A Christmas Carol is nothing like Harry Potter, except in all the ways it is the same. The two stories happen in different centuries, have wildly different protagonists and outcomes. But they are both alike in dignity, in moral conviction and in a hundred details. A warm-hearted giant, the ghost of an old friend, a ghost who rattles chains, an animated door knocker, a poor family rich in love, a boy in oversized clothes, the humbling of arrogance, Apparition (or similar) to a rock at sea, “artful witches”, nocturnal wanderings, compassion and transformation, the power of love, wandless/beggars, a room transformed into a grove, feasts and presents, holly and a wreath, bearing witness to the past, and magic. The similaries between the wizarding world and Dickens’ Victorian fairytale strike like a Bludger.
THREE TURNS OUGHT TO DO IT
A Christmas Carol tells the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge, a wealthy miser. Scrooge’s jolly nephew Fred visits him at work on Christmas Eve and invites him to Christmas dinner. Scrooge rebuffs him. Humbug! Arriving home, Scrooge discovers the ghost of his late partner Jacob Marley, wrapped in chains (forged in a lifetime of greed and selfishness). Marley informs Scrooge that he will be haunted by “three Spirits”. So begins Scrooge’s magical journey to redemption. But Scrooge, unlike Voldemort, is capable of remorse.
The first spirit, The Ghost of Christmas Past, shows Scrooge vital memories in the style of Dumbledore’s Pensieve. The young Scrooge hates being poor, much like the young Ron Weasley. He feels lonely and isolated at school, unnecessarily, an experience Harry would recognise. Ebeneezer is prompted to recall his ebullient and loving sister. She is his nephew Fred’s mother, now dead. Then, the Ghost of Christmas Present allows Scrooge to spy upon Fred at home; the young man knows how to party. Finally, the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come brings Scrooge face-to-face with death. This last spirit is a prototype Dementor:
The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached […] In the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery. It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible, save one outstretched hand. [Scrooge] felt that it was tall and stately […] its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread.
The Victorian realm as filtered through Dickens seeps into the wizarding world like London fog: candles and arriages, goodnatured scoundrels, bullies, murderers and the mis-use of children. Half-Blood Prince, which has more than its fair share of Christmas, is also the most Dickensian of the Harry Potter books, from Chapter Two’s creepy scene in Spinner’s End (a village made bleak by the industrial revolution) to Tom Riddle’s orphanage. Harry’s final Christmas, in Deathly Hallows, follows in the footsteps of Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, which lead to a graveyard.
HAPPINESS CAN BE FOUND
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban features one of the lesser Christmases in the saga. Hermione Granger and Professor McGonagall conspire to steal Harry’s best present! But the plot craftily shadows A Christmas Carol.
In Prisoner of Azkaban, the “three spirits” that visit Ebeneezer Scrooge are recast for Harry’s edification. Aunt Marge stands in for the Ghost of the Past, poking Harry about his long-lost parents. Lupin plays the Ghost of the Present, his guide for the hereand-now. Sirius is the Ghost of Christmas Harry Yet-To-Come. He is literally what Harry will turn into if the boy does not get a handle on anger and depression. At the story’s midpoint, after Dementors have invaded the Quidditch pitch, Harry follows Scrooge’s example and commits to a new way. He taps Remus Lupin for private lessons and starts to master the Patronus Charm.
Dickens wraps up his story a few pages after the final spirit’s visit, assuring his readers that Scrooge is transformed for good and forever. But Prisoner of Azkaban is only just warming up. When – 200 pages later – the Dementors come for Harry, Hermione and Sirius, the Patronus Charm fails. Fortunately, Hermione has a Time Turner tucked down her robes and Harry gets another shot at the soul-sucking fiends. He gives the Dementors a drubbing and banishes them to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
EVEN IN THE DARKEST OF TIMES
Jo Rowling describes A Christmas Carol as “pure writing perfection”. Indeed, Dickens’ novella is a handy template for story structure. And it’s short: a third of the length of the first Potter book. Dickens portions his little story into five chapters, which he calls staves (because it’s a carol). These staves are clearly five Acts, the building blocks of traditional storytelling. In the first we meet Scrooge and get a handle on the grumpy old man in his normal life. The inciting incident is the appearance of Marley’s ghost. The second, third and fourth chapters challenge Scrooge with increasing urgency. Each stave introduces a new character to raise the stakes: the ghosts of past, present and future. The vision of Scrooge’s unlamented death is the ultimate crisis, and change becomes inevitable. At the midpoint, halfway through the third stave, Scrooge encounters Tiny Tim, the disabled young son of his assistant, who will die if Scrooge continues his tightwad lifestyle. The fifth stave is the finale. Scrooge is transformed by events, and the world changes along with him. Tiny Tim does not die. This is a happy fairytale.
Like the Harry Potter stories, the action circles back on itself so the end meets the beginning. Scrooge finds all the people he was awful to at the start, and makes good to the extreme. Also like Harry Potter, the emotional life of the story is robust without the magic. In the mundane version, the inciting incident is the visit by Scrooge’s nephew Fred, and the ghosts are a shame dream, a one-night war waged by Scrooge’s (good) conscience.
Harry’s story is equally universal on an emotional level. Over the course of seven books he learns to adapt to life after loss. Plagued by an extreme fear of death at the beginning, he finally accepts that death is part of life, and love becomes his beacon. In ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’, Harry can be seen as the protagonist Scrooge and Tiny Tim. The climax with the Time Turner lets him be in two places at once, to save the damaged boy he was and to become the man he was meant to be.