Monthly Archives: July 2007

Harry Potter and the Christian Fear of Imagination

deathly-hallows2.jpg

“Tell me one last thing,” said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”

Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry’s ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

I love this quote from The Deathly Hallows, which comes from the final lines of the “King’s Cross” chapter (aptly titled, considering the not-so-subtle Christian metaphors of the book). I love it because it’s a sort of justification for the whole Harry Potter phenomenon—for all fantasy literature, I suppose. These books are complete and utter whimsy, fantasy, fiction, make-believe, etc. They are fun to read, fun to immerse oneself in, but nothing more, right?

There is a bias towards this kind of literature that assumes—because it is so fantastical and un-like reality—there can be no relevance or bearing on the real world. It is the same bias that dismisses abstract painting because it doesn’t represent anything. People are afraid of the unknown, the imagined, the make-believe.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Christians are so hard on Harry Potter. In addition to being about—gasp—witches and wizards, these seven books are simply a waste of time, they might say. Whereas The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings can be justified as time-well-spent (because of their much-publicized, if a bit over-emphasized, Christian allegorical elements), Harry Potter is just a lot of hocus pocus frivolity.

I spoke with several Christians after I finished Hallows last week, and told them how explicit and wonderful the Christological elements were in the last hundred or so pages. Most of the Christians (who were not Harry fans) responded to this with a quick dismissal, saying “Oh…” or “that’s neat,” or “well, isn’t that how all epic literature ends?” The overwhelming sentiment seemed to be that surely Harry Potter could not end up being Christian—after all these years of polemics between Harry and evangelicals…

But the truth is Harry Potter does indeed have much to say about Christianity—the end of Hallows especially. I can honestly say that J.K. Rowling, like Lewis, Tolkien, L’Engle, Shakespeare, and many others before her, has illuminated the sacred through the mythical, the real through the fictitious.

Tolkien wrote in “On Fairy Stories” of creating fantasy as a “human right” that is endowed to us through the incarnation: “we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.”

Lewis went even further in his defense of myth. He eloquently wrote of the gospel as a myth become fact:

Now as myth transcends thought, Incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens–at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.

~C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, “Myth Became Fact” (1944)

So, I urge you to read Harry Potter, and other books like it, and not feel guilty for wasting time in childish worlds of superfluous fiction. There is much value in the imaginary, and in the mythical. After all, there is much more going on in this universe than our non-fictional, scientific, empiricist minds can articulate.

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Pro-life Cinema?

desk-daybeach_thumb.jpgI recently wrote a commentary piece for Christianity Today on pro-life themes in Hollywood films this year. You can read the article here. A few comments from readers (as emailed in to CT):

“Perhaps the popularity of these life-affirming films indicates a more general cultural longing for life, in the midst of a world that is increasingly cavalier in its cheap treatment of it. It is interesting that these films come at a time when the “death-affirming” exploits of new horror genres are beginning to wear out their welcome.”

Indeed. As “Children of Men” drew to a close in my in-law’s basement and we all sat there, worn out and trying to process what we had just seen, my brother-in-law commented that what increased the impact of the child’s birth was that he’d never seen a film with such a high death count in which every death mattered. From the moment one of Theo’s companions shoots a cop and he (Theo) becomes drawn into a non-stop whirlwind of experiencing death madly and first-hand, the film never lets us forget that each of these lives lost matters. It never lets us forget the tragedy of losing them.

I recently read a commentary by a critic frustrated with the fact that the current crop of summer action films completely ignore the collateral damage involved in the fun – ie. we see cars decimated by the hero-villain chase, but not the injured drivers – and what struck me about his complaint was that it is hardly new. For twenty years, we’ve been seeing this on-screen, and this is the first time I’ve read a full-legnth commentary on it in a mainstream daily paper. Are we sick of “death-affirming” films? Absolutely! Many filmgoers like realism in their films, and it’s refreshing that studios are finally starting to realise that realism doesn’t always equal hopelessness and death.

Regards,
“Elly”

And here’s another comment:

Enjoyed your article on the positive trends in movies supporting
alternatives to abortion. Perhaps there’s also such a trend with
euthanasia. A recent episode of Kyra Sedgwick’s The Closer showed a euthanizing nursing home manager in a bad light.

“John,” Indianapolis

And one more:

Another movie that we enjoyed was Just Like Heaven. It didn’t deal directly with abortion, but it was about a woman in a coma and they almost pulled the plug. It reminded everyone that there was a real person in that hospital bed. Yes, some parts were corny, but the man really went to great lengths to save this woman’s life. We cried at the ending, it was so touching. This was in theaters in 2003, but it is out on DVD.

“Kris and Amy”

The Search

I wonder how many web searches I’ve undertaken in my life. A million? Nowadays we live our lives through searches. Is there a question you need answered? A product you need to find? Simply type in a word or two into the Google searchbox and off you go. Pages and pages of potential answers are only a click away.But this instantaneous “searching” is not really what the search is all about. In fact, our technological capabilities to search and find anything and everything in just a few easy steps has quite possibly damaged the search as it exists in modern culture. Increasingly, we are losing our capacity to think critically, to mull over a question without ready access to its answer.

The Search goes deeper than the zeros and ones of Google-brand fact transaction, however. At its heart, the search is a way of being. It is a state of wonderment, curiosity, and awareness of something other. It requires the tension of the unknown and the unease of the unknowable. It inspires both deep and broad thinking, and a commitment to making connections where ideas, postulates, and observations allow.

The Search is also about finding connections with other people. Ironically, we are ever more isolated in our hyper-connected digital society. We yearn for the physical presence and emotional resonance of our fellow man, whose camaraderie we long for above all else. As George Steiner writes in Real Presences, “we are monads haunted by communion.”

The Search is about filling these absences, feeling the specter of otherness, finding communion and connection with others on the same journey. If this blog could be about anything, I would hope it would be about this. I’m not any farther on the journey than anyone else, but none of us are going to get anywhere without dialogue.

To be human is to long for understanding. We all want to “be onto something,” as Walker Percy writes of the search. To not be onto something is to be mired in despair; stuck in the mindless and mundane of the “one-click” universe of Google. Let’s be done with that. Let’s rediscover what we’re really looking for.

Welcome to my antiblog

I never, ever thought I’d have a blog. It just always seemed so frivolous, self-indulgent, and annoying. And it’s not like I’m starving to self-publish or anything. For the last 4 years I’ve been able to write whenever and whatever I want on Relevantmagazine.com, among other websites. So why am I caving now, in 2007 (the year the “blog” turns a decade old), and starting my very own “web log”? Well, I suppose there are a few explanations: 1) I’m intellectually interested in the “experience” of blogging (as a grad student getting a masters in Media Studies, blogs are unavoidable as subjects of study), 2) I like the idea of being able to endlessly publicize what I think deserves attention, and go hog-wild with hyperlinks (I LOVE hyperlinks), and 3) Everyone’s doing it.

But to keep in line with my pseudo Luddite media ethic that tells me to avoid things like blogs, I’ve decided to make this “site” as un-bloggish as possible. Thus, as a sort of founding manifesto, I’ve decided to draft a list of dos and don’ts to govern this silly exercise in narcissism:

First, the DON’Ts:

1) No blog entry will detail events, persons, or problems from my personal life, unless used as literary devices or otherwise in service of some more substantial point. In fact, the use of the first-person pronoun in general should be used with discretion.

2) This will not be a “news” site that pointlessly reiterates stories as seen on CNN, TMZ, ESPN, or other such widely seen sites.

3) No crappy, late-night ramblings or sub-par filler writing. Only high quality and serious interrogations of issues, ideas, art, etc.

And now, the DOs:

1) Link to the best stuff on the web (articles, mp3s, videos, etc) that might otherwise be lost in the ridiculous glut of information out there.

2) Write about (and link to other writing about) anything and everything, as long as it is done with an earnest curiosity and minimum of irony. The world needs more earnestness, I think.

3) Provide more questions than answers. There’s a reason the blog’s called “The Search.” It’s always ongoing.