Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Potterism

I've just finished reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and I'm still reeling. I won't post any spoilers, but I feel like I've been hit on the head with a two-by-four. Holy smoke.

I've always enjoyed the books. Rowling is not a great stylist; her sentences do their job, one foot in front of the other, so to speak, until they reach their destination. And even the fantasy elements, although skillfully deployed, are derivative and don't always show great originality. In this respect, an author like Diana Wynne Jones, otherwise so similar, has Rowling completely beat for richness of imagination. (In fact, if Rowling hasn't read Jones and been influenced by her, I'll eat my hat.) Rowling's greatness lies in her tremendous narrative powers. I believe it was C. S. Lewis who said, "The natural born storyteller can do what he likes in literature." This definitely applies to Rowling. It'll be interesting to see what she does after the Harry Potter series is over — or will she find herself in the same fix as Arthur Conan Doyle, forever wedded to one unforgettable character?

These days a Christian writer has to say something about the appropriateness of the Harry Potter books. I don't have a problem with them, and I think that any paranoia about fictional witches and wizards as such borders on superstition. Rowling's series is not directed against Christianity (as, for instance, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is). If there is a problem, it is that in the Hogwarts fantasy world there is not the faintest whisper of the transcendent, no suggestion that above the Wizards and Muggles there is anything else. But this is true of secular literature in general, even "wholesome" kid books like the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins. Not every good book is a Christian book, and not every fantasy book is going to be a Narnia chronicle or A Wrinkle in Time.

The main characters in the Rowling books are "good pagans," and that's not a bad thing. And there's plenty of material for preparatio evangelica there (as in all good paganism), even if there isn't any evangelium. Fear not, and enjoy.

6 comments:

Tyler F. Williams said...

I too just finished the latest Harry Potter and was thinking of blogging on it. I quite enjoyed it -- and I know what you mean by your head reeling! My daughter and I were reading it at the same time and she cried near the end.

Pilgrim at First and Lake said...

I finished the book in recent days as well and enjoyed your assessment, in large part of course because it lines up with my own :D As for one of the more 'reeling' parts, may I recommend a T-shirt?

EMC said...

Thanks, guys ... I think I agree with the T-shirt ... because when ... that guy ... um ... did the thing to ... the other guy ... I think he destroyed the ... you-know-what ... and both guys knew it.

It's hard trying to avoid spoilers.

slaveofOne said...

I mentioned Harry Potter at my friend's wedding and was quickly reprimanded by a woman for "bringing up witchcraft in a church." Well, I was quite dumbfounded. I believe I responded by saying "Witchcraft? It's a fictional novel." But I digress. Once I finish reading The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, then I'll make time for the lesser stories :)

Michael Turton said...

There's an evangelical pastor who has a new book out arguing that HP is Christian allegory.

HP is really a Christian text

I too was gobsmacked by the ending, her strongest so far. A brilliant book and very enjoyable. I disagree about her prose skills -- her prose is transparent and often quietly witty.

Michael

Alcibiades said...

Seems to me that a book in which we kept hearing that it is the strength and innocence of Harry's ability to love for that will allow him to defeat evil and save the world should not be too problematic for Christianity, despite some of the silly controversy surrounding it.