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Ridiculous Response to Harry Potter

John on August 21, 2007 at 11:38 pm

Potter hatred is a cottage industry that embarrasses me no end:

Lev Grossman, in the July 23, 2007, issue of Time magazine, writes, “If you want to know who dies in Harry Potter, the answer is easy: God.” In this he has expressed the core problem with the Potter series. There is much that could be written, and has been written, about the specific problems in the books. Without neglecting the valid point that good fiction need not be overtly Christian, need not be religious at all, we might ponder a little the fact that the central metaphor and plot engines of the series are activities (witchcraft and sorcery) absolutely prohibited by God.

We might also consider for a moment the fact that no sane parents would give their children books which portrayed a set of “good” pimps and prostitutes valiantly fighting a set of “bad” pimps and prostitutes, and using the sexual acts of prostitution as the thrilling dynamic of the story. By the same token we should ask ourselves why we continue to imbibe large doses of poison in our cultural consumption, as if this were reasonable and normal living, as if the presence of a few vegetables floating in a bowl of arsenic soup justifies the long-range negative effects of our diet. Leaving aside a wealth of such arguments, let us consider Lev Grossman’s insight.

“The death of God?” many a reader will respond. “Surely he is making too much of the matter! Aren’t we discussing a single phenomenon in a vast sea of cultural phenomena? And aren’t there a lot of positive values in these books and films – even some edifying moments of courage and sacrifice? And isn’t it all about love?” Yes, in a sense it is. But what kind of love? What kind of sacrifice? And for what purpose?

The series is also about the usefulness of hatred and pride, malice toward your real or perceived enemies, seeking and using secret knowledge, lies, cunning, contempt, and sheer good luck in order to defeat whatever threatens you or stands in the path of your desires. It is a cornucopia of other false messages: The end justifies the means. Nothing is as it seems. No one can really be trusted, except those whom you feel comfortable with, who support your aims and make you feel good about yourself. Killing others is justified if you are good and they are bad. Conservative people are bad, anti-magic dogmatists are really bad and deserve whatever punishment they get (hence the delicious retributions against the Dursleys). The ultimate cause of evil is rejection of magic: the arch-villain Voldemort, for example, first went off track when he became a dysfunctional boy abandoned by his anti-magic father.

Many of these same criticisms could be directed at Lord of the Rings and, frankly, some of them could be located within the Bible itself. If the Potter books fail it’s hard to imagine any fiction at all that would be free of any taint.

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