21 March 2006

On fantasy literature

Here's an article by a pastor in my area. I was motivated to put this on by Rosie's timely comments on fantasy literature (under the "Why bother?" post). I heartily agree. "Fiction" is often more true than most of the books you find in the non-fiction section (self-help, opinion, biography, history....) So here's one opinion on the Harry Potter craze. I have one somewhere that takes a different position, by Chuck Colson, and I'll try to find it. Tammy, if you have it, would you post it?

Welcome Back Harry Potter!

I am both an ordained minister and a Harry Potter fan. I know this makes me a ‘persona non grata’ in some church circles. But the less-than-academy-quality acting and screen writing aside—I still enjoyed the latest movie in the series, “The Goblet of Fire”.

Don’t get me wrong, I am quite aware of many Christian critiques of the series. First critique? “Harry Potter blurs the lines between right and wrong!” Are you kidding me? It is a modern morality play. The ongoing fight between good and evil is the undergirding of the entire narrative. Granted, Harry has a “certain disregard for the rules”—but arguably so did Jesus. Sometimes, rules can be harmful and restrain ‘good’. Sometimes it is ‘right’ to break rules. Remember 1776?

Maybe what's offensive to many is not that Harry does good, but that he has to struggle not to do evil. Harry is in Gryffindor, but is aware of a streak of Slytherin within his heart. Remember that even the sovereign Sorting Hat had a hard time determining where to place Harry. I get this struggle. I confess that for me, doing Gryffindor is often at odds with the bent of my heart toward Slytherin. It is not Harry Potter that blurs the line between good and evil---the real culprit is my heart.

Second main critique? “Harry Potter encourages the exploration of magic and witchcraft!” I prefer to say that Harry Potter—as well as Lord of the Rings, Brothers Grimm, Star Wars, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe—anything by Shyamalan--invites us to look beyond our senses. For too long the woods have been disenchanted. For too long have we been lulled to sleep by simplistic ‘muggle’ science that hoped to explain all phenomenon in the cosmos. I was trained as a scientist—an engineer—the president of the Math Honor Society. I found great solace in equations that gave me the same answer every time. But I am now more passionate about the unexplainable than the formulaic. I have seen far too many things that challenge my formulas. The forests are indeed enchanted. By the way, scientists are coming around. Quantum Physics has shattered the formulaic science of my generation. Modern scientists are more like ancient medicine men, or shaman who are fetishly naming the powers that cannot be seen—quarks, etc. They are more and more aware that the molecules themselves are ‘enchanted’.

Thank God for people like Tolkien, Lewis and Rowling who invite us to continually enter mystical realms—to imagine, to have higher expectations for the creation. This is after all what the Bible does. We are invited to become aware of the higher realm—a realm of miracle (the Christian political-speak for ‘magic’). In that realm, things happen that are inexplicable. There are powers and forces that are beyond our wildest dreams—beyond science, beyond formula, beyond our comfort. Now that’s what I am talking about!

Maybe we are just a little bit jealous that JK Rowling does so much imagining with far less material at her disposal than we have. Maybe she challenges us to be recaptured by the stunning imagination of the Bible again. No doubt, sorcery is very dangerous. But I believe passionately that the Bible presents a reality far more dangerous! Harry Potter-like sorcery and witchcraft are really pathetic counterfeits of the highest power in the universe, God Himself. What could be more magical (or miraculous if you prefer) than the birth of Jesus Christ? Imagine the fantasy-like scene of the angelic beings hovering over the shepherds. Or a virgin conceiving, a whale, an ark, a Triune God who speaks, pursues, loves, embraces. If anyone is mildly attracted to the mystery of sorcery, they should be wildly attracted by the wonders of the Bible, what C.S. Lewis refers to as the Deep Magic.

Maybe what we should be most offended by is not Harry Potter, but any hyper-formulaic science that has no place for the enchanted, mysterious and the miraculous. Maybe, just maybe, that is what we need to protect our children from! What do you think?

Pastor Bill Senyard,
Peace Valley Community Church
December, 2005