Haven’t We Been Here Before?

Headlines last week read “Vatican Condemns Twilight.” If that sounds familiar to Potter readers, it is the echo of the virtual reality experience we had in 2005 when Star Chamber Catholics in Canada created the “Pope Condemns Harry Potter” controversy on the eve of Order of the Phoenix‘ publication.

That was pretty silly, because the Pope didn’t do anything of the sort. This report turns out to be the real deal. I’ve written about it over at Forks High School Professor and mention it here for these reasons:

(1) The Pontifical Council of Culture (PCOC) has decided the “moral vacuum,” “deviant message,” and “heavy element of esoterism” makes these books and movies subjects to avoid. It is the “esoterism” charge that leaves me shaking my head, of course, as bizarre as the other accusations are (are they reading the same books?). It is the esoterism of the books — the literary alchemy and logos cosmology and epistemology — that give them their literary value, their Christian message, and which are the reason the books resonate so profoundly with readers. The condemnation of a Vatican office of a popular book series, after having given all but an imprimatur to Harry Potter which includes the same story features, is coming from way out in left field. Why did Harry get a “thumbs up” from PCOC in 2003 and Twilight a “thumbs down” from the same group in 2009?

(2) It could just be a change in leadership (Fr. Peter Fleetwood was at the PCOC helm in 2003 and he was genuinely literate). Sharon from Australia, though, over at Forks High School Professor thinks (and argues persuasively) that it is a function of the Vatican’s experience with Dan Brown in the interval and with Philip Pullman’s books as these authors’ books were made into movies. Check that out here.

Whatever the reason, this was an unfortunate move on PCOC’s part. Or so it seems to me. Your thoughts? Would Harry Potter have been taken to the PCOC woodshed if the books were just becoming a mania today?


  1. I think your second point in the Forks High post may be closest to the reason for the language of the PCOC. One of the few criticisms of Harry Potter that I actually feel holds some weight is that books like the Potter series and Twilight promote acceptance of the occult (language, practices, imagery) into the broader culture. Perhaps not by the content of the books themselves, but by the marketers hoping to cash in on the latest fad. The Potter and Twilight series seem to have spawned a plethora of other books, toys, games, cartoons, television programs, etc. that are merely witchcraft of vampire themed and which lack the messages that make the Potter and Twilight series worth reading. I suppose you could argue that these things existed before the book series, but it would be hard to argue that the books have not helped to popularize them.

    It may be that the PCOC is attempting to curtail this phenomenon.

  2. I haven’t read Twilight, but from what I have read about it I’m not convinced it’s anything wonderful. Is it particularly threatening? I don’t know. But from the film, the mania, and summaries I think the Vatican may well have come out with the same answer a few years ago- and would probably today not have any qualms with Potter– mainly because HP doesn’t actually turn any traditional good/evil imagery on its head, nor does it “promote” chastity with a “teen” boy hanging out watching a teen girl in her room on a regular basis.

    I appreciate that Twilight gets a snub often from the same crowd who snub Potter as too low-brow, but while I admire your championing of the underdog, I doubt Twilight can come up to Potter standard, and that it doesn’t earn some parental and religious reservations.

  3. I’ve read both series, and while once I would have agreed with the pope on Harry Potter, I don’t anymore. I think the Vatican is out for Twilight about the wrong things – it’s not the occult they should be worried about, but the anti-women (pro-power imbalance?) messages it sends to its readers. Twilight definitely deserves to be condemned, but not for the Vatican’s reasons.

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