Harry Potter is coming. This week, ReadTheSpirit will join fans coast to coast in a midnight debut of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1,” the penultimate movie based on the seven novels.
Harry Potter already is a generational phenomenon—an indellible cultural mark shared by hundreds of millions around the globe. Having sold more than 400 million copies, so far, J.K. Rowling has marked our world as vividly as Harry’s forehead. Consider: Far more Harry Potter books were bought and read than all the Berenstain Bears series, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Chicken Soup, American Girls or James Bond. Every name in that list shaped generations; Harry is shaping our world as well.
THIS WEEK, we welcome Greg Garrett, author of “One Fine Potion: Literary Magic of Harry Potter”
You’ll hear from Greg, in person, later this week. But, today, we want to strongly recommend Greg’s brand-new book as a great way for individual readers to think back over the series of seven novels—and to think about the film series that ends with this 2-part final film (“Part 2” of the final movie opens in summer 2011). This new book is designed in four chapters for easy use in a month’s worth of discussion, if you’re part of a weekly book group. Or, if you’re a preacher, teacher, writer or community leader, the book is full of provocative ideas for exploring themes in the more than 4,000 pages of Rowling’s fiction.
“Is Harry Potter Christian?” and other questions of faith
This is the big question that buzzed for years around the novels. Conservative Christian protests against Harry Potter were more prominent years ago, but anti-Potter religious voices continue to rail against the books. Traditional religious groups that strictly forbid any reference to “magic,” for example, find it especially difficult to endorse novels that use magic as the essential physics of a fantasy world.
For now, let’s set aside that long-running debate over whether religious families should allow children to read the books. Families that condemn the books aren’t likely to change at this point. And, the truth is that the vast numbers of these novels circulating around the world suggest that many hesitant families already have been won over by their children’s enthusiasm.
The bigger question raised in Garrett’s book is: “How is ‘Harry Potter’ Christian?” Or, more broadly, “How is ‘Harry Potter’ raising urgent religious questions for our time?” That’s what Greg explains in 150 pages.
The first part of Greg’s answer is: These books are fun. They’re fantasy. They’re meant to be enjoyed. Then, Greg says: While enjoying these very entertaining novels—just as millions have enjoyed “The Chronicles of Narnia” and J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels—how do these books influence our understanding of our faith?
How is Harry Potter Christian?
HERE are a few lines from Greg’s new book that begin to answer that question. If this makes sense to you, then you’re sure to enjoy the entire book, which Amazon is selling at a discount right now.
Even before anyone thought of the Harry Potter novels as somehow Christian, Rowling’s most obvious models had always been writers of Christian fantasy; as far back as 1999, Alison Lurie had written in the New York Review of Books that the Potter novels, “belong to an ongoing tradition of Anglo-American fantasy that takes off from Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.” But with the publication of “Deathly Hallows,” it became impossible to ignore Rowling’s dramatic use of Christian themes and the larger Christian narrative. Christianity Today, the most-read magazine of American evangelicals, published a review of “Deathly Hallows” which described it as deeply Christian. … Rowling has often mentioned her fondness for Graham Greene, Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor, and P.D. James … In its attention to souls, mortality, redemption, good and evil, faith and belief, tolerance and justice, the Harry Potter story is permeated with Rowling’s faith. But one clearly does not have to share that faith to love the books.
Can Harry Potter fantasy apply to world issues today?
Greg’s book is packed with ways these connections can be made. Come back Wednesday for our interview with Greg to learn more. But, to give you an example of Greg’s thinking, here are a few lines about the abuse of power and the twisting of truth in our world.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the Potter books’ treatment of evil has to do not with what evil people choose to do … but with social or institutional evil that continues because the alternative seems worse or more frightening and sometimes persists because people are ignorant—or uncaring—about injustices persistent in the system. People tend to limit their conception of sin and evil to that done by individuals, often expressing it in a set of moral condemnation for individual acts, but history—including, as Rowling understands, recent history—demonstrates that systems, since they are made up of sinful individuals, can also be purveyors of evil. In obvious references to the Blair and Bush governments’ tolerance and even encouragement of actions like torture, rendition, and the politics of personal destruction, Rowling’s epic shows Ministry of Magic officials committing evil acts to prop up the system they serve. … When people begin to stand in the darkness in order to—they believe—safeguard the light, then gray is the inevitable result.
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