Ms. Rowling Time Person of the Year 2007 (Runner-Up)

Time magazine has chosen its Person of the Year 2007 and, alas, it was not Ms. Rowling, who had to settle for ‘Second Runner-up.’ The good news is that despite not taking top honors, Dobby the house-elf, one of her magical creations was chosen Person of the Year. Wasn’t he?

The article about Ms. Rowling was pretty good, too, especially as it featured excellent quotations from two friends of this weBlog, Daniel Nexon of Georgetown and James Thomas of Pepperdine. What the article got right was the “reach” Ms. Rowling’s stories have in terms of the number of readers they have and the extent to which she shapes public conversation, even political discussion. I was especially delighted that they included this paragraph on the “reach” into readers’ hearts:

And that is on top of the impact, even her critics acknowledge, of inspiring a generation of obsessive readers unafraid of fat books and complex plots. “They’re easy to underestimate because of what I call the three Deathly Hallows for academics,” says James Thomas, a professor of English at Pepperdine University. “They couldn’t possibly be good because they’re too recent, they’re too popular, and they’re too juvenile.” But he argues that the books do more than entertain. “They’ve made millions of kids smarter, more sensitive, certainly more literate and probably more ethical and aware of hypocrisy and lust for power. They’ve made children better adults, I think. I don’t know of any books that have worked that kind of magic on so many millions of readers in so short a time in the history of publications.”

Professor Thomas eloquently pins the tail on the subject of why Ms. Rowling deserved to be Person of the Year: she is shaping our future because her novels have become the “shared text” of the first multinational internet generation of readers.

The real failing of the piece, egad, was, once again, on the Christian points and qualities of Ms. Rowling’s work. As this is their third strike in as many swings, I think we should assume from here out that Time magazine has a Skeeter-esque agenda to push, even if Lev Grossman has been relieved of his post. First, in Mr. Grossman’s 2005 ‘Hogwarts and All’ Interview, we were told that Ms. Rowling really didn’t like C. S. Lewis, in fact, that if Lewis were to appear in Ms. Rowling’s creation, Grossman speculated, he would be a Death Eater. Then, this past summer, Mr. Grossman shared his prescience in an Op-Ed piece titled, ‘Who Dies in Harry Potter? God.’ Here we learned that Ms. Rowling “has more in common with celebrity atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens than she does with Tolkien and Lewis.” Mr. Grossman did not mention in that piece that he is an atheist (as he does on his weBlog) but that would not have anything to do with his bizarre and almost exactly upside-down interpretation of these books or with Time magazine’s publishing them.

Should it come as any surprise, consequently, that Nancy Gibbs picks up where Mr. Grossman left off? Rather than blush and admit that they have completely missed the boat in light of Deathly Hallowsremarkably Christian content and Ms. Rowling’s comments on her Open Book Tour about the centrality of her faith in her books, Time in their latest piece again takes a shot at Lewis and does everything possible to diminish Ms. Rowling’s Christian artistry. After saying she is a “seeker” rather than a Christian of a specific denomination, Ms. Gibbs tells us:

The values in the books, she observes, are by no means exclusively Christian, and she is wary of appearing to promote one faith over another rather than inviting people to explore and struggle with the hard questions.

Rowling’s religious agenda is very clear: she does not have one. “I did not set out to convert anyone to Christianity. I wasn’t trying to do what C.S. Lewis did. It is perfectly possible to live a very moral life without a belief in God, and I think it’s perfectly possible to live a life peppered with ill-doing and believe in God.” And now she climbs into a pulpit of her own, and you can tell how much this all matters to her, if it weren’t already clear from her 4,100-page treatise on tolerance. “I’m opposed to fundamentalism in any form,” she says. “And that includes in my own religion.”

Ummm… What question do you think the woman asked to get the answer, “I did not set out to convert anyone to Christianity; I wasn’t trying to do what C. S. Lewis did”? Did Ms. Rowling say anything in her response that C. S. Lewis himself would not have said? Outside of Jack Chick, who writes novels to “convert anyone to Christianity”? I have the feeling that Ms. Gibb’s and Time magazine’s universe is divided into “good guys and Death Eating Christians,” all of which knuckle-draggers are “fundamentalists.” Ms. Rowling isn’t one of “them;” therefore, despite all evidence of the books she has written, the thrust of her Person of the Year profile has to be on her “social gospel” (Wizard Rock activism), multi-culturalism (all the faiths who like Harry), and anti-fundamentalism (“a 4,100-page treatise on tolerance”).

Who knew Ms. Rowling was a Christian like Hilary Clinton, only more liberal?

I guess the proverbial straw for me was the paragraph on “the ending.”

The ending, naturally, was the most controversial part of the book. It would have been so much neater just to kill Harry. “I’ve known that all along,” she says, but that was never her plan. To her, the most noble thing, the real bravery, is to rebuild after a trauma. Some fans were disappointed that after all his adventures, Harry’s greatest concern in the end is whether his son will fit in at Hogwarts. “It’s a bittersweet ending,” she says. “But that’s perfect, because that is what happens to our heroes. We’re human. I kept arguing that ‘love is the most important force, love is the most important force.’ So I wanted to show him loving. Sometimes it’s dramatic: it means you lay down your life. But sometimes it means making sure someone’s trunk is packed and hoping they’ll be O.K. at school.”

Ms. Gibbs seems to be talking about “the ending” as in Harry’s death/NDE-and-resurrection when she writes that “it would have been so much neater just to kill Harry.” But, no, she’s talking about fan disappointment with the Epilogue. We know Ms. Gibbs understands how important the events of the last chapters are — Harry’s walk “Into The Forest Again,” his sacrificial death there, and love’s subsequent victory over death, the Death Eaters, and Voldemort himself — because she opens her piece with a description of Ms. Rowling writing them. But these chapters and their meaning are not the “ending.” A Fandom “controversy” (?) about the Epilogue is what we need to discuss.

And Ms. Gibbs’ focus on the concerns of Fandom is evident in the 10 questions Ms. Rowling was asked about the books in a side-bar article.

1. Why doesn’t Fred appear in the woods at the end as well?

2. Did Harry die?

3. The question that surprises her: What was that creature in the corner at King’s Cross?

4. The question she feared getting: What was Dumbledore’s wand made of?

5. What did Dumbledore really see in the Mirror of Erised?

6. Where do wizard children go to school before Hogwarts?

7. Are Harry and Voldemort related?

8. Who does Draco Malfoy marry?

9. Where do the main characters work as adults?

10. Was Teddy Lupin a werewolf?

Questions 2 and 3 get interesting answers that justify the whole exercise (and are worthy of a separate post). But the others are bizarre clunkers. “Mr. Shakespeare, what sort of nunnery was Ophelia contemplating? Did Iago choose out the pillow for Othello? Did Prospero eventually get a job with the Ministry for Caliban?” Earlier this month I predicted in a post here that Ms. Rowling could not win the Person of the Year award because of Time magazine’s goofy choice for 2006 (“YOU”). They only get one of those reputation busters a decade; no way was Ms. Rowling going to get the nod over the international bad guy lists this year. But something had to be done to acknowledge that Ms. Rowling slaughtered the field in Time’s polling for Person of the Year this past month. Fandom deserved a bone, I guess, and got a big one.

The unfortunate thing, of course, is, if Ms. Rowling is not proselytizing in her novels for her faith, Time magazine does have an ideological message for her fans they have consistently smuggled into articles about her. She’s not like C. S. Lewis, her faith is the faith of anti-fundamentalism and good works, and the important thing to get out of her books is, well, that you had a good time thinking about these wonderful characters.

Of the three articles on Ms. Rowling that Time has done, this was far and away the best. The bulls-eye (via Professor Thomas) about why her books are neglected by the Academy and why she is worthy of consideration as Person of the Year, not to mention their acknowledgment, however they chose to diminish it, of her faith are significant steps up from Mr. Grossman’s nonsense. Time has its agenda, though, and it is hard for me to celebrate all the up-front good here without shaking my head at the sub-text.

Your comments and corrections, please.

Full disclosure: I was interviewed by Laura Fitzgerald for this Time profile. I’ll leave it to you to weigh the strong possibility that my disappointment with Time’s article was caused as much by their decision not to quote me or mention my book as by their track record and agenda contra faith in Christ. A better man than I just refused a Time request to help with this issue flat out; perhaps, given Time’s track record, I should have done the same.

Post: This just in — in another close vote, Ms. Rowling was edged out by Stephen Colbert in the running for the AP’s Celebrity of the Year Award. The comedian said in an emailed statement, “In receiving this award, I am pleased that I was chosen over two great spinners of fantasy – J.K. Rowling and Al Gore. It is truly an honor to be named the Associated Press’ Celebrity of the Year. Best of all, this makes me the official front-runner for next year’s Drug-Fueled Downward Spiral of the year. P.S. Look for my baby bump this spring!” No word about how Ms. Rowling is taking this second disappointment hard upon her loss to Dobby for Time magazine’s Person of the Year Award. Stay tuned for confirmation or denial of a suicide watch rumor.

Comments

  1. “I did not set out to convert anyone to Christianity. I wasn’t trying to do what C.S. Lewis did….”

    An interesting point is that C.S. Lewis didn’t “set out” to do what he did either. He’s quoted as saying that Aslan sort of wrote himself into the Narnia story – his character and his sacrifice weren’t planned from the start. But God has an amazing knack of inserting his presence in unexpected places!

    As for the Christian content of the Harry Potter series not being highlighted more, I have to say I don’t mind that too much. Living in anti-Christian (‘tell me one thing the Christians have ever done for us’) Australia, I feel that too many people would be scared off the books if they explicitly knew about Rowling’s faith and its influence on her work. I’d rather they read them and a subtle seed be sown … maybe later they will seek out the real life person who sacrificed his life for them.

  2. Arabella Figg says

    I’ve come to not expect much in secular magazines about the Christian elements of HP. Actually, I thought the article was so above and beyond Lev Grossman’s execrable swash, I was quite pleased with it (except for most of the stupid questions to which the writers could have found answers elsewhere. Why on earth would Fred have been in the forest? If Draco didin’t marry someone significant, especially a non-Slytherin, from the books, who cares?).

    Rowling has been consistent and bold since DH in discussing her faith, but not in a way that would turn off readers of other/no faith. She’s got a tricky line to walk. And, of course, she has no control over how a story is written. Still, I’m so thankful they took Grossman off the Potter beat. This is a respectable article to intrigue those who haven’t read the books.

    Perhaps, John, you may eventually have a more positive view. I don’t feel you’re indulging in sour grapes, but disappointment over what could have been…but would never be likely in a secular news mag.

    Perhaps my fellow All-Pros feel differently.

    Flako is laying across the magazine, licking his paws…

  3. JohnABaptist says

    I think, John, that you berate yourself unfairly in comparison to Vladimir Grigorenko. Vladimir was faced with something that he immediately saw as direct and obvious heresy, the creation of an iconic depiction of a secular person in a manner that suggested their equation with the Saints. There is no way or context in which such a thing could be presented that would not constitute a heresy.

    You, on the other hand, were asked to do what you routinely do, offer opinions as to the value and substance of Ms. Rowling’s works as literature, and the potential for treating some of her allusions as being theological in nature. You did this, in good faith. Much as I’m sure had Mr. Grigorenko been asked by Time to create an Icon to illustrate an article on St. Andrew for their religious section he would have been glad to comply.

    There was no heresy involved in your contribution I am sure. That Time chose not to use any of your comments suggests you made your points sufficiently well that they no longer fit the “editorial viewpoint” of the article.

    Even had your responses appeared after being misedited into heretical comments, you would still not have been responsible, any more than Mr. Grigorenko would have been responsible if some previously commissioned Icon of his creation had been purchased from a third party by Time and then re-touched to resemble Putin.

    Time, like “…The Prophet exists to sell itself, you silly girl….” if I may extend a quotation from Ms. Skeeter in Order of the Phoenix. Let us not expect more from a venue than that venue expects from itself.

    Time acknowledged the wonderment. Time did not understand the wonderment. If Time passed over much that was important, that is after all Time’s function. Time passes.

  4. “Execrable swash.” *snicker*

    JKR does indeed have a tricky line to walk. Sometimes I can’t believe the way open hostility to Christianity has increased, even since I was younger. Even a hint in that direction is enough to make many people plug their ears with fingers and go “la la la i can’t hear you”

  5. JAB is right, John– the comparison isn’t fair to you. I imagine if you had been offered the chance at what’s almost blasphemy you wouldn’t take it, either, and that’s what Grigorenko said no to. You were offered a chance to really add something to the dialogue, and it’s entirely their loss caused by their own agendas that they didn’t use it. The Times clearly takes a very simplistic view of faith and religion. They assume that anyone who’s against extremism in religion must not be that religious after all (I could’ve sworn “love thy neighbor” included not bashing folks over the head with one’s faith– and that it was actually the most radical part of our faith). They assume that Putin’s ‘iconic’ status makes him a perfect icon, ignoring basic facts like icons being of God and the saints. Maybe someone saw an icon of the last Romanovs– and then made the poor assumption that anyone could be on an icon.

    In short, I’m not impressed with the Times’ religious credentials any more than I am with some of Hollywood’s– my roomie is a Law&Order: SVU fan, and I’ve seen several episodes now where the writing exhibits the most simplistic, incomplete view of faith which shows a total lack of understanding. Is it any wonder people miss the religious elements of HP given our total lack of cultural literacy, particularly, but not solely, as it pertains to Christianity.

    I for one am totally not impressed with Putin. I don’t care if it’s not an endorsement– it is an effective one even if they don’t actually like the guy. And he’s a total autocrat who’s been butchering Chechens for years. The elections were rigged probably at his bidding, and he is probably transferring presidential powers to the post of prime minister as we speak so that he can remain an autocrat. But I guess it doesn’t matter to Times that perhaps bad people be honored. With that kind of choice, John, it’s almost just as well to not be associated with them, even though it would’ve been neat for your comments in there.

    ~Nzie

  6. Arabella Figg says

    Re: Post. While I felt Jo should have won everything, I thougt Colbert’s sally was hilarious.

    Her high standing in polls and awards shows how vast her audience is in age and interest and how remarkable her storytelling. Sniffed at as a kiddie author, she’s swept the world. Shared text indeed.

    BTW, in the A&E special, I was annoyed that Steve got so much time and even presented YOUR ideas John. You’re still the main man on the book’s structure and influences and should have had more say than an “information collector.”

    No baby bumps here…the kitties have all been “tutored” (credit Gary Larson for this gag)…

  7. Arabella Figg says

    I finally got my hard copy of Time (late) and reread the article. I have to say I believe this to be the best (or one of the best) secular magazine article I’ve read. They give quite a bit of space to Jo’s discussion of her faith and the redemptive themes of love and death, sowing seeds there. There’s no attempt to squash or diminsh her. I thought her comments on the Epilogue were quite poignant–the importance of overcoming trauma, in particular. Perhaps if you read it again, John, with some breathing space, you’ll see it differently.

    Mrs. Fleasely sees things differently from Fullatricks and is about to set things straight…

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