of his experiences seems to indicate that he did.

          Later in this chapter, Harry reads the writing on his parents’ grave markers, encountering the second Bible quote Rowling used in the novel:

                   The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

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.” (Hallows 328)

Indeed, Hermione’s interpretation is closer to the truth than Harry’s. The Bible verse quoted here is St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, verse 26. Paul wrote to the Corinthians about Christ’s resurrection being an indicator that Christ’s followers would also be resurrected. In the Resurrection, death would truly be destroyed, and the faithful will “live beyond death” as Hermione described it.

Before they leave the churchyard, Hermione conjures a wreath of Christmas roses to lay upon the tomb of James and Lily. According to the tradition of Christian symbolism, the Christmas Rose is a symbol of the Nativity. The symbolism of the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus can also be found in the monument of the Potter family, a memorial sculpture that depicts James, Lily, and the infant Harry.

          This hauntingly beautiful chapter takes place on Christmas Eve. In the works of Lewis and Tolkien, the significance of Christmas cannot be overlooked. The four protagonists in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe receive gifts, weapons they will need to fight against the White Witch, from Father Christmas. They learn that Aslan is on the move and the White Witch’s reign over Narnia is soon to end.

The timeline that Tolkien devised for The Lord of the Rings shows that the nine heroes of The Fellowship of the Ring departed from Rivendell on December 25th. This was the beginning of their quest to destroy the One Ring , an event that would result in the downfall of the dark lord Sauron. According to Tolkien, Middle-earth’s future is our past and present. Tolkien chose the December 25th date to foreshadow that in Middle-Earth’s future, the Incarnation would occur that day, an event that marked the beginning of the end of mankind’s enslavement to sin and the defeat of Satan.

          The White Witch and Sauron are the “Satans” of the fictional universes they inhabit. If they knew that the events occurring at Christmastime would lead to their destruction, we could surmise that these adversaries would cry out in rage at their impending doom.

          On page 342, Harry and Hermione, disguised as a middle aged couple, make a narrow escape from the trap set for them by Voldemort.

And then his scar burst open and he was Voldemort and he was running across the fetid bedroom, his long white hands clutching at the windowsill as he glimpsed the bald man and the little woman twist and vanish, and he screamed with rage, a scream that mingled with the girl’s, that echoed across the dark gardens over the church bells ringing in Christmas Day…

Voldemort’s wail of frustration, piercing the cold night air at just the very moment the church bells proclaimed the birth of Christ, reminds me of an English Christmas tradition.

An old Christmas Eve custom called ringing the Devil’s Knell, persists in the town of Dewsbury in Yorkshire. The practice sprang up around the folk belief that the Devil dies each year at the moment when Christ is born. The Church bells still toll on Christmas Eve in Dewsbury announcing the Devil’s demise. [This is a quote from The Encyclopedia of Christmas byTanya Gulevich, page 183.]

This tradition is also found in Ireland.

Many believed spirits walked abroad on Christmas Eve and deemed it wiser not to venture outdoors after dark. About an hour before midnight, church bells all over Ireland began to ring. This tolling, known as “the Devil’s funeral” or the Devil’s Knell, announced the death of the Devil, who was believed to expire annually on Christmas Eve with the birth of Jesus Christ. (Gulevich 286)

Harry had escaped from being murdered by Voldemort once again, not on the Eve of All Hallows, but on Christmas, the holiest night of the year. Rowling brilliantly sounded the Devil’s Knell in triumphant counterpoint to the Dark Lord’s scream of rage: this event heralds the beginning of Harry’s triumph and serves as a warning to the Dark Lord that his days are numbered.

          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” (Hallows 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.– Peter Kreeft    

      

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.

          In terms of Christian symbolism, this chapter gives us two sacramental images, baptism (Ron, like John the Baptist, draws Harry up from the water) and reconciliation (Ron is truly sorry for abandoning Harry and is forgiven by him).

If you liked this post, you can read more about this topic in The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, which is available from www.outskirtspress.com/thelordofthehallows.

The “Secrets of Harry Potter” podcast’s Christmas episode will be recorded on Wednesday morning, and I’ll be a guest on the show. Please watch this blog for updates about this new episode. 🙂 Meanwhile, here’s SHP’s review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One: http://secrets.sqpn.com/2010/11/26/shp-62-deathly-hallows-part-i-movie-review/ Enjoy!

Please comment on this post. I’d love to hear your thoughts about Christmas in all seven of the Harry Potter novels. 🙂

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