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Harry Potter and the Art of Theology 1
(A Theological Perspective on J. K. Rowling's novels - Part One: Healing, Grace and Original Sin)

Autor:Wandinger Nikolaus, Drexler Christoph, Peter Teresa
Veröffentlichung:
Kategorieartikel
Abstrakt:J. K. Rowling's novels are read as containing an implicit theology that is essentially Christian. We argue this case for several tenets of Christian faith and in that emphasise the value of these works
Publiziert in:Milltown Studies (MS 52)
Datum:2004-06-23

Inhalt

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Part One: Healing, Grace and Original Sin[1]

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Introduction

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The following article is one of the many fruits of a seminar the authors taught at the Theological Faculty of the University of Innsbruck in spring 2003. In it we aspire to argue the case that J. K. Rowling's novels are books full of theology and this theology happens to be essentially Christian.[2] At the outset we will have to clarify what we mean by this, and even before that we want to define our stand-point towards the Potter books.

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What this is not about

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A number of publications have appeared that agree with us that Harry Potter has theological implications but they deem these implications to be suspicious, doubtful, even outright harmful and anti-Christian.[3] We do not agree with those authors. Neither do we want to argue with them here, for two reasons: 1) There have also appeared a number of valuable books that have convincingly refuted these attacks on the Potter series.[4] Therefore we feel that for the most part we need not repeat what has already been done. 2) If arguing against the attacks on Harry Potter were to guide this investigation, we would still allow the critics to determine our topics and our train of thought, and we have no intention to do so. We might every now and then give an aside on a certain objection to the Potter books, but this will be only in passing. Nevertheless we think that by following what we believe are genuine theological topics in Harry Potter we still contribute to a better understanding of the books, not by defending them but rather by elaborating the values they contain.

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Speaking of values: This article will not concentrate on the morals and moral theology in Harry Potter either.[5] Rather we will elaborate on some topics of systematic theology, as we found them waiting to be discovered in Rowling's novels. This is not to say that we will completely exclude morals, but they will not be our main focus. This will be systematic, or if you will, dogmatic theology.

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Theology in Harry Potter?

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It could well be that by now many a reader of Harry Potter, critics and adherents alike, consider us deluded, projecting something into these stories that simply isn't there. Indeed there have been honourable persons denying that there is any theology in Harry Potter.[6] Therefore it is imperative that we first clarify what we mean by "Theology in Harry Potter".

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It is true that nowhere in the five novels that have so far been published talk about "God", "theo-logy", is to be found. The word "God" in fact appears only as part of the composite expression "Godfather", a function pertaining to Sirius Black, Harry's father's best man and Harry's Godfather. We might infer from that that Harry is in fact baptised, but this is not even mentioned in the books. The only other references to Christianity are the fact that there are Christmas and Easter holidays but the religious significance of these feasts is not touched upon at all.[7] A cemetery and adjacent church are some more remnants of religion, but that's all.

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Even the world of witchcraft and wizardry, which is so reviled by the critics of Harry Potter, is not presented by Rowling as a religion. Witchcraft rather is depicted as a special talent that some human persons have been gifted with, and as a consequence these people have established schools to train this talent and a whole social infrastructure to keep the knowledge alive, yet hidden from the general public, but no shadow of numinosity pertains to the world of wizardry as such. More often than not it serves as a platform for irony and humour, especially those sections of witchcraft that some of our contemporaries do believe in, like palm reading and astrology.[8] In fact these magical stories can only be ironically entertaining in a culture that B as a whole B does not seriously believe in magical powers; in a superstitious environment novels like the Harry Potter series would be impossible. We will therefore treat Rowling's magical vocabulary of wands, spells and broomsticks just like any fictitious vocabulary in a work of fiction; they are for Harry Potter what phasers, computer commands and warp drives are for Star Trek.[9]

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So, where is the theology? Indeed there is no manifest or B as we shall call it B explicit theology in Harry Potter, neither Christian nor anti-Christian.[10] But we do not think that explicit theology is the only kind there is, actually we suppose that explicit theology only occurs when religious experiences and their formation into a framework of beliefs and dispositions, which at first takes place without deliberate reflection, have progressed very far and are expressly put into words. Here is not the place to argue this supposition. It suffices to say that we maintain B and we are not alone in doing so[11] B that there is something that can properly be called "implicit theology" aside or beneath explicit theology. Prior to that, it can be argued that an attitude towards the world and oneself underlies every human conscious or deliberate behaviour, an attitude towards life and death, a Weltanschauung that attributes value to some aspects of life, while negating it from others, that distinguishes what is real from unreal, important from unimportant. One might object that not every attitude towards the world is religious and therefore not every implicit Weltanschauung is a theology. We would reply that, if and when such a Weltanschauung contains attitudes as to what or who is the "reality that determines everything else"[12], or if and when it has elements that can be described as "being of unconditional concern"[13], this Weltanschauung is implicitly religious, it contains elements of implicit theology. Our task would be to accomplish the reverse process of making these implicit attitudes explicit.[14] If the explications then conform to central tenets of Christian faith, we have proven our point that the implicit theology in Harry Potter is essentially Christian.

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To stress one point: One cannot explicate the implicit theology of a person simply by asking them about their beliefs B this way we could only detect their explicit Weltanschauung. We have to do it by looking at people's conscious and semi-conscious behaviour, at what they do and at what they say, when they do not think of their Weltanschauung but when they live by it.[15]

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This is the reason why we can do the same with J. K. Rowling's novels. We do not aspire to detect the author's implicit (or explicit) religion. She might have one, and we actually suppose that it will not differ too much from that of her novels but that is not our point. Therefore it is not of great importance whether Mrs. Rowling wanted these things to be in her novels, it will suffice to show that they are there. Since we do not have to question a person in order to learn about their implicit Weltanschauung, we can do it with fictitious characters in a novel as well. We have to look at their behaviour, as it is presented to us in the novels. Of course, we will have to be careful not to project something into the books.[16] So, the behaviour of the character, in the sense stated, needs to be the criterion: does it convey the attitude we take it to convey and does that attitude really conform to the Christian doctrines we maintain it does? If we are successful at our attempt, we sharpen our ability to do it in real life as well, and this would be a valuable tool in ministry and religious education, but again this is not our main focus here.[17]

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There is a second type of implicit theology that will be relevant to our endeavour: Sometimes concepts or just motifs and associations of religious origin have different meanings in different religions or even become secularised. That means the conceptions behind one and the same motif can be quite different, although they seem to be the same at first glance. When we encounter such motifs, we have to take care to interpret them correctly and to discover the conceptions behind them that have not been explicated B and in that sense are only implicit. For example the concept of sacrifice is clearly religious in origin, it has B during the course of history B referred to the bloody killing of human beings as well as to the mere giving up of an amenity. It happens to be a very prominent concept in Harry Potter, and we will try to clarify in what sense. Also the motif of the child born under miraculous circumstances, threatened with death, yet surviving, whose coming was announced by a prophecy is a common religious theme, and a building-block of Rowling's novels. We will therefore have to attend to that question as well.

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Enough of preliminaries now. Let us attend to the main theological themes that we found to be prominent in the novels. The list certainly is not exhaustive but it should be instructive.

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Main Themes

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Harry Potter and the Theology of Healing and Forgiveness

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The distinctive mark of Harry's is his scar: it is his scar by which everyone in the wizarding world recognises him, it is his scar that made him famous, it is his scar that handicaps him when it hurts and at the same time makes him superior to almost anyone else because its hurting warns him of imminent dangers. Also, because Harry's parents died in the attack that caused Harry's scar, Harry has been an orphan since he was 15 months old[18], and he had to live with relatives that mistreated and abused him. The prominence of the scar is still underlined by reports that the final chapter of the seventh novel has already been written and its final word is scar.[19] So, is the scar Harry bears on his forehead as a life-long reminder that the evil Lord Voldemort tried to kill him as a baby, yet failed to do so and was almost destroyed in the act himself, more than an outward sign? We think it is.

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The human struggle with injustices we have suffered and which have left lingering effects on us and our well-being, is of unconditional concern to human life. Therefore many religious and spiritual schools have attended to the problem. The bodily scar thus can become a symbol for some aspects of human nature: it points to our contingency and resulting vulnerability; it emphasises that we are determined and formed not only by what we do but also by what we suffer; it indicates that even from our hurts and pains strengths and abilities can spring forth, and finally it confronts us with the task of healing and forgiving B or of perpetuating hate and avenging. The spiritual director F. Jalics writes:

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"Each of us knows people who, years ago, were deeply offended, unjustly treated, slandered against, or ill-treated and who were never able to recover from these wounds. They have suffered much from these hurts. They recount these events over and over again with fear, pain and despair, with reproaches, hatred or self-pity. Often they become bitter and hostile, or depressive and lethargic. If, for a time, their wounds appear to be healed over, this is not really so. Underneath the scab the wound continues to fester. These chronic wounds cannot heal because they are not suffered through with acceptance and love. Not everything that has been suffered through has been redeemed. Only that which has been suffered through with love and forgiveness has been healed. How many people harbour unhealed injuries in their souls! [Y] The whole of life comes to a standstill like the water behind a dam."[20]

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Of course, if a person cannot successfully heal and forgive, he or she will be a prisoner of the scar and might well become the perpetrator of more injustice and pain. This shows that the scar as such is a very ambivalent symbol: for some a scar is a wound already healed, for others it is a disfiguring mark and a wound always ready to hurt again. Only at the end of a long process can the ambivalence be resolved to one or the other side. And this process exceeds the control of the individual: it cannot occur without one's consent and cooperation, yet it cannot be brought about by a mere decision of the individual. It is a task, yet when accomplished, it is revealed to be a gift at the same time.

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In a Christian framework the end-point of the healing process is called redemption and theology has a special word for irrevocably redeemed wounds, which is very unusual in our everyday language: transfiguration. The gospel accounts of the Risen Lord take great care in emphasising two things: it is the same Jesus who was crucified and died that stands now in the presence of his disciples and eats with them; and yet he is different from what he was before. The first element of the two-fold message is expressed by stressing that even the risen one still bears the wounds of his torture and execution; the second by his miraculous walking into locked rooms. Later theology has tried to express this two-fold message by talking of the resurrection body or the transfigured body. The message is: even after final redemption, the wounds Jesus suffered are not null and void, on the contrary they contribute to the very definition of who he is; but they are no longer cause for more pain, they have become cause for joy in the resurrection.

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The question now is: do we find some (or all) of these elements in Harry Potter too? First we find it on a superficial level of imagery: Harry is physically singled out by his scar. Yet if we look closer that is not to be taken to mean that only he has past injuries to cope with. The better we get to know the other characters, the more we realise that they too have their wounds and scars that pain them ever again.[21] Harry's best friends: Ron suffers from being poor and from his inferiority-complex against his older brothers; Neville is unable to talk to anyone about the fate of his parents, who have been demented because of torture inflicted on them by a Death Eater (a servant of Voldemort's); Hermione is not only over-anxious to prove herself at school but she feels very humiliated by the rejection she experiences as a Muggle-born "mud-blood"[22]. Harry's enemies: Draco Malfoy suffers because of his overbearing father whose expectations of bravery and excellence he always fails to fulfil; even the evil Lord Voldemort has hurts, in ways very similar to Harry's: he too was orphaned and mistreated as a child (yet for different reasons); and so have many of Harry's teachers: Lupin is a werewolf, which means that he is a danger to himself and to others on full moon and as a consequence is shunned by most people during the rest of the time; even the teacher Harry and his friends love to hate, Severus Snape, harbours deep wounds from his childhood[23] and youth[24], wounds that "run too deep for the healing"[25].

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This list is here to prove that the problem of past injuries and how to deal with them is recurrent and omnipresent in Harry Potter. Harry himself and his scar serve as a model to symbolise and condense the problem, but it is one of the main themes of the series. And the novels clearly depict the alternatives in dealing with these injuries, as Jalics has shown them: they can either be perpetuated through hatred and thereby cause more harm (Voldemort, Draco Malfoy, Snape and many others to a degree), they can be suppressed and halt the flow of life (Neville, though a first step by him toward healing is indicated in HP 5) or they can enable the protagonists to accomplish progress in life's struggles, when and as far as they have been healed (Harry to a degree). By this unambiguous depiction the Potter series clearly prefers forgiveness over vindictiveness and healing over perpetuating, without pushing that as a moral imperative, as the author rightly stresses.[26]

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This is even more emphasised by the one person in the novels who can be seen as the model of correct behaviour, headmaster Albus Dumbledore. He is not a model in the sense of being flawless and perfect, but in dealing with his own and other persons' imperfections he still can serve as a model. Even in dealing with his adversaries, he is not driven by hatred or eagerness, and he posits a very important prerequisite for forgiveness and healing: he refrains from accusing others and freely admits his own mistakes and accepts his own guilt. This becomes especially clear at the end of volume five, when Harry is devastated because of the death of his Godfather, Sirius Black. Black has been killed by Voldemort's followers, but this only happened because Harry was tricked by Voldemort into falsely believing that Black was being tortured by Voldemort and tried to save him. In this attempt he got himself into life-threatening danger and Black was a member of a rescuing-party sent by Dumbledore. Harry now feels terribly guilty for having caused Black's death, yet he cannot bear the responsibility and is looking for someone else to blame. In this situation Dumbledore volunteers to take the blame:

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">It is my fault that Sirius died,' said Dumbledore clearly. >Or should I say, almost entirely my fault B I will not be so arrogant as to claim responsibility for the whole. [Y] If I had been open with you, Harry, as I should have been, you would have known a long time ago that Voldemort might try and lure you to the Department of Mysteries, and you would never have been tricked into going there tonight." (HP 5, 727f.)

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By accepting the largest share of guilt himself, Dumbledore creates the conditions for Harry to slowly come to terms with his own share, and thus to forgive himself. If we generalise from here, Dumbledore exemplifies an attitude that is an important prerequisite for processes of healing and forgiving: not blaming others but accepting one's own guilt and hoping for the forgiveness of others.

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Yet, the series is only in the fifth of seven volumes. We do not know whether Harry will come to a complete healing of his wounds, so that his scar will lose its ambiguity and become a clear symbol of healing. So far, both developments are possible. Harry could still be overwhelmed by the pain he has to suffer and turn to vindictiveness.[27] He could, however, as well come to healing and forgiveness through the model of Dumbledore and his own experiences of the results of violence on the one, and his positive experiences of love and friendship on the other hand.[28]

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In order to do so he has to learn from Dumbledore not to suppress his pain, neither the pain about what he has suffered, nor the pain that comes with the remorse for his own mistakes. Both things become very clear: In volume four Harry is kidnapped by a servant of Voldemort's and blood is forcibly taken from him in order to reinvigorate Voldemort (a scene whose life-threatening seriousness and complete powerlessness on the side of Harry also evokes comparisons with severe child abuse). When he finally has escaped, Dumbledore insists that Harry stays while the kidnapper is telling his story, ">because he needs to understand [Y]. Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery. He needs to know who has put him through the ordeal he has suffered tonight, and why.=" (HP 4, 590)

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When, at the end of volume five, Harry is deeply afflicted by remorse for Black's death, Dumbledore for the first time "imprisons" him. He prevents Harry from leaving Dumbledore's office before he has listened to his explanation. So he forces Harry to confront another perspective of things. Harry is not capable of admitting his guilty feelings and talking about them. Instead he projects the anger he feels against himself onto Dumbledore. Again the headmaster tries to encourage Harry to permit the pain as part of a necessary healing process:

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">There is no shame in what you are feeling, Harry, [Y] On the contrary Y the fact that you can feel pain like this is your greatest strength.' Harry felt the white-hot anger lick his insides, blazing in the terrible emptiness, filling him with the desire to hurt Dumbledore for his calmness and his empty words. >My greatest strength, is it?' said Harry, his voice shaking [Y] >Harry, suffering like this proves you are still a man! This pain is part of being human B' >THEN B I B DON'T B WANT B TO B BE B HUMAN!' Harry roared [Y] ". (HP 5, 725f.)

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It is not only forgiving that takes time and is a painful process, accepting forgiveness for one's own sins, thus forgiving oneself, might be just as painful and difficult. This very Christian thought runs deeply in Harry Potter. Whether Harry will be able to do so, must be seen at the end of the series. But we are hopeful, because so far Harry never lost his ability to empathise and sympathise with others, even when suffering himself very much.[29] So, in the end, we are sure he will decide to remain human.

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We certainly cannot expect Harry Potter to provide us with a clear indication of what we would theologically call the transfiguration of his wounds. That is because this would be explicit theology. Since we only claim that Harry Potter harbours implicit theology, a clear indication in that last chapter of the last novel of Harry's scar having stopped hurting and being an integrated part of himself now without causing him estrangement from himself, would suffice as an equivalent of what theological language calls "transfiguration".[30]

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Harry Potter and the Theology of Grace and Original Sin

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When one of the authors talked to an English teacher about Harry Potter, the teacher valued the novels highly in general but then went on that she found it very improbable that a boy with the childhood of Harry Potter would turn out such a nice person when he was 11, at the start of the first novel. Indeed in the course of the novels we learn that Harry's childhood experiences are very similar to those of the evil Lord Voldemort: both were orphaned and raised by Muggles who mistreated them, both therefore preferred to stay at school during holidays but were not allowed to, both were not "pure-blood" wizards but had Muggle ancestry as well; both have certain abilities others lack, like speaking the snake language Parsletongue, and therefore are feared by others; both could lay claim to the title "Heir of Slytherin" because each of them was able to open the chamber of secrets that supposedly only this heir could open.[31] Both wizards' wands' core is a phoenix feather from the same bird, Dumbledore's Fawkes.

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The differences within these similarities, though, should not be overlooked: Voldemort was only half-orphaned (his mother died at his birth), yet his Muggle father had rejected her for being a witch and did not care about the boy, who was raised and ill-treated in a Muggle orphanage. Voldemort later killed his father in revenge. Harry lost both his parents because Voldemort murdered them, and as a consequence has to live with his Muggle aunt, the sister of his mother whose family were Muggles, and her husband, who certainly treat him no better than an abusive orphanage would. Harry supposedly has the mentioned special abilities because of Voldemort's attempt to murder him by which ">he transferred some of his own powers to you [Harry] the night he gave you that scar. Not something he intended to do, I'm sure=" (HP 2, 245), Dumbledore explains. As a consequence of his mistreatment by Muggles Voldemort hates them all and is an adherent of the pure-blood ideology first introduced by Salazar Slytherin, whose heir he wants to be. Harry has no particular liking for his uncle and aunt who treat him so baldly, but he does not develop a hatred of all Muggles because of that, let alone Muggle-born wizards or witches, one of his best friends being Muggle-born Hermione Granger, and therefore he is rather afraid of being the Heir of Slytherin.[32]

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We might say: Although Harry and Voldemort share the experience of a harsh and joyless childhood, their developmental response to that is completely different: while the one turns basically evil, the other remains basically innocent. We emphasise the "basically", for it is one of the qualities of Harry Potter, as we will see, that its message is not as black-and-white as it would be without this qualification. But first let us gather some more examples of the extraordinary strengths of young Harry during his school years. Although he is deeply uncertain of himself when entering the school of witchcraft and wizardry with no knowledge of the wizarding world whatsoever (up to the previous month he had not known that there were magic people in the world), he is able to resist the temptation to make friends by ganging up against someone else (cf. HP 1, 81) and by that wins real friends. His friends, Ron and Hermione, are of great importance to him also in his adventures and his fights with Voldemort. Harry turns out to be the leader who decides on their actions and he is the one who has to confront the gravest dangers without his friends, yet he could not succeed without their help: Hermione's intellect and sensitivity and Ron's warm-hearted loyalty.

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When Harry is in grave peril without his friends, each time an almost miraculous rescue occurs which in the end always is explained by Harry's getting help from somewhere else: his mother's death for him protects him from being touched by Voldemort's servant (cf. HP 1, 216f.), Dumbledore sends help in the last moment (cf. HP 2, 232-237), Harry is able to conjure the saving Patronus himself, yet only because ">your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself most plainly when you have need of him. How else could you produce that particular Patronus? Prongs rode again last night.="[33] In volume four Harry is only saved by the echoes of his dead parents being forced out of Voldemort's wand by the priori incantatem effect; they tell him what to do and give him the necessary diversion and time to save himself (cf. HP 4, 577-581; 607f.). Volume five differs in that Harry is with his friends when encountering Voldemort and his servants, and the arrival of the rescue-party does not appear to be that miraculous. But the pattern that Harry can only avoid death because of the help of others is even more enforced.

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This list should suffice to show that Harry owes his successes not only to his own courage and abilities (though they play an important part) but also to help he receives, sometimes the plain and normal assistance of his friends and teachers, sometimes magical effects he had not known of beforehand and that therefore break into his life in a miraculous way. And we have seen that his aforementioned courage and abilities are also surprising in a boy with his biography. We could agree with the English teacher and merely say that, for the sake of her stories and their hero, Rowling has accepted these improbabilities, and we just take them as necessary tools of the fictions trade, as we did with phasers and wands. However, there is a significant difference between these gadgets and Harry's surprising strengths: the former are technological[34], the latter are personal. All the instances we have mentioned are instances where Harry is sustained by the relationships he has towards human persons, living or dead.

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If we look even closer, we find that these relationships are all characterised by trust, respect, appreciation, acceptance of the other as other, and gratefulness B and this on a reciprocal basis. Harry displays all these attitudes to the persons concerned, and he receives these as gifts from them. The most striking example of this mutuality is with Dumbledore: From his stature within the novels, Dumbledore is certainly not in any way dependent on his students, in fact he is so superior to them that he sometimes appears god-like. Yet after Dumbledore's phoenix has saved Harry from imminent death in the chamber of secrets, it is Dumbledore who expresses gratitude to Harry:

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">First of all, Harry, I want to thank you [Y]. You must have shown me real loyalty down in the Chamber. Nothing but that could have called Fawkes to you.=" (HP 2, 244) In fact it is true: when Voldemort claims to be the greatest sorcerer in the world, not-yet-13-year-old Harry contradicts him: ">The greatest wizard in the world is Albus Dumbledore.=" (HP 2, 232)

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The loyalty and gratitude is mutual and reciprocal, although the master wizard and the school boy are anything else but equals. In general Harry is well aware that his victories over Voldemort are not his merit alone, although he was on his own when winning them:

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">Listen to me! [Y] It sounds great when you say it like that, but all that stuff was luck B I didn't know what I was doing half the time, I didn't plan any of it, I just did whatever I could think of, and I nearly always had help B [Y] Don't sit there grinning like you know better than I do, I was there, wasn't I? [Y] I know what went on [Y] And I didn't get through any of that because I was brilliant [Y], I got through it all because B because help came at the right time, or because I guessed right B but I just blundered through it all, I didn't have a clue what I was doing B [Y]=" (HP 5, 292f.)

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When we encounter like qualities in our everyday lives, we talk of people being gifted and talented, being lucky and fortunate and being sociable and able to sustain personal relationships. We are in the presence of people who live by what they are given (by chance or by other people) without developing any claim on being gifted, without denying their dependence on these gifts, without becoming high-handed because of their luck and with full appreciation of the gift-character of these riches. The Christian believer, however, thinks that these descriptions are only true to a certain extent, that they are too superficial and do not reach the essence of the gift-character of human life and its development. When Christians express that essence in traditional language, they call it "being graced". What the secular world calls luck or talent or chance, Christianity believes to be God's gifts that are completely gratuitous. More recent 20th century theology has strongly emphasised that grace is not to be understood as a special favour or thing God grants but as a special relationship God enters into with human beings. Therefore human relationships that are founded on mutual trust and appreciation, on gratuity and freedom from demand are the most adequate consequences of this divine grace and their closest analogy in human relationships. The ability to forgive, the great importance of which we saw in the last section, is one of the most important prerequisites for sustaining good relationships with fallible human beings, as we are. We mentioned already that healing and forgiveness cannot be attained at a mere wish, but exhibit a gift-like character as well. Here the theology of grace and of healing interconnect. We hope to have shown that we find these analogies in a superb way in Harry Potter.

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Again, since these are novels that do not mention religion and God at all, they do not make this explicit. But, since all the indicators that normally describe grace are there, we have an implicit Weltanschauung of gratefulness and gratuity, an implicit theology of grace.

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This becomes even clearer when we realise that the temptation of the primordial sin against grace, denying its gift-character and declaring success to be one's own achievement, is depicted too in the novels. Right at the beginning of volume five Harry produces a Patronus, when he and his cousin are in grave danger. Again he only succeeds through the help of his friends, though here we encounter the most subliminal form of foreign help: after two unsuccessful attempts to conjure a Patronus, Harry thinks of Ron and Hermione "and their faces burst clearly into his mind" (HP 5, 22) and then B suddenly B the Patronus erupts. The strength Harry drew from the memory of his friends enabled him to do this. Yet, later on when now 15-year-old and pubescent Harry feels neglected and treated too much like a child, and gets jealous because his friends are made prefects and he is not, he claims all the merit for himself:

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"What about those adventures he, Ron and Hermione had had together [Y] ? Well, Ron and Hermione were with me most of the time, said the voice in Harry's head. Not all the time, though, Harry argued with himself. They didn't fight Quirrell with me. They didn't take on Riddle and the Basilisk. They didn't get rid of all those Dementors [Y] . They weren't in that graveyard with me, the night Voldemort returned Y " (HP 5, 152) When the girl Harry has fallen in love with praises his great deeds, "Harry's insides were squirming. He was trying to arrange his face so that he did not look too pleased with himself" (HP 5, 306). In this situation he even forgets that he could only produce that Patronus with his mind on his best friends: ">And nobody helped you get rid of those Dementors this summer' [Y]. >No', said Harry" (ibid.).

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So the temptation of being independent of all these gifts, of being autonomous and a great hero all by himself is strong for Harry and he succumbs to it at least temporarily. Again, we are only in the fifth of seven novels, and it remains to be seen whether Harry Potter will in the end opt for a life of grace or a life of presumption. But the novels clearly depict these alternatives, which are the alternatives in everyone's life.

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Harry is not free from burdens of his past and resulting character flaws either. We have seen this already when dealing with his scar. Apart from Harry it becomes especially evident in several persons that their characters have been influenced to the negative by the painful experiences they have had and also by the coincidences of ancestry that seem to determine them at least to a certain degree. But let us again look at it more thoroughly in the novels' main character.

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Especially in volumes two and five, Harry's identity, who he is, seems to be very important and the question arises to what degree this has been predetermined for him without any possibility of his to influence it. In volume two Harry is suspected of being the Heir of Slytherin, and though this suspicion is unwarranted considering his behaviour (he does not persecute Muggles or Muggle-borns), it is not unfounded considering some of his abilities: He does speak Parsletongue, is able to open the secret chamber and he remembers with horror that the magical Sorting Hat, which sorts students into one of the four Hogwarts houses, had seriously considered putting him into Slytherin House, and upon request the hat re-confirms its stance:

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">Yes Y you were particularly difficult to place. But I stand by what I said before B' Harry's heart leapt >B you would have done well in Slytherin.' Harry's stomach plummeted. He grabbed the point of the Hat and pulled it off. [Y] Harry pushed it back onto its shelf, feeling sick. >You're wrong,' he said aloud to the still and silent Hat." (HP 2, 154f.) Already earlier on Harry had reacted with panic to the idea that he might be a descendant of Slytherin's, and when he thinks about it realises: "He didn't know anything about his father's family, after all." (HP 2, 147)

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Readers of Harry Potter will know that his fears are allayed by two very important pieces of evidence: When Dumbledore's phoenix and the Sorting Hat help him against Lord Voldemort, they provide him with the sword of Godric Gryffindor, founder of the house Harry belongs to.

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Dumbledore comments: ">Only a true [member of ] Gryffindor [House] could have pulled that out of the Hat=" (HP 2, 245). Harry has some of Voldemort's and Slytherin's abilities, ">because Lord Voldemort B who is the last remaining ancestor [sic][35] of Salazar Slytherin B [Y] transferred some of his power to you the night he gave you that scar. [Y]' >Voldemort put a bit of himself in me?' Harry said, thunderstruck. [Y] >So I should be in Slytherin,' Harry said, looking desperately into Dumbledore's face. [Y] >It [the hat] only put me in Gryffindor,' said Harry in a defeated voice, >because I asked not to go in Slytherin Y' >Exactly,' said Dumbledore, beaming once more. >Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle [= Lord Voldemort]. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.=" (HP 2, 245)

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We feel confident enough to view this particularity of the Potter-series as an implicit expression of those truths of human experience that traditional theology has expressed as "original sin". Of course it is not easy to do so, since this doctrine has come into disrepute in modern times, and is misunderstood even by many Christians. For that reason we want to reverse our argument here: we will not argue that this theology is implicit in Harry Potter, we will presuppose that and use it as a model to explain what the doctrine of original sin means.

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As human beings, we are inwardly touched and influenced, predisposed to evil, by the bad actions of our contemporaries and forebears. These actions do not only concern us externally, they partly determine our very selves, who we are and how we (re-)act. We sometimes act wrongly (sinfully) because of these predispositions, though when we do so it never happens without some responsibility of our own. But the predispositions may prompt us to make wrong moral choices[36] and blind us to the truth, they may incline us toward false goals. Catholic tradition called this latter aspect concupiscence. The Council of Trent taught that this concupiscence is not sinful in itself in the proper sense of the word, but it is an effect of sin that inclines to further sin; it only becomes sinful, when consented to.[37] B ">It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.="[38]

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In order to withhold that consent and to withstand the pull of this inclination we need God's grace, Christianity believes. So we are back to the first theme of this section: What is it that enabled Harry to make that choice and that Voldemort obviously lacked? Again it was the gifts Harry had received through personal relations: the loving heart of his mother (we will attend to that more closely in the next section) and the beginning friendship with Ron Weasley. It was Ron whom Harry had just met and befriended on the train and who would have been the victim, if Harry had made friends with Draco Malfoy and gone into Slytherin. It is the quality of good personal relationships that saves Harry from giving in to the predispositions imposed on him by the past; it is grace (the gift of personal relationship to God) that redeems from original sin. Again recent theology has emphasised that this relationship to God does not simply drop from heaven, so to speak, but is mediated through our human personal relationships.

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We want to add another aspect of the doctrine of original sin with the help of Harry Potter: Although the young wizard from Little Whinging is undoubtedly the hero of J. K. Rowling's stories, he is by no means flawless. We are not talking here about the instances where he behaves like any teenaged mischief-maker. Harry does make grave mistakes in his life, and the older he gets the graver do these become. In volume five Harry experiences all the uncertainties and emotional ambiguities of puberty: moments of hyperbole interchange with feelings of inferiority and worthlessness; the wish to be treated as an adult exists alongside immature and rash behaviour. Harry deliberately trespasses Prof. Snape's privacy when spying in his pensieve, a device to store thoughts outside one's mind (cf. HP 5, 564-572). Snape hid his worst memories there, so as to assure that Harry would not be able to read them in his mind. When the teacher has to leave the room, Harry starts to leave too, but then turns back and spies on his teacher's thoughts. This is a grave transgression. A year earlier Harry had not yet known what a pensieve was and in inspecting it he accidentally fell into Dumbledore's thoughts. He apologised immediately afterward (cf. HP 4, 508-520). Now he deliberately intrudes into Snape's pensieve. Ironically in it he sees his own father, whom he never knew personally and so far almost idolised, behave like a bully toward Snape, ridiculing him beyond any measure. For the first time in his life Harry feels ashamed of his father, and yet it is he who has just committed his biggest misdeed so far.

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This is topped when, in the end, he succumbs to the feeling of hatred and vengeance against Sirius Black's murderess and wants to kill her: ">SHE KILLED SIRIUS!' bellowed Harry. >SHE KILLED HIM B I'LL KILL HER!=" (HP 5, 713) It should be noted, however, that he does not try the deadly Avada Kedavra spell but merely the torture spell Crucio, and he does not succeed in it either. Their fake Defence against the Dark Arts teacher had shown them all three Unforgivable Curses,[39] so Harry could have tried the killing spell as well. Thus we can conclude that he did not really intend to kill, yet in attempting to use the torture spell he was, for a moment of rashness, on a level with Voldemort and his "Death Eaters".

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Similar things can be said of all characters: While it is true that Harry Potter is about a struggle of good versus bad, it is not one of purely good people against purely bad ones. Each of them stands in both camps. Even Harry's father, so far a sublime figure of identification for Harry, turns out to have been an arrogant bully, when himself at school, as we just saw. One could claim two exceptions: Voldemort and Dumbledore. Yet even here, by telling us about Voldemort's harsh youth, Rowling gives us at least a glimpse of sympathy for him and makes us realise that he has been a victim too; Dumbledore admits to some faults himself, though they do in fact appear minimal; his greatest mistake seems to have been to succumb to the dangers of love and thereby B contrary to his convictions and earlier behaviour B to have spared Harry the harsh truth for too long.[40] Even granted that he is the exception, most characters are not clear-cut. Harry Potter thus is highly superior to any simplifying morals of black-and-white: everyone in it contributes to evil B though of course some do more than others B and everyone has at least once had the capability for good, though some seem to have lost it forever.

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This again is a deeply Christian understanding of good and bad: Christian theology holds that every human person apart from Christ himself (and for Catholic dogmatics also his mother, Mary) indeed contributes to evil in the world and rightly prays for the forgiveness of his or her sins. At the same time it holds that everyone was created with and graced for the capability towards good, every human being and even the devil B if we want to take him into consideration too. Part of the ethical value of Harry Potter is that it depicts the struggle of good versus evil not merely on the outside, between good and bad people, but on the inside of people that are obligated to take a stance ever again and redefine themselves by their choices.[41]

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In that the element of "tragedy" or of unlucky circumstance plays an important part too. As we already mentioned, Sirius Black is killed in the end by a Voldemort adherent because Harry had been tricked into danger. The main cause for his death certainly is Voldemort's deceitful plan and the murderess's action. Yet a number of little lapses and minor imperfections of numerous people contribute to that death in such a way that one could argue: if only one reaction had been better, Black would still live.[42] While each person's reaction is understandable from his or her background and history, and might be considered an excusable, minor flaw, they accumulate and cause a grave injustice: the death of a man. Tragic chains of events like these can also be seen in connection with the doctrine of original sin, as consequence of a world altered and structured by sin. Harry Potter clearly shows a world altered and structured by sin, yet one in which miraculous openings for grace's breaking in occur too B interruptions of these chains by grace.[43]

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[1] Part Two on the theology of sacrifice and messianic mission is forthcoming in the next issue of the Milltown Studies, i.e. 53 (2004). For an expanded German version of this argument see: Drexler, Ch. / Wandinger, N. (Hg.): Leben, Tod und Zauberstab. Auf theologischer Spurensuche in Harry Potter. Mit Beiträgen von Ch. Drexler, T. Peter, A. Walser und N. Wandinger (Literatur - Medien - Religion 11). Münster - LIT 2004, 25-78.

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[2] We exclusively refer to the novels here. While the films succeed in retaining some of the elements we will talk about, they are a different medium and we do not include them here. We also leave out the merchandising hubbub around the series and merely concentrate on the books themselves. We quote the novels according to the British original and the following editions (unfortunately page references do not match with other editions): J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Bloomsbury, London 1997 (abbr. to HP 1). Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Bloomsbury, London 1998 (HP 2). Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Bloomsbury, London 1999 (HP 3). Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Bloomsbury, London 2000 (HP 4). Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Bloomsbury, London 2003 (HP 5). It should be noted that even Bloomsbury's other editions vary considerably in their pagination, so our page references only work for the edition cited.

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[3] Abanes, R.: Harry Potter and the Bible. Camp Hill, Pa. : Christian Publ., 2002. Neal, C.: The gospel according to Harry Potter. Louisville, Ky., Westminster John Knox, 2002. Neal, C.: What's a Christian to do with Harry Potter? Colorado Springs, Colo. : WaterBrook Press, 2001.

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[4] Bridger, F.: A Charmed Life. The Spirituality of Potterworld. New York, N.Y., Doubleday 2002. Killinger, J.: God, the Devil, and Harry Potter. A Christian Minister's Defense of the Beloved Novels. New York, N. Y., Thomas Dunne 2002. Spinner, K. H. (Ed.): Im Bann des Zauberlehrlings? Regensburg Pustet, 2001. Maar, M.: Warum Nabokov Harry Potter gemocht hätte. - Berlin : Berlin-Verl., 2002.

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[5] For some reflections on that see: Walser, A.: Potter'sche Moralpädagogik. In: Drexler, Ch. / Wandinger, N. (Hg.): Leben, Tod und Zauberstab. Auf theologischer Spurensuche in Harry Potter. Mit Beiträgen von Ch. Drexler, T. Peter, A. Walser und N. Wandinger (Literatur - Medien - Religion 11). Münster - LIT 2004, 79-102.

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[6] Cf. Bachl, G.: Gefährliche Magie? Religiöse Parabel? Gute Unterhaltung. In: Spinner (see footnote 4), 42-59, esp. 42-49.

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[7] For a superb interpretation of that fact cf. Bridger op. cit., esp. 90-93.

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[8] Cf. Bachl, op.cit. esp. 44; 50-55.

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[9] For philosophy in Star Trek see: Quitterer, J. / Wandinger, N.: `Star Trek" im philosophischen Seminar. Nikolaus Wandinger und Josef Quitterer (Innsbruck) über eine Science-Fiction-Serie als Basis für ein Universitätsseminar. In: Information Philosophie 3/1998, 78-81.

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[10] Here we are in full agreement with Bachl, op. cit. esp. 43-46.

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[11] Cf. Bridger op. cit, esp. 89-111. Killinger, op. cit, though this work is too enthusiastic and superficial for our liking. Hilberath, J. / Scharer, M.: Firmung B Wider den feierlichen Kirchenaustritt. Innsbruck B Mainz 1998, 46-59. Scharer, M. / Niewiadomski, J.: Faszinierendes Geheimnis. Neue Zugänge zur Eucharistie in Familie, Schule und Gemeinde. Innsbruck B Mainz 1999, 28-41. Motté, M.: Implizites und explizites Reden von Gott in der modernen Lyrik. In: Katholische Bildung 92 (1991), 34-47.

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[12] The theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg refers to God as the "alles bestimmende Wirklichkeit". See: Pannenberg, W.: Wissenschaftstheorie und Theologie. Frankfurt/M. 11973, 298.

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[13] This can be said to be the quintessence of Paul Tillich's theology. Cf. Korthaus, Michael: `Was uns unbedingt angeht". Der Glaubensbegriff in der Theologie Paul Tillichs (Forum Systematik. Beiträge zur Dogmatik, Ethik und ökumenischen Theologie 1). Stuttgart 1999.

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[14] In fact Jesus of Nazareth utilised implicit theology himself quite a lot: Often when he wanted to convey to his listeners what God was like, he did not formulate sentences of explicit theology, but rather told parables taken from the every-day experiences of his contemporaries, e. g. talking about a father and his sons (Lk 15:11-32) or a shepherd and his flock (Lk 15:1-10). He then (sometimes) explicated the theology that is implicit in these stories. What we propose to do here is to take Rowling's novels as the story and try to explicate the theology in it.

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[15] O. Muck talks about "gelebte Weltanschauung". Cf. Muck, O.: Rationalität und Weltanschauung. Philosophische Untersuchungen (Hg. W. Löffler). Innsbruck B Wien 1999, esp. 131-151.

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[16] Although we disagree with Bachl (op cit., 47; 52) on whether there is implicit theology in Harry Potter, we take up his challenge that, if it is there, it must be shown in the structure of the story itself (ibid, 52).

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[17] On the didactic value of the novels see: Drexler, Ch. / Wandinger, N. (Hg.): Leben, Tod und Zauberstab. Auf theologischer Spurensuche in Harry Potter. Mit Beiträgen von Ch. Drexler, T. Peter, A. Walser und N. Wandinger (Literatur - Medien - Religion 11). Münster - LIT 2004, 23f., 73-78.

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[18] Harry was born on July 31st, his parents died when he was one year old on Halloween, i. e. October 31st; cf. HP 1, 45.

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[19] Cf. Maar, op. cit. 156.

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[20] Jalics, F.: Called to share in His life. Introduction to Contemplative Way of Life and the Jesus Prayer (a Retreat) (German: Kontemplative Exerzitien).Translated by L. Wiedenhöver. St. Pauls, Mumbai 1999, 262f.

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[21] We concur here with Maar, op. cit. 49f.

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[22] "Muggle" designates a person who has not the gift for wizardry. An important group within wizarding society in the novels considers blood-lineage more important than actual talent and want to exclude half-breeds or Muggle-borns from Hogwarts school and the wizarding society, and they call these people "mud-bloods". Rowling here gives an excellent depiction of racism, which would be worth an investigation of its own.

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[23] He seems to have had an abusive father: "a hook-nosed man was shouting at a cowering woman, while a small dark-haired boy cried in a corner" (HP 5, 521).

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[24] Suffering from loneliness: "a greasy-haired teenager sat alone in a dark bedroom, pointing his wand at the ceiling, shooting down flies" (HP 5, 521f.).

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[25] HP 5, 735. These last and worst ones are ironically those that Snape has suffered in his school days from Harry's father, being teased, harassed and ridiculed by him, as Harry witnesses himself through Snape's memories (cf. HP 5, 564-572).

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[26] In an interview for the DVD-release of HP 2.

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[27] He clearly rejects the idea that there could ever be peace with the Slytherins (cf. HP 5, 189) and he is prepared to use an unforgivable torture spell on the murderess of his Godfather: "Hatred rose in Harry such as he had never known before; he flung himself out from behind the fountain and bellowed, >Crucio!=" (HP 5, 715)

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[28] In volume three he already prevented Lupin and Black from killing Peter Pettigrew, the traitor because of whose treason Harry's parents died. He does so, however, not because of forgiveness, but because ">I don't reckon my dad would've wanted his best friends to become killers B just for you=" (HP 3, 275). But this leaves room for development.

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[29] Having been an orphan from before he can remember and just having lost his Godfather, Harry can genuinely feel sorry for Luna Lovegood having lost her mother at the age of 9 (cf. HP 5, 760). After transgressing Snape's privacy and being punished for it, "what was making Harry feel so horrified and unhappy was not being shouted at or having jars thrown at him; it was that he knew how it felt to be humiliated in the middle of a circle of onlookers" (HP 5, 573), something he had just witnessed in the pensieve happening to Snape, done to him by his, Harry's, father. Harry feels sorry for the injustice his most reviled teacher had to suffer as a child.

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[30] For a closer look at the theological relevance of Harry's scar, see Peter, T.: The Story of a Scar. Harry Potter als Sinnbild verwundbarer und verwundeter Geschöpflichkeit. In: Drexler, Ch. / Wandinger, N. (Hg.): Leben, Tod und Zauberstab. Auf theologischer Spurensuche in Harry Potter. Mit Beiträgen von Ch. Drexler, T. Peter, A. Walser und N. Wandinger (Literatur - Medien - Religion 11). Münster - LIT 2004, 103-127.

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[31] Ginny Weasley could not do so on her own but only when she was possessed by Voldemort, so she can be left out here.

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[32] For Harry's biography see especially HP 1 chapter 1, HP 2, 244f.; for Voldemort's HP 2, 181f. & HP 4, 560f.; for a description of the Heir HP 2, 114.

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[33] HP 3, 312, Dumbledore speaking. Harry's father could transfigure himself into a stag B his nickname was therefore "Prongs" B, Harry's protective Patronus took on the very form of a stag.

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[34] We call magical gimmicks technological because they function in the novels exactly like fictitious technology in science fiction, and because the novels themselves see technology as the Muggle world's (which is of course our real world) equivalent of magic (cf. HP 2, 37).

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[35] It should be "descendant", of course, as the edition Bloomsbury, London 2000, 357 has correctly.

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[36] E. g. persons that have been mistreated by their parents are far more likely to become abusive parents themselves than those who had a happy childhood.

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[37] Cf. DS 1515.

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[38] HP 2, 245. Emphasis added.

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[39] Cf. HP 4, 185-194. We disagree with M. Maar's position that the teaching of the forbidden curses by the fake teacher, who was Voldemort's servant, is a logical weakness of HP 4 (cf. Maar, op. cit. 112f.). On the contrary it is the grandiose depiction of how seduction works: the false teacher purports to show the curses to his students in order to warn and deter them; in doing so, he also exhibits the power of these spells and places the first seed of temptation in the students. It took one-and-a-half volumes and the murder of his Godfather for Harry to succumb to it.

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[40] Cf. HP 5, 739: ">I cared about you too much,' said Dumbledore simply. >I cared more for your happiness than your knowing the truth, more for your peace of mind than my plan, more for your life than the lives that might be lost if the plan failed. In other words, I acted exactly as Voldemort expects we fools who love to act.="

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[41] This is an element the author explicitly names as important to her (cf. Fraser, L.: Conversations with J. K. Rowling. Scholastic, New York 2001, 89f.).

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[42] For those familiar with the book: Black would still be alive at the end, if: Kreacher had not lied; Snape had not provoked Sirius into action; Snape had not stopped teaching Harry Occlumency; Dumbledore had talked to Harry about the imminent danger; Dumbledore had taught Harry Occlumency himself; Harry had used Sirius's package to contact him directly and not through the fire; Harry had not spied into Snape's pensieve; Harry had tried harder to learn Occlumency; Harry, Ron or Hermione had not forgotten that Snape is a member of the Order; Hermione had given a less accusatory argument in dissuading Harry from going to the ministry; Sirius had not treated Kreacher so baldy; Sirius had not gone with the others.

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[43] We owe the term "Gnadenunterbrechung" to J. Niewiadomski cf. Den Frommen ein Skandal. Provozierende Predigten. Pustet, Regensburg 1991, 18-25.

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