In a new book, Greg Garrett (The Gospel According to Hollywood; Holy Superheroes; and a number of other books on religion and popular culture) explores the Harry Potter series as religious literature. Say amen, somebody! Here's a Q&A about One Fine Potion, Greg's new exploration of the "literary magic" of Harry Potter.
Flunking Sainthood: First off, congratulations on a beautiful analysis of Harry Potter. I'm sure some people will wonder, "Why now, when the series is complete, will people want to buy a book on this topic?" But I think your book proves that the Harry Potter stories have become classics in both children's and Christian literature, and that people will be analyzing them closely for decades to come.
Garrett: I'm so glad the book worked for you; obviously I'm hoping that some people will want to read more about Harry Potter. I point out early on in the book that Harry Potter has become the most successful "fictional" story in history, and the popularity of the films and now the brand new theme park in Orlando are convincing evidence that the narrative still interests millions. I waited to write my book until I had a chance to read and re-read J. K. Rowling's books, so that I could do a faithful analysis of her story to understand what it is that people are carrying away from it, whether consciously or subconsciously. What I did in One Fine Potion was name those things so that people can claim the lessons and encouragement Rowling provides in these pages and carry them back into their lives.
FS: You argue that reading books like Harry Potter is "essential for our moral development." I agree! But can you explain why?
The only thing I knew about Julian of Norwich before reading Amy Frykholm's excellent new "contemplative biography"
of her was that she was the saint who said "All shall be well, and all
shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." My friend Kelly
likes to quote that when I'm particularly stressed out, and I find it
It turns out that I'm not the only one in the dark about this medieval saint. In this interview, Christian Century correspondent Amy Frykholm explodes some of the pervasive myths about Julian and helps us to understand Julian's theology and visions.
Sainthood: I don't know much about Julian, but I had always heard she
was an aristocratic nun. You say that might not have been the case at
Frykholm: Right. In fact, I think the evidence points away
from it. No one knows for sure, but there was an enormous explosion of
lay writing in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Lay people were
taking on greater roles in the church and claiming their own
spirituality. So there's no reason to presume she was a nun. But there's
also the fact that Julian never mentions a convent, a religious order,
or anything monastic in her book. Another reason was that she wrote this
book for laypeople. Most books written by women in this period were for
sisters or make a great deal of mention of convent life. She's very
clear that she's writing for laypeople.
FS: So she probably wasn't a nun, but you're saying she was not gentility either?
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears! I'm counting the days until Tuesday's release of Mockingjay, the final installment in Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games series. Apparently I'm not the only one, because the book is listed as the #1 bestselling book on Amazon, days before its release.
been thinking a lot about what to expect, and have crafted some
speculations based on the novels themselves and also from Roman history.
These aren't really spoilers so much as theories, so take them all with
a grain of salt. Just before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released, I had fun blogging my wild theories
about the book and then seeing which ones were correct, and which
ones--rather spectacularly--were not. (Regulus Black did not turn out to
be Crookshanks. But it was a great idea!)
Just as names are important in Harry Potter, they're an important
clue in The Hunger Games. Some District names derive from plants
(Katniss, Prim, Rue); others from nature's elements (Gale), others from
the agricultural process (Thresh, Seeder, Chaff, Haymitch); and still
others from food (Peeta, "the boy with the bread"). In the Districts,
names are related to nature in some way. These contrast sharply to names
in the Capitol and inner districts, which have come straight from the
Roman Empire: Octavia, Flavius, Portia, Caesar, Claudius, Brutus,
Plutarch, Cato, Venia, Cinna. (This last one is especially telling,
because in the play Julius Caesar, there are two characters named Cinna:
one conspires against Caesar, and the other is a humble poet who dies
because he is mistaken for the first Cinna. Collins's Cinna has embodied
a little of both.)
The land in which this story is taking place
is called Panem, a Latin word meaning bread. In the Roman Empire, a vast
network of conquered peoples, the emperor asserted both his authority
and his magnanimity through panem et circenses ("bread and
circuses"). In this approach, the Empire appeased the people's basest
desires by distributing free food to the provinces and providing
gladiatorial spectacles for their entertainment. Over time, the people
of Rome demanded larger and ever more violent performances, using
conquered peoples from around the world who were forced to fight each
other to the death as gladiators.
You've got your work cut out for you when you're Stephenie Meyer. When you dare
to write an in-between novella, the same people who criticized your
doorstopping tomes of old now complain that you're holding out on them
by penning a 168-page glorified short story. The people who got angry
that there was too much of the Edward-Bella-Jacob love triangle in Eclipse
now rant that The
Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella doesn't
have enough of their lovelorn woes. And everybody assumes it's all just a
marketing ploy to promote the Eclipse movie,
which hit theaters yesterday with the
largest-ever midnight launch in history. In short, you just can't
I'm sorry to add to the criticisms because I hope that Meyer will
continue writing about this fascinating world she has created, and I
don't want to be that vampire whose special superpower is whining. The
Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is okay. But I have to say, I was
hoping for more.
Bree Tanner is a don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it character in Eclipse,
whose story intersects with Bella's in the final battle scene.
Those of you who have read my
personal book review blog know that I was not crazy about the
second book in this series, which was a testament to the importance
of good editors. The first hundred pages had absolutely no relevance to
the rest of the book. They should have been cut. Or better yet, put
into a separate novella about "Salander's lost months" so that the
publisher could rake in a kajillion more kronor. But where was the
Thankfully, the third book is much better, even
though the injured Lisbeth Salander doesn't really get her mojo back
until nearly halfway through the novel. . . .
I blame my mother for introducing me to the Gosselin family.
During one of her visits last year, TLC was running a
& Kate Plus 8, and Mom was glued to the screen. I watched
several episodes with her and was surprised to find that she knew each
child's history and personality. Watching the show for the first time
gave me more than a few schadenfreude moments. I saw one episode
where Jon and Kate take the kids to Disney World. I couldn't
imagine the stress of keeping track of them all, or scheduling their
naps, or dealing with Mouse-induced meltdowns times eight. Those
parents deserve a medal, I thought.
And yet the family has come under intense media scrutiny for, well,
allowing the media to intensely scrutinize their lives. Americans just
can't get enough of the Gosselins. As our own families get smaller,
we're endlessly fascinated by ones
that are supersized. We watch the Gosselins' show in part because
we know that although our lives might seem crazy, we'll never be
potty-training six toddlers simultaneously, on tiny toilets all lined up
in a row. We'll never have to hold back some of our trash from one week
to the next just because our allotted bins are already full of diapers.
We'll never have half a dozen kids with fevers all at once. Thanks,
If we haven't gotten enough of the Gosselins yet (even with Jon's
well-publicized adultery and Kate's
disastrous recent turn on Dancing with the Stars), the Zondervan
Just Want You to Know promises the dish on Kate's kids,
religious beliefs, and supersized life. I was prepared to cynically hate
this book. And you know what? It's actually not bad, and there's a
surprising amount of material on religion