Earlier this month, HBO Max released a Harry Potter reunion special to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the film series. The event was highly anticipated, with trailers dropping months in advance of the stream drop on New Year’s Day. The media were buzzing on what revelations we might get from the special, what the massive cast coming together after so many years would look like, and what it would feel like to go back to Hogwarts one more time.
It certainly didn’t disappoint, as the cast who had literally grown up with the series and become its faces shared beautiful anecdotes about bringing the ground-breaking work to life. They also talked about the rich influence Harry Potter has had on the world since it came into being—from inspiring kids to read, to reawakening a love of fantasy and wonder in adults who had forgotten how to believe. It brought back fond memories of when I fell in love with Harry Potter myself.
After all this time, the septology continues to impact people in such powerful ways. For a series that once faced rejection for being too British in its presentation, people from all over the planet seem to find something to relate to in Harry Potter—a character, a cause, a culture.
What makes the story of Harry Potter so special? Let me share just three key themes from the books:
1. We all need a place to belong.
Harry Potter first came to life as a small, skinny underdog who was unwelcome even in the house he lived in. Then one fateful birthday, “Yer a wizard, Harry” gave him the identity and the community that had eluded him for eleven years.
Through the story and the universe, different types of outsiders, too, felt a sense of belonging that made them excited for life. Academic achievers found their champion in Hermione Granger. Those who knew the sting of being constantly compared to successful siblings identified with Ron Weasley. Those who were always labelled “weird” commiserated with Luna Lovegood.
And finding out he was a wizard wasn’t the only thing that made Harry feel like he belonged in the wizarding world—his ability to fit into this new world also came down to the people around him. He was nurtured by a warm, loving community of friends and surrogate family like the poor but open-hearted Weasleys and the half-giant Hagrid, who were generous in sharing their love, their time, and their hospitality to a lost little boy navigating a new world.
We all want to feel like we’re part of something that makes us feel like we matter. We want to be part of a caring community that helps us grow into who we are without feeling like we’re alone.
2. Servant leadership is life-changing.
While many of those in positions of power within Harry’s world sought to dominate, control, and usurp, there were those who chose to lead by humility and example, setting the standard for what genuine leadership looked like.
Despite being arguably the greatest wizard in the series, Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore earned the respect of the people around him by being accessible and not treating himself like the big deal that he actually was. The humility he displayed and his willingness to share his wisdom helped shape the hero Harry became.
And as Harry learned the value of servant leadership, it also led to a very significant character arc in the person of his classmate Neville Longbottom. Neville spent nearly five books as a bumbling side character who was good only for a few laughs, but he ended the series as a hero himself because of the friendship and tutelage of the people who showed him how to take the lead.
Throughout the world, there are endless examples of self-serving, terrible leadership, whether in government, at work, in school, or even at home. We want to see people we can really follow, and we want to rally behind leaders who genuinely seek the best interests of others. We want to know that there’s someone out there we can truly respect.
3. Being a force for good takes teamwork.
One valuable thing Harry learned was that being a hero isn’t a solitary job. He learned to cooperate with others, to delegate responsibility, and to accept help in order to protect his community and the people he loved.
By contrast, Voldemort’s ruthless selfishness caused a splintering in his ranks that paved the way for his eventual downfall. Some of the biggest strikes against him came from his own followers because they learned from him to prioritise their own agendas above all else.
Many of us want to be part of a cause—something that’s bigger than ourselves. We are energised to contribute when we know we have a place in the fight, when we know we are all working together to effect positive change.
As I ruminated on these themes, I realised that Harry Potter wasn’t delivering a unique message; in fact, all of these aspects are present in the message of Jesus Christ. While Harry Potter is certainly not setting the standard for how a Christian ought to live and how the church ought to be, its appeal shows that important Biblical truths still resonate with people, even if they are not believers.
God has placed in us the desire to belong to a caring community, to see servant leadership in action, and to be part of a united front for a powerful cause. Yet, the teaching of Biblical principles is not always congruent with application.
Dee Brestin and Kathy Troccoli write in their book Falling In Love With Jesus, “When we can overcome our differences, when we can cross the lines of denomination, race, and culture and truly love one another, the world thinks, ‘maybe there really is something to Christianity’.”
- How often is the church seen as a community where outsiders can call their home?
- When the world looks at church leadership, does it see Christ-like servant leadership, or just an organisation that even pales in comparison to some secular corporations?
- Are we really united as one people under the banner of Jesus Christ, or are we divided over the smallest of differences?
Harry Potter is by no means a perfect person—he was a very flawed character with a rash attitude, a hot temper, and a lot of pride, among others. But what allowed his story to strike a chord with people were the truth principles and repeated choices to do the right thing.
As a Christian, reflecting on Harry Potter’s legacy reminds me that I have the privilege of worshipping an even better hero in Jesus Christ—real, perfect, and accessible through God’s Word and through prayer. It makes me long to see believers cry out to the Lord to help them build more welcoming and caring communities, to display servant leadership more, and to move towards greater oneness in the Lord.
The church isn’t perfect—it’s composed of flawed people who will stumble and fall again and again. But are we willing to have the attitude of heroes who also stand up again and again, empowered by God’s own Holy Spirit to keep doing good?
Harry Potter’s story is 20 years old and counting, but we know an equally powerful story that’s 2,000 years old and counting. And unlike Harry’s fight, we’re right in the thick of this one. Let us be emboldened to live like heroes—not so we can be like Harry, but so we can be like Jesus.