July 29, 2007

The Real Lion...

Some interesting thoughts about Harry P...

....It has been widely observed that J.K. Rowling owes a creative debt to Christian fantasists J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis (apart from their fondness for initials). It's odd now to remember that, at the same time, some parents have objected to the magic depicted in the Harry Potter books as a glorification of satanic practices. For "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" confirms something else apart from the well-thought-out-ness of Ms. Rowling's moral universe: It is subtly but unmistakably Christian.

The principal Hogwarts holidays have always been Christmas and Easter, but it took five books before Ms. Rowling really began tipping her hand. In Book Six, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," she addressed concepts of free will, the power of love, and the sanctity of the soul. But in the final volume she gently lays it all out. The preciousness of each human life; bodily resurrection after death; mercy, forgiveness and redemption; sacrificial love overcoming the powers of evil--strip away the elves, goblins, broomsticks and magic wands and these are the concepts that underpin the marvelously intricate world of Harry Potter.

There are clues throughout. At one point, Harry is led to a weapon that will enable him to destroy the Horcruxes when he finds them: "The ice reflected his distorted shadow and the beam of wandlight, but deep below the thick, misty gray carapace, something else glinted. A great silver cross . . ."

Two unattributed New Testament quotations recur in the story after Harry sees each on a tombstone in the village where he was born and his mother and father died. He discovers on the Dumbledore family tomb "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also," from Matthew. And on the grave of his own parents, he finds this, from I Corinthians: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." On seeing it, Harry feels momentary horror: Does it imply a link between his parents and Voldemort's followers? Hermione gently sets him straight: "It doesn't mean defeating death in the way the Death Eaters mean it, Harry. It means . . . you know . . . living beyond death. Living after death."....

I'm not sure what I think about this, but it is plausible. However, my guess is that Rowling is just dabbling in a Christian direction because if one is playing with deep questions of life and death and meaning, there aren't many other places to go. It will be interesting to see what she does next. I've never heard rumor of her having any faith, but if she follows the logical path she's on....well, these things sneak up on you. I'd opine that Rowling is showing a sentimental attachment to some leftover shreds of Christian tradition, rather than the real Lion. Read this for contrast. (More thoughts below)

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

One thing I find fascinating about the Harry Potter books is that they not about magic. At least not in the way it is usually portrayed. The "magic" in the book is more like some esoteric technology, and Rowling could have fit the very same plots into pure science fiction. The stories could have been about an unusual boy selected to go to a secret "Star Fleet Academy," and learn to use light sabers and matter transporters. And become pals with Ron Solo and Leia Granger.

The magic in the books does not seem to have any effect on people's souls, beyond the ways that anything we do affects our inner selves. Being a Slytherin and dabbling in black magic is bad for you, but no more so than, say, getting hanging out with a bad crowd and starting to commit non-magical crimes. The Death Eaters have gone bad, but it's not their magic that corrupts them. Rather, they are like people who join some socialist group and have to commit atrocities, which make them become more and more evil. Nor does anyone have to bend their souls in either a good or bad direction in order to be able to practice magic.

Nor is there any "Fairyland" in the books, no transcendent or otherworldly aspect to the magic. There's no mysticism involved. And HP is not like those fantasies where the magic itself has a deep or world-changing meaning. The Earthsea Trilogy, or The Serpent Mage are examples. But Rowling closed off that option from the beginning.

A Catholic aspect of HP is that Hogwarts has always included the good and the bad. There's never any suggestion that the Slytherins might be excluded from the "church,", or that the Gryffindors might split off to form a smaller and purer "denomination." And in the last book Dumbledore is revealed to have been rather flawed as a youth, and his good qualities seem to have grown from his sins. This is like many a saint, and not like a "Gandalf."

Posted by John Weidner at July 29, 2007 6:49 AM
Weblog by John Weidner