After spending a lunch break reading several of the articles on the Tor.com Potterpalooza I am now much more psyched for the final Harry Potter movie. Movies are always second-best to me – not nearly as exciting as the actual books. Of course, I read the book articles on Tor rather than the movie ones.

I’d have to agree that the last HP book doesn’t totally succeed; in my opinion that’s mostly because there’s too much going on in too many different directions, and the book would have benefited from a pruning. Also, Ithough I like the Deathly Hallows and their associated story (and thought that bit was brilliantly staged in the last movie) they are too important and were introduced too late, with no foreshadowing for me ever to fully believe in them as a part of the Potterverse. But in her article about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, there’s one thing I think Liz Bourke gets deathly (sorry) wrong. She writes:

Having learned that Dumbledore believed that Harry is one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes, Harry is resigned to dying. So he uses to Resurrection Stone—one of the three Hallows, which Harry has uncovered at the last moment—to talk to his dead parents, as well as Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, before he hands himself over to Voldemort and lets himself be struck with a killing curse.

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13, NIVB.

It’s Harry’s Jesus moment. He dies and rises again, after a conversation with the deceased Albus Dumbledore in a cosmic train station. On one hand, it’s certainly one way to conclude a hero’s journey. On the other, Harry’s survival robs his act of bravery—his act of sacrifice—of much of its meaning.

I don’t think so. Now, I’ve never heard anyone make that point about Aslan in the Narnia books, but I could make a good case there that Aslan’s sacrifice is devalued. He knows he won’t die; he knows what was written before Time began “in letters as deep as a spear is long on the trunk of the world ash-tree.” (NB: Apparently the British edition says “… on the fire-stones of the Secret Hill.” The things you learn while checking your memory in Google.) So basically all Aslan is sacrificing is a few hours of humiliation, some discomfort, and a nap.

Harry didn’t know that; he surrendered to Voldemort in the clear belief that he was about to die, forever. We do see reappearance of dead people in the HP series: waving from photographs, speaking from portraits, showing up to help or harm the living in extraordinary circumstances (when Voldemort’s wand regurgitated its last few spells in Goblet of Fire and again at the end of Deathly Hallows with the Resurrection Stone) but it is clear that these are pallid shadows of the living person, not an independent existence. Further, there is never any other discussion of an afterlife in the series, so Harry isn’t sure of going on to Heaven or Valhalla or even Hades.

I’m no Christian theologian, but as I understand it, the whole point of the incarnation is that for 33 years God lived as a man on Earth, with a man’s doubts and limitations. Jesus presumably had some kind of faith in going to Heaven (maybe he didn’t and only thought of Gehinom, as per the Jewish beliefs of his time, but had faith that his Father would take care of him no matter what – though then again, he did mention Paradise) but as a man, even his faith was capable of being shaken – at least I assume that’s the meaning of “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”

Two thousand years of Christian dogma have been based on the value of Jesus’ sacrifice, and it is apparently not shaken by the fact that Jesus did get to return to Earth after the Crucifixion. That makes sense to me in context: Christianity is all about the value of the intent, not only the deed, and as far as Jesus knew for sure, he was dying for good. (If he were sure of coming back right away, wouldn’t he have told the disciples, not to mention his poor mother?)

I think Harry gets the same consideration: as far as he knew, he was going to die, but his death would save his friends. It’s a true sacrifice, no matter what happens next.