Friday, March 09, 2012

Harry Potter and Magic—The Best I Have Read on This

By Alan Jacobs, of course, from the January, 2000, First Things. His last two paragraphs follow, but you really ought to read the whole thing.
In this sense the strong tendency of magic to become a dream of power—on the importance of this point Lynn Thorndike, Keith Thomas, and C. S. Lewis all agree—makes it a wonderful means by which to focus the theme of Bildung, of the choices that gradually but inexorably shape us into certain distinct kinds of persons. Christians are perhaps right to be wary of an overly positive portrayal of magic, but the Harry Potter books don’t do that: in them magic is often fun, often surprising and exciting, but also always potentially dangerous.
And so, it should be said, is the technology that has resulted from the victory of experimental science. Perhaps the most important question I could ask my Christian friends who mistrust the Harry Potter books is this: is your concern about the portrayal of this imaginary magical technology matched by a concern for the effects of the technology that in our world displaced magic? The technocrats of this world hold in their hands powers almost infinitely greater than those of Albus Dumbledore and Voldemort: how worried are we about them, and their influence over our children? Not worried enough, I would say. As Ellul suggests, the task for us is “the measuring of technique by other criteria than those of technique itself,” which measuring he also calls “the search for justice before God.” Joanne Rowling’s books are more helpful than most in prompting such measurement. They are also—and let’s not forget the importance of this point—a great deal of fun.

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