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Good vs. Evil in Harry Potter

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2008 25 Seiten

Anglistik - Literatur


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Christian motifs in the Harry Potter series

3. 'Good' characters in the Harry Potter series
3.1. Ron Weasley
3.2. Hermione Granger
3.3. Dumbledore

4. 'Evil' characters in the Harry Potter series
4.1. Draco Malfoy
4.2. Lord Voldemort

5. Is Harry Potter good or evil?
5.1. Overview of Harry's mischief
5.2. Harry's dark side

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Harry Potter is a heptalogy of fantasy novels by the English author Joanne K. Rowling about an adolescent boy named Harry Potter, first published in England in 1997. Harry Potter attends the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a boarding school for young wizards and witches. Up to his eleventh birthday his cruel relatives, the Dursleys, have raised the orphaned Harry. On this day he learns that he is a wizard and has been invited to attend Hogwarts. The story is mostly set on the school premises, with each of the seven volumes describing a school year at Hogwarts and a year of Harry's growing-up. The main topic is Harry Potter's fight against the evil wizard Lord Voldemort who killed Harry's parents when he was still an infant. Throughout the story the Dark Lord Voldemort gains more and more power and tries to kill Harry several times. In Hallows the climax is reached and the final battle between Harry and Lord Voldemort which will decide the future of the wizarding world.

The fight of good versus evil is one of the oldest topics of mankind. Starting with the original sin in the Garden of Eden this fight has dominated moral concepts of the Christian world ever since.

This paper presents an analysis of how good and evil are portrayed and presented in the Harry Potter series. First, there is a description of Christian motifs in the series and how these motifs can be compared to certain characters in the books. Second, 'good' characters such as Harry's close friends Ron and Hermione, and Harry's mentor, Professor Dumbledore, are described and characterised as to why they are part of the 'good'. Third, the 'evil' opponents Draco Malfoy and the evil Dark Lord Voldemort are analysed as to how they exhibit 'evil' behaviour. The last chapter deals with the question of whether Harry Potter is 'good' or 'evil' as he does not always act as an exemplary student.

2. Christian motifs in the Harry Potter series

The fight between the opposites good and evil is one of the oldest topics of mankind. 'Good' usually refers to something innocent. Adam and Eve were living innocently in the Garden of Eden when the seductive serpent tempted Eve to eat an apple from the Tree of Knowledge: the Original Sin. The German translation 'Erbsünde' suggests that, from this moment on, mankind has had to suffer from the consequences. It has inherited Eve's lapse and has to fight the evil powers in order to be allowed into Paradise again.

The serpent is an embodiment of evil, a mean and malicious creature. Satan is often symbolised as a snake or a serpent. Looking at the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter's opponent Lord Voldemort has a large pet snake named Nagini.

Voldemort's many ties to serpents (Slytherin House; the form hidden under Quirell's turban in Stone: the snake Nagini in Goblet [and Hallows]; the nightmares in Phoenix) fit with evil snake symbols going back even before Satan was described as a snake in the Bible.[1]

Voldemort is a Parselmouth, meaning that he is able to communicate with snakes. He transferred some of his powers unintentionally to Harry the night Harry's parents were murdered. In Chamber"a basilisk controlled by Lord Voldemort slinks though Hogwarts, almost killing Harry and his friends"[2] but because Harry is now a Parselmouth too, he is able to fight and kill the basilisk.

After Eve has committed the Original Sin she and Adam are expelled from Paradise. "When God created the world, God proclaimed it good. Evil came into the world only as the result of the fall, when people did not follow God's good way."[3] Now Adam and Eve are not innocent anymore; evil has entered the world and man has to choose between good and evil. "Good and evil are in conflict in the world."[4] Living on Earth, Eve gives birth to two sons: Cain and Abel. Surrounded by evil, Cain murders his brother and is stigmatised by God: He gets the mark of Cain, so that everyone who sees Cain is reminded of the power of God[5].

Harry Potter has a mark, a scar, as well: When Voldemort tried to kill Harry in the first place, he used the 'Killing Curse'. But the curse backfired, disembodied Voldemort and left a lightning-bolt-shaped scar on Harry's forehead. Now this scar links Harry to Voldemort because it always starts to hurt when Harry gets close to Voldemort. Neither does Harry receive the mark because he did something evil nor does it place Voldemort on a level with God, because he was the one who branded Harry with the scar.

There is also another scar mentioned in Stone: Albus Dumbledore's scar shaped like a map of the London Underground. However, this is a rather humorous kind of scar and simply mentioned to make Harry feel better.

Peter Pettigrew or Wormtail (because he is able to transform himself into a rat) used to be the secret keeper of the Potters. But he betrayed Harry's parents to Voldemort so that Voldemort knew where to find and kill them. Wormtail can be seen as a symbol of Judas, Jesus' disciple who betrayed Jesus to the Romans. In Goblet Peter Pettigrew is the one luring Harry to the graveyard during the 'Triwizard Tournament' where Voldemort rises to power.

When Voldemort tried to kill Harry and his parents, Harry's mother saved Harry by sacrificing her life: an act of motherly love. Abanes quotes English professor Ken Jacobsen: "The overarching theme of the novels is the power of love to conquer death, a central theme of the New Testament to be sure."[6]

Abanes[7] lists four symbols and their Christian uses, although he emphasises that "they could be used within a Christian paradigm"[8]:

- 'Griffin' (Hagrid's pet Buckbeak) can be seen as a symbol of Christ's human/divine nature
- 'Unicorn' (living in the Forbidden Forest in Chamber) as one of the purest and most beautiful animals can be seen a symbol of Jesus Christ himself
- 'Phoenix' (Dumbledore's pet Fawkes) a symbol of Christ's death and resurrection
- 'Centaur' (Firenze: teacher at Hogwarts from Phoenix onwards) a symbol of Christ

In Prince Harry is referred to as being "the Chosen One", as was Jesus. Harry as a new Jesus Christ? Certainly not, but Harry "is known throughout the wizarding world as a saviour"[9]. In Hallows there is a fight in the Forbidden Forest between Harry and his opponent Voldemort. Harry dies (cf. crucifixion) and meets Dumbledore in an outside world. Harry gets the opportunity to choose between the easy way: staying dead or the demanding way: going back into life and fighting for the good cause. Harry, of course, chooses the demanding way and returns to life (cf. resurrection).

For many Christians, however, the books are anathema. Their children are forbidden to read them, and are even pulled from public school classrooms if the books are chosen for read-aloud times. Why such an uproar and reaction? What evil do some people in circles of evangelical Christendom see in these books? The answer is simple: the books are full of magic and witches. The characters, good and bad alike, deal in witchcraft. They even ride around on broomsticks. According to the reasoning of some segments if Christendom, therefore, this makes the book an occult work.[10]

Associations with Christianity led to an increasing interest in the series[11] and fundamentalist Christians were seeing dark powers and even works of Satan in the novels. This had a large impact on parents, especially in the United States of America. They were made uncertain and called for the removal of the books from classrooms and school libraries, fearing their children would establish an unhealthy interest in occultism[12].

The strange controversy surrounding the Harry Potter books was caused by conservatives, even though the works are clearly didactic and moralistic and preach against the evil use of magic. But they have drawn the ire of the American religious right, which seeks to ban these books from school, libraries, and bookstores because Harry is a wizard. Perhaps if Harry were seen as a Christian knight (which he actually is), he might be pardoned for his magical sins. But his stories, considered sinful, have stirred a phenomenal debate in the States.[13]

Taub and Servaty quote Gish who


[1] Colbert, David. 2003. Magical Worlds of Harry Potter. London: Penguin Books. 250.

[2] ibid, 34.

[3] Dalton, Russell W. 2003. Faith Journey through Fantasy Lands. Minneapolis: Augsburg Books. 16.

[4] ibid, 16.

[5] Patenge, Horst. 2001. "Sein Name war bekannt bei allen Völkern ringsum (1 Kön 5, 11) Theologische Exkursion nach Hogwarts". In: Spurensuche 12. Religion in der Kinder- und Jugendliteratur. Hrsg. Willi Fährmann. Mülheim: Kath. Akademie DIE WOLFSBURG. 81.

[6] Abanes, Richard. 2005. Harry Potter, Narnia and the Lord of the Rings. Eugene: Harvest House. 162–163.

[7] ibid, 278.

[8] ibid, 162.

[9] Dalton, 141.

[10] Dickerson, Matthew T. and David O'Hara. 2006. From Homer to Harry Potter: a handbook on myth and fantasy. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press. 228.

[11] Tomberg, Markus. 2003. "Muggel gegen Zauberer – Wie harmlos ist Harry Potter?" In: Herder Korrespondenz 57, Heft 10/2003. 514.

[12] Blume, Judy. 1999. Is Harry Potter Evil? New York Times: October 22nd 1999.

[13] Zipes, Jack David. 2001. Sticks and stones: the troublesome success of children's literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter. New York, London: Routledge. 174.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
482 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
J. K. Rowling Harry Potter Gut und Böse



Titel: Good vs. Evil in Harry Potter