2007/11/23

Belated and effusive praise

For a few weeks now, in every possible stolen moment, and to the thundering neglect of housework, exercise, and sometimes even of sleep, with a decades old irritation now expertly squelched at the interruptions of my reading, I have been reading the ubiquitous Harry Potter books. All seven have been published. There's now no wait between volumes for the reader, you see. I piled up all the candies into one pile, and I'm eating them all at one go.

And now I am nearly done with book seven, and I can't help myself. I must say it. Ms. Rowling, modern, living now, has taken the centuries of all the folklore and heroism and danger and ideals of loyalty and love and honor of all the tribes and peoples of the heathenish and Christianized British isles, and she has told the old story to us. The characters are real in the best sense of the word. The settings are visual and visceral and emotional. The chain of events and the explanations of the old magic and the connections between eras and peoples and fortunes - it all rings true. She's done it! Ms. Rowling has done it.

Did you think the days of the Story were gone for good and for aye? Did you think we could put the generations of listeners and bards behind us forever and use them as movie sets, huddled around fires in the wilderness? It's not true. God bless J. K. Rowling - and whoever the fortunate person was who must've read to her as a child.

From Beowulf to C. S. Lewis and his Inkling friend the great Tolkein, and from Picts and Scots to St. Joseph of Armithea and Simon Stock, the Story has survived. It lives. Harry Potter's story is the Story. And no one could be more surprised than I am to find it out.

2 comments:

Di said...

Yes. Yes. And Yes again. Doing the same thing myself over the past few weeks, and watching the films too. You've said it all .....

Douglas Bienert said...

I think the books are just brilliant.

I have a friend who has complained about how Harry sets a bad example by "breaking the rules" all the time with impunity.

But you know, it reminds me of a line from "A Separate Peace" by John Knowels when he says that Finnias "never loved the school more than when he was breaking the rules". This is true with Harry as well. He REALLY loves Hogwarts and goodness.

I think one of the problems is that rules for "normal behaviour" are often confused with immutable moral law. When I was in grade 5 (as I remember it) i was "walking fast" in order to get to chapel. I was lagging behind for some reason. The office lady stopped me for "running" and made me re"walk" the rout to chapel. Apparently I STILL walked too fast and she corrected me again, making me rewalk the whole hallway again even slower. (Is being late to chapel more or less offensive to God than walking too fast?) In frustration I believe I told her after the third walk down the hallway "I "was walking, not running". I then found myself in the office where she proceeded to lecture me forcefully on how I broke the rules- i was "running". Breaking the rules were all the same, she told me. Running in the hall and murder were the same to God. I was devastated. I hid in the bathroom crying. She then had the nerve to come into the boys bathroom- another mortification.

So, what of Harry's rule breaking than? Is it morally evil to exceed the speed limit to get a dying friend to the hospital? When Harry sneaks out past curfew it is usually because someone is in grave danger. When he uses unforgivable curses in moments of rage he feels shame and regret. Since these infractions often go undetected his compunction is from genuine remorse and guilt- not mere shame of getting caught. I find this a far stronger moral tale. The characters are more believable this way. It is a struggle to be genuinely brave and good. It is not a simple schoolboy breaks rules, gets caught, gets punished- see kids, just obey the rules! There are deeper issues. There is the difficult lesson that not all adults and authority figures can be trusted. However, when adult authority figures show consistent genuine concern for the students, like Dumbledore, Harry is willing to trust and obey when it seems counter productive to do so.

Harry Potter is clearly influenced by English Christian mythology. What a blessing to have the old story retold in such a fresh and joyful way!