Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What's in a Name?

So...remember the time I promised to write this whole finding-God-in-Harry-Potter series then completely forgot to actually write it? Well...forgive me, but I am finally getting around to it! I'm now about halfway through John Granger's How Harry Cast His Spell, and I have to say my mind is blown. I'm pretty familiar with Christian imagery and with the Potter series, but gracious, there is a lot even I missed. To be honest, it will take me a long while to share all the nuggets of truth I want to, so be patient with me. Before I delve into the books themselves in a walk-through fashion, let's take a few posts to look at the significance of names in Harry Potter...and who better to start with than the Chosen One himself?

***Aside: Let me start by reiterating that in looking at the Harry Potter series through the lens of Christian imagery, I am in no way saying that it's the only way to interpret the series nor am I attempting to interpret what the incredible Ms. Rowling had in mind for how we are supposed to interpret the stories. This is probably getting a bit too English major-ish, but the best authors are ones whose works simultaneously build up grand plots and themes and weave in many, many layers of symbolism while still leaving room for the reader to find his or her own way through the forest of their own imaginations and reasoning. I think that J.K. Rowling would agree that the last thing she would want is for her readers to want to figure out what she meant when she wrote the Potter novels but rather what the stories mean to us and how they speak to and better us as human beings (and I would argue as Christians). I personally take the stand that any true work of art (be it literature, music, or art in the literal sense) ignites a spark within us that reminds us of how we are created beings (works of art if you will) designed to bring glory to our Creator, and therefore, one can find glimpses of the divine in any true work of art if you look hard enough. I tend to read most novels, watch most movies, and listen to most music with a constant lookout for these pen strokes of the Creator (thus the name of this blog), so of course I read (and re-read) the Potter series through the lens of my relationship with Christ, and I agree with Mr. Granger (no relation to Hermione ;) ) that it's pretty hard to deny the plethora of Christian symbolism in these novels, and while I think it's pretty obvious that J.K. Rowling planned this on purpose, it really holds no meaning whether she intended them to be interpreted as "Christian" or not. Keep all of this in mind when reading any of these posts. But I digress...***

Now...back to Mr. Potter. Why is our hero given the name Harry Potter? What meaning can we draw from his name? Before we get to that, we have to zoom out just a little. Mr. Granger takes the stand (and I completely agree) that the character of Harry Potter can be seen as an example of a Christian "Every Man" akin to Christian in John Bunyan's classic Pilgrim's Progress. For those of you who have not had the privilege *cough* kidding *cough* of reading this work, let me fill you in on the concept of the "Every Man." Basically, he's every man. He stands as an archetype of any human being on the road to discovering salvation, redemption, and purpose through their relationship with God. The reader should be able to relate to the character and see himself or herself in the character through the victories, temptations, and the defeats and ultimately through the final victory over evil.

What does this have to do with Harry Potter? you ask. Why do you think millions of people have fallen in love with this series? There are actually many answers to that, but I think the biggest reason is that the characters (Harry in particular) are so relatable. Potter fans around the world are adamant about their favorite characters and can quickly tell you why they love those characters, and usually if they're honest, it's largely to do with how much they see themselves in those characters. It's common knowledge that Hermione is my favorite because she's basically my literary twin with her brainy and bookish ways and aversion to getting in trouble. See what I mean? ;)

But again...back to Harry. Even the staunchest Draco/Slytherin fan will usually admit that there's something about Harry that even they can relate to and respect. Harry is the "Every Man." His journey through the seven-book series is a reflection of every person's journey through life. The choices he makes are similar to choices we all must face. Maybe you've never had to find a way to banish a Boggart, but I guarantee you've had to find a way to face your fears, and maybe you've never had to fight a fire-breathing dragon, but I know you've had to fight temptations that seemed just as deadly. The secular interpretation will tell you that you can see Harry as the "Every Man" who uses good to triumph over evil (which is completely accurate), but after seeing all the layers and layers of Christian symbolism throughout the entire series, I see Harry as the Christian "Every Man," and I think you can see that in his very name. (The following is a summation of what Granger illuminates in Chapter 10 of How Harry Cast His Spell.)

Let's start with the first name. Harry. What meaning can we take from Harry? While Harry does have unruly black hair that he can't seem to tame, there's more meaning there than just "Hair-y" Potter. Granger suggests pronouncing Harry the French way (as Fleur does!) without the "h" sound, so you get "Arry" with a long "a" sound. You could interpret this as "airy," but since our main character is no airhead, I think the better interpretation is "heir-y" as in heir of a kingdom. Now, we're getting somewhere. What is Harry the heir of? There's reason to suspect that he's actually the heir of Gryffindor since he did pull the sword of Gryffindor from the Sorting Hat and because it makes sense for the heir of Gryffindor to ultimately defeat the heir of Slytherin, Lord Voldemort. To truly see what Harry's inheritance is, though, we must move on to his last name.

Potter. At first glance, it's a common last name, which probably had its origin, as many European surnames do, in the occupation of the person bearing the name. However, none of our Potters are actually potters, so there must be something else there. If you look at the imagery of the potter in biblical terms, you see over and over references to God the father as the Potter who shapes us and molds us into shining examples of His love. One of my favorite passages is in 2 Corinthians 4: 7 and refers to us as Christians as "treasures in jars of clay," again signifying God as the Potter. If you take into consideration that the Latin word for "father" is "pater," you get some crazy awesome dual symbolism in Harry's name. Follow me here. Harry Potter = "Heir-y Potter/Pater" = heir/son of the Potter/Father. Am I blowing your mind yet? So now we have Harry as truly the Christian "Every Man" even in name. He's the son of the Potter, the heir of the Father, a treasure in a jar of clay that we are meant to relate to and emulate for his (mostly) consistent choice of doing what is right in the eyes of the Father over what's easy. Our hero has the humblest of beginnings in the cupboard under the stairs yet rises to be the savior of the wizarding world all because at every turn, Harry chooses to give up what's advantageous for him in favor of what's right and good and noble according to the legacy left to him by his father and mother and Dumbledore...even at the cost of his own life (but more on that later...probably much later haha). He truly is the "son of the Father," and his example can lead us to be better sons and daughters of our Father and to truly embrace our inheritance as sons and daughters of the King! (I couldn't resist to add this in here. I found it on somebody's tumblr. Lion King + Harry Potter = awesome:)

Stay tuned for more fun with names of other characters we've grown to love...and hate!


Kathryn Taylor said...

I've been waiting...thanks! I'm glad you are the one doing the research, and I can just enjoy. You know...Romans 1, says we all know there is a God, so even though J.K. isn't a confessing believer, I think this searching need is in her for sure.

Stefanie Kellum said...

Thanks, Kat, and I definitely agree. I also think that God knew what He was doing when he made this series so successful, and I hope that this little blog series will show just how evident He makes Himself known in these books whether she intended to or not. I mean, I know God makes Himself known in my life even when I don't intend for Him to, and literature is no different. I'm excited about it. :)