Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Harry Potter and the rest of history

There is nobody who doesn't know (that's a double negative) who Harry Potter is now, unless the person is an illiterate or is one who cannot afford or have no access to a public library. I know this describes a large swath of planet earth, but this is another issue.

I am not reviewing the excellent Harry Potter books here. They need no introduction nor recommendation from me. They just sell on the strength of word of mouth. Perhaps because of its runaway success, or because of its subject (wizardry), many people, particularly those on the extreme of the Christian Right, have come out strongly against these stories because of the inherent lifestyle that it promotes - sorcery and witchcraft (actually, more like wizardcraft). There are those who even burnt the books publicly to demonstrate what they think of the stories.

Well, there are, of course, others who go to the other extreme and view Harry Potter as the Divine incarnate. One such book is "God, the Devil and Harry Potter" by John Killinger. Killinger is a liberal Christian whose defence of the Potter novel (against the extreme conservative Christian Right) has, in my view, swung to the other extreme, so much so that he seems to hold the Potter novels as the exact parallel to the Bible. He probably would have named the Potter novels "The Harry Potter version of the Holy Bible", if he could. In his book, Killinger draws many parallels between the events described in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone" with the account of Jesus' birth and upbringing. For example, Harry Potter's humble abode under the staircase of the Dursleys' house is compared to Jesus' own humble beginnings. Jesus' birth was accompanied by the threat of Herod's murderous intentions, just as Potter's was from Voldemort's attempt to kill him (resulting in that 'lightning' scar on Potter's forehead). Killinger even points out that Potter was eventually to be grouped under Gryffindor house, which has the lion as its symbol. Coincidentally (or by design) the symbol of the ancient Israeli tribe of Judah, through which Jesus descended, is also a lion. Actually Singapore is also known as the Lion City, but no, perhaps its too small, insignificant or Asian to merit any attention. Of course, the other reason is that the boy Jesus never came here.

So far, it has been bearable, but Killinger stretches it when he continues to draw these parallels against extra-Biblical sources. The Bible is silent on Jesus' life up to his 30'th birthday. While we do have records of Jesus' childhood and youth, such as his family fleeing to Egypt with him to avoid Herod and the boy Jesus accompanying his parents to the temple (Gospel of Luke 2:39-52), virtually nothing else is recorded in the Bible about his youth. So Killinger turns to extra-biblical sources such as the Coptic Gospel of Thomas and the apocryphal book of James to draw further parallels about Jesus' early life with that of Harry Potter's in the Dursley's household. These books are not as authoritative as the Bible, and certainly have not undergone as great a scrutiny for factual accuracy as the Bible has been subject to over the last 2000 years. Along the way, he also mentioned that Jesus once went to England with Joseph of Arimathea, which explained how the Holy Grail, which was the cup that Jesus used at the last supper, eventually ended up in Glastonbury, in Somerset, England.

Enough is enough. The Bible and the record of Jesus' life is turning into fiction, if you agree with Killinger's thesis and his fantasies. Here, fact has turned into fantasy, as much as Harry Potter's book is fantasy. At least Rowling does not hide that fact! The sad thing is that the Bishop of the United Methodist Church commends the book to its would-be readers!

I do not recommend this book to readers as a good book. But of course readers might want to find out for themselves the art of turning fact into fiction. If this is what interests you, then there is no better book than this.

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