Harry Potter and the Values of the Kingdom

In this episode, Kymberli Cook, Kasey Olander and John Adair discuss the Harry Potter and some of the Christian themes and values that permeate the series.

About The Table Podcast

The Table is a weekly podcast on topics related to God, Christianity, and cultural engagement brought to you by the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. The show features interviews with guests who are experts on the chosen topic, and each episode is hosted by a member of The Hendricks Center’s team.

Timecodes
01:49
Initial Introductions to Harry Potter
05:50
Is it Okay to Watch or Read Harry Potter?
11:25
Helpful Ways to Approach Art & Media
19:38
Examining the Popularity of Harry Potter
25:50
Christian Values in Harry Potter
Transcript

Voiceover: 

Welcome to The Table Podcast, where we discuss issues of God and culture brought to you by Dallas Theological Seminary 

Kymberli Cook: 

Welcome to The Table Podcast, where we discuss issues of God and culture. My name is Kymberli Cook, and I'm the assistant director at the Hendricks Center here at DTS. 

Kasey Olander: 

And I'm Kasey Olander, and I'm the web content specialist here at the Hendricks Center. 

Kymberli Cook: 

And today we are going to be talking about Harry Potter and the values of the kingdom. So it's our attempt to just kind of walk through the Harry Potter stories, and the books, and to a degree some of the movies, and just really intentionally reflect on it, because it is a cultural phenomenon that comes on every single year, at least during October. So it comes up in our society each year. So we thought it would be helpful to reflect on it and really consider if there's anything good, or true, or beautiful about it, or even looking at the Bible passage, anything true, good, noble, excellent, or praiseworthy. So we are joined by our esteemed colleague, John Adair, who's the associate professor of theological studies here at DTS, to help us decide if Harry Potter does offer any of that. Thank you for being here today. 

Dr. John Adair: 

It's great to be here. Thanks. 

Kymberli Cook: 

Absolutely. And then I just want to say the most obvious thing ever, but there's a bit of a spoiler alert. The books have been around for 20 years, so if you have not read them or watched the movies, we would presume that you don't care, and you're probably not listening to this podcast, but on the off chance that you are, and you are interested, we will be spoiling the whole story, so stop now. Here we go. 

Kasey Olander: 

So we thought we would start off today by talking about how each of us began reflecting in this area of Harry Potter, and then also theologically or any connections there. So John, I thought we would start with you. How did you begin reflecting? 

Dr. John Adair: 

Sure. Yeah. So I was introduced to the books a long time ago when they were starting to come out and began to read and reflect. I've always been a theologian at heart, and so was always interested in those kinds of elements, and I've always been interested in those kind of elements, certainly in my adult life as I've read. And so anytime I pick up anything, even if it's a fun read like Harry Potter, I'm always interested in thinking about what's going on here. Is this saying anything about our world, and what's good, and what's not good, and what should we be pursuing, and what should we be about? 

Dr. John Adair: 

And so was certainly brought into that, and then as I've had children and been reading the books to them, getting to reflect on that again as I've gone through the books other times after my first read, and being able to think about what this means for them, and how they're going to be raised, and what they're going to be thinking about. So that's kind of the origin story, I guess, for me. Yeah. 

Kasey Olander: 

Yeah, absolutely. What about you, Kym? 

Kymberli Cook: 

So I grew up hearing about them, because I think my generation is the generation that they actually came out for. I was 10 when they were really excited that 10 year olds were reading big books and all of that, but for whatever reason, whether it was my parents didn't think that we should be reading it or I'm not exactly sure. I never really encountered them, or read them, or did anything until college, and I was wandering around the library just taking a study break, and I found the whole series on a shelf, and I was like, "Well, that'd be kind of fun." And so I think I got three or four of them at one time, and I ended up reading them almost nonstop for the next week. 

Dr. John Adair: 

Wow. 

Kymberli Cook: 

Because I was just like, "Oh my goodness." I would stay up until 2:00 in the morning reading. I remember I was up at 2:00 reading the fourth book. And so from that point, but I even just kind of thought that it was fun, and it wasn't until seminary and a particular conversation that I had with a friend. We were sitting in the middle of a tree in Ethiopia, so there you go, and we were hanging out on a trip that we were on, and she was a big Harry Potter fan, and I told her that I'd read the books a couple times. And so we really started talking through it and talking, chewing on the story and the theological implications of it and that kind of thing at that point. What about you, Kasey? 

Kasey Olander: 

Yeah, so somewhere between the release of the fourth and the fifth book is when I really jumped on the bandwagon. So I was reading it as a child, not from really a theologian's perspective, and so I found out about the books. I think someone gave my family one as a gift or something, and so I read the first one and then checked out the remaining ones from the library, and my dad read them all with me, and such that by the time the fifth one came out, we were at the midnight release of the fifth, and sixth, and seventh books. Yeah. 

Kymberli Cook: 

Did you dress up? 

Kasey Olander: 

I didn't I'm proud to say, honestly. 

Kymberli Cook: 

Aw, man. 

Kasey Olander: 

We were in line at midnight, so there's that, but, no, just my regular muggle clothes. 

Kymberli Cook: 

Nice Easter egg there. Okay, so I think before we go any further, we do need to talk about the tension that the church, at least the American church, experienced when they first came out, and because it can still definitely be in people's minds and a question, especially when you're talking about raising kids and letting them read it. Is it okay for Christians to read Harry Potter? Obviously, all three of us just admitted to doing it, so that tips our hand a little bit, but more than anything, I guess, so maybe not as much is it okay, but how do we respond? How do we think through somebody asking or expressing concern really over exposing our minds and our spirituality to a world that involves magic and that kind of thing? Kasey, what would you say? 

Kasey Olander: 

Well, I think we'll get into this a little bit later, but as I mentioned, I mean, I was reading it from a child's perspective, and I think, at least for me, when I got a little bit older, I was realizing the value of being discerning in anything that we consume, if it's books, or movies, or media, and things like that. And so I think that there's definitely, obviously, each person has to follow their own convictions, but too we I think consider the ways in which the elements are used. So it's not a how-to book about witchcraft. It's I think very clearly a fantasy story in children's literature and things like that, and so I think that maybe the tone with which the topics are addressed makes a difference as well as the genre, and the audience, and things like that, but, John, what would you say? 

Dr. John Adair: 

Yeah, I think I love what you've said there, and I think I definitely agree. I think as a parent, reading it with my kids was kind of where I was... I never really considered it much even as a 20 something year old as I was reading through the series the first time, because I kind of have the perspective of I'm the Christian here, and I love the Lord, and I'm interested in being faithful to him, and so whatever I encounter, I'm always thinking about what that thing is, and trying to process what kind of impact that might be having on me, but really thinking about it from the perspective of a child when I was reading it to my kids. And I just never got the sense that they thought it was anything other than a fantasy story, right? 

Dr. John Adair: 

And so even as you said, Kasey, it's not a how-to book, and there was never a time where it's like they actually outside of the childish, fantastical nature of a childish mind where kids think all kinds of things are real, monsters under beds and things like this, but outside of anything like that, there was never any sense. I never had any sense that my kids were like, "Oh, they're dabbling now in sorcery or whatever," which, of course, would be bad if that was happening, right? I'm not interested in that. 

Kymberli Cook: 

Yes, we just want to be very clear that we all recognize that witchcraft is a very real thing and is something that Christians are to stay away from and not participate in. 

Dr. John Adair: 

Right. 

Kasey Olander: 

Right. 

Dr. John Adair: 

That's right. Absolutely. I keep tabs on those things in my own heart and the hearts of my children, and I think as long as we're doing that, we have the ability to at least interact with a wide variety of media in the world, and see what's out there. Are there true things? Are there good things? Are there beautiful things? 

Kymberli Cook: 

Yeah, I think one thing that struck me, and even from the very beginning when I read it, because even as a college student, I was like, "Well, is this okay for me to read," that kind of thing, and what struck me as I was reading it was this specific story. So I'm not talking about all stories with magic, but this specific story, I was struck by the fact that magic was an inherent part of their reality, and there was no particular source of the magic. So I always found that, I don't know, a helpful distinction from our reality, because where when we are really talking about true witchcraft, we tend to believe and look at that kind of witchcraft as having a source in the evil one, and in demons, and the dark part of the world, the dark parts of the spiritual world. 

Kymberli Cook: 

And so whereas this just has a completely different approach to magic in a way that just isn't really comparable. It's just is not one for one enough to be like, "Oh, no, we should just completely avoid it." But that being said, I'm a big... I love fantasy books and sci-fi books, and so there have been other books that I have read that have magic involved in them that as I've read them, I stop at the first book in the series, or I stop halfway through the book, because I think, "This is not true, and noble, and praiseworthy. This is dark, and this is scary, and I don't want to put this in my mind, and I don't want go here." So I do think that there is a place for that question. I don't think it's lame for people to be asking that question. I think that that is a responsible Christian approach to anything, like we've said, any kind of literature, or anything that you're consuming. 

Kasey Olander: 

Mm-hmm. Yeah. And that's a good segue into thinking this is really a bigger question. So I wonder, do we have some maybe helpful frameworks to give people or things to think through when we think about how should Christians approach art and literature? 

Dr. John Adair: 

Yeah. I know for me, I want to always do this from a place of settledness about where I am coming from, right? And so I know who I am, and I know the community that I'm part of. I'm a Christian community that loves the Lord Jesus and wants to follow him, and so when I'm thinking about pursuing any kind of media, consuming it in any kind of way, I think I want to always have that rootedness that I'm starting from that place, and there are lots of approaches that people take to this to try to discern for themselves, and I think we have to be attentive to our own hearts. There are times where certain people are really deeply impacted by certain kinds of portrayals of things, and I would never want to tell a Christian to, "Oh, you should just go ahead and do it anyway." 

Dr. John Adair: 

If your heart is very sensitive on certain issues, I think it's wise to step back and to not participate in that, but I also think this is it's a personal matter I think for a lot of people, and our hearts are different and shaped differently, and we have different sensitivities, and so I'm attentive to my own sensitivities, and I would ask other people to do the same from a place of Christian Love and care for one another. As we're exposing each other to things and sharing things with each other, it's like I'm always kind of do I want to suggest this movie to this person? Those types of things. 

Kymberli Cook: 

Oh, yeah. 

Dr. John Adair: 

I have that conversation with myself a lot, this book, whatever the case might be, just because I'm trying to be sensitive to their approach. 

Kymberli Cook: 

And it's fine, but I feel like that's largely looking at the negative side of what Christians engaging media and that kind of thing can be, and rightfully so exploring that side. What do you guys see as the positive things that we can gain that kind of mandate or encourage us to walk thoughtfully, but we walk thoughtfully because there's something good over here? So what do you guys think that it offers believers, whether or not it's actually a "Christian" creation, that there might still be something there? Kasey, what do you think? 

Kasey Olander: 

Sure. Yeah. I mean, it's good for people to create things. It I think reminds us. Obviously, we're not creating ex nihilo from nothing the way that God does, but I think that it hearkens back to our creator who creates, and he makes things that are beautiful and good. And so I think that in some small way, the fact that we are able to be creative reminds us of that. And then too, we're able to I don't want to use the word consume, but we're able to engage with things like art and media. And I think looking for what is valuable and what is celebrated in it, whether it's a painting, or if it's even a TV show, or a comic book, or something like that, I think there's always maybe some lenses with which we can see things that we're on the lookout for what is worth celebrating that reminds us of who God is, and the way that he's created things. 

Kymberli Cook: 

Yeah, I think especially with art specifically, I think of kind of you know how when you're sitting in front of a sunset, you think, "Man, that's beautiful," and you have an experience that isn't verbal, but you still very much have a worshipful experience, a thoughtful experience. Perhaps it makes you think of something... Or anything beautiful can not just be a sunset, but it makes you think of something different. I feel like art offers that as well. It offers this nonverbal way of expressing truths, or perspectives, or experiences that other people have had, and then it makes me look at something potentially a little differently or have that encounter, for lack of a better word. 

Kymberli Cook: 

And also, any kind of verbal art, literature, music, film, all of that offers you... How do I want to say it? It offers you, I think, largely the different perspectives. So all of a sudden I can see the world from this person's eyes instead of Kym Cook's 30 something mom, Christian world eyes. I can see it from this other one, and that helps 30 something Kym mom actually live her life as a Christian better, because I have seen it that way. 

Kasey Olander: 

It's like an exercise in empathy. 

Kymberli Cook: 

Yeah. Yeah, thank you. That was a way more eloquent and succinct way of saying that. I appreciate that. John, is there anything else you would add of reasons why we want to engage things that might demand a bit of careful walking as we engage them? 

Dr. John Adair: 

Sure. Yeah, I mean, we're created in the image of God, right? And as image bearers, we reflect him in everything that we do. And so as people who reflect the Lord, we make things in the world, and those things are reflective of the Lord, so that that which we make is reflective of the maker, and so for me, I'm excited always to encounter things that might remind me of the Lord. And so I want to sort of be on that path and be thinking about that. And this happens in so many different venues. I think the other thing about art too is that it takes us into... I mean, you mentioned nonverbal, but I just think this sort of multisensory experience that's beyond... I think a lot of times we get caught up in exchange of words and ideas, where we sit down even at a table like this, and we have a conversation about things, which is really great as far as it goes, but it's not the fullness of human experience, right? 

Dr. John Adair: 

And so art is one of those things that allows us to kind of have a mechanism to kind of get into that a bit more. And there are so many things that happen that are mysterious when we encounter art that I can't explain. In my own life I've had so many experiences like that where something is happening. I'm feeling an emotion, or I'm having a sense of something that I didn't expect to have when I sat down, or I entered this room and looked at this painting, and then here it is, and what's going on there? And then you kind of circle back around, and you reflect, and who knows where that goes? But it's all part of, I think, the human experience and participating in the life and the world that God made. And so I want to do that in all the ways that I can. 

Kymberli Cook: 

And quite frankly, what God made us to do. That's a part of what he made us to do just inherent in who we are. 

Dr. John Adair: 

Yeah. That's right. Yeah. 

Kasey Olander: 

Yeah, definitely. So we have these things to consider as we look at any kind of art, any kind of literature, and so shifting back specifically to Harry Potter, I don't think it's overstating it to say that it's a cultural phenomenon. There are theme parks, there's books. It's the best selling book series of all time. It's sold over 500 million copies around the world, and Kym mentioned that it was fascinating that children were reading these massive books. It's hundreds and hundreds of pages at their longest, and so these movies are making $9 billion. And so I wonder if we have any thoughts about, what is it about this particular series that has made it such a phenomenon? Does that say something about our culture, our society, maybe our human nature, the fact that something about this series has really, really gripped people? 

Kymberli Cook: 

I'll go first. 

Dr. John Adair: 

Jump in. 

Kymberli Cook: 

I mean, what has struck me is, I mean, it's kind of like low hanging fruit, but is the recognition of a supernatural dimension of reality, and perhaps even a longing for it, of wanting there to be more, that maybe if I tap on this wall in a certain way, it'll open up this whole other part of reality that has been going on all of this time, and believing that there is more than what I can necessarily just see and feel. So I think it reveals at least part of that, and even if that's just the human self just wanting something more, I'm not sure, but I think that does reveal that. What about you, John? 

Dr. John Adair: 

I agree with that, and I'll add this bit to it. Part of the fact that the stories are set in modern day city that we know in the world, London and around there, makes that point more strongly, right? that it's our world, and we think there's something more going on in this world. There's something beyond the everyday humdrum that we're used to, right? And so that's a big piece of it. I think the other thing that this story has that is maybe in lots of stories, but it taps into something that I think people are very interested in in general, which is grappling with the mystery and the power of evil in the world, and how it seems to be so all encompassing at times and overwhelming at times. And everybody wants to know what to do about that. 

Dr. John Adair: 

And so lots of stories deal with this. I mean, stories usually have conflict in them if they're any good, but this story is able to sort of tap into that in almost a kind of transcendent way, right? Where because it's this special power, and because it's beyond our own ability to kind of grapple with it, it connects with something in our own experience as we've wrestled with evil, and so I think that is another thing that kind of keeps it rolling and keeps those sales coming, I guess. 

Kymberli Cook: 

And that that evil impacts our modern day world, because in the books, there's an overlap at certain points between what is happening in the wizarding world and what is happening in the muggle world, the non wizard world. 

Kasey Olander: 

Non magic. 

Kymberli Cook: 

The non magic world. Yeah, even more to your point where it's kind of like, well, that's because this is going on, that kind of thing. What about you, Kasey? What would you say? 

Kasey Olander: 

It seems like there are some common themes that all of us can identify with, whether that's, oh, I've felt the way that that character feels in their first year at school, and having a new experience, or something like that, or I identify with, oh, having these really great friendships that provide a solid foundation when there's all of this. You've mentioned conflict, and turmoil going on, and things like that, so I wonder if we like to see a little bit of ourselves in some of these characters. I mean, frankly, I like that it all wraps up nicely. 

Kymberli Cook: 

Absolutely. 

Dr. John Adair: 

I think the setting is really cool too, just the way they have this school, and it's just such a cool kind of place to be in a castle, and there's this sort of old feel to it that is kind of there's a rootedness to it that I think is probably connecting with people in some way. It connects with me certainly. 

Kymberli Cook: 

Yeah. What? You mean because we rebuild our schools every five years? 

Dr. John Adair: 

Right. 

Kymberli Cook: 

There's not a sense of rootedness for children. 

Dr. John Adair: 

Exactly. 

Kymberli Cook: 

But I mean, being in a castle that for hundreds of years that's where the wizards are trained and... Yeah. 

Dr. John Adair: 

Right, this long tradition, and it goes back so far that they don't even know the origins all the time. They're hazy in the past, but we're still here in this place that was started by these hazy people from the past, and what's going on there. And so I think there's something mysterious that connects people and kind of draws them in a bit about that. 

Kymberli Cook: 

I think there's also something about kind of the idea of a normal person having a purpose or a greater purpose than what it might feel like when you're getting up either to go to school or to make your kids toast for them to go to school. And so the idea that there's this just normal little boy who is something totally different, and I feel like Harry Potter seems to have really... I mean, I don't want to say it's the first time, because there's a lot of literature, and I'm sure it's not, but it really seemed to spark a trend of literature, especially young adult literature, of this normal person thinking that they were just like everybody else and really they're this instead, all of that. 

Kymberli Cook: 

I mean, you could just name, go down the list of all of the different series, but I think that there's something in us that wants to be more and wants to recognize that we have some kind of transcendent purpose or something like that, which again, the Christian faith also has an explanation for that feeling, and that we have an explanation for why that is attractive to us, because we believe that it's true. Not necessarily that we're all Harry Potter, but we believe that each one of us has a purpose in a different way than maybe the modern, more materialistic world would ascribe. Okay, so let's turn. Now that we've talked about what's interesting about it in general, let's turn to the values of the kingdom just in the stories that we see. 

Kymberli Cook: 

So we've been saying, "Oh, there's good, true, beautiful things." Okay, so what are those good, and true, and beautiful things that we see in this series specifically that we look, and we're like, "Man, here is a Christian value here. Here is a kingdom value here,"? John, you've got first stab. 

Dr. John Adair: 

Thanks. So I could go a lot of directions with this. I think I'll just kind of connect it to something I was just talking about when we talked about the rootedness. There's something that happens to Harry when he gets the letter at the beginning and the first book, and he discovers this whole new world that he had no idea about before, but he also has the privilege of being transported out of his life, which is not just not good, it's abusive, right? 

Kymberli Cook: 

Abusive. 

Dr. John Adair: 

I mean, it's terrible. And he gets transported out of this, and he gets taken to this castle where he's able to make friends. He's able to discover his purpose like you're talking about. It's as if he's moved into this brand new community of people where his life is now about something, and it's for something. And so there's a connection here, I think, with just life in the church and the Christian community, where we think about ourselves as believers coming into the church, coming into something that's far older than we have any idea of when we come into it. We have no sense of that usually when we enter in, but we come into that community, and now are part of this new family, and have this purpose that's very clearly defined for us in terms of living for the Lord, and being conformed to the image of the Son, and all these things. 

Dr. John Adair: 

And so when you see Harry, and you see this sort of journey take place, it's not a perfect community. There's all kinds of things that go wrong inside it, but there is a various strong, and stable, and established group that are around him, and particularly the closer you get, and there's all kinds of growth that takes place through this. There's all kinds of maturity that takes place. And you could say, "Well, that's because it's the school." Yeah, but that's the frame, right? And it's I think mirrors what we hope to see, and what we look for, certainly what I look for in the church. I'm looking for a community like that. I'm looking for people who are devoted to me, and that I can be devoted to. I'm looking for people who are wanting to fight evil in the world and not be beholden to it, all of those things. 

Kasey Olander: 

Yeah, I think on that note, the community that Harry is then placed in, I think fills a lot of voids that he might have experienced in his life. So he grows up an Orphan, and he all of a sudden... Not all of a sudden. Over the course of time, has these mother figures and father figures in Molly Weasley and in maybe Dumbledore, Sirius. He has these mentors that are filling in what he's never experienced before. He has Ron and Hermione, who are his best friends, but they become his family, like his siblings, and they're really in this fight against evil. They're all in it together, and so I think that there's a lot of that where the church steps in where things are lacking to meet needs and to be the body of Christ, brothers and sisters to one another. 

Dr. John Adair: 

Right. 

Kymberli Cook: 

I want to jump on what you said a little bit with regard to not everybody being perfect. I think even more than that, I feel like the story is... Or some at least of the storylines are driven by the insistence that people are not perfect. And as I got to thinking about it in preparation for this, I kind of went through each character and there is at least one substantial flaw for every person. Hermione is a know-it-all. Ron can be unfeeling and kind of selfish. Harry is quick to play the hero and can have problems controlling his anger, and that kind of thing. And then you get even a little bit deeper in the adult world, and you have Dolores Umbridge who is part of the Ministry of magic, who at least at the beginning is supposed to be the good guys, and then you find out she's actually very evil. There's a lot of darkness in her. 

Kymberli Cook: 

And Barte Crouch, who was also a part of the Ministry of Magic, but he was so legalistic about all of the rules that he was at times just as dark and just as evil as some of the dark wizards. And so I think over and over you see, and just when I got to thinking about it with regard to children, it in a good way I think it implants this idea of not everybody is good, but not everybody is totally bad either. It's murky, and again, our Christian faith gives us then a structure to explain that even to our kids and to say, "Yeah, it's because we do have sin, and we're beholden to that, but not everybody who comes across as good is necessarily good, and you need to be careful," and all of that. So I think that that was also an interesting thing that stood out to me. 

Dr. John Adair: 

I love that. And I think you do find at moments where some of these characters, especially the ones that are most central to the story, are confronted with those faults and have to try to overcome them. And I think about in the last book where Ron, who's a rash person too often, he lets his emotions get the best of him, and he does in the seventh book, and he walks away for a while from the group, and he's confronted with that fault. And he knows it almost immediately, I think, when he leaves, and he eventually has to come back and make it right. And so I like that kind of thing that it's able to... You may not get it in every book in the series where every character is confronting all of those faults all the time, but I think in the grand scheme of things, that's the heart of the series, and where Rowling is going with it, I think. 

Kymberli Cook: 

So I also think these are fairly simple, but just the deep value of truth, and loyalty, and steadfastness when everybody is against Harry almost every book it seems for one reason or the other, but then it always comes back, usually comes back Harry was telling the truth, and this is really what's been going on this whole time, and we admire him because he held to it even when everybody was against him. And he had every reason to not be as adamant about what he knew to be true, and obviously we see correlations in the Christian faith there, and quite frankly, just virtues that we celebrate, which is truth, and patience, and stead fastness. 

Kasey Olander: 

Yeah, I think that we see Harry grow his maybe discernment or morality muscles in that... This is the biggest spoiler of all time, but all the way until- 

Kymberli Cook: 

I was going to say, somebody has got to say it. 

Kasey Olander: 

We have to. 

Dr. John Adair: 

Better you than me. 

Kasey Olander: 

We have several warnings. So all the way up to the very end where he gives his life for the rest of the people. He's effectively saving the world from Voldemort when he willingly lays down his life for his friends and for people he doesn't even know. And so anyway, I love that we see that Messianic theme there, and that ultimately he does, even though it's really difficult, he does what is good for everyone else. 

Dr. John Adair: 

It's such a contrast with Voldemort too, right? Voldemort who is defined by his desire not to die and his unwillingness to give his life for anyone. And Harry has got to come to the realization as a basically 17, 18 year old kid that this is the way, to give my life for other people, and that's just a beautiful contrast that's at the heart of the gospel I think. Greater love has no one than they lay down their life for their brother, right? So I'm appreciative of that. 

Kymberli Cook: 

Well, and maybe zooming out just a smidge, but still very much in the vein of talking about that because it's part of the theme that leads up to Harry sacrificing himself, is over and over it's all about the power of love, and what love really does, and how powerful it is, and how the powers and the darkness don't appreciate what love can really do. And I mean, we believe God is love. That's what scripture says, and so really recognizing, no, even if like you referenced earlier, the world does seem so dark and so evil at times, and that's part of why we identify with this series, but also sometimes we underestimate and we undervalue just how powerful God really is, and how powerful love really can be. And we don't let it do what it's supposed to do, and we try to control things in different ways. 

Kymberli Cook: 

And so I think that's just yet another theme that over and over, because they're always saying, "Oh, is it about love again? Love?" And dismissive, and I think Dumbledore is the one who keeps beating the drum like, "Yes. Yes, it is. It is about love, and nobody is giving it what it deserves." 

Dr. John Adair: 

And what I appreciate about it, Kym, is that in contrast to some other things that I've encountered in the world, in the media world, with that talk about love is that love in Harry Potter is always connected to life. And so often love is connected to things that are fleeting, or that they're not satisfying ultimately, right? But in this series, it's always connected to life, and there are so many ways in which love shows up on the scene to protect life, to preserve life. He dies at the end, because he loves, right? And it's to give life to other people is the idea, and so that's where I think it's really at the heart of the story. This is deeply Christian, this idea, and I want to celebrate that where I see it. 

Kasey Olander: 

Yeah, and it also is tied to action, right? It's not just that he says that he loves the people. He goes. He has to take himself to the forest to die. And examples that you named, like you see the Wesley's Loving Harry. When they hardly even know him, they demonstrate affection, and they care for him and stuff. There's all of this outward signs of that inward love that makes all the difference. 

Dr. John Adair: 

So I just want to throw this in here, because we're just talking now. So I think for me, the two chapters that are the most kind of overwhelming in the whole series are connected to this theme, but in a kind of different way. And one comes at the end, near the end of book four, and one comes near the end of book seven, and it's when Harry is visited by people who are dead, and in both cases there's something really profound that's getting ready to take place. I mean, he's going to die in both cases, that's what at least what it looks like is going to happen and does happen in book seven, but these people show up, and it's people that are in his life or that were in his life at some point in the past, but they've since passed on for variety of reasons, including his mother and his father. And I appreciate the way in which love extends backwards, and that this always makes me think about the idea in Hebrews that there's a great cloud of witnesses that's watching. 

Kymberli Cook: 

That's exactly what I was just thinking. Yeah. 

Dr. John Adair: 

And the idea that those who've gone before us are still invested in where this is going, right? And this is dramatized so beautifully in those two chapters where they come, and they say things like, "You can do it," and, "Keep on," and, "Stay strong." And they want him to persevere, and they encourage him that he is doing the right thing. And so I'm a historian in my day job. 

Kymberli Cook: 

So that feels really good. 

Dr. John Adair: 

I love the past, and I love the people of the past, and I love the encouragement that I receive from the past, and so to see this dramatized in such a beautiful way, I can't read those chapters out loud at one go. My kids are always like, "Dad? Dad's crying again," or whatever, because it's so beautiful, and it's just such a great theme that's made tangible. And so I love the way that love kind of looks backward like that too. 

Kymberli Cook: 

Yeah. Well, but the end of book four is, if you remember, that's the one I was up until 2:00 reading. 

Dr. John Adair: 

Yes. 

Kymberli Cook: 

I think Voldemort had been reborn, and it was about midnight, and I was like, "What is going on?" 

Dr. John Adair: 

Right. Right. Can't stop now. 

Kymberli Cook: 

I just couldn't stop, because it's so good. 

Dr. John Adair: 

Yeah. 

Kymberli Cook: 

Yeah. Any other values you want to highlight, Kasey? 

Kasey Olander: 

I was thinking of earlier, John, when you were talking about love being associated with life, I was thinking of how Harry values. Obviously, in this book, there's a lot of magical creatures, so he seems to value all kinds of life, even when people think wizards are the best, or only pure bloods are the best, people with only wizard parents in their lineage and stuff. And so I was thinking of the emphasis that Harry and really Hermione encourages him in this, the emphasis that they put on treating every living thing with dignity and with respect. You see that with the house elves or with any of the other magical creatures, but I think that that's something too that sets them apart from the Ministry of Magic that you mentioned that gets corrupt. 

Kymberli Cook: 

Mm-hmm. Love those people, yeah. Yeah. 

Dr. John Adair: 

It's a great theme. There's a consistent care for those who are less than, at least in the eyes of the majority world, whatever that is, and who they consider to be less than. They're not actually, right? These are valuable creatures in their own right, and I think that extends too even to some of the other kids who are within the castle, right? So characters like Luna, or Neville, or that everybody else just kind of looks askance at, or makes fun of, or whatever. They're loved well by the core group and brought along, so it's extended in all those directions. Yeah. 

Kymberli Cook: 

One final theme, and it links to what we were talking about with life and love, but I think it's also interesting how she explores all of that. You see her exploring it through Harry and Hermione, and all of the "good characters", but you also see her exploring it through particularly Voldemort, and even Snape to a degree, the teacher who may be good, may not be good. They don't really know until the absolute very end, and because like you said, he was always afraid of death, and that was the absolute worst thing that could occur. And Dumbledore being like, "No, there are a lot worse things that could happen than death." 

Kymberli Cook: 

And so I just think that that's interesting too, because you do get a lot of exploration on darker themes, but not, again to the earliest part of our conversation, to a glorifying extent, but to an extent of this is what it looks like on the other side. This is what it looks like when you don't value life. This is what it looks like when you are afraid of death, and that is the absolute worst thing. And you think that this is all that there really is, that kind of thing. So I thought that that was an interesting, again, theme all the way through as well. Well, our time is up, and I have thoroughly enjoyed Harry Pottering. I'm not sure I ever wanted to fully raise this flag this broadly, but here it is. But it's been fun. 

Dr. John Adair: 

Yes. 

Kymberli Cook: 

It's been fun talking about it and just reflecting theologically on it. So thank you, John, for being here. We really appreciate it. 

Dr. John Adair: 

Thanks, glad to be here. 

Kymberli Cook: 

Absolutely. And we just want to thank you for listening, and we ask you that you would join us next time when we discuss issues of God and culture. 

Voiceover: 

Thanks for listening to The Table Podcast. Dallas Theological Seminary, teach truth, love well. 

John Adair
Dr. John Adair emphasizes guiding his students toward a Christ-centered, historically informed faith. His research interests include historical exegesis and the role of culture in theology. Prior to joining the faculty at DTS, Dr. Adair spent several years as a writer at Insight for Living. He and his wife, Laura, have three children—Nicholas, Harper, and Thomas.
Kasey Olander
Kasey Olander is the Web Content Specialist at the Hendricks Center. Originally from the Houston area, she graduated from The University of Texas at Dallas with a Bachelor’s degree in Arts & Technology. She has also been an Associate Director with the Baptist Student Ministry, working with college students at UT Dallas and Rice University, particularly focusing on discipleship and evangelism training. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, having interesting conversations, and spending time with her husband.
Kymberli Cook
Kymberli Cook is the Assistant Director of the Hendricks Center, overseeing the workflow of the department, online content creation, Center events, and serving as Giftedness Coach and Table Podcast Host. She is also a doctoral student in Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, pursuing research connected to unique individuality, the image of God, and providence. When she is not reading for work or school, she enjoys coffee, cooking, and spending time outdoors with her husband and daughters.
Contributors
John Adair
Kasey Olander
Kymberli Cook
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October 25, 2022
art, books, media, movies
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