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Volume 14, Issue 2: Ex Libris

Reviews

Harry Potter and the Bible
Richard Abanes
Horizon: 2001

The hype has died down somewhat, but don't expect the reprieve to last long. Before too many more months have passed, the Harry Potter publicity machine will have begun its work. The next book is coming. Should that scare us or please us? Richard Abanes votes for the former.
It was perhaps inevitable that what are arguably the most popular children's books of all time would generate controversy. As the latest in a series of books examining how Christians should react to the Potter phenomenon, Richard Abanes' book Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace behind the Magick offers a critique of the books by J.K. Rowling.
For the uninitiated, Harry Potter is a young wizard who attends a boarding school at Hogwarts' School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Northern England. He and his friends, in between classes about potions, divination, and spell-casting, manage to save the school from some unspeakable evil just about every year, in every book.
Abanes' book goes through and outlines, in detail, the action in each of the books. He lists the objectionable items in each book, and then questions their suitability for children. He has three main objections against the books. First, they treat magick (the word refers to the occult, different from the sleight-of-hand sort of magic) and sorcery as worthy pursuits, things which the Bible expressly condemns. Second, Harry and his friends constantly (indeed, every few chapters) break the rules of the school. Everything turns out all right in the end, but this is after the lying, cheating, and sneaking out at night have already occurred and been forgiven with no destructive consequences. Third, Abanes dislikes the way that cursing (i.e., profanity, not spells) is used, though infrequently, as the books become more and more adult in content, containing violence and, Abanes argues, sexuality.
Abanes is right in his first criticism. The Potter books do treat sorcery and witchcraft as worthy pursuits. And if a child is going to read these books and seriously decide to become a witch, then the child shouldn't be reading these books. But this is an issue not of the book but of the maturity of the reader. If a child is not mature enough to realize that witchcraft is an empty worldview with no hope of salvation, then he is not old enough to read Harry Potter. Abanes makes this point quite well. To any discerning and mature reader, however, the Potter books offer no temptation in this regard. Indeed, they offer about as much information about witchcraft as Lewis or Tolkien. Anyone with a propensity toward sorcery could be just as easily led astray by misusing those works.
Abanes' second problem with Rowling's books is that, morally, they present a relativistic worldview. The message is that the ends justify the means. Abanes is right: Harry and his pals break lots of rules without suffering the consequences. But while he addresses this aspect well, he fails to point out that a mature reader should have as much problem with Harry's worldview as with Homer's. The ancient view of honor and warfare is not one we would want to emulate or praise, yet we continue to read them nonetheless. Don't get me wrong; I don't want to say J.K. Rowling is another Homer. But though both paradigms are wrong, Christians seem more willing to throw out the newer.
Lastly, Abanes takes issue with the rising level of language in the books and the way they are gradually becoming more adult in content. Like the former two problems, I would agree that this is a concern, but only if the books are being read by young children. Only discerning minds should read them, just like many other good books. It takes discernment to read that sort of material.
Personally, I have read and enjoyed all four of the Harry Potter books, and I plan to read the fifth upon its publication. They're not great literature--I agree with Roger Sutton, editor of The Horn Book, a seventy-five-year-old children's literary digest, that as literature, the Potter books are "critically insignificant" and "nothing to get excited about." [Roger Sutton, quoted in Elizabeth Mehren, "Wild About Harry," Los Angeles Times, July 28, 2000, available online at www.latimes.com] They're not even great fantasy. But they're still fun to read.
There's a lot of good in Harry Potter and the Bible. Richard Abanes has written an excellent critique of the series, one which I will turn to if I'm curious about whether a particular spell is grounded in fact. He also offers a decent analysis of the works of Lewis and Tolkien. I also agree that young children shouldn't read the Harry Potter books unless they're old and mature enough to handle it. But I failed to find one reason why a mature Christian shouldn't read them, and enjoy them.

The Death of The West
Patrick J. Buchanan
Dunne: 2001

Our nation is doomed. That, at least, is the thesis of Pat Buchanan's latest book, The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization. In fifty years, the United States will no longer be a superpower, and nations now considered "Third World" will have taken over the central makeup of the world.

Buchanan sites four reasons for this change: "the first is a dying population." According to the statistics he cites, every country in Europe, with the exception of Muslim Albania, has a birthrate too low to maintain current population levels. In Russia, the average number of children per family is so low that there will be more than 40 million fewer Russians in 2050. The average number of children in the United Kingdom is a mere 1.66 per family, a number which Buchanan claims will not sustain them much longer. America's European population is also in decline.The next reason "is the mass immigration of people of different colors, creeds, and cultures, changing the character of the West forever." While the populations of Europe and America decline, the population of countries like India, China, Iran, and Egypt are exploding. These people need somewhere to go, and America and Europe will not be able to resist them. The number of illegal aliens in the United States alone, Buchanan claims, is equal to the populations of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut combined. In fifty years, the West will be overrun by the rest of the world.
"The third [reason] is the rise to dominance of an anti-Western culture in the West, deeply hostile to its religions, traditions, and morality, which has already sundered the West." This includes the recent attack on such historical symbols as the Confederate flag, the rewriting of textbooks without key historical events, and the slave-reparations debate (in the latter case, Buchanan makes the interesting point that the West did not start slavery, but it did end it). Buchanan also credits what he calls "the revolution" with the demise of traditional values in the West and the downturn of Christianity. This, too, will be instrumental in the fall of the West. His fourth reason is "the breakup of nations and the defection of ruling elites to a world government whose rise entails the end of nations." In this, Buchanan has institutions such as the United Nations, the European Union, and NATO in mind. He sees these and their consolidation of governmental powers in one location as a threat to the freedom of Christendom.
Buchanan packs a great deal of information into his 300-page book, and the numbers he has are irrefutable. Even allowing a margin of error merely delays the effects another twenty-five years. But wanting to avoid Malthusian prediction, there is another reason to be wary of The Death of the West: Christianity. Although a Roman Catholic, Buchanan does not take into account that with the fall of the pantheistic Western governments, Christians, and not Third World Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, will be in the position to take command.
Another problem with the book is Buchanan's solution to the problem; it is largely political. To boost populations, he recommends tax incentives for having more children. To fix the immigration problem, he proposes strict regulation of borders. To fix the world government problem, he suggests political opposition. To fix our governmental system, he wishes to restructure the Supreme Court. And to fight the culture war, he calls for boycotts, referenda, and "countering hate crimes with truth." This is not the way to fix our country. Much like the Ring in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, using the other team's guns will not get us anywhere, even if we win. The answer to saving our culture is to turn to God and beg forgiveness for our sins. No matter how many boycotts, no matter how many good people we send to Washington, as long as God is against us, no one is for us.
Perhaps in fifty years the West will be dead. But unless our nation and culture undergo a massive revival and reformation, no one will miss it.

The Mysterious Island
Jules Verne
Modern Library: 2001

The great European languages all have their tales of men cast-away on deserted islands. English has Robinson Crusoe. German has Wyss' Swiss Family Robinson. And in 1874, French received her addition to the canon with The Mysterious Island, written by the father of science fiction, Jules Verne. Most of us know Verne as the author of such adventure stories as Around the World in 80 Days or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but few know him as the author of such works as From Earth to the Moon. Sadly, and undeservedly,

Unlike most castaway novels, the five men in Verne's tale are blown off their course in a balloon, rather than a ship. They have escaped from being held prisoner in Richmond, Virginia, by the Confederate Army toward the close of the War in 1865. Though intending a quick journey across enemy lines, they are blown thousands of miles until landing in the South Pacific. With nothing but the clothes on their backs, the five men are forced to live off the land. As they explore, they realize there is more to the island than meets the eye (hence the title).

As the first major desert-island survuval novel written after the publication of Origin of Species and Rousseau's "noble savage" ideal, Verne does an admirable job of steering clear of any evolutionary tendencies, an easy analogy to make when writing such a book. In addition, though the book is not as explicitly spiritual as Robinson Crusoe or The Swiss Family Robinson, it is certainly not anti-God as was the recent movie Cast Away, and the characters frequently give thanks to the Almighty for their provision.

Although some may take issue with what they see as a deus ex machina, it is important to note that there are very few ways to end a desert-island tale, none of which involve anything but the use of such a device. It comes with the territory.
All in all, The Mysterious Island is very well written and enjoyable to read. As a bonus, it is thoroughly suitable to being read to children, though certainly not at one sitting.

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