Monday, August 27, 2007

Harry Potter and the Eerie Silence

Every evening, my kids curl up with me in our bed, and I read them another two chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Reading Harry Potter has been an off-and-on ritual for the past few years, since they were old enough to handle the first Potter book. It's been an adventure that we've lived together, and I'll be sad to set the last book down.

So my question is: What has happened to the great outcry against the Potter books? An eerie silence has greeted Book 7. There's barely a whimper anywhere.

The bigger question, of course, is why was there an outcry in the first place? After all, it's kind of like a fairy tale. What was the big deal? Why this book, and not a hundred others?

My personal theory is that the Potter books hit on a conservative-Christian nerve. In some parts of the States, conservatives didn't just want their own kids not to read it: they wanted nobody to read it. There were book bannings and book burnings.

Of a kids' book.

Somehow this book got too close to something.

I meant to find out what it was.

The protesters claimed that the books promoted paganism. But if you know anything about paganism, you'd recognize that this is rubbish. Paganism is an anything-goes worldview: it has no concept of a moral evil and a moral good. In the Potter books, good and evil are central to the storyline.

Neither is the book about occultism or satanism, as claimed. No occult events occur anywhere in any of the books, and satan isn't mentioned. Evil takes the form of a person who has shredded his soul in order to escape death. He is not an object of worship, but an object of fear and loathing.

Nor is the criticism that the books will lead children to believe in magic or want to be witches valid either. If kids are old enough to tackle a 500-page book, then they're old enough not to believe in magic.

This was all grasping at straws.

I don't think it was the pagan or magic aspects of the Potter books that drove the conservatives nutty: I think it was the Christian elements.

Rowling, who is not a professed Christian, took 2000 years of christendom--in the form of symbols, legends, archetypes, allegories, and values--and put it into a new story. The books are a feast for the literature-starved: a delicious mix of latin and greek, classical references, quests, myths, ancient symbols, literary references, and above all, Christ's teaching and example. It's as if she took everything in christendom's collective unconscious and wove it into a world we can see and feel. The stories are so true to our unconscious that the places and people seem achingly familiar. We don't just *like* Hogwarts: we *recognize* it.

In effect, Rowling broke the Christian copyright on these symbols. She told the story with new names and let it have new meaning. In many ways, she let the symbols tell their own story.

Take the first two books.

Hogwarts School is clearly a symbol of the church. It is where the chosen youngsters learn the power of magic.

It had four founders, who created the four houses of Hogwarts, paralleling the four authors of the gospels. The inhabitants of the three synoptic houses are ordinary, perhaps earthy and courageous; the fourth is the house whose inhabitants believe they are divine, that access to magic makes witches and wizards above all other humans. From this house comes the evil in these books.

To get to Hogwarts, first-years have to go through a ritual by water, a type of baptism that only needs to occur once to let them in.

There is at Hogwarts a friendly giant, who protects all creatures great and small. There is Dumbledore, the white-bearded God figure, the headmaster of the school, wise and kind, whose sermon is love. His patronus symbol is the phoenix, the mythical creature that dies and then is reborn from the ashes, a resurrection symbol even though it predates the gospels.

Harry is the boy who has been prophesied to conquer evil. His patronus symbol is the stag, which in the medieval bestiaries symbolized the Christ. In case the reader didn't know that, Rowling points out that the stag looks like a unicorn--another symbol of Christ. In Quidditch, he is an instinctual Seeker. Harry and his two friends Ron and Hermione form the trinity that works to keep evil out of Hogwarts. Incomplete on their own, they need each other's strengths and weaknesses to defeat evil.

The weapon of the books is love, also called forgiveness and grief. The team of good guys is known as the Order of the Phoenix, making more use of the resurrection symbol. Evil in the stories is the fear of death. The evil lord is named Voldemort ("vol de mort" = flight from death), and his followers are known as Death Eaters.

In Book 1, the evils are in the attics of the "church" - and the evil one sits in the hat on a teacher's head. Harry has to clean out the temple and banish the evil one. In Book 2, Harry must descend into hell to kill the serpent. In so doing, he is fatally wounded by the monster's poison and faces death; but his wounds are healed by Phoenix tears--symbolic of the sorrow of the Passion story--and he survives and returns from hell.

In the final book, Harry faces his own Golgotha.

I could go on. Many people do. The books are steeped in christendom's symbols, and it's kind of fun to pull them all out. Even the mist-shrouded, train station to the afterlife, where Harry ends up after his Golgotha, is called King's Cross.

Christ's teachings dominate the morals and ethics of the books. One theme is the tender care one owes to the least of one's brothers and sisters, from the powerful wizards down to the enslaved house elves--and it even extends to the bad guys. The antiracism theme develops through all seven books, until the final book, where it becomes the dominant theme--echoes of Nazi Germany pervade the book. And Dumbledore's solution to every problem is love.

Unlike Star Wars and Tolkien, where both heroes and villains kill, in the Potter books only villains use killing curses. The good guys are nonviolent: they use disarming spells, stunning spells, immobilizing spells--and sometimes end up being killed in the process. Yet they resist any temptation to do things that Dumbledore would disapprove of. Acts of love, courage, and self-sacrifice, as well as reflecting evil back onto itself, help them by slow degrees to win the day.

Yet--and this is a big yet--despite being saturated with christendom, the books do not weave in a creed. There is no gospel-based event-by-event allegory, like CS Lewis. Except for "Christmas," "Easter," and "godfather," Christian words are not used, not even where the gospels are being quoted or paraphrased.

And that's what I believe sent the conservatives into howls. They saw what was theirs, stolen.

So then why did the hue and cry suddenly end?

It seems on the surface as if conservative Christians have suddenly decided to accept the Potter books, maybe because the Christian symbolism is so strong, that they believe the books just *have* to be Christian, that Rowling has secretly been a CS Lewis without telling anyone.

I beg to differ.

Book 6 ends with the killing of Dumbledore. Focus, people. There is no God at Hogwarts after that. Harry is left on his own with a few shreds of information to save the world from evil, a task he does not know how to do. He is not a saviour: he is just a kid who doesn't have a clue.

Book 7 is "death of god" theology, told not by philosophers but by our own collective unconscious. God is dead, Harry keeps saying, the Messiah has to be us. And so the trio finds and roots out the scraps of evil's soul until the awful moment when Harry realizes that completion of his task requires him to give up his life. And so he does, without hesitation.

But Harry is not the only Messiah. When his apparently dead body is carried back to Hogwarts, the students find that the power of evil over them is no longer strong. They become their own Messiahs, starting with stuttering, awkward Neville Longbottom, and followed by the others. They resist, refuse to obey, and draw new power over evil, until at least evil is defeated.

In effect, Harry is a Christ figure without the redemption idea. The message is not that Christ died to save us, but that Christ died to show us how to die. We are Christs when we accept the possibility of suffering and death in order to protect love.

There's the nerve that Rowling stepped on.


Interestingly, the epigraph to the final book is from William Penn, on death and dying. Is this the only influence of Quakerism? Maybe just one other thing--the way the Light in children is treated with the same respect as the Light in adults in these books.

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At 9:04 AM, Blogger Friendly Mama said...

I grew up in a household in which witchcraft was taken very seriously as an evil. There is a passage in the bible that says something to the effect that satan controls the airwaves and another that says something about not letting your children learn about casting spells (or those were the interpretations of passages in my conservative Baptist church). Anyway, my parents would not let us watch "Bewitched" on TV. "I Dream of Jeannie"-yes, "Bewitched"-no. Jeannie was fantasy. Samantha was an agent of evil. Go figure.
I think the reason there has not been the same uproar over this last book is because all the parents who wanted to take the books off library shelves have given up. They tried to keep their kids from being exposed to the book by attempting to keep all references to it away from their kids but their kids read it anyway! Once they saw that their children could read it and not join a coven, they lightened up. I watched Bewitched on the sly and still went to youth group at church willingly.
My mother read the books to my nephews. When I found this out (choking on my cup of tea) I asked about the witchcraft/satan connection. Her reply: "It's just a fantasy story."

At 10:53 AM, Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

I'm not sure about the premise of it hitting too close to home.

Most conservative Christians flocked to “The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe/Narnia” yet stayed away from “Harry Potter” - and Narnia was far far closer to the Christian story - and “stole” far far more from the Christian experience (even subtleties) and religion that Harry Potter ever did.

In fact I think Harry Potter stole more from Joseph Campbell, _Lord of the Rings_ and _Star Wars_ than Christianity.

It boils down to the following: In the Bible it states plainly many proscriptions against magic (arguably those using magic from God is OK) - the strongest being “Thous shall not suffer a witch to live.”

So … this leads to the broad proscription against magic, witchcraft, flying broomsticks and the like. And Harry Potter not only has this - the heroes (and villains) are wizards and witches, and the mundane society are unenlightened boors good for only comic relief and minor plot obstacles.

So I think I buy the “glorifying magic use” as the main bugbear faced by these folks.

And as the previous commenter said - most have given up trying to prevent it - but I take this as exhaustion, not approval.

I doubt they felt Harry Potter too Christian. I doubt they read it.

At 12:06 PM, Blogger Nancy A said...

Mama and Ivory

I'd be inclined to agree with you, especially about the "giving up" idea.

But I've been poking around reading Christian blogs and editorials about the Potter books. There does seem to be a "hey, it's Christian" attitude out there. Which is weird, given that God is dead, and the books turn the creed on its head. But I suspect many people don't look much past the surface of these things.

When things step on nerves, it's usually at a subconscious level. The symbolism and allegorical elements provoke a subconscious response, whether the conscious mind actually knows why it is annoyed. The conscious mind will grope for reasons and explanations and may never discern the true source of the irritation.

Since doctrinal religious people are often out of sync with their own subconscious (and their own worldview), then this is much more likely to occur with them than with, say, an average person who doesn't try to make his/her thoughts conform to an agenda.

Anyway, it's a theory. I'm just glad it's quiet now.

At 2:05 PM, Blogger Robin M. said...

La, la, la. I can't hear you. I don't want to know about any so-called Christian references in Harry Potter, or Narnia either. You can't make me.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love both series. I was in college when someone first tried to tell me that the Chronicles of Narnia were an extended allegory. I didn't believe him. I'd read the books dozens of times, and never caught that aspect.I read somewhere that C.S. Lewis denied it. He said it was just a children's story, so there.

It's just that these themes and images are eternal archetypes, and we see them everywhere. What was striking to me was how the world of Harry Potter was so secular - like much of Western Europe today, I've heard. In HP as well as many families, Christmas is a cultural holiday for giving gifts and eating feasts, not a religious occasion for most people.

At 12:50 PM, Anonymous Nate Swift said...

I'd venture to say that if the recently made up Wiccan religion or faith disposition were not seen as a serious threat to youth, no one would have paid any more attention to this "witch" story than was paid to "The Wizard of Oz." "Good witches" are portrayed in it......horrors!

At 1:41 PM, Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

Hey nate -

The Wizard of Oz was controversial amongst the more religious. Very much like the Harry Potter.

While I agree that there are some Christian themes in Harry Potter - I think most religious conservatives are reacting to the "witch" part more than anything. Search "Harry Potter Protest" on Google - the reasons are fairly straightforward - and those trying to ban probably have not read it enough to actually get to the Christian messages.

At 2:04 PM, Blogger Nancy A said...

Oi, who knows?

But I do find it fascinating that as we got to the final two books, when the message became overtly religious, strongly symbolic of Christendom but equally strongly framing a postmodern, post-Christian theology, that's when the Christians stopped complaining. Go figure.

The first few books were just a bit of magical fun and fantasy; but these last two books are an assault on doctrinal Christianity, a kind of hijacking of the past 2000 years of symbol and history. The fact that some Christians think it is Christian shows all the more how successful this hijacking has been.

Maybe they don't get it. Is it possible to miss that Dumbledore is dead? Does it get any more obvious than that?

At 3:30 PM, Blogger Rudy said...

I don't see the "Dumbledore as God/Christ figure" thing at all. J.K. Rowling *is* a Christian (Church of Scotland), talks about that fact occasionally in interviews, and it seems unlikely that she is intending any kind of post-Christian story. Dumbledore is dead, because people die. (He can talk a little bit after that, because it's a fantasy. Dante talked to Virgil, after all.)

I agree about the eerie silence, though. I wonder what we'll hear when "The Golden Compass" comes out though? That really does attack Christianity, and there is no doubt about Philip Pullman's views!

At 4:30 PM, Blogger Nancy A said...


I'm going to look up this "Golden Compass" -- never heard of it. Thanks for the tip.

As for "attacking" Christianity, I don't think Rowling is. That would be too deliberate.

When an author is working with myth, symbol, and fantasy, things just happen in the text. It's usually subconscious. What feels like a good story is what our subconscious is nudging us toward. Some truths deep inside us are beckoning, and story-writing gives permission to follow them. Even when the writer creates believable, flawed, human characters, they still function as archetypes of gods, heroes, and spiritual principles, acting out the message we can't quite hear within us.

The result (when successful) is a story that expresses the deep and nascent yearnings and beliefs of an entire culture. Each book of this kind pushes our culture forward a little bit more. Especially at times of great change, such as our period of transition from industrial society to postindustrial society, these stories are crucial to our successful handling of change.

That's why I'm interested in this Potter book thing. I see it as one of those books for our time -- not despite being fantasy, but because of being fantasy.

But then, I took way, way too many courses in Jungian psychology at university...

At 10:41 PM, Blogger Friendly Mama said...

I see it as much more the "hero's journey" than Christian metaphor. When the first movie came out I did a class for our homeschooling group in which we compared Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker and King Arthur. Their stories are very similar. I used Joseph Campbell's writing as my template for the hero's journey class. We've also got an interesting kids book, published by DK (I think), in which many hero myths are compared with the Star Wars saga. In the hero's journey, the all knowing father figure always has to die in order for the hero to fulfill his destiny (Merlin, Obi Wan Kenobi, Dumbledore). It was a fun class (we made up our own quiddich game -very dangerous!).

At 6:50 AM, Anonymous Joanna Hoyt said...

Thanks for a really interesting look at the Potter/gospel links...
I read and greatly enjoyed the Harry Potter books, but I can see some elements in them that would trouble me considerably as religious allegory; some of these are more prominent in the earlier than the later books. There are the Muggles--if Hogwarts is church, it is only for a predestined few;and while protection of Muggles is emphasized by the better magicians, there aren’t many examples of positive relationship between Muggles and magicians. And more basically, there is the nature of magic; as taught at the school, it is a skill to be mastered, a power to be wielded by a master rather than a spiritual force to be surrendered to by a disciple. In the later books it seems to me that there is more emphasis on transcendent or unpredictable magic that arises in response to love, or courage, or other qualities of the soul. I agree that kids old enough to follow the plot of the Potter books should also be old enough to realize that they can’t control other people by yelling Latinate incantations at them; but there are plenty of intelligent adults who seem to view psychic or spiritual energy as a power to be used and subjected to their wills, and I tend to find this troubling..

At 7:22 AM, Blogger Nancy A said...

There is in literature a big difference between allegory and symbolism.
Allegory has to be a true, almost line-by-line echo of another story. Symbolism just suggests and evokes, playing with archetypes in the readers' minds. I think the Potter books are symbolic of Christianity (little doubt there) but they stay far and clear away from allegory.

I think working with allegory has to be more of a conscious act. You have to plan the allegory so that all the elements match up. I don't see how anyone could write a rip-snorting good story (like the Potter books) while trying to chain it to an allegory.

On another note, some neighbourhood kids devised a type of quidditch game. It was apparently exhausting to play.

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Robin M. said...

The Golden Compass, and the two sequels, is an amazing story. But when someone gave it to my 7 or 8 year old child, because he had read Harry Potter, I put it away for a few years. It is a much more disturbing story, in my mind, in part because the people who are supposed to take care of children can't be trusted. It was much more religious and more scary. But it is rich, densely layered with plot and imagery and details of parallel universes. Well worth reading with older children.

But then, I don't think Harry Potter is appropriate for very young children either. Foolishly, I set the rule as "when you are old enough to read it yourself, you are welcome to it." With our first child, that meant 7. I had been picturing more like 10.

At 3:52 PM, Blogger Nancy A said...

My kids watched the first two Potter films. But when the third one came out, on the advice of a neighbour, I watched it myself first, and I'm glad I did. The target audience was much older than my kids.

Apparently, the most recent movie is very scary, according to my teenage neighbour. I think I will rent it when it comes out on DVD and maybe show short bits to my kids.

At 12:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Philip Pullman books - the series is called His Dark Materials - are very well done. Read them first, however, before sharing them with small fry. They're very unsettling and there is a decidedly angry undertone.

He writes very well, and has written a lot for kids/young people, often using young people (as in His Dark Materials) as his protagonists.

As for the Potter outcry - it's alive and well, here.

At 1:02 PM, Blogger earthfreak (Pam) said...

I am re-reading the "His Dark Materials" trilogy for the thrid (?) time, largely because I saw the preview for the Golden Compass movie before Harry Potter.

I don't think of them at ALL as children's books. The protagonist is 11 or 12, much like Harry Potter, but the subject matter is much more complex, "dark" and meant for more mature folks, in my opinion.

I imagine there won't be the same outcry from the religious right, simply because they're not as popular.

In terms of theology, they speak to my condition to a great extent. The belief that there is something beyond what we currently understand, and that organized religion is entirely on the wrong track, and perpetrating great evil because of it. I'm mulling doing a blog post of my own on the topic, but there's so much to say, much of it over my own head. :(

At 7:49 PM, Blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

A couple of comments--not on the substance of your post, the Christian elements, because I'd like to reread that and think about it some more.

I know that what I, myself, love most about Harry Potter is the basic decency of the central characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Dumbledore, McGonaggle, and--above all, speaking as a Mom--Molly Weasley. (I take it as an ultimate offense for anyone, ever, to make Molly Weasley cry! Some things should not be borne!)

I love the books, because they are earnest, and our culture suffers from an abundance of cynicism. I think kids respond to them in part because kids need earnestness, and we are not giving them enough of it, alas...

Two errors in your post and in the comments thread:

1. You wrote, "Paganism is an anything-goes worldview: it has no concept of a moral evil and a moral good." This is not actually true. Paganism does not conceive of an absolute embodied or personified evil force in the world, like Satan. But Paganism is quite concerned with choosing good actions over evil ones. The well-known Wiccan rede does not read, "Do whatever you like." Instead, it reads, "If it harms no one, do what you will." (Interestingly enough the sense in which "will" is meant here is "True Will"--that which our deepest, most divinely inspired nature seeks--and not personal will at all, though not one Wiccan in a hundred is scholar enough to have studied the source texts enough to know that.)

The second error is an old one, merely repeated here in a comment. The text which is generally quoted as "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" not only was not referring (obviously) to the modern religion of Wicca, but was not referring to "witches" at all. That word derives from Old English, not Hebrew, and the original, I am assured by people much smarter than I, would be better translated from the original to mean something like "poisoner."

For whatever it is worth. I know that these points are nit-picking footnotes to your main point. Forgive me for that... but there are enough misconceptions feeding intolerance out there to... well, to persuade otherwise hopefully intelligent men and women that a book as sweet (and non-Pagan, however much this Pagan loves it) should be stripped from library shelves.

At 8:52 PM, Blogger Nancy A said...

Hi Cat (and welcome!)

Yes, I did over-simplify the description of paganism. I didn't want to go on and on, so I used short-hand (and didn't tell any of my pagan friends).

The sense of good-evil in paganism is, I think, best summed up in that Old Testament poem that became the song "Turn, turn, turn" (to everything there is a season). However, as I like to point out to my Christian friends, that is decidedly outside of Christ's teachings.

As for the witch-poisoner idea, this is the first I have ever heard of it. I would be interested in references, if you have them. One of the (many) problems with using 5000-year-old documents as a basis of any moral decision-making is that we have no idea what those people meant, what context they were making them in, and how they related to the moral ideals of the time. It's far to easy to make old texts into puppets for our own prejudices.

I too was overwhelmed by the goodness of Rowling's characters. They were all carrying wounds in their own way, and those wounds were part of the story. That is what draws us to them: we enter their minds and souls through their wounds, which are so like ours.

Jesus carried wounds too. He grew up in a small village, the son of a single mother. He was called "Jesus, son of Mary" instead of by a father's name--which many believe translates roughly to "Jesus, son of a whore". He was despised by the people he grew up with. It's possible that he didn't marry because no good family would give their daughter to him. Many biblical researchers believe he carried deep resentment against his mother.

All this began to change when he met John the Baptist, who told him that all people were loved by God and all were invited to the table, no matter who they were. And John performed a water ritual to wash away all that self-hatred, all the sins that had been foisted on him. This changed Jesus' life and gave him a mission to reach out to other outcasts. It's the wound that makes Jesus likeable, not the starched version propped up by traditional churches.

But I digress... my favourite character in the Potter books was Hermione. She grew from a tough-to-like, insecure, and self-absorbed person into a warm, caring, and powerful person. Harry would have been dead in Book 2 without her. She was right almost all the time.

I'll miss her.

At 10:44 AM, Anonymous naulon said...

I'm wondering if Nancy A isn't reading way too much into Rowling's books. I agree Rowling has made great use of Christian symbolism but she also gets a lot from mythological sources.

It's possible to take the analogy too far. I can't see Hogwarts as representing the church, the 4 houses as 4 gospels, the ride over the lake to Hogwarts as baptism or Harry, Ron and Hermione as the trinity. These are really far fetched ideas and if Rowling really meant them as such then she's much more brilliant than any critic has given her credit for.

But Harry is obviously a Christ figure by Rowling's design. Prophesied to be the "chosen one" before his birth, having his life threatened as a baby by someone who feared him, having to willingly give his life to save his friends, and coming back to life to defeat evil all come directly from the pages of the Bible. It can hardly be coincidence.

Nancy suggests Dumbledore represents God the Father and others have postulated he represents John the Baptist. Neither appeals to me. Dumbledore's death in no way suggests a "God is dead" idea and the fact that Neville or others help in the defeat of Voldemort does not suggest that "We are Christs" and must fend for ourselves idea either. Redemption may not have been one of Rowling's themes but the fact that Harry's scar hasn't hurt in 19 years since the death of Voldemort certainly suggests it.

Dumbledore had to be taken out of the picture in order to set it up for Harry to have no option but to offer his life, alone, as a sacrifice for his friends. He is the "savior"; he is the "chosen one". Dumbledore, Harry's parents, Sirius and Lupin come to comfort him on his way to death just as angels did for Christ in the garden of Gethsemane. Christ went to the cross alone. His disciples were sleeping. They didn't understand. God the Father also left Christ alone on the cross the moment he took the sins of the world upon himself. Thus he cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

No, rather than being anti-Christian, the last book, in my opinion, brings the Harry Potter series a step closer to becoming a Christian classic. Only history will tell. Perhaps the obvious Christian themes bother Nancy to the point that she needs to try to interpret them as the antithesis of what they are, much like the Jews tried to do when they said the disciples stole Christ's body.

The reason Harry Potter was vilified by SOME in the Christian community and I emphasize SOME is that it was mistakenly viewed as promoting occult witchcraft. The reason opposition to the books has since subsided is that the Christian message within the books is now beginning to be appreciated.

As a conservative Christian minister myself I love the Potter books as does my whole family and most Christians I know. I've used the first three Potter movies to preface evangelistic sermons in Christian camps. There are a lot of more believable parallels then the one's Nancy mentions such as "the snake", an obvious Christian symbol of temptation and evil. Of course book seven trumps them all and will provide many more great sermon illustrations.

Besides biblical imagery in the Potter books, Nancy seems to let her imagination run away with her as to the character and mission of Jesus Christ. The Bible contains two eyewitness accounts of Christ's life and two others based on eyewitness testimony. It is the only source available to us and very reliable. Nancy shows that she does not know her Bible well. For any of us to take any of her opinions seriously she needs to quote book, chapter and verse.

Jesus was not the son of a single mother. Although miraculously conceived, Joseph was his father and present with him at the age of 12. (Luke 2:41-52) Jesus was never called, "Jesus, son of Mary" but was called the "son of Joseph" three times after he began his ministry, (John 1:45, 6:42, Luke 3:23) Mary was a common name and it does not mean "whore".

Jesus was not despised by the people he grew up with. Rather to the contrary, Luke states, "Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men." He never resented his mother and he provided for her upon his death. (John 19:25-27)

Christ also knew who he was and his purpose in life well before he met John the Baptist; he knew it at age 12. (Luke 2:49-50) Christ was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, to signify the beginning of his ministry and receive the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 3:13-17) He had no self-hatred, and no sin. (2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5)

Fallacious statements like these about the life of Christ reveal Nancy's true agenda to discredit the divinity of Christ. It explains why she can't stomach pro-Christian interpretations of Rowling's books, her antagonism towards Christians who don't like Harry Potter books and her dislike of "traditional churches".

Christ did not die "to show us how to die". He died to show us how to live! To Nancy's credit, she identified "love" as a positive Christian theme in the Potter books. Too bad she rejects the source of that Love.

At 1:33 PM, Blogger Nancy A said...

HI Naulon


I'm not anti-Christian and am in fact Christian, though not fundamentalist. I read extensively on Christian themes and especially enjoy scholarly writing about the very early Church and the making of the bible.

In this analysis I'm paraphrasing a lot of articles, essays, books, and blogs out there discussing the Christian symbols in the Potter books--I'm not just pulling ideas out of my head. I guess if someone has never really thought about symbolism before, or has never taken any courses in literature, then this might seem a strange thing to do, rather like balancing teacups on your forehead or something. But literature does get read this way. Symbolism rules. The point of my blog (and of many other postings and essays on this subject) is that a lot of Christian symbols does not a Christian analogy make.

Nor do I say there is any analogy in the Potter books. In fact, I said (somewhere) that there is no analogy. Analogy is too deliberate. This is more fluid and layered. It is intelligent work, drenched in our cultural and religious history. It takes bits from here and there, whatever seems most natural, and blends them together. You can't get an analogy out of that.

Certainly Christ did not die to show us how to die, and I never suggested that. I said that Harry's death is not a Christ death. There is no theme of redemption or of dying to cleanse others' sins, which is the Christian interpretation of Christ's death. So its absence means that the death of Harry has a different meaning. Rowling seems to stress in all seven books that giving one's life to serve others is very powerful. The message seems to be to give your life for the sake of others. It's a message about how to die, not about how to get into heaven. So Harry is a Christ figure, but at the same time, he is not necessarily a Christian Christ figure.

So there is a double thing going on -- Christian symbols and patterns of Christ's life, and those symbols and patterns being used to express ideas that are post-Christian. I find that interesting, not alarming. What does it mean? How can we explore this to learn more?

As for Dumbledore not being a God haven't found a single article that doesn't agree with that one. Check out the heavy symbolism: long white beard, long white gown, unlimited powers used only for good, sermon of love and forgiveness, all-knowing and somehow all-seeing, the protector against the Evil One, and in case someone missed all that, his patronus is a Phoenix, a magical animal that dies and then rises from the dead. Rowling put in all the classic, almost cliched symbols to make sure we got it.

That Dumbledore dies at the end of Book 6 is pure genius. Symbolically it is a "death of God." Again, I find this fascinating, not alarming. "Death of God" theology is a reality for most people in Western countries. The "sermon" in Book 7 is for them, rather than for literalist Christians. So then, what meanings can be explored in Book 7?

As for Jesus being the son of a single mother, the immaculate conception idea may have been true, and Joseph may have existed (although there is considerable doubt among scholars); but the annunciation certainly did not occur for the townspeople of Nazareth. So Jesus would have been treated as the son of an impure woman, born too early or without a dad, whether he was one or not. He is called "Jesus, son of Mary" more than once, and that is in a culture where people were named according to their father. This would have been a term of disrespect.

I appreciate your visit. Perhaps it's difficult to understand how someone can be Christian and think the Potter series is brilliant, yet accept that the symbolism has both Christian and post-Christian meanings.

At 5:39 PM, Blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Hi, Nancy,

OK! Since you asked, I did a little bit of quick fact-checking.

The poisoner alternate translation of "witch" seems to have entered the English-language discourse in 1580, with Reginald Scot's skeptical book, The Discoverie of Witchcraft.

Chaspah, being a Hebrue word, is Latined Veneficium, and is in English, poisoning, or witchcraft; if you will so have it. The Hebrue sentence written in Exodus, 22. is by the 70. interpretors translated thus into Greeke...[omitted] ...which in Latine is, Veneficos (sive) veneficas non retinebitis in vita, in English, You shall not suffer anie poisoners, or (as it is translated) witches to live.

The which sentence Josephus an Hebrue borne, and a man of great estimation, learning and fame, interpreteth in this wise; Let none of the children of Israel have any poison that is deadlie, or preparted to anie hurtfull use. If anie be apprehended with such stuffe, let him be put to dfeath, and suffer that which he meant to doo to them, for whom he prepared it.

(Please pardon the omission of the Greek--I haven't done exhaustive research today, and I'm simply quoting from an available web source of no particular scholarship on the passage--they had no Greek character font on their computer, and neither have I. There may be misquoting in the passage as well; I haven't checked it. But it is more or less as I remember it.

However, Scot is not by any means an authoritative Biblical scholar--he absolutely had his own political axes to grind, and there's room for controversy around his interpretation. Not to mention that it's pretty old, and scholarship, even on ancient and Classical languages, does progress.

In fact, Paul Hume's article on the highly regarded Witchvox site disputes the witch/poisoner translation theory. He thinks that the Hebrew is best translated as "sorceress," but attributes the idea of there being a mistranslation to
"the Greek word for "witch" used in the Septuagint. I don't have my Greek Concordance handy, but the root there is pharmeia, which even by New Testament times was taking on the additional meaning of apothecary or drug-merchant, and of course is the source of the English words pharmacy, pharmacology, etc."

For more from Hume, you could visit the article at Witchvox.

I'm aware that both of my sources are a sort of scholarship on the cheap, and that there's better out there. But perhaps you'll accept them as a first-order approximation from a very tired, first week-back-to-school English teacher?

In any case, a hearty "Blessed Be" to all Harry Potter fans, everywhere. :)

At 8:27 PM, Blogger Nancy A said...


Brilliant! Thank you!

We learn so much from these scholarly studies of translations and language!

A good friend of mine once pointed out that the passage "Spare the rod and spoil the child" comes from the same part of the bible as "With his rod and his staff he shall comfort thee." This "rod" is not necessarily a weapon, but rather a tool for moving the sheep along in a safe, tight line. It's later interpretations that interpreted it as the right to beat your child!

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At 1:53 PM, Blogger Nancy A said...

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At 11:21 AM, Blogger earthfreak (Pam) said...

Oh my, lots of deleted comments, I hope it didn't get ugly!

I don't think I said before, but I love the theme of "we are the christ" - maybe that's what's central to quakerism, though my take on it can ruffle a lot of feathers (that there need be nothing else, rather than that it is essential that we be following the man in the Bible) - I hadn't consciously noted in in the last book, but it's certainly there.

And I have the say that the idea that God is dead, to be reborn in us, is thrilling to me. It leaves me baffled that anyone finds that so threatening. God is NOT dead, but lives in every act of love, bravery, trust, goodness, etc. what could be better than that?

At 8:23 AM, Blogger Nancy A said...

Hi Pam

This posting is the first one where I have ever used search markers (so that the general blogger world can find the post). I have now come to appreciate how the Quaker bloggers have a unique community of liberal-to-conservative people. We can talk about different ideas without flaming each other. Sigh.

I used to have a political blog in the Canadian network of political blogs. I used to visit the neo-con blogs, just to make contact and post very light comments, nothing incendiary, more to highlight questions that need more attention, and always carefully worded to be kind and respectful. But after a while, I couldn't take it anymore. People quite honestly don't like to listen. The flaming, torching, blistering comments back and forth made for very unpleasant reading. I don't think anybody was learning anything!

So I resigned that blog and just returned to this one.

I will keep the comment moderation on only for a short while more, and I will refrain from using search words!

At 8:01 AM, Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Although I really can't speak to what offended some Christians, I agree with much of Nancy's analysis of the books themselves. I would add compassion as a major theme. Even in Book 7, Harry shows compassion for Malfoy, an act that ultimately saved his life, as many of his other acts of compassion have (via Peter and Dobby). Of course compassion and self-sacrifice are not exclusively Christian themes by any means. As a Quaker, I also like the fact that Harry often has a sudden knowing of the truth. He knows what he has to do and trusts that inner-knowing, though he doesn't identify it with any external deity. It offers lots of material for Friendly discussions with children, though. Thanks for your thoughts on the subject!


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