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A Revelation of Love: Christianity, Julian of Norwich, and Medieval Pity in the Harry Potter Series

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 August 2020

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Summary

“The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.” As a medievalist, the final words of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows echo for me the much-quoted wisdom of the fourteenth-century mystic Julian of Norwich that “al shal be wel, and al shal be wel, and al manner thyng shal be wele.” Julian's emphatic optimism is translated into confident fact nineteen years after the battle of Hogwarts – “all was well” – and indeed this statement assumes greater importance when we recognize that J. K. Rowling had originally intended to end her hugely successful Potter series with the word “scar.” Rowling stated in an interview that “for a long time the last line was something like ‘only those who he loved could see the lightning scar’,” but in order to remove the ambiguity that such an ending might open up, Rowling opted instead for “a very concrete statement that Harry had won”: the scar is now “just a scar. And I wanted to say it's over. It's done.” Although the “nineteen years later” epilogue frequently divides fans of the series, the vision of the grown-up Harry, Ron, and Hermione seeing their children off to Hogwarts evokes a future that is secure, happy, and deeply comforting. Voldemort had been vanquished, and all was well.

The Harry Potter series, and its continued life in popular culture, thrives on a temporality that encourages the reader to draw connections between past, present, and future: within the series itself, between the story and readers’ lives, and, moreover, between the books and the literary past, as the allusion to Julian of Norwich suggests. Rowling's books contain a rich texture of literary allusions, from classical mythology to Shakespeare, Jane Austen to Chaucer, as Beatrice Groves has demonstrated, and yet the Christian aspects of the series remain, as Groves notes, “under-explored.” Despite widespread recognition that Rowling draws on the popular conception of the Middle Ages for her depiction of the wizarding world – from castles and heraldry to manuscripts and magical creatures – there has been little sustained study of the influence of medieval Christian thought on the novels and the values they promote.

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Studies in Medievalism XXIX
Politics and Medievalism (Studies)
, pp. 155 - 182
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2020

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