A Cautious Man
July 16, 2005
 
And the Wizards Play
Earlier this morning, the latest Harry Potter book went on sale. The media frenzy began long before that. Now, I am writing about this because of something I saw yesterday. While having lunch with some colleagues, my eye was caught by a caption on a nearby television screen. The television was tuned to Fox News, which apparently was doing some sort of Potter coverage with a studio audience. The caption which caught my eye was something along the lines of "Pope Says 'Harry Potter' Distorts Christianity".

Fortunately, The Opinion Mill has come through for me, pointing the way to a debunking of all this silliness:
With "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" coming out at the stroke of midnight, the wires have been humming with the story that the new Pope thinks the Potter series is bad for kids. This meme was apparently put out by a German crank named Gabriele Kuby, who has written a book accusing J.K. Rowling of impairing the moral development of children with her occult tales. Said crank has letters written in 2003, when the pontiff was still Cardinal Ratzinger, agreeing with her that the Potter tales are full of "subtle seductions" that put youngsters on the slippery slope to hell, damnation and Ozzy Osbourne songs.

Leave it to The Leaky Cauldron, a Harry Potter fan site, to post a link to Catholic Insider, which has the transcript of a radio broadcast making it clear that the Vatican doesn't have a problem with Harry Potter. In fact, Monsignor Peter Fleetwood, a former official at the Pontifical Council for Culture, suggests that Kuby "may not have understood a very British sense of humor" when she took up the cudgels against Rowling's books.
The Catholic Insider link has more of Monsignor Fleetwood's interview on Vatican Radio, to clear things up -
I was sent a letter from a lady in Germany who claimed to have written to the then cardinal Ratzinger, saying that she thought Harry Potter was a bad thing. And the letter back, which I suspect was written by an assistent of the then cardinal Ratzinger in his office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, suggested that there was a subtle seduction in the books. What that subtle seduction was, was not specified, which makes me think it was a generic answer. And she had written a book on these subjects and so the Cardinal's signature was at the bottom of the letter, suggesting she should send me the book.

She sent me the book, and I found it a very unsatisfactory book. I don't think she understands English humour. For example, she said: one sign that these books are making fun of Judaism and Christianity is that Voldemort, the wicked magician, who is the great evil power against whom Harry Potter has to fight, is referred to often as 'he who must not be named', and she takes this as an insult to the name of God in a similar way that Adonai, which is often written as Jawhe, is the name that should not be said in Jewish religion. Well I replied to her: don't you know that even within English families, men who make fun of their relationship with women in a nice, lighthearted way say: oh, she who should not be named, meaning the power in the house, their wife. You know, I think it was meant on that kind of level.

...

And people have obviously worked of a strange translation of what I said in Italian. It is notable that the only complaints I got were from people using a translation. I don't know who made that translation. They never asked me any questions about whether they got it right. They certainly didn't understand what I'd said in the press conference. So I only whish there had been more time to talk then, but the press conference was about something quite different, and it was only one question that was blown out of proportion.

But I remain firmly convinced that the Harry Potter novels are very well written. They are written on the classical plot of good versus evil in the standard way that the old myths were written. The characters are built up around that: the goodies and the baddies so to speak, and I can't see that that's a bad thing for children, when goodness, and the people on the side of goodness are portrayed as the ones who will eventually win. Harry's enemies resort to all sorts of evil things, and they are the ones who loose in the end. I don't see what's wrong with that, and I can't see that does any harm to children.
There's more sensible thoughts at that link.

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