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GUEST COLUMN: Harry Potter teaches freedom and strength

By: Ari Armstrong
November 18, 2010

Editor’s note: This article reveals plot elements that some readers may prefer not to know.

Parents who think the final Harry Potter movies (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts I and II) are just about fighting with magic and riding dragons should take a closer look at the story’s rich themes.

Three themes in particular elevate the final novel from a children’s story to world-class literature adults can appreciate — and discuss with their children. This review reveals aspects of the novel’s plot.

Fighting Tyranny: In the final novel, the evil Lord Voldemort overtakes the wizards’ government, the Ministry of Magic. He controls most of the media, pushes propaganda through Hogwarts school, and tortures or murders dissenters.

Voldemort and his followers obsess about “pure blood” in magical families. Witches and wizards born of Muggle (nonmagical) parents they call “mud-bloods,” and those who ally with “mud-bloods” they call “blood traitors.”

Voldemort’s forces thus share many similarities with the Nazis. As Harry and his friends break into the Ministry of Magic, they find a new statue erected by Voldemort’s supporters: a statue showing wizards sitting atop thrones built of hundreds of human bodies.

The Ministry sets up a “Muggle-Born Registration Commission.” Those who do not register are hunted down and arrested. Those who do register are subject to false accusations, kangaroo trials, torture and imprisonment.

Harry and his allies fight for freedom against Voldemort’s bigoted oppression.

Finding Redemption: Harry’s great hero and mentor, Albus Dumbledore, serves as headmaster of Hogwarts until his death in the sixth novel. 

But, as Harry learns more about Dumbledore’s troubled past, Harry wonders whether Dumbledore was really such a hero after all.

Dumbledore went off track in his youth. The original source of Dumbledore’s problems was a Muggle attack on his sister that left her permanently disabled.

Over time this hateful, bigoted attack on Dumbledore’s sister largely destroys the entire family, and Dumbledore responds by joining up with a dark wizard. During this time Dumbledore thinks that wizards need to establish control “for the Muggles’ own good.” But finally Dumbledore chooses love for his siblings over the thirst for power, and he brings down the dark wizard and commits to a virtuous path.

The other great redemption story of the Potter series is of Severus Snape, whom Harry blames for Dumbledore’s death. During Harry’s infancy Snape played a role in provoking Voldemort to murder Harry’s parents.

But Snape was devastated by the death of Harry’s mother, whom Snape cared for deeply. He agreed to work as a double-agent to fight Voldemort and protect Harry from harm. Like Dumbledore, Snape chooses love over destructive power.

Dealing with Death: The story of the final book revolves around two sets of magical objects: Horcruxes and Hallows. Some wizards seek them in an attempt to cheat death.

Voldemort creates several Horcruxes to hold pieces of his soul, so that he cannot be killed. The creation of a Horcrux requires a murder; “killing rips the soul apart,” one professor explains.

By obsessing over his own mortality to the degree that he becomes a vicious and depraved mass murderer, Voldemort destroys all of the values that make life worth living.

Harry and his friends learn of the Hallows from the children’s story, “The Three Brothers.” The brothers cheat Death by magically building a bridge across a raging river. Death tries to trick them by offering gifts.

One brother chooses a powerful dueling wand; he meets a violent end. Another brother chooses the power to summon the dead, but he becomes so forlorn over his lost love that he commits suicide.

The third brother wisely asks for an Invisibility Cloak so that he can avoid the eye of Death. He lives a long and healthy life, then gives the cloak to his son. The Hallows offer powerful lessons for us Muggles as we grapple with our own mortality.

Parents can help their children see the Potter books and movies as more than just thrilling action stories full of magical adventure. 

These stories also offer profoundly important lessons for living a good life.

Ari Armstrong is the author of “Values of Harry Potter” ( and the publisher of

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