Harry Potter: A Modern Pilgrim

Monday, April 30, 2012

Many literary critics view The Pilgrim's Progress as the model for modern allegories. Like The Pilgrim's Progress, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is also a Christian allegory. Although many Christian groups argue against the claim, the Harry Potter books are very Christian in themes and symbolism. In fact, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a modern adaptation of The Pilgrim's Progress. Not only are the larger journeys in The Pilgrim's Progress and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone similar, but each task Harry encounters also corresponds with a task Christian or Christiana face.

The Pilgrim's Progress and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone are two stories about journeys. Each journey is both literal and metaphorical. In his physical journey, Christian leaves the City of Destruction, goes over a river, travels through treacherous land, crosses a second river, and reaches the Celestial City. Likewise, Harry enters a trapdoor in Hogwarts, completes several tasks, confronts the bad guy, is rescued by Dumbledore, and ends up in the hospital wing of the castle.

However, both journeys are also allegorical in accordance with Christian doctrine. Before Christian the man can begin his journal to the Celestial City in The Pilgrim's Progress, he must die. Crossing the river is a metaphor for death. His journey through places like the Valley of the Shadow of Death and Doubting Castle is a task he must successfully complete before he is judged worthy of entering the Celestial City, which is another name for Heaven. According the Christian beliefs, entering Heaven after death is a resurrection to eternal life. Therefore, crossing the second river is a symbol for this rebirth into Heaven. Once in the Celestial City, Christian finds the true king, which is a symbol for God and Jesus.

Like Christian, Harry also experiences a figurative death, journey, and rebirth in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. In order to save the Sorcerer's Stone from dark wizards, Harry first enters a trapdoor. This trapdoor leads him from the safety of Hogwarts into a series of dangerous tasks. Like Christian's death at the river, Harry experiences a figurative death when he drops under the trapdoor. Once inside, Harry must also successfully complete a journey through tasks like finding the correct flying key and choosing the correct potion before discovering the Stone in the Mirror of Erised. After Harry finds the Sorcerer's Stone, Dumbledore rescues him and takes Harry to the hospital wing. Like when Christian enters Heaven, Harry experiences a metaphorical rebirth or resurrection from below to above the trapdoor. Therefore, exiting the trapdoor is a symbol for the Christian rebirth into Heaven after death. Ultimately, Harry finds and saves the Sorcerer's Stone, which is a medieval symbol for Jesus.

Harry must first slip past Fluffy, the giant three-headed dog that guards the trapdoor, in order to rescue the Sorcerer's Stone. Harry, Ron, and Hermione sneak into the third floor corridor, and "[a]s the door creaked, low, rumbling growls met their ears. All three of the dog's noses sniffed madly in their direction, even though it couldn't see them." (Stone 275) Like Harry and his two companions, Christiana and her children encounter a dog on their way through the wicket-gate. Christiana knocks on the door, "[b]ut instead of any that answered, they all thought that they heard, as if a Dog cam barking upon them. A Dog, and a great one too, and this made the Women and Children afraid." (Bunyan 178) Both dogs are huge and terrifying and stand in the path of each group's journey.

Beneath Fluffy lies a trapdoor. As abovementioned, this trapdoor represents Harry's figurative death. The trapdoor also correlates with the wicket-gate to which Christian is sent by Evangelist at the beginning of his journey. Evangelist tells Christian, "Keep that light in your eye, and go up directly thereto, so shalt thou see the Gate..." (Bunyan 11,13) Christian must enter through the gate to continue his journey to the Celestial City. Similarly, Harry must drop through the trapdoor. "Harry climbed over [Fluffy] and looked down through the trapdoor...He lowered himself through the hole until he was hanging on by his fingertips...And Harry let go...With a funny, muffled sort of thump he landed on something soft." (Stone 276-277) Ron and Hermione follow him. Therefore, in order to continue their journeys, Christian and Harry must pass through the wicket-gate and the trapdoor.

After Harry and his friends enter the trapdoor, they land on "something soft" that Harry believes is "some sort of plant" (Stone 277). Realizing the plant is Devil's Snare, Hermione struggles to free herself from the tendrils that are wrapping themselves around her ankles. Like its name implies, Devil's Snare traps its victims in a devilish fashion. "As for Harry and Ron, their legs had already been bound tightly in long creepers without their noticing." (Stone 277) Christian also becomes trapped by nature during his journey when he stumbles into the Slow of Dispond. A slow of dispond, or slough of despond, literally means a soft, muddy ground of depression or loss of hope. "Wherefore Christian was left to tumble in the Slow of Dispond alone; but still he endeavoured to struggle to that side of the Slow, that was still further from his own House, and next to the Wicket-gate..." (Bunyan 16) Both the Devil's Snare and the Slow of Dispond are next to the trapdoor and wicket-gate and ensnare unwary pilgrims like Harry and Christian.

However, neither Harry and Ron nor Christian is defeated by their captors. Hermione frees herself from the Devil's Snare and watches as Harry and Ron continue struggling with the plant. "...[T]he more they strained against it, the tighter and faster the plant wound around them." (Stone 277) Hermione finally recalls that Devil's Snare hates warmth and light so "...she whipped out her wand, waved it, muttered something, and sent a jet of...bluebell flames...at the plant. In a matter of seconds, the two boys felt it loosening its grip as it cringed away from the light and warmth." (Stone 278) With Hermione's help, Harry and Ron escape the Devil's Snare. Likewise, Help assists Christian when Christian stumbles into the Slow of Dispond. Help tells Christian, "Give me thy hand; so [Christian] gave [Help] his hand, and [Help] drew [Christian] out, and set him upon sound ground, and bid him go on his way." (Bunyan 16) Both Harry and Christian receive help when they find themselves trapped.

After escaping the Devil's Snare, Harry and his friends enter a room full of "winged keys", one of which unlocks the door to the next task (Stone 279). The trio mount three brooms and, "[a]fter a minute's weaving about through the whirl of rainbow feathers, [Harry] noticed a large silver key that had a bent wing, as if it had already been caught and stuffed roughly into the keyhole." (Stone 280) Harry catches the flying key. "He rammed it into the lock and turned — it worked." (Stone 281) In order for Christian and Hopeful to escape from Doubting-Castle, the two pilgrims must unlock the dungeon door in which they are captive. After a few days of torture, Christian remembers, "I have a Key in my bosom, called Promise, that will, (I am perswaded) open any Lock in Doubting-Castle." (Bunyan 114) He "began to try at the Dungeon door, whose bolt (as he turned the Key) gave back, and the door flew open with ease, and Christian and Hopeful both came out." (Bunyan 114) Both Harry and Christian use specific keys to leave one phase of their journeys and enter the next.

In the chamber next to the flying keys is a giant chessboard. Harry, Ron, and Hermione must play as chess pieces and win the game in order to continue their journey. Ron takes charge; but as the game nears an end, Harry realizes that Ron is going to allow himself to be taken. When Harry and Hermione try to stop him, Ron shouts, "That's chess!...You've got to make some sacrifices! I take one step forward and she'll take me — that leaves you free to checkmate the king, Harry!" (Stone 283) Ron then moves, and the queen takes him. "He stepped forward, and the white queen pounced. She struck Ron hard across the head with her stone arm, and he crashed to the floor...He looked as if he'd been knocked out." (Stone 283)

The chessboard in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone represents Vanity-Fair in The Pilgrim's Progress. Not only do the squares on the board resemble the booths in the city, but Evangelist warms Christian of the danger he will find in Vanity-Fair and the necessity of continued faith. Evangelist says to Christian and Faithful the man, "...you will soon come into a town that you will by and by see before you: and in that Town you will be hardly beset with enemies, who will strain hard to kill you...but be you faithful unto death, and the King will give you a Crown of life." (Bunyan 85) Once in Vanity-Fair, Faithful refuses to renounce his faith so "...first they Scourged [Faithful], then they Buffetted him, then they Lanced his flesh with Knives; after that they Stoned him with Stones, the prickt him with their Swords, and last of all they burned him at Ashes at the Stake." (Bunyan 95) Like Ron giving up himself for Harry and Hermione, Faithful realizes he must sacrifice his physical body for his faith in God.

Beyond the chessboard is a room in which Harry and Hermione are hit with an awful stench (Stone 284). "Eyes watering, they saw, flat on the floor in front of them, a troll even larger than the one they had tackled, out cold with a bloody lump on its head." (Stone 284) Potentially deadly to Harry and Hermione, the troll is already incapacitated when they reach its chamber. Although Christian is not fortunate enough to encounter an unconscious troll, he also escapes a large creature. A while after leaving Vanity-Fair, Christian and his new companion are captured by Giant Despair and held captive in Doubting-Castle. After Christian uses his key called promise, he and Hopeful run from the dungeon to the main gate. "...[B]ut that Gate, as it opened, made such a creaking, that it waked Giant Despair, who hastily rising to pursue his Prisoners, felt his Limbs to fail, for his fits took him again, so that he could by no means go after them." (Bunyan 114) Like Harry and Hermione who get away from the troll because it was already knocked out, Christian escapes from Giant Despair when the giant lost the use of his body.

After Harry and Hermione pass from the troll's room, fires burst in both the door into and out of this next room. They find themselves trapped in a chamber that contains seven bottles and a piece of paper (Stone 284-285). Hermione reads the paper and exclaims, "Brilliant...This isn't magic — it's logic — a puzzle." She quickly figures out which potion returns them to the troll's room and which potion leads them to the next task. Hermione goes back to help Ron, and Harry continues on his journey. Similarly, Christian is presented with riddles when he visits the Interpreter's house. As the Interpreter says, "[C]ome in, I will shew thee that which will be profitable to thee..." (Bunyan 29) He shows Christian scenes such as the dust sweeper and the water sprinkler, Passion and Patience, and the Devil's fire (Bunyan 30-32). Both Harry and Christian are presented with puzzles that Hermione and the Interpreter explain.

Finally, Harry reaches a chamber that contains the Mirror of Erised the ultimate task of his journey. Quirrell, who wants to steal the Stone for evil purposes, is unable to unlock the secret of the Mirror so he tries to use Harry to find the Stone. As Harry stands in front of the Mirror, he sees only his reflection at first. "But a moment later, the reflection smiled at him. It put its hand into its pocket and pulled out a blood-red stone. It winked and put the Stone back in its pocket..." (Stone 292) When his reflection replaces the Stone, Harry feels it actually drop into his own pocket (Stone 292). As Dumbledore later explains to Harry, "You see, only one who wanted to find the Stone — find it, but not use it — would be able to get it..." (Stone 300) Similarly, when Christian, Hopeful, and Ignorance reach the Celestial City, they find a sign above the gate that proclaims "in Letters of Gold, Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the Tree of Life; and may enter in through the Gates into the City." (Bunyan 152) All three pilgrims look at the sign, but only Christian and Hopeful can read it. Ignorance, who is illiterate, is denied entrance to the city. Like the judgement of pilgrims who want to enter the Celestial City, only certain worthy witches and wizards are able to find the Sorcerer's Stone.

Ultimately, although Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is frequently criticized as non-Christian, Christian themes and symbolism permeate the story. Like The Pilgrim's Progress, the book is a Christian allegory, especially during Harry's journey beneath the trapdoor. With so many similarities, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is undoubtedly a modern version of The Pilgrim's Progress.


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