PERSONAL FILE: A Box-full of Memories

What if it were that easy?

Dumbledore has an armory of peculiar magical devices in J. K. Rowling’s story of Harry Potter but there’s one that’s of particular interest to me. He keeps it locked away in a cupboard and when the young wizard first stumbles upon it toward the end of the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it’s only a short time until the final contest of the Triwizard Tournament. After having a vision of the dark lord Voldemort, Harry finds himself in Dumbledore’s office and accidentally discovers the object in the cupboard, left slightly ajar: it’s the Pensieve and Harry’s curiosity gets the better of him when he leans in too close to the shining basin and falls in, finding himself doused in the headmaster’s memories.

As with many things in Rowling’s books, “Pensieve” is a play on words: “pensive” means to be thoughtful or absorbed in deep reflection and contemplation. Dumbledore periodically takes his memories–which appear as a wispy white vapor on the tip of his wand–from his head and drops them into the Pensieve where he will return to examine them on occasion to search for “patterns and links.” Continue reading

Potter Satisfies “Spiritual Hunger in a Secular Culture”

I never thought I’d see the day when an intelligent Christian literary critic could so eloquently write on Harry Potter. The full article I’m referencing can be read at Christianity Today but here are a couple of highlights:

“Like Lewis, Williams, and other greats, Rowling has written a spiritual allegory of the soul’s transformation to perfection in Christ. Fiction, as philosopher and historian of religion Mircea Eliade explained in The Sacred and the Profane, serves a religious function in a secular culture. Moderns are immunized against sacramental experience, prayer, and worship, yet still long for the transcendent, something beyond the ego. We find it in sports, film, and music, but most powerfully in books, especially in novels in which the heart recognizes its reflection in a character like Harry. We recognize and imaginatively experience our hearts’ end in Christ’s victory over death.


“Rowling did not create the truth of the Eliade thesis, that novels satisfy a spiritual hunger in a secular culture. But her saga has confirmed it spectacularly. Harry Potter revealed rather than created the great spiritual hunger of our time.”

God Does It Again, That Wily Rascal

I have a self-imposed rule that I only occasionally break: that being never watching a movie about a book I’ve yet to read. I broke it for the sixth Harry Potter movie (the book on which it was based I have not read) and for the first part of the finale. I decided, however, that for the final installment, I needed to read the book before I saw the film. So, I did.

Jumping back in time a bit, I read the first Harry Potter book before I was than ten years old (I don’t recall exactly how old I was) and did so with this kind of nagging guilt in the back of my mind that told me I shouldn’t be reading it. Don’t forget, I was raised in an environment that was instantly hostile to any book bearing the words “witchcraft” and “wizardry” within it’s covers. Even so, I liked The Sorcerer’s Stone and continued to consume them all the way until the The Order of the Phoenix, at which point, convinced the eternal state of my soul was in jeopardy, I ceased reading them. Of course, that didn’t stop me from watching the movies as they came out–I reasoned, “I’ve read the books, so what harm could there be in watching the movies?”

When Half-Blood Prince came out in theaters, I avoided seeing it for a time, although I did watch it eventually in violation of my aforementioned rule. Of course, over time, my attitude toward the story changed; by the time DH1 was released in theaters last fall, I was so enthusiastic about seeing it, I went with a group to see it the night it premiered.

(Full disclosure: probably a major contributing reason to my going to see the premiere had to do with a news story on the movie that was pulled from my campus publication because–I’m convinced–there was concern it might offend some backwoods Pentecostals or their parents and make them less likely to donate their money to the school. Seeing that decision for what it was, I more than happy to thumb my nose at the–real or perceived–ignorance and bigotry driving that decision. Funny that, considering one of the central themes of Rowling’s books is combating ignorance and bigotry.)

At any rate, long story short, I found myself a few days ago on the cusp of the release of the final film and not having read The Deathly Hallows. I set out at once to correct this problem. Now, with The Deathly Hallows safely inside my head, I, at last, can now say with certainty that the bellowing pastors, front-pew congregants, Sunday school teachers, and sundry others of  “God’s mouthpieces” who’ve taken every chance to rail against Satan’s (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling’s) usurpation of America’s youth through witchcraft and the occult were merely, hopelessly, humorously ignorant.

In a twist of irony almost worthy of  a movie itself, not even the “Sister Bertha”-approved Chronicles of Narnia or Lord of the Rings have such a wonderful, clear, and majestically-moving picture of Christ’s love for Mankind as does Rowling’s story of the Boy Who Lived. Since I don’t believe in defending a book by spoiling it–in fact, a good story is perfectly capable of defending itself–, I’m not going to list all the reasons here why the Harry Potter books could very well be considered parabolic. Like Rob Bell, I believe people should only discuss books they’ve actually read.

Of course, the most clearly ironic part of the whole thing remains that someone managed–and not for the first time–to take something evil (witchcraft) but which enraptures people with interest, convert it and, whether intentionally or not, use it to tell a story of God’s love. In fact, as I recall, Jesus sort of did something that in his ministry–you know, use stories to convey larger spiritual truths and all that stuff. Also, if I remember correctly, even the Scripturally-learned men of the day had a hard time understanding Jesus’ stories. In that case, I guess I can sort of understand–though not excuse–the persistent insistence by some Christians that Miss Rowling and any who read her books are in cahoots with the devil.

If life has taught me anything thus far, it’s that there will always be people who know nothing other than to be afraid of new ideas, of strange symbols, and of things beyond their initial comprehension. It seems to be an inescapable human trait, one which has been and likely will be a constant nuisance until the end of time. However, one thing I do know for sure is this: should I one day find myself reading stories to my children at bedtime, one of them will almost certainly be the Tale of Harry Potter.