Friday, July 9, 2010
That Dangerous Harry Potter
People have asked me for years about my opinion regarding Mr. Potter, the wizard of Hogwarts. For over 10 years my response has been "I have too many classics to read right now to read Harry Potter." C. S. Lewis encouraged his readers to develop a diet of classics that was peppered with lighter and more trendy reads. Following his advice, and heeding to my own personal challenge to read what my kids were reading in school left me with little additional reading time. But now my kids are reading Harry Potter. My time to read it has come. Going to the library 12 years after the first book was published, I find it's still a favored read among adults and children alike. That tidbit alone would make it seem that it's well on its way to being a classic. So what do I think of Potter so far? I'm just finished the first and in the first half of the second. I know next to nothing about J.K. Rowling other than that she is a woman with chutzpah and imagination. I've heard that she was modeling herself after C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien. If nothing other than first initials and a two-syllable British last name, those are good men to model. She does seem to be keeping with their example of casting fantastical light on how people find their identity, their bearings, their true North. And, like Tolkien and Lewis before her, the sage advice that she would offer is better received from wizened characters like Gandalf, Aslan and Dumbledore.
I'm trying to understand what some Christians have been so upset by for so long about Potter. I've heard that her books blur the distinction of evil and good. I haven't seen evidence of this. In fact, in the first book, the antagonist, whom Harry defeats, says, "There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it..." Lewis' antagonists in both Narnia and his space trilogy say this very same thing. And, like Lewis, Rowling has these evil men defeated by the gentle, faithful, yet undaunted protagonist.
Some say that they portray witchcraft in a good light when it is really a form of Satanic worship. Really? But Gandalf's use of magic is okay? Bilbo's invisibility ring is okay but Harry's cloak is not? I know that witches, as seen in Shakespeare's Macbeth have often been portrayed as communing with evil, thus deriving their power. But is that what Rowling is doing? Is she trying to say, "See, we've been wrong all along. Witches are good. Follow all of them." Is she encouraging her readers to abandon God in their quest for power? Is she even giving them a reason to head towards worshipping Evil? Or is she staging the struggles for identity and purpose in a world where our inward struggles against pride, anger, resentment, insecurity and power can be more clearly seen? Instead of wooing her readers into a dark world of magic so that she can cast an evil spell on them and render them powerless, is she instead drawing her readers into the idea that we live in a parallel universe the way that Lewis did with the Pevensie children who were Kings and Queens in Narnia (as Christians are considered royalty in Heaven) but children in London? At the school of Hogwarts, we learn that Muggles are those who are nonmagical. Some Muggles refuse to see the magic all around them, while others can see and even believe, but aren't magical. Most Muggles live in a world where what they see is what get. Wizards and, dare I say it, witches, on the other hand, believe that they have been given a special calling, a gift of magic that is to be used for a good purpose only. They believe that they are to use their magical powers carefully and they must be trained well if they are to be truly useful. Isn't this the message of the New Testament? Aren't we given a royal heritage as our identity? Haven't we been given magical power in the gifts of the Spirit and in prayer? Aren't we spiritual beings living in a world of stubborn Muggles? Perhaps this isn't what Rowling is saying, but hats off to Rowling for portraying the study of Latin, the dusting off of ancient books and the study of logic as worthy pursuits. Like Lewis, I think Rowling is forcing her characters and her readers to recognize that the struggles at Hogwarts are the same struggles in the world of Muggles, and the world that we call life. The book of Hebrews refers to this idea of parallel worlds as types and shadows. The Apostle Paul, defying all fear of mixing religion with magic stood in the center of Athens and proclaimed Jesus Christ as the unknown God of their mythology. He wasn't saying that the evil acts of the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece were now okay, he wasn't leading his fellow Greeks to worship these gods, he wasn't blurring the distinctions of truth. He was saying, "That parallel world of magic does exist. Your ancient stories are just types and shadows of a greater truth. Jesus Christ was that truth. Follow Him." I don't know whether J.K. Rowling holds a Christian worldview of mythology, magic and morality. I still haven't figured that out about Shakespeare, but that doesn't keep me from reading his works and, most importantly, talking about them with my children.
I'll leave you with my favorite passage from The Sorcerer's Stone, a conversation between Dumbledore and Harry after Harry defeated the evil Voldemort in what I'm told is his first of many battles. "Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn't realize that love as powerful as your mother's for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign...to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever." Perhaps these books really are dangerous. They might lead us to look into what it means to be loved by someone who laid His own life down for us that we might have some protection forever.