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A Harry Potter Review with a European Flavor

For a start I would say the Harry Potter film is not a kid's film, more a teenager's, and I'm not surprised it received a PG rating here [in Australia] as there are elements of the horror movie to parts. Overall, I have to say it is quite well done simply as a film and basically entertaining, not least for the weird game of quidditch when there is a lot of flying around in the air and special effects. It's a very English film, and almost traditionally and upper class so in feeling and style, with Hogwarts like a kind of exclusive public school. Rowlings was obviously as insistent on keeping out the least taint of Hollywood as report has it she did.

I found the film interesting but, as with one of the books I read three quarters of, I was not completely gripped or fascinated in the way many people both young and old seem to be. Forget the possible ideological objections, it's just not a fantasy I can completely go with perhaps because among other things it's a bit too English and even quasi Dickensian in some parts for my taste. I would always prefer the more Celtic C.S. Lewis whose images and style are more reverberent, redolent of many things whereas this is just what and where it is.

But although my main feeling was not negative while I was just following the story, I did feel vaguely uneasy about the whole. There is, certainly, this element of reversed values and symbolism about it. One of the scenes in the train going to the school where the children are playing around with magic made me feel this is the kind of thing will encourage kids to mess about with the occult and treat it lightly.

There is also - as there admittedly is in English culture, generally in a way I've never liked, an easy acceptance of the dark and ugly - ugly goblins, dragons, creatures, which is a kind of de-sensitization. In this connection some negative significance could be set by the fact that early on in the film when Harry is discovering his true heritage he is in a reptile house, and he starts talking to a python who talks back to him and befriends him as opposed to his tormenting step brother which the snake punishes. This is all part of the acceptance of the ugly along with magic and a suggestion perhaps there is a wisdom of the serpent.

Another subtly dubious bit was where the adventurous three have to get down to the bottom of the dungeons and they get caught in, and must pass through, the snakepit called "devil's snare." They can get through it by "relaxing" which one of them scarcely manages to do. The message here might be, and stronger in the book I'd imagine, that evil is somehow overcome (rather New Age style) by just denying it any real existence and not getting worked up about it.

One would be piling it on however, like some critics, to suggest Harry Potter was a consistently anti-christian production. In fact, Hogwarts school even acknowledges Christmas to the extent they have Christmas trees and lights out and call the season Christmas as opposed to some pagan equivalent. Obviously they don't sit around singing carols, but this is a fantasy all said and done!

I would need to read the book to check it out, but the alchemist Nicholas Flamel who possesses the exilir of life is described as being 665 years old, not 666 as reported on a Net criticism I've read. But this might be one point at which Hollywood did intervene to avoid obvious offence, I haven't read the book to know. Even so, the age 665 is odd and suggestive.

Again, Christian critiques which portray Harry is involved in necromancy and calling up the dead are quite inaccurate, at least as regards the film, because all he does is, like other people, see images in a magic mirror he encounters by chance and he is later told these images have no substance but are images of people's own desires. It's closer to spiritualism.

But too comic to be taken too seriously are ectoplasmic type spirit figures who appear in the middle of Hogwarts festival banquets and a talking hat (a sort of familiar spirit some might say), that decides which house of the school the pupils will belong to during the year.

To criticize the Harry Potter film, or the books too strongly or precisely, would be to make oneself ridiculous and some have been doing that overstating their case. But nothing alters that a kind of de-sensitization programme is involved with assimilating this kind of material -- seeing owls, snakes, goblins and all the familiar images of magic as somehow friendly and good.

For centuries, virtually all the fantasy material including Grimm's fairy tales has taken the kind of "wicked witch," bad hobgoblin line. To start turning witches and wizards into the heroines, to make wands and broomsticks into toys or power instruments for good, is a kind of postmodern reversal or dismissal of value that, especially in an era when the occult is enjoying a revival, is likely to draw adolescents more easily into the world of the occult over time.

So it doesn't seem too healthy to me, though I wouldn't approve parents keeping any but small children away from such a trendy film, I'd think they should accompany them and discuss it with them, otherwise kids will only feel left out and extra curious which could be even more unhealthy for them.

Side note:

It just so happened that while out shopping I saw this interview with Rowlings about the Harry Potter film. She was asked about her religious critics and she said it was just stupid and sometimes annoying because though it would be nice to believe magic was true it's all nonsense and she only wrote about it because she was still a kid at heart.

For someone who isn't into the occult and doesn't even believe in it, it must be said she seems rather informed on key points. She also said -showing incomprehension of the essential point, which would seem to be the reversal of values she is engaged in - that if one listened to the critics one would have to censor away most of the world's fairy tales throughout history. Not really.

I am sure that some would find interesting that the inspiration for the books came to her all at once like a dream during a train journey to Edinburgh and which so excited her she got out of the train and dashed home in order to write down all her impressions. Forget what Christian critics might say but I know that for example that theosophists associate that kind of inspiration with spiritual intervenion. However that doesn't have to be the case just because they say so. Rowlings may have gotten her ideas in sudden rushes as though from outside. Still, the possibility for a sort of trance intervention is always there.

© 12-12-01

The author of this piece has chosen to remain anonymous.


Harry Potter Lures Kids to Witchcraft by Berit Kjos.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone -- Book Review From Cutting Edge ministries.

Is "Harry Potter" Harmless? by Ken James of Eden Communications.

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