OK, I admit that I haven't read any of the Harry Potter books. It's not because I'm necessarily against them or think they are demonic, they just haven't looked like something that is my cup o' tea. But, I have followed the debate somewhat in Christian circles. I've talked to Christians who read them and enjoyed them and I've been warned off of them by Christians who assured me they are of the devil and are part of a clever initiation into witchcraft.
So, imagine my surprise today when I came across something that suggests that J. K. Rowling is writing from an explicitly Christian worldview. I know that there is quite a bit of debate about that, but what I read was very interesting. I realize that there are those like Connie Neal whom I referenced in this post, who have found redemptive elements in Harry Potter. But this goes beyond that to say that the books have a fondational Christian worldview.
I was looking at the Intellectual Defenestration blog and noticed that the author is reading the book: The Hidden Key to Harry Potter: Understanding the Meaning, Genius, and Popularity of Joanne Rowling's Harry Potter Novels, by John Granger. It sounded interesting, so I cyber-scurried over to Amazon and found the following:
What you need to know about The Hidden Key to Harry Potter:The line that got me was #2 - Joanne Roling is a Christian "who consciously writes Christian Fantasy in the tradition C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien."
1) It is the first critical study to unlock the inner meaning of Harry Potter by treating the series seriously as literature along the lines of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.
2) It is the first exposé to identify Joanne Rowling as a Christian who consciously writes Christian Fantasy in the tradition of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.
3) It is the first full-fledged effort to predict Potter’s future course in detail – an audacious and thought-provoking adventure offered to fellow enthusiasts.
4) It is the first Muggle textbook suitable for use at Hogwarts – bringing humor, fun, and WOW! excitement to the "serious" business of Pottermania.
I realize that there are Christians who will say there is absolutely no way a book about wizards and magic can have anything to do with Christianity and that there are some Inkling purists who will will choke on their pipes and spill their ale when someone has the audacity to compare J.K. with C. S., G. K., or J. R. R. - perish the thought.
But then I read a review on the Amazon page that really intrigued me. I'll post the review on the continuation of this page for you to judge for yourself, but here are a few thoughts that the reviewer brings out that I thought were interesting.
This reviewer says that the books are rife with Christian symbolism and imagery. He says "Granger argues that 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' is about the transforming power of Christ in the life of the Christian." One reason the Potter books are successful are that "they address the reader's spiritual needs on a fundamental, even subliminal level."
Why don't Christians see this?
It is not surprising that a great deal of this would have gone over the head of the average reader of the Harry Potter books. At the very least, one would need a working familiarity with Medieval Christian iconography to pick up on a lot of the symbolism Granger identifies.Rowling is able to infuse her books with this because she is not a mere housewife turned lucky writer -
Rowling is in fact a highly-educated woman with Firsts (the English equivalent to Summa Cum Laude) in Classics and French from Exeter, one of England's leading universities - which of course bolsters his arguments about the serious, scholarly underpinnings of these books.Since I haven't read the Potter books nor this book I'm afraid I'll have to quickly bow out of the argument if the Potter-philes and Potter-phobes get into it, because I'll be in way over my head.
However, the point I want to camp out on is this reviewer's contention that most folks can't see a Christian worldview because we aren't familiar with Medievel Christian iconography. I for one am in this category. For one thing this is due to a deficiency in our education and our rejection of history. We live in a time where we reject history so we don't have the intellectual abilities to understand the historical roots of some things. So, all we have to go on is our own worldview, we don't have the intellectual capital to understand something full of historical reference, so we take the easy way out and write it off as demonic.
Also, we lack the ability to pick up subtleties in our reading. We need things to be explicit and in our faces to understand. Christian reading must have a clear plan of salvation, Christian buzzwords and the like to be considered "Christian." Yet, for centuries, writers have infused their writings with a very subtle Christian worldview, we've just lost the ability to recognize it.
Since I've only read a review of the book I'll need to give the obligatory disclaimer that the reviewer and the author of this book about Harry Potter may be totally off base. But, I think they do bring up some points that modern Christians need to be aware of - that a Christian worldview can be displayed in literature and art, even when it is displayed very subtly.
With that, I'll leave you to the Amazon review I found so enlightening.
One Of The Best Books on the "Harry Potter" Phenomenon, June 18, 2003
Reviewer: James Calvert (see more about me) from Houston, Texas United States
Let me say up front that what kept me from giving this book 5 stars was its need for better organization and a stronger editorial hand. (More of this later.) In terms of content, thought and provocative analysis, it is 5 stars all the way. Anyone seriously interested in the Harry Potter books, pro or con, should read this book.
Many Evangelical Christians consider the Harry Potter books objectionable, even Satanic, because of their magical milieu of Witches and Wizards. These objections have been stated most strongly in Richard Abanes' "Harry Potter: The Menace Behind the Magick." John Granger, an Orthodox Christian and a classics scholar, has now written a book, "The Hidden Key to Harry Potter", that challenges this view with the startling thesis that far from being Satanic, the Harry Potter books are in fact profound Christian allegories that are filled with Christian symbolism.
Granger makes a very convincing case. Among other things, he examines the numerous Christian symbols that appear in the Harry Potter books: Unicorn, Stag, Golden Griffin, Phoenix, and others. He offers a compelling analysis of the climactic scene in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" that interprets Harry's battle with the Basilisk as an allegory of the Christian's fight against Satan and the healing power of Christ's sacrificial love. In an extensive section on alchemy (that could use a bit of pruning), Granger argues that "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is about the transforming power of Christ in the life of the Christian. Granger also shows how Rowling's books fit squarely in the "Great Books" tradition of Austen, White, Lewis and Tolkien.
Granger argues that the Harry Potter books have been so phenomenally successful not only because they are corking good stories, but more importantly because they address the reader's spiritual needs on a fundamental, even subliminal level. This argument is certainly more convincing that the one offered by some Evangelicals, namely, that the series' runaway success is due to help from Old Scratch himself.
Granger identifies and examines some of the principal underlying themes of the books - prejudice, dealing with death, the importance of choices in determining character, among others - and offers an analysis of the central meaning of each of the four books published thus far. Then, in a section demonstrating considerable analytical courage, Granger offers his own speculations on what lies ahead in the books yet to come. Talk about going out on a limb!
It is not surprising that a great deal of this would have gone over the head of the average reader of the Harry Potter books. At the very least, one would need a working familiarity with Medieval Christian iconography to pick up on a lot of the symbolism Granger identifies. Assuming, of course, that Rowling is in fact writing from the perspective Granger claims she is. Sometimes, in reading Granger's book, I wondered what Rowling would think of all this. Would she say, "Finally, someone got it!"? Or would she be thinking, "Gee, I never knew I was putting all that stuff in my books!"? Unless and until Rowling herself speaks on these issues, we won't know. But at the least, Granger makes an excellent and thought-provoking case. And he also provides the great service of cutting through all the "Single-Mom-Turned-Overnight-Success" malarky to point out that Rowling is in fact a highly-educated woman with Firsts (the English equivalent to Summa Cum Laude) in Classics and French from Exeter, one of England's leading universities - which of course bolsters his arguments about the serious, scholarly underpinnings of these books.
On the debit side, Granger sometimes pushes his theories too far and strains credibility. For example, his analysis of some of the names, the title character's in particular, is unconvincing and gives the impression of grasping at straws. And his theory on the identity of the real-life model for Gilderoy Lockhart is torpedoed by a comment Rowling herself made in an interview. Also, Granger's intriguing arguments are sometimes undercut by the book's rather haphazard organization and its annoying redundancy. Apparently the book was based on a series of four lectures Granger gave, and this shows in the organization. One sometimes has the feeling that Granger has simply transcribed his lectures and notes into book form, without taking sufficient pains to adapt the lectures to a written medium. A stronger editorial hand was needed in preparing this book for publication.
But these are problems that could be solved in a revised edition, and hopefully one will be forthcoming.
The Harry Potter books have sometimes been likened by their Christian critics to a kind of literary Trojan Horse, sneaking Satanism and demonic influences into the citadels of our homes and our children's minds. But if John Granger is right, the books are indeed a Trojan Horse, but of a different kind: Rowling will have stormed the citadel of secular public education and public libraries with profoundly Christian books proclaiming the Gospel, disguised as stories about witchcraft. If, indeed, these are Christian books, what are the secular humanist guardians of public school portals going to do when they find out? Hold their own book-burning? If nothing else, contemplating the delicious irony in this state of affairs makes me hope devoutly that Granger's analysis is correct.
Let me repeat: anyone seriously interested in the Harry Potter books, pro or con, needs to read this book.