30 July 2007

Harry Potter Interview Last Night

Well, I enjoyed my time on Issues, Etc., last night, being interviewed on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Todd Wilken is such a great guy (even if his name does apparently have roots in Norse mythology), and I love the way he handles the show. The Sunday evening program, with all the phone calls from listeners, is especially good fun. The callers weren't quite as hostile toward me as they were last year, though I still had a predominance of questions about how it is that a Christian can possibly allow or tolerate these books about "witchcraft." I hope I came across as patient as I was endeavoring to be. Really, I appreciate all the people who took the trouble to call, and who spent at least some of their time listening to what I had to say.

I spent most of my free hours over the weekend preparing for the interview, mostly by trying to cover as much of the book again as possible. Didn't get all the way through a second read, but did manage to digest most of it, and to revist the highlights toward the end. I'm still in the process of reading it aloud to my children, as well, but that will probably take us a week or two to finish. At the risk of overkill, I've also been listening to Jim Dale's performance of the book on audio CD in my car. That man has done such an amazing, outstanding job with all of these books, and there is something particularly satisfying about listening to him read.

(Actually, listening to those audio books on our vacation last summer was one of the factors that prompted me to do away with "bulletin inserts" of the Sunday Lections, and to encourage the people simply to listen carefully to the public reading of the Holy Scriptures. I was just so struck by the experience of listening and hearing, and the contrast that provided to the more active enterprise of reading something for myself. We have pew Bibles now at Emmaus for those who do find it helpful to follow along with the Lections, but most of the congregation now give their full and careful attention to hearing the Word as it is proclaimed from the lectern.)

I would have been happier, in some ways, to spend the interview talking about more of the specifics in The Deathly Hallows, as there is such a richness to the story. I'm intrigued now by the apparent connection of these "hallows" to the Arthurian legends, but I haven't had a chance to pursue that. For those who are interested in Harry Potter and related matters, I recommend hogwartsprofessor.com (John Granger) and swordofgryffindor.com, which are both worthwhile. Another point I picked up from perusing those sites is the possibility of seeing the three deathly hallows in the story as parallels to the three temptations of Christ in the wilderness. I'll have to give that some more thought, but it is a compelling suggestion. The third "deathly hallow," the invisibility cloak, is in any case more ambiguous, since it can be used wisely and well, "in faith," if you will. I compared it on the show last night to the covering of Holy Baptism, whereby we are dressed in Christ and His Righteousness. That comment came in response to a great question from my future son-in-law, Sam, who asked about baptismal imagery in the Harry Potter books. The problem with answering that is, where do you begin? There's so much to be considered, really. The main example I gave is the scene when Ron comes back and destroys the locket horcrux. I loved that portion of the book to begin with, but it had not fully occured to me at first what a marvelous image of the return to Baptism it provides. Harry and Ron both go fully into the water to retrieve the Sword of Gryffindor, which has just been described as a silver cross. Then, when the locket has been opened, it sets upon Ron with accusations and taunts, doubts and fears and guilt, just as we are attacked and accused by the assaults of the devil in all such ways. With Harry's encouragement, Ron destroys the locket with the cross-like sword, and it is then that he is reconciled to Harry, having abandoned him and Hermione previously. Turns out that he had been called back to his friends by the gift that Dumbledore had left him.

Along similar lines, I do appreciate the way in which remorse is described as the only way, the very painful way, by which a person who has rent his soul to create a horcrux can be healed and restored to whole again. The word "repentance" isn't used, but that's what it sounds like to me. And then how marvelous it is that Harry, in the final showdown with Voldemort, pleads with him to find remorse, as the only hope he has left to him. It is yet another example, among many, of Harry's compassion even for his enemies. That's one of the points I tried to make last night, that it isn't just self-sacrifice, but self-sacrificing love, accompanied by mercy for others. It was that aspect of Dumbledore's sacrifice at the conclusion of The Half-Blood Prince that finally opened my eyes to the underlying themes of the entire series. It was perhaps most obvious at the end of The Deathly Hallows, when Harry once again uses the Expelliarmus! spell against Voldemort's Avada Kedavra! Lupin had warned him previously to avoid making such an unusual move his signature mark, but Harry refused to blast people out of his way. "That's Voldemort's job," he said. With rare exceptions in the course of the story, Harry refuses to go for the kill, but uses only as much force as necessary to defend and protect his friends.


Christopher D. Hall said...

Excellent post! I didn't hear the radio show, but I'm sure you did a fine job.

I think the linchpin to such literary analysis is Rowling's admission that she is a Christian and regularly attends her Church, and her famous line that if people knew this, they would know how the series ended (death and resurrection, I suppose). Without this, yes, there is much Christian imagery and metaphor...but there's a lot of pagan imagery and metaphor too, and the reader is left wondering which is the "controlling metaphor."

Nice insights on the baptismal imagery too, with the Sword (I'd missed the description of it as a silver cross.)

Emily Carder said...

I haven't had a chance to follow you on your Harry Potter explorations. Have you explored the iconology of Gryffindor? A gryffon has the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. Christ is the Lion of Judah. The Lord rescued His people on the wings of an eagle. The rival house of Gryffindor is Slytherin, the house of the Snake. Much to be gathered from there.

Sloppy Classical said...

Was that locket heart-shaped?

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks, y'all. I appreciate the kind words and thoughtful remarks.

St. Em, marvelous to hear from you here on my little blog! And I should say that I'm pleased to see a new post on your blog, as well, which I look forward to reading more closely and carefully soon. Judging from your comment, I'm thinking that you may not have discovered John Granger's great little book, Looking for God in Harry Potter, which deals with this image that you mention along with many other Christological symbols that permeate that Harry Potter books. I think you'd love that book, and do recommend it, even now that the series is finished.

I'll also point out, along similar lines, as a matter of interesting "trivia," that the emblem of Gryffindor house is not a golden griffin, surprisingly, but a red lion: one of the many nods to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, since Aslan was such a red lion.

Carl said...

On Sunday night, I watched the
"Dateline" interview with the author and she never really said anything in the way of Christian imagery or even a reference to the Scripture passages in the final book. What do you make of that?

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I haven't seen the "Dateline" interview yet, but from the descriptions I have heard of it, I gather she was coy and subtle about her faith, as she typically has been. I think she has never intended to be aggressive about the religious themes of her work, at least not while it has been in process. But when she has been asked about it, she has acknowledged it. Thus, in other recent interviews, those factors have come out somewhat.

In 2000, she commented on the fact that she is a Christian, and that, if people were aware of that, they would already know how the story would end. In retrospect, it's easy to see what she had in mind!

I can't read her heart, but my sense is that she has been quiet about the Christian elements of her books because they are more effective and engaging when they are discovered in the context of the story, as opposed to being pointed out explicitly. That's the beauty of fiction, the way it conveys the truth of things like faith and love and relationships and hope and courage in the face of death, within an imaginary or even fantastic literary world.

When it comes right down to it, the fact of the matter is that there are Christian symbols and patterns throughout the Harry Potter books (whether J.K. Rowling intended them or not, and for whatever purpose she may have intended them). Christians can enjoy those elements, and perhaps even capitalize upon them to good affect in speaking the Gospel to their friends. Or they are free to more or less ignore them, and simply to enjoy the books as a grand, well-written story. Or they are free to ignore the books altogether and not to read them at all.

RPW said...

I haven't read Deathly Hallows yet, (I'd skipped over one and have gone back to read it first, since you said it was important), but I started reading it just after reading this post, and I noticed in a different way that first years go over the lake in order to come to Hogwarts. Maybe this is more of an image of properly "remembering your baptism" rather than one of initial cleansing and being made one with the Body of Christ?

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Dear Rebellious, I like your thought about the first year students crossing the lake to enter Hogwarts. I'll have to give that some further thought and reflection. You may be on to something; your suggestion of a return to Baptism is a good one.

One thing, though. The Christian overtones in the Harry Potter books are implicit and more iconic than direct and explicit. What I mean is that you don't generally have specific mention or reference to the actual means of grace, for example, but analagous images, or corresponding shapes and patterns.

In broad terms, I think the magical world in the fictional universe of Harry Potter takes the place of the spiritual realm in the real world of God's creation. It intersects and coincides and overlaps with the muggle world, and sometimes it is detected, but most of the time it is not recognized. I think this is one of the reasons that you don't have many explicit references to the Christian faith and life: because, in the books, there are other things that stand in those places.

Take the use of wands, for example. I don't know that Rowling consciously intended this (probably not), but it seems to me that wands makes a nice parallel to the external means of grace in the real world of God's creation, in the life of His Church. How is magic employed? By the word and wand. Even the non-verbal spells are really not without words; it's only that the words are not spoken aloud, but in the mind. I'm not aware that any of the humans, not even Dubmbledore or Voldemort, are able to use magic without a wand.

Anyway, back to your observation, it is very interesting that only the first year students come into Hogwarts by crossing the lake. That hadn't occurred to me before, but it surely does seem significant. If it is not directly related to Baptism, as you imply, it surely calls to mind the crossing of the Red Sea, and even more the crossing of the Jordan into the promised land.

Of course, we know that Harry was Baptized (as Rowling confirmed in an interview at some point), in view of the fact that Sirius is his godfather. But this gets back to my point; in the fictional literary universe that Rowling has created, she has only alluded to the life of the Christian Church, but has invented other things that take the place of "religion" in the real world of God's creation. If Hogwarts is catechesis, then, crossing the lake to begin those studies is a return to "Baptism," as it were; which is to say, a return to the magical world into which the catechumen was born.

Emily Carder said...

No, I've not read Granger's book. I should, though. I'm rather late in exploring all the symbolism in HP, rather waiting until the end revealed itself. There were some "non-surprises," particularly because of it's general theme of love-sacrifice-redemption. Rowling quoted scripture in #7. That's not an uncommon device for authors, but in this instance it was the mantra of the book. The last enemy to be conquered was death. However, Rowling demonstrated she knew the only way death was defeated through the telling of Harry's tale, and that of his friends and enemies.

As for the post on my blog, I am exploring as you might be able to determine. Please do return, especially to comment. I am uncomfortable when I am unchallenged. Nobody gets it right all the time, and silence says just that.

Zaripest said...

"I'm not aware that any of the humans, not even Dubmbledore or Voldemort, are able to use magic without a wand."

Actually, all magic in the story done by wizards and witches under the age of 11 is done without wands. Also, in the third book, when Marge's glass shatters, that is presumably due to magic done without a wand. It does seem strange, though, that once people obtain wands, they no longer seem to be quite as magical without them...

I like the baptismal imagery you pointed out in the scene with Harry and Ron and the sword in the water. It does bother me a bit, in that light, that it came down to their own personal bravery and decision to jump into the water...

Travis Prinzi said...

Good post and discussion here!

I have nothing profound to add at the moment, but I thought you'd find this amusing: John Granger mentioned at Prophecy 2007 (an HP conference he and I attended and presented at) that a friend of his noted that, based on the baptismal imagery of the sword scene, in which Ron pulls Harry out of the water, we now have "Ron the Baptist."

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Travis, I'm flattered that you found my little blog, and thank you for your great comment. What a hoot! I'm sorry that I couldn't attend the conference, myself, as I'm sure I would have enjoyed it. But I will definitely remember "Ron the Baptist."

As it so happens, today is the Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, for which I will be preaching this evening. So your reference to Ron hit close to home.

Thanks for all the good insights that you have offered on Harry Potter, and for facilitating a great site at Sword of Gryffindor.