July 19, 2004
Making Peace with Potter
Martin E. Marty
This Sightings is sent as a message in a bottle, floated from Washington Island, Wisconsin, where I am co-leading a retreat. Distant from most media stimuli, I did my sighting of a book, John Granger's Looking for God in Harry Potter (Tyndale). Reading it may have seemed a strange choice for two reasons: 1) Tyndale publishes the Left Behind books, which I would rather leave behind. 2) Harry Potter is not on my "to read" list, a fact of which I am not proud; I simply have not developed a taste for fantasy, not in J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, or others.
However, Janis Harris, a retreatant here this week and Granger's Tyndale editor, handed me a copy. [She's also a new friend, so I reveal my interest.] At once I went looking in it, not for God, though Granger finds God throughout Harry Potter, but to see how he handled a theme that is controversial among Tyndale constituencies. They published in the face of some evangelicals and fundamentalists who blast Rowling for contributing to witchcraft, Satanism, and other lures. Most critics show little evidence of having read the books, something they and I have in common.
First off, Granger himself is not only orthodox but Orthodox, as in Greek Orthodox. The names of some of the seven Granger children (and thus seven more Rowling readers) give that away: Sophia, Methodios, Anastasia, and Zossima. Dr. Granger's acknowledgements, references, and footnotes also give him away: he is a college teacher, serious scholar, and alumnus of the University of Chicago.
The publisher must have been a bit edgy at first, for he or she prefaces the book with a note of creative apology, hoping that such a book as Granger's will promote discussion and serve "as a bridge to growth in faith and spiritual understanding." The author prefaces with an explanation of how he shifted his stance from "alarm to approval" after he carefully read the books. He found that most attacks by Christian would-be book-banners and book-burners evidenced bias and lack of information.
You Rowling readers who do not bring such prejudices to her work may not agree with all of Granger's interpretations of the Christian clues, which to me now look so obvious they might as well be on billboards. Some claims from the book's chapter titles include: "The 'sorcery' in Harry Potter supports biblical teaching, not practice of the occult;" "Harry's adventures take him through life, death, and resurrection;" "The story cycles are built on the stages of transformation;" "The mystery of death meets the ultimate answer;" and "The symbols in Potterdom are powerful pointers to Christian reality."
While I reserve the right to continue to dismiss the apocalyptic Left Behind novels from Tyndale, this exercise in reading Granger showed me once again that, when I read books like this from the evangelical camp, I also, on occasion, have to shift my attitude "from alarm to approval."
Maybe parents who wanted to roast Rowling might now toast her and give her novels a second, or, for those who condemned her without reading, a first, chance.