God, C. S. Lewis, and J. K. Rowling?: Agape Love, Chapter 1, Part I

Good morning, Nerdy Bloggers!

As promised, here is the first part of Chapter I of my senior thesis.   I hope you enjoy reading!  Please leave some feedback and let’s get a discussion going!  I’m all down with chatting.  🙂

Blessings,

Nerdy Blogger

CHAPTER I

WHAT’S AGAPĒ LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?: AGAPĒ LOVE AS PORTRAYED IN HARRY POTTER AND THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA

“…It contains a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than forces of nature.  It is also, perhaps, the most mysterious of the many subjects for study that reside there.  It is the power held within that room that you possess in such quantities and which Voldemort has not at all.  …It was your heart that saved you.” – Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 843-44

Albus Dumbledore’s words to Harry Potter reflect a main theme found in each book of the Harry Potter series: love, be it in friendships, parental relationships, or other human connections.  The love Harry demonstrates for his friends and parental figures throughout the series plays a central role in much of the action in the novels, as does their reciprocating love for him.  The way this love is demonstrated is remarkably similar to the Christian tenet of agapē love.  A concept integral to the Christian faith, agapē love is perhaps the basis for all Christianity.  Without the agapē love of God, there would have been no Christ.  Accordingly, John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Bible Gateway).  The Greek word for “loved” used in that scripture is “agapaō,” meaning, “to love; in the NT [New Testament] usually the active love of God for his Son and his people, and the active love his people are to have for God, each other, and even enemies” (Strong 1587).  “Agapaō” is related to the Greek word “agapē,” which has the same meaning as “agapaō” (Strong 1587).  This being said, it may be determined that in principle, agapē love is perhaps foundational to all Christianity.  Therefore, the study of agapē love as described symbolically in a novel or novels, be it in a manner paralleling God or Christ’s love for Christians or the love Christians are to have for others, is integral and important to understand and discuss in the context of Christian literature.  On this topic as found within Harry Potter, John Granger says,

Rowling tells us (through Dumbledore) that what is worse than an absence of life is an absence of love—and that love trumps death just as light overcomes darkness…. Love is behind the door, love is the power that Voldemort cannot understand or endure, and it is love, the sacrificial love that saves Harry, which permeates Harry’s heart and gives him a reflected part of its power.  (67-68)

This being said, it is simple to see that the power of love is indeed a main theme throughout not just Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but also in the other Harry Potter novels as well.  Furthermore, in Narnia, it is simple to see the multiple symbols of agapē love.  On the symbolism in his own works, C. S. Lewis says,

The waking world is judged more real because it can thus contain the dreaming worlds; the dreaming world is judged less real because it cannot contain the waking one.  For the same reason I am certain that in passing from the scientific point of view to the theological I have passed from dream to waking…. I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.  (qtd. in Como 137)

C. S. Lewis believes that his reason for writing symbolism is to explain the real world by the “dreaming world.”  As Aslan says to Lucy in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, “This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for little, you may know me better there” (Lewis Dawn Treader 541).  Understanding the symbolism found in Lewis’ works aids in understanding agapē love and other Christian tenets elsewhere.  Identifying how Lewis understands the symbolism in his own works allows the reader to better understand that symbolism as well.

The first example of agapē love the reader finds in Harry Potter is in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with the sacrificial death of Harry’s parents, Lily and James Potter.  This event is crucially important and plays a central role throughout the entire series.  When Voldemort discovers where the Potters are hiding in Godric’s Hollow, he goes to murder them and their infant son.  (The reader discovers why Voldemort truly goes after the Potters in the later books).  To protect their son, James Potter faces Voldemort head-on, while Lily Potter takes baby Harry to hide him.  Voldemort kills James and then goes after Lily.  Voldemort says in regards to Harry’s parents, “…Yes, boy, your parents were brave…. I killed your father first, and he put up a courageous fight…but your mother needn’t have died…she was trying to protect you….” (Rowling Sorcerer’s Stone 294).  This shows the true agapē love of Harry’s parents.  Voldemort might not have killed Lily had she chosen to step aside and let him have Harry, but she chose to die in Harry’s stead.  Their actions echo Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (Bible Gateway).  The word used for love in that verse is indeed, agapē, the self-sacrificing love of God or Christ for his people (Strong 1587).  Dumbledore explains the significance of Lily’s sacrifice at the end of Sorcerer’s Stone.  He says,

Your mother died to save you.  If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love.  He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark.  Not a scar, no visible sign…to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. (Rowling Sorcerer’s Stone 299)

This example of agapē love perfectly parallels Christ’s love for his people.  The agapē love of the Potters towards their son is an example of Christ’s love for his people, the Church (referring to the body of believers, not a particular denomination or building); there are also many examples paralleling between the agapē love of God and the agapē love of Christians for Christians found in the Harry Potter novels.  One of the most significant examples is the central figure of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Sirius Black.

Sirius Black has been accused of being Voldemort’s main supporter and killing no less than “thirteen people with a single curse” (Rowling Prisoner of Azkaban 38). He has now escaped Azkaban to go after what is believed to be the only thing standing between Voldemort and his resurrection—Harry Potter.  As the book progresses, the reader discovers that Sirius is not the evil servant of the Dark Lord he appears to be.  He is, in fact, Harry’s Godfather and not a servant of Voldemort.  He escapes prison to watch over Harry and protect him from the real culprits after him, Peter Pettigrew (Pettigrew is an animagus, who masquerades as Scabbers, Ron’s pet rat) and, of course, Voldemort himself.  This willingness to place oneself in harm’s way to protect another is an excellent example of agapē love.  Kristin Kay Johnston, in her article “Christian Theology as Depicted in The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter Books,” describes this as an “act of self-sacrifice for a higher good and for others” (6).  Sirius’ willingness to risk his own life to protect Harry is an act of agapē love similar to that of Harry’s parents, much like a father figure or Christ.  In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, for example, Sirius hides out among the outskirts of Hogsmeade, simply so he can be nearby if something were to happen to Harry.  Commenting on his behavior, Ron says, “‘Poor old Snuffles,’ said Ron, breathing deeply.  ‘He must really like you, Harry…. Imagine having to live off rats’” (Rowling Goblet of Fire 534).  Sirius loves Harry as if he is his own son, and likely would even if he were not his godson.  Sirius’ love for Harry is similar to that of Paul for his younger brothers in Christ, particularly Timothy.  In 1 Corinthians 4:17, King James Version (KJV), Paul calls Timothy his “beloved son” (Bible Gateway).  The Strong’s Concordance defines the Greek word for “beloved,” agapētos, as, “dearly loved one; the object of a special affection and of a special relationship, as with Jesus the beloved of the Father” (Strong 1587).  This word is also related to agapē.  Taking this into consideration, it can be determined that Harry is Sirius’ “beloved son,” despite the fact that Harry is not his biological child.

Similarly, Harry loves Sirius as a father figure.  When Harry is plagued with scar pains after a terrible nightmare about Voldemort at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, he wonders to whom he could ask what it could mean; he says,

What he really wanted (and it felt almost shameful to admit it to himself) was someone like—someone like a parent: an adult wizard whose advice he could ask without feeling stupid, someone who cared about him, who had had experience with Dark Magic…. And then the solution came to him.  It was so simple, and so obvious, that he couldn’t believe it had taken so long—Sirius.  (Rowling Goblet of Fire 22)

This shows Harry’s viewing of Sirius as a father figure.  In addition, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, at the death of Sirius, Harry laments over him as if he were his own father.  Harry wants to numb the pain of Sirius’ death by not acknowledging its occurrence; Dumbledore disagrees with Harry’s wishes: “You have now lost your mother, your father, and the closest thing to a parent you have ever known” (Rowling Order of the Phoenix 824).  This loss cuts Harry to the core—it is as if he has lost his parents all over again.  Here again, we witness Sirius going into the line of fire to save Harry, but also we see Harry go into the line of fire to save what he thinks is an endangered Sirius. Judging from this example the reader may say this: while Sirius’ love for Harry may be understood as agapē love between a parent and child, Harry’s love for Sirius is also an example of agapē love between Believers.

Perhaps the most prevalent example of agapē love in Harry Potter is found in the friendship of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger (dubbed simply as the “Trio” by the Harry Potter fan base, and referred to as such in the rest of this paper).  The Trio’s actions offer many examples of agapē love through out the novels.  However, the three were not always friends; in fact, Ron and Harry found Hermione to be rather annoying at the beginning of Sorcerer’s Stone.  Despite this, however, the three have become inseparable and perhaps the agapē love displayed in Sorcerer’s Stone is the event that seals their friendship.

On Halloween during Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a troll is let loose in Hogwarts.  During the rush to get the students to their dormitories for safety, Harry remembers something highly important: “As they jostled their way through a crowd of confused looking Hufflepuffs, Harry suddenly grabbed Ron’s arm.  ‘I’ve just thought—Hermione.’  ‘What about her?’  ‘She doesn’t know about the troll.’  Ron bit his lip.  ‘Oh, all right,’ he snapped.  ‘But Percy’d better not see us’” (Rowling Sorcerer’s Stone 173).  Despite the fact Hermione has not done anything to even truly merit Harry and Ron’s friendship, the two still choose to go and find her.  This leads to the two battling a “full-grown mountain troll” (Rowling Sorcerer’s Stone 178).  Not only do Harry and Ron risk life and limb for Hermione, Hermione also takes the blame on herself for why Harry and Ron were there instead of following their instructions to go back to their dormitories:

“Please, Professor McGonagall—they were looking for me.”  “Miss Granger!”  Hermione had managed to get to her feet at last.  “I went looking for the troll because I—I thought I could deal with it on my own—you know, because I’ve read all about them.”  Ron dropped his wand.  Hermione Granger, telling a downright lie to a teacher?  “If they hadn’t found me, I’d be dead by now….” (Rowling Sorcerer’s Stone 177-78)

This event seals their bond of friendship.  Furthermore the text states, “But from that time on, Hermione Granger became their friend.  There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them” (Rowling Sorcerer’s Stone 179).  This event can be interpreted as agapē love because of the risk involved.  This follows with Strong’s definition of agapē, “the active love his people are to have for God, each other, and even enemies” (Strong 1587).  Hermione before this event was certainly not their friend, but perhaps their enemy, and yet Harry and Ron choose to go warn her anyway.  This, by definition, is an example of agapē love.

The reader may also find another example of agapē love in Sorcerer’s Stone in the obstacles the Trio face to get to the Stone before Voldemort.  The first example found in this event is Hermione and Ron’s choice to go along with Harry to find the Stone.  Harry intends to go find the Stone by himself; however, Hermione and Ron are not going to let him:  ‘I’ll use the invisibility cloak,’ said Harry.  ‘It’s just lucky I got it back.’  ‘But will it cover all three of us?’ said Ron.  ‘All—all three of us?’  ‘Oh, come off it, you don’t think we’d let you go alone?’” (Rowling Sorcerer’s Stone 271).  Hermione and Ron are not about to let Harry go it alone.  Once again agapē love, by definition, is displayed.  In their love for Harry, Hermione and Ron are going to go with him into the face of danger.

Also in their quest for the Stone, Ron displays agapē love for Hermione and Harry during their battle with the transfigured Wizard Chess set.  Ron chooses to sacrifice himself to allow Harry and Hermione to go on.  He says, “‘Yes…’ said Ron softly, ‘it’s the only way…I’ve got to be taken.’  ‘NO!’  Harry and Hermione shouted.  ‘That’s chess!’ snapped Ron.  ‘You’ve got to make some sacrifices!  I take one step forward and she’ll take me—that leaves you free to checkmate the king, Harry!’” (Rowling Sorcerer’s Stone 283).  Ron’s sacrifice allows Harry and Hermione to go on to the next obstacle.  Ron loves his friends and their cause more than his own wellbeing.  His “active” agapē love for them allows them to go on to get the Stone.

Another example of agapē love the reader sees between the Trio in their quest for the Stone, is Harry’s love for Hermione and Ron when they face the final task before reaching the Stone. Once Hermione solves the riddle to get them through the flames Harry tells her,

“You drink that,” said Harry.  “No listen, get back and get Ron.  Grab brooms from the flying-key room, they’ll get you out of the trapdoor and past Fluffy—go straight to the owlery and send Hedwig to Dumbledore, we need him.  I might be able to hold Snape off for a while, but I’m no match for him, really.”  “But Harry—what if You-Know-Who’s with him?”  “Well—I was lucky once, wasn’t I?” said Harry, pointing at his scar.  “I might get lucky again.” (Rowling Sorcerer’s Stone 286)

Harry is more concerned about Hermione and Ron’s safety than about his own.  As does Ron, Harry bears an active agapē love for his friends, putting them before himself.

Works Cited in Chapter I, Part I

Bible Gateway.  King James Version.  New International Version.  2006. 27 Apr. 2006 <http://biblegateway.com/&gt;.  1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 John 4:8; 2 Chronicles 7:14; 2 Samuel 22:2-3; Acts 4:12; Colossians 1:13-14; Ephesians 1:7, 2:1-5, 2:20; Genesis 1:1-31, 3:15; Hebrews 9:12, 12:1; Isaiah 1:18, 50:6, 53:1-12, 61:10; Job 2:11-13; John 1:29, 3:16, 4:10, 4:13-14, 8:36, 14:6-7, 14:26, 15:13, 15:15, 19:17, 20:26-29, 21:9; Luke 10:18, 22:42, 24:46-47; Mark 7:37, 15:3-5; Matthew 1:21; 24:31, 26:36-39, 26:42; Philippians 2:1-2; Revelation 5:5, 11:18, 12:10; Romans 6:11; Titus 3:5.

Como, James.  Branches to Heaven: The Geniuses of C. S. Lewis.  Dallas: Spence Publishing Company, 1998.  137.

Granger, John.  Looking for God in Harry Potter.  USA: SaltRiver, 2004.  67-68, 99-100, 133, 135-36, 182.

Johnston, Kristin Kay.  “Christian Theology as Depicted in The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter Books.”  Journal of Religion & Society Vol. 7 (2005).  <http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/pdf/2005-5.pdf&gt;.  6-7.

Lewis, C. S.  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  The Chronicles of Narnia.  New York: HarperEntertainment, 2005.  419-541.

Rowling, J. K.  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  New York: Levine-Scholastic, 2001.  22, 534, 679, 717.

—.  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  New York: Levine-Scholastic, 2003.  734-35, 789, 792-93, 824, 836, 841, 843-44.

—.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  New York: Levine-Scholastic, 1999.  38, 108, 214, 232, 330, 376, 415, 425, 427-29.

—.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  New York: Levine-Scholastic, 1998.  173, 173, 177-79, 220, 271, 283, 286, 294, 299, 306.

Strong, James.  The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.  21st Cent. ed.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.  1587.

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About The Nerdy Blogger

Ashley Whitehead Thomas is The Nerdy Blogger. She holds a B. A. in English Literature from Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee and began her M. A. at Signum University in Spring 2013. Ashley blogs, reads, writes (for fun and for hire), and spends time with her husband, Ryan, and their two cat-monsters, Luna and Oliver.
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One Response to God, C. S. Lewis, and J. K. Rowling?: Agape Love, Chapter 1, Part I

  1. julie says:

    I found you through a google search, I’m working my way through the series for the first time, have only just seen the movies this year… I’m loving your thesis, though I’m only so far into it 🙂 I’m going to read it over the next few days. I’m not great and picking out symbolism etc., unless it’s blatant, and we have some friends vehemently against these books, while I’m in love with them AND Jesus… proof: It can be done 🙂 Thanks for posting this!

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