With the Harry Potter movie series now finished, we’re getting the last round of extensive discussions of the series. The Catholic writer Michael O’Brien has been very hard on the books, a position he explains in an interview with LifeSite News.
Some of it’s a bit much, as when he says “There is practically a universal characteristic in the way people defend Potter, and that is vehement anger.” I’m sure he gets angry letters, but as a generalization, this seems to me untrue, given how I’ve heard and read some critics speak of the stories. Alan Jacobs would be one prominent Evangelical admirer of the books (see below) and clearly not angry, not even a little.
And some of it makes you wonder if he read the books, as when he claims
J.K. Rowling is a talented storyteller, but she has also used the style and technique of modern television and cinema media, which seizes the imagination by pummelling it, bombarding it with powerful stimuli, in a rapid pace, with plenty of emotional rewards. So, in the matter of style alone she has made a major change in the way stories are told, and how they are read.
This is not true, and unfortunately so, as the later novels got bigger and bigger and could have used some trimming and tightening. There is a lot of down time in the stories. In any case, the style he’s criticizing is at least as true of the Narnia Chronicles as of the Harry Potter stories.
And there is his description in the interview itself of the climax of the series, which completely misreads it, as the commenter “Jane” points out in a comment on Patrick Madrid’s blog. Here as elsewhere O’Brien reads the books as prosecuting attorney to an extent that seems to me to fatally distort his descriptions and therefore his critique.
Readers interested in the subject should enjoy Alan Jacobs’ Harry Potter’s Magic, which we published, and (if you subscribe to Books and Culture) his review of the last book of the series, The Youngest Brother’s Tale. The last concludes, I think far more sensibly than O’Brien:
What do we choose to imagine, when we choose? The answer is always revelatory, which is one of the reasons Chesterton was right to say that “the simple need for some kind of ideal world in which fictitious persons play an unhampered part is infinitely deeper and older than the rules of good art, and much more important.” The Harry Potter books remind us of this, and they can be, if we read them rightly, both a delight in themselves and a school for our own imaginings. They have many flaws, but I have not dwelt on them here because I forgive J. K. Rowling for every one. Her seven books are, and thank God for it, always on the side of life.
I don’t, by the way, think as much of the books as does Alan Jacobs. A critique I’d commend, though I don’t agree with all of it — for one thing, it seems to me clear that the magic in the stories is a technology or natural ability and not an occult power — is Steven Greydanus’s Harry Potter vs. Gandalf. And here is a recent story from the Wall Street Journal that may be of interest: How Christians Warmed to Harry Potter.