I was asked today by a very kind reporter to summarize the way I think about books and Harry Potter especially. Here, well, below the jump, is my flash response as a rushed email note, posted for your comment, amendment, and correction:
- Eliade’s thesis, Granger corollary: Reading in a secular culture serves a religious or mythic function, the more Christian content and the more subtly it is delivered, the more popular the fiction is. The Potter books, in this light, not only are not “gateways to the occult,” they are as popular as they are only because of their edifying spiritual content and the profound experience readers share.
- Iconological Criticism: Human beings know things in four ways — sense, opinion, science (deduction), and wisdom — hence every text of value, especially works of intentional artistry or divine inspiration, has traditionally been read at four levels rather than cricized eclusively at the surface narrative or moral layers. Rowling and Meyer are dismissed by deconstructive-happy and nominalist critics that don’t know how to read the way people have understood scripture and fiction from Homer and the rabbinic culture through Dante, Aquinas, and Spencer, through John Ruskin and Northrup Frye. Potter-mania and the Twi-hards are responses to texts that works as spiritual allegories and anagogical translucencies.
- Literary Alchemy, the Alchemy of literature: there is a tradition of transformational symbolism in English literature from Shakespeare to Rowling which has the staying power and just sheer power it has because reading fiction as an activity itself is an alchemical experience. Though that Ms. Rowling was writing intentionally alchemical fiction was scoffed at for more than a few years, we now have an interview in which the author admits as much. Mrs. Meyer. Ms. Collins, and Mr. Ness incorporate much of the same symbolism and sequences in their serial fiction.
- Shared Text: Ms. Rowling’s Harry Potter books have changed and continue to re-make the 21st century story-telling world (cf., Twilight, Chaos Walking, Hunger Games) because they are the books everyone knows — and the experience that is now a common expectation from other stories [Google ‘John Granger Book Binders Touchstone’ for an article I wrote on this subject.]
- Ring Composition: the Hogwarts Saga both as a seven part cycle and as individual books is written as traditional Ring, meaning its beginning and end elide, its midpoint is an echo and pointer to the beginning-end conjunction, and the chapter-books on either side of the divide mirror those after them. If anyone doubted the detail of the artistry and planning of these works, the revelation that every one of the 198 chapters in the series is deliberately placed and related to other chapters to create an exact effect should extinguish that doubt. [My lecture on this subject is now available as a LuLu.com download: Harry Potter as Ring Composition and Ring Cycle.]
- Postmodernism: Everything written in the 21st century must confirm and reinforce the politically correct anti-metanarrative metanarrative of our time — while the best works address this contradiction and point to a transcendent metanarrative of love as the best exit. Ms. Rowling is not as successful as she is without preaching what we already believe — if she does give us some xperience of a larger, non-relativist view.
- Logos Epistemology: English high fantasy is grounded in Coleridgean natural theology, most notably that the “world is Mental” (as Barfield taught Lewis) and that the non-personal logos of our conscience and thinking is continuous if not identical with the fabric of reality created by the Logos or Word of God (hence the Harry-Dumbledore conversation Rowling says is key to the series: “Of course this is happening in your head, Harry, but why would you think it isn’t real?”)