MAY / JUNE 2013: BY CHARITY BISHOP
According to British author J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter was an idea floating on a train. She certainly didn’t expect her series about a boy wizard to become a phenomenon but after reading the books, it’s not difficult to see why it’s become the best-selling series of the 21st century. It’s unique in that many of its readers grew up right along with the hero! They started in grade school when the first book was released and finished as young adults. Rowling’s books reflect that increasing sense of self-awareness, realization that life is precious and doesn’t revolve around you, and awareness of death that all children face as they grow up. For an adult, it’s a charming look on innocence and childhood; for a child, a gradual introduction to life and death through magical experiences. Like many other good children’s authors, Rowling doesn’t shy away from mature and serious topics such as racism, genocide, evil in all its forms (from petty bullies like Draco to the death-dealing Voldemort, to the cold, abusive, controlling Delores Umbridge), and death.
From the beginning, death is present in the story; Harry’s parents die protecting him from a murderous adversary. Gradually, Rowling lets her reader experience loss through death, first in a classmate, then in a mentor, and finally in beloved characters and friends. In the process, the reader slowly comes to understand that good things are worth fighting for, even if it means giving up your life… as Harry does in the last book when he exchanges his life for everyone else’s, fully fulfilling the series’ ongoing scriptural principle of sacrificial love overcoming death.
Controversy rages over the messages of the books; critics are quick to condemn the habitual lies and rule-breaking of its main characters (while overlooking the serious consequences) while many religious groups express concern over the magic. But Rowling famously said she can’t enter a room with a Narnia book in it without picking it up and reading it. And her books do contain many “Narnian” tributes and parallels, from the red and gold lion emblem of Gryffindor (Aslan) to a sacrificial death that leads to Harry Potter’s resurrection.
Hogwarts isn’t a unique idea, but her approach to the magical world is full of such creativity and enthusiasm that it draws her readers in and makes them truly excited to meet her remarkable cast of characters. From the mysterious, sinister Professor Snape, who begins the series seen through the eyes of the children as a force of evil and by the end is revealed to be a hero, to the plucky know-it-all Hermione and her busy hair, to Neville and his exploding plants, to the redheaded Ron and his troublemaking older twin brothers, to Harry himself, once we know them, we never want to forget them.
The formula for each installment is simple to the very end, yet the author’s cleverness keeps us reading and rereading. She plants small seeds in earlier books that point to big revelations later on. Not all her ideas work, and the stories can be tedious in places, but throughout is a funny, wonderful blend of mythology, tongue in cheek references to European history (like the witch who had herself burned at the stake hundreds of times, for fun), and charm that lingers with us long after we turn off the light and dream of flying post-it notes in the Ministry of Magic.
I was an adult before I first went to Hogwarts. Like many others, I was curious about the books that created such a fuss in the Christian community. I never imagined they’d define my young adult years in such significant ways, or that I’d come to love them more than almost any other book series. I became a “Potterhead” four books in, which let me spend many hours with friends debating unanswered questions, fearing who might not make it to the last chapter, and awaiting future novels. My experience taught me that you’re never too old to open a book “written for children.” C.S. Lewis, her inspiration, understood that, and Rowling does too. And it’s comforting to think, as Rowling says, that no matter what, “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.” ♥
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charity Bishop would dearly love to spend all her free time mulling over, theorizing, and philosophizing on the vast spiritual / moral lessons of cinema and Victorian literature, but alas, she must make a living, so her days are spent doing editorial work. She devotes her free time to babysitting her bipolar cat, writing books, blogging, and searching for spiritual truth in all aspects of life… when she isn’t editing Femnista!