07 August 2007

Harry Potter as a Christian allegory - gullibility as a horcrux

Sue has posted some interesting thoughts about the Harry Potter series in Abstractions: Harry Potter as a Christian allegory.

While I don't think it is really accurate to describe the series as an allegory, there are some allegorical tendencies within it, for example the satire on educational bureaucracy I pointed out in an earlier post on Zemblanity in Education. But satire is not necessarily allegory.

One of the things in Sue's post can be accurately described as allegorical though -- (warning, spoilers ahead) -- when Sue describes the process by which a satirical post in The Onion was believed as literally true by some Christians in the USA, and was propagated as truth.

The way in which Harry Potter himself turns out to be a horcrux in which part of Voldemort's soul is hidden is perhaps an allegory of the way in which the gullibility of some Christians led them to believe and propagate an urban legend that was not merely untrue, but harmful.

I was able to observe this at first hand because someone sent the piece from The Onion to me by e-mail, with no indication of its source, and urged me to pass it on to many others in a kind of spam operation. I read it, and suspected that it was probably satire, as it was too over the top to be true. I did a web search for Harry Potter and The Onion, and bingo - there it was. I wrote to the person who had sent it to me, warning them that they had been duped into accepting a satire as true. So yes, the way Harry Potter became a horcrux that contained part of Voldemort's soul is indeed an allegory of the way in which the devil gets a foothold in the souls of Christians, and incites them to do his work by spreading malicious gossip in the belief that by so doing they are serving God.


Sue said...

Thanks for the link - and the comments. And yes, allegory isn't really the right word but I'm not sure what would be. As you say, there are some parts that are allegorical, including the Aslan-like sacrifice at the end. I reckoned that since the Narnia books tend to be considered allegorical, and even the Lord of the Rings trilogy, to some extent, then it wasn't far out to apply that label to Harry Potter as well.

The Scylding said...

Narnia is allegorical, and Lewis had the clear intention to make it so. LOTR is not, and Tolkien stated his dislike of allegory. LOTR is grand myth, but of course the authors' faith will out.

HP is not grand myth, but nice story( with moments of grandeur), but it falls somewhat in the LOTR vein, in that its authors' faith will out - she is a Church of Scotland member.

Aside: I also posted my thoughts on HP7 on my site - see http://scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com/2007/08/hope-against-all-hope.html .

The Scylding said...

Thanks for letting me know about the posting problem on my blog - it is now fixed!

Steve Hayes said...


I think the Narnia books tend to be wrongly considered allegorical.

Lewis wrote to Tolkien on 7 December 1929, after reading Tolkien's poem on Beren and Luthien, "The two things that come out clearly are the sense of reality in the background and the mythical value: the essence of a myth being that should have no taint of allegory to the maker and yet should suggest incipient
allegories to the reader."

Tolkien disliked allegory, and as professors of literature both Lewis and Tolkien knew what allegory is as a literary form/genre. The Faerie Queene is allegory. The pilgrim's progress is allegory. Animal farm is allegory (perhaps the most outstanding example in recent times).

But the Narnian stories, and Harry Potter, are not really allegories. Narnia is mythical in the sense that Lewis describes it, but not allegorical, though it may, as he says, suggest incipient allegories to the reader: Maugrim as the head of the South African SB, the statues in the castle as those banned or detained without trial and so on.

Likewise in Harry Porrer, Dolores Umbridge and Rita Skeeter suggest incipient allegories of educational bureaucrates and sensation-mongering journalists respectively, but the main characters do not stand for any particular people or qualities in the "real" world -- unlike Napoleon in Animal farm, for example.

The same with Narnia: Peter, Susan, Edmund, Lucy, Eustace and Jill don't represent anyone but themselves. I can, as a reader, see Maugrim as representing the head of the SB, others might see him as representing the head of the Nazi Gestapo or the Soviet KGB, but the allegory is incipient. Aslan represents Christ, but again, that is retelling of a myth, not an allegory.

The Scylding said...

You might have a point there Steve, about Narnia as allegory. It is primarily myth, with certain allegorical elements, rather than allegory. But trying to make Tolkien into allegory is an impossible task, and should be avoided.

Steve Hayes said...

But even in Tolkien there are the kind of "incipient allegories" seen by the reader, if not intended by the writer.

The Ring is a symbol of power, and can represent the WMD that are so influential in geopolitics in our time. Not intended by Tolkien, but suggested to the reader. Or it can represent power generally. But of course it is still quite a way from symbol to allegory.

Yvonne said...

Tolkien referred to what Steve Hayes refers to as "incipient allegory" as applicability - the concept of being able to apply certain fictional circumstances to true ones. I noticed some definite parallels between Dolores Umbridge and the UK Labour Party's ruthless pursuit of standards. Interesting that you have found a parallel between Maugrim and the statues and recent political history in SA.

Tracie said...

Winter Park, FL? Hahahaha! That's where I live!


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