Magic, Wonder and Harry Potter

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Harry
Potter, youthful student-wizard at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft
and Wizardry, has piloted his trusty broomstick into the popular
culture and public consciousness. He has brought with him some
magical friends, as well as fodder for debate on whether young minds
can be corrupted by stories about children casting spells that,
among other things, turn mice into snuffboxes.

As
usual, the party poopers are some conservative Christians (them
again) who think that anything associated with witches and magic
must be the work of the devil and yet another sign that Armageddon
is about to crash around our ears.

Since
I am an evangelical Christian as well as a political conservative,
I usually pay attention and often agree when conservative Christians
speak out. Still, I must part ways with those who see the visage
of Satan behind Harry's goofy spectacles and winsome grin. I believe
they have misplaced something which should be to Christians – of all
people – second-nature: their sense of wonder.

C.S.
Lewis, one of the most admired 20th century Christian
writers, wrote incisive and profound theological books for adults.
He also wrote such books for children. Only he didn't call them
theology books. He called them fairy tales. These were stories
of magic and wonder. Lewis believed that cultivating a sense of
wonder – of the possible hidden just behind the ordinary – was key to
a healthy view of oneself as related to the outer and inner worlds.

Today,
television, movies and books are replete with stories of u201Crealu201D
kids facing u201Crealu201D challenges. The realists among us (my son will
tell you that I, regrettably, am one more often than I need to be)
nod with approval that such stories teach children what life is
u201Creally like.u201D

Lewis,
ever insightful, was suspicious of such stories. He believed that
tales of triumphs in fanciful worlds were healthier than those of
successes in the real world. To him, the issue of the fanciful
tale was a continuing happiness of the imagination – while that of
the realistic story was the reader's discontent that he or she wasn't
the sports champion or the school hero and would likely remain that
way. Lewis believed that this was because realistic stories caused
readers to dwell on themselves, while fanciful stories caused them
to delight in imaginary possibilities.

Lewis
wrote that adult readers are also susceptible:

The
dangerous fantasy is always superficially realistic. The real victim
of wishful reverie does not [thrive] on the Odyssey, The
Tempest…: he (or she) prefers stories about millionaires, irresistible
beauties, posh hotels, palm beaches…things that really might happen,
that ought to happen, that would have happened if the reader had
had a fair chance. For, as I say, there are two kinds of longing.
The one is…a spiritual exercise, the other is a disease.

Lewis
further felt that fantasy stories got readers in touch with their
spiritual sides, and that good magic was a legitimate allegory for
the power of the Christian God. In one of Lewis's most-read stories,
u201CThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,u201D several typical English
youths find in their attic a portal to a magical world ruled by
the lion-king, Aslan, who typified Christ. Other Lewis stories
also convey the Christian message through the proxy of magic and
other fanciful ideas and characters.

Some
would say that using magic and witches to convey spiritual truths
is illegitimate; that the Bible itself condemns witches and their
work. But the Bible is clearly condemning the contacting and summoning
of the power of evil to do selfish bidding.

The
character of Harry Potter is nothing if not good and self-sacrificing.
He also recognizes, and does his best to resist, the pull of dark
magic. He is one of an honored series of youthful characters who
set the course to their destinies by confronting evil and choosing
good. For better or for worse, but mostly for better, they teach
our children.

For
me as a youth, my heroes and role models leapt and soared through
the slim, colorful pages of u201CSpider-Man,u201D u201CFantastic Fouru201D and u201CMighty
Thoru201D comic magazines. My mom called them u201Cthose funny-books.u201D
But to me they were conveyers of that delicious u201Cwhat-ifu201D feeling
of the nearly possible, the should-be possible, the maybe possible.
Their characters were superhuman, yet still human. They were people
like me, yet different in ways only supernatural. They were wonderful.
So perhaps, in another world, I could be, too.

Sheer
fancy? Maybe not. The need for wonder is, I believe, God-given,
and is meant to lead us to something. The Bible says that u201Ceye
has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of
man the things which God has prepared for those who love him.u201D
So who can say what is possible?

Harry
and his friends – in their earnest, brave and magical manner – perhaps
give us some clues.

December
19, 2001

Gary
Bourque [send him mail]
is a writer in San Luis Obispo, California.

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