Loving Harry Potter By Xochitl Alvizo

I went to the movies with a group of friends last Friday to watch the final Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II. It was a great movie, fun and action-filled, and the energy of opening night only made it better. Afterward we all went out to eat and exchanged notes on our favorite scenes – talking about every little detail. At one point, one of my friends commented on the strong role women have in the Harry Potter movies/books. She said the story is carried by the women – that if it wasn’t for them Harry Potter would not exist. She made specific mention of Harry’s mom as having sacrificed her life for him. Lily dies so Harry can live.

This of course is when my brain comes to a screeching halt.

Women sacrificing their lives for others – I become suspicious and my defenses go up. Sacrifice = suffering. Suffering must not be glorified. Sacrifice must not be sacralized. I see red flags everywhere. Wait, though; haven’t those of us who are Christian-identified heard the opposite affirmed a million times? Jesus suffered and died – was sacrificed – for our sins. Further, Christians’ most sacred ritual, communion, includes reference to Jesus’ broken body and spilt blood. So, isn’t that what people do for love, sacrifice, as Harry’s mom did?

No. I don’t think that’s actually what people (or God) do for love.

Feminists in particular have called attention to the problems of sacralizing suffering – even, and especially, Jesus’ suffering. In too many cases, domestic violence as just one example, Jesus’ obedient suffering is referenced and used to encourage the continued endurance of an abusive situation. But suffering is not redemptive. Suffering and sacrifice are not love. To this point my friend once said, “I know what it’s like to have my body broken. I know what it’s like to have my blood spilled. I don’t ever want anybody else going through that on my behalf.” Love does not expect or desire suffering. My friend’s words have left a lasting impression on me. I understand love and suffering and sacrifice differently because of it. Therefore, I can’t help come to a screeching halt whenever it sounds like sacrifice and suffering are being glorified or equated with love. I am thoroughly convinced that sacrifice and love must not be confused.

So what do I make of Lily’s ‘sacrifice’ for Harry, then? First of all, I don’t think she was sacrificing – she was loving. When Lily died and Harry lived, Lily was loving her son. She was at the foot of his crib repeating to him over and over the words of her love for him. Lily was face to face with Harry letting him know that above all other realities in the world, he was loved. Yes, she was aware of the evil force at work to destroy life and love and all that makes the world smile with joy. And yes, she likely anticipated that their lives were in danger and might soon end, so she spent her last precious moments loving Harry. Her love for him, a form of ‘old magic’, is what saved him – love saves Harry, not sacrifice. Lily does die in the process. But Lily does not die because she ‘sacrificed’ herself, she died because she lived in a world where some people value domineering power and control above all things and are willing to murder, destroy, and inflict suffering for it. We live in such a world. But even in such a world, people choose love. People choose love because it is what they find most worthy of their whole person; it is what they most want to embody and what most brings them joy.

Lily loves, and as a result, life continues to be made possible even in a world that seems to distort it all to destruction. Lily was not sacrificing, she was loving. And love is what made the story possible – love is always what makes new stories possible.

Author: Xochitl Alvizo

Feminist theologian, Christian identified. Associate Professor of Religious Studies in the area of Women and Religion and the Philosophy of Sex Gender and Sexuality at California State University, Northridge. Her research is focused in Congregational Studies, Feminist and Quuer Theologies, and Ecclesiology specifically. Often finding herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, she works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably connected and the good one can do in any one area inevitably and positively impacts all others.

7 thoughts on “Loving Harry Potter By Xochitl Alvizo”

  1. Xochitl,
    While I understand and in general sympathize with your assessment of love and not sacrifice as redemptive, I don’t know that you can separate one from the other, when in fact, one-love-drives the ability to sacrifice. Yes, feminism has done a splendid job of releasing women from the role of obedience to pain as if it is ordained by the Divine. Yet, in many ways, sacrifice should be gender free, meaning our love for others may cost us our life, a sacrifice we might be able to dodge if it weren’t for our ability to self-sacrifice because of love.

    A medieval Christology introduced by Anselm of Canterbury would require the death of a God/man who is greater than the sum of humanities sin. But the death of Jesus on the cross is not ordained by an abusive Father, rather the death of Jesus, or his sacrifice, is because of what he said and did, his demonstration of love that cost him his life. At any point in his ministry, I believe Jesus could have backed off from his kinship with the outcast, he knew that by continuing this radical love he would die, just like Martin Luther King or Gandhi knew they were in danger due to their actions.

    Perhaps our distance lies more in the semantics of the word sacrifice. The motivation of why we sacrifice seems to be at the heart of the matter. In one of my favorite books, The Awakening, author Kate Chopin states, “I would give my life for my children, but I will not give them my life.” A subtle difference, but an important one none the less.


    1. Hi Cynthie,

      Thanks for your reply and sorry for my delayed response (I just finished a 3-week all-day kids program on Friday – exhaustion kept me from doing much else during those days, so I’m just catching up with emails now!).

      I think I know what you mean that love and sacrifice are related – that love may cost us our lives and thus sacrifice and love cannot be separated. But I still think it is critical to distinguish them, and in essence, recognize them as two different things. Mary Daly described Christianity, along with all other patriarchal religions, as necrophilic; hating and envying Life, having a universal message of death worship (Wickedary, p.83). I actually don’t think Christianity is necrophilic, but it often is practiced that way and so I do see her point. Jesus’ death and ‘sacrifice’ have generally been held up as the core, the essence, the heart of Christianity – necrophilic indeed. But that is not where I start theologically, I start with the whole of Jesus life as he shared it will his friends and community, and the story that surrounds it. Jesus, in community, was living a particular way of life – of course he understood this way to be divine – and he was committed to it wholly. And that’s the theological focus that keeps me from understanding suffering and sacrifice as redemptive – for that is not what saves or redeems. It is a ‘way’, a way of life and love that one finds compelling and life-giving and liberating, that saves and redeems. Living according to a divine way, the beauty of which grips your whole being, can and often does lead to suffering because it is counter to the status quo and norm of the world. But that is different from it being redemptive or loving in essence. And I think that distinction can go a long way in mending the ways in which Christianity has been, in practice, necrophilic.


  2. Dear Xochitl,
    I think the same red flags would have gone up for me. I like what you have to say about Lilly loving Harry, and her loving as generative energy, as what changed things in Voldemort’s plans…. not the sacrifice itself. Yet, the sacrifice was a part of it….. and I think, feeling a wariness toward the glorification of suffering and its distortion in abusive paradigms (the same wariness I think you are expressing), I don’t always know how to honor suffering while not making it “the point.”

    Lilly’s story is contrasted in some ways, by Snape’s. He lives his whole life to love Lilly (I totally cried watching this, both in the movie and when reading the book)… but no body loves him–except Lilly, who has to stop being Snape’s friend (in the book) because he is not a safe person :( His story could seem like all sacrifice… it seems, to borrow Chopin’s sentiment from the above quote, that he gave Lilly his life– but is the secret hero of the Potter novels… someone who Harry honors at the end of the book by including “Severus” in his son’s name.

    I appreciate how Cynthie brings up sacrifice and non-violence, because in my resistance to what sacrifice has meant for so many women (me included), I felt a lot of difficulty accepting Gandhi’s vision of non-violence as, “conquest of the adversary by suffering in one’s own person.” (from “The Essential Gandhi”) But studying Gandhi a little more closely recently, I found that his idea of “sacrifice” must come from a place of power or it is not non-violence– he saw India as very powerful, but as needing to stop a cycle of violence that recreated itself.

    I still find the idea of what suffering means such a complicated issue. But I think your shift is important because it highlights the ways that ‘sacrifice’ from a place of power, like love, is about shifting energies or changing their course, not the violence of the sacrifice itself. Thinking of it in this way, Lilly redirects death with love, like you say, and Snape… well, I actually think, may be refracting away from hate with the love he feels for Lilly…. he was a death eater, full of anger and hate… and still closely related to it, but he “refracted” by turning the reflection of hate piece by piece to infiltrate it with his deep deep love.
    Thank you for your thoughts :)


    1. Wow, Sara, that’s a beautiful reply. I really appreciate your description of redirecting and refracting hate or death with love, that’s a great way of saying it. And yes, I see how the sacrifice is often part of the reality of living into something beautiful and life-giving – I mean we see it every day – and I’m with you about not wanting to make it the focus. And I think a way to honor the cost of someone’s choice to love is precisely to highlight that love; to bring attention to the quality of life, the commitment, the way of being in the world to which they were so committed and which they found so compelling. There are so many beautiful ways of being in the world and of relating to one another and the earth, and so often we give attention to their destruction, instead of their existence and possibility. People are willing to put their lives on the line in order to interrupt/disrupt violence, death, hate – to refract it – because they want to offer, embody something different and beautiful in its place. That’s what I want to celebrate and give my attention to, the beautiful life-giving option, because that’s worth living into.

      Thanks for your post :)


  3. I’m a little late commenting on this, but I thought your perspective was beautiful! Plus, it reminded me of Harry Potter, which is never a bad thing.


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