03 November 2010

Harry Potter!!

I really vacillated on the Harry Potter issue for a long time. I was kept away from it as a little child (a good decision I think, which I will elaborate on...), and then when I was maybe 11 or 12 I read Richard Abanes' "Harry Potter, Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings" (no seriously. That's the name of the book.) and after finishing that, I was convinced pretty firmly that Harry Potter was of the devil.
I hadn't really examined the other side of the argument; and it seemed like Christians were pretty evenly divided on the issue: either it was to be shunned, or it was to be accepted unthinkingly with open arms. And it's true, a lot of people don't put very much thought into their critiques of HP, other than equating "wizard" with "bad" and slapping down the smug gauntlet of unchallengeable success. Which I understand. I've been there. But even that open statement ought to be supported by evidence, even if it is evidence for why HP is bad and should be avoided by Christians (which does exist).
A few things changed my mind on the whole HP issue. I was getting a little annoyed with the modern Christian culture in general (my, I'm being awfully open with you! I probably shouldn't have taken those blue pills!) and its tendency to reject excellent things because it doesn't have the strength to read or view them discerningly. It's willing to accept christian-ized carbon copies of secular works (in the meantime, destroying all literary or artistic merit). Of course, I'm generalizing here, but page through almost any Christian bookstore catalog and you'll see what I mean-- even 'Christian-ized' equivalents of trashy romance novels appear in droves.
So I read Harry Potter for myself after finding the first two books at a thrift store for a quarter. And while reading I thought, "Hmmmm. I definitely see problems with this, but not the ones that everyone is always talking about." I was curious to read something on the other side of the argument, so I got John Granger's "Looking for God in Harry Potter". Let me give a Granger disclaimer here: I don't think he is always right. I think he over-analyzes certain things and sometimes draws out Christian themes that are not there. However, he nails the heart of the issue in this book (that's not a very good expression, is it? nails the heart), pointing out that the "witchcraft" in HP is more similar to the magic found in Lewis' and Tolkien's epics. There is still a problem here, in the choice of wording itself-- "witches" and "witchcraft" have specific occultic connotations, and many of the illusions that Rowling playfully makes have real world occultic counterparts (many of the classes that Harry takes at Hogwarts, for instance, have real world equivalents).
So, armed with my new research, I did what anyone should with research: wrote a research paper. For my English class (that's right, I got to read Harry Potter for school. It was awesome). And doing that lead me to further research...for example, this archived PDF of Credenda Agenda (Doug Wilson & Co's magazine) devoted to fantasy literature and Harry in particular: http://www.credenda.org/images/stories/pdf/14-2.pdf (If you get a chance, read it. Seriously. Trust me.)
There are very legitimate concerns in Harry Potter. As I mentioned earlier, the witchcraft does at times resemble occult activity. The children in HP (the protagonists, the "good guys") misbehave on a regular basis, and are seldom punished for this behavior-- in fact, they are more often than not rewarded and praised!
It is important to note that at no time does the magic in HP call upon a higher supernatural power, which is really what makes the occult occultic. HP is an alternate universe, and in that universe, magic can happen. It is a part of the natural order, and by using it properly, the wizards are actually being stewards of the creation they are surrounded by. In Finding God in Harry Potter, John Granger goes so far as to say that, “Incantational magic in literature—a harmonizing with God’s Word—is the story-time version of what a life in prayer makes possible” (6). Granger also points out that while it is possible that a child could misconstrue elements of the Potter series and turn to the occult, that in itself is not enough to warrant their shunning. He explains that if we abandoned anything that could be misconstrued, we would be forced to abandon the Bible, as it is twistings of the Bible that have led to evil cults like Jonestown.

The truth is, Harry Potter contains many Christ figures (which is no surprise, all good stories do) and the basic Biblical principle of good vs. evil. Harry himself displays sacrificial love on many occasions; for example, in the fourth book of the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,Harry risks drowning and losing a competition to save a little girl whom he does not even know (Rowling, 501-502). This is an example of agape, Christ-like love-- he is not only willing to risk death for his friends, but for someone he does not even know. As Douglas Jones said in the HP edition of Credenda Agenda,

“…the Potter stories are decidedly Christ figure stories—an elect son, threatened at birth, who sacrifices His life for his friends and triumphs over evil in an underworld, even coming back from death for a feast” (par. 8)

And of course, the final book shows this Biblical redemption story most clearly, but I won't go into that since the first movie comes out in a little over a month!

Certainly Harry Potter has value for Christians, but whether or not a Christian reads (or allows their children to read) the series is a matter of private judgment that should be carefully considered. Christians have been given tremendous freedom through Christ. This freedom extends to all areas of life, including reading habits. Transcendent works of fantasy allow people to look at a “disguised world” (O’Brien 29) and see deeply Christian stories represented in a manner both creative and beautiful, as in Harry Potter. C.S. Lewis spoke of it as creeping past watchful dragons, allowing people to examine and understand concepts that they would normally avoid. Also, a book which depicts sinful behavior does not necessarily commend that sin, nor is it necessarily sinful for the Christian to read such a work, but often Christians use the presence of such plot elements as excuses for dismissing books without considering their value (Veith 72).

Although Christians have been given this freedom, God has also given them boundaries in what they should and should not enjoy. Paul says, “ ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up” (English Standard Version, 1 Cor. 10:23). In this passage, Paul goes on to discuss whether or not Christians should eat meat sacrificed to idols. He explains that while eating the meat is not a sin, if it might cause a brother to stumble or be bothered in conscience, Christians should not eat it. In the area of fantasy literature, then, Christians must exercise discretion (as in every area). If a book or series like Harry Pottercauses another Christian to stumble or be bothered in conscience, that book should be avoided or at least not flaunted by the Christians surrounding this weaker brother.

At the same time, Christians should not judge each other’s choices in matters like these of private discernment, for “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Rom. 14:4). If a Christian has a serious conscience problem with the Harry Potter series, whether it feeds in him a yearning for the occult and dark supernatural powers or causes authority problems, then he, as a matter of conscience, should avoid the series. But these weaker brothers should not judge a Christian who has studied and considered the issue carefully and has decided in favor of Harry Potter. It is a matter of discernment, and that is why it is advisable that parents not expose very young children insecure in their worldview to Potter until they are older (this would be advisable in any case if only because of some violence and dark themes in the books and the objectionable behavior of the children). As Woelke Leithart says in his essay, ‘Some Books’, a critique of Richard Abanes’ Harry Potter and the Bible, “I also agree that young children shouldn’t read the Harry Potter books unless they’re old and mature enough to handle it. But I failed to find one reason why a mature Christian shouldn’t read them, and enjoy them” (par. 9). Ultimately, a Christian’s choices must be focused in glorifying God. This is the ultimate standard for a Christian’s reading habits and life, and is best summed up by Paul: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). And in matters of private judgment, “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves” (Romans 14: 22).

So, in a nutshell, that's why I'm going to be dressing up like a dork on November 18th and heading to the theater at midnight, and rooting for the Boy Who Lived to defeat evil. It's gonna be epppic.

17 June 2010

VODT Trailer!


11 June 2010


Yes, it's not really a fitting title for my first post on this fancy new template...but I would not exchange the amount of glee I got out of typing it for anything. (And while I'm getting all this foolishness out of my system, I would like to open a cafe and call it "Oomlattës"). Really now, though, on my vacation and the subsequent week, I read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre by Emily and Charlotte Brontë respectively. It was odd to read them back to back and see the similarities and differences in them. The settings are very much the same (vast wild moorlands) and some of the characters bear rudimentary resemblances to each other, but really, that's where the similarities end. I'm going to contrast and compare them here, which is what I have been doing in my head for the past couple of days. (Warning: there be spoilers ahead, so if you've missed out on the past 150 years, avoid!)

Heathcliff is the hero (for lack of a better term) of Wuthering Heights. He is harsh, rough, cold, and calculating throughout the entire book. Really, he cares only for his own good; though he says he cares for Cathy more than himself, his actions speak otherwise. He is willing to ruin the lives of his son and Cathy's daughter to get revenge on Cathy's husband and his family. The only way any of their offspring or relation is able to be happy is after his death. He marries Isabella, Cathy's husband's sister, just to get revenge, even though he tells Cathy before the marriage, "“You’d hear of odd things, if I lived alone with that mawkish, waxen face; the most ordinary would be painting on its white the colors of the rainbow and turning the blue eyes black, every day or two; they detestably resemble Linton’s.” And this pattern of treatment for women is carried out throughout the book; he routinely abuses Isabella until she runs away and abuses Cathy's daughter when she comes to live with him after marrying his son.
Rochester (of Jane Eyre) is not a flawless hero by any means, and he is rather harsh and rough too. However, as the narrative continues, we see that he is not rotten to the core, but is a truly good man possessed with the same frankness and disregard for manners as Jane herself, which makes him rude at times. He is flawed in others ways, too: he has had many mistresses, he courts a lady to make Jane jealous, and he deceives Jane by not telling her of his wife and, after she finds out, attempts to persuade her to stay with him regardless. However, he has kept his wife in good living conditions (when he could have sent her to his wet, unhealthy house and soon been rid of her), and makes sure that Blanche Ingram, the girl he courts, suffers no pain from his actions. Moreover, he is effectively 'punished' by his misconduct in the redemptive conclusion, when Thornfield catches on fire he makes sure everyone has gotten ou,t and in his efforts to safe his wife he is blinded and lamed, but freed.
Cathy is a match for Heathcliff (and that's not a compliment). She is selfish and careless, a bad combination, and she too cares only for her own good. She marries not for love, but for status, she says, It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now, so he shall never know how I love him…”. She seems to delight in stirring people up against one another and pouting in distress over the consequences (she stirs up arguments between Heathcliff and Isabella and Heathcliff and Linton numerous times). She eventually dies after being taken sick as a result of one of these arguments.
Jane Eyre would probably not be a very likable character if the story were not told from her first-person perspective. Many of her thoughts remain unvoiced in her head and she speaks with a frankness and disregard for common notions of propriety that we would probably be annoyed or shocked with her most of the time if we did not know her though process. Jane has had a difficult past that many would not survive, but she emerges a principled character with a strong moral compass, and what's more, love for God and her fellow-man. Of course, the largest example of her principles is her refusing to stay with Rochester after she learns that he is married.

Both books are also populated by colorful and fascinating secondary characters. In Wuthering Heights, the secondary characters are really the only ones that could be termed 'heroes' in any sense of the word: Hareton, Cathy's nephew whose potential Heathcliff has quelled, stalks about through most of the book as a slob, but he shows glimmers of true goodness which are revealed more fully at the conclusion through the love of Cathy II. Cathy II, Cathy's daughter, shares some similarities with her mother. She too is rather spoiled and careless, but she also is much sweeter, innocent and other-centered. Jane Eyre has Blanche Ingram, the beautiful lady Mr. Rochester woos for a short time. She is perfect, beautiful, and very shallow; the instant Rochester reveals to her a chance of his losing his money, she desserts him. St. John Rivers is one of the most fascinating characters in any book I've ever read. Some might misinterpret him as a mockery of Christians, but he is in fact a well-drawn satire of a particular kind of Christian. There is never any doubt that he is a good man, devoted to God, but the way he views callings and missions is flawed. He holds the view that the missionary calling is superior to all others. When he asks Jane to be his wife so that she might accompany him to India, Jane replies that she has no such calling. He argues that since she possesses qualities necessary to a missionary, if she did not use them for mission work, she would be disobeying God. While St. John is an obvious character, this view is actually fairly prevalent among evangelicals today- that is, that mission work and ministries are superior to all other callings.

Love is of course, a main topic of each book. In Wuthering Heights, love is an unrestrained, vague 'force' that sweeps Heathcliff and Cathy along on its selfish tide. They are held mysteriously together by this mystic strand, even though there is nothing lovable or even likable about either of them. Cathy herself says of Heathcliff, "Pray don’t imagine that he conceals depths of benevolence and affection beneath a stern exterior! He’s not a rough diamond—a pearl-containing oyster of a rustic; he’s a fierce, pitiless wolfish man.” She knows that he's rotten to the core, yet she still 'loves' him. Love is also freed from the boundaries of marriage, as Cathy and Heathcliff each marry individuals they do not love and continue their trysts after marriage. In Jane Eyre, love is constrained by morals. Jane and Rochester grow to love one another through daily interactions and conversations, and their similarities and complimentary differences become apparent to the reader. However, love is only allowed by God's rules. Jane refuses to stay with Rochester when she finds out that he is married, even though this nearly kills them both. Jane also acknowledges that Rochester became, in the time before she knew he was married, an idol to her. And he is snatched away from her. All of this only makes their final reunion, brought about by a supernatural event (the voice across the moors) more sweet. After being separated by various sins on both sides, they are brought together by God, the obstacles removed.

The overall story of each book is nearly as different as can be. Wuthering Heights is a story of illicit, tempestuous love that nearly ruins the lives of those who come after it, while Jane Eyre is a story of love being constrained by piety, and because of that, ultimately triumphing. The concluding words of Wuthering Heights offer no such redemption, only vain hope. As the narrator examines the graves of Cathy and Heatchcliff, he muses to himself, “ I…wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.” It's quite easy, actually.
These words from the final chapter of Jane Eyre show an entirely opposite worldview. When his first-born was put into his arms, he could see that the boy had inherited his own eyes, as they once were—large, brilliant and black. On that occasion, he again, with a full heart, acknowledged that God had tempered judgment with mercy.
My Edward and I, then, are happy: and the more so, because those we most love are happy likewise.”