I told myself I would not blog this month about Narnia, Thanksgiving or Harry Potter figuring so many others would. Well I have not yet blogged on Thanksgiving.
But here goes Harry P.
I saw the movie Wednesday with three of my children and two nephews and a niece.
My brief thoughts on Harry P in general as a casual fan, not a scholar of the books and films. Harry P. is, I think, not an overtly Christian fantasy but it is a helpful one. It is helpful in illustrating and fleshing out a story about the acquisition of virtue. Harry P's quest is one of growth in the battle against evil, in courage, and in sacrificing himself for the good of others and the defeat of that evil which is arrayed against him.
Virtue, self sacrifice and the growth of goodness in battle against evil is harldy a uniquely Christian theme but has great value nonetheless. It is a story which touches on how we live and what is the good thing to do and the chances we take and the risks and the hurt we encounter trying to be the people we are supposed to be.
The most helpful piece I have read on Harry P is this one ( a while back in Touchstone) which relates Harry P to the alchemist tradition in English literature. Very interesting and convincing.
Here are a few paragraphs:
So what was alchemy? It was a traditional or sacred science, supporting the work of the revealed tradition and its means of grace, for the purification and perfection of the alchemist’s soul in correspondence with the metallurgical perfection of a base metal into gold. It requires a view of man and of creation or cosmology that is opposite and contradictory to that of the physical scientist and chemist of today, for whom alchemists had only disdain; they thought of men who were interested in matter only for its manipulation as “charcoal burners” and anything but wise. To an alchemist, the chemist neglects the greater thing in the lesser thing—and in himself.
Rowling clearly understands both “alchemy in literature” and the “alchemy of literature.” Her books satisfy the need in us, born in a profane culture without heroes or avenues of transcendent experience—a materialist world in which such experience is not considered possible by “serious people”—of at least an imaginative experience of human transformation and perfection. We get this experience in our identification with Harry, and we are better, more human even, for having been at least for a while in the alembic vessel, changing from spiritual lead to gold, dying and rising from the dead. In brief, Rowling’s novels are so popular because her works transform the human person via imaginative identification, katharsis, and resurrection.
The great irony in the objections that Rowling’s books undermine or violate the tenets of the Christian faith is that her books offer initiation, not into the occult, but into the symbolist worldview of revealed faiths (and sacramental religions specifically) and the dominant symbols and doctrines of traditional Christianity. Ignorance of alchemy and the larger traditions of English literature—not to mention the Christian understanding of the relations of faith and secular culture—has caused many to turn away a great help, perhaps providential, in the trouble and struggle we have to prepare our children for fully human, which is to say “spiritual,” lives.