Saturday, May 19, 2007

What About Harry?

I'm in the midst of my move, so I don't have time to post anything big. I'll make a few comments to pique interest and start a discussion.

People have probably noticed I haven't talked much about Harry Potter, which may seem odd since it's the fantasy series that has proven most controversial in Christian circles. I plan to write some essays on it later, but that's a large enough project I've put it off, and besides, my instincts tell me that everyone who's attempted to interpret the books so far will have egg on his face after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows comes out. Incidentally, I intend to review that book ASAP when I get it, but now that I'm changing addresses, ASAP may not be AS as it could have been.

As I see it, there are two extreme views of the novels. On the one hand are those who view the books as Satanist/Wiccan/Gnostic (take your pick) propaganda and on the other hand are those who view the books as Christian allegory. I'm somewhere in between. I'm not quite naïve enough to believe that anything with Christian-like elements is therefore Christian. Way back in my undergraduate days, I hung out with a campus Christian group that treated The Matrix like the fifth gospel, but I'm adequately convinced the film is actually Gnostic (on that subject, I refer the reader to the introductory essay in The Matrix and Philosophy). I learned my lesson from that experience and refrain from pronouncing anything an intentional Christian allegory unless I can be reasonably certain of it or have heard the writer admit it.

My own view of the Harry Potter novels thus far is that their use of magic is unimportant to the their underlying philosophical and ethical base. The magic of Harry Potter is generally flashy and superficial; Rowling does use occult lore for the sake of humor, but for no other reason I can discern. I can only conclude that people who claim she's delving deep into the occult by making references to the philosopher's stone are poorly read; you can know everything Rowling knows about alchemy simply by reading The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Those who think she must be an occultist are forgetting she has an MA in English.

Religion in the books is virtually nonexistent. Harry has a godfather, indicating he's probably nominally Anglican, but no other serious religious references have appeared. There's a strong suggestion that the individual personality continues after death, but the concept is undeveloped. I don't think the novels require explicit religious references, though I do find it remarkable that not a single character goes to church on Sunday. And contrary to some critics, the books have not the slightest hint that the characters get their magic power from demonic forces or any kind of spirits.

The morality of the novels is generally good but weak. I don't think Rowling intends us to take the misbehavior very seriously, so I don't. Some Christians have criticized Rowling for depicting children who are rude to each other; I can only assume such critics have never interacted with children. The books contain a strong anti-eugenics message, but that's neither unique nor progressive. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince spends an inordinate amount of time belaboring the message that making out is not a recreational activity. That's a good message as far as it goes, but it's neither bold nor inspiring. The emphasis on heavy petting is probably inappropriate for very young children, but the children who started this series when very young are not very young anymore.
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