Saturday, July 14, 2007
MYSTERY, COMMUNITY AND HARRY POTTER
I was at a Theology on Tap talk Thursday night during which Mike Hayes, our speaker and author of the new book “Googling God,” pointed out that Generation X’ers and Millennials tend to want two different experiences out of religion and/or spirituality. Gen X (people born between 1963 and 1980) crave a sense of community. Millennials (born after 1980) yearn for mystery. I believe that statistic may explain the popularity of the Harry Potter franchise – especially the new film “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” - with people of all ages. “Harry” offers viewers/readers both community and mystery.
The mystery of course involves magic and the supernatural forces that allow the witches and wizards in this fantasy story to perform all kinds of spells. Much like the Christian view of the world, there is more going on around us than meets the eye or can be explained through science.
As author Nancy Brown, an orthodox Catholic who homeschools her children, says in her new book THE MYSTERY OF HARRY POTTER: A CATHOLIC FAMILY GUIDE, “The strongest argument to be made in defense of the ‘other world’ setting of Harry Potter is our Catholic faith. As believers, we too believe in another world…a world where we can know about things others don't, a world in which we can link to people ‘beyond the veil,’ a world right alongside the natural world, called the supernatural world…Skeptics in our own world “see” things too: miracles, prayers answered, people attending church on a regular basis, the faithful relying on God for help; it doesn’t fit in with what they want to understand, and they ignore the evidence, often explaining events as the result of an overactive imagination.”
The shared knowledge of the supernatural world fosters a sense of community in the Harry Potter universe, especially in “Order of the Phoenix.” There’s nothing like a little persecution to bring people together. That’s exactly what happens when the governmental watchdogs in the Ministry of Magic refuse to believe that the Dark Lord Voldemort has returned to destroy everything that’s good in the world. Despite evidence to the contrary, they prefer to live in ignorant bliss. After all, life is good and prosperous. How could there possibly be an unseen danger that threatens them?
Harry and his schoolmates, realizing their lives are in danger, want to learn how to defend themselves. But the Ministry sends the sweetly prim-and-proper tyrant Dolores Umbridge to their school in order to clamp down on any unrest. Despite her gender, Dolores is a “company man” in the worst sense of the term.
Harry and friends band together anyway to learn spells that can help them fight “the Dark Arts.” Their secret meetings and common goal forge a bond between them that goes deeper than anything they’ve experienced before. Through commitment, trust and friendship, their spirit of community becomes a force to be reckoned with much like Tolkien’s “fellowship” in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
That fellowship and love for his family & friends is also what drives Harry to make the right choices. Harry is a complex hero who frequently struggles with the darkness inside himself especially in his final battle with Voldemort in “Order of the Phoenix.” It’s a struggle we all go through at various points in our lives. Do we follow the path of least resistance and give into our darker impulses? Or do we choose to follow “the better angels of our nature” even when it involves some form of sacrifice? When we in the non-fictional world have family, friends, and a God who loves and supports us, it gives us a better chance of choosing the right path.
That’s a message that author Nancy Brown clearly saw when she examined the stories. She writes, “Harry Potter isn’t about magic. Harry Potter is about people: who we are, what we’re on earth for, why we do good and fight evil, and how we make choices?”
For that reason, “Harry Potter” will continue to resonate with people of all faiths and all ages.