Sunday, July 08, 2007

Reading Too Much In

The recent release of the latest (and presumably last) Harry Potter novel has spawned all sorts of attempts at analysis which try to read far too much into a story that is pure escape literature.

While I can understand some degree of interest and curiousity being express with respect to what one can only describe as a societal phenomenon that has spanned the globe, we should be cautious about treating it as anything other than a pop culture moment. To apply much more than basic literary criticism to the Harry Potter books is granting what is obviously no deeper than your average Star Trek episode far too much intellectual credibility.

Perhaps the best example of the insanity that has come to surround the Harry Potter stories is expressed by Wingnut Daily, whose writers are getting themselves thoroughly tied up in knots over the dark evil of the "occult" in these books:

Wohlberg's new book "Exposing Harry Potter and Witchcraft: The Menace Beneath the Magic," asserts that "Harry Potter" purchases are often accompanied at the sales counter with materials on Wicca. Increasing numbers of young readers also frequent Wicca websites, cast "Love and Money Spells," and practice "white magic."

You know, I remember hearing those same kind of idiotic criticisms levelled at Dungeons and Dragons when I was in Junior High school. I think magic is something that many people find appealing, especially in adolescence. Who wouldn't give almost anything to make the pain and angst of our adolescent years go away (or turn that Math teacher that nobody could stand into a toad?)

Magic, at least on this world, isn't "real". Nobody accomplishes anything by incantations (at least that can be proven demonstrably) - whether those incantations are meant to boil a cauldron of water, or bring favor from some arbitrary sky-being.

Arguably, what many religions call prayer is little different from the ritualized casting of spells that many claim is an expression of "evil".

Many people I know scratch their heads and stare somewhat in askance at the near hysteria of the claims of the fundamentalists when they speak of Harry Potter (or Tolkein, or Dungeons and Dragons...). But, when you step back from it for a moment, it starts to make a little sense.

The fundamentalist claims that not only is "God" an absolute reality, but also that this same being had something to do with the writing of the Bible/Q'Ran/Pentateuch {pick your faith}. This grants a "reality" to an unknowable that is perhaps slightly irrational when framed in the context of our world. There is no way I can know the truth value of either claim, as they are statements of faith, not fact.

Looking a little further, it's not hard to see how if one accepts the claim that some meta being called "God" is real, that one might similarly be willing to believe that there is some "real" truth value to the kind of magic described in the Harry Potter books. Neither is demonstrable in any real sense in this world, but if you are willing to assign an absolute truth to one unknowable, credulity will similarly allow you to assume that magic is equally real.

More seriously, I think we have to ask ourselves if the hysteria around Harry Potter ultimately is about adults who have forgotten the imagination of youth, and the dalliances and explorations of those years between 11 and adulthood. Worrying that a piece of escape literature is exposing someone to evil is just plain silly - unless you happen to assign a reality to it that isn't really appropriate.

1 comment:

valiantmauz said...

From the article: "And the acclaimed DVD program, "Harry Potter: Witchcraft Repackaged, dramatically documents Potter references to evolution, reincarnation, sorcery, divination, spells, curses and other occult factors."

I don't know whether to laugh or cry.