Friday, August 31, 2007

Alan Jacobs Reviews Deathly Hallows

Alan Jacobs posted his review of Deathly Hallows at Books & Culture earlier this week, The Youngest Brother's Tale. Regarding the last novel, Jacobs writes:
What could one say in defense of these books, so unliterary, so unsophisticated in their morality and style, so bourgeois, so heteronormative? Perhaps only this: that J.K. Rowling has produced, in the vast, seven-book, thirty-five-hundred-page arc of Harry's story, the greatest penny dreadful ever written.

There is a great deal to say regarding this article, which I'll cover in a future post but check it out.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Eeyore's Reflections on Albus Dumbledore

While reading Deathly Hallows, I found myself experiencing the same angst-ridden feelings of doubt over Albus Dumbledore as Harry did. He longer struck me as a man unafraid of death ("After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure" anyone?) but as one tempted to become the Master of Death by uniting the three articles of the Deathly Hallows along with his friend, Grindelwald. It was really something to see a teary Dumbledore lamenting to Harry about what a fool he was. Dumbledore's usage of "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also," on the tomb of his mother and sister, show how foolish and selfish he was. Dumbledore was lured by power and a fear of death, which led to a fate worse than death, that of remorse and alienation from his family. Pat Henderson of Eeyore's Reflections has a fantastic article, Albus Dumbledore -- Not Who We Thought He was, which explores the humanity of Dumbledore in greater depth. She wrote:

Rather than being disappointed in who Dumbledore turned out to be, I found it encouraging. Here is a hero who is not so different than any of us--one who has made choices, one choice which was devastating, but which set his feet and heart on a life-long path of redemption, as he tried to live the rest of his life as he now knew he should have done. The past could not be undone, as Dumbledore learned when he was once again tempted to try to use the Resurrection Stone, but except for that one last stumble, his choices for the future showed that he had learned from his mistakes, had taken responsibility for them, as he spent his life teaching students, being an example of mercy to all, and in the end, tried to help Severus and Harry accomplish what he, the greatest wizard of all, could not do--defeat the evil that terrorized the world in the form of Lord Voldemort. So even though Albus turned out not to be the perfect person many of us built him up to be, I think what Rowling gave us in Albus Dumbledore was much better.

Excellent piece. Go check it out!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Christianity Today on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

This is old news but I wanted to mention some noteworthy articles on Deathly Hallows coming out of Christianity Today's cauldron. Besides reviewing the last book in The Gospel According to J.K. Rowling, CT's website has such pieces as What Would Jonathan Edwards Say About Harry Potter?, which examines what the eighteenth century preacher would have thought of JKR's masterpiece, and even a look at changing Evangelical opinions concerning the boy wizard in (A Bit Less) Positive About Potter. Finally Harry Potter 7 Is Matthew 6 explores the use of scripture in the last book and Spoiler Alert shows that the Harry Potter craze suggests that we are not telling the Gospel story correctly. I'm still waiting patiently for Alan Jacob's thoughts on the last book in his column, Rumors of Glory at Books & Culture at CT's website. Fingers crossed but until then enjoy the above articles.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Comment on Richard Abanes

This is old news but I want to comment on something that Richard Abanes wrote concerning Deathly Hallows, most specifically in the Hogwart's Professor post, "Smuggling the Gospel" Fallout. Much of what Abanes wrote in his comments were ably responded to by John Granger, Travis Prinzi of Sword of Gryffindor, dcramer of Conciliar Press, aussieseeker71, and others. On to what Abanes wrote:

And as for the supposed “Christian” ending to HP that I am hearing about, I assume you ARE familiar with the dying-rising, savior-deliverer myth motif that is present in virtually every culture and actually pre-dates Christ? Rowling is using a very powerful, standard, ancient formula to pack a serious punch into the end of her book that will resonate (as the savior-myth has always done) with readers/listeners.

First things first, the concept of dying and rising gods in antiquity was popularized a century ago by Sir James Frazer in The Golden Bough. Scholars in the fields of anthropology and comparative religion have mostly rejected this concept, citing that Frazer over interpreted the evidence in his conclusions. Glenn Miller of Christian Thinktank (a great website on Christian Apologetics) quotes from Jonathan Z. Smith, who contributed the entry "Dying and Rising Gods" for The Encyclopedia of Religion (Edited by Mircea Eliade; Macmillian: 1987):

The category of dying and rising gods, once a major topic of scholarly investigation, must now be understood to have been largely a misnomer based on imaginative reconstructions and exceedingly late or highly ambiguous texts.

Smith examined the cases of ancient deities such as Adonis, Baal/Hadad/Adad, Attis, Marduk, Osirus, and Tammuz/Dumuzi and came to the following conclusion:

As the above examples make plain, the category of dying and rising deities is exceedingly dubious. It has been based largely on Christian interest and tenuous evidence. As such, the category is of more interest to the history of scholarship than to the history of religions.

Therefore the concept of "dying-rising" pre-Christian deities has, by and large, been disproved by scholars across the spectrum, and Abanes is inaccurate in his statement. It is worth nothing that resurrection is a purely Jewish concept from which the Christian movement flourished; the pagan world believed that resurrection was impossible. N.T. Wright in The Resurrection of the Son of God goes into this in his chapter "Shadows, Souls and Where They Go":

The great majority of the ancients believed in life after death; many of them developed, as we have seen, complex and fascinating beliefs about it and practices in relation to it; but, other than within Judaism and Christianity, they did not believe in resurrection. 'Resurrection' denoted a new embodied life which would follow whatever 'life after death' there might be. 'Resurrection' was, by definition, not the existence into which someone might (or might not) go immediately upon death; it was not a disembodied 'heavenly' life; it was a further stage, out beyond all that. It was not a redescription or redefinition of death. It was death's reversal.

Pagan nonbelief in the resurrection shows the folly of the concept of "dying-rising" gods. Compared to what the ancients boasted about their gods, the resurrection of Jesus stands alone as an event that never occurred before. Folly indeed.

Second, even if the "dying-rising, savior-deliverer myth motif" was true, it does not matter. J.K. Rowling has said that her Christian faith is the key towards unlocking the ending of the series. She did not say that her belief in Osirus or any other pagan deity was the key to what's coming in the books. No, rather it was her Christian faith, and of course the resurrection of Jesus Christ is at the heart of that faith. No wonder JKR's favorite painting is Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio, which shows a resurrected Christ appearing to three of his followers. Abanes is just grasping at straws here. JKR statements are what counts and in light of everything that occurred in Deathly Hallows, they are very telling.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Berit Kjos Just Does Not Get It

Berit Kjos, one of the most staunch opponents of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, reveals her gross misunderstanding of Deathly Hallows in her review, "Harry's Last Battle & Rowling's Beliefs". Concentrating on the Vancouver Sun quotation where JKR told Max Wyman that if she discussed her faith then the "intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what's coming in the books"; Kjos comes to the following conclusion about the novel's climactic ending where Harry sacrifices himself and later comes back to defeat Voldemort:

By presenting a counterfeit version of Biblical salvation, Rowling prompts her readers to imagine a false Christianity that embraces the occult. To most readers, it will feel true, for such dialectical lies (union of opposites) -- taught through occult systems such as the Kabbalah, Gnosticism, Rosicrucianism, and Unity -- have now become an accepted way of thinking around the world. Indeed, what God calls evil, now seems deceptively good.

Several points must be made. JKR is not trying to seduce her readers into the occult. In fact JKR has said that "[the] two groups of people who are constantly thanking me are wiccans (white witches) and boarding schools. And really, don't thank me. I'm not with either of them. New ageism leaves me completely cold, and Jessie would never go to boarding school" (Hattenstone, Simon. "Harry, Jessica and me," The Guardian, July 8, 2000). She has said on another occasion that "I'm neither a practicing witch nor do I believe in magic" (Rogers, Shelagh. "INTERVIEW: J.K. Rowling," Canadian Broadcasting Co., October 23, 2000). The magic in the Harry Potter series is purely mechanical and often resembling science and technology; more important is that the magic does not resemble anything in Wicca or the occult. Basically it's fantasy magic that one would find in any fairy tale or fantasy novel. Therefore based on the above statements by JKR, Kjos is wrong when she argues that the novels allow readers to "embrace the occult".

Kjos also does not understand the Vancouver Sun quotation. Harry Potter's sacrificial death is a powerful plot point that echoes that true sacrifice that Christ made on our behalf. Since Deathly Hallows is fiction, Harry's actions are not meant to replace Christ's sacrifice. To say that JKR is perpetuating a "counterfeit version of Biblical Salvation" and a "false Christianity" is dishonest. JKR uses Christian symbolism in her novels and she admitted herself to Meredith Vieira on the Today Show that there is a "religious undertone" in the series. Kjos does not treat Harry Potter as a work of literature and does not understand concepts of symbolism and the rules governing them. Instead she sees them as a portal to the occult, which is not accurate in light of JKR's statements and an honest reading of the novels.

Kjos quickly glosses over the "Christian" elements and fails to mention either JKR use of scripture on the tombstones of Kendra/Ariana Dumbledore and James/Lily Potter or her use of Chaucer's "Pardoner's Tale" as inspiration for the story of the Three Brothers and the Deathly Hallows. Kjos also makes dubious use of a mysterious person named "Peter" who was supposedly a former occultist and Temple Master of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. For reasons of safety, Kjos will not reveal Peter's identity, which is suspicious enough. Given Kjos' inaccuracy concerning the series, "Peter" probably knows as much about the occult as David J. Meyer does. The same tired arguments are peddled throughout this piece showing the age of the anti-Harry movement. I mean the last novel itself pretty much settled the issue. Perhaps there is a relief that Harry Potter is finally over. Now one only wonders whether Berit Kjos will move on as Laura Mallory has done.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Interviews with J.K. Rowling

Earlier this week Harry Potter fans enjoyed a early Christmas present as J.K. Rowling gave two interviews, one with Meredith Vieira of the Today Show and the other a webchat courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing, answering some questions regarding the last novel. Both interviews are a treat and I suggest any fan to check them out, provided of course that you read Deathly Hallows as there are spoilers. Here are some excerpts from each interview that I found interesting:
Young voice: Harry's also referred to as the chosen one. So are there religious--
J.K. Rowling: Well, there-- there clearly is a religious-- undertone. And-- it's always been difficult to talk about that because until we reached Book Seven, views of what happens after death and so on, it would give away a lot of what was coming. So … yes, my belief and my struggling with religious belief and so on I think is quite apparent in this book.

Meredith Vieira: And what is the struggle?
J.K. Rowling: Well my struggle really is to keep believing.
Meredith Vieira: To keep believing?
J.K. Rowling: Yes.

And the other:

Jessie: Were the Deathly Hallows based on any realworld myth or faerie tale?

J.K. Rowling: Perhaps ‘the Pardoner’s Tale’, by Chaucer.

The above excerpts from JKR's interviews were probably the most blatant in regards to her religious beliefs. JKR is very honest with the young viewer and with Meredith Vieira when she says that she struggles with her religious beliefs and faith. She has said in the past that she is a Christian and she is a member of the Church of Scotland. This struggle probably has something to do with the death of her mother over a decade ago, which profoundly affected JKR. She hinted at this in an interview in the summer of 2000 with Evan Solomon. We see in Deathly Hallows, Harry struggling with his belief of Albus Dumbledore and probably serves as an echo to JKR's own internal struggle. This makes her a very human and of course honest Christian. Of course JKR's usage of 'the Pardoner's Tale' shows that she is familiar with The Canterbury Tales and the obvious Christian references found within. Being that she is a classics major from Exeter University, JKR mostly read Chaucer's work in its entirety.