Nancy Carpentier Brown: “Hope and Harry Potter”

In an amazing article, author Jason Knott suggests that each of the seven Harry Potter books coves or emphasizes one of the seven virtues. The sixth book of the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Knott says, is about hope:

According to Thomas Aquinas, “the object of hope is a future good, difficult but possible to obtain.” Hope as a virtue concerns the proper confidence in obtaining the proper good by the proper means. One of the hints that Half-Blood Prince is about hope is the large number of times this word is repeated, especially at strategic points….

In this book, since Dumbledore dies in the climax, we get his debriefing beforehand, and this happens just after he and Harry see Slughorn’s true memory. In this early debriefing, Dumbledore tries to convince Harry that because of his whole heart and his ability to love, he has a chance to win against Voldemort. Harry concludes that he must have a different attitude in the fight, and that attitude is hope.

Harry Potter, like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, is the “only hope.” The first Star Wars movie (or the fourth) is called A New Hope, and the series in many ways parallel the Harry Potter books, except Star Wars has all the “Force” stuff, and in Harry Potter they just pray. Harry is the only one who survives a killing curse. He is destined to fight the Dark Lord, and hopefully defeat him. Hero stories follow the same hopeful path.

G.K. Chesterton, in his masterwork Orthodoxy, says some important things about hope.

…the true citizen of fairyland is obeying something that he does not understand at all. In the fairy tale an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened, and all evils fly out. A word is forgotten, and cities perish. A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited. An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone.

Chesterton is saying that hope rests on a hinge: a thin thread that can break at any moment. Hope can be lost and found. Hope can be gained by praying for it. Hope can be sought by seeking it. Hope is an act of faith: we must have confidence that we can gain hope if we want hope. We must believe that hope can be ours if we ask for it.

In his autobiography, Chesterton writes:

I began by being what the pessimists called an optimist; I have ended by being what the optimists would very probably call a pessimist. And I have never in fact been either, and I have never really changed at all. I began by defending vermilion pillar-boxes and Victorian omnibuses although they were ugly. I have ended by denouncing modern advertisements or American films even when they are beautiful. The thing that I was trying to say then is the same thing that I am trying to say now; and even the deepest revolution of religion has only confirmed me in the desire to say it. For indeed, I never saw the two sides of this single truth stated together anywhere, until I happened to open the Penny Catechism and read the words, “The two sins against hope are presumption and despair.”

Presumption and despair. Presumption is the sin of pride that says I can do more than I think I can alone. I overestimate my abilities. I think I can get myself into heaven by myself. I think I am really a great writer converting millions to the faith merely through my wonderful words, because God uses me because He thinks I’m special. Despair is the opposite of presumption, and says that no matter what I do, no matter how good I try to be, I’ll never get to heaven because God would never let me in there, because no matter what I am just too bad to get there; God would give up on me, for sure. No matter what I do, how I pray, I can never do enough; and I completely forget that God’s grace is part of the picture.

So between the two extremes of presumption and despair, is a healthy dose of hope.  Speaking of healthy hope, let’s turn now to Spe Salvi.

What is it we hope for? Why do we need hope? Hope is equivalent to faith, says Pope Benedict. We need hope, we want hope, we long for hope, we should pray for hope.

The distinguishing mark of Christians, says Benedict, is that we have a future: we have hope.

At the end of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, after they’ve fought the evil Lord Voldemort and know they must continue the fight, one of the characters says, “Well, we have something the other side doesn’t have.” And what’s that, someone asks. The answer:”Something worth fighting for.”

A hope. A dream. A future.

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Ron, Harry, and Hermione are reunited with their old school mate Neville, who has stayed at school, fighting the evil minions of Lord Voldemort. When they first meet up with Neville, he is bruised and battered, having been beaten by the bad guys. When his friends ask him why he looks this way, he tells them he stood up to the evil ones, and spoke the truth. His friends rather laughingly suggest that perhaps, knowing he would get beaten, it wasn’t so smart to speak up.

“The thing is,” says Neville, “it helps when people stand up to them, it gives everyone hope. I used to notice that when you did it, Harry.”

So here is Neville, taking an example from Harry Potter, a sort of positive peer pressure, to stand up for what is right, not out of arrogance or to be a smart mouth, but because he is motivated to give his fellow classmates hope. He remembers feeling hopeful in the past when Harry stood up to them. He passes that hope along, by continuing the fight in Harry’s absence.

In the end, we must have hope if we are to live each day. The characters in Harry Potter had hope that evil personified as Lord Voldemort would be defeated by the only person evil could never kill. The characters in Star Wars have hope that Luke Skywalker will save the galaxy from the evil work of Darth Vader. We humans, living out our lives in the real story of the world, place our hope in Jesus, who was the first person who died but didn’t stay dead; who survived as a baby when all the other babies were killed; who marks us as His own at our baptisms, showing the world by an invisible sign that we are His; who feeds us and cares for us and loves us—we place our hope in Jesus because he took on our sin, our pain, our sorrow, and bore it all so that we might have life.

Let us then put our hope in the Lord, who saves us.


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