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.
We should always keep in mind a fundamental principle of culture: Symbols in our minds exercise a certain power over us, though their influence is usually subconscious, and especially so in the minds of the young. Symbols are keystones in the architecture of thought, indeed in our perceptions of reality itself. If we lose symbolism, we lose your way of knowing things. If symbols are corrupted, concepts are corrupted, and then we lose our ability to understand things as they are, rendering us more vulnerable to deformation of our perceptions and our actions.
The holy scriptures are rich in the true symbols that are absolutely essential to a proper understanding of who we are and where we are situated in the Great War between good and evil—the war that will last until the end of time. Our Lady, for example, is the woman foretold in Genesis 3:15 who will crush the serpent’s head.
“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.
The realm of human imagination is a God-given gift, a faculty of the mind that is intended for the expansion of our understanding by enabling us to visualize invisible truths. In the modern era this zone of man’s interior life has moved to the forefront of his experience. With the advent of film, television, and now the near-virtual reality of special effects videos and other electronic entertainment, the screen of the imagination is stimulated to a degree (both in quantity and kind) more than at any other period in history. This has prompted an ongoing debate over what constitutes healthy nourishment of the imagination and what degrades it.
In his essay “On Fairy Stories” J.R.R. Tolkien pointed out that because man is made in the image and likeness of God he is endowed with faculties that reflect his Creator.