Harry Potter's victory over Christian wowsers

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 2 (M). Director: David Yates. Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes. 130 minutes

It wasn't exactly Nazi Germany, but it was, nonetheless, an appalling act of biblioclasm. Someone from the local community had donated a set of young people's fantasy novels to the thrift shop attached to the church that I had attended since childhood. The then-managers of the store, whom I had thought to be kindly and moderate Christian folk, literally put flame to the unfortunate tomes.

This was no isolated incident, of course, but the destruction of Harry Potter novels, on the pretext that they promoted occult practices to children, had seemed mainly to be the domain of conservative American Christian wowsers. I was shocked, frankly, to find that similar attitudes existed so close to home, among people who I had known and looked up to.

Such fanaticism was ironic, too, given the fact that the series' author, J. K. Rowling, is a Christian, who saw her fantastical saga as a parable in a similar mould to C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. Rowling went so far as to tell The Vancouver Sun back in 2000 that any 'intelligent reader', if they knew the details of her religious beliefs, would 'be able to guess what's coming in the books'.

Harry Potter is, after all, explicitly a Christ figure. This may be true of all fictional 'chosen ones' who learn the necessity of faith and self-sacrifice on the path to overcoming evil. But the seventh and final Harry Potter book, The Deathly Hallows, and now this, the eighth film, which completes the adaptation begun in last year's The Deathly Hallows Pt 1, take the analogy to its literal conclusion.

There's not much plot to be revealed about this action-driven finale. It picks up where the dark and character-driven quest story of DH1 left off. Harry (Radcliffe) and his friends Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson) have taken the first steps in their mission to locate those mystical talismans, known as horcruxes, that are tied up with the mortality of their evil nemesis, Voldemort (Fiennes).

They arrive back at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and to a world that has become utterly oppressed by Voldemort and his army of Death Eaters. Here they prepare for battle.

Cinematically, the results are mixed. Where Rowling's novels, particularly in the second half of the series, suffered from a serious case of narrative bloat, the latter films have displayed their own related problems of poor plotting and pacing. This is true also of DH2, into which the filmmakers have attempted to jam as much action as possible in order to ensure the series goes out with a bang.

Perennial nasties get their comeuppance. A few beloved 'good guys' are dispatched unceremoniously, ensuring the film packs an emotional punch. Several other favourites are given 'hero moments' that, in the screening I attended, prompted dutiful applause from some faithful audience members. In this, director Yates ticks a lot of boxes. But he also robs many of these moments of dramatic impact.

Importantly though, while the messianic dimensions of Harry's final victory are oddly understated, the redemptive revelations about the series' most enigmatic villain powerfully reinforce the themes of love, faith and self-sacrifice, and ensure that the import of these events is not lost. Thematically and narratively, this is the most satisfying element of book and film alike.

The conclusion of the Harry Potter film franchise marks the end of an era. The boy wizard has been with us for nearly a decade and a half, since the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 1997. Contrary to the predictions of wowsers, the series has not led generations into paganism.

Instead they have enjoyed and been inspired by an unforgettable story containing a simple but profound message lifted straight from the gospels. Amen. 


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Kidzone, Inside Film and The Big Issue, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail. Follow Tim on Twitter 

Topic tags: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, ron weasely, hermione granger, voldemort

 

 

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There has been a triviliasing and cute marketing of evil in our time. The Harry Potter stories are attractive and point to personal control over natural forces. I have see children writing 'spells' on other children for 'homework' and this derived from their Harry Potter reading and set work from a Catholic primary school. However lest anyone who dares question the Potter mass hysteria be called a wowser, let me deflect the energy of denunciation to Fr Gabriele Amorth who saw the themes of the Potter novels as leading to darker areas. 'According to press reports, Fr. Amorth, said of the books, "You start off with Harry Potter, who comes across as a likeable wizard, but you end up with the Devil. There is no doubt that the signature of the Prince of Darkness is clearly within these books." "By reading Harry Potter a young child will be drawn into magic and from there it is a simple step to Satanism and the Devil," he said. ' http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/1694152/posts But then, I suppose you might say what would Fr Gabriele Amorth know. He is only an exorcist who has freed thousands from demonic influences [no fantasy]which are indeed present in our world and they don't appear with horns, they appear as smiling, charming faces, books and ideas.
Skye | 14 July 2011


Thank you for writing and publishing this article. It's another small step away from archaic Middle Ages Catholicism towards a Church based on Jesus Christ's love. Thanks!
Tim Graham | 14 July 2011


I read the critique of Harry Potter novels from particular Catholics, but I rarely read the same people critique systems in our society that perpetuate injustice.
MBG | 14 July 2011


A perennial pop cultural favourite reaches a satisfying filmic conclusion, a beautifully crafted article from Tim Kroenert is posted, and nutters come out to play. It's like a tidal pull for the superstitious and fractious aspirants for a new, braindead Christendom.

Among the many loony toons who may be inspired to join the wide world of retorts this article may prompt, I wil not be surprised if the concerns of Skye are repeated in various forms.

The notion of the Harry Potter tales being a literary 'gateway drug' that leads children astray and exposes them to nastier bogey men lurking away in arcane black arts ('You start off with Harry Potter, who comes across as a likeable wizard, but you end up with the Devil'!) is risible but hardly new.

Fundamentalists have been saying the thing about different pop cultural expressions for a long, long time. Their magic bullet theories are dumbed-down approaches to criticism; a kind of primitive and ill-conceived textual determinism that insults readers/viewers/ listeners of all ages.

The same ridiculous concerns raised by Skye have been applied to numerous musicians (everyone from Stravinsky to Queen), frivolous cartoons (the Smurfs were described by some medication-shunning fundamentalists as 'little blue devils') and authors/painters/ sculptors/actors ad nauseum.

It's not as if pop culture is seen as the lone offender; pleasure-shunning, life-hating fundos take their manic concerns seriously and would apply their paranoia universally. That way lies yet another Dark Ages epoch; another era of inquisitions, auto-da-fés and Salem witch trials.

As the reviewer points out, Rowling's message is seated squarely on Christian teachings. Her debt to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and earlier Christian writers, is massive and hugely evident. Surely we can get past the lunatic fringe's hatred of the 'deeper magic' (the New Testament 'wisdom from above'), as understood and written of lovingly by C.S. Lewis.
Barry G | 14 July 2011


i wonder how Skye feels about the Narnia books and The Lord of the Rings. They both have to do with evil spells,complete with wizards and witches.
IHC | 14 July 2011


Good point IHC. And one could add fairy tales and so on. I think the difference is that Narnia and fairy tales are clearly fantasy worlds - utterly separate from our 'real' world.Children recognise the fantasy as such. The Harry Potter world is a world more recognizably real, more akin to our daily realities and experiences. It gives the message that one can, if one has 'the power' [like that of witches] exert power over nature and that is where some may be unduly influenced to try the dark side. Children reading Narnia do not for a moment think it is real. Children reading the Potter books, see schools, streets and people similar to their every life and may be drawn to witchcraft as a positive thing[not all just some]to try to change their lives. Fr Gabriele Amorth has seen some sad cases of demonic influence which started with 'dabbling' in witchcraft. He is simply giving a warning saying - don't let things like the Potter books lure children to the dark side of things, which as his extensive experience shows, really does exist. Here is another interview with him. It is worth reading.

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/religion/1260364/posts
Skye | 14 July 2011


I read the critique of Harry Potter novels from particular Catholics, but I rarely read the same people critique systems in our society that perpetuate injustice.
MBG | 14 July 2011


A person very dear to me once revealed her opposition to the Harry Potter series because she received one of those viral emails which claimed that it teachers children 'real spells.' She had not actually read any of the books. I had to be very gentle with her in disabusing her of such notions, pointing to the larger themes in the novels. Any reading of literature and film operates on two levels - the apparent and the metaphorical. Meaning sits in the latter, yet is summarily rejected. For instance, the Harry Potter and Narnia books (specifically The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) both highlight the idea that love is the deepest, most powerful magic of all, one that ultimately conquers evil. I think this is a worthwhile conclusion for children to be making, with our support.
Fatima Measham | 14 July 2011


"Children reading Narnia do not for a moment think it is real." Sorry, Skye, but as a child I hoped that I too would find a magical world at the back of my wardrobe. I don;t think you can distinguish between HP and Narnia on the basis of their real world connections, most of the Narnia books start very much in the real world.

I must say I am amused by the people who believe that Harry Potter teaches spells. Given many of the 'spells' are merely Latin words, if people believe they might be at all effective they need to protest the teaching of Latin.

Personally, I'm opposed to all forms of reading. It may start with simple school readers, but the ability to read opens children to an entire world of texts, some of which have non-fundamentalist Christian points of view. The horror! It must be stopped!
Avril | 14 July 2011


Thanks, Skye for your illuminating comments. Three questions, if I may, so I can understand their context: Have you read the HP series? Are you a fan of The Simpsons TV series and the Chronicles of Narnia?
EllieKay | 15 July 2011


Being a Harry Potter fan for the last ten years (I am now 20) I can say that the series has taught me that: Love, family and friendship are paramount. Love is a greater force than evil and is more powerful than magic. Truth, loyalty and justice are more important than power. The importance of courage in the face of adversity. Appearances aren't everything. Intelligence is invaluable. People should not be judged by their race, religion or culture but by the content of their character. [The books emphasise that being a 'pure blood' wizard doesn't make you better than anyone else.] "Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light" (Dumbledore). And, if we learn anything from the storyline of Prof. Severus Snape it's that to "judge not lest ye be judged". Harry Potter encourages imagination in children (and adults) and actually enforces Christian teaching. Thankyou, Tim for your insightful article.
Bridget | 15 July 2011


Why get so uptight about Rowling's fantasy world? After all, there's something of a continuum between such fantasies and 'hard' science fiction. Perhaps Arthur C Clarke's Third LAw is of some relevance here: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. [Some of his other aphorisms include Clarke's First Law: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong. Clarke's Second Law: The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible. and Clarke's Law of Revolutionary Ideas: Every revolutionary idea — in science, politics, art, or whatever — seems to evoke three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the phrases: (1) "It's completely impossible — don't waste my time"; (2) "It's possible, but it's not worth doing"; (3) "I said it was a good idea all along." ]
David Arthur | 15 July 2011


I totally agree with the argument. The films always highlighted truly good values and the importance of standing by one's principles regardless of the dangers. They fostered courage, the importance of fighting for one's beliefs, strength of purpose and following through with the decisions made. They brought home the importance of being faithful to the people that stand by you regardless of what happens and what may be said about them, how important love and friendship are in conquering evil and temptation and I found them truly inspiring and have no qualms in encouraging my grandchildren to see them when the time comes.
Maria Prestinenzi | 24 July 2011


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