Harry Potter and the Inklings

The Christian Meaning of The Chamber of Secrets

by John Granger

Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spells that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. C S Lewis

"The Weight of Glory"

A very famous writer once said, "A book is like a mirror. If a fool looks in, you can't expect a genius to look out." J. K. Rowling

on NBC's 'Today Show', 10/20/00

There has been no shortage of critics who dislike the Harry Potter books because they are (allegedly) poorly written and because (it seems to them) they teach an 'unbiblical spirituality.' The Hidden Key to Harry Potter (the book from which this essay is taken) is an attempt to begin filling a vacancy in the critical response to Joanne Rowling's best-selling Harry Potter books. Ms. Rowling also has a bevy of admirers that have written articles and books detailing her literary references and defending the use of magic in children's fantasy literature. No one to date, however, has tried to explain the Harry Potter phenomenon in light of Ms. Rowling's peculiar genius, the profound themes explored in the books, or her efforts to emulate the achievements of the Inkling Christian writers of the last century.

Why 'the high road approach' has been left vacant is something of a mystery. There are four reasons that come immediately to mind:

1) The Rowling Cinderella Story: Ms. Rowling made the mistake of telling reporters during the marketing of the first book that she had had some difficult times writing it. The story of her being a single mother on the dole striking it rich has since that time become the predominant image in people's minds because every media story about her includes it. This image has made it impossible for many to consider her work as they would, say, a book by Jane Austen or George Eliot. How many welfare moms do you know who have double firsts in Classics and French from a prestigious university (as Ms. Rowling does) and the ability to write fiction drawing on ancient and medieval philosophy? I bet you can count them on one hand.

2) The Christian 'Magic' Controversy: The few stories in the popular press and broadcast media that do not focus on the Cinderella story are usually about the 'magic' controversy. Several Christian groups and individuals have branded the Harry Potter books as satanic and gateways to the occult because of their magical milieu. This wrong- headed interpretation, almost 180 degrees off, remains an albatross around Ms. Rowling's neck. The thought that she is writing edifying Christian fiction is about as believable to most as the possibility that Osama bin Laden has been horribly misrepresented and is actually a Baptist minister living in Cherryville, North Carolina.

3) Classification as Children's Literature: Ms. Rowling did not set out to write children's books. Probably the major theme of the books is death and her treatment of this theme and others, drawing as it does from the richest streams of Western philosophy, theology, and traditionalism, is anything but childish or superficial. Serious readers, however, do not read the books or do not read them attentively or seriously because they believe children's books are beneath them or such critical attention.

4) Misogyny: And last but not least, it needs to be mentioned that Ms. Rowling has not been taken seriously because she is a woman. If a male Oxford University don had written these books, I am sure Harry Potter would have been put under the literary microscope for interpretation and in-depth analysis years ago. The cinderella story doesn't help, certainly, but the ease with which that story has taken hold, despite the remarkable popularity and complexity of her books, reflects its only having served as confirmation of our persistent cultural conviction that women are stupid and helpless.

 

Publishing Parallels

There is an interesting parallel of profound and ironic misunderstanding in C. S. Lewis's life that most of his Christian readers do not know. Before he became well known as a Christian, his published fiction was greeted with a yawn - and a confused yawn at that. Out of the Silent Planet, the first of the 'Space' or 'Ransom' trilogy, was met on its publication by reviewers and readers unable to understand it as the "smuggled theology" Lewis meant it to be. Though the book's Christian meaning is fairly plain, Lewis claimed that only two of sixty articles on the book

"showed any knowledge that my idea of the fall of the Bent One was anything but a private invention of my own. But if there only was someone with a richer talent and more leisure I think that this great ignorance might be a help to the evangelisation of England; any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people's minds under cover of romance without their knowing it" (Lewis to Sister Penelope, 9 July 1939, Letters of C. S. Lewis, pg. 167).

David Downing, Lewis authority and author of Planets in Peril: A Critical Study of C. S. Lewis's Ransom Trilogy, checked the reviews to see if Lewis hadn't been exaggerating for effect in this letter. His research confirmed that the Christian cosmology and meaning of the book had indeed escaped the book's reviewers in 1938.

Lewis's mention of only two reviews in sixty sounds hyperbolic, but a survey of Out of the Silent Planet reviews confirms his reckoning as essentially accurate. One reviewer, for example, confesses that he read Out of the Silent Planet twice and still could not find an allegorical significance. Another concludes that "Out of the Silent Planet, beautifully written as some of it is, does not seem quite to have grown from any conviction." One can hardly imagine a more inaccurate observation. Out of the Silent Planet was written with all of Lewis's convictions, with his whole worldview, in the background (Planets in Peril, p.36).

This misunderstanding was not true of Perelandra, the second book of this trilogy, which is not any more obviously Christian. However, it was hailed as a Christian fiction at publication in 1943 and ever since. I think the reason why is fairly obvious; between the two books Lewis had 'come out of the closet'. By 1943 Lewis had made the radio broadcasts which eventually became Mere Christianity and published Screwtape, which two events together revealed him as a Christian artist and apologist. The author of Silent Planet had been assumed to be an atheist while the author of Perelandra was evidently a confessor of the faith.

Ms. Rowling, because of the rags-to-riches tale and no little misogyny, is enduring similar misunderstanding, albeit ignorance and slander greater by an order of magnitude. Lewis may not have been identified as a Christian writer (despite the seemingly transparent meaning of his fiction) but no one is on record as being shocked to learn that this Oxford Don was a Christian when he gave public witness of his faith. Imagine for contrast the response if Ms. Rowling were to make any statement of her religious beliefs!

The secret of Harry Potter, i.e., that it is Christian fiction, however, is evident in what we know of Ms. Rowling without a formal statement of her spiritual creed. She has a superior formal education in Classics and French in addition to a working familiarity with ancient and medieval philosophy and literature. This intellectual backdrop is evident in the Harry Potter books' language, mythological references, and philosophical underpinnings.

She has also said that she is a great admirer of the Inklings, especially Lewis. When compared with him, she says that Lewis is a genius and she is not, which response suggests that she sees him as something of a mentor. She admits to being physically incapable of being in the same room with a Narnia book and not sitting down to read it.

If she had not said these things, the many allusions to Narnia and Lewis's books on education and literature would have brought us to the same conclusion. The professor hero in the Narnia books, for example, is named 'Digory Kirke' and is Lewis's self-portrait; Dumbledore's forceful admonition to us in Goblet to 'Remember Cedric Diggory' is a flashing neon road sign directing critical traffic to her role model.

Her similarity to Lewis is not limited to writing charming fantasies for children (that have magic in them) as not a few of her defenders against Christian criticism imply. The Harry Potter books are the whole Inkling show, to include training in the "stock responses", right alignment of the soul's faculties, and most important, the 'baptism of the imagination' in Christian symbols and doctrines. Rowling's books are 'instructions while delighting' in the real world struggle to choose love and life in Christ over hatred, prejudice and spiritual death.

Not that these books don't have a biting satirical and sardonic edge! 'Harry Potter' is a traditionalist broadside attack on the modern world and its absurdities. Rowling's traditionalism shows itself in her profound use of alchemical symbolism in every book and the medieval and magical setting of Hogwarts. She creates a technology free, virtue laden world in order to critique modernity's obsession with toys and neglect of everything meaningful. She fills this world with magic as a counter spell to break the materialist enchantment of our effeminate, one-dimensional culture. Harry is a Christian hero, and a masculine icon of the traditionalist, symbolic outlook to boot.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the second Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It is the most explicitly Christian of the series and the most didactic about the dangers and delights of reading books. This explicitness is understandable in light of the response to the first book, Philosopher's Stone, a response that must have been surprising to Ms. Rowling.

What was the response to the publication of Philosopher's Stone? It sold very well. Scholastic Books bid six figures for the American publishing rights. Some Christian groups, not just peripheral fundamentalist sects but several mainline churches in England and America, objected to the magical milieu of Harry's world. Other reviewers rushed to its defense (usually reducing the objections to a straw man and defending all fantasy and fiction), a few noted the literary references.

The success of the books certainly stunned Ms. Rowling, who claims earnestly she had no idea they would prove so popular. What must have been at least as surprising - and disappointing considering their sales - was that there was no interpretation ofthe book per se and no defense of the book from the position that it is a remarkably Christian book. Philosopher's Stone, despite its being a tale of the soul's purification, illumination, and perfection in Christ (written in the medieval language of spiritual alchemy) and heavy with traditional Christian symbols from the golden griffin to the Philosopher's Stone, was read by many as occult fantasy.

Ms. Rowling bristles at the Christian objections to her books, especially those that suggest she is a Satan worshipper. She remarked at the release of Goblet of Fire that it and Chamber of Secrets were the hardest to write and her favorite books. She doesn't tell us why Chamber was hard to write or became her favorite but I have a good guess.

Chamber of Secrets operates on several levels. As in all the books, it tells a rollickin' good yarn while advancing the larger story of Harry and Voldemort. But Chamber is also an answer to her Christian critics within the story and a 'book about books' to boot. It couldn't have been easy to write but, I have to agree with her, it is the best single volume of the series. It is, simultaneously:

  • A wonderful mystery/adventure story, tightly plotted;

  • that moves the larger story line along with
    revelations about Riddle and others; and

  • a response to critics via a textbook demonstration
    of the meaning and power of Inkling literature.

As a book about books, Chamber discusses the quality, value and dangers of three books: Riddle's Diary, Lockhart's corpus, and the Harry Potter book the reader is holding and experiencing. Let's see what she has to tell us about each of these books and speculate on her real world referents.

 

The Danger of Tom Riddle's Diary

Chamber turns on the diary of Tom Riddle (a.k.a., Lord Voldemort) and what happens when it returns to Hogwarts. When Harry and Ron discover the diary in Moaning Myrtle's toilet, Ron warns Harry about the dangerous magic in books.

"Harry looked under the sink where Myrtle was pointing. A small, thin book lay there. It had a shabby black cover and was as wet as everything else in the bathroom. Harry stepped forward to pick it up, but Ron suddenly flung out an arm to hold him back.
"What?" said Harry
"Are you crazy?" said Ron. "It could be dangerous."
"Dangerous?" said Harry, laughing. "Come off it, how could it be dangerous?"
"You'd be surprised," said Ron, who was looking apprehensively at the book. "Some of the books the Ministry's confiscated - Dad's told me -
there was one that burned your eyes out. And everyone who read Sonnets of a Sorcerer spoke in limericks for the rest of their lives. And some old witch in Bath had a book that you could never stop reading! You had to just wander around with your nose in it, trying to do everything one-handed. And -"
"All right, I've got the point," said Harry.
The little book lay on the floor, nondescript and soggy.
"Well, we won't find out unless we look at it," he said, and he ducked around Ron and picked it up off the floor" (Chamber, pages 230-231)

Rowling is having a little fun here. Notice the Sorcerer book title and what it does. 'Sorcerer' is a word rarely used in Harry Potter but it is in the title of the American edition of Philosopher's Stone. Could she be accusing her American Christian critics of making laughable accusations? Few if any of those who read Stone, after all, have magically been transformed into Wicca coven devotees.

Harry, after Ron's hysterical warnings and barely concealed prediction of a fate worse than death, decides he'll have to read it to find out. I don't doubt that Rowling is saying that this is the course of the sensible, sober reader; in the matter of a controversial or supposedly dangerous book, read it and decide for yourself what it is about.

What we know for sure, though, is that she is not dismissing the possibility that books can be dangerous. Riddle's diary certainly is. Let's lay out what we know about this diary:

  • It is Tom Marvolo Riddle's (a.k.a., Lord Voldemort)

  • delivered by Lucius Malfoy -

  • in a Transfiguration Textbook -

  • to Ginny Weasley.

Lucius Malfoy's intentions in planting the book in Ginny Weasley's textbook are not, as one might think, to restore Lord Voldemort. That Malfoy could have done on his own, Quirrell like, with any stooge. Dumbledore tells us the book planting was a "clever plan" to undermine Arthur Weasley's standing among wizards and destroy the Muggle Protection Act Weasley sponsors (Chamber, page 335-336). Mr. Malfoy is understandably nervous about this Act and the raids the Ministry has been making to round up 'dangerous toys' from dark wizards. Draco Malfoy also suggests that his father was trying to remove the 'muggle loving' Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, from Hogwarts, which he did, at least for a while.

'What the diary does' highlights Rowling's point about authentically dangerous books. The diary in Chamber, as an example of such books, is a book in which:

  • The innocent (again, 'Ginny' here should be read as 'Virginia' or 'virgin')

  • are transfigured (note the Transfiguration textbook in which Malfoy hides the diary)

  • into the wicked (it is the possessed Ginny that opens the Chamber and releases the Basilisk)

  • by the author of a book of dark magic (Riddle/Voldemort is the bad guy)
    · hidden inside their textbooks and pretending to be what they are not.

The effect of the book on Ginny is that she turns into a rooster murdering, basilisk releasing servant of Riddle. She thinks she is losing her mind and she is right; her mind is Voldemort's and in this is the death of her innocence and purity. The effect of the book on Harry, too, is remarkable. After his time inside the memory of Tom Riddle he more than half believes that Hagrid is the heir of Slytherin. It is a pretty powerful drug or 'confundus charm' - or evil magic - that could make Harry suspect his friend, the Dumbledore-adoring gamekeeper.

 

The Really Dangerous Books

Rowling isn't telling us to beware of the sneaky diaries of dark wizards. She is pointing to the dangers hiding in children's textbooks. In this, she follows C. S. Lewis who discusses just this problem in his book The Abolition of Man. The lead essay, "Men Without Chests", exposes the harm done by the insidious and sentiment destroying 'moral philosophy' of textbook writers. His powerful conclusion:

The operation of The Green Book and [textbooks of ] its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so. They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. Indeed it would be strange if they were: a persevering devotion to truth, a nice sense of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment which [the textbook writers] could debunk as easily as any other. It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the absence of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.

And all the time - such is the tragi-comedy of our situation - we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive', or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity.' In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful. (Abolition of Man, pages 34-35).

In other words, the hidden 'dark wisdom' in our children's schoolbooks is transforming them from something human into people who are somehow less than human. Because of their having grown up "having read the wrong sort of books" (see Eustace Scrubb in Lewis's Voyage of the Dawn Trader), they are incapable of the sentiments and emotions that buttress and create courage and the other moral excellences. Rowling communicates this real danger of the vacant naturalism and godlessness in textbooks through the mind of Tom Riddle hidden in Ginny's Transfiguration schoolbook. This danger is so much more real today, having won the day, if you will, that it is perhaps less apparent to us than it would have been in Lewis's time. Which is, I think, also part of Rowling's intended response to the objections to Magic in her books. We have already read Lewis's response to his own Christian critics; magic, he explained, can be a counter spell and magic in edifying fiction is just that - a counter spell to the enchantment of modernity. Let's look at that enchantment for a moment, because understanding Rowling's attack on it in her books is one way to appreciate her genius and the tragi-comic objections of some Christians.

Phillip Johnson, Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Darwin on Trial and Reason in the Balance, is America's most pointed critic of the materialist regime that monopolizes public discourse and education. He has argued persuasively that the religious belief that nothing exists outside the realm investigated by science (i.e., energy and matter or 'nature') has become the de facto and often de jure state religion of the United States.

This irks him because naturalism is illogical and self-contradictory; nature is unable to explain itself or even explain 'explaining' without reference to something (say, 'truth') not natural or outside of nature. He urges, consequently, a return to rationality and for open consideration of the more credible alternatives to materialism. This he hopes will create a wedge or break in the stranglehold the materialists have on the academy, media, and government.

Johnson proposes theistic realism as one such alternative to our naturalist state religion. The belief in a God outside nature, even a God who creates nature, however, does not supplant the cultural core belief that matter and energy are the core reality. In my experience, theists usually imagine their Creator God as a white bearded grandfather or ball of energy akin to a nebula galaxy in motion (i.e., as materialists caricature the Christian God, some to dismiss, some to adore).

There is no harm in this; such anthropomorphism is consequent to Christian language describing the three persons or hypostases of the Holy Trinity. There is a more credible alternative to materialism than this theism, however, in 'the symbolist outlook'. Symbolism is the opposite of materialism and the preferable alternative because it posits that the greater reality is not in what is visible and ephemeral but in what eternal, supernatural verity the natural object reflects (See Lewis's The Discarded Image, page 85). Schuon describes this outlook, the beyond-allegory perspective of Lewis and Tolkien's Christian neo-platonism:

"It would be quite false to believe that the symbolist outlook consists in selecting from the exterior world images on which to superimpose more or less far-fetched meanings. This would be a waste of time incompatible with wisdom. On the contrary, the symbolist vision of the cosmos is a priori a spontaneous perspective based on the essential nature - or the metaphysical transparency - of phenomena, which are not detached from their prototypes" (Schuon, 'The Symbolist Outlook', Tomorrow, Winter 1966, pages 52-53).

To break the 'head lock' of materialism requires looking at objects differently: not as realities in themselves experienced by passive observers as abstractions, but as "realities which pass into us from God undivided" (Cutsinger, 'C.S. Lewis as Apologist and Mystic', www.cutsinger.net, page 15.) This iconographic or symbolist perspective ties the material world to the greater Reality Which creates it and also transcends and informs it.

In this understanding - that beauty, truth and goodness are not abstractions but real, not ephemeral but eternal, and that their opposites and the material things in which these three qualities appear to us are 'as grass in the fire' - is both the root of the symbolist outlook contra materialism and the genius of Rowling's use of magic. Rowling's magical world, existing alongside the pale, materialist Muggle world, is the same world experienced 'diagonally' which reveals what is eternal in the ephemeral, the quality in the quantity.

'Diagon Alley' as not a few critics have noted is word play for 'diagonally'. This street hidden in the heart of London is a magical avenue of commerce with a Wizard's bank (run by goblins), a wand shop, and the best bookstore. The numbers on this street are without exception prime numbers or the product of primes (see Philip Nel, J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter Novels, pages 31-32.) Is this just cleverness run amuck or is Rowling telling us something?

Rowling asks us to look at the world magically, which is to say, not accepting that what we see is all there is. Seen 'diagonally', material things (to include people!) are better understood in light of their qualities, their beauty, truth, and virtue. Rowling in her use of prime numbers points us to consider even quantities, what we measure in number, as qualities; primes differ in quality from other numbers in their being irreducible to lesser constituents. Look, she says, for what is irreducible and eternal in the world rather than for only its 'straight on', ephemeral, quantitative value.

And the magic? 'Magic' is activity not obedient to naturalist law and material quantities. Rowling is writing a broadside, Christian attack on 'the reign of quantity', error, evil, and ugliness in the modern world; what better place to cast the counter spell to the enchantment of modernity than in a technology free world of magic alongside our own? And, yet, because of the poetry of magic she uses in her defense of the greater view, she has drawn fire from the very community she defends.

The irony of Christian objections to Harry Potter is that they are uniformly made against their magic and 'occult elements.' There is a real danger in the occult, and I protect my children from any exposure to it, even in 'popular culture'. Objections to the magic in Harry Potter, however, mistake the edifying use of magic in literature for actual invocational sorcery condemned by Scripture which it clearly is not.

The far more prevalent and spiritually damning danger is the materialist world-view of our time, the world-view attacked by Johnson with his 'Wedge' war and Rowling in her fiction. Naturalism makes Christian belief, or any revealed faith, ridiculous; it reduces, in its monopoly of public discourse, the path to communion with Truth down to a private struggle individuals may attempt on the far periphery of the public square.

Those who object to her magic do so with good intentions I am sure; they are blind, however, to the great service she does them in her attack on the mortal, invisible enemy inside our gates. It is the materialist heresy that undermines and belittles the traditional world-view of Christianity; it is naturalism that immunizes hearts to graces available from the two-fold revelation of God in nature and scripture. In comparison to this spiritual cancer, in reaction to which many souls are attracted to 'spiritualism', the dangers of magic and the occult are mostly in that they distract us from the greater evil.

 

The Significance of Gilderoy Lockhart

Chamber is the Harry Potter 'book about books'. We have looked at the 'portrait of evil' Rowling paints in Riddle's diary of the dark, moral philosophy hiding in modernist textbooks; let's move on to the most comic figure in the Potter series, Gilderoy Lockhart.

First, the bad news. Rowling has said in interviews that Gilderoy Lockhart will not return. Any of you having bet on his being the next Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher will have to pay up; Chamber will be his only appearance.

But there is good news. In an interview with amazon.com, she mentioned that Gilderoy Lockhart "started as an exaggeration version of a person I've met." That person is not difficult to identify - and this identification reveals another sort of dangerous book that Rowling warns her attentive reader about. Break With a Banshee, Gadding with ghouls, Holidays with Hags, Travels with Trolls, Voyages with Vampires, Wanderings with Werewolves, Year with the Yeti, Gilderoy Lockhart's Guide toHousehold Pets, Magical Me - Gilderoy Lockhart has written a bunch of books. Here is what we know about them:

  • Their only purpose is to generate money and fame for Gilderoy;

  • The adventure stories are all other magical persons' accomplishments; and

  • Women (that is, witches) love them, wizards do not.

What we learn about Gilderoy, himself, beyond his being "Order of Merlin, Third Class, Honorary Member of the Dark Force Defense League, and five time winner of Witch Weekly's Most-Charming-Smile Award" (which he "won't talk about" but manages to mention four times in Chamber), is:

  • He is despised by the teachers as an empty headed braggart;

  • He is adored by the girl students but he sickens the boys;

  • He lives for publicity, large photos of himself, and other people's admiration;

  • He favors effeminate colors in robes (jade, lilac, midnight blue, etc.);

  • He has one good charm (the memory charm); and

  • He is a Coward, 'Order of Scaredy Cat, First Class.'

His cowardice is revealed in spades when Ginny Weasley is taken into the Chamber of Secrets by Riddle and the teachers tell Lockhart he has a "free rein at last" to slay the monster. When Harry and Ron go to him to explain where they think the Chamber is, he tells them this sort of work wasn't "in the job description":

"You mean you're running away?" said Harry disbelievingly. "After all that stuff you did in your books-"
"Books can be misleading," said Lockhart delicately.
"You wrote them!" Harry shouted.
"My dear boy," said Lockhart, straightening up and frowning at Harry. "Do use your common sense. My books wouldn't have sold half as well if people didn't think I'd done all those things. No one wants to read about some ugly old Armenian warlock, even if he did save a village from werewolves. He'd look dreadful on the front cover. No dress sense at all. And the witch who banished the Bandon Banshee had a harelip. I mean, c'mon -"
"So you've just been taking credit for what a load of other people have done?" said Harry incredulously.
"Harry, Harry," said Lockhart, shaking his head impatiently, "it's not nearly as simple as that. There was work involved. I had to track these people down. Ask them exactly how they managed to do what they did. Then I had to put a Memory Charm on them so they wouldn't remember doing it. If there's one thing I pride myself on, it's my Memory Charms. No, it's been a lot of work, Harry. It's not all book signings and publicity photos, you know. You want fame, you have to be prepared for a long, hard slog."
He banged the lids of the trunks shut and locked them.
"Let's see," he said. "I think that's everything. Yes. Only one thing left."
He pulled out his wand and turned to them.
"Awfully sorry, boys, but I'll have to put a Memory Charm on you now. Can't have you blabbing my secrets all over the place. I'd never sell another book -" (Chamber, pages 297-298)

Harry and Ron disarm him and force him to join them in their pursuit of the Chamber. He gets Ron's broken wand when they are "miles under the school", though, and causes a cave-in by trying another Memory Charm (the wand explodes). The back firing Memory Charm obliviates his memory, which tragedy compels Dumbledore to say later, "Impaled upon your own sword, Gilderoy!" (page 331). Most everyone cheers, professors and students alike, when it is announced at the Leaving Feast that Professor Lockhart "would be unable to return next year, owing to the fact that he needed to go away and get his memory back" (page 340).

In the world of Harry Potter, where the virtues of bravery, selflessness and loyalty are prized above all, you're not supposed to like Gilderoy. We can laugh at him but Rowling clearly doesn't want us thinking of him as a role model. He is a cartoon figure of everything self-important, self-promoting, superficial, effeminate, and emasculating: everything the Harry Potter books hope to overcome and replace with heroic, masculine virtues and 'Stock Responses'.

If we never met him, the name Rowling gives him would tell us we weren't supposed to like him. 'Gilderoy Lockhart' breaks down to ' gilded' (given a deceptively attractive appearance) 'roi' (French for 'king') and 'lock' (shut tight) 'hart' (heart). His name tells us he is a false, 'pretty boy' prince with a closed heart, which is to say a 'hard heart' and 'spiritually dead'. What more could she tell us? Not much.

The fact that his only magic, his 'sword', is the Memory Charm reveals Rowling's estimation of the value of his books. They are lies, were only written for the promotion of their author, and, one has to guess, 'not for guys'. Their strength is they help you forget; they're an escape wherein you can forget what you are about - and what the author really is about, too.
Rowling hates Gilderoy's kind of fiction; it's everything her fiction is not. In this 'second book within the book', then, she offers this character to her critics as a foil to her own work. Children's literature that does not come from true belief and out of genuine love and concern for readers demeans them and distracts them from spiritual combat readiness. There are no 'stock responses' in Gilderoy's books, no right alignment of soul, and certainly no baptism of the imagination in Christian doctrines and symbols. Rather than Christ, the true king, all we find in Lockhart's books is himself: 'Gilderoy', the 'false king'.

So who is the real life model for Gilderoy Lockhart? My guess is Philip Pullman, author of The Dark Materials trilogy and many other, much admired children's books. I have a few reasons for guessing Pullman, some good, some silly. Let's start with the 'off the wall' stuff.

1) Every person I have met or read that loves his books (to include my daughters) is female. Here are a couple of raves from reviews written in the New York Times - by women:

"War, politics, magic, science, individual lives and cosmic destinies are all here. They are not flung together, they are shaped and assembled into a narrative of tremendous pace by a man with a generous, precise intelligence. If you are going to preface your books with passages from Milton, Rilke and John Ashbery, then you had better write well. Pullman does. His prose has texture and flexibility, like excellent fabric. And he gives us so much. Suspense of course, but such degrees of pleasure, excitement (the excitement of meeting characters, not just adventurers) and grief. And such joy - the joy of thinking, of testing your senses and feelings, of knowing your imagination is entering worlds not dreamed of in the usual philosophies" (Margo Jefferson, 'Harry Potter for Grown-Ups', NYT, 20 January, 2002).

"One can only hope that where Pullman leads [the children] will follow, and discover the dissenting tradition from which these books spring. This is remarkable writing: courageous and dangerous, as the best art should be. Pullman envisions a world without God, but not without hope" (Erica Wagner, Times of London, quoted NYT, 'The Man who Dared Make Religion the Villain', 6 November 2000).

2) His Dark Materials trilogy was 'big news' and Pullman a star at English book fairs when Harry Potter was still just a new title from a small publishing house - and it is at one of those events that Rowling is said to have met her 'Lockhart' model; and

3) One of the lead characters in more than one of Pullman's books is named Sallie Lockhart.

Onto more serious reasons for Rowling to choose Pullman as her 'Man Without Chest' Lockhart model:

1) Pullman feels nothing but disdain for C. S. Lewis and the 'Narnia School' of Children's fiction

"Mr. Pullman's book offers an explicit alternative to C.S.Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, with their pervasive Christian message. In the Narnia books, nestled inside the delightful stories of talking animals, heroic challenges and whimsical scenes, the meaning is clear: the heroes find true happiness only after death, when their spiritual superiority buys them passage to heaven.

"It is a conclusion with which Mr. Pullman thoroughly disagrees. "When you look at what C. S. Lewis is saying, his message is so antilife, so cruel, so unjust," he said. "The view that the Narnia books have for the material world is one of almost undisguised contempt. At one point, the old professor says, 'It's all in Plato' - meaning that the physical world we see around us is the crude, shabby, imperfect, second-rate copy of something much better."

"Instead, Mr. Pullman argues for a "republic of heaven" where people live as fully and richly as they can because there is no life beyond. "I wanted to emphasize the simple physical truth of things, the absolute primacy of the material life, rather than the spiritual or the afterlife," he said" (Sarah Lyall, NYT, 6 Nov 2000).

"He opposes the tradition of children's literature as Christian allegory, made famous by the Narnia Chronicles of C. S. Lewis. He is a disciple of that sensual visionary William Blake. And by revising (as Blake did) Milton's theology of Paradise lost and regained, he is paying tribute to Milton the poet and political dissident. He thinks it's dangerous to believe that innocence is at its best when untouched by experience. Or that morality is at its purest when untouched by joy" (Margo Jefferson, NYT, 20 Jan 2002)

2) Pullman is a public atheist and despiser of organized religion

"Shockingly, Mr. Pullman, a 53-year-old former schoolteacher, has created a world in which organized religion - or, at least, what organized religion has become - is the enemy and its agents are the misguided villains….The author grew up in Wales listening to fantastical stories of his maternal grandfather, an Anglican priest bursting with imaginative energy. 'I think he would be shocked by some of the things in [Dark Materials],' said Mr. Pullman, who was raised a Protestant but became an atheist as a teenager" (Lyall, NYT).

"Pullman has made clear in a lovely essay called "the Republic of Heaven" that he is passionately against any religion that puts its vision of the spirit and the afterlife above human life and the natural world, where our moral and spiritual tests as well as our pleasures are found….. And what does he mean by "the Republic of Heaven"? "No kings, no bishops, no priests," says one of the rebels. "The Kingdom of Heaven has been known by that name since the Authority first set himself above the rest of the angels. And we want no part of it. This world is different. We intend to be free citizens of the Republic of Heaven" (Jefferson, NYT).

Pullman's fiction is not, as he imagines, of the 'dissenting tradition' of Blake and Milton (!), but imaginative stock straight from the materialist warehouse. He doesn't believe in the fantastic realms he creates, only in the naturalist, 'this-world-ly' atheism and anti-clericalism he promotes beneath its surface.

The brilliance and real dissent in Lewis's Christian anthropology and cosmology is lost on him; one has to assume because he forgot his grandfather's wisdom after having been enchanted by the demons in his school textbooks. To believe that the natural world and joy in this life are diminished by discerning what is eternal and what is fleeting in the natural is never to have experienced the natural world in its depth, breadth, and height.

In contrast with the Pullman/Lockhart genre and Riddle's diary, the third book in Chamber of Secrets does not demean or diminish the reader by indoctrinating them with worldly philosophies. The third book Rowling shares with us in Chamber, her 'book about books', is Chamber of Secrets itself. It ends with an answer for her Christian critics that one would think they would have a hard time rejecting: the best books for children are the ones that model for them a heroic life in battle with the Evil One and dependent on the graces only available in Christ. That 'best book' model is evident in the battle scene at the end of Chamber, a Christian morality play for anyone with 'eyes to see'.

 

Chamber as Morality Play

Christian morality plays were the first theater in Western Europe. They were almost without exception either portrayals of Bible stories or 'Everyman' allegories of the soul's journey to salvation through thick and thin. Imagine medieval street dramas at public markets and fairs by itinerant players putting onvariations of Pilgrim's Progress and the Passion Play. The finish to Chamber of Secrets, as morality play, is the clearest Christian allegory of salvation history since Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Let's look at it in detail.

Harry, our 'Every Man', enters the Chamber of Secrets to find and rescue Ginny Weasley. He finds her but she is unconscious and Harry cannot revive her. He meets Tom Riddle. He had thought Riddle was a friend and asks for his help in restoring Ginny. No deal.

He learns then that Riddle is anything but his friend; Tom Riddle is the young Lord Voldemort, Satan's 'stand in' in the Harry Potter books, the Dark Lord or Evil One. Far from helping him revive Ginny, Riddle has been the cause of her near death. Harry boldly confesses his loyalty to Albus Dumbledore and his belief that Dumbledore's power is greater than Voldemort's.

The Chamber is filled with Phoenix song at this point, heralding the arrival of Fawkes, Dumbledore's Phoenix, who brings Harry the Sorting Hat of Godric Gryffyndor. The Dark Lord laughs at "what Dumbledore sends his defender" (page 316) and offers to teach Harry a "little lesson". "Let's match the powers of Lord Voldemort, Heir of Salazar Slytherin, against famous Harry Potter, and the best weapons Dumbledore can give him"(page 317). He releases the giant Basilisk from his reservoir and the battle is joined.

The look of the Basilisk is death so Harry, eyes closed, runs from it. The Phoenix attacks the charging Basilisk and punctures its deadly eyes. Harry cries for help to "someone - anyone -" (page 319) as the Phoenix and blind Basilisk continue to battle; he is given the Sorting Hat- by a sweep of the Basilisk's tail. The Harry throws himself to the ground, rams the hat over his head, and begs for help again. A "gleaming silver sword" comes through the hat (page 320).

The Evil One directs the blind Basilisk to leave the Phoenix and attack the boy. It does. Harry drives the sword "to the hilt into the roof of the serpent's mouth" when it lunges for him - but one poisonous fang enters Harry's arm as the Basilisk falls to its death. Harry, mortally wounded, falls beside it. Phoenix weeps into Harry's wound as Riddle laughs at Harry's death.

Too late, Riddle remembers the healing powers of Phoenix tears and chases away the Phoenix. He then confronts the prostrate Harry and raises Harry's wand to murder him. The Phoenix gives Harry the diary and Harry drives the splintered Basilisk fang into it. Riddle dies and disappears as ink pours from the diary. Ginny revives and they escape. Holding the tail feathers of the Phoenix, they fly from the cavern "miles beneath Hogwarts" to safety and freedom above. Harry celebrates with Dumbledore.

Now let's translate this Morality Play. First, the cast of characters, the dramatis personae:

  • Harry is 'Every Man'

  • Ginny is 'Virgin Innocence, Purity'

  • Riddle/Voldemort is 'Satan, the Deceiver'

  • The Basilisk is 'Sin'

  • Dumbledore is 'God the Father'

  • Fawkes the Phoenix is 'Christ'

  • Phoenix Song is 'Holy Spirit'

  • Gryffyndor's Sword is 'the Sword of Faith/Spirit' (Ephesians 6:17)

  • The Chamber is 'the World' and

  • Hogwarts is 'Heaven'

The action of the drama, then, goes like this: man, alone and afraid in the World, loses his innocence. He tries to regain it but is prevented by Satan, who feeds on his fallen, lost innocence. Man confesses and calls on God the Father before Satan and is graced immediately by the Holy Spirit and the protective presence of Christ.

Satan confronts man with the greatness of his sins but Christ battles on Man's side for Man's salvation from his sins. God sends Man the Sword of Faith which he 'works' to slay his Christ-weakened enemy. His sins are absolved but the weight of them still mean Man's death. Satan rejoices.

But, wait, the voluntary suffering of Christ heals Man! Man rises from the dead, and, with Christ's help, Man destroys Satan. Man's innocence is restored and he leaves the World for Heaven by means of the Ascension of Christ. Man, risen with Christ, lives with God the Father in joyful thanksgiving.

If I look closely, I can imagine where different types of Christians might disagree with this thumbnail sketch of Everyman's salvation drama in emphasis and specific doctrines. It would be a very odd Christian indeed, though, who could not understand what the story was about and would not admire the artistry of the allegory. Using only traditional symbols, from the 'Ancient of Days' figure as God the Father to the satanic serpent and Christ-like phoenix ('the Resurrection Bird'), the drama takes us from the fall to eternal life without a hitch. Nothing philosophical or esoteric here (can you say 'no alchemy'?).

Rowling illustrates here that her books are Christian and in bold opposition to the spiritually dangerous books our children are often given. Chamber of Secrets is an example in the genre of an engaging, enlightening, and edifying reading experience for children - and a powerful rebuke and wake-up call to her Christian critics.

What is Chamber of Secrets about? Rowling, perhaps in response to the absence of intelligent discussion of Stone's meaning, in her second book clearly reveals to the discerning reader that she is writing Inkling fiction, i.e., stories that will prepare children for Christian spiritual life and combat with evil. Talk about baptizing the imagination with Christian symbols and doctrine!

She also points out to her Christian critics that their real enemies are not her counter-materialist magic but both the dark magic hidden in their children's textbooks and the 'good children's books' written by atheists and the worldly minded. Chamber of Secrets is a tour de force operating on at least three levels of meaning simultaneously. I can understand, consequently, Rowling's struggle in writing it and I agree with her that it is the best single volume of the series.

 

Why The Potter Books Are So Popular

In conclusion, to understand the meaning and popularity of Chamber of Secrets, 'Remember Cedric Diggory!' As with C. S. Lewis's Narnia and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Rowling's Harry Potter books enjoy such remarkable sales and popularity because of:

1) The Need for them: Lewis described the aims of education in modern times as 'irrigating a desert' in contrast to the popular belief that it is 'to cut down jungles' or clear away delusions (see The Abolition of Man , page 24, for the allusion and The Last Battle for its illustration in story). The desert that needs water is both spiritual and mental. Soft heads and hard hearts long for truth, beauty, and goodness even though they have been taught to despise or disregard these as subjective or sentimental qualities. Maslow said 'a capacity is a need'; our denied or misdirected spiritual capacities have created a nearly irresistible craving and need for Inkling quality reading.

2) A WOW! Story: Whatever the demand for edifying literature, if it isn't engaging and entertaining as story it cannot have the desired effect. Ms. Rowling's detailed, magical world allows and invites head first immersion and suspension of disbelief. Her readers identify with Harry and are rushed to a catharsis in spirit with their hero via the imagination. They absorb, consciously and unconsciously, just sentiments, heroic virtue, and Christian doctrine while loving the adventures in which this moral education is wrapped. Ms. Rowling's affection for the works of Austen and Dickens (and her like talent for 'manners and morals' fiction and believable characters) is evident in every Potter book.

3) The Christian Meaning: The Harry Potter books do not offer a generic 'good over evil' message. Ms. Rowling writes the powerful, spiritual answer in story form to mankind's larger questions in the only language even a post Christian culture can understand: she writes in the symbols and doctrines of the Christian faith. Harry Potter fans enjoy a resurrection experience in every book and are awashin word pictures and images of Christ and souls in pursuit of perfection in Him. Without this specific meaning, Rowling could not have achieved her unprecedented popularity in a culture that only knows of God in these forms.

4) "Past Watchful Dragons": Lewis was aware of how repugnant anything "churchy" is to most people and especially to children. He once explained that his Narnia books were written to sneak 'past the watchful dragons' that guard our hearts against the Christian meaning of life. Harry Potter is so popular precisely because no one has stirred these dragons. Rowling, by means of her cinderella story, the cover of being anti-Christian, our cultural misogyny, and because she too is considered to be writing only harmless children's fantasy, has been able to bypass the much more ferocious and watchful dragons of our day. Her disguise (as 'welfare-mom Wicca-cultist') does the concealment job more effectively than wearing both Frodo's ring and Harry's Invisibility Cloak.

Perhaps the film version of Chamber of Secrets will somehow (magically?) expose Ms. Rowling as an Inkling wanna-be. I have to think that revelation unlikely. In absence of that happy change, then, let us hope that her magic, as Lewis hoped, will continue to act as a counterspell to the materialist enchantments of our times - and that Christians will all join her in this edifying labor.


"Harry Potter and the Inkings" appears in the Nov/Dec 2002 issue of CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C.S. Lewis Society (www.nycslsociety.com) and is reproduced here by permisssion