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BOOK REVIEW: Scholar finds theology in Harry Potter stories Mary Jacobs, Nov 19, 2010
By Mary Jacobs Staff Writer
One Fine Potion: The Literary Magic of Harry Potter Greg Garrett Baylor University Press, 2010 Paperback, 160 pages
Along with odd little elves and fire-breathing beasts, the Harry Potter novels (and the films they inspired) have also spawned curious contradictions and strange bedfellows.
According to the American Library Association, the Potter novels are simultaneously “the most read fiction and . . . the most banned books of the twenty-first century.” A wide range of religious leaders—from James Dobson of Focus on the Family to Pope Benedict XVI and fundamentalist Muslims—have warned that the series “promotes” sorcery, witchcraft and magic.
As moviegoers flock to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—the first of two parts concluding the series—an English professor at Baylor University comes to Harry Potter’s defense in One Fine Potion.
Greg Garrett writes that J.K. Rowling has earned a place next to revered authors like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. He concisely and convincingly argues that far from threatening Christian teachings, the seven-part Harry Potter epic tells a “deeply Christian story shaped by Christian faith, filled with Christian wisdom and capable of opening discussion on theological matters.”
Those who see the novels as advocating witchcraft, Dr. Garrett believes, are misreading the story’s division between wizards and “Muggles”—those without magical powers. Ms. Rowling isn’t setting up wizardry as superior to non-magical humanity, he says.
“Two worlds exist, but only the villainous characters in either would pretend that their world is superior,” he writes.
While magic is clearly a device in the novels, Dr. Garrett adds, the series tells a powerful story of community. Harry is a hero who discovers where he belongs, ultimately embraces the community so thoroughly “that he willingly [gives] his life for it.”
In this fictional world lies a lesson for the Christian community: “A true community gathers diverse people, begins the task of transforming them, and through them, begins to transform the world as well,” Dr. Garrett writes. Harry’s community means more than fellowship; it becomes a force for fighting forces of evil.
“Harry, Hermione, Ron and their friends and family show us that we must learn to choose between what is right and what is easy, as well as how to recognize those things so that we can choose wisely,” Dr. Garrett concludes.
Until the publication in 2007 of the final volume, Ms. Rowling had been reticent to talk about her personal beliefs, fearing she’d give away too much about the story’s plot. With the last book’s release, she spoke openly about her Christian faith, but Dr. Garrett doesn’t rush to label her a Christian author “in the limiting way we normally employ that term.”
Still, Dr. Garrett describes how Ms. Rowling herself called out two Bible verses in the final volume as pivotal in the entire epic’s meaning: the verse that Harry discovers on the grave of his parents: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26) and the inscription on the tomb of Albus Dumbledore’s sister Ariana: “Where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.” (Matthew 6:21)
The two verses, Dr. Garrett writes, combine to offer “a present-time theology (value what truly matters, because you will give your life to what you value) and an end-time theology (death is horrible, but will someday be overcome.)”
Together, he says, fans of Harry Potter discover an apt summary of the Christian faith: “Live well now; hope for a better future.”