Happy Birthday, Harry Potter!
“Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign . . . to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good.” – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling
We began reading Rowling’s magical series to our sons when Arthur our oldest was 10; the same age Harry Potter was in the first book in which we are introduced to the boy condemned to live in the cupboard under the stairs of the horrible Dursleys on Privet Drive. Bedtime reading has been a generational experience in our family.
We read each of the Harry Potter books as they were released, which conveniently coincided with Arthur’s age being the same as Harry’s in each new volume. As the boys became better readers they themselves would take their own turns reading aloud in the kitchen while I prepared dinner, just to get a head start on the bedtime reading. We actually read all seven volumes aloud together, finishing the final chapters on Interstate 90 in Montana as we were driving Arthur to begin his first year at the University in Missoula.
But the transformational moment happened for me back at the beginning of our adventure together reading about Hogwarts.
Joren, my younger son, was seven years old when we began reading Rowling’s series. Joren has tremendous memorization skills and, even as a little guy, could quote his favorite passages to fill in his father about what had happened in the most recent bedtime reading installment. The passage I have inserted at the top of this post was one of those verbatim pronouncements that he made in the living room. It’s the moment in the final chapter of the first book that helps us understand the gifts and strengths Harry possesses to help balance all that he has lacked in his childhood.
Albus Dumbledore is explaining to Harry Potter why Voldemort couldn’t kill him as a baby and why he still can’t kill him now. Joren’s mind captured this concept like a steel trap, reassured at the tender age of seven, that the love of a parent was not to be taken for granted or ignored. He was clearly reassured by this explanation from the beloved professor after the trauma and drama of Harry’s scary encounter with the Dark Lord.
We talked about it a lot.
Fast forward about a week from our finishing The Sorcerer’s Stone. Joren, a second grader, came down stairs wearing his bright blue sweatshirt with large white letters across the chest asking “Have you hugged an Episcopalian today?” We live in a predominantly Lutheran and Catholic Minnesota town. The Episcopal Church may be the oldest congregation here on the banks of the Mississippi, but we are certainly not the best known. I was worried that my tender-hearted little man might get teased at school for wearing a sweatshirt with an unpronounceable and incomprehensible word from the perspective of his classmates. Episco-WHAT?!? So I posed a question to him over breakfast. “What will you say if someone asks you what is an Episcopalian?”
Joren gazed out the window for a moment and then confidently proclaimed, “I will tell them an Episcopalian is a special kind of Christian protected by love.”
Amen to that! I knew he would be just fine. And that moment helped me as a mother and a youth minister recognize the value of doing everything I can, all the time, to cast light on how the Gospel is present in our everyday lives; in arts and literature, in story and action, in living and breathing. The Gospel is in our very skin as baptized followers of Jesus.
I’ve included some more Harry Potter links below if you would like to explore just a few of the ways Episcopalians and Christians have employed Rowling’s writing to help teach and preach the Good News. Have fun with them and please feel free to add others in the comments.
Happy Birthday, Harry Potter!
Links related to Harry Potter:
- Teaching Theology with Harry Potter, from the blog There and (Almost) Back Again
- Harry Pottery Christian Theology, from the Huffington Post
- Jesus and Harry Potter, from the Rows of Sharon blog
- The Gospel According Harry Potter, book by Connie Neal and Samuel Parvin