Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday cites Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two as a film with biblical implications and “primal power.” In the dark, magical conclusion to an eight film long series she says an outsider may ask “Where’s the joy in Harry Potter, Where is the fun?” and responds “They’re there, but couched in weighty millennial struggles between Good and Evil.”
Hornaday is correct. The generation that came of age post 9-11, and even those of us who were adults at the time, need, like all generations, a myth about good overcoming evil. The function of myth is the function of story: to explain the universe. To give a reference for what life is about. To help us understand what it means to be human. Myth touches the deepest parts of our soul. Responding the Tolkien’s Ring series, friend and contemporary C. S. Lewis said “Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron.” Lewis was from childhood a fan of Norse myth, something he said greatly influenced his perception of beauty as well as his thought life.
The semantic details of myth are the trappings that cover universal truths, and Harry Potter‘s are now evident in a broad array of merchandise and cultural references based on well rendered choices. HP 7.2 is, like it’s immediate predecessor, a well played dramatization of the novel. The actors and effects are, as they have been, very sound. The filmmaking is not without it’s flaws, conventions, and a few poor choices (which fans will no doubt scrutinized. I did). But what is most important in watching the film was that the viewer is focused on characters and story. Even the 3D enhanced the experience by being more focused on textures (see the invisibility cloak effect in the scene at Gringott’s) than throwing things at the audience. The art direction, costuming, graphics, and effects, like the breakup of the magic bubble of protection over Hogwarts, served their purpose in an aesthetically pleasing way. The semantics of Harry Potter are whimsical and enjoyably integrated into muggle (real) life. One can easily dress like Harry, carry a wand, and still not look like a sideshow performer at a renaissance fair.
Myth, in every age, is also food for the imagination. Fantasy affords us an emotional and mental experience that may or may not be possible in the real physical world. But it is a mistake to think that that which does not happen in the tactile world does not, cannot, or should not deeply impact our lives. St. Catharine of Siena once said “Our life is what our thoughts make it.” The trick, of course, is understanding the place fantasy should have in our though life.
Is it healthy to imagine that one’s aggressive chemistry teacher is really a “Snape” who is out to get you, or protect you, because they are in love with your mother? Probably not. But to imagine that one’s loved ones are always with them in spirit, or that one’s adversary may have their own troubles and pressures which influence their aggression are thoughts with great positive potential. The dividing line, in my opinion, is the great “perhaps.” Perhaps the current sickness, struggle, or daily pressure is the cause of some great evil in the universe. Or perhaps it is just because life on earth is imperfect, as are humans. Or, perhaps those are the same thing. One may draw analogies from myth, but not fact. There is no perfect match. No living being is Harry Potter. But, perhaps we can relate to his frustration, or his friendships, or his family.
Thirty-four years ago, the myth that captured the zeitgeist of the time was about a farm boy, and older wizard, a cynic with a code of ethics and independent princess. It rang true, not in it’s details, but in it’s characters and story. Star Wars clearly delineated Good and Evil in a time when it seemed Good and Evil were impossible to recognize. Harry Potter, in all it’s iterations, suggests that Good and Evil are real, but are complicated. It stresses that one ought to always choose Good, and that there are real consequences for Evil. It is, like all symbols, the outward show of the inward truth. Evil corrupts. Selfishness leads to unhappiness. Friendship and trust bring comfort. The Truth is complex, and those who seek it, and possess it, will have to deal with it’s consequences. And that dealing, that struggle, is indeed biblical in proportion. It is mythical; full of beauty that pierces and burns. It means we are not alone. It is the deep mystery that haunts us all. Myth tells us in robe wearing, broom flying, pensieve looking code partly who we are, but mostly who we can be. And if we imagine it, perhaps we are already on our way.