I watched the new Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and predictably liked it. Though I have not read any of the books, I have watched all of the films and found them very enjoyable. I am a sucker for the fantastic and the epic, and the Potter films allow me to indulge my escapist, romantic soul, as I like to visit alternate worlds that are more interesting in various respects than our own. That the Potter films are a multifilm series makes such an experience even more enjoyable. For after being introduced to a fascinating, new world, one can visit it multiple times and learn ever more about it. In addition to the awe felt before the wondrously new, one also feels the pleasure of the beloved and the familiar. It is a welcome combination.
After seeing a movie, I like to read the critics’ reviews. I thus found Matt Brunson, who wrote that the Potter series has held up more in quality than any other series larger than a trilogy. I agree, and this continued level of quality allows for the previously mentioned joy in revisiting the world of Harry, Hogwarts, and his friends. Consider the pain that a geeky fan experiences when he suffers through unworthy sequels. Of course, he watches the lesser films because he so craves the thrill of being able to enter once again the looking glass (or the wardrobe or the star gate). However, Hollywood often cares more for money than quality, and the movie studios will milk a franchise after the teats have withered and gone dry. Fans should not have to witness such an indignity toward their beloved fantasy worlds.
Speaking of series larger than a trilogy, not many come to mind. Brunson offers Dirty Harry as a fitting second to our young, magical Harry. Otherwise, there is Star Wars, of which the prequels are unworthy. There is Star Trek, the quality of which varies widely depending on the film. Only the first Alien (perhaps the second, as well) was good. James Bond has several duds, as Brunson notes. The teen horror franchises are so awful that they do not deserve mention.
Looking forward, I hope that the Chronicles of Narnia movies hold up as well as the Harry Potter films. The series has a similar advantage to the Potter films in that it is also based on books rather than on the acquisitive desires of movie moguls. Maybe, such is the crucial difference.
Back to Potter . . . As for the cultural significance and effect of the books and movies, I do not share the worry about witchcraft that many Christians have expressed. I have read several articles that attempt to distinguish the “acceptable” fantasy of Tolkien and Lewis from the “harmful” fantasy of Rowling. Some people give Tolkien and Lewis a pass for being Christians. Well, so is Rowling (though we might argue about the qualifying merits of Presbyterians to claim any religious status). Others hold that the fictional worlds of Tolkien and Lewis are other worlds, while Rowling’s occurs in the hidden midst (and hidden mist) of modern Britain. Yet, Middle Earth is clearly meant to be ancient earth, and Lewis’ Narnia and Space Trilogy stories occur in the context of the real world. The Pevensie children are English kids who travel to another world. Where is the “separation” that makes Narnia acceptable? Lewis gave us a wardrobe; Rowling offers a train ride. In both, the fantastic exists alongside our mundane existence. Still others mention that we ought not suffer a witch to live. Such is an issue in semantics. For it is not clear how Istari power and elven wisdom differ from witchcraft, unless one assumes that witchcraft is the manipulation of natural power without any respect of nature’s ends. However, such critics would then find the entire modern, Cartesian world unacceptable. I doubt the consistency of such Rowling haters.
Nevertheless, I find other elements of the Potter series objectionable—namely, its occasional Leftist values and vision, though I recognize that any popular, contemporary product will likely be tainted with the unpleasant odor of our decadent Zeitgeist. The worst example of this is the sustained depiction of the elite, the wealthy, the refined, and the “pure blooded” as evil and objectionable. Consider, for example, the depiction of the Malfoys. Rowling appears to be another example of Britain’s postwar Marxism, where aristocrats and prestige are despised as agents and symbols of injustice and oppression.
Concerning vice and evil, I think that one would more easily find them in the council estates. Yet, what is probability to Leftists? Stereotypes are not indications of truth or of partisan allegiance for them; rather, bigoted depictions are merely strategic instruments in the Left’s attempt to “control the narrative” of the culture wars.
Nonetheless, I pardon Rowling for her Leftist follies. The good aspects of her stories outweigh the bad, as she consistently extols the virtues and upholds the good in an intelligent and morally insightful manner. In Rowling’s world, life offers us choices, and those choices determine the range of our future choices and ultimately our characters—and ourselves. Moreover, Rowling does appreciate and celebrate a nobility of the spirit. Harry is a hero for what he does, and Rowling offers him as a model to be emulated. It is heartening that Rowling makes plenty of space for greatness. Furthermore, Harry is a boy with an inherited legacy. How Leftist can the egalitarian Rowling be when family, history, friendship, and character all have a place in our moral landscape? Perhaps, she is a traditionalist, after all, who simply cannot get completely over her class animosity.
As I repeatedly write, The Onion is goofily brilliant. Check out the recent video on the Onion News Network, “New Live Poll Allows Pundits to Pander to Viewers in Real Time.”
I remember reading somewhere how abhorrent public polling in general and “focus groups” in particular are to the value of truth for a society. Our public intellectuals get to be public by pandering to the lies and illusions of the masses and by spoonfeeding their own pet lies and illusions to the masses, with the former often planted and harvested by the latter. The essay contrasted our adulation of opinion with the Socratic quest to see the world as it really is.
Eliot’s poetic lines are oft mentioned with good reason; they recognize a sad fact of the world.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Such is life. At least, we have Onionesque derision as cruel consolation for the maladies of men.