Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Taking the heat for Harry

I received today the first negative response to what I felt was an even-handed but ultimately positive in a qualified sense review of Nancy Carpentier Brown's book on Harry Potter. I'm sticking to my guns, though. Pasted below is my emailed response to this kind letter writer:

Dear T-----,

Thank you for your e-mail. I appreciate and respect your comments regarding my review of Nancy Carpentier Brown's book. As I said in the review, and as Brown said in her book, good people are of many minds when it comes to Harry Potter. Given this fact, I tried to be as even-handed as possible in my review. Please note that I didn't agree completely with Brown. In fact, at the end of my review, I strongly reject her thesis that the books are a Christian morality tale. Thus, it would be incorrect to say I put my unqualified stamp of approval on her books or on the Harry Potter series. In an attempt to be even-handed, in fact, I spent half the review not only mentioning, but actually giving quotations from people who feel strongly that the books are harmful. Thus, I feel I gave plenty of space to those who disagree with my view that, as Brown put it, "...there are still truths in it to be discovered, and no reason why you can't discover them."

Your email, though, deals with the view of Father Machado that the books are dangerous for their elements of witchcraft. As I wrote in the last paragraph, good people are of many minds. In his even-handed treatment of the books -- in fact the best analysis I've seen to date -- in the most recent edition of the National Catholic Register, Father Alfonso Aguilar, LC, cites another well-known exorcist, Father Jose Antonio Fortea as saying, "They are merely literary fantasies in the manner of stories that have existed in Europe since the Middle Ages. I am neither in favor of condemning nor prohibiting them. To me, they are just unobjectionable stories." Father Aguilar's full article can be found here: http://ncregister.com/site/article/3663/ Father Macado's insistence that the incantations are real seems a little overwrought to me. Like Rowling, I earned my degree in classics; I enjoy the simple, silly Latin phrases that take the place of real incantations. "Expecto patronum," for example, simply means "Come, friend," while "Lumos" comes from the word for light, and therefore conjurs up light. Just because magic is used doesn't mean Wicca is promoted. As I wrote in my review, are we to throw out Jack and the Magic Beanstalk as well? Note that the one magical element most condemned by the Church, divination, is ridiculed throughout the book.

However, the one thing you said in your email that bothered me most was your questioning of whether a Presbyterian author has anything of value to say to Catholics. Why can't a Protestant say something of value? While I am certainly not equating Rowling with them, Protestant authors from Milton to Lewis have said things of lasting value and are worthy of our attention. I choose to review books not because they are written by Catholics, but for one of two reasons: (1) I find them of excellent literary or religious merit with the potential to be spiritually uplifting to the paper's readers; or (2) they have impacted our culture in such a way that to ignore them would be to live in a box. I chose to review Brown's book for the latter reason. To ignore the Harry Potter phenomenon, in my opinion, would be living in a box.

In Christ,

Franz Klein
Staff Writer, The Catholic Times
(608) 788-1524, ext. 5

1 comment:

Nancy C. Brown said...

Dear Franz,
Thank you for reviewing my book, and for taking the heat, of which I myself have also had plenty.

I hope my message that I believe they are hidden Christian morality tales was clear. Certainly there is not much overtly Christian in them. However, Rowling's beliefs play into her tale.

And despite the fact that I wrote the book, none of the Potter detractors seem to realize that I didn't self-publish, a fact I find curiously missing from much of the "heat" put upon this book.

Thanks again,