Religion & Beliefs

Fine. I Will Write A Post About Harry Potter.

There’s a pretty interesting article in the Washington Post about the Christian Fantasy genre that is really taking off in the wake of Harry Potter’s success: Secular and Christian publishers are churning out titles aimed at the lucrative and growing … Read More

By / July 20, 2007

There’s a pretty interesting article in the Washington Post about the Christian Fantasy genre that is really taking off in the wake of Harry Potter’s success:

Secular and Christian publishers are churning out titles aimed at the lucrative and growing audience of readers, who are snapping up an estimated $2.4 billion in Christian books a year — about a 30 percent increase in the past four years.

Some Christian religious leaders and Christian parents have expressed unease with the Potter series, believing, among other issues, that humans' use of magic is forbidden by the Bible. The series is on the American Library Association's list of most frequently challenged books at school libraries.

Tapping into that unease are an increasing number of Christian writers who are producing Potteresque books without the elements that some Christians say violate the Bible. "For a Christian family who's a little skeptical of some of the messages in the Harry Potter books, then they would find my books safe," said Wayne Batson, a Howard County middle school teacher who has written a popular three-book series called the Door Within. His latest book, "Isle of Swords," part of a new series, is due out next month.

Baton's Door Within series, published by Christian publishing giant Thomas Nelson, features Maryland teenager Aidan Thomas, who is suddenly plunged into an enchanted world. He must choose to join the forces of good or evil. The forces of good are led by a saintly king who has risen from the dead after being slain by an evil knight, who now leads a corrupt kingdom.

Full Story My issue with Christian fantasy is that it always seems to have vaguely anti-Semitic undertones. I mean, if, in the Door Within series the “saintly king who has risen from the dead” is Jesus, then the “evil knight, who now leads a corrupt kingdom” is a Jew, no? It just makes me feel kind of yucky. Elsewhere on Jewcy we’ve got much discussion of Harry Potter fan fiction, and I recently found a disturbing and convincing post over at Sabbath Meals that suggests Severus Snape, the Benedict Arnold of the Harry Potter series, is a Jew.

In Snape, Rowling has created a angry villain who has a hooked nose, greasy dark hair, sallow skin and glittering dark eyes, an inscrutable, sneering, untrustworthy double agent — who hisses. I don't think Rowling was intentionally trading in anti-Semitic stereotyping. Does that sound funny after my litany of stereotypical adjectives? But I don't! I think those are general negative physical characteristics in Western culture, and that a person could use them without intending anything racist. It's just kind of pervasive. After all, Rowling does have at least two very minor characters among the student who actually have Jewish names (Anthony Goldstein in Ravenclaw house, Harry's acquaintance in the DA club, and possibly also Rose Zeller). At least one reader has pointed out that this is part of a concerted effort on JKR's part to show the diversity of present-day Britain. (Though hello, do you see a single Muslim name here? Are there no Pakistani immigrant wizards at Hogwarts?) Her intentions aside, Rowling's Snape does bum me out. What's with the languid movements and the hairy eyebrows and the general ickiness of her Snape? In the Half Blood Prince he's practically Judas ferchrissakes. (Or you could read it that way. At least you could at the end of book six, book seven might turn the whole thing on its head.)

Later on in the post, Balabusta links to a piece of fan fiction that gives Snape a backstory as the son of a German Jewish refugee. Which almost makes Snape into a ruthless Israeli-soldier type. All of this business of casting fantasy books with a religious light really bothers me, because in fantasy there’s a clear good and evil, and I don’t see religious life as that clearly divided. I don’t want Christian kids reading about the corrupt kingdom of evil Jews, and I don’t want Jewish kids creating fantasy books of their own that cast Pat Robertson as the devil, even though I really don’t like him. When fantasy is really just fantasy I think it’s a great genre for kids. But when fantasy is suddenly religious, I’m not on board. (And yes, I know the CS Lewis books are Christian, but luckily I hated them). The reason I like the Harry Potter books is because they’re so distant from my life. The idea of bringing my own cultural and theological history into a reading of the text takes too much of the fun out of the books. Anyway, wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom and a fun time reading the seventh book