Want to read something really sad and rather strange?
This is one of those zippy Time mini-essays, and it has been a long time since I read one that made me laugh harder, although in a laugh-to-keep-from-crying kind of way. It’s called “Who Dies in Harry Potter? God” and is yet another MSM attempt to find the religion angle in the Story that Need Not be Named (as I called it the other day).
Now I am aware that all kinds of people read the Harry Potter in all kinds of ways.
But this take by Lev Grossman is the first I have seen in a long, long time that seems totally unaware of the religion currents swirling around the books. I mean, check this out:
Rowling’s work is so familiar that we’ve forgotten how radical it really is. Look at her literary forebears. In The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien fused his ardent Catholicism with a deep, nostalgic love for the unspoiled English landscape. C.S. Lewis was a devout Anglican whose Chronicles of Narnia forms an extended argument for Christian faith. Now look at Rowling’s books. What’s missing? If you want to know who dies in Harry Potter, the answer is easy: God.
Harry Potter lives in a world free of any religion or spirituality of any kind. He lives surrounded by ghosts but has no one to pray to, even if he were so inclined, which he isn’t. Rowling has more in common with celebrity atheists like Christopher Hitchens than she has with Tolkien and Lewis.
What does Harry have instead of God? Rowling’s answer, at once glib and profound, is that Harry’s power comes from love. This charming notion represents a cultural sea change. In the new millennium, magic comes not from God or nature or anything grander or more mystical than a mere human emotion. In choosing Rowling as the reigning dreamer of our era, we have chosen a writer who dreams of a secular, bureaucratized, all-too-human sorcery, in which psychology and technology have superseded the sacred.
Yes, I have to confess that the Christian writer John Granger — he of HogwartsProfessor.com — has won me over. Not so much to each and every one of his interpretations of Rowling’s work, but to his basic thesis that her books are drenched in very traditional forms of Christian symbolism. It’s hard to Google “Potter, Rowling, God, Christian” without hitting some of that material by Granger and others.
I could go on and on about this all day, but the Time article really struck me as strange. How could the editors there have missed all of the religious debates about these books?
Let me give you one example, flashing back to Granger commentary in the era of book three.
Granger has focused on her language and symbolism, in large part because of his similar studies in “Great Books” and ancient languages. …
“I started reading the Potter books as an Orthodox Christian father who had to explain to his oldest daughter why we don’t read such trash,” he said. “But once I started turning the pages the University of Chicago side of me kicked in.”
Take that climactic scene in “The Prisoner of Azkaban,” he said. The Latin “expecto,” as used in the Apostles’ Creed, is best translated “to look out for” or “to long for expectantly.” And “patronus” means guardian, but can also mean “deliverer” or “savior.” So Potter cries “I look for a savior” and a stag appears, one that looks mysteriously like a unicorn.
In the Middle Ages, noted Granger, stags were Christ symbols, in part because of the regeneration of their antlers as “living trees.” A cross was often pictured in the prongs. Lewis uses a white stag in this manner in “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Unicorns were also popular Christ symbols, portraying purity and strength.
Rowling repeatedly links Potter with creatures — a phoenix, griffins, centaurs, hippogriffs, red lions — used by centuries of Christian artists. Her use of alchemy symbolism taps into medieval images of spiritual purification, illumination and perfection.
And Harry’s snowy white owl? It is interesting to know that Saint Hedwig is the patron saint of orphaned children. And the final product of that spiritual, alchemical discipline? The goal was to create a symbol of salvation and eternal life, something called “The Philosopher’s Stone.”
Hey, Time editors: “Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus.”