*Note: This post contains mild spoilers for the Harry Potter series.
One Saturday night, I watched the last Harry Potter movie. On Sunday morning, I went to church. These two activities seemingly don’t have much in common, but I was surprised by the way my viewing of Harry Potter informed the way I heard the message in church that day.
King Herod is mentioned numerous times in the Bible, though we never get a lot of background information on him. Other sources have recorded his often-brutal ways, such as killing his wife and two of his sons, and ordering a large group of people to be killed when he died so there would be what he deemed an appropriate level of mourning (his son did not carry out this wish, however). A ruler like him may have instilled fear and worry in people, never knowing what he might do next–or who might find themselves in trouble next. All of this backstory doesn’t come through in the few verses I read about him in the Bible though, so it’s easy for me to skim over it. Sure, King Herod wasn’t great, and then I’m on to the next piece of the story.
In the Harry Potter series though, there are seven books (or eight movies) detailing the life of Harry and the back-and-forth struggle in the magical world between Harry and the other “good people” and evil Lord Voldemort and his followers. As the series goes on, the worry and fear over Voldemort’s power and sinister ways grow and grow, culminating in book seven, when all hope seems like it may be lost. Society in the magical world is in chaos, with many people on the run for fear of being caught as part of the small remaining group who opposes Voldemort and his tactics.
Comparing King Herod to Voldemort is by no means perfect, but there are certainly similarities. They were both very powerful, had morally questionable methods of getting what they wanted, and squashed those who tried to stand against them. The main difference, of course, is that one is a historical figure who we can verify actually lived in a real time and place, and one is a fictional character who lives in the world of pages and screens.
But their similarities are why stories, even made up ones, matter. At their best, they help us better understand our actual, day-to-day lives in new ways, and give us a deeper grasp of other stories we encounter, be they in the Bible, from a friend, or in a movie. When I experience a story in a long format, getting to know the various characters and their actions, I can develop a fuller understanding of who they are, why they do what they do, and what their world is really like.
When I read the Bible, there are many instances where entire years go by in the matter of a few words or verses. It’s hard for me to fully comprehend what actually took place in that time frame and to put myself in the place of the people who experienced it, because I don’t have very much information. Other stories give me the words and ideas to better understand the fear or joy or despair Bible characters may have felt, even if the text doesn’t directly tell me what it was like for them. As I listened to my pastor talk about what life may have been like for people living under King Herod’s reign, I imagined the same kinds of feelings characters may have felt at the end of the Harry Potter series when Voldemort was in control, and it gave me a new and different view of the story.
While I don’t read and study stories like Harry Potter the same way I read and study the Bible, there’s a beautiful value in being able to take the kind of learning I get from one and letting it inform how I learn from another.
Til next time…
p.s. What are the stories that have helped you understand life differently?