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“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also…”

July 24, 2007

One of the most interesting parts of Deathly Hallows, was Harry’s and Tom’s “chat” before their final duel. Harry says that he knows magic, and has a weapon, that Tom doesn’t. Tom’s emotional retort clearly shows his lack of wisdom:

‘You think you know more magic than I do?’ he said. ‘Than I, than Lord Voldemort, who has performed magic that Dumbledore himself never dreamed of?’[1]

As I have pointed out before[2], I main point of the Harry Potter books is that magical skill is not sufficient. In a analysis of the trio, John Granger points out that they could represent each of the three faculties of soul, according to the Platonic scheme.[3] He points out that

[p]art of Hermione’s brilliance is her determined dependence on her friends; she understands that her jewel intelligence is glorious in its right setting and almost inhuman on its own (remember Hermione at the beginning of Sorcerer’s Stone?).[4]

She understands what Tom does not. She understands that it matetrs not what your skills are, but what you are, what choices you make, to give a nod to Dumbledore. In “The Abolition of Man,” the last chapter/lecture in the book by the same name, C.S. Lewis points out that the interest in magic increased in the Renaissance, rather than decreasing. And he, as many others, saw the connection between technology and magic. He writes:

There was very little magic in the Middle Ages: the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are the high noon of magic. The serious magical endeavour and the serious scientific endeavour are twins: one was sickly and died, the other strong and throve. But they were twins. They were born of the same impulse. I allow that some (certainly not all) of the early scientists were actuated by a pure love of knowledge. But if we consider the temper of that age as a whole we can discern the impulse of which I speak.

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique.[5]

The magic in Harry Potter is indeed scientific or technological. It is, as Robert Kvalvaag points out, “a craft that witches and wizards must conduct in a logical and reasonable way.” And he adds that it is never about “performing rituals with spirits and demons, but about using some sort of natural resource.”[6]

And this is precisely the point of these books. Let me explain a bit further, by utilizing Aristotle’s theory of knowledge. Dr. Peter Kreeft writes:

Aristotle rated technique (technical knowledge, technë, know-how) as third in the hierarchy of values, after (1) knowledge of the truth for its own sake, and (2) practical knowledge, or knowledge for living, for acting. The modern world has simply turned this hierarchy exactly upside down, as it has turned man upside down.[7]

This was also taught, maybe not will evil intent, by Francis Bacon, whose chant “Knowlwdge is power” is chillingly mirrored in Tom’s “Magic is power.” Tom’s problem is that he turns things upside down. s

Just as the serpent in the Genesis story, Tom is “crafty”[8]; he rates technique (magic) over virtue (knowlede, bravery, love.) As I pointed out in this post, the major difference between Harry and Tom is that,

[i]n Harry (and Dumbledore), we see a wizard who conforms his soul to reality, not relying on magical technique, but on knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. In [Tom] we see a wizard who tries to subdue reality to his own wishes, denying the spiritual realm and splitting up his soul to “be in control.” He is a exaggerated version of Francis Bacon’s scientist, shouting “knowledge for power” while trying to conquer nature.

And this is, I believe something we all need to be reminded of. It is not skill or ability that matters, but wisdom and love. As the great Solomon wrote: “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding.” (Proverbs 3:13, ESV)

1. Rowling, J.K., Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Adult Hardcover edition (London: Bloomsbury, 2007), p. 592

2. See here and here.

3. I myself am more of a Thomist. According to Plato, the three faculties are Head, Chest and Belly; Reason, Will/Heart and passions. Thomists divide the third faculty into three; (i) the ability to sense and perceive; (ii) the instincts; and (iii) the urges. The first two we share with animals, the third we (and animals) share with plants and the like. But I do not think that this matters. After all, Rowling is not a slave to this, they are *real* characters, not just parts.

4. Granger, John, Looking for God in Harry Potter Updated second edition (SaltRiver/Tyndale, 2006), p. 98

5. Lewis, C.S., The Abolition of Man (Lewis, 1944,1947/HaperSanFransisco, 2001), p. 76-77

6. Spilde, Ingrid, “Potters plass i virkeligheten” (Forskning.no, June 11th 2004) Translated from Norwegian (July 24th 2007)

7. Kreeft, Peter, Ph.D., C.S. Lewis for the Third Millennium (Ignatius, 1993), p. 22

8. Genesis 3:1, ESV. Som transaltions use the word “cunning.” I personally like “crafty” best, because it shows that the serpent tries to turn things upside down.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 12, 2007 12:35 am

    Thank you for your very insightful analysis here. I’m preaching a sermon tomorrow (I’m an Episcopal priest) about Potter and The Secret — another example of magical thinking. Your post was very helpful. Keep it up! ML+

  2. August 25, 2007 4:12 am

    Excellent insights. I just read the last chapter in Abolition of Man and just did some writing on the scientific nature of the magic of HP, and then just sort of randomly, stumbled on this. Good stuff!

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