“Something Understood”: Sacramental Imagination and the Communion of Saints in the Fantasy of Chesterton, Lewis, and Rowling

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Early in Deathly Hallows, the trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione share the responsibility of strategizing how they will find Voldemort’s Horcruxes to destroy them.  When they work together to obtain one of these evil bits of Voldemort’s soul contained in a heavy locket, the trio lessens Harry’s burden by taking turns wearing the locket, with its accompanying spirit of discouragement, around their necks.  What an effective “speaking picture,” to use Sir Philip Sidney’s term,[8] of believers carrying each other’s burdens, as St. Paul exhorts us to do in Galations chapter 6![9] As Lewis states, “The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken” (“Weight” 9).  Ron and Hermione humbly seek Harry’s good above their own in periodically providing him a respite from the demoralizing and physically uncomfortable locket.  They are more interested in his-and the mission’s-success than in their own comfort, although this sacrifice does not come without a price.

There is “something understood” between Harry and his two closest friends in that they are unified in purpose, although not always in how to accomplish that purpose.  Throughout the series’ seven books, the trio has their share of disagreements, but they have also learned to compromise, to trust each other, and to hold each other accountable.  Harry may want to take on his mission alone, but Hermione and Ron will not let him.  They know that he needs their assistance (e.g., Deathly Hallows 96-99), yet this final mission of hunting down and destroying Voldmort’s Horcruxes before the trio themselves are hunted down and destroyed takes its toll on Harry’s friends, leading to Ron’s desertion and Hermione’s despair.  The torn communion is only repaired when Ron returns in humility and repentance.

Hinted at in earlier books of the series, but not fully seen until this final installment, we find that Harry’s communion of the faithful extends beyond those living to include those who have passed on, the martyrs who have sacrificed themselves in fighting for good over evil.  This extension of the communion beyond the living is consistent with traditional Christianity, as the project of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) recently reiterated: “in the early Church and through the patristic era, the phrase communio sanctorum had primary reference to this enduring bond between the faithful on earth and the faithful who had gone before, especially those whose witness was crowned with martyrdom” (Brown et al. 31).  In Harry’s courageous and sacrificial walk toward his doom near the end of Deathly Hallows, Harry is aided by such revered, martyred saints: his father, mother, godfather Sirius, former teacher Lupin, and beloved Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore. “You’ve been so brave,” encourages his mother.  “You’ll stay with me?” asks a frightened Harry of these beloved martyrs as he enters the forest where Voldemort awaits.  “Until the very end,” replies Harry’s father.  We are told that “their presence was his courage, and the reason he was able to keep putting one foot in front of the other” (699-700; ch. 34).  In fact, this powerful image of Harry drawing strength in communion with these loved ones as he walks toward what seems certain death, but is ultimately eucatastrophe,[10] may remind Lewisians of Aslan’s similar walk with Susan and Lucy toward the Stone Table before his execution at the hands of the White Witch.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows reminds Christians that we have to be willing to allow others to come alongside us, to shoulder our burdens, and to use their talents to help us complete our mission in life, which is to become more like Christ and to advance the kingdom of God.


“For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (I Corinthians 12:13)

“[A] moment later such cheering and shouting, such jumps and reels of joy, such hand-shakings and kissings and embracings of everybody by everybody else broke out that tears came into Jill’s eyes.  Their quest had been worth all the pains it cost.” (Silver Chair 199; ch. 15)

Rather appropriately, all three of these books end with celebration or communion without division, drinking the cup together or feasting in a way reminiscent of the Lord’s Supper and ultimately prefiguring, as perhaps every celebration does, the wedding feast in Revelation of the Lamb and the Church, His Bride.

The feast that concludes Chesterton’s Man Who Was Thursday is a bittersweet celebration of Gabriel Syme and the other five policemen with Sunday, the supposed anarchist leader they have been chasing.  The six policemen are dressed festively, each in garments representing one day of the Genesis Creation account, while lively masqueraders dance around the garden.  A “roar of enthusiasm rose from the carnival,” writes Chesterton, as each man sits down in a throne-like chair (138; ch. 15), with the celebration feast shortly to come.[11] “Let us,” entreats Sunday, “remain together a little, we who have loved each other so sadly, and have fought so long[,] . . . brothers in arms” (139).  At various points in the story, these seven men have striven mistakenly against each other, but with a common purpose: to fight for what is good and right against the nihilism of anarchy.  Here at the enigmatic end of the seemingly fruitless chase is the opportunity for these men of diverse personality to commune with each other and to represent in their individual attire a complete Creation.