Expert help in sparking a Harry Potter discussion

FIRST: Don’t worry about “Spoilers” here. We began hearing from Potter fans Monday morning that no one wants to have the new movie spoiled. Today, as we welcome Potter expert Greg Garrett for an interview—we will not include any movie spoilers. (Of course the seventh book, the basis for this last movie, has been out for three years.)

Our interview with Greg is aimed at recommending his book—and helping you generate ideas for great Harry Potter discussions. Among other things, Greg is Professor of Creative Writing and Fiction at Baylor University. (He’s also an expert on comic books, super heroes and the rock band U2—and we’ve got helpful links to those themes, below.)

You can purchase a copy of his new “One Fine Potion: The Literary Magic of Harry Potter” at a discount from Amazon right now, if you wish.

In Part 1 of this Potter series: We shared two brief excerpts from Greg’s book on the basic question, “Is Harry Potter Christian?” In Part 2: Five teen-agers talked about how they don’t like the idea of labeling the Potter series “Christian.”


DAVID: In the world of Harry Potter there are novels and there are movies—a long series in each medium. ReadTheSpirit publishes a Bible-study guide to James Bond and it turns out that the original Ian Fleming novels are much different than the movies. So, for those readers who are not already familiar with the Potter world, how different are these movies from the original Potter books?

GREG: Well, we’ve got 4,100 pages of story in the books. That’s a whole lot of material. We’ve grown with these characters and spent time with them over the years. With this final two-part movie, we will have 8 Harry Potter movies. The scope is different. There is more in the novels than could fit into the 8 movies. Typically the important things in the novels did make it into the movies. At the end of the fourth novel, for example, when Dumbledore is talking about the existential choice facing everyone in the wizarding world between doing right—and doing what’s easy—that made the transition perfectly from one version to the other.

The flavor of the fantasy world does differ between the novels and the movies, though. Some people bemoan the fact that there’s not more quidditch in the films, because there’s a lot of quidditch in the novels. But the filmmakers see all the quidditch as ultimately not as important in the films. We do lose some sub-plots and side characters in the movies.


GREG GARRETT, author of “One Fine Potion”DAVID: You clearly are a Harry Potter fan. You write that when you finished the entire series of novels, you said, “It’s beautiful. The ending. Perfect. I was blown away. I think you will be, too.” So, do you expect to say the same thing when you see the final movie?

GREG: Yes, I am expecting to like it. Just from the short pieces I’ve seen of the film, the visual look seems to be right. The big question for me is: Do they get the character dynamics right in the final film? The book has been out for three years now and I know that it’s beautiful. It ends very successfully. And I think the movie will give us that feeling, too.

DAVID: I understand you plan to see it at a midnight showing. The Harry Potter community is like some big worldwide movement that gathers in congregations every year or so around midnight—first, for the release of novels and then for the opening of the movies.

GREG: My son Chandler and I have tickets for a midnight showing here in Texas. Chandler was my own entry point into the books. He started reading them when he was about 8 or 9 years old and I read them because of him. I missed going to a midnight showing for the last movie because I was doing a speaking engagement at that time. But I have been to midnight showings before. They’re great! They’re a lot like the book launches and those were really amazing. When else have you ever seen thousands of people hanging out in a bookstore parking lot, many of them dressed in costumes? Often people will dress up for the movies, too. The hard-core fans tend to make these midnight showings high-energy events. People are passionate about these stories that have shaped their lives and there are only two more opportunities for these gatherings: this week and then next summer when Part 2 of the last movie opens.

DAVID: This truly is a generational influence. How do you think it has influenced people overall?

GREG: For one thing, Harry Potter has done something people didn’t expect at first: It has taken a bunch of young people who no one expected to be good readers—and turned them into readers. That’s mostly a good thing, but once you run out of Harry Potter books, you need to find more excitement like this. I think that’s one thing that made the Twilight series so popular. Some of the female Harry Potter readers, in particular, switched over to Twilight.

I remember it was almost impossible to get the Harry Potter books out of my son’s hands. When we got home from the launch of the seventh book, it was about 1 a.m. and he would have stayed up all night long reading, if we’d let him. That’s an amazing feat! Many people thought this next generation would grow up functionally illiterate, except in tiny bursts of reading. But a substantial number of young people have read all 4,100 pages of these novels. Now, we’ve got to find more compelling stories to put in their hands!


DAVID: When it comes to sparking discussions, it’s obvious that Good vs. Evil and Heroism are big themes in these books. But your own new book points to a long list of other great themes to consider. You write about “Community,” “Formation” and “Diversity” as big Harry Potter themes.

GREG: Yes, a theme like Community is valuable for people to think about right now, and I don’t think an American novelist would have written a series with that theme. American heroes tend to be individuals. Think about our famous action movies, where there’s always a scene showing the individual hero doing something like Rocky hitting beef and running up all those steps—or Arnold Schwarzenegger arming himself with 17 different weapons and preparing to attack all alone. British novels tend to be less about individual accomplishment and more about how people fit into society. One of Rowling’s great gifts to us is that her hero is not individually awesome. He is a person who has learned the value of sacrifice from his parents who died for him. And he also understands the value of community because his friends keep saving him over and over again. The Potter books actually suggest that the idea of the lone individual and the self-made man or woman may be deforming us as human beings.

DAVID: And diversity is a big issue right now in the news.

GREG: Yes, because these main characters are teenagers, there’s an immediate relevance. Bullying is in the news right now. There are lots of passages in Harry Potter where bullying is an issue and we ultimately come to see the need for diversity in a school. The books show us the importance of getting along with one another.


DAVID: What’s the future for Harry Potter? I started thinking about this when I saw the all-time list of best-selling book series. We listed some of the all-time top series earlier this week, but the complete list also includes series like Noddy, Perry Mason, Frank Merriwell and the Bobbsey Twins. Those aren’t exactly super-popular any more. Will Harry Potter remain a household name?

GREG: That’s a great final question and I’m going to answer this from all of my roles, including my role as a professor. I believe the Harry Potter novels will become canonical in the way that Charles Dickens is canonical to this day. When he was writing his books, Dickens was read by the Queen of England all the way down to street urchins who pooled their pennies to purchase the next installment. And, some of Dickens’ books still are very popular today.

I think people will pass Harry Potter down to their younger brothers and sisters, then to their children—on and on. Today, it’s true that Perry Mason is pretty much the answer to a trivia question for most people. But those same people still know Dickens after all these years. Rowling has won major literary awards and she’s moving into the reading lists of schools. She’s caught the attention of literary opinion setters. These novels will be like Huck Finn, I think. And, just like the Star Trek movies have been made and remade over the years, I think people may keep remaking Harry Potter movies over the years. Harry Potter will be with us for a long, long time.

More with Greg Garrett on Super Heroes and U2

SUPER HEROES: Back in late 2007, we featured Greg Garrett in an interview talking about the spiritual signifcance of comic books and super heroes.

THE SUPER ROCK BAND U2: Greg is a lifelong fan of Bono and U2. In 2009, we interviewed him about his book “The Gospel According to U2.”

GREG GARRETT’S WEBSITE: Greg calls his own blog “The Other Jesus.” For Greg’s full background, visit his Baylor University website.

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