Harry Potter – A New World
Mythology?In our modern
world, where news is instantaneous, language is of minor
limitation, and technology allows us to go where no one has gone
before – boundaries take on a new nature. Where do our human
limitations end? Each person is on a hero’s journey to contend
with his mortality (as measured by the passage of time) and his
selfish human nature. Our hope and salvation is in overcoming
By Lynne Milum
Copyright © 2003, 2007 by
Lynne Milum. All rights reserved.
Near the end of his life, Joseph Campbell refocused his work in
mythology on the alignment of humanity in our common purpose. He
felt that a new set of narratives was needed to address the
world as we come to know it. This new "world mythology" can
elevate us above our former tribal and sectarian separations
that heretofore societies have leveraged for survival.
Specifically, George Lucas was influenced by Campbell and
developed the original Star Wars trilogy based on this concept
of world mythology. More recently, the narratives created in
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series appear to carry on this
tradition. This world mythology framework provides a new means
for enjoying and experiencing these new "great" stories –
Mythology continues to rewrite itself just as nature renews
The first criterion for a world mythology is one of general
accessibility and understanding. At the risk of sounding
"Euro-centric" in the discussion of the English language, a
personal experience is warranted for example:
attending a business meeting in Frankfurt/Main Germany; of
the 14 attendees, about half were French, half were German
and I was the sole attendee who spoke English as a native
tongue. I remember gazing around the room and listening to
some very animated discussions in English. In that moment, I
realized that even if I had not attended, English would
still be the language of choice for it is the world language
of business —
a true lingua franca.
In a similar
manner, a world audience not content to wait for native-tongue
translations is nonetheless rabidly absorbing
writings. So many of these world citizens have read the English
versions, absorbing what they can and discussing with others.
And the ever-plodding translations gradually fill in the
language gaps for those not comfortable with English. So the
world is hearing the Harry Potter story in numbers that few
other stories can match.
A second criterion for a world mythology is the development of
universal ideas common to all humanity. This type of mythology
does not select one religious or societal focus, but seeks
unifying themes that supercede sectarianism and gently touch all
of humanity. J.K. Rowling (JKR) develops many of these themes in
the Harry Potter series, often but not exclusively through
Professor Dumbledore’s advice to Harry. We know that Harry’s
ultimate means of ‘conquering’ Voldemort (the evil wizard of the
series) is through the power of Love and Unity,
rather than through physical conquest. JKR also has consistently
emphasized that each person is responsible for his or her
choices – and by their choices alone should they be judged. JKR
has also emphasized that even in a magical world, there are
prejudices rampant — terms such as "Mudblood" and "Squib," are
offensive labels that should be rebuked.
The third and final criterion for a world mythology is to remove
boundaries that separate person from person (and, taken to
another level, one element of creation from another). In a world
mythology, the ideal is that there is only one world. Unity goes
beyond perceptions of good and evil. Boundaries to be overcome
are no longer necessarily geocentric (e.g., Star Wars introduced
the idea of interstellar "race" relations – human and
otherwise). And those that are earthbound are artificial –
created by the psyche of man to separate tribe from tribe;
nation from nation; race from race. A world mythology recognizes
that there is just one race – a human race. There is just one
physical world, and existing resources are all that we have.
There is but one body of water, ever in cycle. One atmosphere.
One land mass. One sun. A world mythology illuminates the
falsehood in the barriers. Muggle vs. Magical. Nation vs.
Nation. Beasts vs. Beings. And most radically, Good vs. Evil.
Yes, the world myth truly flirts with breaking all barriers.
What separates Harry from Voldemort? And what brings them
together? Doesn’t Harry think that evil originates from himself
in the Order of the Phoenix? These thoughts are inside
his brain. And he truly has difficulty with his own darker
nature in the Phoenix episode. We now know that his life is
inextricably linked to Voldemort – and his choice is positioned
as destroy or be destroyed. But there is a third choice – far
less satisfying for many entrenched in the Good Conquers Evil
motif. But for those ready to be Peacemakers, Harry’s potential
to redeem Voldemort would be the greatest victory of all. After
all, what created the hatred in Tom Riddle (Voldemort’s true
identity) to start with? Why can’t he accept who he really is?
Even in this characterization of overwhelming evil, there is an
opening. Tom has been overcome by the Ultimate in selfish
behavior. He sees himself as Supreme over all others and is
justified in his own actions. In essence, the rebirth of Tom
Riddle is the death of Voldemort and the end of Harry’s
obligation to the world. So the reader now knows this author’s
hope for Harry’s destiny, life and the series finale!
Regardless of how Harry Potter ends, this unique series clearly
meets the first two criteria for a world mythology
broad accessibility and (2) universality of theme. J.K. Rowling
may be on the path to recasting the traditional myth of good
conquering evil, with an entire generation of children (of all
ages!) actively participating in its unfoldment. Or, Rowling may
be pursuing a new outcome for our age, fully a world mythology.
This outcome recognizes the only true battle of good vs. evil is
within our "selves," such that each person must come to terms
with the reality that is humanity itself.
At 1 minute past
midnight (local time) on July 21, 2007, the world witnessed a
cultural event that rivaled (and perhaps surpassed) the global
fervor The Beatles must have experienced - the
introduction of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In
it, the last episode of the Harry Potter saga was unveiled.
Jo Rowling successfully
recasts the traditional
myth of good conquering evil in this closure to the series.
While the ending is decidedly Christian in nature with strong
parallels to C.S. Lewis's Aslan character, it remains a valuable
narrative on agape love to all readers who hold hope for the
Harry is a
christ, a bodhisattva, a buddha in multiple senses whose story
transcends religious dogma. Harry observes serious flaws in
those he loves dearly, and observes love and compassion in those
he has learned to despise. This realization becomes his trump
card. Harry does not fear death, rather, resigned to his fate,
he faces it directly while surrounded by the love of those who
In the end,
Harry calls on Tom Riddle to feel remorse for his actions - for
he knows what Tom will become if he doesn't seek forgiveness.
Harry's last spell is one of compassionate disarmament - and
Voldemort's last spell cast his own karmic fate.
While there is
no unification of Muggle and Magical worlds, there is an
acceptance of co-existence and self-determination of those
worlds. Similarly there is a distinct rejection of imperialism
and objectification so desired by Voldemort, Grindelwald and
even Dumbledore himself. All houses of Hogwarts ultimately
collaborated in the overthrow of evil, and several individuals
previously deemed as "bad" were redeemed by their actions, by
Harry's forgiveness or both.
Thank you Jo
for allowing us to live in this world you imagined, and for
preserving hopes and pitfalls in pursuing a life well-lived.