Yes, this article talks about all of the important final moments of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, so those not wanting to know what happens should disapparate now.
In fact, you might want to go before I mention one of the more remarkable revelations in the book: The great Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Albus Dumbledore, read the Bible.
Albus Dumbledore quotes the Bible word-for-word in placing an inscription on the tomb of his mother and sister, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
Here's the full passage, Matthew 6:19-24:
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."
Some readers point out that Harry and Hermione do not seem to know that the epitaph comes from the Bible. Rowling only makes it clear that Harry "did not understand what these words meant." At this point in Deathly Hallows, neither do readers. But I think Dumbledore knew the meaning of that verse quite well and put it there for a reason.
What would cause Dumbledore to choose this verse from the Sermon on the Mount for his family's grave? The circumstances surrounding the death of his sister help us understand. Dumbledore's greed (though cloaked with good intentions) for the most powerful of earthly treasures, the Deathly Hallows, ultimately led to his sister's death. Suffice it to say that Dumbledore's sister Ariana was one of the most tragic characters in the whole Harry Potter series. Her life was one of immeasurable hurt. And her need was the most basic need of those who are in pain. She needed love. Sacrificial love. Dumbledore failed her. He was incapable of fulfilling his duties to care for her while pursuing his ambitions for power. His failure which led to his sister's death helped Dumbledore to comprehend one of the other truths of Matthew 6, "No one can serve two masters" (Matthew 6:24). The pursuit of possessions of power, even for benevolent reasons, can ultimately only lead to death and ruin. As he puts it in his own words, Dumbledore understood that he, the most powerful wizard of his day, "Was not to be trusted with power."
Considering the Lily
It was that very conflict that ruined Severus Snape. He attempted to serve two masters, his love for Harry Potter's mother, Lily Evans, and his pursuit of the possession of earthly power. Snape lived out the rest of that verse in Matthew 6, perhaps as tragically as any character in literature, "He will be devoted to one and despise the other" (Matthew 6:24). Near the end of Dumbledore's life Snape reveals to the Headmaster his Patronus, a doe. It is the same doe as Lily Evans's Patronus. When he sees Snape's Patronus, Dumbledore's eyes fill with tears, realizing that for all these years Snape has remained devoted to Lily. His love for her was his master. But so too was Snape mastered by his desire to possess power. Snape could not serve both masters. In the end, to his credit and ruin, he remained devoted to his love for Lily and despised his opportunity for power.
How do we know all this for sure? It's in their eyes. And again, it is in Matthew 6. If there is one thing we know for sure about Harry, it is that he has his mother's eyes. Her green eyes. How many times are we told how Harry's green eyes are the same as his mother's? Contrast them with Snape's eyes. His dark eyes. How many times do we see Snape look into Harry's eyes? Always, we think, he looks with hatred. But really Snape looks into Harry's eyes feeling conflicted. Snape sees the eyes of Lily Evans, whom he has always loved with devotion. Also Snape sees Harry Potter, whom he despises. For Snape, Harry personifies all that he cannot possess, the love of Lily and a position of earthly power. Harry reminds Snape what his choice to serve himself and Dark Magic has cost him. In Deathly Hallows we see the two sets of eyes face off one last time as Snape dies while looking at Harry. "The green eyes found the black, but after a second, something in the depths of the dark pair seemed to vanish." And so we must again turn to the Gospel of Saint Matthew, "If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Matthew 6:24). Dumbledore had pitied Snape, his best quality his love for Lily Evans was his most hidden secret. "My word, Severus, that I shall never reveal the best of you?" Love is no possession. Love cannot be hidden as a dark secret, a possession for oneself alone. If love is hidden behind darkness, how great is the darkness indeed.
Though Snape's eyes go forever dark, Harry's eyes remain bright, perhaps even shine more than at any time before. "Slowly, very slowly, he sat up, and as he did so he felt more alive and more aware of his own living body than ever before," and for the first time he "appreciated what a miracle he was." In the culmination of knowledge he gains after Snape's death, Harry knows that he must die as a sacrifice. Harry must walk willingly, eyes wide open, to his death at the hands of Voldemort. He must choose to love his friends above himself and sacrifice himself to save them. He leaves for the Forbidden Forest where Voldemort is waiting. As he walks he discovers the last of the Deathly Hallows, the Resurrection Stone. And by its power those close to him who have died return and walk with him for a while. Harry's mother joins him. "She pushed her long hair back as she drew close to him, and her green eyes, so like his, searched his face hungrily, as though she would never be able to look at him enough His eyes feasted on her, and he thought that he would like to stand and look at her forever, and that would be enough." Why is it enough for both of them to look into each others' eyes forever? Is it just the love of a mother and a son that they see? I contend it is more.
Lily and Harry see not only each others' eyes and the love they have for each other, but also the profound place of loving sacrifice to which each of them have come. It is not enough that they are mother and son. It is "enough" that they both give the truest love, sacrificial love. And their eyes tell them so. "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light" (Matthew 6:22). That light, the light of Lily's and Harry's eyes, comes only from one source, sacrificial love. And their sacrificial love, like all sacrificial love, comes only after everything else - possessions and self-interest and temptations, everything - is set aside for love's sake.
So is that it? Is Rowling's Harry Potter a narrative exposition of the Gospel of Saint Matthew 6:19-24? I have not argued and do not contend it is only that. But, is Dumbledore a metaphor of "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also?" Is Snape a metaphor of "he will be devoted to the one and despise the other?" Is Harry a metaphor of the "eye is the lamp of the body?" Is Rowling's tale as didactic as it is delightful? We ought to seek lasting treasure. We cannot attempt to serve two masters. We are full of light only when we live out sacrificial love. "Nutters" as it sounds, I think Harry Potter 7 is Matthew 6.
Dumbledore quotes a second verse
All us Harry Potter fans must have our theories and explanations. I have shared with you one of mine. And with a genuine smile on my face, I will not begrudge you if you think me, in the words of Ron Weasley, "mental." Since you have made it this far, however, I will briefly mention the second verse Rowling quotes from the Bible, since it might help shed light on that annoying and insatiable evangelical question, "But is she really a Christian?"
After Harry and Hermione discover the grave of Dumbledore's mother and sister, they come upon the grave of Harry's parents. On that tombstone too is an epitaph, another word-for-word quote from the Bible. "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (1 Corinthians 15:26). I think it most likely that Dumbledore is responsible for this inscription also, as there seems to be no other person in the Potters' lives who would take precedence over him in this decision. Now in the context of that Scripture passage it is the crucifixion and literal resurrection of Jesus that conquers death. Rowling and Dumbledore could have put anything on the Potters' tombstone. They did not have to quote the Bible. They did not have to reference the New Testament passage that most explicitly connects Jesus' death and resurrection with a genuine faith. But they did quote that very passage. She seems to me too careful a writer to make this reference without its fullest meaning in mind.
One last thing. Quite a few Christian critics of Rowling suggest she is not so careful a writer when it comes to her understanding of the afterlife. Interestingly, this judgment often comes from Christian readers who enjoy Harry Potter but feel Rowling has an underdeveloped view of Eternity. Sure, there are ghosts. Yes, wizards live on a bit in their pictures. There is a Resurrection Stone that sort of brings dead people back to life. That chapter "King's Cross" in Deathly Hallows is kind of heaven-like. But let's face it, the glimpses Harry Potter gives us into the afterlife are hardly Aslan's Country or the Grey Havens.
Those observations are true. And they could uncover Rowling's primitive theology of Eternity. But I really don't think so. If Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is, as I have argued, informed by Matthew 6:19-24, then it seems to me that Rowling, like Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, is concerned more with the earthly side of Eternity.
Copyright © 2007 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is available from Amazon.com and other retailers.
Our coverage of Deathly Hallows and on the complete series includes:
Spoiler Alert | The Harry Potter craze suggests we're not telling the Christian story right. (August 2, 2007)
(A Bit Less) Positive About Potter | How Focus on the Family, Prison Fellowship, and others haveand haven'tchanged their views about the books over the years. (July 26, 2007)
What Would Jonathan Edwards Say About Harry Potter? | How the preacher responded to pop culture's version of transcendence. (July 24, 2007)
The Gospel According to J.K. Rowling | The magic world of Harry Potter begins yielding to a 'deeper magic.' (July 23, 2007)
For more articles on previous Harry Potter books and movies, see our full coverage area.