Lev Grossman, in the July 23, 2007, issue of Time magazine, writes, “If you want to know who dies in Harry Potter, the answer is easy: God.” In this he has expressed the core problem with the Potter series. There is much that could be written, and has been written, about the specific problems in the books. Without neglecting the valid point that good fiction need not be overtly Christian, need not be religious at all, we might ponder a little the fact that the central metaphor and plot engines of the series are activities (witchcraft and sorcery) absolutely prohibited by God. We might also consider for a moment the fact that no sane parents would give their children books which portrayed a set of “good” pimps and prostitutes valiantly fighting a set of “bad” pimps and prostitutes,and using the sexual acts of prostitution as the thrilling dynamic of the story. By the same token we should ask ourselves why we continue to imbibe large doses of poison in our cultural consumption, as if this were reasonable and normal living, as if the presence of a few vegetables floating in a bowl of arsenic soup justifies the long-range negative effects of our diet. Leaving aside a wealth of such arguments, let us consider Lev Grossman’s insight.
Many of you will recall the controversy that arose in the world’s media a few years ago over the Harry Potter series of fantasy novels for young readers. Numerous articles appeared in the press praising the books as a breakthrough to a more literate form of culture for young people. They exalted its dramatic qualities, imaginative story-telling, humor, and promotion of “values.” Little serious reflection was given to the fact that the foundational element of the series is witchcraft and sorcery, which is glamorized and offered to the reader as normal, even a saving path. The central character, Harry, is a sorcerer in training. This is not the place to restate the arguments, pro and con; I have done this in previous articles, which are posted on this website. However, I would like to emphasize again that few if any cultural works in the history of mankind have spread so far and so quickly as the Potter series.
“A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. Because she was with child, she cried aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. Then another sign appeared in the sky: it was a huge dragon, flaming red, with seven heads and ten horns; on his head were seven crowns. His tail swept a third of the stars from the sky and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, ready to devour her child as soon as it was born.”
The early Church Fathers taught that this passage has manifold meanings. On one level it refers to Mary of Nazareth and the birth of Christ; on another it refers to the Church as she labors to bear salvation into the world. This child is, in a sense, every child, and is the offspring of the Church. She is to carry this child as the image of God, transfigured in Christ, and to bring him forth into eternal life. She groans in agony, and the primeval serpent hates her, for he knows that her offspring, protected and grown in her womb, will crush his head. On still another level, the Woman of Revelation is Our Lady the Mother of the Church, mother of all peoples and all individual souls. As such, she exercises a particularly urgent mission to preserve the young from the deceptions of the ancient enemy of mankind.