"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Community in Harry Potter

WARNING: There be spoilers ahead!

Community seemed to me the best word to describe the idea of relationship as explored in the Harry Potter series. At the basic level of community, the novels are about an "invisible" society (community) consisting of those who have magical talent. Their secret is kept by a "law" that they cannot reveal themselves those outside this society. There are some necessary exceptions, as when there is a witch or a wizard that is a member of a family that would otherwise not be part of the "magical" society, e.g. Harry and the Dursleys. Other exceptions include the Prime Minister. But largely this is a community hidden within normal (the "muggle") society.

More interesting, though, are the communities within this society. Especially prominent is the contrast between the community that surrounds Harry and the Death Eaters, Voldemort's "community." Dumbledore's assertion is that part of the flaw in the character of Tom Riddle that makes him Lord Voldemort is that he really has no friends. The Death Eaters may reverence him, like Bellatrix, or they may fear him, the majority of the Death Eaters, but they are not his friends.

In contrast, Harry is defined by his community. In the first book, the sorting hat, which is supposed to choose to which "house" (school community) the first years will belong, leaves the choice up to Harry. Harry's choice of Gryffindor places him in the company of Ron and Hermione, the two friends who will, with the occassional fall out, be his friends throughout the series. While each retains their individuality and personality, they are shaped by their relationship.

The contrast in this regard between Harry and Tom Riddle/Voldemort is striking because of their similarities in other areas. Both Harry and Voldemort lose their parents shortly after birth. Both are brought up in situations where they are unloved, Voldemort in an orphanage, even though his father lives, and Harry by the Dursley's, his aunt and uncle. Both are to some extent feared by those around them. This is obvious in Voldemort's case, where the orphanage is glad to see him go. In Harry's case, the Dursley's are shown to have worried that he would inherit his parent's talents.

Both boys find their first real home at Hogwarts and both fall under the watchful eye of Albus Dumbledore. But Hogwarts is home for Harry because Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Dumbledore, Neville, Luna, Ginny, and others there who are his friends. For Voldemort it was home because he was able to hone his power. There he begins to get the "respect" he believes he deserves. His plans are being put in place before he ever graduates from Hogwarts, evidenced by his research into horcruxes.

Voldemort's "community" then is only a group to serve his ends and desires. But Harry befriends the wizarding world's outcasts - Hagrid, a half-giant, Hermione, a mud-blood, and Lupin, a were-wolf. He also befriends the ridiculed - Neville and Luna - and the overlooked - Dobby and other house-elves (this is one of those areas where Hermione influences Harry and Ron over the course of the series).

A Christian worldview of community is defined by our belief in the Trinity. God has existed forever as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To the extent that we continue to bear the image of God, we are therefore beings who find meaning and purpose in relationships because we reflect that eternal relationship.

The Bible tells us that forgiveness and understanding (which is to say love - but we will discuss that particular virtue in a later post, if the Lord wills) are therefore essential to a healthy community. But these virtues are obviously lacking from Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters. They are a community, but that community is far from healthy because the virtues necessary for a healthy community are lacking. They represent the worst societies man has produced (many have noted similarities between the Death Eaters and Nazi Germany).

While Harry's community is not reflective of the perfect communion of the saints in heaven, it does repesent a community where the values of the kingdom are esteemed. Harry's relationships, like those of believers in this present age, are not perfect. Dumbledore does not share with Harry all that Harry would desire, hiding his past failings. Ron leaves Harry and Hermione for a time in the Deathly Hallows out of frustration. As with our fallen world, the relationships and community in the novels require work. But they work because kingdom values, a reflection of the character of the Triune God, are part of the lives of stories heroes. There are good lessons about friendship, forgiveness, trust, and love in the Harry Potter series.

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Blogger Chris said...

This looks to be a great article series, sir. I look forward to reading the rest of it!!!

I did notice the similarity of the Death Eaters to the Nazi Party, but even more so, I noticed a major similarity between Voldemort and Hitler, himself.

3:30 PM EDT  
Blogger Taliesin said...


I'm not much the student of Hitler's history, and, while a little better about the war, not a buff. But I can see the muggle/Jew parallel.

7:24 PM EDT  

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