The Sorcerer’s Stone, the forbidden fruit, has been destroyed. But the essence of its power still lingers on the lips of those who tasted it. In Harry’s second year, the theme of life spreads like wildfire through the halls of Hogwarts. The Chamber of Secrets has been opened, and those who crave eternal life can smell the blood. With the stone gone, all that’s left is the idea of immortality, and the memory of its existence. Now, to live forever is not just magic – it’s a possibility that existed once before, and therefore can exist again…
The first half of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets passed slowly. I searched and searched for revelation and I began to worry that there would be nothing to write about – that the only purpose of this book was to push the story further into its breaking point later in the series. I grew more discouraged until finally, I entered Dumbledore’s office with Harry, where yet again I found the lush, vibrant truth staring me in the face. It seems that for me, the gospel was to be delivered by a bearded man and his bird…
“‘Fawkes is a phoenix, Harry. Phoenixes burst into flames when it is time for them to die and are reborn from the ashes. . .It’s a shame you had to see him on a Burning Day,’ said Dumbledore, seating himself behind his desk. ‘He’s really very handsome most of the time, wonderful red and gold plumage. Fascinating creatures, phoenixes. They can carry immensely heavy loads, their tears have healing powers, and they make highly faithful pets.’”
Harry had just watched Dumbledore’s beloved bird catch fire right in front of him. The initial shock of death caused Harry to panic. And what eased his anxiety over this death? The promise of life renewed. As Fawkes was born again from the ashes, Harry understood the relationship between life and death more clearly, something he would need once he finally entered the Chamber of Secrets. It is a part of living that carries great anxieties, but when confronted with the right power, even death submits to life.
Something I particularly love about series like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings is the fact that they are not bound by the strict rules of allegory. The qualities of a savior are not only found in Harry (spoiler, I know), but here they are also found in Fawkes. While an allegory would demand that only one character represent one figure in reality, stories of myth and fiction allow for more elasticity. Fawkes has tremendous similarities to Christ, in my opinion. They can carry immensely heavy loads: What heavier load is there than the cross and sin of the world? Their tears have healing powers: What greater healing is there than the suffering our King endured on our behalf? They make highly faithful pets: While I don’t prefer to think of Christ as a pet, He exhibits and exceeds all the loyalty and unshakable love that one could hope for in a companion. There is also the obvious comparison – the near perfect representation of the resurrection in Fawkes’ nature as a Phoenix rising from the ashes.
It's no secret that Harry’s character also represents a great deal of Christological significance. When he finds Tom Riddle’s diary, he is drawn into the story of a man that, to his knowledge, has nothing to do with him. “Harry couldn’t explain, even to himself, why he didn’t just throw Riddle’s diary away. The fact was that even though he knew the diary was blank, he kept absentmindedly picking it up and turning the pages, as though it were a story he wanted to finish.” Harry Potter is often compared to the Jesus Christ on the cross, but here I see Harry as a symbol of the incarnation. Just as Harry is drawn into Tom Riddle’s story, Christ entered the story of man, as a baby who was known for the life that He brought. Harry too, is known for his life – for being the boy who lived. No one thinks of an infant and immediately equates that child with death. Infants are the ultimate symbol of life. That is why it was so significant for Christ to come as a baby and likewise, that is why it was so significant that Harry Potter was a baby when he escaped death.
A side note: Since this isn’t an allegory, I’m not attempting to make direct parallels here. Christ defeated death, whereas Harry (at this point) just escaped it.
Even as the literary depiction of death, Tom Riddle is aching for life. Just as darkness is empty of light and cold is empty of heat, death leaves him empty and subject only to himself. The fact that he craves something more is a testament to human nature. When left to our own power, we are still lacking. Riddle is clever enough to find the right vessel to feed himself the life that he craves. He works through the innocence and vulnerability of Ginny Weasley to fulfill his needs. “I grew stronger on a diet of her deepest fears, her darkest secrets. I grew powerful, far more powerful than little Miss Weasley. Powerful enough to start feeding Miss Weasley a few of my secrets, to start pouring a little of my soul back into her . . .” Ginny could arguably represent any one of us. Our natural human desire to be known and loved is exactly what is used against us in spiritual warfare. When we don’t feel known or loved, we start to crack the foundation of our identity, allowing lies to flood in and fill the cracks. Our fears leave room for powers beyond our control to have space in our minds, and therefore control. In The Chamber of Secrets, evil fills those cracks in Ginny enough to control her like a puppet, tied to the strings of her insecurities, draining the very life from her to animate Riddle's memory.
Not only does Ginny serve as a vessel for evil, but she also serves as a power-source for it. Riddle tells Harry, “There isn’t much life left in her. . . . She put too much into the diary, into me. Enough to let me leave its pages at last.” When we allow our uncertainty to trigger fear within us, we give up our right to be victorious. When we open the door to that fear, we invite it in like a vampire.
It’s worth noting that the problem is not that we crave to live – it’s when we crave the power of giving and taking life that becomes immoral. Tom Riddle does not simply want to leave his diary to finish out his time as a student at Hogwarts. He wants power. He wants to finish the work he started and kill Harry, taking his life in exchange for more power. He wants to live forever because life is power when you hold it in your hands. When death cannot touch you, you don't need a savior. Riddle plans to be the author of life and death. At one point, he tells Harry, “Lucky that I recorded my memories in some more lasting way than ink.” Being remembered is not enough for someone who thirsts for power. It all stems from the great sin of pride, the sin that is not concerned with gaining something – only with gaining more of it.
In the thick of the tension between life and death, the story is interrupted with Fawkes, in true gospel fashion. The phoenix soars through the chamber and prepares Harry with all that he needs to fight. First he blinds the monster, incapacitating the basilisk and crippling its ability to kill. With this, Harry knows that he is not alone. It’s almost as if the story suggests that Harry is not only a savior figure, but also the one in need of salvation. He is Christ, and he is man - fully divine and fully human. In this way, Fawkes is a necessary and pivotal character. As Dumbledore says, “You will find that help will always be given at Hogwarts for those who ask for it.” Harry put so much faith in the truth and goodness that he learned at Hogwarts that in his time of need, he is not thwarted but in fact, empowered.
Next, Fawkes drops the Sorting Hat – a reminder of Harry’s values. And through the hat appears the sword of Godric Gryffindor – a reminder of Harry’s identity. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the tool of his identity is the same tool he would use to defeat the monster. The same can be said about us. Are our fears not silenced in light of our identity?
Strengthened by his renewed courage, Harry destroys Riddle’s diary next, extinguishing the flame that fueled his enemy’s memory. Ginny wakes up, Fawkes cures Harry’s wounds, and life wins again.
Back in Dumbledore’s office, Harry shares his concerns with the headmaster. He wonders if the Sorting Hat made a mistake and if he is more like Riddle than he thought. When Dumbledore asks Harry why the Sorting Hat hadn’t placed him in Slytherin, Harry acknowledges that he asked to be placed in Gryffindor. “‘Exactly,’ said Dumbledore, beaming once more. ‘Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle. It is out choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.’” This is perhaps one of my favorite themes throughout the series. It becomes more evident in later books, so while it’s still worth noting, I will wait to dive into it for now…
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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is not a filler in the slightest. To my pleasant surprise, Book 2 revealed colossal truths about the relationship between life and death, good and evil, and the permanent effects of pride.
As a final note, I am reminded once more of the importance and necessity of the imagination in a life of faith. On the surface, it’s surprising to think that the imaginative world is revealed in tandem with the true world. Make-believe is not something to equate with the truth, right? Wrong. Make-believe is exactly that – making belief. Interacting with moral values, conflicts, and characters in a fantastical setting “makes belief” happen internally, and actually translates to the real world. By sharpening our vision at Hogwarts, we train our eyes to see those same truths in our Muggle world.
Arthur Weasley, of all characters, sheds light on this very topic at the start of The Chamber of Secrets. As he discusses his work in studying Muggle artifacts, he tells Harry about the tendency for Muggles to reason their way out of belief that anything magical is happening around them, such as their keys shrinking from enchantments, which they will insist simply go missing. “Bless them, they’ll go to any lengths to ignore magic, even if it’s staring them in the face . . .” Often times in our polarized world, we will go to any lengths to ignore the supernatural. We’ll hide our faces from what we don’t know for the sake of ignorant bliss. While this keeps us comfortable in what we can see and understand, it also keeps us from the vastness of what is real. Our human eyes and understanding only stretch so far in the scope of what is real, and we forget that reality reaches far beyond our grasp. The literary figures in Harry Potter aren’t meant to endorse dark practices in the reader, but rather, they endorse belief and encourage the search for what is real beyond our limited sight.