Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2: Confronting Death

Theological Reflection

We’ve reached the end, or, as the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 might put it, the “close.” And here, at the close of this story, our hero is faced with the same final villain we all face. No, not Voldemort. Thankfully we don’t all have to go toe-to-toe with that reptilian-faced foe. In the end, we must all confront death. There’s no escaping it.

It is perhaps inappropriate to cast death as a foe in this chapter, actually, because the film itself does not do this. The story does include characters that are afraid of death and go to great lengths to avoid it, but those are not our heroes. Voldemort is the most obvious example, of course, as he has split his soul into many parts in hopes of achieving immortality. We’re never meant to mimic Voldemort.

Our heroes—Harry’s parents, Sirius Black, and Dumbledore in the films that preceded this one and many more in this film—all accept death. They don’t necessarily seek it out, but they hardly run from it. They all value something more than their lives, and they all have hope that extends beyond their mortal lives. They believe that their deaths serve a greater purpose, so they welcome death when death finally comes.

But even without the “greater purpose” of defeating Voldemort, one gets the feeling that these women and men still wouldn’t respond to death with fear. I think Lily and James Potter, Sirius Black, Dumbledore and the others wouldn’t shrink back from death even if it came upon them in more peaceful circumstances. This acceptance of death has been foreshadowed from the first book/movie in this series when Dumbledore tells Harry that the “Sorcerer’s Stone,” an object capable of extending life indefinitely, has been destroyed even though doing so guarantees the death of its maker, Nicolas Flamel, and his wife. Dumbledore tells Harry the Flamels are content with death.

In the first part of this final installment in the series, we are shown a brilliant animation of the tale of the titular “Deathly Hallows.” In that tale, three brothers try different means of foiling death. Only one brother is successful – the one who, in time, learns to accept death. In the end of that story, the man and Death greet each other as “old friends.”

Stating that death is nothing to fear and pointing out that our heroes don’t fear death is one thing, but identifying the source of their confidence is another. Why don’t they fear death? Why do they welcome it? What have they learned that enables them to accept it peacefully? Perhaps the source of that peace is also the reason why they are people who desire and work for peace in the wizarding world, as opposed to Voldemort, who fears death and so must inspire fear in others and spread death wherever he goes, as if by killing others he is preoccupying death and escaping death’s attention. Let’s peer into the pensieve and see what we can find.

Harry accepts death after watching Severus Snape’s memory in the pensieve. There he encounters two things. One, he learns that he must die if Voldemort is to be defeated, because a piece of Voldemort’s soul is attached to Harry’s. However, this knowledge isn’t the source of his peace. It simply precipitates his decision to turn himself over to Voldemort. Something else gives him the peace we see he has as he walks out of Dumbledore’s office, speaks with Hermione and Ron, and goes into the forest.

The second thing he encounters is Snape’s enduring love for Harry’s mother, Lily. Snape’s love for Lily enabled him to risk his life in ways that no other person had to do in their combined struggle against Voldemort. Snape loved Lily “always,” he says, even beyond her death and in the face of his own. Death could not defeat his love. Harry learns that love is a power greater than death, and so he can accept death with a heart full of the love others have shown him and the love he has for them, just as Snape did.

Harry Potter’s peace may come from trust in the over-arching, non-specific power of love, but Christian peace comes from a specific source – Jesus. In preparing his disciples for his impending death, Jesus tells them, “I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give. It isn’t like the peace that this world can give. So don’t be worried or afraid” (John 14:27). Christ tells them to have faith, because he is also promising to return to them, as he does, after his resurrection.

The Christian has peace because Jesus rose from the dead and because he promises us that because he has overcome death, we too will rise. Christ’s resurrection transformed death from the ultimate End into the Beginning of life with Christ. Baptism is a reminder of this belief. We symbolically die to sin and are raised into the life of Christ. Death is supposed to concern us no longer. We have been given hope—Christ—that extends beyond it.

It wouldn’t be fair of us to expect the world of Harry Potter to include explicit references to Christ, because Harry Potter’s world is not our world. So, if we want to evaluate the peace held up by this series, we have to consider whether or not the source of Harry’s peace is complimentary to ours. I believe it is, because in both cases, death is not to be feared, love is said to transcend death, and the love we share with each other is present proof of the life to come.

In both cases, the most proper response to this fact is neither to try to destroy death-dealers nor to hide from them. Rather, we are to face them non-violently—as Christ does when he forgives his killers and as Harry does when he simply disarms Voldemort (“Expelliarmus!”)—no matter what may happen, whether we die or not. In both cases, the final encouragement is that we love one another and trust that there is life beyond death.

Discussion Questions

1) How do you feel about death? Does it scare you? Are you at peace with it? Do you feel some other way about death? Why do you feel however you feel about death? How was that fear, peace, confusion, anticipation, etc. inspired?

2) Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. What does this passage say about how Christians should respond to death? In what is that hope rooted? Do you find these words encouraging? Why or why not?

3) Do you think this is a good ending to the Harry Potter series? Does the way this film ends fit with everything that’s happened before? Why or why not? Does 1 Thessalonians fit with what you know about Jesus’ death and resurrection and with what Jesus told his disciples?

4) What are you going to take away from this series? What did you find most challenging, confusing, or encouraging? Why?

Related Scripture

My friends, we want you to understand how it will be for those followers who have already died. Then you won’t grieve over them and be like people who don’t have any hope. We believe that Jesus died and was raised to life. We also believe that when God brings Jesus back again, he will bring with him all who had faith in Jesus before they died. Our Lord Jesus told us that when he comes, we won’t go up to meet him ahead of his followers who have already died. With a loud command and with the shout of the chief angel and a blast of God’s trumpet, the Lord will return from heaven. Then those who had faith in Christ before they died will be raised to life. Next, all of us who are still alive will be taken up into the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the sky. From that time on we will all be with the Lord forever. Encourage each other with these words.
(1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)