Harry Potter and the…. Libation Bearers?

A couple months ago, while still in Rome, I logged into my account for the public library near to the Sabine Farm and reserved a copy of the ultimate Harry Potter book.  I was number 16 in the queue.

The day of the release a chirpy library worker called a few minutes after their morning opening to let me know my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was available (which means they bought more than 16 copies at $39.99 a pop. NB: reinforced library bindings are more expensive).  Since I had to go into town for errands, including returning some inter-library loan book – stuff like the Anathemata: fragments of an attempted wrting by David Jones – I picked up the copy. 

Later in the day, having resolved my daily list of things to do, I delved into the book.  I have read these books because people as questions about them. 

I was amazed at the very onset to find this even before the title page:

The Libation Bearers
Oh, the torment bred in the race,
the grinding scream of death
and the stroke that hits the vein,
the haemorrhage none can staunch, the grief,
the curse no man can bear.

But there is a cure in the house
and not outside it, no,
not from others but from them,
their bloody strife. We sing to you,
dark gods beneath the earth.

Now hear, you blissful powers underground—
answer the call, send help.
Bless the children, give them triumph now.

—Aeschylus, The Libation Bearers

That cheery little quip sets the stage in this very dark book. 

There is another quote from William Penn’s More Fruits of Solitude, which I take to be as much about Rowling”s feelings about ending the series as it is about the resolution of the book itself.

The Libation Bearers is one of the plays in the tragic trilogy the Oresteia including Agamemnon, the Libation Bearers, the EumenidesA friend tipped me off that J.K. Rowling had read Classics.  The Libation Bearers picks up after the homecoming of King Agamemnon after the Trojan War.  In the first play, his wife Clytemnestra, who has in the meantime taken a lover, murders Agamemnon in his bath, much in the manner of a sacrifice.   The send play deals wtih the revenge exacted by Orestes and Electra, the children of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra.  Clytemnestra now shares bed and throne with a lover Aegisthes.  In the beginning of the play she wakes from a nightmare in which she gives birth to a snake, which is now sucking blood from her breast.  Clytemnestra, alarmed, sends her highly abused daughter Electra to pour libations on the grave of Agamemnon as appeasment offerings to the gods whom she fears she has angered by the murder of her husband.  Electra finds her brother Orestes at the grave.  Together they plot their revenge.

Aside from the snake business, there are not many obvious connections between The Libation Bearers and HP and the Deathly Hallows.  Certainly the theme of revenge for a slain parent is present in both, but in Aeschylus the children kill their own mother.  Perhaps the theme of self-perpetuating cycles of bloodshed might fit, but that is a stretch. 

I think the choice of the quote was more to impose a general sense of sorrow for the trials of the children in the book.

I will not provide spoilers. 

I will say, however, that this book is all about finding one’s way through loss, trying to find identity and peace when life has been so truncated at its very start.  The loss of Harry’s parents while so young deals a profound wound which does not heal in him.  He always looking for his father in father figures in the whole series and everyone of them is stripped away from him with violence.  He finds surrogates and redemptive figures all along the way.  He has close friends and even an adoptive family who shares his pains but only in part.  He is always very much alone.  The bildungsroman is always going to be popular, but with the fracturing of families today, the confusion and wounds and the never-healing loneliness many young people have grown up with over the last decades, I understand how these books have met with such success. 

Rowlings has tapped a dark and bloody vein in our post-Christian psyche.

"But Father!  But Father!", … I can hear it even now.  "Aren’t books the work of the devil?  How can you recommend them?!  If my little Mindy reads Harry Potter, will she go to hell!" 

First, pay attention.  I am not recommending the books, or movies, one way or other.  I have read them mostly because I need to know what it going on in pop culture and what literature is shaping young minds.  I can read a book like this last one in a few hours, anyway.  They are a briefly amusing sideshow to fighting through the sludgy pages of Catherine Pickstock or the intricacies of Ambrose and Augustine.

Kids may read Harry Potter. But – as with all books – parents should read everything first, or read with their children, even aloud!  There is something wonderful about reading aloud. 

Also, I urge all parents or teachers to read Michael P. O’Brien’s A Landscape With Dragons: The Battle for Your Child’s Mind.  This helps you understand the proper use and misuse of archetypal images and the concepts of good and evil, how in some books they are blurred so that a child could be subtly influenced into a confused view of what good and evil are.  My view is that over the course of the Harry Potter books, what was at first a bit vague regarding good and evil, became more and more sharply defined.  Read with parents involvment, the books are alright.  They are not great literature.  Harry Potter ain’t Frodo Baggins.  There are many great books on the Great Books list to read. 

I don’t think you will go to hell if you read Harry Potter.

Some non-spoiler observations.

First, a lot of thought went into this book.  What interested me was not so much how Rowlings bound up the threads of the series resolved plots, but how the characters grew and interacted.  Women seem better at writing this sort of thing.  They seem to write the best mysteries. 

Next, there are strong Christian, biblical allusions, even slightly adjusted quotes from Scripture at key moments (cf. Matthew 6:21 and 1 Corinthians 15: 26).  As I ran across them they leapt off the page.  Of course, someone like me is going to pick up on these and know them for what they are.  Still, the way they are woven in, the moment, and the very concepts are so striking when they appear that even the biblically or culturally unlettered will probably take notice of them as being different in some way and worthy of attention.

There is an epilogue.  Some suggest that Rowlings might be trying to curtail fan fiction.   I rather think she needed to help the reader see that while some wounds do not heal, there is hope and life continues.  The dark makes the light brighter, but only when you have some perspective.

If you read the book, don’t post spoilers, which I would consider very bad form. 

 

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32 Responses to Harry Potter and the…. Libation Bearers?

  1. MikeL says:

    You noted: …which means they bought more than 16 copies at $39.99 a pop…

    Yikes! We picked up a copy at the local grocery store yesterday for $20.99!

  2. Ave Maria says:

    I can’t go with you on this one, Father. So big money is flowing to own a
    copy of the newest and ‘darkest’ of the potter series. And I see the spell
    kits and other ‘toys’ for the chilrden so they can dress as witches and
    wizards and all have great fun. But this is not an innocuous innocent thing.
    Spells and wizardry are not to be fooled with which goes for all things of
    the occult and making them seem like an innocent pastime…well, who would want that?

  3. Janet says:

    Very well said, Father! I don’t see the Harry Potter stories being ‘evil’ any more than Sleeping Beauty or Hansel and Gretel would be. We weren’t warped by the fairy tales of our childhoods. I’m a quarter of the way into book 7, and rather than long marathon reading sessions I’ve decided to take my time and enjoy it leisurely.

    I wouldn’t expect a child under 10 to attempt reading these very long books of Rowlings, and also I wouldn’t encourage a child under 10 to read beyond book #2 at all. Give them to a kid at a rate of one book per year, and let him grow with them as the characters grew.

  4. John Scholes says:

    Looks like life is tough in the US! I got my copy in London, UK in Asda (part of the Walmart group) for £5 = $10.

  5. MikeL: These have reinforced library bindings. Library editions are usually more expensive.

  6. Ave: I can’t go with you on this one, Father.

    Ok. I can live with that.

    So big money is flowing to own a copy of the newest and ‘darkest’ of the potter series. And I see the spell kits and other ‘toys’ for the chilrden …

    I am sorry I am not a better writer. I think I must not have made clear what I was trying to get across. Either that or you might not have read closely what I wrote.

    I have taken note of your “no” vote, however.

  7. bgt says:

    Thanks for explaining The Libation Bearers. I was going to look it up, but now I don’t have to. (Though I suppose I ought to read Aeschylus…)

    As for the Harry Potter series in general, I enjoy this essay by John O’Callaghan called, “Harry Potter, Catholic Boy”.

    http://www.up.edu/portlandmag/2004_summer/potter.htm

  8. Janet: We weren’t warped by the fairy tales of our childhoods.

    Of course we weren’t. As a matter of fact we were shaped by them in good ways. That is part of what Michael O’Brien writes about. Those fairy tales have symbols we could recognize and which helped us recognize good and evil. O’Brien warns about books which distort the symbols. For example, books which make serpents or dragons good, or ambivalent, need special care and caution.

    The new H.P. book, by the way, has a subtle fairy take within the fairy tale dimension which I found rather clever.

  9. bgt: Though I suppose I ought to read Aeschylus

    Ehem… yes.

  10. Father Z,

    We have several friends of ours who take a very grim view (a deliberate choice of words) to the Harry Potter series. Their priest from the pulpit advised that to let a child read the Harry Potter series was in fact undoubtedly a mortal sin.

    In the process of our own discernment and prudential application of the Church’s moral teaching, my wife and I decided that, with all due respect to the well intentioned priest, was, well…wrong.

    I first started reading the series while traveling in Assisi on pilgrimage with my wife a few years back. (Found it in a side bookstore and could barely put it down!) I find it engaging reading, and just the sort of mind candy (almost as delicious as Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans, Chocolate Frogs, Cockroach Clusters, Jelly Slugs, Blood Pops, Acid Pops, etc etc) I need from time to time for the very same reasons you mentioned (Germanus of Constantinople and John of Damascus for me of late…) I love the intricacy of the story, the development of the characters and the many references to Christian virtues and principles, although I would hardly call it a “Book of Christian Virtues”.

    My 16 year old has grown up with the character of Harry Potter and he seems noone the worse for having done so. He is a devout Catholic, an acolyte and a pretty well rounded adolescent.

    I’m half-way through the text right now, while working in Ireland this week. My 16 year old called me at 1:15am GMT to announce to me he had finished it.

    I sent him a “screamer”! ;-)

    God bless,

    Gordo

  11. athanasius says:

    Father, even Time Magazine knows our children shouldn’t be reading this Godless nonsense!

    headline: Who Dies in Harry Potter? God

    Joanne Rowling has three fancy houses and more money than the Queen, but she still doesn’t have a middle name: the “K” is just an empty invention, which she added for effect when she published her first book. Whatever she’s doing, it’s working. Since 1997 — the year Princess Diana died and the word “weblog” was born — Rowling has sold more than 325 million books. The fifth Harry Potter movie is eking out respectful reviews, and the final novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will be released at midnight on July 20th. A theme park is in the works in Orlando, Fla. By now quite enough has been said about Harry Potter. But what does Harry Potter say about us?

    Rowling’s work is so familiar that we’ve forgotten how radical it really is. Look at her literary forebears. In The Lord of the Rings J.R.R. Tolkien fused his ardent Catholicism with a deep nostalgic love for the unspoiled English landscape. C.S. Lewis was a devout Anglican whose Chronicles of Narnia form an extended argument for Christian faith (or at any rate for faith in Aslan. Close enough.) Now look at Rowling’s books. What’s missing? If you want to know who dies in Harry Potter, the answer is easy: God.

    Oh, Rowling has had her share of outrage from the religious right, but they’ve missed the point completely. Rowling isn’t a Satanist — if anything the Satanists should be as offended as the Christians. Harry Potter lives in a world that has been scrubbed clean of any religion or spirituality of any kind. He is surrounded by ghosts, and has even eavesdropped on the afterlife in the basement of the Ministry of Magic, but Harry has no one to pray to, even if he were so inclined, which he isn’t. Not even the lovably prissy Hermione darkens a church door. In real life Rowling is said to be a member of the Church of Scotland, but on paper she has more in common with celebrity atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens than she does with Tolkien and Lewis.

    What does Harry have instead of God? Rowling’s answer, at once glib and profound, is that Harry’s power comes from love. (“Big deal!” thinks Harry when Dumbledore offers him this revelation in Half-Blood Prince.) This charming notion represents a massive cultural sea change. In the new millennium magic comes not from God, or nature, or anything grander or more mystical than a mere human emotion. It’s the most anthropo-centric vision possible: even in our fantasies, where we give ourselves permission to believe in dementors and blast-ended skrewts, love is all you need, and love is all you get. By choosing Rowling as the reigning dreamer of our era, we have chosen the most hard-nosed, realistic of fantasists, a writer who dreams of a secular, bureaucratized, all too human sorcery, where psychology and technology have superseded the sacred.

    And we congratulate ourselves on having tossed aside all that high-flown mystical stuff. But when the end comes — and it’s almost here — where will that leave Harry? He’ll face tougher choices than his fantasy ancestors. Frodo was last seen skipping town with the Elves, en route to the Grey Havens. Lewis sent the Pevensie kids to the paradise of Aslan’s Land. Something tells me no such comfortable retirement awaits Harry in the Deathly Hallows.

  12. Gordo: I sent him a “screamer”!

    ROLF!

  13. athanasius:

    Another “no” vote.

  14. RBrown says:

    I thought it was called “a howler”.

  15. RBrown: It sure was!

  16. Kris says:

    Well, since Michael O’Brien’s book re: intro of paganism was mentioned by Fr. Z, for balance then, there is too his assessment of Harry Potter:

    Harry Potter and the Paganization of Children’s Culture

    by Michael D. O’Brien

    Author Michael O’Brien compares and contrasts JK Rowling’s Harry Potter with the writings of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien.

    http://www.lifesite.net/features/harrypotter/obrienpotter.html

    Now, before everyone hisses and boos I’d like to add something to the “no wonder these books are selling” due to the sad kids coming from our culturally sad condition for kids today. Since I’ve worked with foster kids and also have seen the fruits of comparative ways of relating to kids in different adoptive families, I will forever hate the Oprahfication of groups of wounded children and teens where one witnesses just what “love is the answer” can mean to them!! Using them as reasons that beg for more passes based on false compassion makes things worse rather than better for the futures of a lot of these kids. I seriously ask about this phenomenon – Why Harry Potter; Why Today??? The very fact that these kids (esp. kids switched around in foster homes – or those just out on the street) will very often have a certain naturally built in fated disappointment, suggests that the answer is NOT any dark or gloomy referencing as an answer for them, or finding ways around realities that reinforce the already lack of trust in good people and rightful authority. They have a tendency to hold on to the negative like a security blanket against further disappointment. Or they just learn to be advantageous and clever. And they are soooo vulnerable to ideas because they have not had the stable parents who indeed did “read everything before” to guide them.

    Now it used to be that such sadness or feeling lost and alone was not as mainstreamed as it is today with the split families, working mothers, and now schools without accountability as to what is heard or seen or done. So, I would just like to add that any conclusion that so many kids today will see themselves in such characters is the very reason that false ideas for relief need their balance which just isn’t out there for them, at least to the same degree. And what appears harmless while still children, when believed in and carried over (as so many troubled kids do) into adulthood, often results in even bigger disillusionment and more occult/cultish/addictive behavior…. the easy way out. If, in the end, reality steps in, then such attachment to the former escape ideas will result in disappointment, disillusionment and sadness.

    A maxim that is usually good is that those blessed with moral guidance, good families, good education have the moral obligation to those who simply don’t… and not to confuse the already so confused! When the Good Shepherd left His sheep to find the lost I’m sure He expected the stabilized to remain that way while He was gone!

    For in the end he [Huxley] was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.” (Amusing Ourselves to Death, Viking Penguin, New York, 1985, p.163)

  17. John Hudson says:

    Never mind this Potter stuff, Father. What did you make of the _The Anathemata_?

  18. David Deavel says:

    Michael O’Brien’s article on the Harry Potter series was atrocious–he didn’t seem to read the books very carefully. As for his book, LANDSCAPE OF DRAGONS, what I find so amusing is that he doesn’t seem to understand the symbols himself–thinking for instance that dragons are always maleficent.

    At the risk of tooting one’s own horn, a piece my wife and I did on the Potter series can be found at the LOGOS website: see http://www.stthomas.edu/cathstudies/logos and go to the archives. Ours is called “Character, Choice, and Harry Potter.”

  19. Jenny Z says:

    I finished it up last night, I thought it was wonderful. I’ll likely buy the whole set, and let my kids read them when they’re old enough. There’s a wonderful message there to discuss with your kids, and aside from the message, they’re highly entertaining. I couldn’t put the 7th down, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time…

    A fairy-tale book doesn’t need to be filled with obvious, in-your-face Christian messages to be decent for your kids to read. Imagination is a wonderful thing, and if you can tie it all together at the dinner-table discussion… why not?

  20. Rowling’s done an amazing job of appropriating (half-)forgotten ancient Christian imagery, and in writing still of things that are still Christian values: nobility of purpose, selflessness, sacrifice, the tragedy of (mis)judging others, and most certainly love of family and friends. The entire series is perhaps a step or two too far removed to follow in the same mold as Lewis’ Narnia allegories, but especially in this last volume, I was more often distracted by those allusive references to Christian values and sayings than in any of the others. That there is no overt mention of God is irrelevant. (Although this is perhaps suggestive : “And where would it take me?” “On.”) As in the case of Narnia, once the readers (children or adults) grow up, they’ll recognize the roots from which those themes sprang, and hopefully be grafted to that vine. Adn at the very least, anyone emulating the values displayed by the best characters of these books would be much finer people, which is not a bad thing at all.

    The Harry Potter books are daylight to the starless night of those entirely wretched anti-Christian Pullman things, which are truly dark, truly pagan, and truly hopeless.

    And besides, Harry Potter also managed to perk up interest in Latin among children, of all things!

  21. Kris says:

    Speaking of Michael O’Brien, something interesting to hear and to pray for:

    Definitive steps have been made toward a film of Fr. Elijah, the details of which I’m not at liberty to mention at this point. But I do earnestly beg your pra! yers for everyone involved in the project. It will be an uphill battle all the way; considering the themes in the story, and its Catholic orthodoxy, you can well imagine the kind of opposition that will occur. Indeed, it has already begun.

  22. Clara says:

    “And we congratulate ourselves on having tossed aside all that high-flown mystical stuff.”

    Sorry, Athanasius… who’s congratulating themselves? Actually, the likes of Tolkien and Lewis are selling as well as ever, I believe. I’ll gladly shout down anyone who thinks Rowling has bested Tolkien, but I’ve yet to find anyone that silly.

    No, the Harry Potter books are not quite epic literature, as has been said. But as children’s literature, they are very good, very well written, very clever and engaging. There are plenty of good books in the world, but oddly, in my experience there really isn’t *such* an enormous canon of good children’s literature. Perhaps some of the children’s classics of yesteryear are just out of print, or maybe there simply wasn’t enough of a market for them until relatively recent times. (No doubt people have amused their children with stories for time out of mind, but it wasn’t until the age of near-universal literacy that it became usual to write them down and sell them.) Whatever the reason, it’s my experience that enchanting and well-written children’s fantasy stories aren’t actually so numerous. There’s room for another on the bookshelf, and I think Harry Potter is the best that’s come along for awhile.

    Something else about children’s books: unlike adults, children generally aren’t prevented from reading by a lack of time. The real trick is to kindle interest. If you can spark their interest with one fantasy series, they’re more easily persuaded to try another. So I don’t think there’s much worry of Harry Potter replacing The Hobbit or the Narnia books or the classics of E.B. White. Kids who read one will be more likely, not less, to read the others.

  23. RBrown,

    Regarding the “howler”, I think you are correct – my bad! Maybe I just felt like screaming?!? ;-)

    Finished the book at 1:30am GMT last night. What a great, great read. Enjoyed the story immensely. And the ending was a surprise, although my wife and I jointly predicted part of it (obviously I will not disclose a spoiler here…)

    God bless,

    Gordo

  24. Muscovite says:

    Our children have enjoyed the Harry Potter books. We’re waiting to read the 7th book until my husband comes home, because we’ve read the last several out loud together. We are careful what our children read and see, but I’m sure some folks would think we’re crazy. We wouldn’t let our kids watch Shrek (rated G) because of the way it mocked virtuous characters and made traditionally evil mythic characters sympathetic. In our opinion, it called evil good, and good evil. On the other hand, the older ones have seen Braveheart (rated R) with some fast-forwarding past the skin scenes. We were involved in community theater, even though one of the actresses was a lesbian, but we pulled our children out of CYO after the youth minister proposed anal sex as an option for high schoolers and forbade parents to attend the meetings on sex. (The pastor backed him up on this.) Raising children requires more than a superficial look at the existence of witches in books, the ratings of movies, or whether the environment is secular or religious.

  25. Jennifer says:

    Thank you Father, it was heartening to read such a balanced statement regarding this series of books. I happen to love the books, and have been intrigued by all of the Christian references throughout the series.

    I do have a few comments I would like to add.

    First, in all of the reviews I have read, I have seldom seen references to one of the most striking aspects of the series. That is, the author has managed to successfully mature her characters and her writing with her intended audience. Like her characters, Potter’s original readers are graduating from high school and beginning their lives as adults. I have seen time and again comments about how the later books are not appropriate for younger children (they weren’t meant to be) or how the characters have lost their innocence and charm (they’re growing up.) I don’t believe that many authors have successfully accomplished either believably maturing their characters through a series, or maturing their writing with their maturing audience.

    Second, many have pointed out the witchcraft and wizardry found within these books and how this has renewed interest in the occult. As a convert from paganism, I can tell you that Rowling is not the only author to have done this. Most of my family and former friends are pagan and are HUGE fans of Tolkein and Middle Earth. They cannot see the Christian references within those books any more than it seems most can see them in Rowling’s work. That does not negate their presence, or their impact.

    Third, the main characters within Rowling’s world are filled with virtue. The books teach a number of moral lessons. Some of the lessons found within the pages are that evil can look fair and good can look ugly. That truth is not always pretty, nor is it always the easiest choices. That it is possible to have modest relationships as a teenager in today’s world. That on our own, none of us is strong enough to combat the darkness, we need friends and help. That even the strongest and wisest can make mistakes. That our mistakes do not doom us. That behind the glamour, evil is well… evil.

    While I do enjoy these books, and do not find them sinful, I would also hesitate to tell another that they are fine to read if somebody objected to them. I will present my views, but as parents it is always our responsibility to raise our children as best as we can. If we think that reading a certain book will inhibit their relationship with God, then by all means we should not condone that book. My own children are very young (2 ½ and 10 months) and yet already I have books that have been given to us that mysteriously disappear from the bookshelf.

    Thank you for all you do here,
    Jennifer

  26. Folks: Check out the Laudator temporis actiHe gets into the citation from Aeschylus’ Libation Bearers.

    Rowling quotes Robert Fagle’s translation of the end of the kommos, sung by the chorus. In A.F. Garvie’s edition of the Choephori (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), this passage is found at lines 466-478. Here is the original Greek:

    ὦ πόνος ἐγγενής,

    καὶ παράμουσος ἄτας
    αἱματόεσσα πλαγά,
    ἰὼ δύστον᾽ ἄφερτα κήδη,
    ἰὼ δυσκατάπαυστον ἄλγος.
    δώμασιν ἔμμοτον
    τῶνδ᾽ ἄκος, οὐδ᾽ ἀπ᾽ ἄλλων
    ἔκτοθεν, ἀλλ᾽ ἀπ᾽ αὐτῶν,
    δι᾽ ὠμὰν ἔριν αἱματηράν·
    θεῶν <τῶν> κατὰ γᾶς ὅδ᾽ ὕμνος.
    ἀλλὰ κλύοντες, μάκαρες χθόνιοι,
    τῆσδε κατευχῆς πέμπετ᾽ ἀρωγὴν
    παισὶν προφρόνως ἐπὶ νίκῃ.

    Here is a more literal translation:

    O trouble bred in the family, and discordant bloody stroke of doom, alas woeful cares not to be borne, alas pain hard to stop!
    It is for the house [to apply the] absorbent remedy for these [wounds], not from others outside, but from themselves, through savage bloodstained strife. This is a hymn to the gods beneath the earth.
    But paying heed, o blessed ones under ground, to this prayer, send aid to the children, graciously, for victory.

    Garvie has a good note on the adjective ἔμμοτον, which I translated as “absorbent”:
    μοτοί are plugs of lint for dressing festering wounds, or, more precisely, for keeping them open until they suppurate and can heal from within …. This is one of the most certain cases of a borrowing by Aeschylus from medical terminology…
    The English word for such a plug is tent, defined by Webster’s Dictionary (1913) as
    A roll of lint or linen, or a conical or cylindrical piece of sponge or other absorbent, used chiefly to dilate a natural canal, to keep open the orifice of a wound, or to absorb discharges.
    A synonym for tent in this sense is pledget.

    J.K. Rowling studied classics for two years at the University of Exeter, before switching to French. Some think that the Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore was modelled on one of her classics professors, Peter Wiseman.

  27. From the Time piece cited by Athanasius above:

    “What does Harry have instead of God? Rowling’s answer, at once glib and profound, is that Harry’s power comes from love. (“Big deal!” thinks Harry when Dumbledore offers him this revelation in Half-Blood Prince.) This charming notion represents a massive cultural sea change. In the new millennium magic comes not from God, or nature, or anything grander or more mystical than a mere human emotion.”

    May I point out that the article’s author apparently doesn’t understand Love – referring to it as simply a “human emotion”.

    I have not read any book in the series, so I may not be much qualified to comment here, but I have to wonder whether it is possible that Rowling’s is taking her cue from Benedict XVI or even from St. John, the beloved disciple himself. Deus Caritas Est! God IS Love! Something to condier anyhow.

  28. From the Time piece cited by Athanasius above:

    “What does Harry have instead of God? Rowling’s answer, at once glib and profound, is that Harry’s power comes from love. (“Big deal!” thinks Harry when Dumbledore offers him this revelation in Half-Blood Prince.) This charming notion represents a massive cultural sea change. In the new millennium magic comes not from God, or nature, or anything grander or more mystical than a mere human emotion.”

    May I point out that the article’s author apparently doesn’t understand Love – referring to it as simply a “human emotion”.

    I have not read any book in the series, so I may not be much qualified to comment here, but I have to wonder whether it is possible that Rowling’s is taking her cue from Benedict XVI or even from St. John, the beloved disciple himself. Deus Caritas Est! God IS Love! Something to condier anyhow.

  29. Barb Farrah says:

    Thanks for your fine analysis, Father.

    I, and my now teenage daughter, have very much enjoyed the Potter books.
    I have thought them permeated by Christian themes from volume one.
    This last one has not disappointed!

    Look forward to more of your thoughts.

  30. Jennie says:

    Here is an interesting comment made by Rowling when asked if she was a Christian (from an article by Max Wyman of the Vancouver Sun on October 26, 2000):
    “Yes, I am,” she says. “Which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I’ve been asked if I believe in God, I’ve said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what’s coming in the books.”

    ————————————
    I can understand a parent’s concerns regarding these books(I am a parent of five children.) Having read them myself I have come to see the elements of magic as secondary to the larger story, the “medium” (no pun intended)to transmit the narrative to the audience. Flashy yet not dumbed down, it grabs the attention of today’s big-budget-media-saturated audience, making readers out of folks that might not otherwise pick up one of the great works available (the ones without the obviously problematic themes).

    I think it is really key for parents to talk about the books. Dialogue about the situations, the consequences of actions, evil masquerading as good, loyalty, friendship, punishment, death etc. and help their kids see the messages within the text(the book as more than a just a fun story, ask ‘what does it mean?’) Not only will kids come away with a deeper appreciation of the book, but will have the skills to look critically at other books in the future.

    Jennifer

    PS Just an additional comment. I think that the reading level and maturity required to “get” these books is greater than the abilities of many young people. Some folks I know have suggested Lord of The Rings as a substitute, but I think the pace and language used would be difficult for all but the most advanced and determined kid (of the younger set-upper elemetary?-of Harry Potter readers)to muddle through. Much of the fantasy fiction for this age is drivvel(poorly written, dumbed down, unsophisticated), which I believe is part of the appeal, and success of Harry Potter.

  31. Meg Q says:

    If the Time reviewer thought “God dies” in the 7th Harry Potter, then he did not understand the book, the series, or both. People who get freaked about the “magic” do not understand the books either – I don’t mean this uncharitably, it’s just that Rowling had a purpose in trying to set up a “world” that is in and parallel to the “everyday” world, and yet separate from it. (Not that I’m a big fan, just saying.) If you want something to get freaked out about, I highly recommend Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” books. Definitely worth getting freaked out about – well, not that freaked out. But, as I asked my husband, a professor of English Lit, “How many polar bears were there in Milton?”

  32. Laura Lowder says:

    I read the book yesterday, and while there are a great many philosophical and ethical issues that come to light with this book, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Can’t specify which I see as negative, which as positive, for fear of going into spoiler territory. I really do think this book is much more for adults now, not for kids – parents will need to be more proactive in discussing this book and the issues it raises with their kids.
    Amazing to watch the maturity of the trio – Harry, Ron, Hermione – as the story progresses. Harry learns that there is more to situations and to people than he knew before, and it has a major impact on him. Old prejudices are challenged, greater depth of character achieved. Love and sacrifice are major themes, but I can tell you, there is deeper Truth than the deepest Magic Rowling can reveal – but that is part of our joy and victory as Catholics, isn’t it? I also have a loaner book, will buy my own copy soon – and will read it again and again.