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Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Harry Potter series, revisited.

I recently re-read all seven of the Harry Potter books, by J. K. Rowling. I enjoyed reading them, and wish to give some reactions. Since Rowling exerted firm control over the movies, I'm not considering them, as such. They are mostly like the books. There are probably some spoilers in this post. Sorry.

1) There is a clear conflict between good, represented by Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, and evil, represented by Voldemort. Some of the magical people in the books are steadfastly good, some steadfastly evil. Some of them change camps. Harry, and others, are tempted to join the evil side. Harry's father apparently was a real rascal, and a bully, when he was in Hogwarts, the school for wizards, but he did stand up for good before he died. (Harry's parents died while he was still a baby, killed by Voldemort.)

Percy Weasley seeks power, and, because he does, rejects his parents and siblings, in order to curry favor with people in the Ministry of Magic. But he finally repents. Severus Snape seems to be an evil character through almost all seven of the books, but, in the end, Harry understands that he really was on the side of good all along.

There is some scripture, and some indications that some of the witches and wizards pray, in the book.

As of January 9, 2015, the Wikipedia article on the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, has a section on "Christian Allegories."

2) Rowling doesn't seem to like bureaucracies very much. Although there are good people who work in the Ministry of Magic, there are also a lot of bad ones.

3) Rowling is usually very good at naming. Dumbledore, Voldemort, and Snape are names that are perfect for their characters. Hogwarts, and the four Hogwarts Houses, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin, are well named. Nearly Headless Nick is an inspired name (for a ghost). I think Rowling could have done a better job with the Deathly Hallows. The word Hallow has, for me at least, the connotation of holiness, and that isn't really what the Hallows were about. Pensieve also doesn't quite ring true, for me.

4) Rowling has a great imagination. The train to Hogwarts, Hogwarts itself, with its several classes on the practice of magic, the Sorting Hat, the ghosts, and the game of Quidditch, played on brooms, are some of the evidence for that. The entire wizard/witch culture, living in the midst of non-magical people, is also evidence. She is good on setting, plot, characterization and dialog. The plot can be especially intricate, but the reader doesn't have to understand the ins and outs of wand possession to grasp who is on the side of Voldemort, and who isn't.

The point of view seldom shifts. Most of the time, it's on Harry. If you end a chapter, usually the next one takes up where the previous one left off.

5) One of the attractions of the books, for young people, is that Harry, Hermione and Ron (and other Hogwarts students) do a lot of staying up after they should have been in bed. They also do a lot of exploring into places where they aren't supposed to go. They copy each other's schoolwork. Sometimes, they get punished for staying up too long, or trespassing, but mostly they don't. Some of the destruction of evil in the books would not have been possible without this sort of behavior.

6) For some reason, none of the many professors at Hogwarts seem to be married. Although the leading character, Harry, is male, there are many important female characters, such as Hermione Granger, Professor McGonagal, Dolores Umbridge, Luna Lovegood and Ginny Weasley and her mother, Molly. Not all of them are good. All of them are well developed.

7) The great moral questions in the books revolve around power, and its importance, and death, and its importance. At least four characters willingly enter situations where they are in danger of death, to advance the cause of good, and two of them die in these situations. Voldemort, the archvillian, has done everything that he can to keep from dying.
“There is nothing worse than death, Dumbledore!” snarled Voldemort. “You are quite wrong,” said Dumbledore . . . - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. 1 Corinthians 15:26, that says that the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death, is on a tombstone, and Harry and Hermione reflect on it.

8) Although Harry can be proud, cheeky, devious, revenges some bad things done to him, and can question Dumbledore's judgment, he has his really good points. One of them is that he saves the lives of two contemporaries who have been really nasty to him. Those are Draco Malfoy and Dudley Dursley, his non-magical cousin. He stands up for Hagrid, the not-so-competent professor.

A few years ago, I posted my reactions to the books, in a comment on an interview of the author, J. K. Rowling, with Katie Couric. In that interview, Rowling said that her books were very moral, and not designed to encourage devil worship, black magic, and the like. In another post, I compiled a number of reactions, by Christians, to the books and movies. That post, "Is Harry Potter a bad influence, ii," is here. It has links to a couple of dozen sources. Some of them, especially those to Christianity Today, are, no doubt, now dead.

I agree with Rowling, mostly. (But see point 5, above.) The books are not designed to teach love of devil worship, black magic, and the like. They are coming of age novels, set in the environment of a wizard/witch subculture, mostly in the United Kingdom. The coming of age is more important than the magic that the young wizards and witches are taught at Hogwarts. (Wizards are male, witches female.)

The Wikipedia has extensive coverage of the books, and the movies. This article is probably the best place to start.

See Speculative Faith, which has some good posts on the matter of magic and Christianity. They include "The Christian Problem with Magic, 1," and the second part. Also "Deuteronomy 18 Witchcraft," which, among other things, points out that Elsa, from Frozen, is a witch, and a post that claims -- read it -- that some Christian parents practice white magic, especially near Halloween.

If you haven't read these books, you should. Thanks for reading this.

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