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July 14, 2005

Comments

Steve Skojec

We've been discussing this quite a bit at my blog, and while there seems to be a consensus that this Potter business is dangerous stuff (for reasons I won't reiterate here), I still got the whole "you're using fear over logic" comment.

This is certainly more than papal literary criticism, however. This is about something fundamentally evil - witchcraft - being portrayed as an acceptable means to a good end. And that is subtly deceptive to a young person, even one who is formed to know that witchcraft itself is wrong.

Because when a practice that derives its power from the devil becomes entertainment for kids, we've got a problem.

Mark Shea

The Cycle of Conservative Christian Harry Hating:

These books contain magic! They are occultic!

"The Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia contain magic. Are they occultic?"

Well then... the books are evil because Harry breaks rules and disobeys authority!

"You mean like Huckleberry Finn?"

But the Chief Exorcist of Rome...

"Whose qualifications to engage in lit crit are what?"

But the Pope has officially condemned the books!

"Actually, judging from the evidence we have, the Pope--two years ago--wrote a perfunctory note to an author seeking a bit of publicity and said, 'Er, nice work. Haven't read the Harry books myself, but the New Age is a bad thing. Here: why don't you talk to so and so over in this other office.'"

But Michael O'Brien, Head of the Church Magisterial Office for Literary Criticism, sez...

"Mr. O'Brien is entitled to his opinion. Others have their own opinions."

I'm not going to listen to the opinions of Bad Catholics[TM] who allow occultic and New Age books to influence their thinking.

"Actually, there's good reason to think that the books are being written by a Christian author aiming to create a work of Christian fantasy. Have you read "The Hidden Key to Harry Potter" or "Looking for God in Harry Potter" by John Granger, an Eastern Orthodox writer? He makes an interesting case.

NO! I won't go near such stuff! It might change my mind! And besides I read on the Internet that J.K. Rowling has admitted that she wants to lead our children into the occult!

"Actually, that was an Onion article. Has it ever occurred to you that calumny is as grave a sin as witchcraft and that it would be advisable to at least know what you are talking about before you assassinate somebody's character? From what I've read Rowling is a self-professed member of the Church of Scotland who disbelieves in magic and who has had an active hand in a number of corporal works of mercy. She also appears to be quite a modest person. Shouldn't that at least be taken into account?"

The devil always disguises himself as an angel of light! And we can tell that the devil is behind these books because they contain magic!

Lather, rinse, repeat. The Star Chamber has spoken and facts are not pertinent to the case.

Dan Crawford

OH NO! He's not infallible in all things? There goes my faith.

tk

Featured on Fox 5 News this AM in NYC! Also a mention on a news promo for another local station!

I expect Katie Couric to do 15 minutes with some heretic later this AM on this....

Me? I'm ready to buy the book this Saturday.

Petra

Great comment, Mark!

Actually, what I know is that the then-cardinal Ratzinger read (or flapped through) a book on Harry Potter by Gabriele Kuby, a German convert and Catholic apologist, in which she strongly condemns the Potter books from a Catholic perspective. (She quotes him on her website: "Thank you for your insightful book. It is good that you have thrown some light on Harry Potter - because these are subtle temptations that work unacknowledgedly and thus the more deeply, while decomposing Christianity in the soul before it actually had the opportunity of growing there.")

On this German website, on the contrary, a Catholic priest (who also writes very interesting and orthodox apologetic and catechetic stuff) repudiates Kuby's claims and sees in the Harry Potter books rather an opportunity for re-evangelization: because, as he asserts, they point out that there is more behind everything than appears at first sight and because they put themes such as Good vs. Evil, Love and Redemption in the center of the plot.

cw

I too look forward to reading the next book, but I am not prepared to hand it over to my kids (all under the age of seven). They have not read the first 5 because I don't think they are ready for many of the issues presented, not just the magic. It is the same reason why my seven year old has read most of the Narnia series, but not The Last Battle or The Magician's Nephew. He knows what they are about allegorically and doesn't want to read them right now.

My biggest problem with the Harry series is that too many people hand their kids these books just because they are the latest craze without stopping to think about their child and whether or not it is appropriate for them. I also can't stand the literary academics who defend a child reading some well known classic by saying," This is great literature, a classic. let them read the great works! Blah, blah, blah..." Not every great classic is appropriate for just any child who is able to read it. My son is capable of reading just about anything because he is a natural born reader who by the age of seven can read at least 4-5 grade levels ahead, but emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, he is still only 7.

Back to Harry Potter, I personally have bigger gripes with the Lemony Snicket series. I read the first one and felt that this was a seriously disturbed person who should not be writing for children. Just my impressions though, not making pronouncements of any kind. I have enjoyed some of the Harry Potter books, others I have merely endured to get to the next one, but I think of them as mind candy for myself. I can see how a young child might be influenced by them in the same way they could be influenced by anything that was presented to them unchecked. Parents need to step up to the plate and decide if their child is ready for the "latest craze" instead of letting themselves be dictated to by our crazed society!

Edward

Mark:

Bwahahahahaha!!! You needed to put a Coffee & Cats warning on that, brother. Fortunately I had neither coffee nor cat near me. :-)

Henry Dieterich

Next thing we'll be hearing is "Amy Welborn dissents from papal teaching!" Some people will stop at nothing. I recommend they all go back and read St. Augustine's De Doctrina Christiana.

Josh

In reference to Mark's "argument," there are a few things to remember:

(1) The differences between Narnia/LOTR and Potter in regards to the treatment of magic are obvious. For instance, Harry Potter is trying to learn/grasp at the use of magic. In both LOTR and Narnia (see especially The Magician's Nephew), such seeking after power is condemned.

(2) In regards to "disobedience," citing to Huck Finn helps very little because there is the preliminary question of whether obedience is due. In addition, the question of immorality in literature is not that it is there, but whether it is depicted as good and just.

(3) As to the Chief Exorcist and the Pope, no one is claiming that their opinions on this matter are binding, but I think it is probably hypocritical and certainly foolhardy to say that their opinions are irrelevant and should not be serious considered. I tend to suspect that Potter supporters would trumpet any support from the Vatican in the face of people like Michael O'Brien.

(4) Again, I am unaware of anyone claiming Michael O'Brien has the capacity to speak infallibly. He has made an argument in line with the argument he previously put forth in his work on children's literature, _A Landscape of Dragons_. I don't seem to recall anyone getting terribly upset with his theory until this Harry Potter nonsense came up.

(5) On Rowling's intent, who knows and I certainly don't care unless it is part of her work. Despite what I take to have been Camus' intent, I think _The Strangers_ is one of the best explanations for the necessity of God.

What continually puzzles me about this whole mess is why anyone bothers to read the Potter books. I read the first one and it was horribly written. If you want children's literature, read something good like the adventure/historical fiction of G.A. Henty, the children's adventure stories of Enid Blyton, or the children's sailing adventures in the Arthur Ransome _Swallows and Amazons_ series. There are so many books for that age range that are actually well-written that the whole debate is like arguing over the possible dangers and benefits of eating rotten eggs. It makes no sense when there's a dozen fresh eggs sitting in the fridge.

Pontificator

My good friend, Fr Scott Newman, who is also a canon lawyer, assures me that it's okay for Catholics to read the Harry Potter novels. We just can't enjoy them. ;-)

Susan Peterson

I have already ordered TWO copies of the next book to be delivered Saturday, one for my daughter and one for myself. My daughter is now rereading all of the other books in preparation. I decided to do the same but as I am just about at the end of the second book, am probably not going to make it.

My opinion is that these books are good and moral works of imaginative fiction for young people. The "witchcraft" in them has nothing to do with the devil. It did take me a long time to stop wincing at the word "witch" as I did have the traditional associations with it as meaning someone who has sold her soul to the devil in exchange for special powers. I wish the author had found a different word for her female practitioners. But the book is very clear about good and evil. Harry is protected because his mother loved him enough to die for him. Harry is offered the temptation of being
"great" if he joins Slytherin but rejects it outright. Characters in the book make sacrifices for one another; family love is shown beautifully in the Weasleys, etc etc. I think those who equate these books with "new age" stuff are tone deaf and colorblind.

Will somebody who has his ear please ask our Holy Father to read the books and THEN give us his opinion? Because what we have now is his opinion based on the misunderstanding that these books are new agey good=evil, your perception is as good as my perception, (and sometimes, sexual passion=spirituality) stuff.

Of course parents have to make these decisions with relation to their own children and they will have different ideas about protection versus exposure. I never worried about anything being too serious or dark or adult for them but I did worry about truly heretical ideas being subtly inculcated. I usually read the books they were reading and tried to point out what I thought was wrong. (ie The Dark is Rising books portray good and evil as equally powerful forces and I had to tell my kids this was wrong, that even the devil was created by God and rebelled, that evil was the absence of good or being at a great distance from the good...and that evil has already been defeated by Jesus on the cross and we just have to take advantage of that defeat. The kids may have reacted with an, Yeah, yeah, mother, we've heard your rap attitude, and said, we don't really believe this stuff, it's just a story, etc....but at least I said it.)
Susan Peterson

Emily

What makes me laugh is that the moment stories like this one come out, all of my VERY CONVERNED FRIENDS start emailing me the link. "Know you love the Potter books," they write. "Thought you might find THIS interesting."

I wish they showed the same level of concern about things that are really dangerous to my soul. "Stop wasting time on the Internet," they should write. "You're neglecting your duty to your employer." Or, "Stop complaining about how tired/poor/abused you are. Accept your trials as penance and offer it up." Etc., etc. etc.

But no, it's my Potter love that has them up in arms. Ah, well, at least they're praying for me.

Jimmy Huck

cw: Just a quick question for you. What do you think of reading the bible to your 7 year old? Especially those parts where Christ is crucified or where the God of the Old Testament demonstrates his wrathful vengeance. Funny that you won't allow your 7 year old to read "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," but my guess is that your 7 year old is preparing for first communion and is thus probably quite aware of the circumstances surrounding Jesus' sacrifice.

Jeff

I'm with Josh. Harry Potter books are garbage. Though the movies aren't bad at all.

I think the whole discussion is too fraught with seriousness. Not everything is read as a morality tale, by children or otherwise. Harry Potter is just absorbed as an adventure story and the magical element is just a knack that some people have or a skill to be mastered, like cleverness with one's hands. It can be used for good or evil.

So what? I don't think any kid is led into or out of Catholicism by Harry Potter. A Catholic parent who pays attention to his kids' reading and movie watching simply explains the moral elements in such a way as to highlight lessons to be learned and clarify ambiguities. Isn't this what we do with all the other secular fare our kids encounter?

WRY

The pope is always right, except when he attacks *my* favorite thing!
Guess the cafeteria is open again ;-)

Todd

"The differences between Narnia/LOTR and Potter in regards to the treatment of magic are obvious."

Not so. Middle Earth is probably the closest: the use of magic is morally irrelevant, but the seeking after power, revenge, and destruction--whether a person is magical, immortal, or mortal--isn't.

"For instance, Harry Potter is trying to learn/grasp at the use of magic."

Not quite. He's working with his God-given talents in a universe that permits magic. It's really no different from the real use of wealth and riches: known to be a great temptation for weaker human beings.

"In addition, the question of immorality in literature is not that it is there, but whether it is depicted as good and just."

For it to be good literature, it must be believable. Goody goody Christian literature will never rise because its characters are nothing like real world characters. HP characters all have faults. They pay for them, just like in real life.

"I think it is probably hypocritical and certainly foolhardy to say that their opinions are irrelevant and should not be serious considered."

Of course they're relevant and should be seriously considered. But only for themselves and their possible legal guardians.

"I tend to suspect that Potter supporters would trumpet any support from the Vatican in the face of people like Michael O'Brien."

Michael who?

"He has made an argument in line with the argument ..."

He's entitled to a personal opinion. One of billions.

"What continually puzzles me about this whole mess is why anyone bothers to read the Potter books."

I resisted because of the media frenzy for a long time.

"I read the first one and it was horribly written."

Hundreds of millions disagree with you there, Josh. A lot of what I see in HP criticism has the whiff of envy. Certainly up there with calumny as serious sin. Let's face it: it's going to be a very bad weekend for the Star Chamber; y'all might as well head for the beach and reread Narnia on a blanket under an umbrella. Stick to the used book stores till August, too.

c matt

and simultaneously misspelling it as "judgement"

Thank you thank you thank you Jimmy for pointing this out - you have no idea how frustrating it is in the legal business to see this word misspelled so often that it is now accepted as correct.

Michael

I read the first one and it was horribly written.

I've never seen anyone claim this who (a) was a good writer, and, (b) had a visible sense of humor. Harold Bloom is the most obvious example.

c matt

I don't know, but I do see the subtle danger involved in treating "magic" as a force one can learn to manipulate whether for good or evil. The danger, to the extent it exists in HP, seems to be the premise that one can use these forces and control them, if you only get the proper training and have the right intentions (see, eg: hell, road to paved with). Gandalf's rebuke "Don't tempt me Frodo...I would want to use the power for good, but through me it would wield unpseakable horrors" (close enough) seems to ring in my ears when I think of HP. I doubt its some inentional plot on JKR's part to push the occult. In fact, as Mark points out, she seems to assume that the magic comes as a natural talent that one develops, like good soccer skills. Unfortunately, while that may hold in HP's fictional world, in the real world, the source of similar occult powers is all too well known. But, with that caveat, the HP series seems harmless enough.

c matt

Sorry, it was Todd that brought up the natural talent thing.

Annalucia

1. Dittos to what Mark Shea and Susan Peterson said.

2. The books are wonderfully imagined, funny, terrifying in places, and show an almost painful insight into the workings of the teenage mind, whether wizard or Muggle. The movies stink. Whoever wrote the screenplay of the first one leached out all the wit and reduced it to noise and explosions.

3. These days the Pope can't blow his nose without someone claiming that it proves something or other.
And I wonder how many of us would survive having all our offhand remarks, or quick notes to someone, blazoned across the headlines. I can think of stuff I wrote in college which makes me cringe today.

kathleen reilly

wry: this is cafeteria catholicism improved. one can claim that what is on offer was never IN the cafeteria in the first place ("not a papal teaching" etc...), so refusing it is no problem.

correct me if i'm wrong, but Ratzinger did more than say he liked the book, he gave her permission to publicly cite him as approving of her thesis.

Josh

Todd said: "Of course they're relevant and should be seriously considered. But only for themselves and their possible legal guardians."

Todd, Did you catch that I was talking about the Chief Exorcist of Rome and the Pope? I wasn't talking about some random parent, as I take it you thought.

Also, as to the question of immorality in literature, I was merely making a statement of principle when I said that the question is not whether it is in the work, but whether it is depicted as good or just. I was making no specific objection to the HP books, though I am aware that others I have argued that its depiction of immoral acts is troubling. Instead, I was pointing out that Mark had not responded to this argument with his comment about Huck Finn.

As to the odd argument about envy, I am afraid that I do not see what could be causing the envy you claim to have noticed. I, for instance, am not an author, and have no particular aversion to author's making a profit from their work. I've read Toni Morrison (Beloved) and Salman Rushdie (Midnight's Children) despite their fame, and thoroughly enjoyed them. As to Michael O'Brien, he is an author, but not of children's literature, and his ideas on this topic long pre-date the HP books. The opponents of the HP books may be wrong, but I am not at all sure why they would be envious. (On the calumny note, for the reasons I already mentioned, I think the intentional fallacy is a real fallacy and thus take no interest in Rowling's intent).

Todd, your point that "hundreds of millions" disagree with me about the quality of HP is rather unconvincing. I don't know if you are aware, but the quality of education in our time is so low that I do not find it the least bit surprising that people spend their time reading trash. Our college graduates just begin to come close to the middle school students of the 16th-19th centuries. You would do much better to read works such as Henty, Ransome, Blyton (as well as most of the books mentioned on the good books list put together by John Senior).

c matt

But the Chief Exorcist of Rome...

"Whose qualifications to engage in lit crit are what?"


If the Chief Exorcist of Rome were critiquing HP's literary merits, I would agree his creds are somewhat lacking. But he's not critiquing the literary merits AFAIK - he's critiquing its occult impact, for which I would think he has creds to put you and I both to shame.

Jim Cork

I didn't realize we had a Catholic Bob Larson. I hope O'Brien doesn't sing as well. I'm still traumatized from the Bob Larson record my brothers and I used to play. "I'm singing a song about the young housewives/ watching soap operas every day of their lives..." Maybe Bill still has the record?

But seriously, I seem to recall that when then-Cardinal Ratzinger stated that the Iraq war could not be morally justified, many people protested that we were not bound by his private opinions, and that there was room for legitimate disagreement. I guess a children's book is a more serious matter than war and peace and all that.

Lee Strong

I've read the Potter books. They are fiction in the same way so many children's books are fiction. Do we expect our children to grow up believing bears talk? That you can walk through a wardrobe into another world? That there are children so tiny they can sleep in matchboxes? Of course not. A child grounded in reality will ultimatley understand that these are not true, ust as a child grouned in faith will not fall prey to belief in witchcraft as portrayed in the books. (Children raised in an environment without faith might be another matter.) Moreover, Potter's world is a moral one in which friendship, sacrifice, making moral choices, caring about others, etc. are valued, and good does ultimately triumph over evil - though with a struggle.

Maclin Horton

I'm willing to admit, if only for the sake of argument, that there's a legitimate abstract argument against the Potter books. And I have a lot of respect for Michael O'Brien. But I just can't see that these books pose a serious danger.

This is subjective, and obviously I could be fooling myself, but I think I have a reasonably good nose for the scent of sulfur and brimstone, and I just don't sense it in the Potter books. I can think right off of two popular series that give off a far, far worse spiritual odor: Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea books and Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series (noted by Susan Peterson above).

Maureen

Welcome to Fanimal Farm!

Inkling good.
Rowling bad.


Re: style
The amusing thing is that the same thing goes on in Russia. I've read sites where one guy on the forum is praising the peerless prose and ideas of Sergey Lukyanenko, while the next guy claims Lukyanenko can barely write Russian, has stupid ideas, and could never measure up to the profound and flowing lines found in contemporary American phantasts. Like Robert Jordan or the early Shannara books.

Snrf! All I can say is, something must be gained in translation!

Seriously, though, it's always hard to judge these things fairly. Tolkien as a stylist, a storyteller and an idea man pushes all the right buttons for me, whereas Jordan just doesn't. When this effect is strong enough, it can make it hard to judge whether someone is objectively bad or just an okay or excellent writer who's not to your taste.

And the best and the worst writers are often the ones who polarize people most effectively. (Possibly because a truly horrid writer must have tapped into some deep well of mythic power just to get published instead of thrown away. Although mind control or a deal with the Devil sometimes seems more probable.)

Maureen

KH

How far do you take this logic? Being it's logic, it has to be seen straight through, no? So if I told you that there was a TV show (far more dangerous, as TV reaches more people than books or movies) coming out that had witches who performed both "good" and "bad" spells and incantations and had power over mere, always-bumbling humans, you would never expose yourself or your children to that?

So you really don't know who Darren ("Derwood") Stevens is?

Calling Dr. Bombay....

Mark C.

I am honestly agnostic on this issue, although I've given it a fair bit of thought. I've read all five Potter novels, and will read the sixth and seventh (if only to see how it all turns out). I know Michael O'Brien personally, if only slightly, and have discussed his views on Harry Potter with him, and engaged in an interesting email correspondence a few years ago with John Granger.

All that being said, I tend towards the view that the Harry Potter phenomenon is on the whole a bad thing which is spiritually dangerous for children, particularly those not from a strong faith background. Granger's case that Rowling belongs in the same camp as Tolkien and Lewis is far from proven (actually, the Inkling Rowling most reminds me of is Charles Williams - and I wouldn't recommend his novels full of esoteric and occult symbolism - albeit in Christianized form - to a spiritually troubled teen, for instance). And even if he is correct that Rowling uses alchemical symbolism in the novels (and some of his evidence for that is good, albeit anecdotal), there is little to indicate that she has a specifically Christian alchemical allegory in mind.

However, there is some potential for good to come out of the flap over Ratzinger's letters, which indicate some fairly serious reservations about Potter ("It is good that you enlighten people about Harry Potter, because those are subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly") if it helps convince some of the pro-Potter but otherwise ultramontanist conservative Catholics like Mark Shea and Jimmy Akin that the Holy Father, acting in his private capacity, can err. Maybe they'll give some of us more trad oriented Catholics a break when we, say, question the appointment of Archbishop Levada to the CDF.

hieronymus

Potter is rubbish. Unworthy of the Pontiff's attention.

Maureen

Kathleen Reilly --
There's a difference between cafeteria Catholicism and the exercise of Christian freedom. Cafeteria Catholicism picks which laws to obey and assigns its own missions. Christian freedom obeys all the laws and frees every soul to do its own unique mission from God.

Anything that the Church, officially using her Magisterium, has not condemned, is left up to our prudential judgment. That's a lot, folks. Parents have a right to exercise their own prudential judgment about how they want to raise their own kids. Kids past the age of reason also have a right to exercise their prudential judgment, subject to the strictures about honoring and obeying their parents. And certainly adult Catholics who are secure in their faith have the right to decide, "Yes, I find Harry Potter entertaining or even helpful to read" or "No, I think Harry Potter is boring or dangerous, so I will not read it."

If we don't exercise Christian freedom or we deny it to others, we are in some way treating the Holy Spirit as if it's an unwanted visitor. I don't want to be heard telling Jesus that I don't want to know that name of His which He will give to me alone to know and tell to others. That doesn't mean I want to be lazy about going to church, or a dissenter, or run off on some gnostic quest. It means that I have to cleave even closer to the Church's laws than ever, because I have to understand the whys and wherefores as well as the letter of the law.

On the whole, I like Rowling. I have problems with her writing and story at times, but that's true of just about every writer. I'll complain about what I don't like and savor what I do. They're just books, folks.

Bob Trexler

The media is trying again to make the Pope and the Church look foolish and Christian culture-warriors are playing along with the game. Worse than that, the culture-warriors seem to have heightened the rhetoric of the game. They both take old letters and mistranslate them out of context. But the means are justified by the end, so they make a false report.

A literal translation of part of letter #1 says: “it is good the fact that you clear up Harry Potter in things because these are subtle seductions which work imperceptibly and straight thereby deeply and which decomposes Christianity in the soul.”

Here is the media translation: “it is good that you enlighten people about Harry Potter because those are subtle seductions which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul.”

Here are a few questions for you German scholars:

1) How does the measured and discriminate phrase “clear up Harry Potter in things” become the more ominous “enlighten people about Harry Potter?”
2) Does the word “seductions” refer back to the word “things” as in the literal translation? Or does the plural word “seductions” refer to the singular word “Harry Potter”? By removing the word “things,” the media translation becomes awkward when it combines the plural “those” with the singular referent word “Harry Potter.”
3) The allusion of how seduction works in the soul is that of a plant trying to grow. Thus, in the first translation the organic imagery is that sinful seductions are deep underground working imperceptibly to decompose the plant before it can grow. In the media translation the word for “decompose” is changed to “distort” and to make the word “distort” rhetorically stronger, the word for “deeply” is linked with it instead of being linked with the deepness of the imperceptible work.

Who is doing the distorting here? J.K. Rowling or journalists and culture-warriors who make up false headlines, mistranslate personal letters, and then interpret them out of context. She is writing imaginative fiction -while they pretend to deal with facts.

The original German can be found on this website:
www.gabriele-kuby.de/harry_potter.html

Joseph Kardinal Ratzinger, Präfekt der Glaubenskongregation, Brief vom 7. März 2003

"Vielen Dank für das lehrreiche Buch. Es ist gut, daß Sie in Sachen Harry Potter aufklären, denn dies sind subtile Verführungen, die unmerklich und gerade dadurch tief wirken und das Christentum in der Seele zersetzen, ehe es überhaupt recht wachsen konnte."

Maureen

Since I don't read German, I Babelfished the anti-Kuby page Petra directed us to. It was pretty interesting.

The guy writing the page seemed to be pointing out that Kuby for some reason thinks Dumbledore laughed at the idea that Harry's mother's love saved him. So either the Babelfish translation is very bad, the German Potter translation is very bad, or Kuby's reading comprehension skills need some work.

Also, the guy pointed out that some people think the root of all modernist evil is the disappearance of "pre-Christian" things like folktales and folk beliefs, while others feel more threatened by the appearance of such things.

I suspect folk culture is one of those things which, if driven out, will always get its revenge by coming back in a less friendly form. We should do what the Church has always done and "baptize" it.

Todd

Josh, thanks for responding.

"Todd, Did you catch that I was talking about the Chief Exorcist of Rome and the Pope? I wasn't talking about some random parent, as I take it you thought."

I knew whom you were speaking of; and I don't see that the Chief Exorcist has any particularly unique insight into literature that a person, say, like our blog host wouldn't. I tend to go with positive reviews, and I'd read anything Amy told me to ... or a few other trusted friends. When people tell me not to read something, my first reaction is suspicion.

"I am aware that others I have argued that its depiction of immoral acts is troubling."

I see you didn't advocate this position. There is very little, if anything, troubling in the depiction of immorality in HP. Nothing at all approaching the seemingly God-approved genocide in the OT.

"The opponents of the HP books may be wrong, but I am not at all sure why they would be envious."

My antennae may be off, but what I hear from many Potter critics is a wistful sort of jealousy: if only a Christian had written Christian stories that had taken off like wildfire. Isn't that a laudable dream? I wouldn't mind being an influential author: that's a very honorable aspiration. What sets my BS detectors off mainly are critics of Rowling's writing. Such attacks come off as vain and shallow, especially when the attempt to pile on the points is connected with it. (It's dangerous lit, bad examples, but worst of all: it's poorly written.) And it doesn't stop with what we might have written. Why wouldn't we want our children and students to read (only?) the great things we've read, thus honoring our most excellent judgment in matters educational?

"Todd, your point that "hundreds of millions" disagree with me about the quality of HP is rather unconvincing. I don't know if you are aware, but the quality of education in our time is so low that I do not find it the least bit surprising that people spend their time reading trash."

Except that it would seem the market is ready to bear the weight of people with great skill. Books may be in decline compared to earlier days, but people are still making great music, great theatre, and good films. Of course, great books are still being written, and I do read outside the HP universe. But the education level of readers (who, at least, are willing to read) doesn't seem to be a real argument for Rowling's supposed lack of ability.

I'm looking forward to a good read next week. And I will have a few more good reads as I go through the summer. The universe doesn't begin and end with Harry, and it's too big to get all fussed up (one way or another) about a magical teenager and his friends.

Ronny

I think the whole discussion is too fraught with seriousness.

I think the whole discussion became tediously dull several years ago with the exception of the occasional levity provided by the likes of Mark Shea above.

Mary Alexander

Plenty of people have expressed that the Rowling books are appealing- well so is the glamor of evil and it wasn't glamorous it wouldn't be appealing. Thank you- Josh- the books are trash and just because millions of people read the National Enquirer, Danielle Steele and Harlequin romances does not mean that they are worthwhile literature. Television and literary trash are the opiate of the people and Catholics should know better. If they take their salvation seriously they will reject Harry Potter because it is unworthy and dangerous. What does darkness have to do with the light?

ELC

"the Holy Father, acting in his private capacity"? These letters date from two years before his election to the papacy. Good grief.

Sandra Miesel

Are there better books than HP out there? Of course. The blog's commentators have nominated some repeatedly. For example: Diana Wynne-Jones is a better stylist and her world-where-magic-works books are a lot more compact.
It puzzles me, as it has Mark Shea (with whose post above I heartily agree) why the fury directed at HP somehow failed to notice Philip Pullman. Not to mention LeGuin and Cooper cited above. He's a noisy atheist out to deliberately influence children to his views and he's won mainstream literary prizes. He'll be in public libraries for generations.
My immediate reaction to Michael O'Brien's remarks in the Canadian news story was to rack my brain for example of "good snakes" in HP. Where? Does he perhaps mean some wormlike magical animals that the students loathe? The "bad snakes" in HP are very bad indeed--the basilisk, the naga, and the one in the logo of the Deatheaters. Figures of overwhelming terror each and all. How is Rowling subverting the evil symbolism of snakes in her books? But then Michael O'Brien isn't as well versed in dragon lore as his public thinks.
I'm going to be reading HP next week as will my daughter. I hope #6 is better than #5 which was a hard slog to finish.

Cheryl

In my morning newspaper there were a bunch of "wild about Harry"-type articles, then a sidebar on books that Potter fans might like too.

The sidebar listed Philip Pullman's Amber Spyglass novels (aggressive atheism)right alongside the Lord of the Rings! I was amazed. Talk about missing the forest for the trees.

Rowling is not the enemy, Pullman is.

As for me and my house, we've pre-ordered the new Potter novel and look forward to the Barnes and Noble party on Friday ;-)

Ronny

The pope is always right, except when he attacks *my* favorite thing!
Guess the cafeteria is open again ;-)

Funny, WRY, but to my knowledge, Ratzinger qua Pope has done no such thing. And, yes, Kathleen, it does matter whether the statement was made authoritatively in an official teaching of the Pope or in a polite thank you letter by a curial official writing as a private individual. Your desire to extend Petrine authority every dot and tittle written by a man before he became pope is not in keeping with the tradition.

WRY

But Maureen,
The pro-Potter crowd isn't making the argument for prudential judgment. They're saying that Potter is somewhere between morally neutral and positively wonderful, that opinions to the contrary are foolish at best,and that the Pope can be ignored because he is not treating doctrine (or he must be deceived - shades of JPII and the abuse scandal).
Funny, how people are quick to assume that B16 must be mistaken or misled when he says something they don't like.
I haven't read the HP books and have no interest to, but let me say this about prudential judgment:
It seems to me that in the cultural field what is *prudent* depends a lot on the "signs of the times." We all grew up on the Wizard of Oz and good and bad witches, and no one thought to question the morality. But that was in a time when the effort to establish witchcraft as a legitimate religion had not begun. That project is well under way now: Who is to deny that the easy acceptance of "witches" in HP *may* - note, "may" - help lead society to more easily ascquiesce to these efforts among wiccans and their ilk to achieve respectability?
If is is "just a book" and not worth arguing about, then culture of any kind is not worth arguing about. Mein Kampf was just a book, too. ("He's comparing HP to Nazis!" I sense someone already typing.) No, I'm saying culture matters. Even popular ('not well written') culture. Especially popular culture.

Emily

WRY,

If what you say is true, are we to completely excise all traces of faerie from the modern world? Must the witches and wizards in McDonald, Baum, Lewis, and Tolkien also go? Not to mention Grimm? Might not they also make Wicca more appealing to the masses?

Ronny

However, there is some potential for good to come out of the flap over Ratzinger's letters, which indicate some fairly serious reservations about Potter... if it helps convince some of the pro-Potter but otherwise ultramontanist conservative Catholics like Mark Shea and Jimmy Akin that the Holy Father, acting in his private capacity, can err.

Yes, but in this case, he wasn't the Holy Father, which means your counterexample is not to the po...

Oh, nevermind.

WRY

Ronny,
The fact that Ratzinger made the comment before he became pope doesn't change the fact that a theologian whose opinions I highly respect has apparently weighed in on Potter. The fact that this same man has become pope doesn't force me to accept his opinion on HP, but it certainly makes me stop and seriously consider what he is saying. There is no doubt in my mind at all that had R commented as pope the arguments from the pro-Potter people would be exactly the same, that it was just B16's opinion and nothing more, and probably out of bounds because the pope "isn't supposed to be a literary critic."

cv

WRY,
I'm a cradle Catholic. Grew up on the Wizard of Oz. Loved the "scary witch" characters in nursery rhymes and other fairy tales. Had seances at slumber parties throughout grade school. Was known to pick up a Ouiji board from time to time at same sleepovers. Dressed up as a witch for Halloween parties more than once (as have my own daughters). Have bought souvenirs in Salem, MA.

None of this has impacted my faith life today (orthodox Catholicism). While I'm sure there were committed Wiccans in the 1960s, I can't say I agree they've made much progress in their efforts to establish witchcraft as legitimate religion!

I mean, c'mon.

Ronny

Funny, how people are quick to assume that B16 must be mistaken or misled when he says something they don't like.

Funny, how you keep making dissent from B16 the issue, when the current pontiff has for all we know said nothing about HP during his reign.

Becky

Does anyone else think it's funny that then Cardinal Ratzinger asked Kuby to forward a copy of her book to the priest who quipped about how great HP was (purportedly on behalf of the Vatican)? Maybe it shows his sense of humor...

Also, for the German experts: I thought that a correct translation of "Sachen Harry Potter" was "Things of Harry Potter." But then, I'm only an amateur.

WRY

cv,
you should hang around my favorite bookstore on a Saturday night and listen to the "goth" kids in the "wiccan and astrology" section (it's right next to the section on oxthodoxy and theology) talking about reincarnation and spells and the like. It's very cool stuff. Very attractive to young minds wanting independence from their parents boring old conventional religion.

DarwinCatholic

Sheesh...

Maybe I was just corrupted by growing up reading fantasy of all sorts, but honestly, if you're going to get upset about a fantasy novel, the Potter ones are not the ones to exert effort over. The magic present in Potter is not "occult" in any real sense. If you changes the names, it might as well be chemistry.

Magic in the Potter books is treated like any other field of knowledge which grants a fair degree of power: it can be used for good or ill depending on what you do. Indeed, the distinction between good and evil in the Potter books is quite clear (did you notice that it's about a war between good and evil?) unless one imposes on it the assumption that all use of "magical powers" such as the book posits is inherently evil.

As for the then-cardinal's comments, am I the only one who thinks they may not have been all that serious? It sounded to me like he hadn't read the Harry Potter books, but having skimmed her work thought, "Ok. She's right that the occult should not be taken lightly. Good job."

Sandra Miesel

"Old Lady Witch" was a favorite game in my Catholic grade school in the '40s. Played it constantly. Some people may mutter that this "explains everything."
Yes, and I watched my grandmother make gris-gris, too.
The argument has yet to establish that Ratzinger himself actually read HP. He was taking the German critic at her word. Isn't it possible that if John Granger's book had reached him first, it would have received a comparable letter of acknowledgment?

WRY

I should add too that I was lured by astrology and witchcraft as a 13-year old and had about a one-year involvement with it. When you are that age you want power, and that is what it promises. So I am leery of anything that treats favorably of the subject especially for pre-teens and that age group. I wouldn't give something like that to my son for anything in the world. Call me silly if you want. I don't care. I'm silly and wiser. I've been there, don't care to go back. Are there others reading this who were lured by the occult and have a favorable view of Potter? Those are opinions I would respect.

Ronny

DarwinCatholic,

The magic present in Potter is not "occult" in any real sense. If you changes the names, it might as well be chemistry.

You hit the nail on the head for me. Magic in Harry Potter is just a techne. Even on the level of fantasy, it is hard to distinguish the difference between the essential difference between using "scourgify" to wash dishes or a robot, using a portkey to teleport or teleportation beam, shooting green bolts of energy out of a wand to kill someone or firing a laser beam. Actually, real life parallels are available for each of these, and the lack of essential difference between magic as presented in Harry Potter and technology remains the same.

WRY,

The fact that Ratzinger made the comment before he became pope doesn't change the fact that a theologian whose opinions I highly respect has apparently weighed in on Potter.

I could say the same myself, which is why I am interested in how heavily he "weighed in on Potter." Right now, the evidence suggests not very heavily.

The fact that this same man has become pope doesn't force me to accept his opinion on HP, but it certainly makes me stop and seriously consider what he is saying.

I took it seriously, too, until I realized that his substantive comment is all of about one sentence long, gives no indication that he has personally read the books, and could easily be construed as a polite pleasantry that takes the author's word for granted on a matter that likely falls outside his scope of immediate concern.

There is no doubt in my mind at all that had R commented as pope the arguments from the pro-Potter people would be exactly the same, that it was just B16's opinion and nothing more, and probably out of bounds because the pope "isn't supposed to be a literary critic."

But you see, he DIDN'T make this comment as pope, and contrary to the extravagant claims of the authoritative signifigance of his extremely limited comments as a private person before becoming pope, that makes a great deal of difference. So go on being convinced about how HP's fans might react to a comment by Benedict against the novels, but be mindful of the fact that until he does so, you are just engaging in speculation, no matter how firmly you believe what might happen.

"He's comparing HP to Nazis!" I sense someone already typing.

OK, I'll take the bait and invoke Godwin's law.

David B

Sandra,

"Michael O'Brien isn't as well versed in dragon lore as his public thinks."

Could you expound on this claim? In what way is he not as well versed in dragon lore? Any examples of what you mean? Thanks.

hieronymus

Magic in Harry Potter is just a techne. Even on the level of fantasy, it is hard to distinguish the difference between the essential difference between using "scourgify" to wash dishes or a robot, using a portkey to teleport or teleportation beam, shooting green bolts of energy out of a wand to kill someone or firing a laser beam.

That's true, but I think that actually makes it worse. In George MacDonald's or JRR Tolkien's books, magic is mysterious and powerful and dangerous, and not entirely at the service of creatures. Which makes it a splendid way to show sacramentality - visible signs of invisible graces. The worlds they create are incarnational, whereas Harry Potter's universe is just an imaginative materialism. Three scoops of beetle eyes and a few funny words - it's right down to a science.

That doesn't make Harry potter evil. It makes it insufferably dull.

kathleen reilly

"Anything that the Church, officially using her Magisterium, has not condemned, is left up to our prudential judgment."

Interesting. maybe that is why the Church is such a mess. Or maybe it's because Ratzinger, as recently as 2 years ago, was spending time thinking about this stuff instead of more pressing matters. (and we know what those matters might be ...)

Maclin Horton

WRY,

I don't know if it really constitutes being "lured by the occult," but I took up astrology quite seriously in my twenties. Never had any interest whatsoever in witchcraft and magic, though: I seemed to know instinctively that this was unhealthy territory, even though I had no explicit religious objection to it at the time. And although I was interested in astrology more for wisdom than power, part of the reason I gave it up was seeing that it overlapped with the bad stuff. I knew people who were more than casually interested in some fairly dangerous stuff, like the writings of Aleister Crowley. My view of HP is mildly favorable. As I noted earlier, I just don't "smell" evil around HP.

Maybe it's possible that HP would be like that first toke for someone who ends up as a junkie, but I can't see kids who are seriously drawn to the serious occult being much interested in HP one way or the other. I'd think they would view it as a sort of Disneyesque and trivial thing.

By the way, I didn't include Phillip Pullman above because his attack on Christianity is so up-front that his works don't even rise to the level of questionable.

Todd

"I should add too that I was lured by astrology and witchcraft as a 13-year old and had about a one-year involvement with it."

Corporate CEO's have a much longer and more lurid attraction to money and greed, and they come off as significantly more dangerous than a few neo-pagans. Now if the anti-HP crowd wanted to be consistent with temptation and admit money is a bigger potential pit for more people, I'm ready to hear it.

hieronymus

Cuz, y'know, the Harry Potter phenomenon has nothing to do with money, either....

kathleen reilly

"And, yes, Kathleen, it does matter whether the statement was made authoritatively in an official teaching of the Pope or in a polite thank you letter by a curial official writing as a private individual. "

It was not a "polite thank-you letter". if i'm not mistaken, he gave it his official sanction (see my previous post), though obviously before he was pope.

"Your desire to extend Petrine authority every dot and tittle written by a man before he became pope is not in keeping with the tradition.

I desire no such thing. I think the harry potter issue is ridiculous, and i'm depressed the pope gave it any attention at all. My argument is with people who constantly hammer others for being cafeteria catholics, then pull a 180 when the pope has a problem with their fave books.

pml

CW, your comments are beautifully and clearly stated and echo some of the my concerns when selecting & purchasing books for my children.

" ....My biggest problem with the Harry series is that too many people hand their kids these books just because they are the latest craze without stopping to think about their child and whether or not it is appropriate for them. ..."

" .... Not every great classic is appropriate for just any child who is able to read it. My son is capable of reading just about anything because he is a natural born reader who by the age of seven can read at least 4-5 grade levels ahead, but emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, he is still only 7. ..."

How many of you think Huxley's Brave New World should be read by a 10-year old? I heard a parent comment that his child had just completed it. This pronouncement left me a bit short winded for a few seconds, since I am listening to unabridged cd of the story for the first time. I am on Chapter 8 and I what I have heard so far I certainly wouldn't hand it to a 14-yr old child.

Maureen

Re: Pro-Harry people don't call for prudential judgment; they say the books are morally neutral or great.

They're books. Even (and especially) reading the Bible requires guidance ("How can I know what this means unless somebody tells me?") and prudential judgment. ("Is God telling me this? Or am reading something into it that I want to be there? Are these words from the good guy or the bad guy? Is the good guy being bad? What's the context?")

If somebody reviews a book and tells me it walks on water, and they're somebody I trust and respect, and I know they're speaking in total good faith -- that still doesn't even guarantee that I'll _like_ the books or be able to finish them without snoozing, much less find good spiritual guidance or be led closer to Heaven. I use my prudential judgment and then take my chances. If it doesn't work out, that's my problem, not theirs.

There is nothing on Earth that we do or say that doesn't require prudential judgment. There is nothing on Earth that can't be used or abused, that some people will find helpful that won't be deadly poison to others. Paul even warns us that we can eat and drink our own destruction when we partake of the Eucharist, if we aren't wise enough to avoid partaking when we're not in a state of grace.

Re: It's just a book.
Yes, it's just a book. Uncle Tom's Cabin and Mein Kampf were just books, with all a book's influence or lack thereof. But a book's an object, and a person is an immortal being with free will and a conscience. If you're over the age of reason and you let objects use you, it's your fault and not theirs.

Ed the Roman

Those of you who think HP is offal as literature: do any of you like science fiction? At all?

cw

To Jimmy Huck:
Read my post again please and you will see that the Narnia books he has not read are The Magician's Nephew (creation and the entrance of evil in the world) and The Last Battle (Anti-Christ and end times). He has read all of the others. He knows what these two are about and even started to read both but decided that he does not want to read them right now because they deal very heavily with evil. He is incredibly visual and probably assumes that the images would haunt his imagination. Yes, he knows the stories of the Old Testament and Christ's Passion, one of his favorite books is The Bible Story, on old religion book that has colored pictures to illustrate the stories. I am not prepared to defend what I allow my children to read and why because the point I was trying to make is that it is up to each parent to decide based on the material and the maturity level of their child! My biggest gripe is with parents who hand their kids a book or a series of books based on the fact that it is the lastest fad. Also with those parents who decide that their 8 year old needs to be be reading Madame Bovary just because they can.
Thanks for asking.

DarwinCatholic

hieronymus,

Don't know why the "magic as chemistry" line of thought reminded me of this, but I was reading Lewis's _Discarded Image_ a while back and thinking some ingenious soul could write a really interesting fantasy novel taking as its conceit that the medieval/Aristotelian synthesis of natural philosophy and cosmology were entirely correct. Thus, intead of nuclear science you would have the attempt to distill fire into purer and purer forms. Similarly, it seems if you played with the idea for a while you could do some really interesting things with taking the heavenly spheres seriously.

WRY

Maclin,
Thanks for your comment. I'll certainly mull it over. It's worth noting that if something gets laughed at ("Disneyesque"), its potential for ill is diminished.
Todd: I don't know if you had me in mind but since you quote me, I'll agree that money and greed are terrible temptations. Are most ant- HP-ers noted for being pro-corporate? Just wondering.

pml

Ditto to David's question to Sandra.

I posted my H.P. comment on Amy's second posting, within it I raised encounter my daughter had w/a friend who is fascinated by Dragons. Particularly, the tale from the Dragon Chronicles. Sandra, do you know anything about this one?


"Could you expound on this claim? In what way is he not as well versed in dragon lore? Any examples of what you mean? "
—David

cw

I would also chime in on the comments from people who were lured into witchcraft and say that I had a similar experience. Here's the kicker......it was Greek mythology that did it! Stories that my grandfather told me (Baptist preacher who held 2 Doctorates and a Masters) along with Dulaire's (sp?) Book of Greek Myths (which happens to be recommended for 5 year olds in many "classical" programs including Laura Berquist if I remember correctly) introduced me to a world of fantasy that I grew to love and study for years. From the Greeks I went into the Irish legends and stopped just short of the Norse. I knew more about pagan gods, goddesses and folklore than I knew about my own faith sad to say and if someone had introduced me to the world of Neo-Paganism I might have fallen. Thankfully I didn't and ended up instead with an A+ in Art History because I could identify a visual reference to mythology faster than anyone else. It's not just the material, it is the environment and the guidance. Is HP dangerous to the child left alone in his room for hours on end with a TV, gamebox and unchecked Internet access? Or is that child's whole environment a danger to his immortal soul? Don't burn the books, get to the root of the problem. That's my opinion for what it is worth.

DarwinCatholic

"Could you expound on this claim? In what way is he not as well versed in dragon lore? Any examples of what you mean? "

Not Sandra, but O'Brien's dragon worries also struck me as excessive. The folks over at Refracted Light have a really good review of Landscape With Dragons which touches on this a bit (site written by a few University of Dallas students reviewing Fantasy novels from a Christian perspective).

http://pax-romana.net/refracted/michaelobrien.html

For starters, he writes off the Asian tradition which often sees dragons as symbols of good luck with a quick note that that's what you can expect from a culture without a clear moral system.

Also, he misses a couple things even in his own favorite Fantasy authors. For instance, although the dragons in Silmarillian and The Hobbit are certainly evil, the dragon in Farmer Giles of Ham (a Tolkein short story) is a half comic character who eventually becomes somewhat loyal (as well as afraid of) to Farmer Giles and gets him out of several scrapes. Now, it seems to me that by O'Brien's strict "dragons = evil" formula, we would have to conclude that Tolkien's message in Farmer Giles is that you can use evil, so long as you can dominate it. Clearly not a good message. In reality, however, Tolkien was just using a familiar creature from myth and legend (a dragon) in an unconventional way for comic effect.

Other Fantasy authors choose to treat dragons comically (Dealing With Dragons by Patricia Wrede) or simply as animals like any other large potentially dangerous animal (as in Harry Potter).

I think O'Brien has some really interesting analysis going on in parts of his book, but in applying his dragons=evil and magic=evil symbolism, he uses way too broad a brush.

Der Tommissar

Yes, it's just a book. Uncle Tom's Cabin and Mein Kampf were just books, with all a book's influence or lack thereof. But a book's an object, and a person is an immortal being with free will and a conscience. If you're over the age of reason and you let objects use you, it's your fault and not theirs.

I'd be reluctant to let my kids read Uncle Tom's Cabin, if only for the screeching tirade against the Pope at the end. Was Harriet Beecher Stowe related to the Protestant Reverend Beecher who piled the hate on the Catholics in the US back in the 1820's and 30's?

And can we at least all agree that Piers Anthony's "Incarnations of Immortality" series was his attempt to be Satan's C.S Lewis? I saw so many passages in those books that were mocking theories of the Doctors of the Church that I can't attribute it to random chance or similarity in theme.

chris K

Anything that the Church, officially using her Magisterium, has not condemned, is left up to our prudential judgment.

True...and the operative word here would be "prudential". That being so, then one would think that one's such judgment would be better informed by such a mind, greatly influenced by other such minds as JPII, weathered experience and formerly accepted correct judgments as the former C. Ratzinger, now pope, who BTW, has not had anyone clarify or refute this rather current and now global news fact. At his age and with his judgment coming rather recently, I won't hold my breath for any change of mind coming forth from him. Since he asked this author to send her work to the Vatican prelate whose "quips" led the public to be misinformed about the Vatican's intentions, so that he might be better informed himself, and since he also gave permission for the author to publicly acknowledge his negative judgment, I doubt that he would be unfamiliar with the literary work itself. He is no fool.

I must say, though, that this Potter "mania" amazes me with its "power" over so many readers....the masses it would even appear. A certain phenomenon that would mirror the Da Vinci swallow. Or, when the mothers used to knock each other over in the dept. stores in order to get their hands on the latest popular children's item that would soon be found in most of the dumpsters of America. That in itself, in this day and age, is always a red flag for concern about any such similar mass effects. The knee jerk reaction to little 'ol Lifesite, compared with not too much questioning of the MSM when it ran with a nobody's statement, also shows quite an attachment to this "phenomenon" and its seemingly desirable "power". And, of course, Lifesite had some "meaty" evidence vs. an actual nothing, nada, that the MSM based its headlines upon.

I come late here due to finally getting my head back in the right direction after the wild spin and exercised (if not exorcised) excitement by Mr. Jimmy's rather strained negative critique over an actual "there" that is really there this time for Lifesite's reporting.

I remember this event. I gnashed my teeth during it at the stupidity of the press. The fact is, most reporters and editors are so UTTERLY CLUELESS about how the Church works that they can take some offhanded comment by a priest in a press conference and report it as an official declaration by the pope.

Now if you really believe THAT nonsense about our dependably sniffing media, well known for anything Catholic Church negative, I've got one more bridge to let you have for a song.

And you may agonize over various translations to suppose some different affect contained therein re: letters, but I think we all, as they say, get the pope's "drift".

And some news from Michael O'Brien, popular Catholic writer of current times:

Tomorrow evening, Friday the 15th, between 8 and 9 p.m. , I will be a guest on a CNN television program. A large segment of that hour will be a debate over the Harry Potter issue. It will be done via satellite and broadcast "live" to millions of viewers.

May we all offer our prayers for Mr. O'Brien to truly speak with the guidance of the Holy Spirit...unless some bias or "power" might influence one to wish ill or some "bad magic" for him!!

Ronny

It was not a "polite thank-you letter". if i'm not mistaken, he gave it his official sanction (see my previous post), though obviously before he was pope.

Define "official sanction." As the prefect of the CDF in the first letter, he did no such thing. He was even careful to use own personal stationary in both letters and sign simpy as "Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger" without including his curial title. He then says that she can refer to his essentially one-sentence statement about Harry Potter. So, Ratzinger gives permission to an author to refer to his personal opinion as a private person about Harry Potter based on his reading of the same author's anti-HP book without stating whether his judgment is based entirely on the critic's claims about HP or is they are based on more direct familiarity with the books being criticized. Again, define "official sanction."

My argument is with people who constantly hammer others for being cafeteria catholics, then pull a 180 when the pope has a problem with their fave books.

Until Benedict actually speaks publicly as pope about HP, I am going to keep repeating that you have no argument of this sort at all. Trying to depict those Catholics who take issue with a curial official's undeveloped personal opinion acknowledging receipt of a book critical about some other books he may or may not have read does not make as hypocritical "cafeteria catholics" is indeed trying "to extend Petrine authority every dot and tittle written by a man before he became pope." Apart from that extension, nobody is pulling a "180" -- though my head sure is spinning from the your claim that you both recognize the lack of magisterial authority in the cardinal's statement yet liken those who disagree with it to dissenting Catholics.

aelric

I didn't read all above, but an article on the Harry Potter novels by Michael O'Brien, author of "Father Elijah" for example, can be found here:

http://www.lifesite.net/features/harrypotter/obrienpotter.html

Ronny

...the former C. Ratzinger, now pope, who BTW, has not had anyone clarify or refute this rather current and now global news fact.

Oh, good grief -- are you implying that everything a pope wrote or uttered before becoming pope should be given equal prudential weight unless he says "nevermind?"

Petra

Re the comments concerning German above:

Yes, Maureen, you're right: she (Kuby) really does think that Dumbledore does not take the sacrifice of Harry's mother seriously and laughs about it. By the way, the author I have linked to is also baffled by Kuby's obvious incomprehension of the text.

Yes, "Sachen" means "things". "In Sachen Harry Potter" means something like "in the matter of Harry Potter".

The priest I linked to before also writes:

A re-evangelization (in the modern world) is more difficult than the mission among pagans used to be, because the latter could still connect to a natural religiosity, for which the divine was awe-inspiring in the absolute sense. It (re-evangelization) has to overcome the crazy delusion that Man can make himself a nice life through technology and consumerism, while thrusting aside death. It has to open up anew the realization that he (Man) has metaphysical depth, the final sense of which consists in self-giving love. I have already pointed out that Harry Potter can be interpreted in the sense of such a praeparatio evangelii."

Ronny

Uh-oh -- italics off.

little gidding

I think it would useful to turn to the actual core of the criticism of the books--that is, their assumption that the practice of magic, per se, is morally neutral. The problem with the books (whether the problem in any case is important or not) comes from its treatment of magic as if it were a mere technique, a tool, which can be applied either beneficially or harmfully, like any other technique or tool.

Is that true?

I say no, it's not.

But I love imaginative literature, including science fiction. So what do you make of that?

chris K

Oh, good grief -- are you implying that everything a pope wrote or uttered before becoming pope should be given equal prudential weight unless he says "nevermind?"

No, and neither did I say that. Any "implication" is designed in your own mind.

I referred to the mind of then C. Ratzinger, (not one known for waffling in his stated profundities) now pope, of worthy to be informed by. So you can "good grief" all you want. Proves my point about such "exasperations" so easily and casually emitted when it comes to this topic and those who might favor further discernment.

Will

Let's get rid of all the King Arthur stories. A wizard is depicted as GOOD, therefore "promoting witchcraft".
Or is it the use of the WORD "witch" er, which is the subversive influence? Historically "wizard" (not the Hollywood "warlock") is the male equivalent of "witch". ("Giles Corey was a wizard strong...")

And what is the difference between "occultic" and plain old "occult"?

"I'm with Josh. Harry Potter books are garbage. Though the movies aren't bad at all."
???????? How are the movies cleansed from the Evil Influences? The Times A.O. Scott actually complained that the (first two) films were TOO faithful to the books!

Harry and his friends have to constantly learn the difference between doing what is expected (like the nevillechamberlains in the Ministry, who deal with Dementors and drove the giants over to Voldemort with their racism) and doing what is right.

Ronny

Proves my point about such "exasperations" so easily and casually emitted when it comes to this topic and those who might favor further discernment.

Disagree with my inference, if you like, but it "proves" no such point as the one you describe, since "this topic" for me has not so much been the merits of Harry Potter as it has been the mountain being made by its critics out of Ratzinger's molehill. If it were just people favoring further discernment, then I might be with you to that extent even if I part ways on what my further discernment concludes about Harry Potter.

kathleen reilly

Ronny, your argument with me is incoherent. Define "official sanction"? I have neither the time nor the interest in doing so. in any case, arguably a cardinal is never a private person, especially if he signs his name joseph CARDINAL ratzinger (my emphasis). In other words, the author is not meant to refer to him as joseph ratzinger, joey, joe from germany, joe dude ratzinger, etc.

if he didn't want to give official sanction, or even kinda official sanction or sorta official sanction, then he would not have written her. bureaucracy rule #1.

and anyway, did ratzinger write his books using his "curial title"? if not, are they to be ignored? what about the ones he wrote previous to his curial title?

so pay no attention to the man unless he speaks "actually speaks publicly as pope" about an issue stated with great particularity? you really mean it? OK. if you say so.

chris K

Ratzinger's molehill

If it were only a "molehill" rather than a judgment by an impressive figure of authority, I doubt it would elicit such further attention by the world's media...such as CNN. After all, as this comment box would make it appear, such a minority, which the critics appear to be, could not elicit such a reaction only on their own identity. It's rather the figures attached to this minority of critics that make the larger impression in your "mountain".

Jonathan

I always want to leave a good comment on these pages on something I know and have read. That would be the Potter books. Unfortunately (and in this, I must be rather commonplace), all the good comments are made by the time I get to the bottom of popular topics such as this one. So, I will content myself with this grumble and back to the bar reviewing.

--Jonathan

Sandra Miesel

Go off to eat lunch and the thread surges.
Someone above has already mentioned Oriental dragons, dismissed by O'Brien. So what kind of dragons shall we discuss? Let's say European and Middle Eastern. At issue is O'Brien's universal identification serpent=dragon=evil=Satan. But the fundamental significance of the draon in both European and Near Eastern cultures is chaos, not evil. It represents the powers of the Earth, of the raging sea, of wild nature, hence fertility. The dragon may have to be killed because it's huge and dangerous but subduing it will work, too, as a number of Dark Ages saints' legends show. For a subtle and detailed treatment of tghese concepts, see "Ecclesiastical Culture and Folklore in the Middle Ages: St. Marcellus of Paris and the Dragon" by Jacques Le Goff in his TIME, WORK, AND CULTURE IN THE MIDDLE AGES.

Proof that dragons weren't univocally Satanic symbols in the medieval Christendom comes from their use as art motifs in illuminated MSS where they're just decorative elements curled around capitals. Bishops' thrones tradtionally had dragon heads on the arms and baptismal fonts were often decorated with a dragon in Romanesque times. Dragons appeal in heraldry. Is Wales a satanic land or Ghent a satanic city because draons appear on as the charge on their arms. Medieval people coupld laugh at dragons (something O'Brien tells us must never be done lest we get soft on Satanism). Huge comic effigies of dragons appeared in Rogation Day parades in Ghent, Tarragona, Norfolk and many other places. The context is the renewal of fertility.

And while Satan is called "the old dragon" in Scipture, the dragon as an animal also appears--"praise the Lord all ye dragons and ye deeps" says the Psalmist. And yes, St. Jerome used "draco."

Finally, a survey and interviews in that fundamental book on Neo-Paganism, DRAWING DOWN THE MOON by Margot Adler, indicates that many Pagans were drawn in by ...drumroll...Tolkien. Indeed, Pagans in southern Indiana hold a huge annual summer festival on their property called Lothlorien.

HP's witches has nothing, nada, to do with Wicca. There are no goddesses or worship rituals in HP. Rowling's magic is a natural power unrelated to gods or demons. As someone said above, it might as well be chemistry the kids are studying.

Ronny

Kathleen,

It is long practice in the Church to determine the level of authority that should be given to statements issued by members of the Curia and even the Pope. Consequently, simply saying that something has been given "official sanction" by a curial official is not really helpful. You can find quite orthodox theologians ranking the various shades of difference in weight given to, say, a comment by the pope to a dinner companion, a Wednesday audience, an apostolic exhortation, or a papal bull. Even Lumen Gentium acknowledges that context and repitition of a particular teaching are keys to determine the authoritative weight a pope intends them to have. If such considerations are meaningful and legitimate ones to have about statements by a reigning pope, then the case is even moreso for a curial official. Whether a prefect is writing or speaking as a private individual, a private theologian, or a public official and consideration of the the varying levels of importance each of these warrants according to their contexts are distinctions that are not ones of my own creation, nor are they new. If you find them incoherent, your beef is not with me.

brendon

I like the Potter books OK. I'll buy the sixth one, and probably the seventh, just to see how the whole thing ends. But...

Magic in these books is certainly different than magic in Tolkien. The magic of the elves and the magic of the enemy are not the same thing, as Galadriel tells Samwise. Tolkien's view on the use of magic in fairy stories makes this even clearer (see his essay "On Fairy-Stories). OTOH, in the Potter books magic is the same on both sides. Both good and evil cast the same spells.

Let's get rid of all the King Arthur stories. A wizard is depicted as GOOD, therefore "promoting witchcraft".

Actually, isn't Merlin the "son of the devil" in Arthurian legend? Besides that, if I remember correctly, Merlin's use of magic is not only the cause of his seduction and entrapment, but also, in the long run, the downfall of Camelot. Merlin's meddling with Arthur to bring about a good future, as well as his refusal to tell Arthur the truth of his birth, is what leads to the birth of Mordred, the bastard child that Arthur conceives with his own mother who eventually kills him. Merlin is not a "hero" at all, but rather a figure whose meddling and use of magic leads to his own downfall and the downfall of all he helped to build. But I am no expert on the Arthurian legend, and I suppose this is off topic.

Ronny

Yes, chris k, anything Ratzinger said or did once is potentially news given his current position. Still, I will continue to maintain the position that even for a "mountain" of a man like our current pope, there are relatively greater and lesser things that he has said and done. That much has been made of a lesser thing that he once wrote is not surprising, nor is it surprising that some people flatten out the distinctions between the relative weightiness of past utterances by a pope either because it makes a case that they are making stronger or because they simply think it makes for a good story.

Sonetka

Both sides in HP don't cast the same spells; how about the Unforgivables? Those are the spells that are designed to manipulate and kill other people - using them is expressly forbidden to anyone on the "good" side, no matter how evil their enemy. (And yes, when Harry tries it - without effect, as he doesn't know how to do it, he's WRONG, and it's made very clear that he's wrong).

As for Wicca - first of all, Wicca is not a single set of beliefs, it's more like a religious syndrome which manifests itself in a variety of ways which tend to involve worshipping various pagan gods/demons & observing pagan holidays; Samhain, Lammas, stuff like that. It draws on some old stuff but is itself very new, regardless of what a few of its less historically astute practicioners claim. I knew quite a few of them in college and read some of their books; I have hardly ever encountered anything LESS like Harry Potter. I've never met a Wiccan who was capable of flying a broom or cooking a meal by waving a wand. Nor have I met one who wanted to. Their "magic" was largely about changing/controlling/channelling emotions and occasional fortune-telling, which HP spells are notably not involved with. (OK, so Gilderoy Lockhart suggests asking Snape to whip up a love potion in "Chamber of Secrets" but nobody takes him seriously, least of all Snape. And Trelawney, the "seeress" is treated with a remarkable lack of respect - several very respected magical characters express the view that divination is, at best, a hit-or-miss proposition and more often just junk).

Chris Sullivan

I think the ideas in Harry Potter are dangerous.

It's the classic "we may do evil that good result".

Our local Catholic primary school school has the kids dress up as witches and wizards and go to see the Harry Potter movie in school time.

But there isn't enough time in school to cover the religious education curriculum !

When you see this sort of thing happening in Catholic schools, it isn't rocket science to figure out the spiritual power behind it.

Good on Ratzinger for adding his concerns about Harry Potter. He was right on the war too.

God Bless

Mark Shea

Jimmy Akin has more to say on the current efforts of Faithful Conservative Catholics[TM] to engrave into the minds of the public that Serious Catholic live on an island of irrelevance in an ocean of despair.

It's important that Catholics not let Fundamentalist beat them in the Race to Obsess Over Trivialities. For a long time, Fundies owned the field with the long-standing paranoia and email campaigns over Proctor & Gamble's mythical campaign to promote satanism. But now, through the use of gossip and exploitation of press releases by authors looking to promote their anti-Harry Potter books, we Catholics stand a good chance to reclaim the Ridiculous Christian mantle.

All it will require is a willingness to hermetically seal our minds against certain pertinent facts.

Come on, team! We can *do* it!

Chris Sullivan

Oh, and our Bishop thinks Harry Potter is wonderful and reads all his books. So I guess what happens in his schools isn't surprising.

God Bless

Nerina

Susan, well said - all of it.

I think it's important to consider the many assumptions being made by some. For example, and as noted above, did the then Cardinal actually read any HP books? Is he basing his opinion on the review of someone else (who appears to have misinterpreted a major point of the books about Harry's mother's sacrificial death!)? Do we have to now prohibit HP books in our house because of a statement made by the Cardinal two years ago? And are we really going to comment about the "infallibility" of statements about HP and STILL claim HV and other promulgated encyclicals are not taught "ex cathedra?" Give me a brake. If our Pope issues an "ex cathedra" statement on HP as a matter of faith and morals, then I'll cancel my order. Until then, I await the new book with much anticipation. BTW, the books have presented numerous opportunities for discussing moral behavior, obediance, love, humility, friendship, loyalty, etc...

c matt

Now if the anti-HP crowd wanted to be consistent with temptation and admit money is a bigger potential pit for more people, I'm ready to hear it.

And how much money has HP, Inc. made?

brendon

Both sides in HP don't cast the same spells; how about the Unforgivables? Those are the spells that are designed to manipulate and kill other people - using them is expressly forbidden to anyone on the "good" side, no matter how evil their enemy. (And yes, when Harry tries it - without effect, as he doesn't know how to do it, he's WRONG, and it's made very clear that he's wrong).

Yes, but that isn't really the point. That they "do not" or "should not" cast the Unforgivables is not the same thing as them being unable to cast the Unforgivables because their power is different in nature than the power used by Voldemort and the Death Eaters. In Tolkien, the power of the Elves operates in a different way than the power of the enemy. Read the essay I linked in my previous post for Tolkien's own view on how magic should be used in a fairy-story.

Like I said, I've read and enjoyed the books. I just see why some people are concerned.

On a more positive note, PoA is a modern book aimed at children/young adults that contains the message that boys need a father. That seems like a rare find in the modern world.

Maureen

Re: Uncle Tom's Cabin
I've never read the book myself, but yep. The same preacher who was involved in one of the biggest sex scandals in American history. But given how big a factor the family was in the abolition movement, I think we can forgive them their sins.

You know, though, the vast majority of classics written between certain points in history have anti-Catholic rants in 'em somewhere. Sir Walter Scott makes some comments. So does Mark Twain, despite his loving bio of St. Joan. So do lots of people between St. Tom More and the twentieth century.

I admit that it's amusing that books never get taken off reading lists for these little peccadillos. Depending on the edition, they may (probably do) have the more discreditable bits quietly abridged. But to tell the truth, that was the only preparation I had for running into anti-Catholicism in college, because I lived in a typically tolerant, live-and-let-live Air Force town. Nobody was going to make nasty comments to you for being Hindu, much less Catholic; the most they'd do is invite you to come to church on Wednesday. So even ill-meant bits of literature have their uses.

Re: Why Harry Potter fans are ooh, so argumentative.

Look. You're sitting around telling us that caffeine is a deadly poison. And it is -- if you're unclued enough to suck down huge amounts of uncut caffeine.

But that's not what we do. There's no godly reason we shouldn't drink tea, coffee, Mountain Dew, or even Jolt Cola, should the wish come upon us, unless we drink so much that we hurt our health. There's no reason we shouldn't take caffeine pills to stay awake on the road, as long as we don't overdo.

God's ingenuity, creation's diversity of molecules, and mankind's agriculture, labor, technology and industry all join together in one eye-opening cup of cappuccino. I find it not perfect, but pretty darned good and useful in its way. I will drink many other cups of caffeinated beverages during my life, though; this is hardly the be all and end all.

So, yes, I refuse to condemn seven interesting but not worldshaking fantasy/mystery serial novels as damnable dangers to the souls of all humankind just because they're popular. If I thought they stunk in writing or in concept, I would have let you know.

If you want to go after someone, try Pullman. Or Lackey's fantasy abortionist, or her gay wizard romance trilogy, or her happy early teenage heralds with birth control pills on every table, all of which have been much more harmfully influential than anything Rowling's ever come up with.

And yes, I would trust my own prudential judgment over Pope Benedict XVI's prudential judgment on a matter of fantasy novels, because I've read more of 'em than he ever dreamed of.
Just as I would trust my dad to know more about the American Civil War than the Pope, or my little brother to know more about programming.

Welcome to the Body of Christ, where we all have different functions and know about different things, and not even the Pope claims to be infallible about private prudential matters. Like books he hasn't read.

Petra

Brendon,

isn't it pointed out throughout the Potter books that Harry is actually quite close to Voldemort in many ways (read: fallen nature of Man) and may both be capable of doing both great good and great evil - so it depends on his choice (read: Free Will) what he does?

And aren't Tolkien's wizards also capable of both doing great good (Gandalf) or succumbing to evil forces (Saruman)?

And aren't moral choices the more intriguing (and closer to us humans), if they are real choices based on Free Will (e. g. if there is also the possibility of choosing evil)?

kathleen reilly

"Whether a prefect is writing or speaking as a private individual, a private theologian, or a public official and consideration of the the varying levels of importance each of these warrants according to their contexts are distinctions that are not ones of my own creation, nor are they new. If you find them incoherent, your beef is not with me."

Ronny, sorry to say your argument disproves your point. If these distinctions are so various and difficult to make, even among "quite orthodox theologians", then all the more reason to take everything the pope/cardinal says -- ESPECIALLY in writing -- seriously. So, yes, find you incoherent (moreso after your second post), AND (incidentally) i find the distinctions you list above ... less than coherent. But they are 2 separate things.

Ronny

Whatever, Kathleen -- like I said, I'm not making distinctions that have not been made repeatedly in the past by a lot of people more knowledgeable about ecclesiology than I am. Again, if you think it is all incoherent, then you are complaining to the wrong person.

Nguoi Dang Chay

So far it seems to me that the pro-Potter people are reacting strangely to all this.

Then-Cardinal Ratzinger praises a book critical of HP and the Potterites see this as an opportunity to attack those "ignorant" enough to disagree with their view of the books?

Very odd.

Personally I think Rowling is well-meaning, but that her writing displays a lack of basis in Christian truth (no, not overt Christianity) and a lack of skill in tackling topics such as death and discrimination even when she attempts the right tack. And yes, I think the emphasis in HP on recital of spells by the main characters is a darn step closer to Wicca than guardian angel Gandalf lighting a fire in a snowstorm. Remember, Saruman delved too deeply into the arts of the Enemy and was thus trapped .....

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