Harry Potter - Review

"Harry Potter makes good use of Magic. Amen" by Douglas Todd (in his weekly article in The Vancouver Sun, September 15, 2000, page A19)

An important article by Douglas Todd features a course taught this fall at St. Michael's College of the University of Toronto. The course is called "Harry Potter and the Ultimate Questions." The instructor is Carolyn Whitney-Brown (PhD in literature, Brown University).

Douglas Todd reports that "Whitney-Brown was drawn to Harry Potter by an eight-year old girl who was struggling with leukemia." The girl who died a year later "found a kindred soul in the boy wizard who is forced to come to terms with mortal danger, the slaying of his own parents and the murder of his friend."

Why have the Harry Potter books by a previously unknown writer, J.K.Rowling, suddenly sold 35 million copies? In her St. Michael's College course Carolyn Whitney-Brown teaches that "they are profound" because "they face life's big questions." They are about "real life, particularly about loss, powerlessness and solitude. And right and wrong."

In the article Douglas Todd told me what I had half guessed. The creator of the Harry Potter books is a Christian. "She regularly attends church. Her version of faith is indirectly reflected in Harry. She will visit Toronto on October 24 and Vancouver on October 25.

Why did hard-line Christians in Durham County (a hour east of Toronto) "successfully lobby to restrict Harry Potter in public schools?" Douglas Todd says that "Along with fundamentalists in dozens of U.S. states, they claim that Harry promotes witchcraft and subliminally fosters Satanism."

Todd points out that "this fringe bunch of Christians, despite the attention they are receiving" do not represent most conservative Christians. "They have forgotten the witch-filled, magic thick fantasies of C.S.Lewis' famous Narnia series." Or perhaps they know very well that "imagination can't be controlled or packaged into orthodoxies."

In her course Carolyn Whitney-Brown suggests that "the series' exploration of spiritual ambiguity is actually one of its greatest strengths." Todd suggests that J.K.Rowling, the author, may have adopted "John Milton's idea that divinity mysteriously permits evil in the world."

Douglas Todd reminds us that "Children are aware bad things happen in our world. They're afraid of war and environmental destruction. They know people who have died or who suffer from multiple sclerosis. And like the girl with leukemia they know they're not going to last forever."

Comment by Bob Brow : Significantly for us who care about making known the good news, the reason children are captivated by Harry Potter is a pointer to what our sermons should deal with. Our adult audiences are still children at heart, struggling to survive in a dangerous world.

And like Harry Potter "Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:10- 11).

C.S.Lewis had the artistry to use the metaphor of Aslan the Lion, and the deep magic of his powers. J.K.Rowling has managed to capture the metaphor of magic to illuminate the much greater power of the Holy Spirit.

Instead of the blandness of pablum, we all need sermons about "loss, powerlessness and solitude" (the loss of our hopes, our inability to do what we should, the loneliness of our road). We need to hear them named, and the spiritual resources we have for dealing with them.

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