Monday, August 11, 2008

Harry Potter in L’Osservatore Romano

The Vatican's newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, some time ago published two articles on Harry Potter, one positive and one negative. The essays are now available in English at Soul Food Cinema.

The two essays are quite typical of the Harry Potter debate. The positive one, by Paolo Gulisano, focuses on the novels' emphasis on love, self-sacrifice, and a positive, Christian-influenced view of death:

There is another aspect that the author wants to communicate: that it is not the great heroic deeds that count, although they are worthy, but that it is the small altruistic gestures made by less-gifted people that are much more precious. The emphasis is not on the power of success, but on the humility of self-giving. Weakness is the final winner, not the strength of the muscles. Evident is the call to another great Christian author of England of the twentieth century, J.R.R. Tolkien, whose heroes are the small, humble Hobbits; the exact opposite of the arrogant superheroes, who have the pretension that they are totally self-sufficient, and wish to dominate the world. And as in Tolkien, Rowling is also strong on the theme of death. This theme is at first sight surprising in a book for children, and also because in today's world the theme of death is often largely hidden from children. In this story, instead it is well-defined and "central". There is talk of the reality of death, immortality, and the suggestion that something may exist beyond. [more...]

The negative essay, by Edoardo Rialti, naturally enough focuses on witchcraft, plays the Gnostic card, claims that Harry Potter is all about obtaining personal power, and gives a rather laughable interpretation of fairy tales:

This is a deep and serious lie, the ancient Gnostic temptation of joining salvation and the truth with a secret knowledge; that is why Harry Potter is nevertheless rich in Christian values, but they are detached from the real source that makes them be, the true order of things. The protagonists of fairy tales have always been normal boys involved in an extraordinary adventure: magic has always been used as a visual representation of the forces of evil that threaten the way, or, on the positive side, as a visual image of grace: the wise magicians and good fairies represent providence that does not leave us alone on our journey. But these are precisely the powers that can accompany or impede man, and not powers that man his self should obtain to dominate and win. These powers are vested only to God and his messengers, as we are warned in Holy Scripture. [more...]

Take a look in Grimm's Fairy Tales, and in addition to a number of decidedly grisly moments, you'll find plenty of characters who are more than happy to use "powers" for personal gain, and who are more than happy to obtain them by theft. These stories may be healthy or unhealthy, but let us not pretend that "fairy tales" can be easily defined, placed in a lump, and turned against J. K. Rowling. I also can't help but notice that the only other fantasists Rialti can name are, naturally, Lewis and Tolkien, as if no fantasies or sf works of note have been written between their time and now. Maybe some of the Harry Potter critics could benefit from a little time in the sf section of the bookstore.

Hat Tip: Catholic Media Review
blog comments powered by Disqus