Saturday, July 23, 2011

Harry Potter is epic

My two oldest children, now 17 and almost-15, are the perfect age to have grown up with J.K. Rowlings' Harry Potter books. We read all but one of the books together as a family out loud. I don't mind saying that at first I was hesitant because it was such a popular craze at the time and I probably take far too much pride in resisting such trends. All these years later I can state unequivocally that I truly like Rowlings' magical world. She restored in me a sense of wonder that was truly great to experience as an adult. So, on Tuesday evening when my lovely wife and I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, I felt sad going in because it was the last movie, coming several years after the publication of the last book.

The term "epic" is used these days, just as the word "awesome" was back in my younger days, which means it is a word rapidly being drained of its basic meaning. An "epic", of course, is a long, narrative poetic composition most often centered on a hero and the hero's exploits. So, we look to ancient epics, like The Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer's Iliad and Odessey, Virgil's Aeneid, Beowulf, et al. I'm not sure that I am ready to put the epic of Harry Potter in the same category, but I don't shrink back from making the comparison either. After all, like Harry Potter, epics are episodic. There is much that is Christian in Harry Potter, as Rowling has all along acknowledged. I think particularly Harry's light-filled encounter with the deceased Albus Dumbledore, which takes place in King's Cross Station no less, just one example of many that can be cited.

King's Cross Station, London

In the final film, I think the battle between good and evil is quite accurate, with those fighting what St. Paul called the good fight while being vastly outnumbered and engaging in what seems a suicidal endeavor. Harry willingness to die for others and his surprise. I also have to say that with the recent passing of my own father, I was moved almost to tears when Harry, going off to give himself up to Voldemort that others might live, encounters his Mom, Dad, his godfather, Sirius Black, and Remus Lupin, all of whom have died. Harry asks if dying hurts and is told, "It's as easy as falling asleep." Harry asks if they have been with him all along, Sirius answers in the affirmative. Harry wonders where/how they have been present to him, which prompts Sirius to point at Harry's heart and tell him that's where. I understand this now in a way I never could have before.

The morning after seeing the movie, I remembered that back in August 2007 when I finished reading The Deathly Hallows, I referred to it in a homily I preached for the Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Today, dear friends, in our gathering, we have heard God’s voice, may we harden not our hearts and “May the favor of the Lord our God be ours” and may God “Prosper the work of our hands” (Ps. 90:17). As Qoheleth shows us, paradox is an inescapable reality of the spiritual life. The ultimate paradox, taught us by our Lord himself, is that only the person who loses his/her life for his sake will save it. The true master of death, the wise Albus Dumbledore says to Harry Potter, “does not seek to run away from Death. He accepts that he must die, and understands that there are far, far worse things in the living world than dying” (Rowling 721). The true master of death, Jesus Christ, shows us that it is only by dying to self that we live forever!
Indeed, there are far worse things than death.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post! I, too, resisted the Harry Potter craze solely because of it's popularity. I agree with you. Harry Potter may not stand out as an epic such as Gilgamesh but it certainly contains much that is epic. So much of what I enjoyed about Harry Potter centered on both the battle between good and evil, but the struggle to do the right thing against tremendous odds.