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Some thoughts on Hell and Harry Potter

July 27, 2007

Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you haven’t read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This is based on some comments I made in the combox for this post over at Sword of Gryffindor.

We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”[612] Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.[613] To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.” (Cathecism of the Catholic Church[1])

After reading the last Harry Potter book, I have decided to write some thoughts on Hell. I do this mainly because (i) these books are great, they have a deep Christian foundation, and (ii) they are popular, giving me a good starting point for what I want to tell.

As I tried to show with the quotation from the Cathecism of the Catholic Church, Hell is to be separated from God, separated from Good, “for ever by our own free choice.” But I also believe that God is present to the damned. This is partly because He is omnipresent, and one cannot flee from Him. Let me elaborate.

One of the main themes in the Harry Potter books, is that evil (or the evil one) cannot stand that which is good, but is tormented by it. When, in the last chapter of Philosopher’s Stone, Harry confronts professor Quirrell when the latter tries to kill him, after the mirror of Erised had seen the Heart’s desire of both,[2] Harry discovers that Quirrell cannot touch Harry without being tormented and burned. Harry uses this as a weapon, destroying the professor and almost destroying himself. Dumbledore explains why this happened in their conversation in the hospital wing:

Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign … to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good.[3]

We later find out that Voldemort has ripped his soul, himself, apart, through the so-called “Horcrux-magic.” The etymology of the word is clearly latin and I believe John Granger’s thoughts on the matter is correct. He writes:

The word Horcrux is an interesting combination of Latin and French derivations. Hor-crux from the Latin would be “frightening or horrible” (horreo) and “cross” (crux); rather than finding the way to immortality in the lifesaving sacrifice of Christ, the Horcrux accomplishes the task through murder.[4]

Odd Sverre Hove, the chief editor of norwegian Christian newspaper Dagen, and a sworn Harry Potter fan (he has read the book 12-15 times), explains what Rowling is trying to show us in an interview with another Christian newspaper:

To live as a whole human being, is a good Christian ambition. [Rowing] indirectly getts out a warning by showing that the one who splits up his soul, becomes himself a tool for evil.[5]

For a analysis of the Horcrux-magic itself, read this article.

Dumbledore elaborates on this in Half-Blood Prince, where he explains the main difference between Harry and Voldemort

‘You are protected, in short, by your ability to love!’ said Dumbledore loudly. ‘The only protection that can possibly work against the lure of power like Voldemort’s! In spite of all the temptation you have endured, all the suffering, you remain pure of heart, just as pure as you were at the age of eleven, when you stared into a mirror that reflected your heart’s desire, and it showed you only the way to thwart Lord Voldemort, and not immortality or riches. (…) You have flitted into Lord Voldemort’s mind without damage to yourself, but he cannot possess you without enduring mortal agony, as he discovered in the Ministry. I do not think he understands why, Harry, but he was in such a hurry to mutilate his own soul, he never paused to understand the incomparable power of a soul that is untarnished and whole.’[6]

And this is built upon in Deathly Hallows, in the after-life/waiting place scene after Harry’s self-sacrifice. Harry is at King’s Cross station, and he sees a little, repulsive child:

[Harry] recoiled. He had spotted the thing that was making the noises. It had the form of a small, naked child, curled on the ground, its skin raw and rough, flayed-looking, and it lay shuddering under a seat where it had been left, unwanted, stuffed out of sight, struggling for breath…. ‘You cannot help.’ [said Dumbledore] (…)

‘… But before you try to kill me, I’d advise you to think about what you’ve done … think,and try for some remorse, Riddle.’ (…) ‘It’s your last chance,’ said Harry, ‘it’s all you’ve got left … I’ve seen what you’ll become otherwise … be a man … try … try for some remorse…’[7]

I see this “child,” as an image of what Hell is all about. It is about self-inflicted damnation, a state of soul which suffers when exposed to God, to Love, truth and Light. The Bible tells us that those in hell will “be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” (2. Thess. 1:9, NKJV, emphasis added.) Most translations add the word “away” (“away from the presence…”), but that is not there in the Greek text. We see also in Rev. 14:10 (ESV) that the damned “will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” And in Psalm 68:2 (ESV) we read that “as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God!” This doesn’t mean that those in Heaven has some sadistic fulfillment by watching the tormented, but that everybody will one day have to “face the facts.” Christ said that “the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21, NKJV) And I believe this is tru for Hell also. It is our Heart’s condition that is important.

Andrzej Fiderkiewicz has some interesting thoughts on this in a comment over at Sword of Gryffindor:

From Eastern Orthodox perspective it is not so surprising that Harry and Voldemort (or part of his torn soul) are sharing “place” of afterlife. Many Church Fathers taught that being in eternal presence of God (and that’s what afterlife really is or will be) is a torment to unrepented sinner and bliss for those pure of heart. The same presence is felt differently because of different state of one’s soul.

Those who are damned are, in their hearts, “separated from him for ever by [their] own free choice.” And this ia a “definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed.” (Cathecism of the Catholic Church).

Dumbledore explains to Harry that he, as opposed to Voldemort, is pure of Heart. And Christ said that; “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8, ESV) This does not mean that we will physically see him (or not), but I believe that we “see” God in the same way that we “see” our beloved ones.

Let me close with some thoughts on professor Quirrell from John Granger (from an Eastern Orthodox viewpoint):

Professor Quirrell is possessed by the evil one. He stands before the judging Mirror, looking at the quality of the desires reflected from his heart. It sees what possesses him: a selfish and self-centered love apart from God. He is unworthy of the Stone/Christ and the ensuing Elixir of Life, so these are kept from him. When he touches someone blanketed by the sacrificial love of a savior (here, of course, Harry’s mother) and worthy of having Christ in him, the love of God therein burns Quirrell. His judgment reflects the judgment of hell that rejecters of hell will experience. (…)

Let me close here with a story. When I first read this book aloud to my children, my then eleven-year-old daughter Hannah (who had read the book with my permission already) was in the room. I asked her why she thought Quirrell couldn’t hold Harry. She explained matter-of-factly that Harry was protected by his mother’s love and that love burns people with hard hearts “just like heaven and hell being the same place.” I was amazed that she’d made the connection on her own. I guess the world will always underestimate the wisdom and courage of its eleven-year-olds.[8]

Notes & references:

1. Cathecism of the Catholic Church, #1033. The footnotes:

  • 612: 1 Jn 3:14-15.
  • 613: Cf. Mt 25:31-46.

2. When Harry first finds the mirror of Erised, he reads; “Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi.” Turn this backwards and shuffle some of the letters, and you get: “I show not your face but your hearts desire.”

3. Rowling, J.K., Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Audiobook read by Stephen Fry. Unabridged Adult Ed edition (BBC Audiobooks, 2001)

4. Granger, John, Looking for God in Harry Potter, updated second edition (Tyndale/Saltriver, 2006), pp. 187

5. Rogstad, Britt, “Potter — en skole i etikk” (Vårt Land, November 18th 2005) (June 19th 2007) Translated from norwegian. The norwegian text goes like this: “Å leve som et helt menneske, er en god kristen ambisjon. [Rowing] får indirekte fram en advarsel ved å vise at den som deler opp sin sjel, selv blir et redskap for ondskapen.”

6. Rowling, J.K., Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Adult edition (London: Bloomsbury, 2005), s. 477-478

7. Rowling, J.K., Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Adult edition (London: Bloomsbury, 2007), s. 566.594

8. Granger, John, Looking for God in Harry Potter, p. 136

3 Comments leave one →
  1. charismom permalink
    July 28, 2007 1:31 pm

    The best book I ever read on Hell is C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce (about the “divorce” of Heaven and Hell). Written as fiction, it resonates with many of the themes you have articulated above, and helped me as a young Christian gain a much more profound understanding of why so many people reject the healing, beauty and love of Christ. A phrase that has relevance to this discussion is how Lewis describes a “damned soul” as a “shrunken thing” – infintely shrunken and meaningless, by its own choice. I reread the book every now and then, and grow in my faith (and hopefully my understanding) every time.

  2. July 28, 2007 11:37 pm

    Yes, I plan to read it. I have not gotten to it yet, but I will…

  3. August 17, 2007 3:09 pm

    I agree with you! its a great book, but too bad it ends…I feel so empty putting it down after so many years waiting for it…

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