Meandering Reflections on and Questions about the Harry Potter Series

David Russell Mosley

The Harry Potter Series: British Editions

The Harry Potter Series: British Editions

9 March 2015
The Edge of Elfland
City, State/County

Dear Friends and Family,

Yesterday I finished, yet again, the Harry Potter Series. I love returning to these stories at least once a year. They aren’t perfect, but nevertheless, I still love them. Below are some unorganised thoughts and reflections on the Harry Potter Series. Perhaps some day I’ll organise them or write more fully on some of them, but for now take these little digests for what they: meanderings.

Body and Soul

Perhaps the most problematic part of the Harry Potter Series for me is Rowling’s understandings of body, mind, and soul. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, we get introduced to Dementors, fear sucking creatures that somehow also possess the ability to suck out one’s soul if given the opportunity to kiss you. First, of course, we might question this association of fear and happiness (the thing that drives away Dementors when formed into a Patronus) and the soul. Why are these two emotions the ones connected with the soul? Sirius, for instance, is able to mentally combat them by thinking first about his innocence (justice) and then his revenge (vengeance). What’s more bothersome, however, is Rowling’s relatively Cartesian understanding of the human person. Hermione tells Ron and Harry that your body can exist (live) without your soul. It serves, apparently, as the source of personality and consciousness, but not motion. It is the ghost driving the machine. So much so, that Rowling invents the Horcrux. Voldemort is able to split his soul putting pieces of it into both inanimate and animate objects. The inanimate objects are able to manifest themselves as Voldemort the person, but not, initially anyway, Voldemort the body. However, Rowling confuses this both when she creates a mind/soul dichotomy in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when we learn the Voldemort put a part of his soul in Harry (by accident) causing a confusion of mind and soul, thus requiring Harry to learn occlumency. But this causes me to ask, if the soul and mind are not the same, what is the soul and what purpose does it serve? Hermione tells us we should care about our souls, but Rowling provides no real reason as to why, since there seems confusion over the difference between soul and mind.

The Invisibility Cloak

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows we learn that Harry’s cloak is one of those hallows, a true cloak of invisibility that is supposed to be spell-proof as regards being seen through. However, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire we learn that Moody’s magical eye is capable of seeing through it. This just doesn’t jive.


It seems to me that Rowling undermines everything she sets up about muggle-born wizards in The Tales of Beedle the Bard. In the story of ‘Babbity Rabbity and Her Cackling Stump’ there is a footnote from Dumbledore informing us that while one must be born magical, but that this can come about from muggle parentage, that most research suggests that there is wizarding blood somewhere in that person’s ancestry. This takes away, somewhat, both from my Calvinist/Predestinarian reading of wizardkind, but also takes away from the importance of muggle-wizard relations. One could easily make the argument that if all muggle-borns do in fact have wizard ancestry then they are no longer muggle-borns, they’re just the one person in their family to be born with the wizard genes activated. This would mean that standing up for muggle-borns is no longer related to standing up for muggles qua muggles.

The Importance of Christmas

Christmas plays a really fascinating role in the Harry Potter Series. In each book it seems to serve as a means of furthering the plot (Harry and Co. learn something that helps move them to the climax and its resolution) and/or as a means of giving Harry a family. Some examples will suffice: In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone its on Christmas that Harry receives his father’s invisibility cloak, giving him his first real connection to his family. That night, Harry finds the Mirror of Erised and sees his parents, and extended family, for the very first time. The cloak also serves as a major plot point throughout the series, being given its ultimate significance as the greatest of the Hallows. In Chamber of Secrets, Christmas is when Harry, Ron, and Hermione take polyjuice potion and the first two question Malfoy and learn more about the Chamber’s more recent history. In Deathly Hallows the period from Christmas Eve to St Stephen’s Day is the period over which Harry and Hermione go to his hometown, his parent’s grave, and his destroyed home; are attacked by Nagini; find the sword of Gryffindor; Ron returns; and Ron destroys a horcrux. Christmas thus serves a profoundly important place in Rowling’s work, which I think may suggest an even greater connection between Harry and Christ.

What Happened to Ron the Strategist?

In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone we are introduced to wizard’s chess, which is just normal chess with animated, semi-sentient chess pieces. Ron, we learn, is a proficient. Not only does Ron trounce Harry, but he also beats McGongall’s life-size wizard’s chess set. Chess is a highly complex game, requiring proficients to think rapidly and to think and plan ahead. Where is this Ron when it comes to doing homework, or searching for horcruxes (alright, she does emphasise his leadership after he returns and the group learn about the Deathly Hallows), or really any other time planning is involved? It seems to me Ron would be right useful in planning battle strategies, which would have been great in the battle of Hogwarts. His chess skills seemed so important, like Hermione’s logic or Harry’s leadership and broom-flying abilities which all show up with greater importance throughout the series. Instead, Ron seems to get a little dumber.

Aberforth and Goats

Seriously, what’s the deal?

Hagrid’s mum and dad?

How did that work, and why was his dad sad when she left?


What role did he play in the battle of Hogwarts? Also, why didn’t he see anything worth saying about the death of Dumbledore?

Voldemort: Love potion baby

I can’t corroborate this, but I have read somewhere that Rowling has said the reason Voldemort cannot love is because he was conceived under the effects of a love potion. This seems to literally make him irredeemable which Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince seemed not to indicate. Harry, upon meeting boy Voldemort sees what could have been himself. Even in Order of the Phoenix we learn that the difference between Harry and Voldemort, the ability to love, is often based in Harry’s choices: Harry chose Gryffindor over Slytherin; He chose to befriend Ron and not Draco. If Voldemort lacked the ability to make these choices due to his mother’s unintended wickedness, then Voldemort had no choice and cannot rightly be condemned for his actions because he could not have chosen otherwise, because his mother chose for him.

Anyway, these are just some of my thoughts and reflections. Let me know if you have answers or solutions to some of the problems I’ve noted, or if you simply disagree, or if you have reflections of your own.

Sincerely yours,

What I’m Reading: Heaven, Mary, God’s Existence, Dragons, and the End of the World

David Russell Mosley

2 February 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Well, we’re experiencing yet another snow storm here in New England, and while not a blizzard this time it is still keeping me and my family inside. Snow and ice are beautiful but perilous. I think it no coincidence that we tend to associate snow with Faërie. But more on that another day.

I wanted to write to you about what I’m reading right now. It’s a new theme I’ll be coming back to from time to time as the books I’m reading change. The hope is to interest you to read new, or old, books that you haven’t read, or haven’t read in a long while. Also, it should hopefully help me engage more fully with the books I’m reading by writing about them from time to time as I read them.

All Things Made New by Stratford Caldecott

Stratford Caldecott has increasingly become one of my favourite authors. I have, to date, read his The Power of the Ring, Beauty for Truth’s Sake, and The Radiance of Being. I am immensely saddened that I had not met him before he went further on his pilgrimage to the Patria than I can currently follow. Still, I have the comfort of his words and his book All Things Made New is just that, a comfort.

The book begins with a spiritual commentary on the book of Revelation, noting the important theological, symbolical, and even numerological meanings in the text. From there it moves to a commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, the Rosary, and the Stations of the Cross. In a way, the whole book is concerned with the Rosary, which is to say that it is concerned with the life of Christ as partially mediated through the eyes of His mother.

The Major Works of Anselm of Canterbury: The Monologion

While I will read the whole book, I am currently working my way through the Monologion of Anselm. It is an attempt to come at some knowledge of God by way of reason alone. I decided to read this book because my background in Anselm is rather weak. I have read about his famous “ontological argument” for God’s existence: namely, that God is that-than-which-no-greater-thing-can-be-thought. This argument has often been dismissed, but I hope to come to a better understanding of it. I have also read Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo or Why God Became Man, which I found both interesting and insightful. Reading this book is my chance to go deeper into the good doctor’s writings.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling

Every year I re-read the entire Harry Potter Series. I have done so since the seventh book came out (actually, I re-read the entire series as soon as I had finished reading the seventh book for the first time). Goblet of Fire is not, perhaps, my favourite book. It can often get bogged down with all the side stories: Hermione and Rita Skeeter; Hermione, Ron, and Krum; Harry and Cho; Fred, George, and Ludo Bagman (and the goblins); Hagrid the Half-Giant; S.P.E.W.; Crouch and Winky and Crouch; etc. However, what is perhaps stranger, is how necessary each of these side stories is to get us to the end. While the film attempted to streamline the story, it failed (rather miserable, in my opinion). Each one seems almost necessary to get us into the graveyard with Harry. Still, the book often seems overfull, perhaps because it is, I believe, the second longest of the series.

The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia are another septology I read every year. While this reading technically belongs to 2014, I’ve had to stretch it out as I’ve been reading the book aloud to my twin sons. Every night, we put them in pyjamas, I sing them a lullaby (The Road Goes Ever On and On by J. R. R. Tolkien), put them in their cribs, turn out the lights, except for a book light, and read to them. Something I’ve noticed in reading them aloud this year are the parts that choke me up. Sometimes reading can be difficult because I’m trying to fight back tears and do voices. Another interesting aspect of reading them this year is that I’ve been reading them in the order in which they were written. This means I’m only on the second to last book with The Magician’s Nephew still to go. It makes it different since I’m reading references to The Magician’s Nephew without having read it yet.

Well, that’s all the books I’m currently reading and a little about them. What are you reading?

Sincerely yours,

The Sacramental Imagination of Harry Potter

David Russell Mosley

The Harry Potter Series: British Editions

The Harry Potter Series: British Editions

Ordinary Time
Pope St Leo the Great
10 11 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

The Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling, are the last books from my childhood that I will be examining in this Sacramental Imagination series. I hope to turn my attention to a few books I read after my childhood, but which are still children’s books, like J. R. R. Tolkien’s Smith of Wooton Major; George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie, as well as some of his fairy tales; and perhaps others you might recommend.

I have written about the Christian nature of Rowling’s Potter books before, but today I want to spend a little time discussing how they might help children form a sacramental imagination. There are, however, some problems with Ms Rowling’s works that I would like to lay out at the forefront. First is something I have noted before, the almost Calvinistic system of how one becomes a witch or wizard. Following along relatively covenantal reformed lines, one primarily becomes a witch or wizard by being born from parents where at least one of them is a witch or wizard. This is a major plot point for the books commencing with earnest in book 6. However, whether one has wizard parents or not one still must be born a witch or wizard. It is not something one can claim for oneself. Muggles cannot learn magic, nor can squibs. This, therefore, suggests that the preferred way of living presented in the books, as a witch or wizard, is entirely outside of one’s control just as one’s salvation is outside of one’s control in a stringently Calvinist system. There are even those born of wizard ancestry who cannot do magic, who are not part of the community in the same way as everyone else, namely, squibs. This is, for me, a non-Calvinist, fairly problematic, though Rowling does back pedal a little in her The Tales of Beedle the Bard. In a footnote by Albus Dumbledore it is noted that research in the Department of Mysteries up to that point (likely somewhere around the mid-90s in the story’s chronology) that even those with Muggle parents who themselves can do magic likely have a witch or wizard somewhere in their ancestry.

The second problem I have is Rowling’s more or less Cartesian understanding of the human person. In The Prisoner of Azkaban, we learn that Dementors can suck out your soul. Your body would continue to function with your soul gone, but the person would no longer be there. Rowling’s books are based in an essentially Christian cosmos, but it is, in many ways, still a modernistic one, subject to post-Enlightenment thinking.

That being said, there is much that can be gained for children in Rowling’s Potter books. Perhaps the primary thing is how Rowling’s magical world gives us back our own world made strange. Wizards and witches do many of the same things we do: they shop, cook, throw parties, go to school, communicate with one another, and more, but each is rendered strange as we experience the magical world through Harry’s equally unaccustomed eyes. Harry’s first encounter with a magical being is Hagrid, a man too large to be allowed. As we later find out, not only is Hagrid big and a wizard, he’s even half-giant! Harry’s first shopping experience involves an apothecary, a wand shop, getting fitted for late-medieval/Renaissance style robes, and buying a pet owl.

What I find most interesting is how, even with magic, much of what the witches and wizards do would seem to us, slower. They don’t email one another or communicate by telephone, they write letters and send them by owls. It is almost astonishing how ultimately non-magical this is. The letters themselves, in fact nearly all the writing they do, with the exceptions of the newspaper, more recent books, and posters/cards, is done by hand, with a dip pen in the form of a quill. They actually dip a quill in a pot of ink and write, with their hands, on paper. The only magical element is when they send letters, the carriers are owls, but this is almost accidental to the whole process. They might just as well be carried by people. I think this is important. Rowling gives us a world with little technology and even less machining. Magic often takes the place of machines, but in the writing of letters or homework, neither magic nor sophisticated technology is used. Rather, the quill is a tool serving merely as an extension of the person holding it in order to effect a change in the world around them by the generation of something new, namely written words. It is interesting that wands serve the same basic function. They are tools, possessed of little magic themselves. Again, in the same footnote in The Tales of Beedle the Bard (footnote 4 in the notes after ‘Babbity Rabbity and the Cackling Stump), Dumbledore notes that a muggle picking up a magic wand might be able to do a random bit of magic, but only because there is a residual magic left in the wand by its owner. However, in the hand of a witch or wizard, it serves as a conduit for performing magic, magic which comes not from the wand nor any other external source, but from the wielder. Rowling, I think, is teaching children something about words, both that there is something magical, we might even say, sacramental about writing and the use of words (hence the magic spell). There is a relationship between the sign, the word or words, and the thing signified. In writing, the relationship is between the words and their author, with the quill/person as the conduit or sacrament and the letter the effect. In performing magic it is the word or words and their relationship to the change affected in the real world, with the wand/wizard as the sacrament and the magic performed the effect.

There is much more that could be said, particularly about human/animal relationships with the magical animals (like owls), and cosmic/terrestrial relationships (astrology as taught by Firenze the centaur). However, I have waffled on long enough. In the end, despite the flaws, Rowling’s Potter stories can help children see something magical in words, something sacramental in the relationship between words and what they represent, something that isn’t simply accidental. This makes her books immensely helpful in growing a sacramental imagination in children.

Sincerely yours,