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

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McLaren, Scott. “A Problem of Morality: Sacramentalism in the Early Novels of Charles Williams.” Renascence 56.2 (2004): 109-127.

McVeigh, Dan. “Is Harry Potter Christian?” Renascence 54.3 (2002): 197-214.

“Mugglenet and The Leaky Cauldron Interview Joanne Kathleen Rowling.” 16 July 2005. Edinburgh, Scotland. <http://www.mugglenet.com/jkrinterview2.shtml>.

O’Hara, David, and Matthew Dickerson. From Homer to Harry Potter.  Brazos, 2006.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. NY: Scholastic, 2007.

Tolkien, J. R. R. “On Fairy-Stories.” The Tolkien Reader. NY: Ballantine, 1966. 33-99.

Ward, Heather. “Earth’s Crammed with Heaven: Fantasy and Sacramental Imagination in George MacDonald.” The Chesterton Review 27.1-2 (2001): 25-37.

Wood, Ralph. The Comedy of Redemption. Notre Dame, Indiana: U of Notre Dame P, 1988.

Yaggi, Miranda Maney. “Harry Potter‘s Heritage: Tolkien as Rowling’s Patronus Against the Critics.” TOPIC: The Washington & Jefferson College Review 54 (Fall 2004): 33-45.

[1] In fact, Ron’s brothers early in the novel label themselves “saint-like” and the “holey” ones after George suffers the loss of his ear in a battle, leaving a hole in his head (74; ch. 5).  Utilizing “saint” humor, the identical twins Fred and George Weasley embody in miniature a communion of saints, almost sharing one body, relying on humor to transcend their hardships and scars.  In this sense, all of Harry’s friends qualify as the “holey” ones, since few, if any, escape wounding.

[2] For sacramental readings of Williams and MacDonald, see McLaren and Ward, respectively.

[3] For example, see John Granger, Emily Griesinger, Alan Jacobs, Dan McVeigh, O’Hara and Dickerson (esp. 227-51), and Miranda Yaggi for comparisons of Rowling’s stories to the fantasy works of Lewis and Tolkien.  Rowling herself has admitted a fondness for Sayers’ mystery novels and the influence of Sayers’ ideas on the “detective” elements of the Harry Potter stories (“Mugglenet”).

[4] In the Geneva Bible (1550) the commentary on John 6:48 (“I am the bread of life”) reads, “The true use of Sacraments, is to ascend from them to the thing itself, that is to Christ: by the partaking of whom only, we get everlasting life.”

[5] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture citations come from the New International Version.

[6] According to The Book of Common Prayer catechism, “The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” Whether the Holy Communion elements themselves bestow a blessing for the Christian, or whether the participant’s obedience in the ritual and reflection on the person of Christ bring the blessing, partaking of the Eucharistic sacrament allows one to experience God’s grace, both individually and as part of a community of faith.

[7] Syme turning this nightmarish chase into a childish game as a result of courage inspired by Christian communion is not unlike a scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where, after being accompanied by his deceased loved ones as he walks toward his presumed death, Harry has been so strengthened by this communion that he looks at Voldemort waiting with his hands folded over his wand and thinks “absurdly of a child counting in a game of hide-and-seek” (702; ch. 34).  “[A]lways be comic in a tragedy,” states Chesterton’s Syme.  “What the deuce else can you do?” (71; ch. 9).

[8] According to Sidney’s Defense of Poesy, literature has the obligation to teach as well as to delight, but it does so through images, through powerful moments inherent in the story that he terms “speaking pictures.”

[9] “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Gal. 6:2-3).

[10] Tolkien explains the importance of this escape from death and turn toward consolation in fantasy stories in his essay “On Fairy-Stories.”

[11] In his essay “Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages,” Lewis compares the harmonious movement of the medieval spheres to “a picture of a girl dancing and playing the tambourine; a picture of gaiety, almost of frolic” (60).  Compare Lewis’s description of this cosmic harmony with the festive atmosphere at the conclusion of Chesterton’s Man Who Was Thursday.  “The motions of the universe,” Lewis continues, “are to be conceived . . . as a dance, a festival, a symphony, a ritual, a carnival, or all these in one.  They are the unimpeded movement of the most perfect impulse towards the most perfect Object” (60; my emphasis).

[12] Lewis himself depicts a truly cosmic celebration, a fuller representation of the Narnian Snow Dance, in the “Great Dance” at the end of his novel Perelandra.

[13] A “Muggle” in the Harry Potter world means a person who does not possess the ability to do magic.  “Muggle-borns” are therefore wizards whose parents and other family are Muggles.

We learn from the Harry Potter series that there is strength in diversity of communion-in diversity of ideas and talents.  Indeed, we might recall such passages as I Corinthians 11-12 and Galations 3:27-29, where the Apostle Paul demonstrates God’s ideal of diversity without division within the Body of Christ.