Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Religious Agenda in Harry Potter?

I mentioned in a previous blog that J.K. Rowling is a Christian, giving evidence from her own mouth that the reason why she does not elaborate on her faith is because "the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what’s coming in the books" and that "there is so much I would like to say, and come back when I’ve written book seven. But then maybe you won’t need to even say it ’cause you’ll have found it out anyway. You’ll have read it". Both statements, spoken within months of each other, point to a possible ending of the series that will inform her faith.

This potential scenario may shock many fans of the Potterverse, particularly the non-Christian fans of the series. But there is a distinction. Several times JKR has said that she does not set out to preach. In her acceptance speech for the Príncipe de Asturias Prize, JKR said, "I didn’t intend to teach or preach to children. In fact, I think that, except for some rare exceptions, fiction literature works for children lose interest when the author is more focused in teaching morals to their readers than in captivating them with his or her tale." Another time, JKR contrasts the world she created with that of Narnia:

Narnia is literally a different world, whereas in the Harry books you go into a world within a world that you can see if you happen to belong. A lot of the humour comes from collisions between the magic and the everyday worlds. Generally there isn't much humour in the Narnia books, although I adored them when I was a child. I got so caught up I didn't think C.S. Lewis was especially preachy. Reading them now I find that his subliminal message isn't very subliminal at all. Really, C.S. Lewis had very different objectives to mine. When I write, I don't intend to make a point or teach philosophy of life (Renton, Jennie. "The story behind the Potter legend: JK Rowling talks about how she created the Harry Potter books and the magic of Harry Potter's world," Sydney Morning Herald, October 28, 2001).
JKR's words on the matter go along with her response to the inevitable comparisons to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. She simply says, "I've read both of them, er - both of them were geniuses, I'm immensely flattered to be compared to them, but I think I'm doing something slightly different again" (Lydon, Christopher. J.K. Rowling interview transcript, The Connection (WBUR Radio), 12 October, 1999). How can we reconcile JKR's "Christianity" as a clue to the ending of the series to her abhorrence over "preaching" in her writing? Is there a contradiction here? Not necessarily. JKR has said many times that her novels have a moral framework and many times morals are drawn, although it appears unconsciously while she's writing. It is important to remember that hidden religious meaning, especially one that flows from the author's own beliefs, will not scare readers as an overt religious agenda.

Now I do not believe that JKR has an overt religious agenda or wants to preach "Christianity" and convert the masses. However I do believe based on her statements and others that her beliefs will spill forth in Deathly Hallows. Maybe it won’t be as obvious as what C.S. Lewis did in Narnia for Christianity and Philip Pullman in His Dark Materials did for atheism. But I’m hoping she will. All we know is that we will get a clear idea of her beliefs in book seven on the matter. Just look at this gem of an article:

“Rowling, aware of the protest, said she couldn’t answer the questions about the book’s religious content until the conclusion of book seven” (Tucker, Ernest. “No end in sight for Pottermania,” Chicago Sun-Times, October 22, 1999).
Mark those calendars.

Monday, June 18, 2007

How Did Fred and George Time Travel?

I came across Mrs. Lovegood's recent post, Can Fred and George predict the future, or can they time travel? and my thoughts turned to how Fred and George knew the exact outcome of the Ireland-Bulgaria match at the Quidditch World Cup. I agree with Mrs. Lovegood that time travel is a more likely explanation for the Twin's knowledge of the match than sheer Divination:

How would they do it? The Fred and George who went to the match then go back in time and tell their other selves, the ones who haven't seen the match yet, who won? Or do Fred and George somehow go forward in time? We don't see anyone going forward in time in PoA, so we don't know if Wizards can do so or not.

If Fred and George have mastered this, without a time turner, this might be useful for Harry in the last book.

Now Fred and George are very talented wizards despite what their O.W.L. results indicate; however I find it highly unlikely that they found a way to time travel without the use of a time turner. There is no indication in the series that there is an alternate method of time travel and any revelation of the twins using a different method of time travel this late in the series is not likely. There are more important loose ends that need to be addressed in Deathly Hallows than this. There is a better explanation for the Twin's time traveling.

After finishing Prisoner of Azkaban Sunday morning, one of the details that I took for granted was how many subjects Hermione Granger took that year. Let’s count them off: Ancient Runes, Arithmancy, Astronomy, Care of Magical Creatures, Charms, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Divination, Herbology, History of Magic, Muggle Studies, Potions, Transfiguration. Twelve subjects in all. There was no way she could take all these subjects without the use of a time turner. This is a important fact to consider. We know that she left Divination forever around Easter and at the end of POA, she dropped Muggle Studies. Fast forward to Half-Blood Prince when she receives her O.W.L. results. She passed 11 subjects (10 Outstanding, 1 Exceeds Expectations), which means that she took exams for the 10 subjects she was taking and sat one "unknown" exam (probably Muggle Studies since she is a muggleborn witch herself meaning that you can probably sit an exam even if you are not officially taking it).

Hermione's prowess and academic excellence is very impressive when we consider that the most O.W.L.s you can take is twelve. We know at least two characters that achieved that, Bill and Percy Weasley. Considering what Hermione went through in POA, it is highly likely that Bill and Percy each were allowed to use a Time-Turner to get to their classes. I believe that Fred and George snuck into Percy's room and discovered his Time-Turner and "borrowed" it. They have a history of borrowing Percy's things like when they enchanted Percy's Head Boy badge to say Bighead Boy so it is not far fetched that they would do the same here. The only problem is that we have seen the Time-Turner go back in time not forward to the future. Three turns of the hourglass allow the user to go back three hours in time but we do not know how the Time-Turner can transverse the future or how many turns (in the opposite direction) it takes to go several years forward to the Quidditch World Cup. Despite these problems, the clues we have in the series regarding Percy's O.W.L. results and Hermione's use of the Time-Turner make the case for the Time-Turner theory all the more compelling.

Monday, June 11, 2007

My Harry Potter Reading Plan

Last night I started to reread Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in accordance to my plan to read the entire series before July 21, 2007. With 39 days to go, this means that I have to finish each novel in 6 days and 12 hours. I probably should have started this earlier, but I have full confidence that I can do this. When OOTP and HBP came out in June 2003 and July 2005 respectively, I finished both novels in less than two days. I generally like to read books slowly and that includes Harry Potter; however something different happens when reading J.K. Rowling's words and if you spend a good hour of reading without interruption, you can get a lot done. Hopefully I will notice certain details and themes that I did not catch before and allow me to put the entire Septology in perspective before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows comes out.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Concerning Dragons, Villages, and Sunsets

The cover design for the deluxe edition of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released last Friday. Imagine my surprise and excitement as soon as I logged on and saw the news via Sword of Gryffindor. It was essentially the same reaction two years ago when I saw Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore walking in a forest in the deluxe cover for the sixth novel. This brilliant cover by Mary GrandPré raises a whole lot of questions; the main one concerning the dragon.

We have seen dragons before in the Harry Potter series especially with Norbert in PS/SS and explicitly in the second task in GOF. Since those are the first and fourth novels in the Septology, it was probably inevitable that we would see a dragon in the seventh novel. We just didn't see it coming. Is the dragon actually Norbert whisking Harry, Hermione, and Ron off to some horcrux hunting adventure? The old, torn wings suggest that this is an old dragon we are dealing with here and Norbert is only seven-years old. Dragons in myth and folklore tend to live a very long time so we can rule out Norbert. My guess was the Common Welsh Green. They are native to Wales and probably the only dragon species found in Great Britain. Where else would the Trio find a dragon? Through Charlie Weasley? We know he's an expert in dragons but what is the possibility that Ron's brother would just happen to have a dragon on him? I mean is Charlie going to give a dragon as a wedding present to Bill and Fleur? I highly doubt it. Perhaps they simply "borrowed" a dragon from Gringotts although I'm not sure how does one simply go up to a dragon and ride it. According to Ron in PS/SS, "you can’t tame dragons, it’s dangerous..." I suggested that maybe there is a way to gain a dragon's confidence like when you need to bow before a Hippogriff but there is no going around the fact that dragons are very dangerous creatures and the Trio's lack of experience with them.

One intriguing idea is that the dragon might be an animagus. Pat Henderson of Eeyore's Reflections has written that this cover reminds her of the third Narnia novel, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis, "where Eustace turns into a dragon and then sheds the scales in his transformation into a new person, getting rid of the things that made him so horrid to others." Later on in her comments at Sword of Gryffindor, she makes the connection with Draco Malfoy because "Draco means dragon" and perhaps the cover shows "a transformed Draco, helping the trio to get somewhere?" Travis Prinzi reminds us that "Rowling has mentioned that Eustace is her favorite character from Narnia, which we covered here quite some time ago." The only drawback to all of this is that it's extremely difficult to become an animagus (the Marauders minus Remus Lupin all became animagi in their fifth year). Draco Malfoy does have exceptional magical ability. He created an enchanted coin using the difficult N.E.W.T. level Protean Charm to communicate with Madame Rosmerta in HBP and probably was responsible for the Imperius Curse on Rosmerta. He is also can do Occlumency, something that Harry never mastered. Draco certainly has the ability and since Draco failed to kill Dumbledore, he probably would think of some way to hide from Voldemort even if it is becoming an animagus. If true all this suggests a possible redemption for Draco Malfoy? JKR weighed in after her reading at Radio City Music Hall (August 1, 2006):

[T]here is the possibility of redemption for all of them. Draco, I think -- in Harry’s view, even given unlimited time, would not have killed (I assume all of you have finished the book? I don’t wish to deprive some kid who’s got 5 pages to go. They’ve been in a coma all this time.) Harry believes that Draco would not have murdered the person in question. What that means for Draco’s future? We’ll just have to wait and see.

I will find it interesting if JKR chooses to go there. But finally I want to move onto something I suggested in my comments at Sword of Gryffindor concerning dragon's blood. We all know from the chocolate frogs that Albus Dumbledore discovered the 12 uses of dragon's blood. JKR was asked by Kelsey Biggar (age 9) about the 12 uses and JKR answered, “I have a very good reason for not telling you — the movie script writer wants me to give him that information for the film. But I can say that the 12th use is oven cleaner” (Chonin, Neva. “Harry Potter’s Wizard: Creator of children’s book series tours Bay Area,” The San Francisco Chronicle, October 30, 1999). Based on this we can assume that dragon's blood will play a key role in DH including the potential that dragon’s blood can disarm a horcrux (of course if true this rules out my theory of Harry’s blood but we can’t know for sure until the book comes out). This could be interesting because in myth, dragon’s blood was known to be a poison, medicine, or acidic (check out the article on dragon’s blood at Wikipedia). In any case I find it interesting that back in 1999, JKR wasn’t answering any questions about dragon’s blood. Both Pat and NCMcGonagall mentioned that there was "an ornate crystal bottle with a large opal set into the stopper, full of what Harry was quite sure was blood" at Grimmauld Place in OOTP. The text doesn’t say it was dragon blood but given that dragon’s blood has 12 different uses and thereby making it valuable, we cannot rule out that possibility.

What village are they flying over? I tend to believe it is Godric's Hollow but there are other possibilities: Ottery St. Catchpole, Hogsmeade, or Little Hangleton. The sunset obviously indicates that it is late in the day and the evening is approaching. There is a cloudy mist and mountains and rivers surround the village. The cover is beautiful and harkens to some exciting moment in DH. This cover raises a great deal of questions and any attempt at deciphering the cover raises even more questions. If anything we will not know for sure until July 21, 2007. Only 40 days to go!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Harry Potter: What Does David J. Meyer Have To Say?

A peculiar tract “Harry Potter: What Does God Have To Say?” has circulated around the web since 2000. Written after the publication of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, this tract argues that the Harry Potter novels are “orientational and instructional manuals of witchcraft woven into the format of entertainment”. The author is David J. Meyer, a former occultist, now Pentecostal minister who founded Last Trumpet Ministries, which publishes a monthly newsletter that is circulated around the world. Meyer’s ministry focuses on exposing the dangers of the occult and secret societies. The track makes many claims that are at the surface laughable but also betray a disturbing use of fear and misinformation to seduce the reader into believing what it says about Harry Potter.

According to Meyer’s tract, the Harry Potter novels are manuals of witchcraft in the guise of entertaining reading for children and the implications for this are dire since “[i]n order to succeed in bringing witchcraft to the world and thus complete satanic control, an entire generation would have to be induced and taught to think like witches, talk like witches, dress like witches, and act like witches”. Meyer essentially believes that an Illuminist conspiracy exists to bring “forth a one-world religion with a cleverly concealed element of occultism interwoven in its teachings”. One of the early signs of this “satanic set-up” is the infusion of Eastern and New Age teachings into a compromising Church. Keep in mind that there is no way to prove Meyer’s conspiracy theories because they are just that, conspiracy theories.

When Meyer writes that the Harry Potter novels are training manuals for witchcraft, he means specifically Wicca. Space here will not permit me to fully examine this claim but I will go through a few key differences. The moon is very important in Wicca because it represents the Mother Goddess. Since the moon is considered by Wiccans to affect people’s emotions and give off energy, they perform many of their rituals around the four general phases of the moon: the full moon, the waning moon, the new moon, and the waxing moon. Meanwhile in Harry Potter, the moon does not figure prominently in any ritualistic fashion. The only time the moon plays a role is in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban where the character Professor Remus J. Lupin transfigures into a werewolf (an imaginary creature in mythology and folklore) at every full moon. Not only are there no Esbat ritual celebrations in Harry Potter but there is no worship of the Mother Goddess either. One other crucial difference is magic. Wiccans do not have any special powers but rather they tap into the energy of Nature. In contrast the characters in Harry Potter are simply born with magical ability as evident by J.K. Rowling's comment on her website that “magic is a dominant and resilient gene”. This is certainly comparable to the mutants in the X-Men movies and comics rather than real life witchcraft. It is because of these and other differences that led Catherine Edwards Sanders to write, “The stories and themes that fill the pages of the Harry Potter books have little to do with Wicca at all, in fact” (Wicca’s Charm, Shaw Books: Colorado Springs, 2005, pg. 33).

The differences between Harry Potter and Wicca calls into question Meyer’s claim that “[a]s a former witch, I can speak with authority when I say that I have examined the works of Rowling and that the Harry Potter books are training manuals for the occult”. We can even be more skeptical of Meyer’s “authority” when he posits that the following words, “Azkaban”, “Circe”, “Draco”, “Erised”, “Hermes”, and “Slytherin” are referring to real demons. Nothing could be further from the truth. Three of the these words are made up. Azkaban is Harry Potter’s version of Alcatraz prison, Slytherin is the name of one of the four houses at Hogwarts, and Erised is simply desire spelled backwards. There is no way that these three words refer to anything in the demonic realm. Now a case can be made for Circe and Hermes, both of whom are deities in Greek mythology. Circe was a goddess living on the isle of Aeaea who in Homer’s Odyssey she transforms all of Odysseus’ men into animals. After Odysseus is given the herb moly by the god Hermes and is immune to Circe’s potions, the goddess (astonished and impressed) falls in love with Odysseus and frees his men. Hermes was a god who lived on Mount Olympus and was known as the messenger of the gods. Since Circe and Hermes are deities, one can argue that they are demons but that would be stretching it because they are mythological characters. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8.4-6 that idols are nothing in this world compared to the reality of the one God of the Christian faith. The fact that Circe and Hermes were deities in the Greek world is inconsequential to our discussion of Harry Potter because Greek mythology is part of our literary tradition which JKR taps into, and is not indicative of any ancient world pagan reality today. Besides out of the two, Circe appears in passing on a Chocolate Frog trading card in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and is not even important to the content of the novels. Finally Draco just means dragon in Latin and is the name of a character in the novels. It is clear that these six words are not the names of real demons and Meyer is grasping at straws here.

Throughout the rest of the tract, Meyer makes inaccurate statements about Wicca. For one thing, he is content to equate Wicca with Satanism. Consider this statement:

As a real witch, I learned about the two sides of “the force.” Apparently, so do many “Christian” leaders. When real witches have sabats and esbats and meet as a coven, they greet each other by saying “Blessed be”, and when they part, they say “The Force be with you.” Both sides of this “Force” are Satan. It is not a good side of the force that overcomes the bad side of the force, but rather it’s the blood of Jesus Christ that destroys both supposed sides of the satanic “Force.”
This flies in the face of Wiccans who urge that Wicca is not Satanism. For one thing Wiccans do not believe in Satan, whom they see as part of the Christian tradition and not theirs. Because there is no Satan, Wicca do not believe in the concept of absolute good or evil and to say that Wiccans worship Satan is inaccurate. Besides Satanism is very different from Wicca. Defining Satanism can be problematic but Wikipedia comments on the various meanings:

These range from the obviously fanatiс sects to the groups of people in search of themselves; from the literal deistic worship of a malevolent spiritual being (Theistic Satanism) to the monography of the atheistic philosopher; from a subversive ritual performance stressing the mockery of Christian symbols (most notably the Black Mass) to denying all rituals; from the claimed rediscovery of an ancient but misunderstood religion (e.g. Setianism, associated with the Egyptian god Set who is conflated by some with the biblical Satan) to the exaltation of hedonistic recreation and the celebration of selfishness and pleasure.
Satanism was coined around the end of the Middle Ages to indicate a group aimed at destroying Christianity and setting up the worship of Satan. Christian rituals such as the Eucharist were mocked while orgies and human sacrifice were part of the macabre Black Mass. Of course this brand of Satanism never existed and has been regulated to the status of urban legend even though people still fear this religious group as evident by the Satanic panic in the 1980's. Anton LaVey’s version of Satanism is merely a philosophy that is highly critical of Christianity and does not worship Satan but rather sees Satan as the human instinct (emphasis on lust and desires) within ourselves. A key difference between Wicca and LaVey’s Satanism is that Wiccans worship a god and goddess while Satanists revere themselves as god. Despite this Meyer continues to push the Wicca equals Satanism comparison by writing:
High level witches believe that there are seven satanic princes and that the seventh, which is assigned to Christians, has no name. In coven meetings, he is called “the nameless one.” In the Harry Potter books, there is a character called “Voldemort.” The pronunciation guide says of this being “He who must not be named.”
Now there are no “seven satanic princes” in Wicca because once again Wicca is not Satanism. I cannot emphasize this enough. However Meyer's notion that seven satanic princes exist is a very curious belief and I wonder where he got this idea from because it has no parallel in Wicca. I have two suggestions. The first being that Daniel 10.13 says Michael is “one of the chief princes” and Jewish lore (also later Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition) says that there seven archangels. Since there are evil angelic princes in Daniel 10 as evidenced by the presence of the “prince of Persia” and the “prince of Greece”; perhaps there are seven anti-archangels in the hierarchical structure of Satan’s kingdom. The second place is probably Revelation 17.9-11:

This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction.

The language in Revelation is eerily similar to Meyer's especially in regards to the seventh prince except that John calls him a king. I am not saying that Revelation’s seventh king is the same as Meyer’s seventh prince but the language and emphasis is similar so as to suggest some borrowing on Meyer’s part. This mysterious seventh prince with no name cannot be associated with Christianity as Meyer argues because Wicca does not believe in the Christian tradition so how can they have a prince that represents Christianity? Wicca does recognize two deities, the God and the Goddess, which are both nameless and Wiccans usually adopt names to refer to the two but the idea of a singular “nameless one” is foreign to Wicca. The fact that Voldemort is referred to as ‘He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’ does not prove that he is one and the same with this supposed “nameless one”. Voldemort is a literary character in a fantasy novel. If Meyer wants to push this comparison, he can do so but for the sake of argument, I want to make one observation. If a Goddess in Wicca is nameless and a name is adopted to refer to that Goddess then this is not indicative of that Goddess’ real name. In the Harry Potter novels Voldemort is such a feared figure that people avoid saying his name. However this does not stop Harry Potter or Professor Dumbledore from calling him by his right name ‘Voldemort’. Dumbledore takes it a step further by calling Voldemort by his given name ‘Tom’, his full name being Tom Marvolo Riddle. Any potential similarity between Harry Potter and Wicca (either real Wicca or Meyer’s version of it) here is nonexistent.

Meyer tries to use numerology to prove that the Harry Potter novels are part of a Illuminst conspiracy to deceive children, training them to be witches, and thereby luring them into the occult. This is nothing new for him since he was a former “numerologist”. Of course Meyer would have us believe that it was the publishers of Harry Potter indulging in numerology when setting up their release dates for the publication of the novels. This is clear when he writes:

On July 8 at midnight, bookstores everywhere were stormed by millions of children to obtain the latest and fourth book of the series known as “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” These books were taken into homes everywhere with a real evil spirit following each copy to curse those homes. July 8th was also the 18th day (three sixes in numerology) from the witches’ sabat of midsummer. July 8th was also the 13th day from the signing of the United Religions Charter in San Francisco. Now we have learned that the public school system is planning to use the magic of Harry Potter in the classrooms making the public schools centers of witchcraft training.

This reminds me of the constant theories that the events of September 11, 2001 were part of a vast conspiracy by the Illuminati because of the number eleven. This is the same concept at work here in this tract. Numbers are being floated around and used to prove something that is not there. It is all a coincidence. Many fans and speculators thought that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was going to come out on July 7, 2007 or 07-07-07. The numbering could not be any more perfect because this was the seventh novel and a date like that would not appear again until another millennia. However Bloomsbury and Scholastic could not publish this book on that date (they claimed it was too soon from a publication standpoint) so they chose to release the book two weeks later on July 21, 2007. If you look closely at 07-21-07, you will see that 21 is three sevens in numerology. We all know that seven is the God-given number of perfection, right? The book of Revelation mentions the number seven 59 times (which equals fourteen or two sevens) and let's not forget that God created the world in seven days. I can go on and on but let me repeat what I said earlier. Numbers are being floated around and used to prove something that is not there. It is all a coincidence.

Finally Meyer never gives any details about what coven he was affiliated with if he was in fact a “witch” like he claims. There are no dates and locations and he only gives general details, “I lived by the stars as an astrologer and numerologist casting horoscopes and spells. I lived in the mysterious and shadowy realm of the occult. By means of spells and magic, I was able to invoke the powers of the “controlling unknown” and fly upon the night winds transcending the astral plane.” This last part intrigues me because it is very similar to a early Medieval belief that certain women rode at night with the Goddess Diana. The Canon Episcopi, a tenth century document, addressed this idea by calling it a delusion of Satan, “Some wild women, deluded by Satan, believe that they fly by night in the company of Diana, Goddess of the Pagans.” The image of the wild women or the wild hunt contributed to other beliefs of witches and combined with the socio-economic factors at the time, the Medieval stereotype of witches was formed, which led to the eventual witch hunts throughout Europe. I believe Meyer's words show that he is tapping into some stereotypical views of witches and if true would certainly call into question whether what he’s saying is true or if he made it up.

Meyer never proves his thesis that the Harry Potter novels are manuals for the occult. Instead he uses conspiracy, misinformation, and general facts twisted to serve a purpose which is to instill fear and hysteria in the reader of the Harry Potter novels. These tracts are circulated widely on the Internet and many well-meaning Christians use them as support for their rejection of Harry Potter on religious grounds. Laura Mallory is one of them. Not only that but Meyer tirades Christian leaders, Dr. James Dobson and Charles Colson for supporting Harry Potter and calls them “modern day Judas Iscariots”. This is tragic. Christians should not have to resort to ad hominem attacks and rely on falsehoods to prove an argument. As Christians, we are called to be a beacon of truth and light. We are not to use fear because God is not a spirit of fear. We are not to use falsehoods because God cannot lie. Tracts like these allow Christians to not be taken seriously with the end consequence being that our witness is stifled. In the end we are reading what David J. Meyer, not God, has to say about Harry Potter.