Monday, May 23, 2011

The Christian's Harry Potter

Last week the local library hosted a talk on Harry Potter, sort of a celebration of the upcoming final movie.

The speaker's name was John Granger, who bills himself as the Hogswart Professor. He is also known as "the Dean of Harry Potter." His website is hogswartprofessor.com. Be advised I can only get it to come up in Firefox and not at all in Internet Explorer if you check it out.

Anyway, he's written several books about J.K. Rowling's works, including How Harry Cast His Spell: The Meaning Behind the Mania, The Deathly Hallows Lectures: The Hogwarts Professor Explains, Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader, and Harry Potter's Bookshelf: The Great Books behind the Hogwarts Adventures.

I confess I had never heard of the guy, or of his books, until the library invited him to talk.


John Granger as he appeared last week during a local talk.

Mr. Granger told the audience that he was a "strong" Christian and he initially read the first Harry Potter book so he could point out to his daughter why his family did not read such things. However, being a student of classical literature, he found many references to the great works of art and quite a lot of Christian imagery.

Eventually, he created a career out of his thoughts on Rowling's series.

During his lecture, he explained how Rowling's books must be looked at from the standpoint of post-modernism, and post-modern thought. He explained this type of thinking as "the big myth is wrong" with a narrative of "prejudice is evil" and another narrative of "there is no absolute" and "we can't know anything for sure." He also characterized post modern thought as the belief that "choices define you" and he quickly got around to one of the biggest and most hyped "choices" of our time - abortion. I leave you to guess what he said about that topic, but suffice it to say that I came close to walking out. I certainly did not feel the comments were appropriate for the setting.

When he wasn't preaching, I did find some of Granger's thoughts on the Harry Potter books intriguing.

He called the books "literary alchemy," a term I had not heard before and one I liked. This might be taking truths and turning them into fiction, or other such things. In Rowling's case, one might argue she has taken a great myth and turned it into modern literature, or something like that.

He argued that Harry Potter has many Christian symbols in the book. For example, these include parallels between Harry Potter and Jesus and the images of the phoenix and the unicorn, both of which are associated with Christianity. Additionally, there are many references to the number three, which of course relates to the Trinity.

I personally feel that one can read whatever one wishes into a book, particularly a work of fantasy, and some of the Christian imagery is a stretch. Sometimes a unicorn is just a unicorn, but who am I to say. I also feel it necessary to point out the some of the imagery the Christian community calls its own was there long before the religion, and like the Christmas tree, is actually pagan in its historical beginnings.

Another of his points included the idea that the books, as a series and as each individual work, are a ring, in that the beginning and end meet. Additionally, the front half of the bok mirrors the second half, and the first three books of the series echo the final three books, with book four being the pivotal point.

In other words, the Chamber of Secrets mirrors the Half Blood Prince, for example. And chapter 1 and the final chapter in any book would reflect one another.

This, I thought, had merit, as I had noticed the mirroring myself as I read. I think my disappointment in The Deathly Hallows arose from the fact that I felt some of this was lost in the last work. I thought Deathly Hallows read like it was written for the screen, a feeling I did not get from the other books.

Symbolism and references to past literatures create a large body that can and does influence any good piece of writing. Granger is arguing that Rowling's books are so well-received because they tap into that historic well and bring forth those myths and legends in a new way. I cannot argue with that.

He noted that the books fall into a number of literary genres, not just fantasy. He called them mysteries, school boy books,  and gothics, to name a few.

He called Hermione the "mind" of the book, while Ron was the "body" and Harry the "soul." He also likened Hermione to Nancy Drew and Ron and Harry to the Hardy Boys. I definitely liked that notion.

I left before the talk ended, having another commitment, so I am not sure what other areas the lecture ventured into. Granger has received a bit of criticism from many different venues, some of which is online, over his observations. The criticism comes from all fronts - Christians object to his premise, and non-Christians object to it, too.

I found the talk interesting and Granger was a good speaker. I did object to the preaching part, which simply did not belong in that discussion at that time. He should leave his prostelyzing to other arenas.  As my husband said, "I didn't come here to be preached at." I know a few others in the audience did not come for that, either, but perhaps his readers were not as surprised as we were. Fortunately, he moved quickly away from those points and unless he took to preaching again at the end, it was fleeting.

I can argue with his conclusions about Harry Potter either way, but I thought the ideas interesting enough to share here with you today. If nothing else, this is a great demonstration of how a piece of writing can mean one thing to one person and something completely different to someone else.

1 comment:

  1. It's only a month and a half late, but I will drop in :-)

    One of the distinctive things about both Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings books is that in many fantasy/sci-fi/other unclassifiable novels, the methods used by the "good guys" and the "bad guys" are indistinguishable. Rowling is careful, from the beginning of the series, to make a distinction between normal and "dark" magic - and also careful to note that the use of dark magic by the "good" characters is not successful and that it leaves spiritual or emotional scars.

    I, too, doubt very much that Rowling had much in the way of Christian imagery in mind when she was constructing her books; the distinction between mind, body and soul certainly predates Christian thought, for example, although labeling Hermione, Ron and Harry as part of a spiritual triptych is not a stretch by any means; Harry could not have succeeded without them, and he was the heart and soul of that group of friends.

    As for why you liked the seventh book less than the others, I have a theory. The book was missing an important character. Not Dumbledore, or Snape, or even Ron's parents; it was missing Hogwarts. It was more than the mise-en-scene; it was the structure of the school year, the real sense of time passing, that gave the books what I think was special.

    But enough about me. How as your Independence Day? :-)

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