Academic journal article Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature

Is Harry Potter Christian?

Academic journal article Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature

Is Harry Potter Christian?

Article excerpt

   "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we tried to 
   prevent him because he does not follow in our company." Jesus said, "Do not 
   prevent him, for whoever is not against you is for you." --Luke 9.49-50 

IN 1961 Samuel Taylor Coleridge's remains were moved from Highgate Cemetery in London to a church close to where he had lived for some years before dying in 1834. Among the dignitaries present were admirers Agatha Christie and T. S. Eliot. Eliot, once asked to write a brief blurb on the earlier poet's life, began it, "As a child, S. T. Coleridge read The Arabian Nights." Coleridge's letters recall how those Middle Eastern tales about beggars and jinns, terrified sailors, and rocks as big as hills had excited his childish imagination. One might even suspect a distant source for "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." So Eliot was hinting that a schoolboy's wide-eyed flipping of pages in the 1780s had proved a seminal event in all of British Romanticism. The role of the child's imagination also fascinated Coleridge's contemporaries William Blake and William Wordsworth. Seeds, of both flowers and weeds, are planted early. In planning his and Wordsworth's 1798 Literary Ballads, Coleridge said that his own poems intended to explore a preternatural world to show how commonplace were the truths lying behind it, "so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth, sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith" (Biographia 168-69). Wordsworth's poems were to do the opposite, "to give the charm of novelty to things of every day," to reveal the marvel lying behind what we take for granted in daily life, the dew on morning grass, the stars reflected on midnight ice beneath one's skates. Indeed, Coleridge came to see the child's imagination as the origin of all artistic creativity:

   To find no contradiction in the union of old and new, to contemplate the 
   Ancient of Days and all his works with feelings as fresh as if all had then 
   sprang forth at the first creative fiat, characterizes the mind that feels 
   the riddle of the world and may help to unravel it. To carry on the 
   feelings of childhood into the powers of manhood; to combine the child's 
   sense of wonder and novelty with the appearances which every day for 
   perhaps forty years had rendered familiar ... this is the character and 
   privilege of genius. (Biographia 49) 

Historically the early nineteenth century was the beginning in the English language world of "children's literature" as such (as opposed to essentially adult works like Gulliver's Travels or Robinson Crusoe). Charles Lamb, one of Coleridge's closest friends, wrote a children's version of Shakespeare's plays; Coleridge's gifted daughter Sara wrote poems for children; in the next generation would come Lewis Carroll, Beatrix Potter, Thomas Hughes, and many others.

Today thirty-five year old British novelist J. K. Rowling writes in this Romantic tradition. (1) Her Harry Potter series has become a phenomenon in the United States. In terms of plot the series is complex. Currently it has reached four books in its quest for a final seven; eleven years of age in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry will therefore be seventeen in the last volume. Presumably that will be in relatively few years from now, though since the early books were in the vicinity of 300 pages and the fourth is 734, one can only hope this. Rowling's is, then, a large imaginative structure, one whose general outline she has had in mind from the beginning, and which when completed may prove a worthy successor to J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia.

There, however, is the rub. As everyone except most of her young readers knows, controversy swirls in some quarters. …

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