Try Something New
Will it never die? Harry Potter is in the news again. Last week there was a regrettable post on some blog called Courageous Priest. Loath I am to bludgeon overmuch the priest responsible for this misinformed rant. A couple of weeks ago a priest from his community gave the annual Lenten mission in our parish and it freaking rocked, so in thanksgiving for that I will withhold my criticism.
This week, a Catholic satellite TV network that shall go nameless hosted the world’s most fraudulent Harry Potter critic on one of its talk shows. To his rants, no direct response will do. No rebuttal can adequately address his invincible ignorance.
Gilbert Magazine soldiers on. We are on record endorsing J.K. Rowling’s fiction as enduring, engaging literature, part of a tradition that extends back to Chesterton and runs through Hilaire Belloc, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis (you may purchase the issue with our editorial here). So I’d like to address one criticism of the books, repeated often by fans of Lewis and Tolkien, that runs, basically, “In Tolkien and Lewis, humans and hobbits never use magic, only the Elves and wizards do.”
How misinformed is this claim? To begin with, in The Lord of the Rings, the mortal man Aragorn, by virtue of being descended from both Elves and the mortal Numenorean race, has a number of graces that could be called magical, including the grace to choose the time and place of his own death. Then there are the Palantiri, which bring destruction to “magical” characters who use them (Sauron; Saruman) but not to Aragorn, who alone can use them by right of being the heir of Elendil (unlike Denethor, whose use of a Palantir drives him to madness and suicide).
Then there are the gifts that Galadriel gave to the Fellowship, from Frodo’s phial to the lembas to the magical camouflage cloaks, to Sam’s rope and his box of earth from Galadriel’s garden. Boromir’s horn is apparently magical—it can be heard in Minas Tirith when he blows it at Parth Galen, hundreds of miles away. The Ent water that Pippin and Merry drink has magical qualities, as do the dwarf-made presents that Bilbo gave away at his birthday party. In fact, Tolkien specifically goes out of his way to say they were “beautiful and obvioiusly magical.” About the only magical objects forbidden to humans are the One Ring and the Rings of Power themselves. But then again they’re also forbidden to Elves, Dwarves, and Maia (except the Three, which are an exception).
Given this, have Harry-haters even read The Lord of the Rings? It is a fair question. Perhaps they should try The Silmarillion, which in addition to suicide has incest, treason, murder, diabolism, genocide, and dark hints of one character contemplating rape. Yet Tolkien gets a pass—as well he should, and if you don’t think so then you do not understand storytelling—and Rowling gets the grief.
Speaking of suicide and murder, in Harry Potter, Dumbledore’s death is problematic, but in context, it serves as an argument against consequentialism, not for it. Dumbledore’s grand and misguided scheme for Snape to gain mastery of the Elder Wand backfires when Draco gets there first and disarms Dumbledore. In the end, as Rowling herself said, it all came down to “a wrestling match between two teenage boys,” with Dumbledore’s elaborate plotting amounting to nothing. As with Frodo’s “failure” at Mt. Doom, it is instead a literary depiction of the unfathomable workings of Grace, as opposed to the shortcomings of mere human machinations. (Seriously, did Gandalf really think Frodo would have the strength to cast away the ring once he got to the Cracks of Doom?)
At this point, nearly four years after the publication of the last Harry Potter novel, Harry-haters are succumbing to self-parody. Quite literally, because all they do is repeat, ad nauseum, the same old talking points cribbed from Michael O’Brien or Fr. Gabriel Amorth, all of which have been refuted over and over again.
Enough is enough. And if you’ll forgive me yet aother cliche, the time has come to put up or shut up. I charitably invite Harry haters to try something really radical: read the books. Who knows? You might find a flaw or evil element that O’Brien and Fr. Amorth overlooked. Or, instead, you might find something even more exciting – a literary treasure that, to your surprise, is actually not morally objectionable. Even more, you might enjoy it. Read the books.