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Savior Within?

November 26, 2010

The Prisoner of Azkaban is the most tightly knit of all the seven books of Harry Potter. Its story is very complex but also highly thrilling.

Many storylines run simultaneously throughout the book and are resolved quite at the same time – in the Shrieking Shack, when Harry comes to know about the reality of Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew. Peter tries to run after the truth about him is revealed and is successful in doing so in the ensuing confusion, as Lupin turns into a werewolf and Sirius turns into a wolf in order to save the children from him.

The scene after this, by the lake, is one of the most important in the book. Harry hears Sirius screaming for help and runs down to the lakeside. He sees Dementors approaching Sirius. He goes to help Sirius but is himself surrounded by the Dementors. The only thing which can save one from the Dementors is producing a brilliant Patronus by the expecto patronum charm. Harry does that but his thoughts are too gloomy and he cannot concentrate enough in the panic to produce it. Things start turning black and dim, when he sees that from the other shore of the lake someone produces a brilliant Patronus which drives away each and every Dementor. It is very dark and Harry can just make the silhouette of the figure that saved him and not the actual person.

When Harry and his friends are back in the Hogwarts with Dumbledore, Harry thinks that the figure who saved him from the Dementors was his own father, James Potter.

Dumbledore then says something meaningful to Hermione and tells her that if they act properly more than one life will be saved. Hermione understands what professor Dumbledore is saying and uses the time-turner to go back in time. First, they save Buckbeak from execution and then go to the lakeside.

Harry sees Sirius coming to the lakeside and Dementors attacking him and the other Harry. He then feels that his father will come to save him. He waits but nobody comes, and then in a moment he produces the brilliant Patronus and saves the other Harry and Sirius.

It is then that he realizes that it was not his father but his own future self who saved him from the Dementors.

At this point, it is made very clear that the ethics and philosophy of Rowling’s universe is very different from the Christian ethics. It is different from the thought-system derived from the Bible.

According to Christianity, man is a sinner and cannot save himself. He has to be saved by someone else, and that someone else has to be Jesus Christ. Even those born after Christ would be saved in advance if they start believing in Jesus. The help has to come from outside. There has to be an external savior and that savior is Christ.

This is in stark contrast to the ethics of paganism and eastern religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. According to them, man is neither sinner nor saint. He has both the potentials within him. Others can guide him how to help his own self, but cannot do it for him. The help has to come from within and not from outside. There is no savior outside one’s own self. One has to save oneself. The savior is within.

In paganism and in the eastern religions, the emphasis is on what one does and not what one believes. One’s actions determine his future course and not beliefs.

What happens in the Prisoner of Azkaban is in keeping with the view of paganism and the eastern religions and not with Christianity or other monotheistic religions. Harry expected the help from outside and thought that his dead father had returned in some capacity to help him. But he was proved wrong. He came to know that he helped himself.

This theme runs throughout the series. In the universe of J K Rowling there is no external help. One has to help himself in finding the answers to the deepest questions about life.

“However, Harry’s questions about what happens after a person dies are noteworthy not for the answers he finds, or tails to find, but for the approach he takes. Whenever Harry and his friends encounter a mystery, they follow a similar pattern in trying to solve it. They discuss the matter together, to see if one of them can suggest a solution based on their existing knowledge and experiences. If that doesn’t work, they seek additional information and assistance from outside sources, such as their classroom textbooks, the school library, or helpful teachers like Hagrid. At moments of crisis, however, each of them—and Harry especially—tends to turn to the greatest source of power in Rowling’s universe: personal courage and inner strength. Religion in Harry Potter’s world is not merely irrelevant: it literally doesn’t exist. There is no divine being to pray to, no ‘higher power” from which to seek guidance or strength. Power, moral and physical, lies within the individual and is wielded according to the natural laws of Rowling’s universe.”[1]

Dumbledore is all powerful and the only one of whom Voldemort is afraid of. Yet, he lets Harry kill Voldemort and does not do it himself.

“Its not that Harry is a bad Christian role model, or that he promotes a Wiccan agenda or tempts anyone to worship Satan. Its that, in Harry’s world, die characters make their own, independent moral choices, with no reference to any established, higher moral authority—no church, no Bible, no God. Harry turns to his friends and to a few trusted elders like Sirius, Hagrid and Dumbledore for support and occasional advice but, ultimately, the decisions he makes are based on his personal understanding of right and wrong, good and evil. Furthermore, in Harry’s world, there is no outside, objective scale by which to evaluate a person’s choices. Right and wrong are subjective, changing with the situation.”[2]

Just like Hinduism, reward and punishment are subject to one’s own deeds and not to some external authority.

“In Harry’s world, there is no heaven waiting for the righteous or hell waiting for evildoers.”[3]

Dumbledore knows a lot of secrets but does not tell them to Harry straight away but instead encourages him to find out for himself the answers to the most burning questions.

“Harry decides the most critical ethical questions for himself. The nature of good and evil is not defined for him by religious teachings; “evil” is not spelled out as the Satanism of Christianity or the dark half of a Zoroastrian-style duality theology, or any other clear, easy-to-recognize dogma. Instead Harry and all the other characters assess for themselves what is “right” and what is – wrong.” As the story progresses, Rowling does draw a clear distinction between which characters she considers to be good and which bad. However, no reason is given to justify a person’s inclusion in either category; apparently it is considered self-evident, to both the characters and the reader. (Except, of course, in the case of intentionally ambiguous characters.)”[4]

This is the paradigm of a secular world and not a religious one.

“This, perhaps, is the most disturbing, and potentially threatening, concept in Rowling’s universe: that each person is completely responsible for his or her own fate. Although certain circumstances are outside the control of an individual character (no one can choose their parents, or the circumstances of their childhoods), the way each person responds to events is entirely up to them. Individuals must live with the consequences of their actions. There is no appeal to a supernatural power for mercy, no promise of divine justice. God is not poised to step ill and make everything all right, like the cavalry coming over the hill in the nick of time. There are only good people, like Harry and his friends, trying to protect themselves and their families from had people, like the Malfoys and Voldemort. And all any of them have to rely on is their own inner strength and skills and courage. The trouble with this philosophy of personal choice and self-reliance is that, translated into everyday life, it flies against the principles on which contemporary society is based. Human communities rely on the cooperation and, yes, obedience of their members in order to function. Authorities, in the form of religious leaders, elected officials and public safety personnel, establish and enforce the rule of law Priests and pastors tell us we must not steal or commit adultery. The fire chief tells construction companies how many and what size windows they have to provide in bedrooms in the homes they build.”[5]

The savior in the Harry Potter world comes from within. There is no extra-terrestrial god to help mankind.

“There’s no doubt that Harry exists in a godless world. He does not believe in the omnipotence of a single deity or give any indication that religious faith has a place in his life. He defies established authority to follow his personal conscience instead. Lack of religion, however, is not the same as lack of morality. Harry and his friends Jo care, deeply, about the difference he right and wrong. For them, the question of whether a person is good or evil is answered entirely by their actions, not by anything they profess to believe. Each individual must choose his or her own path: to pursue power and influence for its own sake, like Voldemort, or, like Dumbledore, to nurture the strengths and talents that grow out of love. Because Harry’s is a secular world, its residents find answers to their spiritual and ethical dilemmas without the help of religion. Individuals are expected to decide right and wrong for themselves, and they do decide. Where the big questions are concerned—Who am I? How should I act? What does my life mean?—they have to discover the answers for themselves. Harry and his friends arc continuously challenged to think about their options and make choices: to avoid trouble or pursue justice, to mind their own business or risk everything for the sake of the greater good. If there’s one message that surfaces again and again in the Harry Potter books, it’s the importance of taking personal responsibility for the things you care about.”[6]

[1] Lackey, Mercedes. Mapping the World of Harry Potter. Dallas: BenBella Books. 2006. p. 62.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid. p. 60.

[4] Ibid. 64.

[5] Ibid. 66.

[6] Ibid. 67.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 27, 2010 4:09 AM

    I love that part of the third book. Although, I took it to mean something completely different… I’ve always read it as being the moment where Harry realized that he didn’t have to spend his life hero-worshipping his dad, and instead DO something to be like him! And yes, Harry Potter is written from a completely non-Christian perspective, and as someone who loves Jesus with her whole heart- that’s okay with me. J. K. Rowling isn’t a Christian, and it thrills me to no end that God can take people who have never met him and use their creativity to show how brilliantly He’s made the world. Books like Harry Potter make me praise Jesus. 🙂

    • December 7, 2010 12:19 PM

      Though Harry Potter won’t lead me to praise Jesus, but your acceptance of the non-Christian character of the books is exceptional. Perhaps more people would be this wise…

      Thanks for the comment. Keep visiting 🙂

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