Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Harry Potter for Christians

I would have thought the then Cardinal Ratzinger had more vital tasks on his plate in 2003 than ploughing through J. K. Rowling’s interminable Harry Potter books. So I wonder if, when His Eminence praised author Gabriele Kuby’s attack on the Potter phenomenon, he was completely [italics]au fait[end italics] with the exploits of the boy wizard.

There are many reasons for not liking the Harry Potter books; off the top of my head I could mention Rowling’s inability to use a verb of speech without a qualifying adverb; the flatness of most of the characters (the good ones boringly stay good and the bad ones stay bad, and that’s as far as it gets); or the timidity of the editorial staff at Bloomsbury, none of whom, apparently, has the courage to edit a story that crawls along inch by inch across thousands of pages of repetitive dialogue.
And I am becoming wearied of Harry himself, at times so infuriately slow on the uptake that I feel some sympathy for Professor Snape, the evil teacher who picks on our hero.

But to say that the books “deeply distort Christianity in the soul”, is missing the point by a mile. On the contrary, the Harry Potter stories have done more to lay down in the souls of unchurched children the foundations of key themes of Christianity than any other children’s story of our time.

If the Cardinal had had time to read the books (and I fancy he has even less time to do so nowadays) then he would learn that when Harry Potter was a helpless infant his life was saved by his mother’s love. The concept of redeeming love gradually emerges throughout the stories as the strongest “magic” of all - and in particular is the magic which will defeat the “Dark Lord” Voldemort.

The power of redeeming love versus the culture of death - and even the Dark Lord’s name is resonant of a despairing death-wish, [italics]volt de mort[end italics]: this surely is a ball any Christian parent can run with.

In the latest book, [italics]Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince[end italics], Harry’s mentor, the wizard Dumbledore, explains to Harry that he “has a power that Voldemort has never had.”

[italics]‘So when the prophecy says that I’ll have “power the Dark Lord knows not”, it just means - love?‘ asked Harry, feeling a little let down. ‘Yes - just love,‘ said Dumbledore.[end italics] Harry can scarecely believe it can be that easy, that ordinary - and thus the story steps briefly into the real world.

Rowling once explained to me that the idea of a parent’s love being the core of her story took hold in her mind after her own mother’s death. There is an echo in Lewis’s Narnia stories, in which Aslan gives his life for that of the “lost sheep”, Edmund…but rises again from the dead because of “the deeper, older magic” which the White Witch, imprisoned in her love-less state, did not know about.

In the Harry Potter books, the magic offers much uproarious and exciting entertainment, but also works as a metaphor for the power of earthly science and knowledge. The wizarding school, Hogwarts, exists to educate magically talented children to use their skills well, and not for evil or ignorant purposes. Great emphasis is laid on the idea that magical ability may occur in people of all backgrounds and races, the school's job being to gather them in and set them on the right road.

For science and knowledge - "magic" - can be perverted to evil ends, Rowling repeatedly stresses. And it becomes clear that this can happen unless they are controlled by the highest magic of all - which, as Harry discovers, is “just love”.

Gabriele Kuby and the American evangelicals who attack Pottermania are concerned that the books encourage an interest in the occult: they overlook the fact that the books more consistently teach that any knowledge, any science, any talent can be misused, once the user has sold out to the cult of death.

Let us see the glass as half-full. Considering the influence she has on our children, we should be deeply grateful Rowling is what she is - a well-read attendee of Church of Scotland services and a loving mother, whose moral outlook is rooted in Christianity. Let the critics, from all churches and of whatever eminence, read the books before passing judgement.

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