[My apologies and prayers for everyone in southern California and north Georgia: this whole discussion must sound disagreeably irrelevant to you: May the Lord's graceful rain fall gently upon you, and bring solace to your forests and your land.]
Hey, everyone, (note the element of fatigue and cheerful aggravation) I did not get in this to argue about Dumbledore with the fandom. The blogosphere sounds like a bunch of angry villagers at a certain lightning-prone laboratory -- especially if one is attempting to steer a course via media.
I am neither endorsing Harry or condemning him. His books were entertaining, but I would not go to the Rowling texts to pan for nuggets of meaning. That would be like forcing poor Bertie Wooster into some loopy postmodern theory, or -- worse -- a special session at the MLA walpurgisnacht shindig.
I'll wager that at the Chicago MLA Convention at the end of this December, there will be more than one presentation on Rowling that focuses on some sort of faddish theory found hidden in her pages.
One goes to great books for meaning. One finds symbols in literature: metaphors are not all that hard. Heavens, even I can make a metaphor. But a real symbol is a hard thing to make, and takes greatness. Symbols make for great literature. Entertaining books are fun, and a lot better than video games and virtual reality, but it's a stretch to call them "meaningful."
It's true that I don't like it that JK said that the "father figure" is gay. That makes me neither anti-Potterian nor homophobic. And it doesn't matter one bit when and how and in what context applause after the Carnegie announcement was made. I don't want to talk about applause or Dumbledore's celibacy. It's getting a little ripe, n'est-ce pas?, when we surmise the unknown, unreported, unwritten inclinations of a fictional character. I don't know what "gay" means here, but I note that she didn't say "I've always thought that Dumbledore was a celibate gay." Did I miss the author's qualification that the gay-ness was a non-active gay-ness?
Here in my last post on Potter (I think), I will state my main and darkest suspicion about what happened to the Potter stories -- a set of tales I found thoroughly entertaining, though increasingly not so meaningful. While others find signs of Austen, narrative misdirection, Florentine alchemy and symbol, and Christian themes in Rowling, I find mostly, by the end, the influence of Judy Blume and Jung.
The Rowling partisans buoy themselves with the discovery of Christian symbols and themes, and induce the conclusion that this makes for a Christian book, or an okey-dokey book. It is true that there are Christian elements in Rowling's canon: but the same can be said for most, if not all, of Western literature, whether great or otherwise. For that matter, I can also find a good deal of Norse elements in Tolkien, Buddhist in Eliot, even Arab in Narnia, but that does not make these great writers anything but Christian. Furthermore, there is a lot of regrettable ilk written and marketed under the rubric of "Christian book" that can be described as "book" only because there are pages between two covers, but cannot be called "Christian" at all, even with a surfeit of Christian ingredients.
The purpose of fantasy in a Christian story is to pronounce, in human language, the usually unpronounceable things of the bodiless worlds. Christian fantasy takes magic seriously, because it finds magic and the larger world of the spirit quite real. The Good is painfully beautiful and bright. The Evil is demonic, decadent and decayed, always declining toward the satanic.
I strongly suspect that Rowling really doesn't believe in magic at all. I, on the other hand, believe it exists as a realization of the way things really are, as I hope to be more certain of spiritual realities than the physical ones. I am especially happier that miracles and "eu-catastrophes" exist.
I am afraid, though, that the magic of Rowling is the tiresome business of Jungian extrapolation from intra-psychic phenomena.
If that is so, there is no mythopoeia in Rowling. Mythopoeia depends on symbol -- each symbol linking, in one phenomenon, this world and the greater one. Rowling has all sorts of metaphor and metonymy, I'll give her that. But not transcendent symbol that speaks with a still small voice of the other side of appearances.
I wish (along with Fr. Stephen) that children could have their stories and the hearth would be safe from blood-sucking hyper-modernity, the firelight shutting out the dark and cold. They should be told of monsters, and not of gruesomely maudlin cutesiacs like Elmo, and certainly not of Freudian deconstructions like Bettelheim's Red Riding Hood, or of Jungian constructs like dementors and bogeys.
They should be told, in good story, the honest truth that monsters are evil. They should be told, by a home fire that crackles merrily, about the heroes and angels that always win, because they always have and always will.
They should be told of fantasy that is true, instead of "fantasy" that is utilized only as instrumental narrative.
They should be told that God and the saints are always violating man's crummy prejudices about nature: the rules of science are always being broken, as time itself shatters science with every advance into the next moment. That single reason is why magic is really no big deal.
They should be told that sometimes, the hero does not come back except upon his shield. They should not be discouraged with that modernistic nonsense that the hero's victory over evil is merely a metaphor for puberty or growing up. No, no, and a thousand no's. The hero's victory is over a real external psyche, and the whole real world has changed accordingly. Things are really better because a good thing was done in history.
The hero doesn't get "well-adjusted," nor does he become a more complex person (which is the psychobabble heaven of Blume's Fudge and Forever): the hero in a good story journeys, fights and slays a real dragon. Other real people in the real village are saved, even if the hero dies.
When the "happily ever after" is only a showing up at home after a devil has been bound, and normal boredom has been restored, then things are neither happy, nor are they "ever after." It is likely that the return of the status quo ante to the stage deflates the mythic Journey and the Battle down to the gray, psychotherapeutic meanings of Judy Blume, or the dread angst of Leopold Bloom.
For my part, I think that a hero who fights death in the crisis really needs to go to the Home of which his hearth and heart were gleaming symbols. The community is healed, because he, as a saint, "filled up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in the flesh for His body's sake, which is the Church" (Colossians 1.24, KJV).
That's what should happen in the stories we tell our children. We should give talk show psychotherapy and guerrilla-egalitarianism a miss. Instead, we should revel in spooky magic and thrilling fantasy. We should read out loud to ourselves and our children stories that illumine our landscapes from within and haunt our consciousness with good ghosts.
My business with Rowling, which is now at an end, finishes with a "whatever" shrugging of the shoulders: she is neither magic nor fantasy, but at heart, only that other dismal stuff.
No magic, because there are, in the Potter-lands, no bigger worlds.