Sunday, July 15, 2007

Harry Potter

And now on the lighter side....

Ah summertime, it allowed me the chance to see a movie Thursday at 1:10pm. It was me, an 80 foot screen and six other people. I made the brilliant decision to have a "kids snack pack" for only $23 instead of the adult equivalent popcorn and drink, which was about $26 dollars.

WILD ABOUT HARRY

There's been boatloads of print (real and cyberish) on the so-called blessing and curse of the Harry Potter sensation, now nearly a decade long and going strong. The 5th movie opened this Wednesday at the witching hour, midnight.

The first book in the series by J. K. Rowling "apparated" in the late 90's and took the genre of children's literature by storm. "This is unheard of," the literati exclaimed. "Children are reading on purpose! And these books have so many pages! WHA'S HAPPENIN'?!!"

The first of the films materialized, I believe, in 2001.... and the literati said "Oh no! Now they'll just wait for the movie! The renaissance of reading is over!"

But alas, the kids didn't just sit on their butts playing video games, waiting for each new novel to be cinema-ized. They lined up at midnight outside of Border's and that other bookstore and wore hip wizarding gear. And then they READ all 967 pages before dawn the next day! And then they sat on their butts and played video games.

Now, unless you've just stumbled out of the woods and discovered the "media," you know that this series about young wizards and witchs in training, who attend a School for the Magically Gifted, has become a real stumbling block for many. It's about magic, it's got spells in it, and creepy Dark Lords, and murder and ghosts and stuff.

In the Catholic Church, we find a mixed bag of believers. Some think Potter is a murky distraction from the clear path of virtue, right and wrong, good and evil. Others think that even in the murkiness there is much that kids can learn and grow from, even as Harry grows older and we hope wiser with each new installment in the series (the final chapter being released this July 21.) Harry's life and his choices help kids in the real world as they fuddle through the feelings that young muggles muddle through (that was really fun to write).

All in all, it's complicated stuff. On July 24th, we'll be talking about it in greater depth on the radio show, the Heart of Things. (Tuesdays, 5-6PM @ 800AM or www.catholicinternetradio.com)

I have to say here and now that my own perspective on Mr. Potter is changing a wee bit. Now I've only read the first book and selections of a couple of others, and I've seen the film versions. I've also read a bunch of pro and con articles on Harry. I thought the idea of Magic as this neutral power the kids could tap into to control others was a bit dangerous at first; still do in some ways. I get annoyed when Harry and Co. consistently break the rules and work it all out in the end. And maybe someone can post their thoughts here, but what is the goal of this School for Witches and Wizards? What is the mission of a wizard/witch when he/she grows up? It's not exactly a superhero thing is it; to fight for truth and justice and defend the defenseless?

Their powers seem a little too self-serving to me. Is the attraction for kids the ability to make things float, become invisible, fly around on a broomstick, and get revenge on those who pester them? If that's it, well, then I can see how that's a pretty normal desire that every kid feels at some point. When I was young, it wasn't so much that I wanted to defend the city of Metropolis from the bad guys as it was to have the powers that Superman had.

Anti-Potters say that the books stir up an interest in the occult and witchcraft. I don't think well formed, grounded kids will want to become witches, BUT this is a problem. Because although this is fiction, there are witches in this world. Wicca is a real pagan practice and a well researched study of it will draw up some disturbing discoveries. On the flip side, there are no covens for those coveting Superman's powers. There is no literature on how to master the art of leaping over buildings in a single bound, or deflecting bullets with your chest. I think that's a key distinction. Kids can dabble in witchcraft if they wanted to, on the internet and many bookstores, but you won't find many gatherings of little caped wonders trying to overcome their fear of kryptonite.

Witchcraft and wands, spells and sorcery can be confusing and misleading for kids, for we need clear lines in our symbols and mythic elements, don't we? Traditionally and scripturally, witches and sorcery have been associated with the human desire to access divine powers and control them, to know and manipulate the future. To dominate another's will. This is not our task as human beings. We've got to let go and let God.

But to get back to these novels..... I'm discovering that it's merely a tool for Rowling, and there's seems to be no clear agenda to get kids interested in witchcraft. The heart of Harry Potter is indeed about power, but the question for each character is "what do I do with that which is given to me?"

It's a great question.

I'm watching Harry grow up and into a good kid. He loves and protects his friends, he often stands up for the marginalized. He respects honesty and truth. He hates evil. And in the swirling cauldron that is this young life, deep down he really wants to be good. He really does.

I haven't quite written a review here of the movie I saw Thursday, but let it be said that there are some real Christian themes running like a ribbon through this film. I could see it again.

A spoiler for those who haven't read the book.... At the end of the Order of the Phoenix, Harry comes to realize why he's been wrestling with anger so much, and feeling so out of sorts. He has a mental connection with the Dark Lord, and indeed the Lord Voldemort is worming his way into Harry's young heart. The words of his godfather, Sirius Black (who is one cool character I have to say), come back to Harry as he wrestles with this demonic possession in the climactic final minutes of the movie:

"Harry, there's no clear set of good people and bad people in the world. There's light and dark in all of us. What matters is which one you act on."

Now that sounds like St. Paul to me, on the inner war that we all must deal with. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the "heart has become a battlefield between good and evil."

Bearing down with the weight of his malice, Voldemort whispers "You are weak, and you will lose... everything."

But Harry wins, and not with a more powerful spell or potion, but with the Deeper Magic that made the world. In a moment of clarity, and pity, Harry shuffles off the Dark Lord, who vanishes in a puff of sand, with a simple word:

"You're the weak one. And you will never know love or friendship. And I feel sorry for you."


Now that's power.

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