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The Hidden Key to Harry Potter

[The Hidden Key to Harry Potter] The Hidden Key to Harry Potter: Understanding the Meaning, Genius, and Popularity of Joanne Rowling's Harry Potter Novels
by John Granger
Zossima Press, 2003
Amazon.com: paperback
Amazon.ca: paperback
Amazon.co.uk: paperback
EdenStarBooks.com: paperback
Recommended by: Bill Bader

John Granger isn't the first to point out the Christian content of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. But his reasoning is by far the most in-depth. He uses a wide range of sources to back up his belief that the books are on an equal footing with Lewis' Narnia series and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. He goes beyond the obvious similarities and digs deeper into his sources to make it clear that the Potter books have a lot of good to offer, and no harm – except in the eyes of those who are looking for it. He discusses the strong similarities between Rowling and the Inklings, showing that she could have been an Inkling herself had she lived in a different era.

According to Granger, there is a substantial amount of oblique, Christian symbolism in the Potter books. The philosopher's stone (the UK title uses this term), red lion, unicorn, phoenix, stag, centaur, and hippogriff have all been used at various times in history to represent different aspects of Jesus Christ. Including Christian themes in literature is a tradition that Ms. Rowling is following. The Greats, from Shakespeare to Tolkien, have all done this. Yes, their books entertained and pleased their readers, but these books also served to instruct and edify their readers. They weren't simply ways to pass the time.

In addition, the books owe a large debt to such influences as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, the styles of Dickens, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky (the use of descriptive names, strong themes of love and death), Jane Austen (who, along with Dickens, emphasized morals and manners), the epic tradition (The Odyssey, The Aenead, The Divine Comedy), myth (King Arthur), fairy tales (Cinderella in particular), cathartic endings (Sophocles, Shakespeare, O. Henry, and Agatha Christie, among others) and many others. The significance is that all of these sources have been used to tell stories with deeper themes, such as good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, and so on. These are deep reads, not just the latest craze in juvenile fiction.

I assume that the list of recommended readings is the source materials that Mr. Granger used for his book. It's impressive. There are 46 sources cited under 5 broad headings: "Inklings", "Traditionalist", "The Church and Masculinity", "Classical and Traditional Christian Philosophy", and "Traditional Christianity."

He divides his book into four parts. The names of these sections, as well as the chapters they contain, tell a lot:

  1. "Taking Harry Seriously"
    Critical Response to Harry Potter
    Harry Potter 101, or the Maps and Influences Chapter
    Prejudice in Harry Potter
    Death and Bereavement in Harry Potter
  2. "The Secret of Harry Potter"
    Choice in Harry Potter
    Transfiguration, Transformation and Alchemical Transmutations in Harry Potter
    The Symbolist Outlook
    Story and Character Symbolism in Harry Potter
    Symbols of Christ in Harry Potter
    The Ironic Secret of Harry Potter
  3. "The Meaning of Harry Potter: a Book-by-Book Look"
    Each of these chapters gives 15-20 pages to an in-depth analysis of its book. There are also chapters dealing with the book titles and Harry's name.
  4. "What Will Happen with Harry?"
    This is the riskiest, but most fun, section. Mr. Granger speculates about the future of the series, as well as the so-far hidden natures of various characters, including the enigmatic Severus Snape, as well as others.

The chapters are too dense with information to summarize here, but they contain a lot of information that clearly supports Mr. Granger's main idea: these are Christian novels supporting a Christian worldview filled with Christian values. They aren't allegories so much as supposals (C. S. Lewis's term for his Narnia books.)

Ultimately, Mr. Granger presents a very persuasive case for viewing Harry as Christlike figure, showing his depth of character as he grows and learns (Luke 2:52 says, "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.") His position in the war between good and ultimate evil shows that he's no ordinary hero, but one who has depth and substance beyond the typical adolescent. His sacrifices, his willingness to place life above the law (in the first book, he breaks Hogwarts' rules to battle a troll, risking his life to save a friend. See John 15:13 "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.") At the end of every book, he is nearly killed, and yet he comes back from near-death to prevail. Sound familiar?

As far as traditional magic, witchcraft, and the occult are concerned, they have no place in the Potter books. Spells, etc. are formulas for telekinesis and do not depend on the invocation of spirits or other Biblically forbidden activities. One teacher at the school practices and instructs students in divination, tea leaf reading, and so on. She is presented as a buffoon: none of the faculty, and none of the students, take her seriously. She's a big laugh, nothing more.

While the editing could be a bit tighter, this book is a solid resource for Harry Potter fans who want to be able to defend the books and Rowling against untrue charges.

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