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German and Irish-American Anti-Potterians of the World, Unite!

Lifesite.net has an article pompously titled, "Pope Benedict Opposes Harry Potter Novels." The contents are not very edifying, since what this amounts to is a two-year-old German Zenit interview with Gabrielle Kuby (linked to in the article) who is apparently the German version of novelist and anti-Potter fanatic Michael O'Brien. The article tells us that the pope "has denounced" the Potter series as dangerous.

This is simply false. The Kuby interview includes excerpts of a letter from then-Cardinal Ratzinger saying that her writing on the "danger" and "subtle seduction" of the Potter phenomenon is very convincing. But there is no "denunciation" and, importantly, no indication that Cardinal Ratzinger had ever read the books.

Kuby's interview (in German) amounts to the same sort of nonsense seen in critics like Michael O'Brien on this side of the pond--the books have magic, magic is forbidden by the Old and New Testament, no, sorry, it's OK about Tolkien, he was a good Catholic and he was different, blah, blah, blah.

Lifesite.net has the good humor to quote O'Brien, a somewhat talented novelist (though his "Children of the Last Days" series had deteriorated so much by the fourth volume that I've not checked to see if the last two have been any good or not) as saying, "This discernment on the part of Benedict XVI reveals the Holy Father's depth and wide ranging gifts of spiritual discernment."

No, Mr. O'Brien, what this "discernment" reveals is that we can't read everything and that people take things on the word of others. A private communication to a German friend saying, "ja, good article, you're probably right," is not a public statement that merits much attention without further reason. Even if the Pope had read the series and made the comments, which it is fairly certain he did not, Catholics are not bound to papal literary criticism. Catholics, said Chesterton, are bound in faith to agree on a few things, but tend to disagree about everything else.

Mr. O'Brien's critiques of the series are linked to in the article.
For a much better assessment, look instead at the article I did with my wife, "Character, Choice, and Harry Potter" or the interview we did with Zenit in the archives on March 16, 2003.

Comments (3)

AMA:

Hey, Dave -- Give me a ring (or an email) ASAP!

mjniemann:

It is funny about the brouhaha surrounding the Potter books. There are about a billion other books just like them in any public library, and I read about 1.2 million of them when I was 12. In fact, it is very hard to find anything OTHER than books with some kind of magic in them. Adventure novels almost always have some kind of magic in the plot, and many involve girls and boys with some kind of special "powers."

Just because this is a common theme does not mean that these books encourage kids to try true witchcraft, any more than books about time travel encourage kids to believe that you can really honestly go back and forth in time. Rather, these are generally devices to talk about how mysterious and unknowable much of the world is, and how exciting it can be to find new talents, powers, and potentialities in others and yourself.

Having read the Potter books, I enjoyed them thoroughly, but would not recommend them to kids younger than 16. This is mainly because the books deal with some extremely dark (and gruesome) themes. I don't think any pre-teen really needs to read about demonic possession or "death eating" or a person tortured by his own overwhelming evil tendencies (the werewolf teacher).

Somehow, Michael O'Brien and those like him have misunderstood what fiction is and does. I'd appreciate any more comments from people who can shed light on exactly where he is mistaken; I can't put my finger on it myself.

A post from Mrs. MJNiemann, in case anyone was wondering.

Dave,
For a positive take on the Potter books, check out the article Fantasy and the Occult in Children's Literature, by Dr. Susan Moore. It's a reprint from the Dec 2001 issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review... and it's pretty good!

http://www.ignatius.com/magazines/hprweb/moore.htm

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