I hate to feel I need to put a "spoiler warning" on this: Really, if you haven't read the last book by now and you're sensitive about having the ending spoiled, the Internet is not a safe place for you at the moment...
For a universe defined by magic, Harry Potter's is surprisingly unmagical. The magic in his world allows tons of fun, imaginative, and unexpected possibilities, yet it seems to behave like a force of nature that can be studied, understood, and even researched in a scientific way (with Dumbledore writing papers on his work on the uses of dragon blood and the like). Some wizards are more powerful and/or more skilled than others, but there's no hint of a higher power or purpose any more than electricity or gravity might point to an ultimate purpose. Rowling even raises amusing questions about whether some magic is pseudo-magic (divination, Lovegood's work) when the evidence of its effectiveness is less conclusive.
Then there's the question of death. One of the themes of the Harry Potter series seems to be the virtue of accepting the finality of death. Rowling uses a Biblical quote about death being the last enemy to conquer, but attempting to conquer death was clearly the problem. Nowhere does the story praise the quest for immortality: lingering and continuing in spirit form after your time is up is shown as inability to achieve closure and move on. That's why I knew Dumbledore wouldn't come back like Obi Wan Kenobi to guide Harry at a critical moment or to save him.
All of these themes make Harry Potter a remarkably skeptic-friendly fantasy. The series is far more atheistic than His Dark Materials, a critically-acclaimed fantasy trilogy written by a bona fide atheist (see my discussion of atheist themes in Pullman's work which includes some further comparison of Rowling's style and Pullman's).
However, J. K. Rowling self-identifies as Christian. She is rich, powerful, and popular enough that she can basically get away with saying anything she wants to at this point, thus it seems reasonable to take her at her word and not try to come up with proofs that she's a closet atheist or something like that, no matter how tempting it may be.
So, to double-overcompensate for my pro-atheist bias, today I will ask the obvious Christian book critic question: Is Harry Potter's death scene a re-telling of the Jesus story?
I'm not going to try to prove the case either way, just throw out some ideas and let you decide. As a control, I'll compare these two stories to two other famous self-sacrificing-nonpermanent-death scenes from popular culture: It's a Wonderful Life and Star Trek II. (If you haven't seen these, George Bailey tries to kill himself so that his family will have the money from his life insurance policy and Spock steps into an area of deadly radiation contamination to fix the warp drive so the ship can escape in time.)
1. It had to be the hero in person, not someone else:
JC: yes, for some reason theologians can explain better than I can...
HP: yes, because he had some part of Voldemort's soul.
IAWL: no, nobody really had to die at all -- all they needed was some money.
ST2: not really, somebody else with similar skills and abilities could have done the same thing.
2. The hero was betrayed by a friend:
JC: yes, however the story indicates that Jesus knew it was going to happen and allowed it, thus their relative power levels leaves the betrayal question rather ambiguous.
HP: yes, and it was a difficult blow for Harry when he realized that his trusted friend Dumbledore had been grooming him for the slaughter all along.
IAWL: sort of: the problem arose when Uncle Billy handed $8000 of the bank's money to the enemy (named Potter, coincidentally...), but it was an accident.
ST2: no, Spock acted alone. His longtime friend/rival Dr. McCoy attempted to stop him and failed.
3. The hero was perfect:
IAWL: not entirely, but he was remarkably virtuous.
ST2: perfectly logical.
4. The hero is entirely dead before coming back:
JC: yes, and this is an important component of the story: Jesus had to actually die in order to conquer death, so it wouldn't have worked for him to be very, very close to death and pull through.
HP: no, Harry had a "near death experience" which the text jokingly indicates was all in his head.
IAWL: no, George had a NDE similar to Harry's where he got to analyze his situation.
ST2: yes, Spock had a funeral and his corpse was shot out into space before his spirit was reunited with his body. Another point of similarity with the Jesus story is that in both cases it's not entirely clear the resurrection was part of the original story as opposed to having been added later.
5. After his death experience, the hero continues his life as before:
JC: no, Jesus miraculously appeared to some followers a few times, but his death scene ended his everyday life.
HP: yes, he continued as before, grew up, raised a family, etc.
IAWL: yes, but maybe he appreciated his life a bit more.
ST2: yes, he even went on to appear in several more films. He may have made a joke line here and there about having been dead, but his experience doesn't even stand out as a turning point in the Star Trek universe.
6. The story describes the pain of the hero's decision:
JC: yes, Jesus was extensively tortured and asked God if he could get out of it.
HP: yes, Harry contemplated how much he will miss the joys of life.
IAWL: not really, George's choice comes off as a rash act of desperation and despair.
ST2: no, "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one." The choice is the logical one, and that's good enough for Spock.
So what do you think? Is Harry Jesus? Is Spock?
Anyone have any further points of comparison or other stories that could be added to this list?