J. K. Rowling and Matters Of Faith

Magic has always been part and parcel of human psyche since time immemorial. As for as children’s literature is concerned, it cannot be conceived without magic. Speaking animals, flying carpets, angels and demons have always occupied children’s mind. But in all this magical atmosphere, much more magic was infused in 1996 when J. K. Rowling brought her first book. It took the world by storm. It became the hottest cake in the town. 2011 saw the last book featuring Harry Potter.

Rowling has been severely criticized by the Church. The focus of the books on magic has irked the preachers beyond limits. It has been the force of public support that ultimately made the religious authorities a back seat. But even to this day, the church has prohibited collection of Potter series in libraries. These books, in fact abound in pagan symbolism. The Bible does not allow magic. There are clear cut warnings in Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Kings and Exodus regarding the use of any form of magic. One is not expected to have any contact with magicians, witches, wizards, diviners, soothsayers, enchanters, and charmers. We may recall that this warning was misled and they had the practice of witch-hunt in olden days. From 1480 to 1700, Europe and North America saw brutal atrocities on innocent women who were perceived as witches.

Now, our University of Hogwarts not only teaches magic; it practices it as well. It promotes magic. Rowling has given an inherent status to magic. Here’s a university which teaches it. Talented young boys and girls aspire to be magicians. There are strong pagan elements in these books. Merlin is a pagan figure. Merlin is mentioned again and again. In fact, Rowling’s world is that of pre- organized religion era. The name of Jesus Christ does not find mention in the whole of the series even once. In the first two books, the word Merlin comes twice in each of them; the word God is not mentioned in these books.  In the third, God once, Merlin four times; in the fourth book, God once and Merlin twice; in the fifth, God four times, Merlin eleven times; in the sixth, God four times, Merlin five times; and in the last book, both are mentioned seven times. The whole air is that of pagan Europe of yore days. 

Rowling also topples general depiction of Weasleys as red-headed, freckled, and poor. It is a characteristic of ginger-heads in Britain who are despised and discriminated against. It is also characteristic of Judas Iscariot and Mary Magdalene, the two most hated and reviled figures in the New Testament. But in the Potter series, Weasleys are very kind; they are totally loyal to Harry, the hero of the series. If we carry the analogy farther, we can say that here’s a case for Judas’ fair treatment and an end to the mental hatred targeted towards the figure.

As we know, Christianity is based on the concept of the original sin. Suffering due to the original sin till the son of God atones for past, present and future sins. The figure of Jesus is pivotal to Christianity. There can be no other messenger, prophet or progeny of the Almighty now lightening on earth. That possibility is closed. If we go to pre-Christianity practices, Zoroaster, Akhenaton and other such figures showed prophetic qualities. The point is that Rowling’s world is very close to pre-Christian ear because no savior ever comes in these books. Help has to come from within. The figure of the Daily Prophet is very much like that of a deity of pagan days who actually looks after the mundane affairs of ordinary human beings. The very use of the word, ‘prophet’, instead of savior is a mark-able stance. The prophet in the wizarding world of Harry Potter is so regular that his news is delivered every morning in the Great Hall of Hogwarts, at the breakfast table of every wizarding family. This is indeed a radical break from Christian beliefs. Pagan ethics rule. The character of Viktor Krum, the Bulgarian Quidditch player is based on a historical character who was pagan and who fought against the Byzantine Christian Empire. The character of Viktor Krum is designed after the formidable pagan character from Bulgarian history. His skills as a Quidditch player are frightening and so is the man from the history. Viktor Krum is projected as an innocuous character who is on the side of the good. He has studied in the school of dark arts; the principal being none other than Karkaroff himself. But he never turns evil. He even supports Hermoine and her friends in the fourth book.

One of the most hated characters of the Potter series is Draco Malfoy. The Malfoys are all evil, except perhaps, Narcissa Malfoy, who is just worried about her son’s safety. They are pure-blooded, rich waizarding family. Lucious Malfoy is a Death Eater who had supported Voldemort before the Killing Curse had rebounded on him at the Godric’s Hollow. By the sixth book, Draco Malfoy also becomes the Death Eater. Draco means snake in Latin; a good name, keeping in view that Voldemort’s emblem is a snake. But he name of Lucious Malfoy is intriguing. Lucious has been the name of three Popes. All these three Popes were crusaders of pure blood, especially, Lucious III who wanted to burn all heretics. He wanted only pure believers to live. Lucious Malfoy is siding with evil Voldemort; he is obsessed with pure blood. He also wants to finish all half-bloods and Muggle-born. He conspires with the Dark Lord, Voldemort to free the wizarding world of all hybrid breed. If we want, we can say that Rowling in her own way has supported the liberal view of supporting the hybrid breed and has condemned those obsessed with pure blood.   

The Song of the Sorting Hat is yet another pagan feature of the Rowling books. It’s a calling to the pre-Christian ear which was full of magical happenings; we can say that it’s an attempt to resurrect the image of witches and wizards, who had a very harrowing time during the dark ages. It seems that the students of Hogwarts persistently try to recover the lost wisdom of the charged atmosphere of the pre-Christian era where everything was bewitching. In a way Rowling is trying to return to modern values of acceptance of multiplicity of traditions by turning the clock back- a bit ironical? Yes, it is. Symbolism and signs lure us to a secular, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural scheme of things where religion plays a very marginal and private role. Religion is a matter of personal choices. The public space is dominated by secular ethics where natural and raw motifs abound. This is the way of life in the magical world of Harry Potter. Rowling has proved true to her times by evolving a brand new mechanism bringing diverse symbols together to create a more tolerant world. It’s a victory of the reinforced spirit of our times which says that mono-ism of any kind won’t do.  


More by :  Prof. Shubha Tiwari

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Views: 3551      Comments: 3

Comment A Thing of Beauty is Joy for Ever. Let us not dissect Potter or Rowling. Let us not 'read between the lines'. Let us accept Potter's exploits are
rivetting to say the least (atleast for me,in my fiftys!). Let us not overlook that they (witches & wizards!)celebrate Easter,Christmas and New
Year with gusto! Shorn of everything, it is just a story of Good persevering against Evil! Enjoy and appreciate the 'Moral of the story'.

21-Nov-2011 01:09 AM

Comment >It’s a victory of the reinforced spirit of our times which says that mono-ism of any kind won’t do.<

This is a recurring philosophical paradox - since the statement itself expresses a mono-ism. It's a variation on 'we can know nothing for sure'- except, of course, that we can know nothing for sure. Indeed, since we all depend on a mono-ism to express our opinion, better not to try to make distinctions between mono-isms, least of all in the form of statement that imagines it has sublimed mono-ism, but is itself a mono-ism.

19-Nov-2011 20:15 PM

Comment Enjoyed reading
I remember the name Nagin who was Voldemort's snake
JK Rowlings did look into the Indian mythology too

Amitabh Mitra
15-Nov-2011 14:37 PM

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