Posted by: riverchilde | March 22, 2011

Dementors and our Patronus

I’ve been listening to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on CD as part of my commuting routine lately. Little episodes here and there in the book remind me of how our understanding of the first use of the law as reflecting the world as it is helps reveal Christian understandings in materials that are not explicitly religious in nature. For example, in the first chapter of the book, Harry is in despair because he is cut off from the wizarding world, starving for contact with those who have an understanding of what forces are truly at work in his life and the lives of those around him. Listening to that scene, I thought: “And that’s why Christian community is so important!” Without ongoing support reminding us of the Good News, the law drags us down into despair.

Later in the book, Harry and his cousin Dudley are attacked by Dementors, foul creatures that feed off human emotions, sucking all the light, hope and joy out of the world, making those around them feel as though nothing good will ever happen again. “They glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself…soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life,” explains Remus Lupin in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Victims are made to relive their worst memories, drowning in their own despair.

As I recalled this description, I thought of how the law, without the counterbalancing force of the gospel, can function in just such a way in our lives. In the Harry Potter books, the Patronus Charm serves as a corporeal form of the gospel. “The Patronus acts as a shield of sort, which the Dementor would try to feed off of instead,” according to Harry Potter Wiki. A powerful positive memory allows a wizard to summon his or her own personal Patronus, which takes the form of an animal with special meaning to the one casting the spell.

I struggled a bit with the idea of the Patronus as a parallel to Christ as our Savior until I found out this etymologyEdit Etymology section of the word in Harry Potter Wiki: “Patronus means ‘protector’ or ‘guardian’ in Latin, reflecting the entire role that the Patronus Charm plays…. In archaic Latin, it meant ‘father’. The Latin word exspecto or expecto means ‘I watch for’ or ‘I await’, thus the charm’s incantation roughly translates into ‘I await a protector.’ ” I thought of how we are encouraged to put on the whole armor of Christ, and decided that the Patronus did indeed fit this description.

The Order of the Phoenix has to this point been my least favorite of the Harry Potter books, but reading it through the lens of law and gospel has made me better appreciate the insights it contains.

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