Archive for January, 2012

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Harry Hater to Potterhead: A Christian Reader’s Journey (Part II)

January 27, 2012

The end of Part I left off when I, onetime vicious detractor of Harry Potter, went to the library and checked out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  I wanted to read the series for myself, to understand whether my former opinions were true, as well as to scope out what made the bestselling books so popular.  Although my intent was to analyze the story, I also wanted to be open to the possibility of enjoying it – even really enjoying it!  I was open to the idea that I might be entirely wrong and have to recant my previous stance.

So I began to read.

And The Result Was…

I enjoyed them immensely!  There were so many elements about the series that I loved!

  • A very engaging world with oodles of fantastic details.
  • Quirky, amusing characters.
  • Strong friendships.
  • Sacrifice.
  • A school for children with special abilities (I love the X-Men series for this same reason – special schools delight my imagination for some reason!).
  • Entertaining, well-written prose.
  • A reasonable balance between fun shenanigans and dark danger – the first few books more so than the later ones, which are admittedly more dark.
  • Copious amounts of OWLS!!  (They are my favorite animal ever, and the only reason I had any small desire to read the series as a young teen.)

In short, no wonder these books are so popular!  They’re a lot of fun!  The Wizarding World draws you right in, and Rowling thought out the plot and world so well.  She is definitely one of my favorite authors, and Harry Potter has taken its place among my favorite books and movies.  I am sorry I didn’t explore the series sooner.

Some things I didn’t like so much:

  • While the main characters are close, loyal friends, they frequently have “falling-outs” that last for days, weeks, even entire terms, often over simple misunderstandings or petty arguments.  Seriously?  They were so childish and silly sometimes, even as they got older.  One of my favorite aspects of the story is the friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and it bugged me every time their camaraderie was disrupted for another spat.
  • The teen romance.  Ugh.  I feel like the story would be much stronger without all the angst, awkward first kisses, and who-likes-who.  After the first couple of volumes, three or four of the middle books were slathered in teen crushes, and found it distracting and irritating.  It also contributed to a lot of the “falling out”.

Like this. Groan.

I guess what bugged me was the teenybopper social life that is inevitable when you put a bunch of preteens/teens together in a cliquey private school.  Maybe it’s because I read it as a 20-year-old instead of a 12-year-old, or maybe it’s because I was a homeschool graduate and never experienced that kind of environment myself.  But I suppose I can understand why Rowling would include those elements, as many young people today have vacillating school friendships and angst-ridden crushes.  I just personally found it detracted from the wonder of the story.

The Magic

At first I was wary of the magical content, and tiptoed gingerly through the halls of Hogwarts.  The magic is mostly fluffy, harmless, silly stuff, not much different than you might find in a fairy tale, and certainly nothing like witchcraft as Scripture describes it.  It’s more like a useful technology that only the wizards can use, by route of wands, words, and mental power.  I find it, for example, far less pervasive and dangerous than the Force in Star Wars – which I actually find more objectionable from a worldview standpoint.  It’s the classic good powers vs. evil powers scenario, found equally in fairy tales, Star Wars, and superhero yarns.  With a few rare exceptions (Divination Class…), little in Harry Potter reminds me of real-life Wiccans, pagan witchcraft, or Biblical sorcery.

Divination, a very real activity and condemned in the Bible, comes up once or twice in the story, but it is largely viewed as an unreliable and silly practice by the Hogwarts students and faculty.

Although the magic is mostly imaginative, I feel that the way it is presented is “closer” to real-life magic than books such as The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings.  While I wouldn’t be concerned if I found my child pretending to speak Elvish to a wall to make a door appear, I would definitely pull them aside for a talk if I found them pretending to cast spells on the neighbor kid.  There is something more tangible about the Harry Potter magic that gives me pause and should be handled with a bit more caution, in my opinion.

In Conclusion

Having read and watched the Harry Potter series for myself, I love the stories very much.  If you’ve avoided them on account of the magic, but you’re okay with Narnia, Middle-Earth, and other classic fantasy, I highly recommend you take a peek as I did!

However, I retain my original stance that I would not give the books to very young children.  The magic, while largely harmless, does have some elements of real-world witchcraft that very young readers might not be able to discern.  With my own kids, I’d probably hold off until they’re around 10.  Then I would read the books with them – partially so we could discuss any questionable elements of the story…and partially because I enjoyed them so much that I’ll want to read them all again. 🙂

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Thursday Ramblings – 1.26.12

January 27, 2012

Thursday is the new Tuesday!

Writing This Week: I am currently pounding out a new chapter of The Queen in the Wooden Box.  I’ve been wanting to TKT (yes, I do use that as a verb…years of TKTing has caused that), but my priority this week is cousin-pleasing!  Although, I suppose, I don’t know exactly how much they’re enjoying the story because they’ve only just gotten into it and can’t be completely hooked yet.  They’re probably a bit impatient, having waited several weeks now for me to make good on my promise of new chapters!

Reading This Week: I sampled two Kindle books this past week.  The first was Beyond the Reflection’s Edge by Bryan Davis. The hook really intrigued me, and so far the plot has drawn me in, but I didn’t find the characters very genuine, emotionally, so I’m not sure I’ll be buying that one at the moment.  The second sample was from Auralia’s Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet, which I’ve been wanting to read for several years now.  His books are highly praised from all I hear, so I had high expectations, and I was not disappointed!  The writing is beautiful.  In fact, just now I discovered that the Kindle edition is twice the price of the paperback, which is on “limited availability” on Amazon for $5.60.  STEAL!  I snapped it up.  It may not be streamed instantly to my Kindle, but I’m looking forward to seeing that in my mailbox in a couple of days.

Quote of the Day:

“God’s grace is a tsunami that will carry us away and deposit us in places we would not have anticipated — and all of it good. We analyze this carefully and say that we want our grace to be true and pure water, just like that tsunami, but we want it to be a placid pond on a summer day that we can inch across gingerly, always keeping one pointed toe on what we think is the sure bottom of our own do-gooding morality. As the old blues song has it, everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. Everyone wants to cross the Jordan, but nobody wants to get wet.” – Doug Wilson

Deep and Important Thoughts Pondered Today: All day I’ve been mulling over this post at Speculative Faith, and the thoughts sparked by it.  Feminism, and its impact on stories.  Perceived sexism in books/movies/shows (and Hollywood’s misguided attempts to correct it).  “Warrior women”.  True, strong feminine characters – as opposed to female characters who act like men.  Damsels in distress.  How I hope to write truly strong feminine characters who don’t need to (if you’ll pardon the expression) “kick butt” in order to be strong.  I sense a blog series coming on…

Funny Today: My son’s hysterical giggling at my husband’s gargling after dinner.  🙂

Stuck in My Head Today: Primarily awesome Doctor Who music like this.

*New Category!* Tasty Foods Eaten Today: I had to add this category, because…I love food, and I can’t not talk about it!  The tasty food for today is a mug cake which I ate with Moose Tracks ice cream and chocolate syrup over the top.  Yum!!  (And when the recipe says it makes “1 large or 2 small”…it really does mean large.  Good grief!)

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No Tuesday Ramblings?

January 24, 2012

Today is Tuesday!  So there should be a Ramblings, no?

Well…here’s the thing.  I’ve gradually come to realize that Tuesday is a terrible day for me to blog.  It’s the day I go grocery shopping (“fooding”, as we say in my family) and so all my free time and computer time on Tuesday is taken up by planning the weekly menu – which can take all day, especially when one is navigating through pregnancy cravings and aversions!

So, until further notice, Tuesday Ramblings will become Thursday Ramblings!  Expect a wayward rambling Thursday…but I will give a tiny update now.

Reading This Week: Nothing, very sadly.  I still have Divergent, but I plan to return it to the library tomorrow because I highly doubt I’ll ever get back into it.  I’m kind of sad about that.

Writing This Week: I’m dying to write TKT!  And my mind keeps creeping toward Daik 11.  But today I am working on a new chapter of The Queen in the Wooden Box, because it’s been several weeks since Christmas and I’m sure my cousins are eager for a new installment!

Cheers,
Bethany

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In Your Book Were Written…

January 15, 2012

Our pastor is currently preaching a short sermon series on Psalm 139.  This has been one of my favorite passages for years – it is such an amazing text about God’s providence, knowledge, and wisdom.  He knows us to the very depths of our souls, even before birth.

“For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.” (vs. 13-16, ESV)

In the sermon today, our pastor pointed out that “my inward parts”, in the original language, is literally “my kidneys”, which is a Hebrew idiom for what we might call “the heart” today – our intellect, volition, emotions, personality.  In other words, the soul.  So verse 13 is saying that God forms our souls, and knits together our bodies.  Deep in our mothers’ wombs before anyone can see us, He is at work shaping us.  Fascinating and amazing!  (And also a powerful argument for the value of human life from the moment conception.  “My unformed substance” in verse 16 is actually “my embryo” in Hebrew.  I love learning about the original languages; it adds such nuance to one’s understanding of the Scriptures.)

Our oldest child in the womb.

When our pastor reached verse 16, he highlighted something that I had never thought much about before.  “In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”  I always assumed that “your book” referred to God’s mind and that the verse simply means that God knows all our days.  But our pastor spoke about it like an actual book, similar to the Book of Life we read about in Revelation.

Of course a library in heaven would be way more gorgeous than even this!

Suddenly, I imagined in my head an immense heavenly library, full of God-written biographies of all the saints – except instead of merely telling our life story, each page glorifies God and highlights His work in our lives.  Every day we felt things weren’t going well.  Every trial.  Every sadness.  And through each trouble, temptation, and sin, God’s tender description of how He was working through the bad to bring us His blessing, and bring glory to His name.  How amazing would that be? – to read God’s own account of our lives, from His perspective?  (Maybe they’d even be illustrated, with moving pictures like the wizard photographs in Harry Potter, so we could relive the crucial moments of our earthly existence as we read!)

Of course I’m only speculating here!  But when God gives us a word picture like “in Your book are written…the days that are formed for me”, isn’t that kind of what we’re supposed to imagine?

The thought of reading my life story from God’s point of view reminded me of that song in the movie Prince of Egypt: 

A single thread in a tapestry,
Though its color brightly shines,
Can never see its purpose
In the pattern of the grand design.
And the stone that sits on the very top
Of the mountain’s mighty face –
Does it think it’s more important
Than the stones that form the base?
So how can you see what your life is worth
Or where your value lies?
You can never see through the eyes of man;
You must look at your life,
Look at your life through heaven’s eyes.

From our earthly perspective it is easy to forget that God is in control of everything.  He ordained every minute of our lives.  Not only that, but he is using 60 seconds of every minute to bring glory to Himself, and good to His people.  We may look at a trial and see only badness, but God alone knows the good He plans to bring through the hurt.  It is truly incredible, the love and care that our Savior has for us.  The all-powerful God who sees all and knows all (including our sin) and controls all (even our troubles) is on our side!

“Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” – Luke 12:7a

“The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?” – Psalm 118:6

I feel that writing books gives authors a unique perspective on God’s providence.  After all, in our own small way, we are imitating His providence.  Within our books, everything is ours to control.  We write every word.  We create worlds.  We bring our characters through every trouble (most of the time…).  But we are imperfect imitators.  We sometimes forget what happens in scenes and chapters we write.  We often don’t know what happens next.  We can’t always bring good for our characters through every situation.  And of course, the people and worlds we create aren’t real flesh, blood, earth, and stone.

God, as the perfect Creator, knows all things and designs all things, and plans everything perfectly.  His will is unchangeable, and His love for us is oh-so-deep.  After all, He sent His own Son into the world of His creation, to save His people from our sins.

“The God who created matter took shape within it, as an artist might become a spot on a painting or a playwright a character within his own play.  God wrote a story, only using real characters, on the pages of real history.  The Word became flesh.” – Philip Yancey

Wonderful are His works!  My soul knows it very well.

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Harry Hater to Potterhead: A Christian Reader’s Journey (Part I)

January 12, 2012

I must have been barely a teen when the Harry Potter craze struck, sweeping all our friends away with it.  I don’t remember asking to read the books, or even if the first movie was out yet.  I just recall that many of our friends were obsessed, and my parents made the decision to ban the series, due to the content of witchcraft.

I don’t condemn their decision, and this isn’t an argument for whether or not you should let your own children delve into Rowling’s world.  This is an account of my personal journey.

Hating Harry

Shortly after ruling that our family would not be involved in the Harry Potter craze, my mother sent me an online article that presented the magic-related content of the Harry Potter books and roundly condemned the series, along with most other magical tales.

Undoubtedly my mother’s intention was merely to educate me on her reasons for denying us the story, so that I wouldn’t resent her or feel deprived.  But I took it the wrong way.  I took it as a call to be militantly anti-Potter.

To my mind, J.K. Rowling’s books were dangerous, full of evil being called good, poorly written, and riddled with adverbs.  I loved to debate the topic with my Potter-loving friends, often using strong words.  Some of what I claimed might have been true.  But some might not have been.  The problem is, all of these fervent opinions were based on my ignorance of the series.  I only knew hearsay, as I had never read them myself.

Photo from Flickr, by user dylanfm.

Over the course of my teen years and God’s gradual work in my heart, I became less strident and legalistic.  Rather than blasting Harry Potter as evil, I settled into a more moderate attitude of, “Because the series presents witchcraft as good, it’s not a wise reading choice, especially for kids.”

I decided that magic in books was a risky topic overall and that as an author I’d avoid it altogether.  In my mind, I drew a sharp contrast: inherent powers were okay, and acquired powers were bad.  So superheroes, fairies, elves, and the like were okay because they were born with their powers.  God gave them those abilities.  People who did magic by incantations, calling on spirits, potions, etc. – such as the kids in Harry Potter – were only all right if they were being featured in stories as villains.

Then somebody informed me that the kids in Harry Potter were born with the ability to do magic, unlike the ordinary humans in the story, who were called Muggles, and can’t do any magic at all.

Oh.

Things suddenly got more complicated.

I was thrown for a loop, and began to question the inconsistency of my views.  Why was the magic in Middle-Earth, Narnia, Never-Never Land, and other worlds fine and dandy, while Harry Potter‘s magic wasn’t?

Curiouser and Curiouser

Eventually I discovered one of my favorite websites, Speculative Faith, where I read a blog series that made a big impression on me.  One of the most powerful thoughts it shared was this one:

But how should we understand witchcraft? Any definition shouldn’t come from “folk theology,” or passing resemblances, but Scripture itself. And throughout both Testaments, Scripture always defines witchcraft as actual pagan practice of false religion and even idol-worship that dishonors God. That includes trying to talk with spirits. Favoring mysticism above God’s Word. Cutting up or tattooing your body like the Canaanites did.

One might ask: do the following concepts fit inside the Biblical category of actual witchcraft? Or do they originate from popular culture, historic folklore, or perceptions of “magic”?

  • Whimsical flying broomsticks.
  • Cauldrons and potions with magical effects.
  • “Wizards” who wear pointy hats and dress in long, shining robes.
  • Disappearing from one place to appear almost instantly in another.
  • Creatures such as werewolves, trolls, baselisks, centaurs, elves, goblins, and dragons.

With care, I would suggest that if you, even subtly, consider these things as exactly the same as Biblically defined practice of pagan occultism, you may have accidentally bought into some pop-culture notions yourself — and then have read those back into the Bible.

 — E. Stephen Burnett

What!  I had never before considered that “magic” in the Bible had a specific definition, which did not fit all magic in books and movies.  Nor had I thought about some of the author’s other excellent points.  (I highly recommend you read the series to see what I mean!)

I made up my mind to read Harry Potter for myself.  Even if I continued to disagree with the series, at least then I would have an educated opinion and not just the huffings and puffings of my ignorant brain.  Also, as a writer of speculative fiction myself, I was curious to see what made the book so incredibly popular.

And so I, Bethany, the former hater of Harry Potter, took myself to a library and checked out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Read Part II here.

Your thoughts?  If you are a Christian, what is your opinion on magic in books?  If you are a fantasy author, do you use it?  Do you eschew it?  Is it always wicked, or is there a difference between “real world” magic and “fake” magic?  Does it depend on the story?  I’d love to hear your reasoning on the topic.