Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Expect a Protector

Theological Reflection

As the story begins, the adults in Harry’s life warn him again and again about the mysterious Sirius Black, a condemned mass murderer recently escaped from the wizard prison of Azkaban. Apparently, Harry is especially endangered (of course) because people are sure Sirius escaped in order to track down and kill Harry. Further complicating matters, the dreaded Dementors, Azkaban’s joy draining security ghouls, are scouring the countryside for their escaped inmate, and they seem to have a taste for Harry’s soul as well.

This is the first of the Harry Potter movies to move beyond the episodic structure of the first two movies. Harry and crew’s Hardy Boy days are done. There is no explicit mystery to solve this time, just a mass murderer to avoid and personal emotional obstacles to overcome. This installment also begins the plot’s movement toward its eventual climax at the culmination of the series in the seventh and eighth films.

This third film is better than the two that preceded it. The plot is concise and economical in a way that highlights Harry’s encroaching terror at being hunted. This is a horror film complete with werewolves, would-be-guillotiners, shape-shifters, and ghastly ghosts. New Harry Potter helmer Alfonso Cuaron does a great job of both heightening the horror all the while keeping it kid-friendly (but just barely).

Complimentary to the horror motif, the plot’s emotional thrust revolves around Harry’s attempt to master his fear. As mentioned, he has much to be afraid of on top of his frequent run-ins with the most evil wizard his world has ever known, Lord Voldemort. This fear-conquering ability is of surpassing aid to Harry as the plot progress into the later books.

Harry learns to master his fear by focusing intently on whatever brings him great happiness and casting the accompanying spell. Most interesting to me is the name of this spell, the “Patronus Charm,” and the form his fear-shattering spell assumes, in Harry’s case, a glimmering, silver stag.

“Expecto Patronum” is Latin for “I expect a protector.” The word “patronus” is derived from the Latin “pater” meaning father. The stag is the form Harry’s father took when he shape-shifted into an animal as a young wizard. Harry conquers his fear by expecting to be protected by his father.

Like Harry, we need not fear the joy-sucking ghouls in our own lives because of the protection of our heavenly Father. “God did not give us a spirit of fear,” Paul goads young Timothy, “but of power, love, and self-control.” Paul tells Timothy this not so his enemies will flee, but so that the young man might face persecution head on, for in this world, we are promised trouble, but Christ has overcome the world. When the dementors swarm around us, like Harry, we need only to call on our Father and expect His faithful protection.

Discussion Questions

1) The Bogart takes the form of a person’s greatest fear. What would the Bogart look like for you? What is your greatest fear?

2)  To cast the Patronus Charm, Harry must focus on the happiest thing he can remember. What is your happiest memory? What makes that memory happy?

3) Read 2 Timothy 1:1-14. What is going on in this passage? Why is Timothy distraught? How does Paul comfort and encourage him? What should we remember when we’re afraid?

Related Scripture

From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, to promote the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus.

To Timothy, my dear child.

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I’m grateful to God, whom I serve with a good conscience as my ancestors did. I constantly remember you in my prayers day and night. When I remember your tears, I long to see you so that I can be filled with happiness. I’m reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m sure that this faith is also inside you. Because of this, I’m reminding you to revive God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands. God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.

So don’t be ashamed of the testimony about the Lord or of me, his prisoner. Instead, share the suffering for the good news, depending on God’s power. God is the one who saved and called us with a holy calling. This wasn’t based on what we have done, but it was based on his own purpose and grace that he gave us in Christ Jesus before time began. Now his grace is revealed through the appearance of our savior, Christ Jesus. He destroyed death and brought life and immortality into clear focus through the good news. I was appointed a messenger, apostle, and teacher of this good news. This is also why I’m suffering the way I do, but I’m not ashamed. I know the one in whom I’ve placed my trust. I’m convinced that God is powerful enough to protect what he has placed in my trust until that day. Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you heard from me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Protect this good thing that has been placed in your trust through the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
(2 Timothy 1:1-14)