Monday, April 30, 2007

Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio

The following is a painting by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio called "Supper at Emmaus", which is coincidently J.K. Rowling's favorite. I already referenced this in my earlier post, J.K. Rowling, a Christian? I find it ironic that JKR's favorite painting is that of a Resurrected Christ appearing to his followers, especially given the attacks against her by those who reject the Harry Potter novels for religious reasons.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Review of Unlocking Harry Potter

John Granger is not known to provide superficial readings of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series à la Harold Bloom or A.S. Byatt. Instead he gazes deeper into the rich tapestry of JKR's creation, seeing what most Harry Potter readers (or even non readers) miss, namely the spiritual overtones of the series. His previous works, The Hidden Key to Harry Potter and Looking for God in Harry Potter, explores why JKR's work resonates with so many of her readers, namely because they hearken to that Great Story. Granger takes this a step further in Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader.

Granger's task in Unlocking Harry Potter is to show how JKR uses patterns in every novel and by recognizing these patterns or "keys", the reader will have a greater appreciation for the series in general. These five keys are Narrative Misdirection, Literary Alchemy, The Hero's Journey, Postmodern Themes, and Traditional Symbolism. Each key unlocks a part of the Harry Potter series until the whole trunk is opened and the reader sees JKR's meticulously planned work for what they really are, multi layered, complex works of literature (not 'literary slop' as Bloom posits) that is edifying and satisfying. Finally Granger believes that these keys can even "unlock" or give us clues as to the structure of the final Harry Potter novel.

Granger first discusses Narrative Misdirection by pointing out that JKR uses a "third person, limited omniscient" narratological view when writing her storyline much like Jane Austen, JKR's favorite writer. We only know what Harry knows while other major characters sit in the background. For instance we never know where Albus Dumbledore or Severus Snape are doing when Harry does not encounter them. Because we see what Harry sees, the reader follows Harry's prejudices and feelings until the end of the novel when he is proven wrong and the reader is surprised. Who can forget the ending of the first novel? Even when Harry is right in Half-Blood Prince, Granger warns us that this could be the biggest example of narrative misdirection in the series.

Literary Alchemy is always discussed in Granger's books and for good reason. JKR told Anne Simpson of The Herald that, "To invent this wizard world, I've learned a ridiculous amount about alchemy. Perhaps much of it I'll never use in the books, but I have to know in detail what magic can and cannot do in order to set the parameters and establish the stories' internal logic" ("Face to Face with J K Rowling: Casting a spell over young minds," 7 December 1998). This surprising interview surfaced on Quick Quotes Quill around a month ago and confirmed Granger's suspicions all along, that literary alchemy undergirds the series and that JKR is writing in the tradition of others who used literary alchemical imagery in English Literature from Shakespeare to C.S. Lewis, and many classic writers in between. Granger's extensive knowledge (and enthusiasm) of the subject and thoughts on alchemy is worth the price of the book alone.

Now the Harry Potter books are all different, in storyline and detail; however they follow a general formula, namely that Harry Potter starts off at Privet Drive, travels to Hogwarts, finds a mystery to solve, deals with Professor Snape, works with Ron and Hermione, faces a crunch-time decision, races off to an underground battle, dies a figurative death and is reborn, listens to Dumbledore's reflections on the events of the climax, and returns to King's Cross Station. JKR uses this formula although she does depart from it occasionally, which explains the mystery of Half-Blood Prince being chock full of misdirection in preparation for the revelation we will encounter in the final novel. Granger's insights are fascinating in this chapter and forced me to think about certain things I never considered before.

Granger emphasizes that that the reason why Harry Potter resonates with so many readers is because JKR is a writer for our time. And since she is writing in the here and now of our 21st century, we should expect her to at least have some features of this Postmodernist era. For example Jean-François Lyotard writes that postmodernism is an "incredulity towards metanarratives". A metanarrative is a story about a story; a grand narrative about our historical record and experience. A postmodern questions this schema, particularly the notion of progress and technology. In Harry Potter this translates to a British wizarding society (within the entire wizarding world) that views itself as progressive but whose flaws are many including governmental abuses (think Umbridge), prejudice towards magical humans that are not like the others (werewolves like Remus Lupin), subjugation of magical creatures (i.e. house elves and goblins), and not to mention a very dangerous Dark Lord on the loose threatening the whole society. Granger sees this metanarrative being traced back to the story of the Four Founders of Hogwarts. JKR's criticism of government, education, and the press as well as the emphasis on the idea that "nothing is as it seems" reflect postmodern deconstruction. Granger delves more into this and you certainly have to buy the book to find out more.

Now if Granger's book has taught us anything, it's that JKR is not a conformist. She may be a Postmodern writer but she is also transcends Postmodernism by invoking traditional symbols that are explicitly Christian that point to a supernatural world. This definitely shows JKR to be as the Scripture says "in the world but not of the world". One thought that I found interesting about this chapter was that JKR never criticizes the church in her novels. Other institutions are fair game: government, public education, and the press. Granger makes an excellent point here. Both members of the press and educators love JKR even though she satirizes them in her novels. However the church is never mentioned or criticized. This makes the Harry Potter series vastly different from the anti-church, anti-Christian His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. Granger's thoughts on the last two keys (Postmodernism and Traditional Symbolism) are, like the chapter on Alchemy, worth the price of the book alone.

Granger in the last chapter delves into some guesswork and tries to take a glance into Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows through these five keys. Some of the material in this chapter are teasers from the book he edited Who Killed Albus Dumbledore? but nevertheless you will find much good speculation here. I suspect that much of Harry Potter fandom will be wrong when the novel comes out July 21 but that will not stop all of us from having some fun coming up with theories about the details. Besides JKR has said, "I love the theories more then I can possibly say. I take it as the highest compliment that people analyse the books so much and think about what might happen next so much. There are people who have got very close to the end of the final series. I don't think I've ever heard or read anyone who has actually got there, but bits of the final book have been guessed" (Jones, Owen. One-on-one interview with J.K. Rowling, ITV Network July 17, 2005).

I cannot say enough good things about Unlocking Harry Potter. This book leaves much food for thought and Granger writes engagingly without being too technical even when the subject matter becomes intense. Granger has plenty to say here about the "Harry Haters" who reject the books on literary or religious grounds and refuse to see the books for what they really are. This book really is for the serious reader so if you want to find a book that "unlocks" the Harry Potter series, this is the one. Expect nothing less from Hogwart's Professor. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Phoenix and the Turtle [Dove]

An excellent poem by Shakespeare, which some take as a Christian allegory. Enjoy.

Let the bird of loudest lay,
On the sole Arabian tree,
Herald sad and trumpet be,
To whose sound chaste wings obey.

But thou, shrieking harbinger,
Foul pre-currer of the fiend,
Augur of the fever's end,
To this troop come thou not near.

From this session interdict
Every fowl of tyrant wing,
Save the eagle, feather'd king:
Keep the obsequy so strict.

Let the priest in surplice white,
That defunctive music can,
Be the death-divining swan,
Lest the requiem lack his right.

And thou, treble-dated crow,
That thy sable gender mak'st
With the breath thou giv'st and tak'st,
'Mongst our mourners shalt thou go.

Here the anthem doth commence:
Love and constancy is dead;
Phoenix and the turtle fled
In a mutual flame from hence.

So they lov'd, as love in twain
Had the essence but in one;
Two distincts, division none:
Number there in love was slain.

Hearts remote, yet not asunder;
Distance, and no space was seen
'Twixt the turtle and his queen;
But in them it were a wonder.

So between them love did shine,
That the turtle saw his right
Flaming in the phoenix' sight:
Either was the other's mine.

Property was thus appall'd,
That the self was not the same;
Single nature's double name
Neither two nor one was call'd.

Reason, in itself confounded,
Saw division grow together;
To themselves yet either-neither,
Simple were so well compounded

That it cried how true a twain
Seemeth this concordant one!
Love hath reason, reason none
If what parts can so remain.

Whereupon it made this threne
To the phoenix and the dove,
Co-supreme and stars of love;
As chorus to their tragic scene.


Beauty, truth, and rarity.
Grace in all simplicity,
Here enclos'd in cinders lie.

Death is now the phoenix' nest;
And the turtle's loyal breast
To eternity doth rest,

Leaving no posterity:--
'Twas not their infirmity,
It was married chastity.

Truth may seem, but cannot be:
Beauty brag, but 'tis not she;
Truth and beauty buried be.

To this urn let those repair
That are either true or fair;
For these dead birds sigh a prayer.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Changing the Easter Bunny?

ABC News reported yesterday that a Rhode Island public school rechristened the "Easter Bunny" to Peter Rabbit because the former was too Christian. It looks like the Christmas wars have extended to Easter and all in the name of political correctness. You certainly would never see something like this occurring at Hogwarts. Neither the Board of Governors or Headmaster Albus Dumbledore would change anything regarding Easter, which is celebrated at that venerated British school of wizardry. This is something for the "Harry Haters" to consider. Students during this time are off from school and many elect to travel home for the holidays. As Harry Potter fans know, Mrs. Weasley usually sends Easter eggs filled with sweets to Harry and company. I would like to point out that the Easter egg has long been regarded as a symbol of Christ pointing to the rock tomb out of which Jesus emerged to new life in His resurrection. That said I would like to wish everyone a Happy Resurrection Day.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Phoenix as Symbol of Resurrection

As Easter Sunday approaches and we reflect on the meaning of tomorrow, it is fitting to take a brief glimpse into one of the symbols of resurrection in the Christian faith. The phoenix is a mythical bird (although many pagans and Christians believed it existed) of crimson and gold color that would build a flammable nest and be consumed by the flames, from which it would arise from its own ashes. For this reason the phoenix was said to live for 500 (1,461 in some sources) years. Clement of Rome was the first Christian to connect the phoenix with that of Christ's resurrection:

Let us consider that wonderful sign [of the resurrection] which takes place in Eastern lands, that is, in Arabia and the countries round about. There is a certain bird which is called a phoenix. This is the only one of its kind, and lives five hundred years. And when the time of its dissolution draws near that it must die, it builds itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices, into which, when the time is fulfilled, it enters and dies. But as the flesh decays a certain kind of worm is produced, which, being nourished by the juices of the dead bird, brings forth feathers. Then, when it has acquired strength, it takes up that nest in which are the bones of its parent, and bearing these it passes from the land of Arabia into Egypt, to the city called Heliopolis. And, in open day, flying in the sight of all men, it places them on the altar of the sun, and having done this, hastens back to its former abode. The priests then inspect the registers of the dates, and find that it has returned exactly as the five hundredth year was completed.

Do we then deem it any great and wonderful thing for the Maker of all things to raise up again those that have piously served Him in the assurance of a good faith, when even by a bird He shows us the mightiness of His power to fulfil His promise? For [the Scripture] saith in a certain place, "Thou shalt raise me up, and I shall confess unto Thee; " and again, "I laid me down, and slept; I awaked, because Thou art with me; " and again, Job says, "Thou shalt raise up this flesh of mine, which has suffered all these things." (The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, chapters XXV-XXVI).

Clement clearly uses the phoenix as a symbol of Christ's resurrection and wrote that it hearkened to the hope for our own resurrection. Tertullian, another Ante-Nicene church father, uses Psalm 92.12 ("The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon") and connects it to the phoenix. At first glance Tertullian might be handling the Psalmist's words loosely but not when you consider that he used the Septuagint as did many early Christian writers including the authors of the New Testament. According to Doug Gray, "The greek word for date-palm is 'phonix', and the ashes of an old date-palm tree are thought to be excellent fertilizer for seedling palms. This is supposed by some authorities to be the basis of the legend...In early Byzantine work, so rich in symbolism, the date-palm is often substituted for the phoenix." The beautiful and majestic cedar trees of Lebanon were also known as a symbol of Christ because of their height and long life, pointing to the eternal Messiah, "whose goings forth are from everlasting" (Micah 5.2). Tertullian writes:

If, however, all nature but faintly figures our resurrection; if creation affords no sign precisely like it, inasmuch as its several phenomena can hardly be said to die so much as to come to an end, nor again be deemed to be reanimated, but only reformed; then take a most complete and unassailable, symbol of our hope, for it shall be an animated being, and subject alike to life and death. I refer to the bird which is peculiar to the East, famous for its singularity, marvelous from its posthumous life, which renews its life in a voluntary death; its dying day is its birthday, for on it it departs and returns; once more a phoenix where just now there was none; once more himself, but just now out of existence; another, yet the same. What can be more express and more significant for our subject; or to what other thing can such a phenomenon bear witness? God even in His own Scripture says: "The righteous shall flourish like the phoenix; " that is, shall flourish or revive, from death, from the grave-to teach you to believe that a bodily substance may be recovered even from the fire. Our Lord has declared that we are "better than many sparrows: " well, if not better than many a phoenix too, it were no great thing. But must men die once for all, while birds in Arabia are sure of a resurrection? (On the Resurrection of the Flesh, chapter XIII)

Other church leaders followed suit in this interpretation, baptizing this pagan symbol into an explicitly Christian one. Bestiaries (check out The Book of Beasts : Being a Translation from a Latin Bestiary of the Twelfth Century by T.H. White and an out of print book titled The Bestiary of the Christ by Louis Charbonneau-Lassay) in the Medieval period always included the phoenix as a Christ symbol and Christian iconography during this time made use of the phoenix as well. C.S. Lewis used the phoenix in his Chronicles of Narnia series in The Magician's Nephew and The Last Battle. We all know that J.K. Rowling uses the phoenix explicitly in every Harry Potter novel in the character Fawkes. John Granger, in his book Looking for God in Harry Potter, explores this and other symbols JKR uses and Travis Prinzi has a fantastic feature-length article on this topic as well, The Meaning of the Phoenix. Be sure to check these resources out.

A big thank you to Travis Prinzi for mentioning this blog in his newest Hog's Head podcast. His continual support is much appreciated.

Friday, April 6, 2007

J.K. Rowling, a Christian?

The following piece was featured on Travis Prinzi's Sword of Gryffindor and even John Granger responded and wrote that he will send his “future correspondents here [referring to the article] for the best short course on why ‘the Christian reading’ of Harry Potter may just be ‘the intelligent reading’”. I am very grateful to them both. Enjoy.

When I first started reading the Harry Potter series, the idea that J.K. Rowling (hereafter JKR) was a Christian escaped me. Maybe I was too distracted by the storyline to notice any deeper themes in the first four novels. It wasn’t until I was browsing the Literary Criticism shelf at a Barnes & Noble that I discovered she was. The book was The Hidden Key to Harry Potter by John Granger. Glancing at the back cover, it laid out Granger’s thesis that JKR was “ironically writing the most charming and challenging Christian fiction for children since Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia”. What ultimately made me purchase the book, however, was the following statement on the page opposite the table of contents:

“I believe in God, not magic.” In fact, Rowling initially was afraid that if people were aware of her Christian faith, she would give away too much of what’s coming in the series. “If I talk too freely about that,” she told a Canadian reporter, “I think the intelligent reader – whether ten [years old] or sixty – will be able to guess what is coming in the books” (Michael Nelson, “Fantasia: The Gospel According to C.S. Lewis”, The American Prospect, vol. 13, no. 4, February 25, 2002).
I was shocked when I read that. It was one thing for Granger and others to see Christian themes in the Harry Potter novels but an actual statement by JKR herself? That was amazing. I had to read the whole article by Michael Nelson to see what he was getting at. I also needed the full quotation if there was one. A cursory look of the article at American Prospect’s website revealed that I would have to do some digging and detective work. I had to find out the name of the Canadian reporter, the publication, and the actual article. Checking the sources in my case was instinctual since I was a Journalism student at the time. Eventually I found out that that quote was from an article by Max Wyman of the Vancouver Sun on October 26, 2000. I scoured the computers at Queens College (located in Flushing, NY) hoping to find a full text article on Lexis-Nexis but to no avail. I even visited the Vancouver Sun website and I was prepared to pay for a photocopy of the original article. It was not long before Quick Quote Quill (now Accio Quotes) of Harry Potter Lexicon, posted the article in its entirety in their archive. Here is the quote:

“Yes, I am,” she says. “Which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I've been asked if I believe in God, I've said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what's coming in the books.”
Now JKR’s famous (at least to those who see Christian virtue in the novels) statement was in response to a simple question. “Is she a Christian?” She answered in the affirmative and took it a step further by saying that she has not elaborated on her faith because it will reveal key plotlines in the later novels. Richard Abanes totally disregarded this bit of evidence in his discussions with Travis Prinzi of Sword of Gryffindor by saying that JKR “has never defined God” and the “term Christian has been so overused that is some senses it has become almost meaningless without clarification”. Abanes wants a bonafide confession and that is simply not fair. Whenever someone asks me if I am a Christian, I simply answer yes and that would be the end of discussion. We are on a slippery slope if we require everyone who claims to be a Christian to prove they are Christians. We should take JKR at face value and simply believe her. Only God knows for sure and I might add, that goes for any Christian.

Numerous times we see articles that mention the fact that she is a member of the Church of Scotland and a Presbyterian to boot. In a Washington Post article (“Charmed, I’m Sure,” October 20, 1999), we learn that JKR belonged to a congregation at Edinburgh and even had her daughter, Jessica christened there. An elderly woman named Susan who attended the same church would watch Jessica while JKR worked on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. This is quite possibly the same Susan whom in Goblet of Fire, JKR devotes a portion of the book’s dedication to, “…and to Susan Sladden, who helped Harry get out of his cupboard”. In an earlier article Joanna Carey writes that during her interview with JKR, “she speaks of some of her beliefs and inspirations – including her involvement with the Church of Scotland… (“Who hasn’t met Harry?” Guardian Unlimited, February 16, 1999). Notice how the article does not elaborate further on these beliefs as if either the reporter did not deem them important for the subject matter of the article or maybe it was the wishes of a woman protecting her storyline.

Hesitation and carefully worded responses are the norm with JKR, especially in regards to her faith. Take for instance her interview with Lev Grossman. Grossman goes out of his way to present JKR as a rebel and one who is at odds with C.S. Lewis. This flies in the face of everything she said about Lewis before, namely that he is a genius and that she cannot stay in the same room with a Narnia book without reading it. But take a close look at what Grossman wrote in his article, “Interestingly, although Rowling is a member of the Church of Scotland, the books are free of references to God. On this point, Rowling is cagey. ‘Um. I don't think they're that secular,’ she says, choosing her words slowly. ‘But, obviously, Dumbledore is not Jesus’ (Time Magazine, July 17, 2005). Another example, and more compelling I might add, is her interview with Evan Solomon:
ES: When you talk about dealing with death and loss in the books, does this come out of your own - you've had loss with the loss of your mother - did it come out of a personal spirituality? I mean, are you are religious person? Does your spirituality come from a certain place?

JKR: I do believe in God. That seems to offend the South Carolinians more than almost anything else. I think they would find it…well that is my limited experience, that they have more of a problem with me believing in God than they would have if I was an unrepentant atheist.

ES: You do believe in God.

JKR: Yeah. Yeah.

ES: In magic and…

JKR: Magic in the sense in which it happens in my books, no, I don't believe. I don't believe in that. No. No. This is so frustrating. Again, 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 (CBCNewsWorld: Hot Type, July 13, 2000).
This above quote is in the same category as the famous Vancouver Sun quote. The context for JKR’s frustration is the “South Carolinians,” who were the first to protest the reading of Harry Potter in the school classrooms due to the supposed “violent and occult themes” in them (Farber, Celia. “Harry Potter's Toughest Foe,” Sunday Herald (Glasgow), October 17, 1999). This frustration is deeply rooted in being misunderstood and having to say time and time again that she does not believe in magic, real or imagined. Constantly JKR is being asked if she believes in God and to reiterate on her beliefs and this is unsettling to a person protecting her storyline while trying to defend them at the same time. JKR’s response is yes, I believe in God but wait till book seven to learn more. JKR is saying that she wants to say more after book seven comes out but then again maybe book seven will do the talking for her. Amazing, indeed. It is worth noting that when asked afterwards if she was a churchgoer, JKR replied nodding, “Mmm hmm. Well I go more than to weddings and christenings. Yes, I do”.

JKR spent much of her childhood living at Tutshill, a small village near Chepstow in the Gwent county of Wales, finding residence with her family in a church cottage near St. Luke’s Church and the Church of England Primary School of Tutshill. This does not prove that she is a Christian but it does show that she grew up around a Christian environment. I mentioned elsewhere that one of the sources of inspiration for the interesting names of her characters was from “medieval saints”. Mind you, these are Christian saints she is referring to. And her favorite painting? “Perhaps my favorite painting is Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus when Jesus reveals himself to the disciples having risen from the dead. I love it. Jesus looks very likeable – soft and rounded – and the painting captures the exact moment when the disciples realize who this man is, blessing their bread” (Lindsay Fraser, Conversations with J.K. Rowling, Scholastic, 2001, pg. 30-31). Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s painting is based on Luke 24.13-35 but more specifically verses 30 and 31, “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight”.

This article sought to show through JKR’s statements that she is in fact a Christian. It is often the case that people question whether she is one and going so far as seeking bonafide creedal statements of beliefs and more from her. And this is simply not fair to JKR. The Scriptures tell us that we will know them by their fruits. Now what are JKR’s fruits? Well she has said many times that she is not a witch nor does she desire to be one. JKR has been blessed with riches through the sales of her novels and as a result she has donated great amounts of money supporting multiple sclerosis and cancer research, helping one parent families, and promoting children’s literature. She is very much philanthropic and is following the Christian principles of giving that Christ laid down for us. We will do well to reserve any judgment until the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows comes upon us. Perhaps the final novel will address and put to rest people’s fears of JKR’s use of magic in the novels and reveal her true intentions and beliefs; that of faith reflected in a Christian worldview.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Phoenix

I found this gem by C.S. Lewis and I thought it was appropriate given the name of this blog. Enjoy.

The Phoenix flew into my garden and stood perched upon
A sycamore; the feathered flame with dazzling eyes
Lit up the whole lawn like a bonfire on midsummer's eve.
I ran out, slipping on the grass, reeling beneath
The news I bore: 'The Sole Bird is not fabulous! Look! Look!'
The dark girl, passing in the road, heard me. Her eyes
Lit up (I saw her features flood-lit in those golden rays)
So that I called, or else the Bird called, and we went
Over the wet lawn - shadows for our train - towards the Wonder.
Then, looking around, I saw her eyes...could it be true?
Was I deceived?...oh, say I was deceived...I thought her eyes
Had all along been fixed on me, not on the Bird.

Thrice-honoured Lady, make not of your spoon your meat, for silver
(How much less, tin or wood?) contains no nourishment.
I will be all things, any thing, to you, save only that.
Break not our hearts by telling me you never saw
The Phoenix, that my trumpery silhouette, thrusting between,
Made an eclipse. For I had dreamed that I had caught
For His own beak a silver, shining fish such as He loves.
And, having little of my own to offer Him,
Was building much on this miraculous draught. If the line breaks,
Oh with what empty hands you send me back to Him!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Z100 Plays Cruel Deathly Hallows Prank

The NYC radio station Z100 apparently has inside information that advance copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows are in bookstores right now. The only problem is that it’s not true. Imagine my amusement (and confusion) as I started my day shift at Barnes & Noble and fielded phone calls from hopeful customers wanting to know if we have Deathly Hallows. I almost thought it was the first of April instead of the fourth but in a way, it was. I kept assuring customers that this was a prank and it was actually quite sad disappointing those callers. They should have used common sense before believing anything that the radio station said. Here are three reasons why anyone should be skeptical of such announcements:
  1. The book is supposed to come out July 21, 2007. There is a reason why release dates are set and for a Harry Potter novel, there are no deviations.
  2. Every Harry Potter novel's release has operated on a mode of secrecy and security to ensure that no fan will be spoiled before the release date. Now if this is the case for the previous novels, how much more so for the very last Harry Potter novel ever.
  3. Are we to believe that 12 million copies (U.S. initial print run) of Deathly Hallows have been printed already? The covers were just released last Wednesday!
Now if the book did come out today, I would have run off to Receiving and grabbed my own copy in a heartbeat. The truth is that many listeners and callers are going to be angry. One of my coworkers even wanted to call the station, telling them to stop. Cruel pranks like these disappoint many fans who simply cannot wait to get their hands on the novel. Whatever the case 'New York's Hit Music Station' has a great deal of explaining to do.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Religion in Harry Potter

Glamourousgeek raised an important question in her essay found on Harry Potter Lexicon, Merlin, God, and You-Know-Who: Religion in the Wizarding World, on whether religion plays a role, if any, in the Harry Potter novels. She suggests that J.K. Rowling (hereafter JKR) “is avoiding the subject of religion altogether” and cleverly argues that the lack of characters with Christian names, the manner of how Christmas is celebrated, and the existence of wizarding superstitions suggest that there is no appearance of religion in the series. Now despite the fact that there are no overt references to Jesus Christ or Christianity in Harry Potter; however that is not to say that there are no hints of the world’s largest religion in the series when the evidence proves otherwise.

One hint of religion in the series would be the only two Christmas carols mentioned by name in Harry Potter (glamourousgeek wrote that there were none). The first example would be when an empty helmet was singing “O Come, All Ye Faithful” after all the suits of armor at Hogwarts were bewitched to sing Christmas carols to passersby (Goblet of Fire, Chapter 22, page 395). This famous carol adjures the “Faithful” to “Come and behold Him, Born the King of Angels; O come, let us adore Him…Christ the Lord”. The next example would be Sirius Black singing at the top of his voice “God Rest You, Merrye Hippogriffs” on the way to Buckbeak’s room at Grimmauld Place (Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 23, page 501). Sirius’s song was a play on another famous carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” which has the following lyrics “God rest ye merry, gentlemen; Let nothing you dismay; Remember, Christ, our Saviour; Was born on Christmas day…” The fact that JKR’s official website features an instrumental of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” every Christmas suggests that both carols are the same, albeit with some innovative creativity by Sirius himself.

Speaking of Sirius, there is one important fact about his relationship to Harry that glamourousgeek failed to mention: he is the godfather to the Boy-Who-Lived. This would mean that Harry Potter received a Christian baptism as an infant. Godparents are figures who sponsors a child baptism (a child cannot speak on their own behalf) and could be either a relative or in the case of Sirius, a friend of the child’s parents. They are responsible for not only caring for the child if he or she is unfortunately orphaned but also looking after the spiritual upbringing of the child. JKR has said in an interview that Harry only has one godfather and that “when Harry was born, it was at the very height of Voldemort fever last time so his christening was a very hurried, quiet affair with just Sirius, just the best friend” (JKR at the Edinburgh Book Festival, August 15, 2004). According to the Book of Common Prayer, during the ceremony the godparent has to repeat the Apostles Creed (a famous creed in the Early Church) before the child is baptized in “the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”. A christening is anything but irreligious and its presence, even if in passing, in Harry Potter is telling.

Glamourousgeek in her article places too much emphasis on the meaning of characters names and what they suggest about religion or lack thereof in Harry Potter. She writes,“On reading the Harry Potter books the first thing that made me aware of the tendency to avoid religion was the surprising lack of common Christian names such as John, Mary and Paul…the names with obvious religious origin are really surprisingly few and far between”. This is an absolute statement (and very general) and I am not sure if the writer considered the following. Firstly there are other characters with religious names other than three of the Marauders (James Potter, Remus John Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew). Just take a look at some of the Hogwarts students in Dumbledore’s Army in the fifth book: Hannah Abbot, Michael Corner, and Zacharias Smith. Other examples include Gideon Prewett of the original Order of the Phoenix, Barnabas Cuffe of the Daily Prophet, and Andrew Kirke, a younger student and fellow Gryffindor Quidditch teammate of Harry in the fifth novel. Secondly JKR has said in different interviews that she collects names from all different places including “medieval saints” and even wrote on her website that the inspiration for Hedwig (Harry Potter’s pet owl) was St. Hedwig, who is coincidently the patron saint of orphans. Other examples of characters that have saint names would be Godric Gryffindor based on St. Godric (protector of stags) and both Percy Ignatius Weasley and his deceased uncle Ignatius Prewett based on St. Ignatius of Antioch, one of the Apostolic Fathers of the church and St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Why cannot glamourousgeek just accept the fact that the characters have the names that they have primarily because of JKR’s creativity?

Now what are we to make of all of this? An argument can be made that the reason why Christianity is not mentioned in the series is that religion is not particularly important to the story. And they are right. The story is about Harry Potter and his Arthurian or even Messianic quest as the Chosen One to defeat and vanquish the murderer of his parents and self-appointed terrorist leader of the Wizarding World, Lord Voldemort. Religion is placed in the background and not because religion is a negative thing. JKR herself is a Christian and a member of the Church of Scotland. Harry Potter certainly contains Christian virtues, symbols, and themes of descent into hell and resurrection. What is disturbing is the number of Potter fans who would prefer Harry Potter to be free from religion entirely, including most specifically Christianity. What would be the alternative, that the wizards and witches in the Wizarding World are pagan or a part of Wicca? There is no evidence in the Potterverse to even suggest this. If you look at British history you will see that at one point, Christianity was the only religion on the Isles. How can you explain the appearance of the main ghost of Hufflepuff, the Fat Friar? Friars are usually part of a mendicant order focusing on living a life of poverty and service to a community. The Fat Friar was most likely a Roman Catholic. Maybe the lack of religion in the novels serves as a credit to JKR. After all JKR has said in an interview in October 2000 with The Vancouver Sun that, “Every time I’ve been asked if I believe in God, I’ve said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what’s coming in the books”.