Darkness adds depth, meaning to Potter series: experts
Daniel Radcliffe and Ralph Fiennes in Warner Bros. Pictures' 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1'
Published Thursday, November 18, 2010 7:52AM EST
Once upon a time, Harry Potter was just a wee wizard struggling to find himself in "The Philosopher's Stone," the first book in J.K. Rowling's seven-part series.
But the cute, parentless child has grown up, and his journey into adulthood has been a dark, dangerous affair, as fans will be reminded all too clearly in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1."
"The darker this story gets the more meaningful and compelling it becomes," says Danielle Tumminio, author of the upcoming December book release, "God and Harry at Yale: Faith and Fiction in the Classroom."
"Part of human growth is suffering and struggle," says Tumminio, who taught a class at Yale in 2008 and 2009 on "Christian Theology and Harry Potter."
"Rowling has done an artful job of bringing in that darkness gradually so that Harry and company are matured to a point where they can handle it. But her critics often forget that great humanness to this story."
In December of 2002, for example, Rome's official exorcist, Fr. Gabriele Amorth, warned parents against the Harry Potter books. In an interview with the Italian ANSA news agency, Rev. Amorth said "Behind Harry Potter hides the signature of the king of the darkness, the devil."
Prominent Christian leaders like family guru James Dobson have publicly denounced the series, even though it has delighted millions of readers and entertained countless moviegoers around the world.
Even Matthew Slick, of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry which reports on cults and religious movements, slammed Rowling's books for having "no Christian principles at all."
Yet the suggestion that some dark occult message drives these children's books is misguided, says Tumminio.
"These heretical arguments from within Christian circles are too narrow," she says.
"I don't think people walk away from these books desiring to be witches and wizards. They walk away wanting to embody the essence of a character."
Take Hermione Granger, for example.
"I don't think what makes Hermione feel so compelling is that she can cast a certain spell. She's intelligent and works hard. That's what people resonate with," says Tumminio.
"Harry, too, may be the chosen one of the wizardly world. But what's really compelling about him is how well he loves people. Love is the over-arching theme here, not the occult."
Potter's dark side mirrors real evil in the world
That love and a burgeoning faith in one's own self reliance is the real magic in the Potter series, according to Professor Joseph Thompson of Pennsylvania's Villanova University.
"If you look at this final chapter in the Potter saga and work backwards, Rowling gives us plenty of magic to entertain us. She also makes it very clear that beating the dark side won't be easy. We just have to believe that goodness will eventually triumph over evil," says Thompson.
Not long ago Thompson wrote to J.K. Rowling to ask a question. "I wanted to know what she thought would make a great meal at Hogwarts. I haven't heard back yet," Thompson says, with a laugh.
The request was no lark for this veteran professor of international relations.
In December, Thompson will host a dinner for the students enrolled in his course on "Harry Potter and International Relations." Remarkably, Thompson uses Rowling's magical boy wizard series to explain geopolitics in the real world.
"With a little bit of humour and a little seriousness it all balances out. But don't kid yourself," Thompson tells CTV.ca.
The Potter books are now a global phenomenon. And as Thompson explains, globalism is the basis of international relations.
That connection often explains why Rowling's work and the perils Harry faces resonate with people around the world.
"These books deal with politics and culture. They deal with good versus evil, life and death, love and hate. In my view, Harry Potter's fictional trials tap into our own real struggles with the dark side of contemporary life," says Thompson.
The dark parallels that Thompson makes are convincing.
According to Thompson, those wizard and witches known as Death Eaters are no different than modern-day terrorists, especially as they try to purify their realm by killing off Muggle-borns (people with non-magical parents).
The series' Wizard-Muggle feud also mirrors the ongoing discord between Shiites and Sunni Muslims and countless other groups around the world.
Even character Rita Skeeter, the Daily Prophet's sly gossip reporter, exemplifies the dangers inherent in an unethical media. "Is Rita writing to serve the interests of the government, the market or herself?" Thompson argues.
"The truth is, evil is in our world," says Thompson.
"We humans are always fighting selfishness, greed, wars, genocide and starvation. That is the dark side of 21st century life. But the dark side that Rowling is really touching on is the dark side of mankind," he says.
"That darkness has nothing to do with the occult. Those who focus on that connection are missing the point."