Harry Potter and some other stuff

Along with several million of my fellow Americans, I got the new Harry Potter book the weekend it came out (I pre-ordered it), and read it the same weekend. I had justified buying it in hardback as good reading material for the plane to Turkey, but clearly I am not in Turkey. Turns out it was equally good reading material for that weekend. No spoilers follow, I promise.

It is not my job to convince people to read the books who don’t want to, because they feel the magic described in it is inappropriate, or for any other reason. I do sympathize with this view. It’s possible that the books make witchcraft etc. more attractive to readers, even though the magic in the books has virtually nothing to do with the practice of Wicca; but if you look up a Harry Potter on Amazon, you will see all sorts of links to peoples’ lists of “real witchcraft” books. But as the books go along, however, there is more and more in them that makes me sit up and take notice as a Christian. Not only do Christian concepts and symbolism play an important role, but the books show an amazingly strong and complex understanding of concepts like loyalty, courage, sacrifice, and most importantly, love.
The concept of love is awfully diluted and distorted in our culture, and seems to be used as a justification for doing what one feels like doing more than anything else. But in the Harry Potter books, the concept of love is only sometimes linked to romantic love. Love is not inspired by an attractive appearance, but is evoked by qualities like kindness, humility, and dedication to do what is right and never give evil a millimeter of one’s heart or mind. Love is difficult and demands sacrifices, and the one who loves must guard his or her character as well in order to be able to give that kind of love. Love plays a central role in the books, and it isn’t our culture’s concept of love as easy, emotion-based, and centered almost exclusively on sexual attraction.
This view of love is much closer to the Christian concept, and I would like to think that for kids who are reading these books, this view of love as well as other important ideas about character and how to discern and do what is right will stand in sharp contrast to what television etc. are shouting at them from all sides.
Something I thought about the magic in Book 6: Magic and witchcraft is not at all central to the stories. It makes an interesting and imaginative background in which the stories can take place, but the basic story could take place in the real world, outer space, or in any other setting. Also, the magic in Harry Potter is not omnipotent. It makes some things easier, and takes the place of electricity, weapons, and so forth; but there are many things it can’t do; and it can go wrong, curses can be dodged (pretty easily, apparently), and so forth. For example, for long-distance travel I personally would rather take a car or plane than a broom; in good weather, sure, flying would be fun, but not in January thanks.
But enough about Harry Potter! What else? Well, as I noted, I’m not in Turkey. The excavation was canceled, so I’m home for the rest of the summer, trying to make it look like I’ve been doing serious work on my dissertation. We are still going to Germany this fall though: our non-refundable plane tickets that we had already purchased before finding out the excavation was canceled would have made it a huge waste of money not to.

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