Harry Potter and the Ridiculous Non-Review Reviews

There are many things that might be said about the Harry Potter phenomenon. I’d like to draw attention to one of the more ridiculous–the collective refusal of reviewers to actually review the book. To review a book you must talk about it; you must discuss its major plot points and twists. Ah, but in the special case of Harry Potter, such things are dubbed “spoilers,” and the conventional wisdom, as typified by one blogger, is that to mention these unmentionables is “bad form.”

Can one discuss The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe without mentioning Aslan’s sacrifice? Can one discuss The Lord of the Rings without mentioning Frodo’s desire at the end to keep the ring, and the role of Gollum in bringing about its destruction? Can one discuss Moby Dick without mentioning that the whale gets Ahab in the end?

So any discussion of the Harry Potter books, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in particular, must discuss the critical point that Harry does indeed turn out to be a “horcrux” (unknown to Voldemort), and that he must offer himself willingly in sacrifice, and be killed, before he can come back from the dead and defeat Voldemort. It’s the patristic Christus victor theme redivivus.

In light of this–and only in light of this–can we have a serious discussion of whether J. K. Rowling is endorsing witchcraft and paganism (as some Christian critics claim) or whether she writes as someone with a Christian worldview, indebted to other Christian fantasists such as C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.

A Time magazine article, though, suggests that she leaves out an important character, who is included in the works of Lewis and Tolkien: God.

What does Harry have instead of God? Rowling’s answer, at once glib and profound, is that Harry’s power comes from love. This charming notion represents a cultural sea change. In the new millennium, magic comes not from God or nature or anything grander or more mystical than a mere human emotion. In choosing Rowling as the reigning dreamer of our era, we have chosen a writer who dreams of a secular, bureaucratized, all-too-human sorcery, in which psychology and technology have superseded the sacred.

But is love just a human emotion for Rowling, or does she have the Bible in mind (“God is love”)? Is it by accident that Harry and Hermione go to Godric’s Hollow (Harry’s birthplace) and enter a churchyard on Christmas Eve, and that the graves have Biblical quotes (“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” and “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death”)? And what of her use throughout the series of the phoenix–a bird that, in legend, dies and rises, and so was a symbol of Christ since the Patristic period? (More on that here).

The gauntlet is thus thrown down. The comments box is open.

9 thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Ridiculous Non-Review Reviews

  1. I haven’t had much interaction with Harry Potter but don’t think it’s some great threat to Christianity. We need to be able to teach kids the difference between fiction and reality. It doesn’t seem like Harry Potter is much different than Greek Mythology which all students study without the same uproar.

    My problem is that I’m so unaware of the terminology that I can’t even begin to understand the plot. I checked out Wikipedia’s summary of the book which was unintelligible because I don’t understand all the Hogwarts, etc.

  2. It is a complex world she’s created, to which each successive book contributes–and the seventh one ties together details from them all.

    Many of the details are drawn from classical mythology and from medieval symbolism. Some are drawn from British culture. Hogwarts, for instance, is based on Ampleforth College, a Benedictine boarding school which her cousin attended, taking the train from home; it is divided into houses which compete against each other in sports.

  3. I have watched the movies, (not the most recent one), and heard many of the debates. The debates that I have listened to are on the BBC. These debates have concentrated on the quality of the literature rather than the themes, Christian, pagan or other. Rowling has created a parallel world with its own history and society but it is very far from Middle Earth in its detail. We are a few generations seperated from Tolkin and Lewis so we can anaylise them with some objectivity. Rowling on the other hand is too contemporary. My guess is that within a few years she will write more books. My money is on a prequel. There is just too much money involved. The publishers and movie producers can make only so much money before used copies are being sold or copyright runs out and $ 1.99 paperbacks appear. Rowling will be under pressure from publishers to write books about Harry’s parents etc etc etc. Then we will get the real mythology. Another point to note is that Lewis and Tolkien were Oxford dons, Tolkien was an expert in Philology, (he translated the Book of Job for the Jerusalem Bible). Rowling was a high school teacher. It might sound stuck up but their education and understanding of mythology was much higher than Rowling’s, mine or the general public. They have a level of sophistication in their writing that is lacking in Rowling.

  4. Narnia is more explicit in its symbols, Aslan for example, cannot be mistaken for anyone but Christ. Tolkien’s world include languages and mythologies (I was recently interested to see a map that superimposed a map of Middle Earth over Europe and the Grey Havens were just a few miles from home, http://strangemaps.files.wordpress.com/2007/06/middle-earth.jpg). Anyway, Tolkien is right but there was much more to Lewis (Belfast Orangeman, that he was) than Narnia.

  5. Well, yes, there was more to Lewis (though Tolkien thought his explicit allegorization a bit too obvious). Of the two, Tolkien was much better able to hold a story together. The books of Lewis’ “Space Trilogy,” for instance, are interesting in and of themselves, but as a series are disappointing, leaping from Paradise Lost to the Holy Grail from book to book.

  6. Time will be a good test, Lewis’ writings, Narnia, and the spiritual works will be read 100 years from now. He is up there with De Sales, Bunyan among others. He may not be known for the “Space Trilogy,” even the best writers have their off days. BTW do we treat Harry Potter as one work or seven (a very symbolic number in itself)? We are too close to Rowling to make that judgement, (doesnt stop us).

  7. The Narnia books succeed because they are good stories. While many have seen Christian symbolism, that certainly isn’t the primary factor for their success.

    And, it has been said before – there is no way that you can learn witchcraft from a Harry Potter book, and I think that the themes of friendship and family are the strongest – and the stories are funny!

    I came late to the Harry Potter fan club, having just read all of the books after number six came out. So, I was anxiously awaiting number seven, and I was happy to discover the outcomes on my own, having avoided spoilers.

    Unlike a Star Wars movie, the people connected with the books have done an amazing job keeping spoilers contained.

    My wife and I were out of town when the book was released, and went to an independent bookstore, Denver’s “Tattered Cover,” to purchase it.

    At fifteen minutes to midnight there were 10 people in line to pick up the book with a pre-paid voucher. At midnight there were more than 30 people in line, many of them young people who had left the nearby nightclubs to get their book.

    When we left Denver to return home, about half a dozen people on the plane and more in the airport had their nose in the book.

    I hope that J. K. Rowling writes more books – her stories are fun to read with a lot of imagination, and, at least for me, easier to get through than the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

    And, as one who has experienced it personally, I encourage those who have only seen the movies to read the books – they are so much richer than the movies. The movies miss so much of the backstory and the sub-plots.

    And, in the near future, we’ll all be able to visit the land of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando!

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