Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I

Movie Review by Lee Duigon

It’s hard to review a piece of a movie-which, for all its nearly three-hour length, is what this is. If you haven’t seen the earlier Harry Potter movies, or read the books, watching this movie will be like entering a roomful of strangers all talking about people and incidents you have never heard of. There’s no flashing back to make things clear, no explanations provided for anything. If you’re not a Harry Potter fan, you can forget about understanding this film.

So why review it, then?

J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels have sold millions and millions of copies, and millions of movie tickets, too. This is the most successful series of books ever published, and it has revolutionized young readers’ fiction. It would be irresponsible to ignore it.

Because Harry Potter is such a cultural phenomenon, and this movie is a slice of it, we can look at it to see what it can tell us about our culture. What has Harry Potter taken out of our culture, and what has it put in?

Magic and Science

In the alternative universe of Harry Potter, everything important gets done by magic-or “wizarding,” as they sometimes call it. Witches, wizards, and warlocks are the elite of that world.

As a thought experiment, plug in “science” for “magic”-and you’ll see that the Harry Potter world pretty closely approximates our own. By “science” we mean what Jean-Marc Berthoud calls “the cultural domination of our whole culture by a purely mathematical model of the universe (the so-called scientific worldview, valid in fact only in its strictly limited domain, that of the measurable) as normative of every aspect of reality.”1

Materialistic “science” in our culture has excluded God. In Harry Potter-land, “magic” does the same. Given the awesome power of magic in that world, there would appear to be no place for God.

Despite various efforts to spin the Potter books as some obscure kind of Christian enterprise, we see no evidence at all in Deathly Hallows I that there is any Christianity at work in any of the characters’ lives, or any other recognizable religion, for that matter. Yes, there is one brief scene in which we see a village church with people inside it singing Christmas carols. What of it? Millions of Americans celebrate Christmas as a generic holiday and are dead to its religious significance. And every now and then, a character in the movie says, “my God.” But that doesn’t mean that they believe in God. For millions of Americans, “God” and even “Jesus” are just words to be tossed casually into a sentence, stripped of all meaning.

J. K. Rowling has been accused of promoting witchcraft. But I think it important to note that in Deathly Hallows I, there is no hint of any power higher than that of the magician. Paganism is supposed to feature pagan gods and goddesses, but we see no gods here. The world of Harry Potter much more closely resembles the fantasy world of The Humanist Manifesto II than it does anything in paganism. Take the Humanist Manifesto and substitute “magic” or “wizarding” for words like “science” and “technology,” and you will instantly find yourself in Harry Potter’s universe.2

Thus we discover that Rowling is not promoting paganism. Wittingly or not, she is promoting humanism.

Good Guys, Bad Guys

For the humanist, man is the measure of all things, the decider of all things. There is no higher authority. Humanists like to say they arrive at morality by “reason” or by “consensus.” But “reason” and “consensus” can take many forms, not excluding brute force, deceit and trickery, bribery, demagoguery, and mere expediency. In the opening scene of Deathly Hallows I, the bad wizards torture a woman and then feed her, still alive, to a giant snake. Doubtless they had a consensus that this was the right, reasonable, and moral thing to do.

Harry Potter and his friends are the good guys in this series; but how does Harry know what’s right or wrong? There’s no Bible, no Ten Commandments, and he doesn’t go to church. Why doesn’t he, too, torture people and feed them to snakes?

Aha-Harry has been instructed by good teachers. But what if he’d had bad teachers?

Some years ago, I read a Harry Potter book to see what all the fuss was about. One of the most noticeable things about it was that J. K. Rowling had to tell you who was good and who was bad: otherwise, you wouldn’t have known.

In Deathly Hallows the bad guys are physically ugly and they have gone on to much nastier activities than they pursued in earlier installments-murder, torture, dictatorship, maybe a little bit of genocide. Plus they look scary. If someone looks really bad in this movie, you can be sure he really is bad. It’s a pity this reliable moral barometer won’t serve us in the real world. Here the human monsters sometimes look like Ted Bundy, the serial murderer who fooled everybody with his clean-cut, handsome, yuppie façade. And Mao Tse-tung had a placid, bovine, peasant’s face. The real world tends to be a lot more confusing than any movie world.

In trying to frustrate the plans of the bad wizards, and save the world from them, Harry and his friends are obviously doing good. They also exhibit and exercise certain virtues that we recognize: friendship, courage, and even a degree of self-sacrifice. Then again, Harry and the other “good” witches do practice witchcraft, which God condemns, in the Bible, in no uncertain terms. But we believe all the “wizarding” in Potter-land is just an indirect way of writing about humanistic, man-centered power.

On what ground does Harry’s virtue rest? If you really could just teach people to be good, then wouldn’t everyone be good? The great humanist edifice of public schooling is built on that foundation. Unfortunately, we can see at a glance that it simply doesn’t work-and never has.

It is the fond dream of humanists that people can be “good without God.” But no human civilization has ever tried to be good without God until very recent times-and these recent entries have done a miserable job of it. In the world of Harry Potter, as in the secular world today, man functions as his own god, exercising godlike powers with magic in the Potter world and by means of “science,” money, politics, and violence in our own fallen world. You can make it work in a movie or a fantasy novel because those are not real worlds. In the real world, you can’t walk along the ceiling. In the real world, the philosophical highway of humanism is usually a one-way ticket to the Gulag Archipelago.

Raw Power Rules

Meanwhile, Harry and his friends have to track down and destroy certain magic doohickeys, each of which contains a piece of Lord Voldemort’s soul. As long as even one of these talismans survives, the chief of the bad guys can’t be killed. And if you can fit that into any known scheme of Christianity, you need a theological refresher course.

The “Deathly Hallows” are three more magical artifacts, so powerful as to constitute a trump card. Everybody’s looking for them, and whoever finds them first will control the world. Note that it doesn’t matter whether the nice witches or the naughty witches own them: because in the Harry Potter universe, there is no sovereign God-only raw power waiting to be used by whoever gets it first.

That’s not Christianity. That’s humanism.

The whole Harry Potter enterprise reflects the debased values of the godless, secularized culture in which it was spawned. It is the love child of the British welfare state and a theologically emasculated, pietistic, ineffectual church. It’s vastly more successful than any rampaging zombies video game, reality TV show, or rap music, but it shares their cultural DNA.

What does Harry Potter put into our culture? The short answer is, “More of the same, and then some.” On the surface, it glamorizes witchcraft and the occult. But below the surface, it is preaching humanism. It’s the same old spiel with which the serpent beguiled Adam and Eve: “Ye shall be as gods.”For many decades now, too many Christians have been content to take the popular culture as they find it. In this we have greatly erred. The God-free zones in people’s lives grow bigger and bigger, without them giving it a second thought. Our popular entertainment instills in us a habit of godlessness.

It is this, more than anything else, which makes the Potter books and movies objectionable. But if one looks at the book and ticket sales, one wonders who’s objecting. In a country wherein the great majority of the people identify themselves as Christians, an anti-Christian humanist icon in witch’s clothing is the all-time best-seller.

 


1 Jean-Marc Berthoud, Pierre Viret (Tallahassee, FL: Zurich Publishing, 2010), 50.

2 For instance, consider this introductory paragraph to The Humanist Manifesto II, with substitutions in italics.

“The next century can be and should be the wizards’ century. Dramatic magical, thaumaturgical, and ever-accelerating social and political changes crowd our awareness. We have virtually conquered the planet, explored the moon, overcome the natural limits of travel and communication; we stand at the dawn of a new age, ready to move farther into space and perhaps inhabit other planets. Using magic wisely, we can control our environment, conquer poverty, markedly reduce disease, extend our life-span, significantly modify our behavior, alter the course of human evolution and cultural development, unlock vast new powers, and provide humankind with unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life.”

The most disturbing thing about this little experiment is how few changes need to be made to this document to make it sound like J. K. Rowling wrote it!

17 comments on “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I

  1. Mr. Duigon,

    I was disappointed with this film version for the same reason as all the other films – they chop the blatant Christianity of the books. As a Reformed Christian who has studied the Potter books in their details, I feel it is apparent that you have not really read the Deathly Hallows, or know much about the series. This is clear from your assumption about the meaning of the Hallows artifacts and the use to which they will be put. Read the book, or wait for the next film, and you will find a *Biblical* perspective on power portrayed by Harry, and the raw power depicted by Voldemort. (Though, undoubtedly, if you do wait and watch the film, this meaning will again get watered down).

    Further, your exegesis of the magic/science is questionable, since Rowling is a Christian and not a humanist, and she has said in public (in an interview with MTV no less) that she wrote the books intentionally to illustrate central Christian themes – themes which are obvious to anyone who is taking seriously the task of explicating the intent of the books themselves.

    You mention the scene in the graveyard of the church, where Harry finds his parents’ graves for the first time. But the structure of the entire scene in the book is different. It is Christmas Eve, and Harry finds 1 Cor. 15:26 on his parents’ graves: “The last enemy to be defeated is death.” These words, chosen by Dumbledore, Rowling says, unveil the core meaning of all seven books. That’s what the entire series has been working toward. In this same scene, Harry and Hermione have a prolonged discussion on the nature of death and eternal life, after which they go to Bagshot’s house and are attacked by the giant serpent. IN the book, Voldemort is summoned, and arrives just to watch Harry escape, and, to quote the book, Voldemort “screamed with rage, a scream . . . that echoed across the dark gardens over the church bells ringing in Christmas day,” (342). What we have here is a deep structure built in Christian forms. On Christmas eve, at midnight, when the Incarnation came into the world, the serpent strikes at the only hope for defeating evil, and as the hero evades death, the devil screams his helpless rage at preventing it from happening, just as the bells signaling the birth of Christ come bursting overtop of his cries of fury. Not Christian? Seriously?This kind of deep structure is all over the place, every book replete, overflowing, bursting to the gills, with them. The books are structured around the church calender, so that major events coincide with Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentacost, etc. Every character, good and bad, are named after traditional Christian imagery, down to the beasts and creatures. The Quidditch team’s names are all found to be items you find in a church building, making the team a symbolic representation of a flying cathedral. And, because Rowling is a careful writer who is trying to communicate central Christian truths, these structures are intentional.

    Your comment about how you can’t tell the heroes and villains apart unless Rowling tells you is not particularly telling of the books. The books are stylized to make a point – which is a classical convention of fantasy literature, which makes the evil races ugly and love darkness, and the good characters handsome. Your criticism could be applied with equal vigor to Lord of the Rings, or Charles Dickens (and much else of classical literature) for that matter. But as it turns out, Dickens ends up being relevant to the discussion, because he is one of Rowling’s favorite authors, whom she has tried to emulate. Baddies who are ugly, materialists who are fat and sweaty, are staples of Dickens and not merely Rowling.

    I’m certainly not here to tell you what to think with regards to Harry Potter. But for the sake of the entire discussion, if you are going to criticize the books, do so by a close reading, and not by shoddy comparisons, questionable assertions, and basic mistakes in your assumptions because you haven’t read enough to competently critique the series.

    1. If a novel is properly written, it shouldn’t require years of intensive study to understand what the writer is saying. To suggest I shouldn’t comment on “Harry Potter” until I’ve read all the books and seen all the movies is to admit that the novels individually can’t convey Ms. Rowling’s message. I did read a book and I did see the one movie. How much time do you think I ought to force myself to put into this?

      And sorry, but you’re a long way from selling me on J.K. Rowling’s Christianity. Not that I claim the authority to judge her faith; but I certainly can’t recognize it as anything like orthodox, Biblical Christianity. Maybe she has just camoflaged it too effectively. Or maybe, as seems to me to be the case, she picks out bits she likes and leaves the rest.

      On the basis of the single Harry Potter book I read, to compare Rowling’s work to Tolkien’s shows a want of understanding. But, de gustibus non disputandam.

  2. You write, “if a novel is properly written, it shouldn’t require years of intensive study to understand what the writer is saying.” There are a few assumptions here.

    (1) Novels should be entirely surface level, but is this really what we want? After all, we haven’t yet plumbed the depths of Shakespeare and the other greats of classical literature, so I think aesthetic depth is vital to reclaiming art from modernism.

    (2) Your comment assumes that symbol and structure add nothing to a novel, or that we shouldn’t really have to put much work into it to figure out what is meant. But a lot of work has been done to show how structure and symbol add to and enhance the meaning of a work. Any analysis of Flannery O’Connor not dealing with symbol or structure risks the danger of missing the point entirely. Increasingly people are realizing that structure and symbol are vital elements of interpreting Scripture itself; as evidence the chiasm as a literary structure and so on.

    (3) Your comment assumes that we are dealing with one novel. We are dealing with seven, interconnected novels.

    (4) This comment also assumes that the Potter novels are the same as other pop culture icons like Twilight. But the Potter books are deep. They are profound. They are possibly the greatest example of truly classical literature since Tolkien. They are not pulp fiction, but rather stand in the great train of Western Literature. In the growing body of lit crit surrounding the Potter novels, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Rowling has breathed in the works of classical literature, and the allusions, references, and structural parallels in the books merely begin with Lewis (whose Naria books were foundational to Rowling) and Tolkien, whom she did not care for as much. They move immediately into Sayers, Swift, Shakespeare, Shelley, Nesbit, Stoker, Dante, Homer, Plato, Dickens, Burnett, Hughes, the Bronte sisters, Dickens, and particularly Jane Austen, who is Rowling’s favorite novelist. Elizabeth Goudge, the Christian fantasist, also has a controlling influence with her book The Little White Horse, which was a childhood favorite of Rowling’s. To read Potter as though it were more modernist drivel is to sell the books short, and to lead into misunderstanding. Potter is here to stay, and will be around for a long time.

    (5) By saying I have done a lot of work on the Potter novels I was not saying that someone needs to put as much study into it as me to understand what’s going on in them, as though one needed to be a grandmaster in literary gnosis. In fact, the structures and symbols in the Potter novels merely enhance and reinforce the Christian themes in the narrative, which are honestly rather apparent.

    You seem to suggest that because you cannot find them that therefore they are not there at all. May I offer a different theory? It is normal procedure for a critic of something to enter into the argument, see things from the other side, and criticize from within. This is, after all, what Van Til suggested we do to non-believing philosophy, is it not? The reason is because by entering the argument one understands the story or argument from the inside, as a supporter would. On the inside, it is easier to bring legitimate criticism. On this subject, I commend Peter Leithart’s fantastic article “Authors, Authority and the Humble Reader,” in Leland Ryken, The Christian Imagination, pp. 209-224. Because you have not submitted yourself to Rowling’s work, to understand it from within, I believe you haven’t grasped the central point of the books, nor paid much attention except to look for the things, mostly negative, you were trying to find. Just like liberals put themselves in judgment over the Bible and then come to all sorts of crazy interpretations, when we do not submit ourselves to a work we can see only the echo of our own voices in them. And when you let the Potter books set the terms, let me tell you, there isn’t any way you can come to the conclusion that “magic = technology.” And, in your discussion of the magic, you left out entirely the inclusion of the sort of magic Rowling actually believes in – the deeper magic; aka, the power of self-sacrificial love that can break even the hold of death. But that theme becomes clear only as you follow the books through from one to the other to the end.

    You write, “To suggest I shouldn’t comment on “Harry Potter” until I’ve read all the books and seen all the movies is to admit that the novels individually can’t convey Ms. Rowling’s message.”

    Not at all. Each book has explicitly Christian themes and imagery at the narrative core. But as in any series of interconnected novels, the interplay between them can illuminate them to greater or lesser degrees. Some of the books, like the Prisoner of Azkaban, are more subtle in their presentation of the themes, while others like Deathly Hallows and Chamber of Secrets are more direct.

    You write, “How much time do you think I ought to force myself to put into this?”

    I don’t think you ought to “force” yourself to put any more time into it than you have. If you are forcing yourself, you have not submitted to the work and won’t be able to understand it anyway. Ideally, one would read all of the books, submitting to their definitions and explanations of things, paying attention to structure, symbol, themes, and narrative arc, be familiar with the growing literature discussing the books, the arguments pro and con, and then feel prepared to offer a critique. At a bare minimum.

    You write, “Not that I claim the authority to judge her faith; but I certainly can’t recognize it as anything like orthodox, Biblical Christianity.”

    Well, it depends on what you mean by orthodox, Biblical Christianity. She probably couldn’t name the five points, discuss the intricacies of covenant theology, or define the difference between the object and ground of faith alone. She probably thinks the public schools are fine. But on the important things like faith, hope and charity, she trounces us all. After all, true religion consists not in defining our doctrines correctly, however vital that is, but in visiting the widow and orphan in their distress, comforting the fatherless, breaking the bonds of oppression and injustice, the transforming power of sanctification, setting the captives free, the victory of self-sacrifice over the power of death, the transformative process of death-resurrection-glorification, etc. She has grasped the fundamentals of mere Christianity and the deeper magic of self-sacrifice and resurrection and put them in story form for us.

    Rowling struggles to believe. She fights to hold onto her faith, and that struggle, the struggle to believe despite everything, is the core of the books, and a large part of makes them so popular. The struggle to believe is one that resonates with people today, and hits them right where they are. The Potter novels side squarely on continuing to believe in God, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the Deathly Hallows novel. Harry must choose to believe in something he can’t see, against all opposition, and then act on what he can’t see. If you want to take a look at the Biblical theme of power in the Potter series, you can check out my essay here: http://www.hogwartsprofessor.com/guest-essay-hallows-or-horcruxes-power-in-harry-potter-adam-ross/ (I do not necessarily endorse all that is written on this site).

    And that is what makes the Potter novels one of the Church’s greatest missed opportunities of our time.

  3. Hello, Adam–Thank you for your long and thoughtful comments. Out of respect for you, I’ll read another Harry Potter novel (when I get time–very busy just now). It’s hard for me to believe that I could have read one and simply missed what you say is overwhelmingly obvious Christian content. And to compare Rowling with Shakespear or Dante–well, I think you have run beyond the bounds of justifiable enthusiasm.

    I still believe that even in a series of connected novels, each story must be able to stand on its own. I say this as a professional. The message, if there is one, must be conveyed in each book. It’s only fair to the reader. For the writer to blame the reader for not getting it is like a teacher saying, “I don’t know why the kids didn’t learn the lesson–I taught it to them!”

    It may be that celebrity has gone to J.K. Rowling’s head. If someone compared me to Dante, I would just think he didn’t know what he was talking about. But her extracurricular remarks on Dumbledore’s “gay-ness” tell me that she has drifted far off the path of Biblical orthodoxy. To take something that the Bible clearly teaches is a grave sin, and to celebrate it as some kind of virtue, is profoundly disrespectful of God and typical of the degenerate institutional church of our time.

    D. James Kennedy often said the American church is the greatest unworked mission field in the world. I think he was right.

  4. If I suggested that Rowling herself was to be compared with Shakespeare or Dante, that isn’t what I meant. I meant that there are direct allusions and references to both in the Potter novels. For instance, Snape is a combination type of Dante himself, and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights (these allusions come into bright relief in the end of Deathly Hallows).

    I agree that each novel must (and does) stand on its own, but when it comes to analysis, I don’t think Christians can offer helpful comment without taking the whole tapestry into account. The morality of the characters is one area where criticism simply can’t be leveled against the books until the arc and growth of the character is traced from the series start to finish. Snape is again the perfect example of this. Judging from just one of the books, he is a certain sort of person – the information at the end of Deathly Hallows and the role he plays removed his ambiguity and transforms your perceptions of him and his motivations. It does not remove his flaws, but it does show him to be a different sort of person than we so blithely assumed. It is the same with the heroes. Harry has his own flaws, and judging the series on the basis of one book in which he interacts with Snape or Draco or the Dursleys simply isn’t enough, because the transformation of his person is slow, methodical, and only apparent if you’re paying attention – so much like us all in real life. Deathly Hallows is the most apparent place where Harry’s changes of heart are displayed. But this growth is also apparent in each individual book. In the Prisoner of Azkaban, for instance, Harry grows from a boy who can’t take anyone insulting his parents in the slightest, to a young man who can look his parents’ betrayer in the face and desire mercy and justice instead of revenge.

    The question of Dumbledore’s homosexuality is a tricky and nuanced one. There isn’t the slightest indication of it in the books, and so, frankly, without textual evidence it is perfectly acceptable to laugh it off. If we look carefully at her remarks, she wasn’t saying, “yeah, he’s a pro-gay advocate, leading the parade and covered in feathers.” She never says that he acted on his gay impulses, nor that he ever did anything about it. He is utterly celibate in the books, and so far as she has said extra-textually, he’s never been in any sort of relationship, hetero or otherwise. The character we know he was supposedly attracted to was evil, and Dumbledore describes this time as a time of “madness” in his own heart, and so he clearly rejects everything about it. It becomes apparent that everything else in his life has been a sort of repentance from everything having to do with that character and that time in his life. I personally reject it outright because there is no evidence for it in the books, but even if we were to grant it, Dumbledore is definitely not a pro-gay advocate. If anything, he had a fleeting homoerotic attraction to another person in a time when he was “mad,” disaster followed, and so he turned his back on it all and lives now for the good. I think there is a lot a Christian could do with that sort of thing, don’t you? Given the popularity of the series, it could be a stirring example to those who struggle with it and need inspiration to persevere in their resistance to the temptation.

  5. Well, I did call her remarks “extracurricular.” It seemed to me that Rowling was trying to catch the wave–Western civilization these days being head-over-heels in love with homosexuality.

    I have no problem with your interpretation of the matter. Indeed, I think it’s insightful. We all struggle with our sins, and it’s an issue that fiction can speak to. Whether we would want to insert this particular issue into what is supposed to be a children’s book is another matter. Frankly, it beats me why Rowling brought it up in the first place.

    Let’s put my opinion of the Potter books aside for a little while, so I can ask you why (in your opinion) these books have been so widely condemned by so many Christian commentators. Clearly I am not the only one missing their Christian message–if it’s really in there, and not a product of your desire for it to be there. Don’t just say these commentators are all just stupid and imperceptive, because I know they’re not.

    The issue speaks to the question of how deeply the author can bury her message before it becomes inaccessible. You don’t want to club the reader over the head with it, but you don’t want to hide it where he’ll never find it, either.

    If you have read my books, you’ll see what I mean.

  6. Mr. Duigon,

    I have not yet had a chance to read your novels, but I am aware of them and they’re on my list. As an aspiring novelist myself, I always like reading other self-conscious Christians to see how they handle the faith in their work.

    You ask why Rowling brought it up at all, and that’s a very good question. (And by the way, I checked with a couple of interviews with Rowling, and she confirmed that Dumbledore never “consumated” the desire and said that he led a “celibate and bookish life”). It has to do with Dumbledore’s motivations and reasons for the actions he took with regards to the character he was supposedly attracted to. Only “strong love” would have made Dumbledore do what he did; but if you read the books, all you get is that they were really close friends for a few months in Dumbledore’s teen life.

    You ask a really good question, one which I have wondered about myself. It’s true that Potter critics are not stupid. There are degrees of understanding, though. Doug Phillips, for instance, simply doesn’t understand how fiction works, but then, that’s been apparent for a long time, and he thinks Narnia and Lord of the Rings are just as evil as Potter.

    Both Chuck Colson and Focus on the Family endorsed the books early in their publication, but were then forced to reverse course when their financial constituency nearly rioted. Connie Neal of Focus on the Family, has written several books on the Christian content in Potter. Richard Abanes, the only critic to write a full-length critique of the books, deals with evaluating cults and occultic issues, and so he got caught up with pale and superficial comparisons to occultic things in the magic in the Potter books (though he defends Narnia and LOTR as somehow different as somehow special exceptions, though they have frankly more straight occultic elements in them than Potter).

    I honestly think there are several reasons for missing the Christian content.

    (1) Not a single critic has read all the books. Most haven’t read any of them.

    (2) Conservative Christians look at everything through their propositional, intellectual “worldview” system, which works well with philosophy and science, but not so much with literature, which as a rule is not really propositional, but narrative. In other words, we don’t really know how to read and interpret literature, as a general rule.

    (3) Because Christian fiction and film has been so poor for the last sixty years, we have been trained to look for the obvious and superficial Christian elements, instead of core things. Its like we almost tithe out of our spice rack but disregard the core of our faith.

    (4) Thanks to a misapplication of Van Til’s antithesis, we tend to think only Christians can write Christian literature. We neglect Van Til’s other emphasis, which is that the point on contact is the image of God.

    (5) We believe implicitly than anything which is that popular in our culture just “can’t” be any good. It’s got to be evil, because so many people like it.

    (6) Because of the controversy over the magic in the books, we have been unable to see anything else. It’s become a blinder, and we can’t see the thematic forest for the magic of the trees.

    (7) And finally, Christians have missed the meaning because we almost always miss it in the first generation. We forget that both Narnia and LOTR sparked about the same level of vitriolic condemnation from the Christian community when they were first published, for issues involving morality and magic.

    “how deeply the author can bury her message before it becomes inaccessible.” This is a really interesting issue, and one which I have struggled with in my own fantasy writing. It raises a whole host of other issues as well, such as: is evangelism the goal of Christian fiction? Is it to bring conversion or present the gospel? At this point in my thinking, I really don’t believe it is. I think it ought to be more like Lewis’s intention, which was to build the structure of the gospel into fairy tales so that when the readers grow up and hear that gospel story it will resonate with their deepest being. And that means that our faith is something better served in the structure of the stories themselves, rather than being a player in the story itself. As Tolkien said himself,

    “I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion,’ to cults and practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”

  7. Adam, the more I read you, the better I like you. What you have to say is very interesting and well thought-out.

    Of course, interpretation is in the eye of the beholder. Any work of literature is liable to be interpreted in any number of ways, some more reasonable than others. You have convinced me that your interpretation is reasonable. But please remember I am reviewing the movie, not the book. I have not read “Deathly Hallows,” but only seen the movie.

    I don’t want to repeat what I’ve said in the review. I’m sure you understand that most Christians, especially the commentators, view the occult as poison. Personally, I am most uneasy with the idea of children wielding power over adults through magic. I would not present young readers with such a notion.

    On the basis of the Potter movie, I saw the “magic” as an extended metaphor for “science.” Some Christian commentators were surprised by this view and not particularly anxious to discuss it. (Listen to my interviews with Kevin Swanson and Linda Harvey, available somewhere on this site.) Maybe if I read the book in light of your comments, I’ll see it differently.

    Meanwhile, I decided not to allow characters in my novels to “do magic,” although there are miracles done by the power of God. My rule has been to allow whatever is allowed in the Bible. I’ll be very interested to read your comments on my books!

  8. Mr. Duigon,

    Thank you. By the way, in rereading some of my earlier posts, I feel they came across too strongly, and I apologize for that.

    I agree with those Christian commentators that the occult is poison. I dabbled with it myself in my teen years, and have some truly terrifying stories. I think their aim to protect their children from the occult is admirable and necessary. But I think it was Doug Jones who once said that if your children become pagans because of Harry Potter, its not too far of a stretch to say that you are a failure as a parent.

    I can sort of see your point that the magic is “science,” since the characters do use it in ways we would use technology. But I think it is broader than that. Rowling suggested that the magic was a metaphor for the imagination, and some Christians have suggested it is closer to power, like the Ring. Using those categories, it seems you can take the metaphor further than just straight technology. I’d suggest that the magic is really a metaphor for talent itself, and thus is akin to being able to write, or sing. Will you bee a Lewis or a Phillip Pullman with your novels? Will you sing about good things or bad things? A central theme of Potter is choice – what makes Harry different from the villains in the end is the fact that he chooses to be different, to act and think different. Thus, viewing the magic itself as talent or ability meshes with an acknowledged central theme and makes the whole thesis stronger.

    It is true that you’re reviewing the movie, and sometimes I forget that! The films I think have ultimately sacrificed the thematic core of the books for the sake of the surface plot, and have gotten lost and confused.

    “I am most uneasy with the idea of children wielding power over adults through magic.” I understand your position, and am even sympathetic to it. Can I suggest a modification? We need to differentiate between general categories and specific examples. Children should respect their elders (general rule). This child, being attacked by this adult, who is trying to kill him, must exercise power to defend himself (specific example). A lot of Christian commentary evaluates specific actions in books or film on the basis of a general principle. I don’t know if you saw Avatar, but the people in my church were evaluating the movie on the basis of the general rule that Hollywood hates corporations, and therefore of course the corporation would be the villain of the movie. But that skates over the individual element of the story. The story isn’t (really) about corporations in general, but about this specific corporation, which was committing genocide against this specific defenseless race of primitive people. So, I would say with regards to children having power over adults, it depends. Who is the kid? Who are the adults? Voldemort is an adult, and Harry is a younger man. But Voldemort will hunt Harry to the ends of the earth and never leave off trying to kill him, will force a confrontation at every step. So, in this specific case, is it right or wrong? I’d lean more towards it being right.

    I’d say your decisions with regards to magic in your books is perfectly reasonable. My own view on magic is closer to N. D. Wilson’s (you may have heard his interview about magic with Ken Swanson a while back). Ultimately in my view, by letting the pagans have “magic,” we paint a picture where they have the “cool” powers, and we don’t have any. I want to flip that around and say that the true magic belongs to God, and that pagan magic is just another pale counterfeit; a cardboard castle standing in the shadow of the true magic of God’s creation.

    In my fantasy novel, I let my characters “do magic,” though the ability is a gift of God. The protagonists use this sort of magic (akin to miracles), and the villains use the Dark Speech, which comes from my story’s equivalent of Satan, which is a language that is a foul corruption of the Creative Word that God used to sing the world into existence. The Creative Word is stronger than the Dark Speech, but it often appears that the dark magic is stronger because it is based upon illusion and deception.

  9. Adam, I stayed away from “Avatar” because I didn’t want to put one thin dime in James Cameron’s pocket. He can go peddle his Global Warming papers elsewhere.

    Of course we can imagine particular circumstances when we would want a child to have power over adults. But look at the bookshelves in the young readers’ section at B&N or your local supermarket. There are an awful lot of books featuring kids getting whatever they want by wielding magic. And when they get a little older they can fantasize about being vampires. On the whole, fantasy today is not in the service of God’s glory.

    I tell people, and they never believe me, that there is evil afoot today worse than anything they imagine. The new freedoms offered by the servants of Satan will only turn out to be enslavement.

    My “Bell Mountain” is about calling upon the name of the Lord. The “science” that I see in Potter (and I mean the whole so-called “scientific” world view, not just a fascination with technology), I also see striving to devour the human race today. God knows our political leaders are bad enough, without being beguiled by a lot of verbal razzle-dazzle.

  10. On Avatar, I hear you loud and clear. We share the same “rolling eyes” at James Cameron.

    I also think your point about YA lit is a good one. Needless to say, I do not believe Potter to be cut of the same cloth as the rest of the YA drivel on the shelves, and taking Potter by itself, I have no problem with what it presents.

    “The “science” that I see in Potter (and I mean the whole so-called “scientific” world view, not just a fascination with technology), I also see striving to devour the human race today.”

    But you are conflating “science,” the humanist worldview, and Harry Potter. The worldview in the Potter novels is far more classical and medieval than it is scientific. Not as medieval as Lewis or Tolkien, of course, but Rowling is able to think in medieval patterns, due to her classical lit education. Her books do a lot to “re-myth” the world, not to demythologize it.

  11. Obviously J.K. Rowling can’t be blamed for starting a fantasy boom in young adult fiction that has taken a bad turn. You know better than I do about Harry Potter knockoffs, to say nothing of the whole vampire subgenre (or, how to be young and sexy forever, and you don’t need God).

    In the movie version of “Deathly Hallows,” though, I see nothing remotely Christian or medieval. (You may want to read my reviews of the new Narnia movies, and comment on them.) By contrast, I don’t see how anybody can for long miss the Christian subtext in the Narnia books. Certainly it’s much harder to see in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” (how many times did I read those books before I even suspected there was anything Christian in them?).

    Meanwhile, I guess because they’ve enjoyed following our discussion, the Chalcedon Foundation would like to offer you a complimentary copy of “The One and the Many,” R.J. Rushdoony’s book about Van Til. If there’s a Chalcedon book you’d rather have, just say so. Send me your particulars via email, leeduigon@verizon.net , and we’ll get a book out to you.

  12. Sorry for the delayed reply. I’m honored at Calcedon’s offer and I’ll email you tomorrow.

    To me the difference between Rowling and the knockoffs is the difference between an author classically educated and one not. This is my beef with much contemporary “fantasy” too. Most of them are modernists writing in a medieval/mythic genre. So too are the Potter knockoffs, and they inevitably ring hollow, because they aren’t addressing the deep things of life and reality.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of the recent Vampire kick, which is mostly just narcissism and celebrity wish-fulfillment. The reasons for the popularity of Twilight, and that of Potter, can’t be more stark. (Twilight being fueled by high school girls with emotional needs – which, in our broken-home age, is almost all of them). Nevertheless, I think that vampires can be claimed for Christ if dealt with properly (the genre is ripe for the metaphor of original sin), and I have an idea that plays with themes of original sin and regeneration using vampires.

    Yes, there really isn’t much medievalism in the film versions of Potter, because screenwriter Steve Kloves hasn’t really grasped the thematic core of the books. That core has been sacrificed time and again in order to preserve the surface plot. (I think the magic = technology theme is also far stronger in the films).

  13. Adam, you’re not the first to think vampire fiction might be captured for Christ; but I don’t know of anybody who has been able to pull it off.

    The Potter knockoffs and the vampire stories are about the same thing: teenagers (or young adults) exercising power over the adult world, getting everything they want (in the vampire’s case, perpetual youth, beauty, and strength), and NOT HAVING TO PAY FOR IT. This is what makes these books so profoundly non-Christian.

    As Christians we are totally dependent on God’s sovereign grace. But as witches or vampires, once we get through the necessary initiation process, we become sovereign over our own selves–and over a lot of people around us in many cases, too.

    Mind you, I haven’t bought into your idea of Harry Potter as a Christian enterprise; but I have come to respect your point of view, and I’m happy to have it represented on my blog. That being said, let me ask you: how would you go about capturing vampire fiction for Christ? What are some of your ideas?

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