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?
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.
This morning I logged into my email to find a whole host of messages announcing new followers on Twitter. The source of all this largesse? Blogger/novelist/religion scholar Donna Freitas has written a lovely entry called "Oh, the Bible Bores Me So" for Religion Dispatches. She talks about how she is bored to tears by the Bible but is loving the daily Twible. Thanks, Donna, for helping to spread the word!
And speaking of blogging, I've been AWOL from this personal blog partly because I am gearing up to blog for Beliefnet at least five times a week starting June 15. The blog is called "Flunking Sainthood," which is the title of my next book. It will explore spirituality and culture in a broad-ranging way, with an emphasis on ordinary people trying to live out their faith and sometimes -- OK, often -- falling short. It's about the lighter side of spiritual failure, and will feature interviews, book reviews, commentary on films & television, updates on the Twible project, and a weekly column about Mormon life. Hope to see you there! The new blog will happen here. I'll be sure to cross-post any reviews here on The Review Revolution.
Admit it. You have succumbed to the crack cocaine that is Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games series. (Here in Cincinnati, The Hunger Gamesis all the rage because it's the On the Same Page selection for this year with our public library system.) But I've already read it three times and am counting the days until Mockingjay, the final book in the trilogy, will be released. Just under four months to go! Can I get a witness?
So here's a wonderful way to fill the time: dive into Gracelingby Kristin Cashore. I almost feel bad comparing the two, because I'm sure that Cashore hears that all the time and has wondered why The Hunger Games has achieved iconic status while Graceling has flown a wee bit under the radar, despite starred reviews in PW, LJ, SLJ, and Booklist. So I'm on a one-woman crusade to help spread the word about this excellent YA novel. It's like THG in that both feature unapologetically strong female heroines (one named Katniss, one named Katsa . . hmm), fascinating explorations of dystopian societies and the misuse of power, intriguing plot twists, and epic love stories. (Black box warning: Graceling does feature some sex, which is sensitively portrayed. The novel is aimed at older teen readers and adults.)
Graceling is set in a society in which a handful of individuals are "graced," or gifted with extraordinary abilities in one key area, whether it be animal husbandry, mind-reading, or setting fire to things. Katsa, our heroine, is graced with killing -- not the gift she would have chosen -- and is given work as a kind of mafia hit man for her uncle, a cruel and petty king. The novel traces Katsa's gradual discovery of her real Grace, which turns out not to be killing at all, and her growing openness to loving others and finding self-understanding. Unforgettable characters, exciting and well-paced plot, and imaginative setting. You will be cheering.