Harry Potter and the Legends of Saints
By M. Wendy Hennequin
The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture Volume 25, Number 1, 2013
Abstract: Along with its other generic borrowings, the Harry Potter series uses tropes and plot structures from medieval hagiography. Rowling most signiﬁcantly uses hagiographical plot structures during the confrontations between Harry and Voldemort in the second and fourth novels, and the confrontation between Neville and Voldemort in The Deathly Hallows. The ﬁrst re-enacts the story of St. George; the second is constructed as a passio; and the third combines the two. These hagiographical plot structures serve to reveal character, reinforce the core values of the texts, and identify Harry with saints in order to signal his inevitable victory.
Introduction: Anne Hiebert Alton, noting the elements of many diverse genres in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, calls the works a “generic mosaic”, and others have made similar observations. For instance, June Cummins notes that the Gothic components in the texts “are so natural to its setting that they are almost invisible or at least so normalized that it appears as if they do not merit attention”.
Cummins’s statement can be equally applied to the other genres that inform the Harry Potter series: the conventions become so subsumed into, and so seamlessly interwoven with, the plot, characters, atmosphere, and elements of the other genres in Rowling’s books that they become almost unnoticeable. Despite their neat integration, several recent studies of Rowling’s Harry Potter series have explored the texts’ relationships with medieval romances, folk and fairy tales, pulp ﬁction, the school days’ novel, and Gothic ﬁction.
Scholars have, however, neglected one ingredient of the “generic mosaic”: medieval hagiography. Certain objects, abilities, tropes, and even plot structures in the Harry Potter series clearly derive from medieval saints’ lives and the cult of saints.