In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling writes that the Dursleys “had a very medieval attitude toward magic.” Here Rowling either reveals a bit of ignorance, uncharacteristic carelessness, or perhaps she teases us with a tongue-in-cheek jab at modern prejudices. It is the modernist represented by the Dursleys and not the medievalist who has an ignorant, prejudiced attitude toward ‘magic’. In fact, witch hunts were characteristic of the early modern era between 1450-1750, not the medieval era. Unfortunately, most people today believe the modern myth characterizing the Christian medieval era of Europe as a time of dark superstition and damaging ignorance. To call someone medieval is usually an insult. But is it not strange, then, that the best-selling, most beloved series of the third millennium is saturated in the medieval? If the medieval era is so contemptible to us, why are we drawn to it like desert travelers desperate for water?
As secularism grew in the modern era, spreading its systematic skepticism and strident naturalism, a counter-movement developed that drew inspiration from the medieval vision of a spirit-filled, meaningfully ordered cosmos. From Shakespeare to Milton, Coleridge, Austen, Hopkins, Dickens, MacDonald, Nesbit, Lewis, Tolkien, and now to Rowling, a strong line of poets and novelists have been waging war against the dehumanizing spirit of secular modernity by continuing to draw from the well of medieval symbolism. Like the other great fantasy writers of the last century, Lewis and Tolkien, Rowling draws from our medieval Christian heritage to attack the modern rejection of spiritual truth and to rebirth a sacramental vision for postmodern man.
A full treatment of the medieval vision and influences bursting through the Harry Potter story is well beyond the scope of this essay. Almost half of Beatrice Groves’s Literary Allusion in Harry Potter is devoted to medieval sources. What I do hope to offer is a taste of the riches that these books present to the attentive, thirsty reader as well as resources for further feasting.
Part 1 – The Story that Lives: Harry Potter as Medieval Fairy Tale
On the surface, it is easy and somewhat unsurprising to see the medieval character of Harry Potter. A New Yorker article about children’s literature noticed that “Children’s literature, at least in the West, is utterly bound up in the Medieval.” To a child, the world is still new and full of wonder, and medieval stories, originating in a culture that believed in a world full of sacred wonder, reflect that enchanted reality back to the child’s imagination. Harry Potter, like many favorite works of children’s literature, tells us of magical creatures, mysterious objects, and dark forests. It’s hard to imagine a setting more medieval than the great technology-free castle of Hogwarts, guarded by gargoyles and filled with stone corridors, secret rooms, ghostly lords and ladies, and comical knights. Harry’s life with the Dursleys is a clear suburban retelling of “Cinderella,” and our hero travels through castles and dark forests to conqueror dragons and evil serpents. Harry even rescues his princess bride-to-be, Ginevra, who has fallen into a death-like sleep and whose name is a variation of the medieval Guinevere—a fitting title for our medieval hero’s wife. The medievalism long dead to the modern muggle world is fully alive at Hogwarts.
Medieval thought and literature is largely characterized by its baptism of pagan symbolism and storytelling. After the fall of the Roman empire and the Christianization of Europe, medieval authors worked to purify and integrate the inherited wisdom of the Greeks and Romans with the teaching of the Christian scriptures and the revelation of Jesus Christ. The symbolic landscape of Harry Potter is likewise a synthesis of ancient paganism and Christianity. For example, Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guarded the gateway to hell in Greek mythology, stands guard over the gateway to the philosopher’s stone, a medieval symbol for the eternal life offered in Christ. Or consider that our hero, Harry, is marked by a scar that reminds us as much of the Greek Odysseus as it does of the Jewish Christ. Like Odysseus, Harry is recognized by his scar after spending ten years lost to the wizarding world, and like Christ, Harry’s scars were created through an act of saving self-sacrifice. Although Rowling draws freely from pagan myth and symbolism, she does so with medieval style, re-contextualizing the pagan elements within a Christian context. This is exemplified by her inclusion of both a pagan and a Christian text as the opening of her final book. In accordance with the medieval synthesis, the Christian reference has the last word and thereby guides our interpretation and baptizes the vision offered us by the Greeks.
Rowling’s books draw heavily from the medieval world because, like the medieval era, her books are so thoroughly Christian. In How Harry Cast His Spell, “Hogwarts Professor” John Granger argues at length that “Readers love Harry Potter because of the spiritual meaning and the Christian content of the books.” Although Rowling has been understandably guarded about openly discussing the meaning of her books—for a good work of art should speak for itself, and authors should let readers wrestle with the meaning of story for themselves—she has confessed that she thinks the Christian meaning of her story is “obvious.” Rowling is a practicing Christian in the Anglican church, and she has expressed her surprise that “extremist religious folk have missed the point so spectacularly.” She has praised “a Christian commentator who said that Harry Potter had been the Christian church’s biggest missed opportunity. And I thought there’s someone who actually has their eyes open.”
Perhaps the quickest way to illustrate the clear parallels that give Harry Potter its distinctly Christian form is to tell a story.
Once upon a time, in his pride and lust for power, an evil Lord overthrew a beautiful kingdom that did not rightfully belong to him. A prophet came and proclaimed that at an appointed time, a child would be born who would overthrow the evil Lord and restore the kingdom. In his rebellion against any and all authority other than his own, the evil Lord tried to kill the child and thwart the prophecy. However, the child’s parents hid and protected him. The child was sent into exile and grew up in obscurity, yet in due time, he returned to his people and was revealed to be the Chosen One. He was tested and challenged, and ultimately he walked willingly to his own death in order to rescue his people. However, in an unexpected and glorious turn of events, he was restored to life! He then returned to his kingdom to defeat the evil Lord once and for all. Peace is restored, and his people live happily ever after.
Whose story is this? Jesus’s or Harry’s? We cannot tell because both stories follow the same archetypal pattern. As John Granger has demonstrated in detail, every year Harry dies a symbolic (or literal) death and then rises again in the presence of a Christ symbol.
- In Philosopher’s Stone, Harry nearly dies as he battles Quirrel-demort, and he then wakes up after three days, having rescued the Christological Philosopher’s Stone from the enemy.
- In Chamber of Secrets, Harry nearly dies in his battle with the basilisk, but he is rescued by the tears of the phoenix, the resurrection bird and classic medieval symbol of Christ.
- In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry is about to suffer the dementor’s kiss, a fate “worse than death,” when he is rescued by a bright, shining white stag that first looks like a unicorn. Both stag and unicorn were medieval symbols for Christ, the stag because of its antlers which would die and grow again each year, and the unicorn because of the medieval myth that a unicorn could only be caught by hunters when it lay its head in the lap of a virgin, a metaphor for the incarnation, virgin birth, and crucifixion of Christ.
- In Goblet of Fire, Harry descends into a graveyard where he nearly dies in a duel with Voldemort but is rescued by the phoenix song.
- In Order of the Phoenix, Harry feels as if he is dying when Voldemort possesses him in the Ministry of Magic, but he is saved by his love for Sirius, Ron, and Hermione. Harry’s self-sacrificing love for others is itself the symbol for Christ in this scene.
- In Half-Blood Prince, the mob of dead Infiri nearly drown Harry, but he is raised up by Dumbledore in the presence of the chalice of sacrifice that stands at the center of the cave island.
- Finally, in Deathly Hallows, Harry literally dies but is linked to life through the saving, self-sacrificing blood of his mother and his own saving, self-sacrificing love for his friends. With this seventh death and resurrection, Harry has been perfected in grace and is able to even offer forgiveness to his enemies. Rather than kill Voldemort as a pagan hero would, Harry encourages Tom to repent and become human again.
As evidenced by both the narrative form and a myriad of medieval Christological symbols, Rowling clearly sets the meaning of Harry Potter within the Christian story. As with medieval stories, the pagan elements of Harry Potter must be interpreted by the Christian plot, not vice versa.
The Harry Potter series not only repeatedly follows the Gospel plot pattern, but the books also manifest a Christian metaphysic. The Christian view of reality is sacramental; God is invisible spirit and the source of all being, but He has created a material, visible realm that, as the psalmist says, proclaims the glory of God. The material world is a cosmic sacrament, an outward sign of invisible grace common to all men. As Paul declares in Romans 1:20, God is speaking to us through the things he has made, leaving us without excuse when we choose to deny essential truths about Him and ourselves. A sacramental world is what makes art and literature possible, for it is only when things really mean things that we can use them as a symbolic language to speak to one another through form, image, and metaphor. Rowling’s wizarding world reveals its sacramentalism primarily in two ways.
First, Rowling offers us a sacramental world by making every little detail in her world meaningful; from names and spells to potion ingredients and the rules of Quidditch, Rowling imitates the divine Creator by making everything in her world intentional and meaningful. The Harry Potter series is a literary image of the intricately ordered, completely meaningful medieval cosmos. And things only grow in meaning as the series progresses. Little things placed early in the series become important later. There are clues, foreshadowing, and connections placed everywhere. Harry Potter is also dense with allusions to the canon of English literature. Richard A. Spenser argues that “much of the richness, distinctiveness, and attraction of the novels derive from the force and uniqueness of the preceding tradition and [Rowling’s] variations on it.” The intricate pattern of connections between literary texts trains readers in an attentive mode of reading that is deeply edifying. We learn to pay attention to details and to trust that the little things composing our ordinary lives do have meaning and significance.
Second, Rowling’s ethics are thoroughly sacramental. Her “good guys” are represented by a griffin, a well-established cypher for Christ. Half eagle and half lion, the griffin is lord of both heaven and earth, and it is the eagle which sits atop the lion’s body, showing the sacramental understanding that the spiritual realm must rule over the physical. Rowling’s heroes are those who believe the spiritual world is more important than the material world. They are willing to suffer loss of material power and wealth and even die for the sake of spiritual virtues: love, friendship, faith, and courage. Her “bad guys” are those who believe that the material world is the only world, or at least the only world worth living for. Their symbol is a snake, the creature who lives his life sliding across the earth, clinging only to material goods with the belly of appetite. Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters live by a materialist ethic, seeking physical power and unending mortal life. Rowling repeatedly shows that such a secular life is destructive and not worth living while, conversely, the spiritual life is worth dying for.
Rowling has wisely chosen to “tell it slant” in regards to the religious meaning of her books, but those who deny the Christian meaning of the books frankly have their eyes shut.
When an interviewer asked Rowling about the absence of God in the books, she carefully responded, “Um. I don’t think they’re that secular.” Neither do we.
Part II – Hogwarts’ Living Library: Medieval Section
With this understanding of the Christian framework grounding the meaning of the Harry Potter story, let’s look at some of the other medieval symbols Rowling draws from. In the tradition of Dostoevsky, Verne, Tolkien, and Lewis, her trio of main characters reflects a medieval triadic understanding of the soul. John Granger sees this “Soul Triptych in her set lead characters” as Rowling’s “greatest symbolic artistry.” Medieval metaphysics was based on the principle of the triad, the belief that two things can only be joined by a third intermediary. For example, this is why angels must mediate between God and man. The human soul was also seen as a triad or triptych as Plato had described in the Phaedrus. The body of man is connected to the mind through the middle element of the heart. In both The Abolition of Man and The Discarded Image, Lewis explains that “reason and appetite” cannot cooperate except through the middle third; “A trained sentiment of honor or chivalry must provide the ‘mean’ that unites them and integrates the civilized man.” This is why Solomon exhorts his son to “watch over his heart with all diligence,” for it is the “wellspring of life.” In The Abolition of Man, Lewis calls this mediating heart, this wellspring of life, “the chest” in man.
That Hermione represents the head hardly needs arguing, and that Ron represents bodily appetite is rather obvious as well. Ron struggles anytime he is tired, hungry, or hormonal. In Philosopher’s Stone, while Harry is fraught with anxiety over the stone, “Ron couldn’t get worked up because it was too hot.” In Deathly Hallows, Ron is more susceptible to the evil influence of the Locket because they often don’t have enough food as they wander the countryside in hiding. Harry, praised for his “moral fiber” in Goblet of Fire, represents the middle element of heart. This is why Dumbledore tells Harry in The Order of the Phoenix, “it was your heart that saved you.”
As head and appetite are wont to do, Hermione and Ron habitually quarrel, but they are brought together by love for Harry, the one who will overcome evil through his courageous heart. The moral courage of the mediating “chest,” which all three show when defeating the Troll in Philosopher’s Stone, is what permanently unites these three as friends. Later in the first book, Hermione explicitly affirms the central importance not of her superior intellect but of this “middle element” represented by Harry. Hermione agrees to let Harry be the one to pass through the fire and defeat Voldemort because she acknowledges that, as the “heart” of the trio, he is the greater wizard: “Books! And cleverness! There are more important things—friendship and bravery.”
Rowling also emphasizes the central importance of “the chest” by showing us the evil caused by the deformed triptych in the parallel trio of Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle. Malfoy has the brains while Crabbe and Goyle bring brute strength and appetite, but this symbolic community lacks any integrating heart. The Slytherins are what Lewis calls “men without chests,” marked by a “defect of fertile and generous emotion.” All men have bodies, and evil as well as good men may be clever; it is the heart, the trained moral courage of the chest, that differentiates the good guys from the bad guys in both Rowling’s world and the tradition of Christian literature.
Attention to numbers will lead us further into Rowling’s medieval symbolism. We not only have three parts to the soul, but three Deathly Hallows, four houses, four founder’s objects, seven potion bottles before the seventh task in Philosopher’s Stone, seven flying copies of Harry in Deathly Hallows, seven Weasley children, seven Quidditch players, seven years at Hogwarts, and seven horcruxes. Oh, and Harry was born in the seventh month. Rowling, like Hermione and her medieval predecessors, is interested in arithmancy and the meaning of numbers. Let’s look at the key numbers composing Rowling’s numerical symbolism: three, four, and seven.
The number three represents “Unity and Diversity… reconciled in Harmony” as manifested in the musical triad. In the tradition of Pythagoras, three is often considered the first real number and “one of the fundamental building blocks of both art and the cosmos.” Physical reality extends in three dimensions, and Christian metaphysics are rooted in the revelation of the Trinity. God, his world, and man in His image are marked by a threefold nature. Accordingly, we see the importance of the triad in the relationship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione – as discussed above – but also in the hallows. After listening to Beadle the Bard’s “Tale of Three Brothers,” Ron, Hermione, and Harry each choose a different hallow as the best, reflecting the symbolic tripartite role each character plays. Ron as appetite chooses the wand of power, Hermione as mind chooses the smart cover of the invisibility cloak, and Harry as heart chooses the stone that would bring him back lost relationships. As will be discussed below, there are also three stages to medieval alchemical purification – negredo, albedo, and rubeo – and Harry is given three mentors to lead him through each stage of this process: Sirius the black, Albus Dumbledore the white, and Rubeus Hagrid the red.
Four, represented by the square, is the fundamental number of the physical world. According to ancient and medieval understanding, the world extended in four directions to create the four corners of the earth and was composed of four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. Man had four temperaments depending on how these four elements were balanced within him: choleric, phlegmatic, sanguine, and melancholy. Clearly then, the foundations of Hogwarts must be laid by four wizards who create four houses as the basis of their school. Rowling tells us directly that she wanted the houses “to correspond roughly to the four elements. So Gryffindor is fire, Ravenclaw is air, Hufflepuff is earth, and Slytherin is water, hence the fact that their common room is under the lake.” As Granger explains, “Gryffindor as fire evokes the idea of a consuming courage, a burning soul if you will, Ravenclaw as air suggests heights of intellectual abstraction from earthly concern, humble Hufflepuff being earth is a natural because humility is derived from the Latin word for ‘ground,’ and slippery Slytherin with its underground drives and ambitions is a match with water.” The challenge in Harry’s world and ours, as medieval lore explains, is to balance and harmonize the four fundamental elements so we can live in health and unity.
As Harry learns in Half-Blood Prince, seven is the most powerful magical number. Seven is the number of completion and perfection, set into the human imagination by the seven days of creation, with six days of work and the seventh a day of resting in the perfected world. Like Harry Potter, Christian tradition is full of sevens: seven sacraments, seven virtues, seven deadly sins, and seven branches on the candlestick in the temple. In Revelation, we have “the mystery of the seven stars… and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” Seven represents totality and completion as the sum of four (the number of the physical order) and three (the number of the Trinity and spiritual order). It is fitting then that Rowling’s spiritual saga is concluded in seven books with a myriad of other sevens serving to create its sense of perfected completion.
In Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, Groves suggests a few possible sources for Rowling’s curiously numbered objects. Medieval Welsh tradition tells of Thirteen Treasures of Britain, one of which is the “Cornish Mantle of Arthur” which makes the wearer invisible. As Harry is the heir of Ignotus Peverell, uniter of the hallows, and the one Gryffindor able to pull the legendary sword of Godric Gryffindor from the hat, why not add the Mantle of Arthur to the list of symbols which clearly place Harry in the order of British Christian knights, first class? Medieval Irish myth also tells of the Four Jewels, perhaps a source for the four treasures of the four Hogwarts’ founders. The three hallows may be connected to the legendary four Irish Hallows which Tuatha Dé Danann, a magician, brought to Ireland. These four hallows include a Stone, an unbeatable Spear, an irresistible Sword, and a Cauldron.
Groves notes that while the medieval legends treated powerful magical objects as morally neutral, Rowling treats them as much more dark and dangerous. This is one of the postmodern updates that Rowling gives to her medieval symbols. An author who writes in the wake of machine warfare and nuclear threat is more keenly aware of the danger that powerful objects bring into the world, for objects give power indiscriminately. Unlike powers that must be developed through effort and discipline, objects can much more easily bestow power apart from virtue. As a result, the powerful magical objects in Harry Potter are to be avoided or destroyed. Harry spends an entire book “hunting hallows” in order to destroy them, and he then ends the saga by purposely dividing and hiding the hallows so they will not further tempt him or other wizards.
The Elder Wand is presented as the most dangerous magical object in the story. Beadle the Bard provides an entire story within a story to warn Harry and his reading audience about the danger of objects that give absolute power. As we would expect of Rowling, even the name of the wand’s wood adds to her meaningful warning. Langland’s medieval poem Piers Plowman tells that Judas, after betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, hung himself on an Elder tree. Rowling’s treatment of treasure harmonizes with Langland’s interpretation of Judas as the one who shows us that “whoever trusts in his treasure is the soonest betrayed.” Judas entrusted himself to material riches at the cost of his soul. One of the only direct quotations that Rowling adds to her text is “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” from Matthew 6:21. As Voldemort’s failure to obtain immortality through horcruxes illustrates, it is folly to trust in the material treasure of objects. Defeat over death will come by love, a treasure that comes from the realm of spirit, not the material world of objects.
In her approach to astrology, we again see Rowling imitate the medieval practice of baptizing pagan symbols and practices. While orthodox Christians have always rejected corruptions of astrology, the medieval church never condemned the idea that any part of the cosmos had both meaning and influence on human life, celestial bodies included. If our Lord taught us that wheat and chaff can show us spiritual truths and that bread and wine can be vessels of divine grace, why not also the planets and stars? Likewise, Rowling entertains the medieval idea that the heavens can contain meaning while rejecting perverse forms of divination. She mocks Trelawney’s corrupt “arts” which fake insight for profit and promote a kind of determinism. In Order of the Phoenix, we discover that Dumbledore only continues to let Trelawney teach at Hogwarts in order to protect her from Voldemort. Yet Rowling also suggests through the character Firenze that spiritual influences are real and that the stars do foretell God’s ordained plan for the world, although this plan is difficult to interpret precisely and we always have the choice as to what part we will play in the divine story. Throughout the series, Dumbledore seeks to help Harry grasp that “it is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore spends much of the book helping Harry see how prophecies are not deterministic but rather influences that can be accepted or resisted. Rowling rejects the fatalistic vision of Greek tragedy to embrace a Christian understanding of destiny. God has indeed ordained how the cosmic story will unfold and given us signs which portend that unfolding, but we are given the opportunity to choose this day whom we will serve.
Rowling challenges her modern readers not only with her medieval treatment of astrology but also with her rather anti-modern use of medieval alchemy. John Granger has essentially established his career as “the dean of Harry Potter scholars” by unpacking the alchemical symbolism and plot structure that grounds almost every detail of the Harry Potter series. For a full explanation of Rowling’s literary alchemy, I enthusiastically recommend Granger’s chapter entitled “Harry Potter as Alchemical Reading Magic” in Harry Potter’s Bookshelf, but to whet your appetite for more, I will point out a few key connections here.
According to Granger, alchemy is “the art of the soul’s perfection in conjunction with the resolution of contraries in metals.” Because a sacramental view of the world acknowledges the connection between material things and spiritual realities, many alchemists, including the great scientist Isaac Newton, believed that the soul could be spiritually purified through the process of purifying metals. The work of alchemy uses fire to transform lead into gold through a sequence of three stages: the nigredo, which breaks the base metal down into raw material, the albedo, which washes and purifies the material, and the rubedo, which transforms the material through intense fire into the blood red Philosopher’s Stone, a Christological symbol which is able to offer eternal life and transform metal directly to purified gold. Although the alchemic process has proven to be inaccurate on the physical level, its spiritual symbolism contains powerful truths. The purpose of this life is to be transformed from the raw material of ‘adam’ (literally, dust) into the perfected image of Christ, an outcome that is “revealed by fire” and more precious than gold.
The plots of each Harry Potter book and the series as a whole are structured according to this alchemical process. For example, Sirius Black is the mentor who leads Harry through the nigredo stage when the prejudices and arrogance he has inherited from his father are broken down. Albus Dumbledore leads Harry through the white purification process, building him up with wisdom and teaching him what he will need to know to endure the crucible of fire in the red stage. Rubeus Hagrid, Harry’s red mentor, literally carries Harry out of his final crucible and onto the stage of victory where Harry, the Philosopher’s Stone personified, will protect everyone from Voldemort’s curses and finally defeat his foe in a blaze of golden light.
Rowling’s purpose in writing Harry Potter is alchemical and thus medieval. In rebellion against the secularism of modernity, Rowling believes in the existence of the soul and that the soul is on a journey toward God. Like every great writer, Rowling believes that her art has the power to participate in the transformation of the soul. Rowling the author can act as a literary alchemist, so carefully combining and refining the raw material of the imagination as to sanctify the reader who is willing to receive the transformative experience along with Harry.
The last set of medieval symbols we will consider is Rowling’s fantastic collection of beasts. Rowling’s wonderful menagerie of creatures are packed with meaning; they are either doubles showing us the dual nature of cosmos, Christ symbols, or objective correlatives for key characters. For the sake of brevity, I will only mention a few of the more important medieval beasts here. As befits a Christian fairy tale and medieval quest, Rowling’s use of Christological creatures is liberal, and the significance of the unicorn, phoenix, white stag, and griffin have already been touched on above. Many other creatures in Harry Potter are also “half-breeds” that emphasize the dual nature of a sacramental cosmos and anthropology. The pagan Greeks, who tended toward dualism and hatred of the body, understood centaurs with their human torsos striding atop the body of a horse as images of a depraved savagery which the soul must rise above. However, Rowling’s centaurs are medieval Christian icons of our dual nature. The incarnation of Jesus Christ, both fully God and fully man, sanctified our understanding of the body. To be human is to stand as liaison between heaven and earth, to be the image of God present to the physical world. While Rowling’s evil heretics promote the mono-nature represented by “pureblood,” her heroes celebrate the union of heaven and earth as they love and defend a whole host of half-bloods and half-breeds like merpeople, hippogriffs, centaurs, and thestrals, as well as Hagrid the half-giant and Fleur who is half-veela. Everywhere in Rowling’s epic we see twins and doubles and dual natures that show us what it means to be a human. None of us are purebloods; we are a wondrous union of body and spirit living in between heaven and earth.
Mosaic of Medieval Stories
In addition to layers of medieval symbolism, Rowling also draws plot elements from key medieval texts to construct a story that is profoundly medieval in both meaning and structure. Rowling’s books are themselves a kind of Hogwartian Great Hall – a magical, medieval feast of textual conversation and nourishing story. We will briefly look at a few key connections between the conclusion of Harry Potter in Deathly Hallows and three important medieval texts: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and Dante’s Divine Comedy.
The parallels between Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight illuminate Rowling’s story as much as Harry helps us better understand Sir Gawain’s curious tale. As Groves points out, “Both heroes meet their nemesis in a wild place outside society and its rules, and are tested in a single combat in which they allow their enemy to strike them without lifting a hand to defend themselves.” This is sufficient to invite further comparison. We also see that both heroes spend a full autumn aimlessly wandering in the wilderness of West Britain as they await their confrontation with a fated foe, and both journeys take a turn on Christmas Eve. Both heroes are tempted to use the power of a magical object in order to avoid death. Gawain is tempted by the protection promised in the Lady’s green sash, and Harry is tempted by the protection offered by the Elder Wand and a united trio of hallows.
Where the two stories part is even more revealing. Gawain fails the test but discovers mercy in his beneficent opponent, while Harry passes the test and offers mercy to his maleficent foe. Voldemort, not Harry, is the failed knight who entrusts his survival to magical objects and refuses to receive the mercy offered by his opponent. This helps us understand how Gawain’s tale is a chastisement of the Arthurian knights who had fallen into decadence and corruption, but Rowling re-works the story to present a true knight able to offer an anamnesis of the sacrificial pattern set for us by Christ. “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” And like Christ, Harry gives himself up to his demonic enemy without speaking a word or raising a hand to defend himself.
In addition to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Rowling draws key parts of her story from another important medieval text, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The connections between Chaucer and Harry Potter are made clear by the several titled “Tales” embedded within Harry’s one epic tale—Hagrid’s tale, Kreacher’s tale, the Prince’s tale, the Grey Lady’s tale, Merope’s tale, and The Tale of the Three Brothers to name a few. Rowling has openly acknowledged that “The Tale of the Three Brothers” is inspired by Chaucer’s “The Pardoner’s Tale.” Like Chaucer, Rowling honors and employs the power of folk and fairy tales to help both Harry and his readers grasp truths that will not sink very deep if presented directly. Rowling uses “The Tale of the Three Brothers” to develop her medieval warning against the materialist’s trust in the powerful physical rather than the spiritual virtues of courage, faith, and love.
In “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” we have three brothers who meet Death on a bridge, and in “The Pardoner’s Tale,” we have three sworn brothers who seek Death. In Chaucer’s version, the three men meet an old, ominous man at a stile – which like the bridge is a liminal space symbolizing a crossing between worlds – who directs them to look for Death under a certain tree. The sworn brothers find a large pile of gold under the tree, and in the end, they end up tricking and killing each other for it. In Rowling’s version, the brothers also receive a treasure from Death, but only two of the brothers chose poorly. The third brother lives long and well under the protection of the invisibility cloak and, when he is old and ready to pass through the veil, he freely removes the cloak, and Death comes and greets him as an old friend. Both stories warn about the danger of earthly treasure to destroy both body and soul, and both stories are given by a hypocritical storyteller. Chaucer’s pardoner sells spiritually manipulative and deceitful indulgences for profit, and Xenophilius tells his story while selling Harry to the Death Eaters.
The “mysterious and fatal pile of gold” we find in “The Pardoner’s Tale” is an ancient trope found in folk stories dating all the way to ancient Egypt. Rowling is likely to have read where Tolkien mentions the Egyptian “Tale of the Two Brothers” in his essay “On Fairy-Stories” (where he also mentions the comical knight, Pigwidgeon). A Buddhist version of the story teaches us that “the ability to live unscathed by the dangerous sparkling objects of folk-lore belongs only to the pure in heart.” Bodhisattva can “take home the treasure that has killed everyone else” because he has attained pure detachment and chooses to use the gold for the good of others. As Jesus taught us, only the pure in heart shall see God. Accordingly, Harry achieves purity of heart through his loving acts of self-sacrifice, which enables him to, like Bodhisattva, receive the treasure of the Philosopher’s Stone from the Mirror of Erised as he begins his journey and then to unite the three Deathly Hallows as he ends it.
The connections between Harry Potter and Dante are subtle, as they must be for a postmodern audience to accept, but they are significant. The connection to Dante first appears in Philosopher’s Stone, when Harry enters the dark wood of the Forbidden Forest. Rowling names her virtuous centaur Firenze, which is the Italian name of Dante’s home city of Florence. Firenze and his fellow centaurs, according to Hagrid, are “not interested in anythin’ closer’n the moon.” They tell Harry three times that “Mars is bright tonight,” indicating that Harry, like Dante, will undertake his purification process at the time when Aries is in ascendancy. Dante begins his journey with Virgil when “the sun was climbing Aries with those stars / that rode with him to light the new creation.” A bright Aries is associated not simply with war but with great new beginnings that come from facing our enemies and triumphing over them. As Lancelot Schaubert points out in his essay “Mars is Bright Tonight,” by beginning with these connections to Dante’s forest, Rowling imitates the great medieval poet and “generates her own perfect Easter.” This Easter comes in Deathly Hallows when in chapter thirty-three Harry enters “The Forest Again.” Granger notes that, as Harry has not entered the Forbidden Forest in Deathly Hallows yet, this must refer back to Harry’s first Dante-esque entrance in Philosopher’s Stone, and being the 33rd chapter, it also alludes to Dante’s famous thirty three cantos, composing three books which are made of his unique three lined terza rima, all of which celebrate in poetic form the divine Trinity Dante longs to behold.
Rowling’s use of “green eyes” as the key window for Snape’s spiritual salvation makes the connection to Dante’s Divine Comedy undeniable. By looking into the emerald eye of his own unrequited love, Dante moved through the spheres of heaven in preparation for union with God. Snape too is elevated toward divine love through the eyes of his virtuous beloved. He dies reconciled to Harry and transported through the final veil by a last look into Lily’s green eyes. While the series can be easily (and most often is) read on the surface as merely a children’s fantasy adventure, Rowling’s Christian symbolism, alchemical plots, and medieval allusions make Harry Potter at its core a medieval “divine comedy” focused on the soul’s spiritual journey to union with God.
Part III – J.K. Rowling as Medieval Headmaster
In Part I of this look into the medieval influences and character of Rowling’s Harry Potter series, I argued that Harry’s story is a contemporary version of a medieval Christian fairy tale in both its plot structure and awareness of sacred realities. In Part II, we looked at how Rowling’s liberal feast of medieval allusions enriches the Christian meaning of Harry’s story. In Part III, I will show how Rowling’s style is medieval in its systematizing, book-loving character as well as in her desire to reform the wisdom of the past rather than reject it. Where Rowling critiques medieval sensibilities, it is not as an iconoclast. She is synthesizing the present with the sacred past, not destroying it.
The intricately organized seven-part plot of Harry Potter reflects what Lewis calls the “overwhelmingly bookish or clerkly character of medieval culture.” Medieval man believed not only that spiritual realities were at work behind the veil of the material world, but that the connection between visible and invisible was intricately and perfectly ordered, and he delighted to discover and codify that order in a hundred ways. Lewis explains that “At his most characteristic, medieval man was not a dreamer nor a wanderer. He was an organizer, a codifier, a builder of systems. He wanted ‘a place for everything and everything in the right place.” Aquinas and Dante epitomize this “clerkly” character, offering us both sacred and incredibly systematized visions of the cosmos.
Part of what makes Harry Potter so re-readable, despite Rowling’s lapses into weak prose, is how well the series imitates these great medieval systematizers. It is well known that Rowling spent five years planning out the series before finishing the first book. She studied and prepared this series as much as Hermione must have studied for her O.W.L.s. Indeed, Rowling admits that the book-loving Hermione is modeled after herself as a young youth. “I did not set out to make Hermione like me but she is…she is an exaggeration of how I was when I was younger. Rowling recalled being called a “little know-it-all” who loved to read classic books even in her youth. Rowling, Hermione, and her well-ordered, detailed saga reflect the “bookish character” and “intense love of system” that characterized medieval authors. Despite the playfulness of the books’ surface, the more one studies the Harry Potter books, the more every detail proves carefully placed and full of meaning. This is not a romantic novel full of gratuitous growths seeded for emotive effect; this is an intricately structured medieval work re-cast in the form of a modern children’s novel.
Even Rowling’s weaknesses as an author have a rather medieval character to them. In The Discarded Image, Lewis notes that the sacramental vision of medieval literature explains “both its most typical vice and its most typical virtue.” The primary vice of medieval art, according to Lewis, is its propensity toward “dullness; sheer, unabashed, prolonged dullness, where the author does not seem to be even trying to interest us.” Lewis sees “the belief in a world of built-in significance” as encouraging medieval art toward dullness because “the writer feels everything to be so interesting in itself that there is no need for him to make it so.” Of course, Harry Potter in general is a gripping page-turner that does almost anything but bore its reader. However, where the books struggle is where Rowling elaborates upon the details of her world in a manner that seems to assume the significance of anything her world might happen to include. Several critics have thought Voldemort must be her editor since he or she often failed to make Rowling tighten up her narrative and prose. Harry Potter the Order of the Phoenix especially reflects this weakness, which is why the filmmakers transformed this longest of the Harry Potter books into the shortest, and arguably the best, film adaptation. Because Rowling has created a world full of rich meaning, she is prone toward indulging too many details and thinking too easily that those details are self-evidently interesting. As a result, sometimes she seems not to work very hard at her prose (although this may also have to do with the pressures of highly commercialized publishing). However long the Harry Potter epic endures, it could have endured even longer in the hands of a good editor.
On the other hand, Lewis also argues that this tendency toward authorial over-dependence on the “givenness” of meaning is also a virtue. While modern art often feels as if “the poet has done a great deal of work” to create the meaning and beauty himself, in medieval literature, “we are at first hardly aware of the poet at all… the story seems to be telling itself.” Medieval authors were wholly absorbed by “the telling… for the sake of the tale.” In contrast, modern authors tend to be more absorbed with themselves as artists; “the tale is valued only as an opportunity for the lavish and highly individual treatment.” While Rowling is obviously not a truly medieval author, her work does give us the feel that she is more focused on the story and the world than she is on proving her chops as a writer. This results in some sloppy prose and perhaps some excessive detail, but it also results in an endearing humility. Lewis says that medieval writers were free “both from the pseudo-classical standard of decorum and from the sense of period,” and likewise, Harry Potter is free from stifling self-consciousness. Rowling had a vision for how to retell the Gospel story in a setting that is wonderfully new by being refreshingly old, and she focused on showing us that world in detail “at whatever cost of dignity” and with a “basic attitude … free from straining or posturing.” In a world full of self-conscious ‘creatives’ and authors out to prove themselves, this medieval-like absorption in the tale is refreshing and part of Rowling’s success. For a little while, the whole world has gathered around the village bard, sharing in the transformative experience of a damn good story that everyone can delight in. That is a remarkable accomplishment for a world as fragmented as ours. And by books six and seven, Rowling matured her unique form of telling postmodern fairy tales. These books are crammed full of detailed meaning, yet her prose is also polished up. Rowling writes several chapters in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—“Godric’s Hollow,” “The Silver Doe,” and “The Forest Again”—that are finely crafted and full of good prose without compromising the integrity of her storytelling.
The Real S.P.E.W. – Rowling as Medieval Reformer
Long though our journey has already been, I have only begun to unpack the medieval sources, connections, influences, and character of the Harry Potter series. However, it is important to acknowledge that Rowling’s saga reflects very postmodern sensibilities as well. While still working within the sacramental framework of medieval Christianity, Rowling clearly reflects our postmodern fight against prejudice and skepticism toward authority. Others have written well and extensively on how, in Rowling’s own words, her books preached against “bigotry, violence, struggles for power, no matter what.” For present purposes, I will discuss how Rowling drew from medieval symbolism to craft a “neo-medieval” argument against prejudice and the abuse of authority that incorporates postmodern insights into a fundamentally sacramental worldview.
Most significantly and controversially, Rowling taps into our traditional dislike of witches and warlocks to challenge our prejudices. Fundamentalists and other Christian critics have rejected the books because they subvert these traditional symbols of evil. Rowling’s magical world is admittedly more confusing than traditional fairy tales because she uses symbols and terms for her “good guys” that were traditionally used only for beings who were evil. Up until the postmodern era, beginning around the time of The Wizard of Oz, the term ‘witch’ was used for an absolutely evil character. Medieval stories had good magical fairies and elves, but they did not have good witches. The terms ‘witch’ and ‘wizard’ were traditionally used for those who practice evil, invocational magic.
However, following the lead of L. Frank Baum, many twentieth century writers inverted this traditional meaning and created characters who were presented as “good witches.” For example, we have Belinda the Good Witch, Samantha of Bewitched, and characters in other shows like Charmed. None of these women use invocational magic. They use incantational magic like Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, yet they are called witches. Working in this new and potentially confusing tradition, Rowling also takes terms that were historically understood as evil and places them into a context where they do not carry the same evil meaning.
Rowling subverts traditional symbols not to reject a Christian understanding of good and evil or to argue for a relativistic view of the world, but in order to develop and extend a genuinely Christian understanding of good and evil, a view that has its first clear defender in the medieval Saint Augustine. For Rowling as for Augustine, evil is non-being. No created thing is itself inherently evil – no matter how great or strange its God-given powers are. Evil is not a material thing but a spiritual parasite that has no object of its own; evil can only twist, distort, or misuse the good things that God has made. As one of my own teachers put it, the devil hath not his own clay. Accordingly, in an imaginary world where people can have God-given natural powers (which is how Rowling defines “witch” and “wizard” within the rules of her alternative universe), evil is not defined by what you are but by who you chose to become. This is clearly shown by the changes we see in Tom Riddle. The more he grows in evil, the more his body is distorted and weakened. Through the deformation of Voldemort, Rowling embodies Augustine’s view that evil is a privation of the good, not a reality that has a being of its own. The filmmakers of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part II expand on this point at the moment of Voldemort’s death. He has become so evil, so full of non-being, that when he dies, the last lingering threads of his being turn to ash and blow away.
In medieval fairy tales and folklore, certain fearful creatures were often portrayed as inherently evil – snakes and dragons, for example – but drawing from an Augustinian view of evil, Rowling instead presents a world wherein all creatures, every being made by God, is inherently good and valuable. All that is, is good. In Harry Potter, monsters that were traditionally symbols of evil become admittedly strange but quite lovable creatures. Through the eyes of our quirky but loveable half-giant Hagrid, we learn to value all creatures great and small, no matter how different they are from ourselves. This is one of the primary ways that Rowling wages her war against bigotry. Werewolves, goblins, witches, wizards, elves, dragons, giant squids, thestrals, centaurs, and giants—all these strange beasts and peoples are presented as good creations which deserve to be respected, understood, and cared for simply because they are one of God’s creatures. The first snake we meet in Philosopher’s Stone is a gentle, sympathetic creature that Harry sets free. The only creatures portrayed as inherently evil in Harry Potter are creatures that were illegally bred for dark purposes, such as the basilisk, and the dementors, which are themselves Rowling’s soul-sucking symbol of parasitical evil. By challenging our fear of dragons or werewolves, Rowling challenges our prejudicial dislike of beings different than ourselves while still providing imagery to teach us about real and genuine evil.
In addition to her subversion of traditional imagery, Rowling also critiques medieval understanding through her treatment of hierarchy and authority. The intricate ordering of the medieval cosmos was strongly hierarchical, but as Lewis notes in The Discarded Image, “hardly any battery could persuade a modern that [the world] is hierarchical.” In contrast to the elaborate chain of being central to the medieval worldview, Rowling’s wizards are consistently skeptical of earthly authority and primarily egalitarian in the organization of the redemptive community. The intricate web of order and meaning in Rowling’s world is oriented horizontally, not vertically, but it is not completely flat as a modern materialist worldview would be. Rowling’s world is still tethered to a higher reality that lies beyond the veil. Dumbledore does function, at least until the last book, as a representation of divine authority, and trust in this cipher of divine authority is key to Harry’s personal growth and victory over evil. In his final, perfecting journey through death and resurrection, Harry’s faith must grow beyond his trust in the man Albus Dumbledore and be transmuted into something deeper and truer, something Dumbledore points toward by placing Biblical references on the gravestones of those who have passed through the veil before him. Harry’s world is Platonic in the most basic sense of affirming a realm of illumination that transcends the material forms of the visible world. The spiritual realm is higher than the material, but, unlike the chain of being presented in medieval cosmology, the people who dwell in the material world together are all on equal footing.
In a sense, Rowling is more Aristotelian than Platonic, as were the great systematizers to precede her, Dante and Aquinas. Aristotle, contrary to popular understanding, does not negate Plato’s philosophy but refines and balances it, much as Rowling seems to be doing with medieval sacramentalism. She is not rejecting all authority but contending for real authority. She is not rejecting the idea of evil but demanding that we develop a deeper understanding of it.
Aristotle’s philosophy likewise assumed the existence of a divine and symbolic realm but emphasized the importance of the particulars where that formal world was manifested. In that way, he is rightly an influence on sacramental philosophy, helping to fight against the world-denying dualism that dishonors God as the world’s Creator and denies His ability to be present to the things He has made. This Aristotelian affirmation of our particular, embodied life is part of what makes Harry’s world so refreshing and fun. Rowling helps us delight in the quirky yet meaningful particulars of this earthly realm. From Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans to Hermione’s knobbly elf hats, from Mrs. Weasley’s Christmas sweaters to Hagrid’s rock cakes, Harry Potter is a world that helps us find grace in our own imperfections and see a sacred, playful magic in our own ordinary world.
Although Rowling’s work reflects the systematic “bookish character” of the medieval era, she promotes a love of books that incorporates the lessons learned from modernity. Authorities can be, and often are, wrong—authoritative books included. Because manuscripts were so rare, expensive, and laborious to create, medieval thinkers sometimes went astray because they had “a great reluctance flatly to disbelieve anything in a book.” Hermione embodies Rowling’s sympathetic respect for the authority of books. The trio is often saved from danger simply because Hermione bothers to read, and read a lot. However, Harry also encounters dangerous books, like Lockhart’s collection of fame-driven rubbish that falsely enchants too many witches, and the demonic diary of Riddle that nearly kills Ginny and Harry. “Small wonder,” as Tolkien points out, “that spell means both a story told and a formula of power over living men.” Rowling teaches us that precisely because books are powerful and authoritative, we must take care when choosing which books and authorities to trust. As Lockhart confesses, “books can be misleading.” Just because “it is written” does not mean it is true, and because books are powerful, they can be both divine authorities and devilish dangers.
Rowling’s egalitarian sacramentalism also befits her central theme of love, for the scandal of the Christian Gospel is its radical elevation of the lowly. It is the poor and rowdy Weasley family that bears the most noble Arthurian names – Percival, Ginevra, Arthur, and Lancelot – foreshadowing Christ’s promise that “blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” The conflicts of the wizarding world, like ours, are framed within opposing contraries: Gryffindor/Slytherin, rich/poor, pureblood/mudblood, male/female, master/slave, student/teacher, etc. In alchemical language, the spiritual triumph of love over evil enables the hero’s community to attain a unity that transcends these innate dualities. This is the great work that Harry achieves by the end of the series. At the end of the battle of Hogwarts, we find the community gathering together, “but nobody was sitting according to House anymore: All were jumbled together, teachers and pupils, ghosts and parents, centaurs and house-elves.” Harry’s self-sacrificing love has brought peace and the dividing walls of hostility have been broken.
Harry Potter is best understood as a neo-medieval story because it offers the medieval synthesis of ancient myth and Gospel proclamation updated to reflect the lessons of postmodern experiences in an explicitly Christian vision of the world. Harry Potter is not modern because it is not rejecting or lamenting the loss of Christian meaning; it is reenacting and arguing for it. J.K. Rowling subverts some of our traditional literary symbols not to destroy or reject pre-modern wisdom but to correct and strengthen it. She challenges traditional symbols of evil in order to help us better understand the true nature of evil. She rejects false authorities in order to affirm true authority. Where Harry Potter offers critique, Rowling writes not to deconstruct the Christian metanarrative but to refine our understanding, re-order our souls, and bring us into harmony with the Christological truth ordering the cosmos. We love Harry Potter so much precisely because it is medieval, and our identification with Harry gives us an experience of the spiritual truths and realities that our modern secular culture denies us.
Annie Crawford is a cultural apologist, classical educator, and homeschooling mom who helped to launch An Unexpected Journal in 2017. With a Masters of Arts in Cultural Apologetics from Houston Baptist University, Annie teaches apologetics and humanities courses for Manna Classical Academy and Wilson Hill Academy and is co-founder of The Society for Women of Letters where she serves as Senior Fellow.
Annie Crawford, “Hogwarts in History: The Neo-Medieval Vision of Harry Potter,” An Unexpected Journal 3, no. 3. (Fall 2020), 119-170.
Direct Link: https://anunexpectedjournal.com/hogwarts-in-history-the-neo-medieval-vision-of-harry-potter/
 J.K. Rowling, The Prisoner of Azkaban (New York: Scholastic, 2001), 2.
 Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 203. Regrettably, the medieval church did burn heretics, but it was a matter of doctrine, not a fear of spiritual practices.
 Jill Lepore, “The Lion and the Mouse,” The New Yorker, July 21, 2008, accessed September 16, 2016, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/07/21/the-lion-and-the-mouse
 She is also the seventh child of “Arthur” which alludes to the medieval tradition which says, according to Rowling, “the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter and the seventh son of a seventh son” would have special powers. J.K. Rowling, Interview with Melissa Anelli and Emerson Spartz, July 16, 2005, http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2005/0705-edinburgh-ITVcubreporters.htm.
 John Granger, How Harry Cast His Spell (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2008), xvi.
 J.K. Rowling answers reader’s questions in Toronto Star, Nov. 3, 2001, http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2001/1101-torontostar.htm.
 J.K. Rowling interview with Adeel Amini, The Student, March 4, 2008, http://gallery.the-leaky-cauldron.org/default/fullpic/207264.
 Granger, Spell, 24-25.
 Note, in this essay I will refer to the British title for the first Harry Potter book for the translation into “Sorcerer’s Stone” destroys the important use of alchemical symbolism. We believe that the readers of AUJ can handle reading the word “philosophy” without being scared away.
 According to Lewis, medieval legend holds that the “unicorn is a beast too strong for any hunter to take; but if you set a virgin before him he loses all his ferocity, lays down his head in her lap and sleeps. Then we can kill him.” C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 149.
 Psalm 19:1.
 For a full discussion of the allusions in Harry Potter, see Beatrice Groves, Literary Allusion in Harry Potter (New York: Routledge, 2017).
 John Granger, “The World Turned Inside-Out,” in The Ravenclaw Reader (Oklahoma City: Unlocking Press, 2015), 208.
 See Phaedrus 246b-254c-e or Republic 441e-442b.
 C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image, 58
 Proverbs 4:23
 C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 24.
 J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosophers’ Stone (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 283.
 J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (New York: Scholastic, 2002), 507.
 J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (New York: Scholastic, 2003), 844.
 J.K. Rowling, Philosopher’s Stone, 308.
 Lewis, Abolition, 25.
 It may be of interest that it was Professor Septima Vector who taught arithmancy in Classroom 7A. For more sevens, see https://harrypotter.fandom.com/wiki/Seven#cite_note-WOM-1.
 Stratford Caldecott, Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2009), 56.
 Ibid., 57.
 Rev. 1:20.
 Caldecott, 59.
 Groves, 38.
 The Christian name of the Hogwarts founder Godric comes from a disciple of St. Cuthbert. http://www.normanconnections.com/en/characters/famous-characters/st-godric-of-finchale/
 Groves, 38.
 Langland, 1995, c1370-90, Passus 1, II.67-70.
 Langland, 1995, c1370-90, Passus 1, II.67-70.
 J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (New York: Scholastic, 2002), 333,
 John Granger, The Deathly Hallows Lectures (Allentown, PA: Zossima Press, 2008), 137.
 1 Cor. 3:13.
 1 Peter 1:7.
 Groves, 37.
 John 15:13.
 J.K. Rowling in a Bloomsbury Live Chat, July 30, 2007, http://accio-quote.org/articles/2007/0730-bloomsbury-chat.html.
 One of Rowling’s favorite fan theories is that Dumbledore “takes the role of Death” in the tale of the Three Brothers. Dumbledore is the one who gives Harry the invisibility cloak and who later greets Harry as an old friend in Kings Cross after he has become master of the hallows. See Groves, 56.
 Groves, 54.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-stories, Verlyn Flieger and Douglas A. Anderson, eds. (London: HarperCollins, 2008), 37.
 Groves 52.
 Matthew 5:8.
 As Lancelot Schaubert points out in his essay, “Mars is Bright Tonight,” the triple repetition of this phrase by Rowling indicates its importance.
 Lancelot Schaubert, “Mars is Bright Tonight: A Deeper Look at J.K. Rowling’s Use of Dante’s First Canto” in Harry Potter for Nerds, ed. Travis Prinzi (Oklahoma City: Unlocking Press, 2011), 204.
 For more on Harry Potter as a Dantesque “divine comedy” focused on the soul’s spiritual journey to divine perfection, see John Granger, “Snape’s Green-Eyed Girl” in The Deathly Hallows Lectures (Allentown, PA: Zossima Press: 2008).
 Lewis, Discarded Image, 5
 Ibid., 10
J.K. Rowling at Edinburgh Book Festival, August 15, 2004, http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2004/0804-ebf.htm.
J.K. Rowling writing about Hermione on her original website, now archived from the original on 16 September 2008, https://web.archive.org/web/20080916201222/http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/extrastuff_view.cfm?id=8
 Lewis, Discarded Image, 11
 Lewis, Discarded Image, 204
 Lewis, Discarded Image, 204.
 Lewis, Discarded Image, 205.
Lewis, Discarded Image, 205.
 Ibid., 207.
 Ibid., 206.
 Lewis, Discarded Image, 208.
 For more on Harry Potter as postmodern argument against prejudice, bigotry, and oppression, see John Granger, “Harry Potter as Postmodern Epic” in Harry Potter’s Bookshelf: The Great Books Behind the Hogwarts Adventures (New York, Berkley Books, 2009) and John Granger “Don’t Judge, Lest You Be Judged” in How Harry Cast His Spell (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2008).
 J.K. Rowling in an interview after being named Time’s runner-up to 2007 “Person of the Year,” http://www.the-leaky-cauldron.org/2007/12/19/j-k-rowling-named-runner-up-for-time-s-person-of-the-year/
 Lewis, Discarded Image, 222.
 Lewis, Discarded Image, 11.
 Tolkien, 48.
 Rowling, Chamber of Secrets, 297.
 Luke 6:20.
 Rowling, Deathly Hallows, 745.
 Eph. 2:14.
 For more on the role of love in Harry Potter see Jenna St. Hilaire, “Harry Potter and the Greatest Virtue” in Harry Potter for Nerds I, ed. Traviz Prinzi (Oklahoma City: Unlocking Press, 2011) and John Granger, “The Triumph of Love over Death” in How Harry Cast His Spell (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2008).