Good in Harry Potter as Defined through Biblical Texts
The quest for good is a function of human development. We learn at an early age that some things are good for us and some are not. These lessons are ones in which we are taught through our verbal and physical interactions with caring adults. These adults can be within our own families, teachers in an academic setting, or friendly strangers. Regardless of the environment in which we learn how to do good, a question of origin regarding what is good comes to mind; particularly, how is good defined and how is good seen in our everyday lives.
The purpose of this section is to identity good as seen in the Bible, our primary Christian source. This will be accomplished through an exegetical examination of scriptures proclaiming what is good. Upon examination of these scriptures, a working definition of good will be developed. This definition of good will be used to examine illustrations of good described in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Definition of Good
Christian and Jews are introduced to the concept of good in the Hebrew scriptures. Specifically, Genesis provides an open window in which to begin our conversation. "God saw everything that he made, and indeed, it was very good." Good was used to describe the light, Earth, Seas, and Vegetation that was made at the hands of God. These creations of God were intentional thoughts made visible actions. We know that God’s actions were correct and pleasing; God had no need to redo what had already been done.
To further explore the meaning of good, reference can be taken from the second and third chapters of Genesis. "Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." The former portion of the verse utilizes good to describe the purpose of the food- good for eating and nourishment. If the ground is good for food, then it is holds qualitative characteristics; superior to other forms of natural vegetative resources. From the latter portion of the ninth verse, good is placed in contrast to evil. To have knowledge of what is good and evil means that one shows wisdom. Finally, in the third chapter of Genesis, we learn that good is something that is known. "Then the Lord God said, "See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever." The ability to recognize that which is purposeful or meaningful to humankind is a distinguishment, or act of reason available to the human species.
To take God’s expression of good in the creation, garden, and temptation stories and formulate a working definition of good for the purpose of this paper, I would argue that good is a characteristic of humankind that is known throughout the lifespan. Good is referenced in order to substantiate what is worthy; what is superior; what is perfect; and what is like God. Good is a function of reason and is used to impart wisdom for personal or community situations. Good is also a function of creation. Therefore, every human has the potential to have good; to be good; to do good.
Examples of Good in Harry Potter
Our conversation about good in Harry Potter, begins with Harry himself. The very essence of good, is Harry. The reader learns that Voldemort, the wizard that went bad, looses his dark powers, not through the actions of an experienced wizard, but through the very being of a child. Voldemort falls from power after he tries to kill Harry; a little baby. Through Hagrid’s, the Gameskeeper of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy, recollection of the tragic night in which Harry’s parents died, we learn of Harry’s unexplainable goodness.
"You-Know-Who killed ‘em. An’ then- an’ this is the really myst’ry of the thing- he tried to kill you, too. Wanted ter make a clean job of it, I suppose, or maybe he just liked killin’ by then. But he couldn’t do it. Never wondered how you got that mark on yer forehead? That was no ordinary cut. That’s what yeh get when a powerful, evil curse touches yeh- took car of her mum an’ dad an’ yer house, even- but it didn’t work on you, an’ that’s why yer famous, Harry. No one ever lived after he decided ter kill ‘em, no one except you, an’ he’d killed some o’ the best witches an’ wizards of the age- the Mckinnons, the Bones, the Prewetts- an’ you was only a baby, an’ you lived."
"Most of us reckon he’s still out thee somewhere but lost his powers. Too weak to carry on. ‘Cause somethin’ about you finished him, Harry. There was soemthin’ goin’ on that night he hadn’t counted on- I dunno what it was, no one does- but somethin’ about you stumped him, all right."
I would argue that the mysterious event that left Harry branded for life with an unordinary scar was a result of good meeting evil. The meeting between the babe Harry and Voldemort, the wizard practicing dark magic, was perhaps a coincidental meeting. However, this meeting was clearly purposeful. In the end, through no conscious actions of his own, Harry’s being, his good, displaced the powers of a more experienced wizard. And since this displacement occurred thought the being of a child, it can be concluded that goodness is something that all are given. Goodness does not have to be purchased or obtained. Instead it is something that we are. It is our core; it is our creative nature.
Another example of good within Harry Potter can be viewed through an inanimate figure charged with the appropriate placement of first year students at the Hogwarts School. When it was time for Harry to be placed in to the house he would come to know as home, like thousands of Wizards before him, he sat in the middle of the great hall to be sorted by the Sorting Hat. As Harry sat nervously upon the stool he could only think about where he did not desire to be placed, Slytherin.
"Hmm," said a small voice in his ear. "Difficult. Very difficult. Plenty of courage, I see. Not bad mind either. There’s talent, oh my goodness, yes-and a nice thirst to prove yourself, now that interesting….So where shall I put you."
To further examine the goodness of Harry, the Sorting Hat provides an adjective in which to describe a characteristic of good; courageous. If the goodness within Harry is given, as seen the being of a baby, as a reasoning adolescent, Harry actualizes his creative nature through courageous actions.
As Harry sat waiting to be sorted, he had very little understanding of what courage would mean to him throughout his first year at Hogwarts. Harry would frequently demonstrate his knowledge of goodness through his defense of insecure students such as Neville and Hermione. However, he would ultimately learn what the Sorting Hat was referring to and other aspects of good, through a second unforgettable meeting with Lord Voldemort.
"How touching…" it hissed. "I always value bravery….Yes, boy, your parents were brave….I killed your father first, and he put up a courageous fight….but your mother needn’t have died…she was trying to protect you….Now give me the Stone, unless you want her to have died in vain."
Voldemort in his dark way, attempted to break the goodness of Harry by describing how he killed his parents ten years before. Voldemort describes Harry’s parents as brave and courageous. Harry’s parents fought evil not to save themselves but to save a child. These acts were acts of goodness and ultimately sacrificial.
We also learn in the Biblical readings that love is the greatest attribute. It is above hope and faith.
"Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign… to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good."
Finally, we understand why Harry’s scar is unordinary. The mark that sits upon his forehead is a result of the power emitted from a direct encounter between good and evil. At the moment in which Harry’s mother saves him from death, love, bravery, and courage shields good from evil. Harry’s mother is good. Harry himself is good. Voldemort is incapable of sustaining his powers because he does not understand, he does not know, a function of goodness: love.
If good is created within us, then how do we do good things. I would argue, that upon becoming reasoning bodies, we learn or become knowledgeable of examples of good. Knowing is product of tuning in, gaining wisdom. Proverbs states that wisdom is a function of self love. And although wisdom can be acquired it is essential to wisdom that understanding is a continual and prosperous activity of daily life.
"Harry knew, somehow, what to do. He leaned forward and grasped the broom tightly in both hands, and it shot toward Malfoy like a javelin."
As Harry begins to understand the events of his life, he comes to know that he is different. He comes to know that something about him destroys evil. Harry knows that good is something that can be chosen. He uses as his example the death of his parents. Although Voldemort had killed many and others were coerced in to joining his side, the Potter’s refused to do so. They stood in defense of right although death was imminent. Harry finds himself in a similar situation while defending the Sorcerer’s stone. He vehemently declares that he will choose good, suffer at the hands of evil, rather than choose evil.
"If I get caught before I can get to the Stone, well, I’ll have to go back to the Dursleys and wait for voldemort to find me there, it’s only dying a bit later than I would have, because I’m never going over to the Dark Side! I’m going through that trapdoor tonight and nothing you say is going to stop me! Voldemort killed my parents, remember?"
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Synopsis of the Harry Potter Stories
Evil in Harry Potter (in the Non-Magical World)
Evil in Harry Potter (in the Magical World)