For the Love of God, Bless Harry Potter and My Home Sweet Home

3 08 2007

So Daryl blogged a Harry Potter-phobic letter to the editor, the thrust of which was that because we Americans enjoy and celebrate Rowlings’ creation, God will let the terrorists win.

Considering that the whole world loves Harry Potter, it’s not clear why the fellow believes his omniscient Christian God would punish only Americans for it.

Newsweek’s “BeliefWatch” for August 6 debunks this Dobson-derivative take on Deuteronomy, saying that Harry Potter stands revealed as a Christlike figure, far from the servant of Satan that fundamentalists more literal than literate once damned him for being. Thus the letter-writer seems damned ignorant about the real power of story, both in Rowlings’ books and books of the bible.


And I don’t think it’s just Harry Potter and the Christian bible that this poor fellow doesn’t get, it’s everything! — doesn’t he sound more like these real world, ultra-orthodox middle eastern leaders self-sealed away from modern human life and culture, than like a normal mom-and-apple-pie American in 2007?

“We do not have to be drawn like apes, following the rest of the world in a sub-culture of this kind, and certainly not while violating our holy Sabbath”. . . Trade and industry minister Eli Yishai, of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, said that the [Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows] launch party was “a blatant violation of employment law, which prohibits work on the Sabbath.”

. . .Most Orthodox Jews in Israel live in closed communities, often without television or radio, refraining from any contact with the secular world and its culture.

Speaking of apes, the Newsweek issue proclaiming Harry Potter to be more divine than demonic actually has a huge black African gorilla on the cover, as art for power of story about “the world’s magnificent animals” facing “new threats of extinction.” C.S. Lewis made an ape into an instrument of human estrangement from their own goodness in “The Last Battle.” I think Rowling’s genius is to see humans as carrying both hope and fear, both good and evil, to see us as magnificent, and animals, and facing new threats of extinction — to realize our ancient songs and stories need to be understood in progressively evolving ways, for anyone to win anything worth living or dying for.

“Make her victorious on land and foam . . .” went the original 1918 lyric for “God Bless America” by this Siberian immigrant who wrote it while in the U.S. Army. But he shelved it; he was sensitive enough as a lowbrow entertainer (not an educator, politician, theologian or foreign policy expert) to understand that during the trench warfare of World War I, appealing for righteous might to kill one’s ideological enemies wasn’t quite light-hearted enough for musical comedy.

He left it for a couple of decades, forgot about it until world war loomed again in 1938. Berlin then revised it to be more “peace song” than soul-sucking anthem of bloodthirsty religious triumph on the battlefield, and it fit the times well enough to be an instant pop culture ENTERTAINMENT hit and we’re not talking Christian rock.

How do you suppose real-world power of story is different between Berlin’s popular music for the stage and Rowling’s popular books for the age, to this letter-writer’s god? Deuteronomy is silent on that point, I believe.

(Deuteronomy was, by the way used as an old animal character’s name by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, in “Cats” — musical power of story in turn based on T. S. Eliot’s poetry.
Should we blame these divinely creative humans along with Rowling then, as encoded evil helping the terrorists win?)

Hardly. Our best entertainers and artists in any era help us conjure our own Patronus against the universally human fear of the dark. In the same brilliant way and with the same multicultural savvy as Irving Berlin, JK Rowling has written for our times, about terrorism and world war, xenophobia, religious fanaticism, good versus evil, the corruption of power and the will to resist it for something larger than ourselves.

Love. Overcoming. All. Not likely anyone’s god would frown on that. . .

Her transcendent theme for our age may be neither witchcraft worship nor divine self-sacrifice, so much as the the ultimate terrorists, the amoral dementors (like this fellow in Daryl’s newspaper??) ready to suck all hope and happiness from us and — if we aren’t strong enough to resist — destroy the human soul itself.

(Even culturally isolated ultra-orthodox hardliners contribute a powerful lyric now and then — right, we do NOT have to be drawn into war like apes!)

Take for example this (serious, not entertaining) Foreign Policy interview, “Seven Questions: Harry Potter and the Underestimated Prime Minister.” I am not suggesting we worship it (heaven forbid!) but in every way I can think of — and trust me, that’s a lot! –Rowling’s Harry Potter is philosophically complex, real-world power of story for our times.

What best fits the third millennium then, as moral power of story for peace and brotherhood among the most magnificent animals on Earth? Fragments of 3,000- year old political and moral teachings rendered for the tribal mystic meme, or power of story enriched by that AND all the millennia and memes since then, to become art and literature transcending the meaning of war itself?

Berlin lived a full century, almost long enough to experience nine-eleven and the global appeal of Harry Potter’s power of story. If he had lived another few years, would he have revised his American peace song again, to fit this third world war?

Or maybe we can do it for ourselves. Maybe all “God Bless America” needs is for us to hear it with third-millennium ears ,with post-Harry Potter understanding, to emphasize the word LOVE that’s right there in the middle of it already, to hum not the title about God and country fighting to win, but the last phrase of this enduringly popular piece of entertainment, to keep the dementors of any era at bay and ourselves out of their prisons — “my home sweet home.”



18 responses

3 08 2007

For some literal-minded Christians maybe Harry Potter’s fictional truths are uncomfortably real rather than uncomfortably not? Like the fiction that young earth Creation Museums are real and true, the real trouble comes when you try to choose only one story as true and therefore have to lie to tell it.

Humans really aren’t made that way, whatever you believe about how we got here. (This story comes with video.)

EXTENSION OF REALITY at New York’s American Museum of Natural History . . .a museum show looks at the all-too-human impulse to embellish nature. . .

Co-curator Laurel Kendall says she considers this collection of cultural artifacts, bones and theatrical renditions of imaginary animals a continuation of the museum’s exhibits on human evolution—a testament to “the unique ability of humans to tell stories, to exaggerate.”

. . .The museum says the exhibit, which is slated to go on a world tour after it closes in New York on Jan. 6, has been a rousing success. In the peak summer period, about 300,000 people stream through the museum each month, and the $21 tickets for this exhibit usually sell out every day by early afternoon. And why wouldn’t they? In the age of Harry Potter and Eragon, what could be more enticing to families traipsing the hot streets of the city than looking at unicorns and dragons in air-conditioned comfort?

Of course, the show does at times seem to pander to a topic that is popular and lucrative. After all, visitors are funneled out past the Chinese dragon into a slickly designed gift shop brimming with Disney mermaids and Harry Potter figurines. Not to worry: after navigating the trinkets, you wind up in a spectacular sunlit hall of dinosaurs, where their massive bones belittle all of our imaginations.

5 08 2007
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[…] thinking about this as it connects to creative truth and literal lies. Maybe a better anthem than God Bless America for […]

5 08 2007

Harry Potter as god-pleasing peace and non-violence:

Throughout the Harry Potter series, when Jo Rowling’s hero raises his wand in anger or defense against an evil witch or wizard, he habitually uses non-lethal curses and charms. . . .

Ms. Rowling gives us plenty of examples where his judiciousness helps to win hearts and minds which assist him down the road. And, quite aside from the karmic pragmatism of Harry’s tactics, they have the incalculable benefit of allowing him to retain the “purity of his soul” . . .

Neoconservative bellicosity has been comprehensively discredited as a strategy for pacifying, and it has thoroughly undermined America’s moral standing among foes and allies alike. . . Perhaps the tactics of expelliarmus! and protego! need to be better studied by political scientists and defense analysts. Indeed, the beatified General David H. Petraeus pays heed to a similar approach in his 2006 revision of the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, which advocates limitations on the use of force, in order to bolster credibility and respect within the native civilian populations who will ultimately have to chose whether to foster or reject the enemy insurgents.

The Potter Principle may be the path through the darkness . . .

9 08 2007

From a TODAY producer whose family survived September 11 in NYC:
“I also came to crave the message, and to believe that these are, in fact, the quintessential books of our time, a sort of moral compass in an age of terror.

9 08 2007

Humans as animals (magnificent or not!) in war and peace —

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[…] For the love of God, bless Harry Potter and my home sweet home: I don’t think it’s just Harry Potter and the Christian bible that this poor fellow doesn’t get, it’s everything! — doesn’t he sound more like these real world, ultra-orthodox middle eastern leaders self-sealed away from modern human life and culture, than like a normal mom-and-apple-pie American. . .? […]

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