Harrying Potter

Critics of the Harry Potter books fall into two categories. First are those, like Pope Benedict XVI, who fret over the books’ influence on children.

“…these are subtle seductions which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul before it can grow properly.”

What exercises the Pope — and many other religious figures as well — are the key ingredients of HP: Witches. Magic. Fantastic creatures, extraordinary powers, nameless terror from the depths of evil.

Better for children, Bennie would say, to learn about his brand of magic, which includes but is not limited to bodily transubstantiation, rising (and raising others) from the dead, bodily assumption into heaven, and eternal damnation for violation of arbitary and trivial or inconsequential dicta.

Ron Charles, on the other hand, is worried about HP’s influence on adults. Or perhaps we should call them people who might otherwise be mistaken for adults.

Start carrying on like Moaning Myrtle about the repetitive plots, the static characters, the pedestrian prose, the wit-free tone, the derivative themes, and you’ll wish you had your invisibility cloak handy.

The vast majority of adults who tell me they love Harry Potter never move on to Susanna Clarke’s enchanting Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, with its haunting exploration of history and sexual longing, or Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, a dazzling fantasy series that explores philosophical themes (including a scathing assault on organized religion) that make Rowling’s little world of good vs. evil look, well, childish.

Charles is a book editor at the Washington Post.

Disclaimer: I have read about one third of one of the HP books; I can’t remember the title, but it was one of the first two or three. I have read all of His Dark Materials and all of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Like Charles, I highly recommend you abandon Rowling in favor of Clarke or Pullman.

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