Potters lesson for humanityHarry Potter books teach us a fundamental lesson about good and evilPublished: 07.24.07, 03:49 / Israel OpinionEvil is evil. Good is good. Good must fight evil to the end, whether evil arrives from outer worlds or isfound in deep basements within the good itself. And if the good is persistent in fighting evil, makessacrifices, and is willing to shed blood, sweat and tears, evil will be overcome.This simple moral message, which is so clear and black-and-white, can be found throughout theadventures of Harry Potter, the tireless superhero of the 21st century, starting with the first book andon to the last one, which arrived at bookstores early Saturday.Hundreds of millions of young readers, and adults as well, who have read and will still be readingthese books, absorb absolute valuesof human ethics that praise virtues and condemn vices.The Harry Potter series is therefore the most impressive response to post-modernism – as anideology that is, rather than an analytical method – and its followers. Post-modernist ideologists havebeen trying for a generation now to convince us that there is "actually" no difference between "good"and "evil" and that both good and evil are verbal "constructions."According to post-modernists, the value system adopted by Harry Potter is no better in any way thanthe value system of his enemies; both are mere inventions and patterns of discourse. Both arerelative and therefore cannot be ranked, and we cannot determine which one is better – truth vs.lies, loyalty vs. treachery, love vs. hate. There is no good and evil in and of themselves in our world.Nothing is fundamental, everything is relative and rises and falls in the eyes of the observer.The Harry Potter series challenged this relativist perception and overcame it. Precisely because it isnot simplistic, precisely because even its good heroes are not inherently good and every time mustchoose the good of their own free will – precisely because of that, the message is so appealing,purifying and important. Particularly for young readers.Potter and ChurchillWhen it comes to its philosophical message, the Harry Potter series is no different than anotherexample of 21st century popular culture: the American TV show 24 and its hero, Jack Bower. Bothhere and there we have a superhero who aims to save humanity, while the hero himself is not whollypure.Both Harry Potter and Jack Bower are magicians with a complex personality that at times deviatesfrom the straight and narrow, makes use of methods that should be condemned, and comes close tothe edge of evil – and still, despite this, both Jack Bower and Harry Potter carry the message ofvictory of good over evil as the ultimate choice.Universal culture is replete with good heroes who are constantly exposed to temptations to be bad.What makes them good is their inner ability to overcome evil temptations. Literary critics haveidentified clear elements of World War II in Harry Potter books translated into a fantasy of magicians,ghosts and spirits, in order to make it accessible to teenagers.The older Winston Churchill, just like the younger Harry Potter, was able in the summer of 1940 toreject Hitlers rapprochement attempts and did not back off from his firm stand against negotiationswith "Satan from Berlin," in a bid to avoid going down a slippery slope that ends with erasing thebasic moral difference between good and evil.
The young Harry Potter readers dont know about Churchill. Yet through an extraordinary series theyget a highly important lesson regarding the history of mankind: Be a good person and not a badperson. Go with the good, fight for the good, do not hesitate to choose the good, and dont betempted to give in to evil. Because evil just waits for your moments of weakness in order to take overand subjugate you to its malicious objectives.This is also the reason why post-modernist preachers bemoan works such as Harry Potter or themovie series The Matrix. Who determined, they ask, whats good and whats evil? Who can and whois even allowed to rank the system of human values from better to worse and put Harry Potter andWinston Churchill on top? After all, everything is relative; The Nazis too had values and beliefs. Al-Qaeda has them too. Who are we to decide between them? Who made us the judge?Nobody did, except ourselves. There are no signs for us in the sky – and even if there are, they areweak, blurry, and open to contradictory interpretations. The powerful moral light does not shineoutside, but rather, only on the inside; we fight al-Qaeda because we need to fight it. You can askHarry Potter to tell you where and how.http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3428789,00.htmlHarry Potter & the Magic of Love (warning: containsplot spoiler!)by Mark GreenePosted: Thursday, July 28, 2011, 10:00 (BST)J.K. Rowlings Harry Potter novels were never primarily about magic. They were alwaysprimarily about sacrificial love. And in the final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part2, as in the more nuanced novel, Rowlings exploration of love takes us into fresh and fertileterrain.The Potter story begins with Harrys mothers self-sacrifice for her infant child. It is this love thatprotects him from the Dark Lords murderous intent. Harry is covered by his mothers blood - herlife for his. Similarly, in the first novel, Ron risks death that others might live but survives, whilstFlammel, the owner of the Philosophers Stone, consents to its destruction, and therebyforegoes his own immortality.As the series progresses, Harry comes to realise that what distinguishes him from his enemy ishis capacity to love. In the denouement, that capacity is tested to the limit, as he, like Aslan, likeJesus, deliberately puts himself in the power of his enemy.Rowlings exploration of love and its costs, however, goes wider. Yes, the children are centralbut, unlike most childrens fiction, the adults in the Potter stories are critical both to the actionand the themes. So Harrys allies - surrogate families and godparents and teachers - are notjust committed to a cause but committed to Harry. In particular, Dumbledore, Harrysheadmaster and surrogate father, nurtures him, protects him, empowers him, loves him. Still, wediscover, he had always known that, if Voldemort were to be defeated, Harry would have to die.What kind of love, the film asks, can nurture a child with that dread knowledge? What kind oflove enables a loving father to raise a son for a death so premature?
And what kind of love does Snape display? Not only working, at enormous personal risk, todefeat Voldemort but committed to the protection of Harry, the child of a man he despised andof a woman, now dead, whom he had loved from childhood but who had not loved him. Here isthe nobility of an unrequited love that does not curdle to bitterness or revenge but does what thebeloved would want, even though that love cannot be returned. Selfless faithfulness indeed.True love, Rowling teaches us, comes in many forms. And she has thereby given us, it seemsto me, one of the richest explorations of love ever offered in childrens fiction.Bravo, I say.Mark Greene is Executive Director of the London Institute of Contemporary Christianityhttp://www.christiantoday.com/article/harry.potter.the.magic.of.love.warning.contains.plot.spoiler/28344.htm H arr y Pot te r The World of Harry PotterRead Michaels Take on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallowsat the SF-Fandom Harry Potter Forum.The world of Harry Potter is really our world, but we Muggles dont realize that magic folk like Harry and his friendsHermione Granger and Ronald Weasley are living among us. That is the premise behind J.K. Rowlings fantasticHarry Potter books.When you write fantastic fiction, you have to decide where to set your stories. Should it be on another planet? In thepast? In the future? Or on an alternate Earth, similar to ours but not quite the same? Or can it simply be that yourstory takes place in the present time, on the present Earth, in an inconspicuous way which is overlooked by the vastmajority of the worlds population?Rowlings premise is that our Earth is shared by two civilizations, one very acutely aware of the other, but the other(larger, more populous) civilization at best is only vaguely aware of the smaller one.Harry Potter spends most of his childhood living in a modest suburbab home in industrial England. His world is full oftelevision, radio, motor cars, buses, trains, airplanes, and books. He may have heard a few fairy tales or read somemagical adventure stories, but most of his exposure to magic is in his own imagination. He is completely unaware ofthe vast catalogue of mystical creatures such as Griffons, Basilisks, Pixies, and phoenixes.To the Muggle civilization, these are all imaginary creatures. They, and witches on flying broomsticks, dont reallyexist. But to the people who are born with the gift of "magic", the world looks wholly different. Dragons are real, andwere-wolves exist, and vampires really do drink human blood.Rowling doesnt tell us how the two worlds came to exist as one, or where the magic-folk first arose. She doesntexplain how things as large as trolls and giants can have existed alongside normal human-kind throughout history,except to imply that what we deem to be folklore and mythology are derived from Muggle glimpses of the magicalworld.The reader must infer that, perhaps, when there were more monsters and perhaps fewer safe havens for magic folk,Muggles had to endure occasional or even frequent disruptions of their lives by witches, wizards, and monsters. Andso, when the Muggles began hunting down the witches and wizards, perhaps thinking they were responsible for allthe magical mayhem in the world, it must be that the witches and wizards began banding together for their ownprotection.
but note that the best-selling books on both sites were the Harry Potter novels,which ranked a consistent one, two, and three.Many people are also familiar with the story behind the most talked-aboutchildrens books in decades, perhaps ever: how Joanne Rowling, an out-of-work teacher and single mother living on the dole in Edinburgh, startedscribbling a story in a local café as her small daughter dozed in a stroller; howan English publisher, Bloomsbury Books, took a chance on this unknownauthor; and how, almost wholly by word-of-mouth reports, the firstnovel, Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, became a best-seller not justamong children but also among adults, for whom Bloomsbury designed amore mature-looking cover so commuters on bus and tube would not have tobe embarrassed as they eagerly followed Harrys quest to discover what theenormous three-headed dog, Fluffy, was guarding in that off-limits corridor ofHogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. International success, asindicated by those great piles of books at 40 percent discount and thedominance of Amazons best-seller lists, quickly followed.In the twenty-some-odd years that I have been pretty closely following trendsin American publishing, no development in the industry has been nearly soinexplicable to me, nor has any development made me so happy. For I adorethe Harry Potter books. I read the first one - under its silly Americantitle, Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone(the American publisher evidentlyjudged that no book with the word "philosopher" in the title could sell) -thinking that it might be something I could read to my son. Though I decidedthat he wasnt quite old enough, at six, to follow the rather complicated plot, Imyself was hooked, and in my impatience ordered each of the next two novelsin the series from amazon.co.uk, thus making my own personal contributionto the perplexity of international trade law. (The remaining books in theseries - Rowling plans a total of seven - will be published simultaneously in theU.S. and the U.K., thus cutting the legal Gordian knot.)J. K. Rowling, as the books covers have it - the name rhymes with "bowling" -simply has that mysterious gift, so prized among storytellers and lovers ofstories but so resistant to critical explication, of world-making. It is a gift thatmany Christian readers tend to associate with that familiar but ratheramorphous group of English Christian writers, the Inklings - though theassociation is not quite proper, since only one of the Inklings, J. R. R. Tolkien,had this rare faculty, and few of the others even aspired to it.Tolkien, however,possessed the power in spades, and gave useful names to it as well: he spoke ofthe "secondary worlds" created by the writer, and of "mythopoeia" as theactivity of such "sub-creation." The sine qua non of such mythopoeia,for Tolkien, is the making of a world that resembles ours but is not ours, aworld that possesses internal logic and self-consistency to the same degree
that ours does - but not the same logic: it must have its own rules, rules thatare peculiar to it and that generate consequences also peculiar to it.It is important to understand that C. S. Lewis Narnia books, great though theymay be, are not in this strict sense mythopoeic: Lewis does not want to createa self-consistent secondary world, but rather a world in which all the varietiesof mythology meet and find their home. In Narnia there is no internalconsistency whatever: thus Father Christmas can show up in the middle of TheLion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Bacchus and Silenus in the middleof Prince Caspian. It may well be that this mythographic promiscuity, so tospeak, is key to the success of the Chronicles of Narnia, but it makes them verydifferent books from Tolkiens, and it is the reason whyTolkien hatedthe Narnia stories. They lacked the clearly demarcated wholeness which heconsidered the essential virtue of his own Middle Earth.Joanne Rowling has expressed her love for the Narnia books - one of thereasons there will be, God willing, seven Harry Potter books is that there areseven volumes of Narnia stories - but as a literary artist she bears a far greaterresemblance to Tolkien. One of the great pleasures for the reader ofher books is the wealth of details, from large to small, that mark the Magicworld as different from ours (which in the books is called the Muggle world):the tall pointed hats the students wear in their classes, in which they studysuch topics as Potions, Transfiguration, Defense Against the Dark Arts, andeven Care and Feeding [sic] of Magical Creatures; the spells that are alwaysin Latin ("Expelliarmus!"); or the universal addiction to Quidditch, a gamethat shares some characteristics with basketball, cricket, and soccer but isplayed in the air, onbroomsticks, and with four balls. Rowlings attention tosuch matters is remarkable and charming, especially when the details aresmall: once, when he is visiting the home of a friend from a Magicalfamily, Harry steps over a pack of Self-Shuffling Playing Cards. Its an itemthat could have been left out without any loss to the narrative, but it offers anelegant little surprise - and another piece of furniture for this thoroughlyimagined universe.I have made my enthusiasm for these books quite evident to many friends, butsome of them are dubious - indeed, deeply suspicious. These are Christianpeople, and they feel that books which make magic so funny and charmingdont exactly support the Christian view of things. Such novels could at bestencourage children to take a smilingly tolerant New Age view of witchcraft, atworst encourage the practice of witchcraft itself. Moreover, some of themnote, Harry Potter is not exactly a model student: he has, as the Headmaster ofHogwarts puts it, "a certain disregard for rules," and spends a good deal oftime fervently hoping not to get caught in mid-disregard.This second matter, I think, poses no real problem. It is true that Harry isoften at odds with some of his teachers, but these particular teachers are not
exactly admirable figures: they themselves are often at odds with the wise,benevolent, and powerful Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, whom theysometimes attempt to undermine or outflank. But to Dumbledore,significantly, Harry is unswervingly faithful and obedient; indeed, the climaxof the second novel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, turnsonHarrys fidelity to Dumbledore.Moreover, Harrys tendency to bypass or simply flout the rules is a matter ofmoral concern for him: he wonders and worries about the self-justifications heoffers, and often doubts not just his abilities but his virtue. He is constantlyaware that his great unchosen antagonist, Voldemort - the Dark Lord, themost evil of wizards and, afterDumbledore, the most powerful - offerstemptations to which he cannot simply assume that he is immune. Andwhen Dumbledore mentions Harrys "certain disregard for rules" he does so ina way that links such disregard with the forces of evil, thuswarning Harry (though his larger purpose in that scene is to encourage thetroubled young wizard).In short, Rowlings moral compass throughout the three novels is sound -indeed, I would say, acute. But the matter of witchcraft remains, and it is not amatter to be trifled with. People today, and this includes many Christians,tend to hold two views about witches: first, that real witches dont exist, andsecond, that they arent as bad as the evil masterminds of the Salem witchtrials made them out to be. These are obviously incompatible beliefs. As C. S.Lewis has pointed out, there is no virtue in being tolerant of witches if youthink that witchcraft is impossible, that is, that witches dont really exist. But ifthere are such things as witches, and they do indeed invoke supernatural orunnatural forces to bring harm to good people, then it would be neither wisenor good to tolerate them. So the issue is an important one, and worthy ofserious reflection.It is tempting to say, in response to these concerns, that Harry Potter is notthat kind of wizard, that he doesnt do harm to anyone, except those who aremanifestly evil and trying to do harm to him. And these are significant points.But an answer to our question must begin elsewhere.The place to begin is to invoke one of the great achievements of twentieth-century historical scholarship: the eight volumes Lynn Thorndike publishedbetween 1929 and 1941 under the collective title A History of Magic andExperimental Science. And it is primarily the title that I wish to reflect uponhere. In the thinking of most modern people, there should be two historieshere: after all, are not magic and experimental science opposites? Is not magicgoverned by superstition, ignorance, and wishful thinking, while experimentalscience is rigorous, self-critical, and methodological? While it may be true thatthe two paths have diverged to the point that they no longer have any point ofcontact, for much of their existence - and this is Lynn Thorndikes chief point -
they constituted a single path with a single history. For both magic andexperimental science are means of controlling and directing our naturalenvironment (and people insofar as they are part of that environment). C. S.Lewis has made the same assertion:[Francis Bacons] endeavor is no doubt contrasted in our minds with that of themagicians: but contrasted only in the light of the event, only because we know thatscience succeeded and magic failed. That event was then still uncertain. Stripping offour knowledge of it, we see at once that Bacon and the magicians have the closestpossible affinity. . . . Nor would Bacon himself deny the affinity: he thought the aim ofthe magicians was "noble."It was not obvious in advance that science would succeed and magic fail: infact, several centuries of dedicated scientific experiment would have to passbefore it was clear to anyone that the "scientific" physician could do more tocure illness than the old woman of the village with her herbs and potions andmuttered charms. In the Renaissance, alchemists were divided between thosewho sought to solve problems - the achievement of the philosophers stone, forexample (or should I say the sorcerers stone?) - primarily through the use ofwhat we would call mixtures of chemicals and those who relied more heavilyon incantations, the drawing of mystical patterns, and the invocation ofspirits.At least, it seems to us that the alchemists can be so divided. But thatsbecause we know that one approach developed into chemistry, while the otherbecame pure magic. The division may not have been nearly so evident at thetime, when (to adapt Webers famous phrase) the world had not yet becomedisenchanted. As Keith Thomas has shown, it was "the triumph of themechanical philosophy" of nature that "meant the end of the animisticconception of the universe which had constituted the basic rationale formagical thinking." Even after powerful work of the mechanistic scientists likeGassendi the change was not easily completed: Isaac Newton, whose name isassociated more than any other with physical mechanics, dabbled frequentlyin alchemy.This history provides a key to understanding the role of magic in JoanneRowlings books, for she begins by positing a counterfactual history, a historyin which magic was not a false and incompetent discipline, but rather a meansof controlling the physical world at least as potent as experimental science.In Harry Potters world, scientists think of magic in precisely the same waythey do in our world, but they are wrong. The counterfactual "secondaryworld" that Rowling creates is one in which magic simply works, and works asreliably, in the hands of a trained wizard, as the technology that makesairplanes fly and refrigerators chill the air - those products of applied sciencebeing, by the way, sufficiently inscrutable to the people who use them that
they might as well be the products of wizardry. As Arthur C. Clarke oncewrote, "Any smoothly functioning technology gives the appearance of magic."The fundamental moral framework of the Harry Potter books, then, is afamiliar one to all of us: it is the problem of technology. (As Jacques Ellulwrote, "Magic may even be the origin of techniques.") Hogwarts School ofWitchcraft and Wizardry is in the business of teaching people how to harnessand employ certain powers - that they are powers unrecognized by science isreally beside the point - but cannot insure that people will use those powerswisely, responsibly, and for the common good. It is a choice, as the thinkers ofthe Renaissance would have put it, between magia and goetia: "high magic"(like the wisdom possessed by the magi in Christian legend) and "dark magic."Hogwarts was founded by four wizards, one of whom, Salazar Slytherin, atleast dabbled and perhaps reveled in the Dark Arts, that is, the use of hispowers for questionable if not downright evil purposes, and for centuriesmany of the young wizards who reside in Slytherin House have exhibited thesame tendency. The educational quandary forAlbus Dumbledore, then -though it is never described so overtly - is how to train students not just in the"technology" of magic but also in the moral discernment necessary to avoidthe continual reproduction of the few great Dark Lords like Voldemort andtheir multitudinous followers. The problem is exacerbated by the presenceof faculty members who are not wholly unsympathetic with Voldemorts aims.The clarity with which Rowling sees the need to choose between good and evilis admirable, but still more admirable, to my mind, is her refusal to allow asimple division of parties into the Good and the Evil. Harry Potter isunquestionably a good boy, but, as I have suggested, a key component of hisvirtue arises from his recognition that he is not inevitably good. When first-year students arrive at Hogwarts, they come to an assembly of the entireschool, students and faculty. Each of them sits on a stool in the midst of theassembly and puts on a large, battered, old hat - the Sorting Hat, whichdecides which of the four Houses the student will enter. After unusually longreflection, the Sorting Hat, to Harrys great relief, puts him in Gryffindor, butnot before telling him that he could achieve real greatness in Slytherin. Thiscomment haunts Harry: he often wonders if Slytherin is where he trulybelongs, among the pragmatists, the careerists, the manipulators anddeceivers, the power-hungry, and the just plain nasty. Near the end ofthe second book, after a terrifying encounter with Voldemort - his third,since Voldemort had tried to kill Harry, and succeeded in killing his parents,when Harrywas a baby, and had confronted Harry again in the first book - heconfesses his doubts to Dumbledore."So I should be in Slytherin," Harry said, looking desperately into Dumbledores face."The Sorting Hat could see Slytherins power in me, and it -"
"Put you in Gryffindor," said Dumbledore calmly. "Listen to me, Harry. You happen tohave many qualities Salazar Slytherin prized in his hand-picked students.Resourcefulness . . . determination . . . a certain disregard for rules," he added, hismoustache quivering again. "Yet the Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor. You knowwhy that was. Think.""It only put me in Gryffindor," said Harry in a defeated voice, "Because I asked not to goin Slytherin. . . .""Exactly," said Dumbledore, beaming once more. "Which makes you very different from[Voldemort]. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than ourabilities."Harry sat motionless in his chair, stunned.Harry is stunned because he realizes for the first time that his confusion hasbeen wrongheaded from the start: he has been asking the question "Who am Iat heart?" when he needed to be asking the question "What must I do in orderto become what I should be?" His character is not a fixed preexistent thing,but something that he has the responsibility for making: thats why the Greekscalled it character, "that which is engraved." Its also what the Germans meanwhen they speak of Bildung, and the Harry Potter books are of course amultivolume Bildungsroman - a story of "education," that is to say, ofcharacter formation.In this sense the strong tendency of magic to become a dream of power - onthe importance of this point Lynn Thorndike, Keith Thomas, and C. S.Lewis all agree - makes it a wonderful means by which to focus the themeof Bildung, of the choices that gradually but inexorably shape us into certaindistinct kinds of persons. Christians are perhaps right to be wary of an overlypositive portrayal of magic, but the Harry Potter books dont do that: in themmagic is often fun, often surprising and exciting, but also always potentiallydangerous.And so, it should be said, is the technology that has resulted from the victoryof experimental science. Perhaps the most important question I could ask myChristian friends who mistrust the Harry Potter books is this: is your concernabout the portrayal of this imaginary magical technology matched by aconcern for the effects of the technology that in our world displaced magic?The technocrats of this world hold in their hands powers almost infinitelygreater than those of Albus Dumbledore and Voldemort: how worried are weabout them, and their influence over our children? Not worried enough, Iwould say. As Ellul suggests, the task for us is "the measuring of technique byother criteria than those of technique itself," which measuring he also calls"the search for justice before God." Joanne Rowlings books are more helpfulthan most in prompting such measurement. They are also - and lets not forgetthe importance of this point - a great deal of fun.
Alan Jacobs is Professor of English at Wheaton College.Copyright 2000 First ThingsUsed by permission.Subscribe to the magazine: FIRST THINGShttp://www.hp-lexicon.org/essays/essay-harry-potters-magic.htmlhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_in_Harry_Potterhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_spells_in_Harry_Potterhttp://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Magichttp://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/British_Ministry_of_Magic