Harry Potter and the Christian Magicians

A reader writes in to ask three questions:

1. What is the right way to answer the accusation that the fantasy genre turns kids into satanists/gnostics/pagans? One sees this argument most used against Harry Potter, but in recent years I’ve come upon people who believe that the inclusion of magic in a work is so evil they won’t even let their children read Narnia.

2. Related to this, I’m curious what your opinion is in regard to what the proper way is for a Catholic author to handle magic in their work.

3. What would be your response to those who say that all magic ought to be portrayed as evil or only used by characters who are stand-ins for God (Aslan) or who are agents of God (as I have seen some argue that Gandalf is)?

The second question would require another lengthy essay, as will the third. Perhaps another day I can address them. For now, I will address but the first, and I warn the patient reader this is rather a long answer, because the topic is one I have much pondered.

And it is a topic that has been very much on my mind of late, because in the manuscript under my hand at the moment, I have to decide whether the witchcraft used by one of the characters will be portrayed in that background as lawful or unlawful. (I will have to speak to what I decided in the promised next essay.)

Had you asked me this question a few years ago, I would have said that the best way to answer the accusation was with a belly laugh.

No doubt I would have uttered some snark, along the lines of: “If your biggest worry in the age of dictatorship of relativism in the ever-more socialist dystopia of the culture of death during a global war on terror, faithful Christians, is that a witch flying on a moonless night above your chimney pot will cast her Evil Eye on your milk cow, then you must live a pretty stress-free life.”

But in good conscience, I can no longer be so dismissive. Experience has corrected me.

It is bad form to begin with a digression, but a kind reader will indulge me.

One of my best friends in the world is Willy the Witch.

Willy is a perfectly nice fellow in every respect, kind and generous, funny, clever, a good father, a loyal husband, an honest man, big-hearted to a fault. I love him like a brother.

But he is convinced that occult powers are his to command, and the gods and spirits of the unseen world are manifestations of a mystical force that he, by his rituals and disciplines, can harness to work his will on the world.

I met him in college. We would spend all our free time together in role playing games, Dungeons and Dragons and the like: sometimes we would stay up until dawn rolling dice and pretending to be half-elves or superheroes. At least once we stayed up from Friday night until Sunday morning, role playing nonstop. Ah, youth.

At that time, he was interested, nay, fascinated by the occult, but he did not think it was real. He was in the ‘openminded’ camp. He was merely bemused by occultism, interested in the fashion of an anthropologist. He wished it were real.

After graduation, he got his wish. He fell in with a coven of like-minded students of the occult, and he saw things and did things which convinced him that the unseen world was real, and that magic rituals were the proper and lawful way to approach the unseen and to control it.

These days, my friend the witch believes in ghosts and spirits and in every god in the book except for Christ. There is only one god he will not bow to nor serve; the God of Abraham.The only spirit on whose name is does not call is Holy.

As far as I know, he has never used his magic for malign ends, only to cure the sick and call down blessings and the like. The only malignancy I ever detect in his house is a deep and abiding hatred, paranoia and contempt for Christ. So if there is anything like a Good Witch in real life, it is he.

I visited him after graduation to find him converted from the openminded camp to the openly practicing Witchcraft camp. I asked him a few questions about good and evil and life and death and the afterlife; and I found him utterly unprepared to answer.

I should add that he and I were both young at the time. He may have pondered and discovered answers to my questions in the years since then, or even the next day. But at that time, his worldview was mostly fog.

He might not even remember this talk, but it made a very deep impression on me: I was forced very grudgingly to admit that even those Christians least well instructed in their faith, had a coherent metaphysics, ethics, philosophy and theology. Christianity comes from a living tradition. It is workable: you can live your life by Christian principles.

Occultism has none of these things. It is not a religion properly so called; it is a technology, a means for winning power over the elements. It comes from no living tradition. It is not workable. It is frivolous.

It had all the bad point of organized religion, exception that it was disorganized. It was chaos: a random grab-bag of half-formed ideas and longings. It was like Christianity, but worse in every department.

(This was an admission grudging to me because I was then a lifelong atheist and a hardened skeptic, and to make any admission that Christianity was not the most false and most pernicious of all false systems is nigh impossible for atheists. Atheists pretend they hold all faiths in equal skepticism. I am now a faithful Christian and a hardened skeptic: I am merely skeptical about a different class of claims. For example, I am skeptical of the pretenses of atheists.)

My friend Willy is not the only witch I know. I know more witches than I know Catholics, enough that  my opinion is not based on hearsay and not based on a first impression.

When I say they are frivolous, I mean that they follow the boutique shop approach to the supernatural, where the shopper merely picks up whatever shiny idols as may appeal to him at the moment, and arranges them on his mantle like bricabrac.

It is a belief in ghosts without believing in an afterlife. A belief in gods without really believing in them, gods who neither demand chastity in women nor charity in men. Instead, with no sense of irony, the Witches call upon fertility goddesses to bless lesbian marriages.

(For those of you educated in modern state-run public school, let me explain my gibe: fertility refers to the ability of a mating pair to mate successfully, that is, to reproduce sexually. An alliance between two individuals of the same sex cannot be a mating pair, hence lacks this ability, hence can never be fertile.)

When I say neopaganism is based in no living tradition, I mean real pagans sacrificed to their forefathers and revered them and obeyed; they were patriots in a day when patriotism was a religious duty, a duty to love the little gods who inhabited the beloved streams and fields and groves of their city, and the idols of the citadel.

The neopagans I know have contempt for their ancestors. I suppose that is for the best. If your great-grandfather were a Puritan from Massachusetts, he might be taken aback if you erect a shrine to him to burn incense to his likeness.

As for patriotism, it is between lukewarm and cool. I have never overheard my Witch friends asking the Horned Consort or the Green Mother to bless America. One or two are veterans, but by and large the Witches don’t feel at home in their nation, and don’t have much love for it.

In sum, neopagans are not pagans, they are Postchristians: Witchcraft is Christianity as it would be if Christian virtues were expunged from it, intellectual rigor and logic were thrown overboard, and the whole were revised to fit modern multicultural moral-relativist nihilist liberal values.

Witchcraft is not like an honest religion, like Buddhism or Shinto, and it is not even an honest heresy like Arianism or Mohammedanism. These sects and religions teach an elevated moral code, selflessness and self-control, purity and virtue. Witchcraft is lust for hidden powers.

So whether magic is real or not, either way my friend has not been well served by his youthful fascination with the occult.

I see only three possibilities. It is real, and the Christians are correct that it is diabolical; it is real, but but the Christians are incorrect and Witchery is harmless and innocent; it is not real.

If it is real and harmful, then my friend Willy dabbles with forces he does not understand and cannot control and invites diabolic influences to descend upon his house: he bows to idols of wood and brass, made by the hands of man, and serves them, and cheats himself of life eternal.

If it is real and harmless, so that the Witch calls up only non-deceptive and non-satanic spirits or spiritual forces, then my friend has adopted a world view utterly lacking in any finer or higher sentiment. Lust for occult power emphases power over contentment, selfishness over selflessness, secrecy over frankness, it therefore cheats the practitioner of the virtues needed to live life well. It cheats him of happiness.

If it is not real, then he bows to idols of wood and brass, made by the hands of man, and serves nothing, taking coincidences for proofs of his beliefs, and he cheats himself of reality.

The point of my tale is that I think my friend and his friends would be better off being a Christians even if Christian teaching were false and hypocritical and intolerant and bogus and even if neopagan, occultic and esoteric teachings were true and their spells actually worked.

What role did our mutual addiction to D&D and other role playing games play in his conversion to witchcraft? What role did his love of fantasy books play?

That I cannot answer, not knowing his soul. I was not even present when he converted, I merely saw him months before and months after.

All I can say is that the argument of the fringe Christians who eschew fantasy now strikes me as a sober argument, not a contemptible one. It cannot be dismissed out of hand.

To argue that reading books and playing games which glamorize magic has no effect whatever on a boy who becomes fascinated with the occult is a naive argument, on par with those that argue pornography does not darken society’s attitude toward women, or that television violence does not influence impressionable children.

So the question is a sober one. My experience is that the accusation that fantasy lures the unwary (not just children) toward occultism is a true accusation in at least some cases. Is there any clear answer to it?

I suggest that specific way to answer depends on the specifics of the accusation, that is, on how well the case can be made.

To make their case, the phantasmophobes (if we may stick a convenient if slightly sarcastic label on them) to prove their case should show (1) the child is vulnerable to the allure of occultism (2) the book, intentionally or not, is promoting occultism (3) the use of magic in the story has no other redeeming characteristics–the magic elements are in the story for no reason others than to glamorize the occult.

Regarding point one, much depends on the child, and on how vulnerable the child is to the seductions of occultism. My friend Willy the Witch probably would have turned to Witchcraft no matter what he read, or played, or studied. He could have read JANE’S MILITARY REVIEW or PROSSER ON TORTS and ended up involved in witchery.

On the other hand, to use myself as an example, no fantasy book I ever read inspired in me the least desire to attempt casting spells like a Witch any more than they inspired a desire to forge the Ring of the Nibelungs  like Alberich, or battle with Python like Apollo, because such things are impossible.

(Are witches real? I think we can all agree that there are people these days who like to call themselves witches, and to pray to the gods worshiped by the selfsame pagans who used to hang witches back in the B.C. years — a hatred of Black Magic is by no means a Christian invention — but I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine whether their spells and charms are effective, or merely snares and limed twigs.)

To use a third example, and one more the point, let me digress to speak of another very dear friend of mine. Let us all her Erin the Enchantress. She was a Witch when first I knew her, but after moving to Alaska, and falling in love with a stalwart young man, they resolved to celebrate and consummate their love by marriage and childrearing, the young couple realized, thunderstruck, that they had no desire at all to raise their children as neopagans, and both joined the Roman Catholic Church without any more ado. The gravity of motherhood impressed upon my dear friend the levity of worshiping the Mother Goddess, or pretending to, and so they returned to the bosom of the Mother Church. Praises to Mary, Mother of God!

In her case, reading fantasy led her back churchward. The beauty and magical imagery in fantasy stories won the heart of the Enchantress over to the idea that the real world was beautiful and magical: the splendor of the Church seemed the only fitting response, the only place real magic dwells.

Regarding point two, this is the core concern: does the book or role playing game promote occultism?

Here we need to make clear a distinction which the phantasmophobes seem never to make, but which is so obvious (even if it is hard to put into words) that the accusations that fantasy leads to occultism so often stirs us to laughter. There is something more than a little ridiculous about the idea that fairy stories promote occultism. But what? Can we put our finger on it?

Let me propose a radical and paradoxical theory: occultism has nothing to do with magic.

What is magic? We all have moments in our lives, such as meeting our true love for the first time, or seeing a beauty-haunted sunrise, or witnessing a child’s first footstep, or hearing the laughter of a young girl, or remembering a mother pulling us into her lap with a book to hear a bedtime story, or seeing a butterfly take wing in delicate splendor like a living flower, when we know, and know in a way we cannot name, that life is magical.

The springtime in the sun, the winter whiteness in the moon, everything which is not merely quotidian or dull or mundane holds a reflected glint of the silver starlight escaped of worlds beyond our own, an echo of the horns of elfland dimly blowing.

That is what the word ‘magic’ means. The real magic in real life is, at its root, a religious or mystical insight which tells us this grim world of entropy, decay, disappointment, treason, cowardice and death cannot be the whole story, the whole world there is: there is some unseen profound beneath the seen and shallow surface.

The way magic is used in fairy stories and in old myths are meant to be figures or concrete images of this elusive, elfin quality.

When the fairy godmother grants Cinderella her dream come true, and her escape from her unjust imprisonment as a servant in a house rightly her own, this reflects that mystical feeling all normal men harbor in their breast that the supernatural must break into the natural world with the suddenness of the thunderbolt of Jove and the beauty of that same rainbow which neither giants can climb to Valhalla and which marks the spot where the treasure of the leprechauns is hid in a field.

The reason why we tell tales of thundering Jove and shining Valhalla and elusive leprechauns and their gold is that these are figures of a reality which  cannot be captured in any other tales.

No other form of story save myths and epics and fairy tales have the form and dignity and conventions needed to weave the chain made of women’s beards and fishes’ breath and mountain roots and nine other impossible things needed to capture the moonbeam of this mystic insight all healthy men know lurks at the heart of fairy: the supernatural must break into the natural and set things right when all human hope is lost.

Professor Tolkien dubbed this literary form ‘the eucatastrophe’ the good catastrophe, the sudden reverse at the climax of the tale where joy breaks in with an emotion as lofty and soaring as grief is deep and still, so that indeed we shed tears, but not tears of sorrow.

To abolish this literary form in the name of saving children from the lure of occultism is madness.

I know yet another friend of mine, let us call her Kirsten the Christian Maiden, who was so firmly confirmed in her Christian faith that she never wavered, even amid all the temptations of the world: and the image in her imagination that gave her strength (for the imagination, not the soul and mind, can either be loyal to the kingdom of God or otherwise) was the great and golden figure of Aslan, a character from a children’s story. Had her parents forbade this faithful girl of that prop to her imagination, that figure and metaphor of Christ, she would have lost half her strength.

Again, real magic leads to and supports real faith as surely as does real philosophy, real science, real beauty, or anything else that is real and honest.

Occultism has nothing to do with real magic. I say again, it is not tangential, it is not related at all: it may even be an opposite or antithesis. Magicians are not concerned with the laughter of babies and the unlimbering of butterflies. Alchemists want gold. They want victory in battle, fertility in crops, freedom from disease. Occultists want to cheat at life the way a hacker uses cheatcodes at a computer game, to learn the secret rules to allow him to elude or escape the laws of nature, or to bribe the spirits and demons who are the cosmic bureaucrats so that the magician himself will have some special pull or influence or ‘friends in high places’ to let him skip out on rules that bind all other folk. As I said, it is a technology, even if it is an abortive technology, a tech that produces no reproducible results.

Satanism is this abortive technology taken one step darker. The thought behind all devil worship is that by doing acts horrid or shocking or mocking or bloody or erotic, that the higher power behind the visible universe, or, rather, the lower powers, will perform specific acts in a workmanlike way. Men make deals with the devil not out of worship or reverence, but out of the cold calculus of a merchant seeking a deal. He wants this, he will sacrifice that to get it. A Satanist is merely a man who hires a contract killer to murder his victim, or an arsonist to burn a house, but instead of a Mafioso, the man he hires is a spirit from the darkness, and the arson is done with hellfire.

There is nothing of the elfin magic of the fairy tale in the heart of the diabolist. He is man who hates God, and does uncouth, dangerous, disgusting, or deadly acts as if daring God to punish him: and in his heart he laughs and thinks God weak.

Gnosticism in its various forms is nobler than either the technological approach of occultism or the defiance of goodness and godliness of Satanism. Gnosticism is too complex and dreary a topic to sum up justly in a phrase, therefore let me sum it up unjustly: Gnosticism is the conceit that Thou Art God, and all of life is a trap to escape or a test to pass, so that you, by yourself, by your own unaided powers, will shed the falsehoods of material life and return to splendor in the Pleroma, the heaven beyond the utmost sphere.

Gnosticism is entirely selfish and self-centered, and despises all ordinary joys and pleasures with the despite of a Puritan, and yet it also despises all austerities and purity with the hatred of a Playboy Mansion sybarite.

Those of you who have never paged through the dreary minutia Goetia, or read the mind-numbingly dull and disturbing trash that passes for Gnostic writings can be excused from thinking that the magicians who read these things want magic in their life.

Not at all.

The demons in the Goetia, to be sure, promise one or two glamorous things like invisibility or the power to speak to birds, or to throw down towers, or the ability to see to it that an enemy’s arrow wound will turn gangrenous and putrefy,  but by and large they promise very mundane and practical benefits to accrue to the practitioner: instructions in the liberal arts, the restoration of lost dignities and reputations, worldly wealth and worldly power. Reading the Goetia is about as magical as reading the paperwork requirements and legal regulations surrounding a visit to the loan officer of a very large and very soulless financial institution.

Gnostic works consist of list of aeons and emanations and formulaic minutia about as interesting and about as magical as reading the warnings on a bottles of pills the doctor has proscribed. Gnostics differ strikingly from diabolists in that they despise worldly things and seek to escape and transcend them rather than control and conquer them: but they are no more interested in the lighting of Zeus or the rainbow beyond which the lovely Land of Oz is said to rest than the demon-summoning technician.

Some Gnostics seek enlightenment and to overcome certain sins and evils in themselves the way an athlete recovering from a sports injury seeks to return to the strength naturally his. In this regard, he is working out a type of self-centered and godless salvation. He is seeking an admirable goal. But what has it to do with magic?

If I have correctly characterized the point and the appeal of fairy stories, fantasy stories, epics and other tales where magic and magicians and supernal powers play a role, then we can see that, except for the rather shallow surface feature that magicians in stories cast spells, and occultists in real life perform rites and rituals, the two have nothing in common.

I suggest that the type of story which actually glamorizes occultism or Gnosticism is the type of story that glamorizes the defiance of convention, glamorizes self-centeredness, and tells the moral that you are a special person from a higher world, and says sex is an act of self-fulfillment with no possible bad side effects: in other words, the movie PLEASANTVILLE.

Now, to be sure, there are stories which quite deliberately reflect the Gnostic world view and preach the Gnostic message. In truth, such stories are a more alluring introduction to Gnosticism than real antique Gnostic writings: I mean AEGYPT by John Crowley, VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS by David Lindsany. However, I have never known anyone to convert to Gnosticism, or even to develop an interest in it, from reading their books. They are entertaining and interesting, but, as with all Gnostic philosophy, the ending is ultimately disappointing. Gnosticism is a bitterly pessimistic form of heresy, one which makes both God and the world God made the enemy. If heaven and earth alike are the enemy, the only retreat is to within one’s own self.

Let my point here not be lost in my maze of words: I mean simply that if a parent wishes to spare his child from the lure of occultism and Gnosticism, then let the parent comb through the child’s books and comic books and role playing gamebooks not to see which ones have wizards and unicorns on the cover — it is shallow to judge a book by its cover — but to see which books preach selfishness and promote suspicion and contempt for wholesome things. That is the motive and the leitmotif of occultism: the promise of hidden powers and the contempt for conformity, reason, normalcy.

The books with no wizards on the covers can do the work of glamorizing what real occultism is all about better than fairy stories can, be they detective novels or adventure tales or pirate stories or planetary romances or spy thrillers or space opera.

The movie THE MATRIX is a fine and fun action-adventure wire-fu flick with a cool sci-fi idea behind it. STAR WARS is the best beloved film of a generation, and the movie that singlehanded brought science fiction out from the ghetto into the mainstream. But the first teaches a comic book version of Gnosticism which, if taken seriously, is appalling, and the second glamorizes a pseudo-oriental New Age-ish type of nondenominational spiritualism which is the prime poison of our age, and it might as well be the official established religion of the tyranny of relativism.

This leads to the final point. Does the story use magic in any way that redeems it from the accusation of glamorizing occultism?

This point is easily and quickly discussed, if we accept the conclusion of the last point. I have read a healthy share of fantasy books in my time. In my youth, I often consumed two novels a day, every day. (Novels were both shorter then, and my reading time more generous.)

I can state unequivocally that I have never read a fantasy novel that actually taught or promoted the principles of real occultism for the simple reason that real occultism is boring.

I will mention one possible exception that is not really an exception: a favorite author of my youth based her magic system on a principle found among primitive peoples who, even to this day, believe in hoodoo and witchcraft. It is called the rule of names, and it is the idea that if you know a man’s secret and true name, you can cast spells on him: by knowing the secret names of elements and spirits you can command them.

Modern occultists, seeking among primitive peoples for secrets of their alleged esoteric art, have also come across the same principle, and use it in their rituals.

It would be dishonest to conclude from those facts that this author was glamorizing occultism. Her attempt, or so I suppose from the shape of her theme, was to promote Taoism, a concern for the mystic balance of all things, including balance between the light and dark halves of the self: with this theme the story is principally concerned.

I have also read books which made nods in the direction of real occultism, but, again, take their inspiration more from anthropology, such as THE GOLDEN BOUGH by Sir James George Frazer, rather than from the Esoteric tradition, from Paracelsus or Trismegistus or the Order of the Golden Dawn and their ilk.

Occasionally such books will make mention of real occultic principles, such as the law of sympathy and contagion, but this always an attempt by the author to introduce limits to what his characters can do my means of magic so that all the obstacles facing the hero are not solved by magic: I defy anyone to tell me of children getting interested in, say, astrology or tarot-cards because he read a story where Randall Garett’s D’Arcy solved a crime or Jack Vance’s Cugel the Clever committed a crime, using the entirely invented and fictional magical systems of their invented worlds.

I say again that the way to answer accusations that fantasy lure children to occultism depends on the specifics of how well the accusation is made.

I will add here that the accusations I have against books I have read heard merit the same kind of dismissive abruptness which I said I would no longer use.

In other words, there are books, such as INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, which portray a worldview and an emotional or overemotional attitude of self-pity and interest in the dark side of the supernatural where I think the accusation cannot be dismissed without weighing the case. I would listen to a man warning me that those books are not good or my kids.

Those are not the accusations I ever hear. By and large the books I have heard accused are not only not occultic, they are the best defense against the lure I can imagine. Let me mention half a dozen famous examples:

1. Both Tolkein and Lewis were careful beyond the normal care most authors take about such things, to make sure their handling of magic was theologically correct. The witches and necromancers are evil creatures of hell, without any redeeming characteristic or excuses. Lewis gives good magical powers to divine stand-ins, creatures like incarnated stars or lion-shaped messiahs, and perhaps a saintly power of seeing visions in a pool to a holy hermit. The magic in Tolkien is very clearly and very forcefully depicted as corruptive, with the one exception that Gandalf, who is an angelic messenger from divine powers beyond the circles of the world, acts as a wise man who never casts spells or summons up spirits from the vasty deep. I think his most blatant act of magic is to throw a pine-cone like a hand-grenade, which speaks more of pyrotechnics than Paracelsus. To say that reading tales where such wonders occur might lure the unwary to an unhealthy interest in the occult is foolish: one might as well say that to read about the signs and wonders performed by Moses or the Messiah might make men lust to learn Black Magic to curse his neighbor.

2. The charming and refreshing Oz books by L. Frank Baum have good witches and good fairies in abundance: we such things as the magical walking Tic Toc Man or the magic picture which allows the beautiful girl ruler of the fairyland to see her friends or the magic powder which brings inanimate sawhorses or patchwork girls or pumpkin-headed figures to life. There is nothing supernatural in any of this, if by supernatural we mean it calls on the powers of hell or heaven to suspend the laws of nature. The magic here is treated much the same way as the magic beans in the story of Jack and the Beanstalk: plot contrivances or vehicles to move the story to where it needs to be. I note with my careful adult eye that the practice of magic is strictly forbidden in Oz by the decree of the girl ruler, who is a fairy: with the exception of Glinda the Good Witch of the South, and her nameless compatriot to the North, and their apprentice Oscar Diggs, all use of magic is portrayed as unwise, unlawful, if not outright malignant. Dorothy and her friend never solve their problems by magic, but always by honest and forthrightness and devotion to their friends. Okay, sometimes they solve problems with buckets of water, or eggs.

3. Let me say an unnecessary word in defense of Dungeons and Dragons. Many a year ago you young whippernasppers will not recall there a bit of tempest in a teapot and a drive by some television evangelists to eschew D&D, on the grounds that it might lure the youth toward Satanism. What it lured the youths I know toward was number-crunching.

Gary Gygax, whose memory I will ever bless for endless idle hours of innocent entertainment I might have otherwise occupied by entertainments less innocent (such as learning about astrology and tarot-cards) was not the most imaginative of men. His magic system was Jack Vance’s from this THE DYING EARTH books, even down to the names of the spells. And when he established the parameters of the character class ‘Cleric’ where you play a man in holy orders in the Roman Catholic Church of the Make Believe Middle Ages, or something nearly like it, you get to the powers of the saints. Sorry, kids, but all Mr Gygax did was leaf through the New Testament or the Golden Legends of the Saints and write down the abilities he saw men of faith using. Cure Light Wounds is the lying on of hands; Elijah and Saint Peter both had the resurrection spell; Jesus and Elijah had Create Food and Water, one with the miracle of the widow’s oil, the other with the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Cleric can also repel vampires with crucifixes and bless and curse and perform exorcisms.

While I can understand the objection of Protestants toward all this Popery, I cannot understand the objection of Christians toward this harmless faux medievalism.

If you want to say that Gygax’s use of Michael Moorcock’s conceit of using law and chaos the poles of the horizontal axis of his moral ‘Nolan Test’ to establish character alignment, there I will not disagree that this can plant a bad idea in tender young minds: but I will point out that the notion has nothing to do with playing pretend that your half-elf magic user can casting fireballs on an Umberhaulk, and everything to do with moral relativism, the idea that good and evil are either not objective, or are optional. But that problem goes far afield from whether fairy tale stories lead to occultism.

4. There are comics where make believe sorcerers, even called things like ‘Master of Black Magic’ do cast spells to solve problems, perform astral projection, and call on extradimensional beings with sinister names to perform their hoodoo. I am thinking in particular of Doctor Strange, Mandrake the Magician, Zatanna, Doctor Fate, and the like. It is all hokum, innocent fun, and make believe, with the one single exception of PROMETHEA by Alan Moore, which promotes Gnosticism and occultism and therefore becomes very boring very quickly, despite Mr Moore’s unparalleled and even titanic talent in his field. So, yes, Christian parents, if you see your child reading Alan Moore’s PROMETHEA, go ahead and snatch the comic from his hands. In fact, I am not sure I would leave anything by Mr Moore lying around for a child to read.

Even his famous ‘American Gothic’ run of SWAMP THING was overlaid with a Gnostic theme, and, as I said above, Gnostic stories always end with an unconvincing disappointment. In this case, all the powers of heaven and hell combined to halt an invasion from the chaos of non-creation, and the final result was that the hand of chaos, larger than mutliverses, reached up, and the hand of God reached down, and they shook hands, invasion plans were canceled for no reason, and some oracular figure announced that from now one Good and Evil would be different, or spicier. Or something.

You see, Gnostics don’t believe in Good and Evil, not really, they believe in Self and Self-Deception. But no author can do real drama without Good and Evil, or something much like that. The victory over Evil is dramatic. Overcoming Self-Deception is just a matter of saying to yourself, ‘Snap Out of It!’—whereupon you are copacetic, the problem turned out never to have existed, or to have been self caused, so your hero is either a fool for flinching at shadows, or a moron for shooting himself in the foot. Gnostic endings are about as satisfying as ending a story by having the hero fall out of bed and realize ’twas all but a dream.

5. The Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher star a practicing magician in a film Noir version of Chicago. He deals with vampires and crime bosses, punk kids, punk werewolves, and an evil fairy godmother. Again, the author occasionally makes up some mumbo jumbo to explain why the hero cannot solve all his problems by magic, but the stories do not promote occultism. Far from it.

I have no idea what the author intends or what his faith or philosophy might be. But if he is not a Christian, he is the most fair-minded non-Christian anyone can imagine. These books win my admiration because they are the first ‘superversive’ books I have ever seen. In the world of demons and vampires, the author very slightly at first, and then with more confidence, inches on stage the idea that there are also powers of light who oppose the darkness, and the powers of light are not some undefined Force nor some Taoist Equilibrium.

Again, while I can understand the objection of Protestants toward Popery, since in these books crucifixes repel vampires and the exorcisms expel demons, I cannot understand the objection of Christians toward a rather imaginative story where the Christian view of heaven and hell turns out to be right, and not just right but righteous, and God and His Church on Earth are unambiguously the good guys. The books are pitched to appeal to the same crowd that buys Anne Rice novels, but once the reader is hooked on the action and the supernatural horror, these little superversive elements begin to creep in.

Again, I don’t know if this what the author intends, and since it adds to the story rather than detracts or subtracts, I suppose it does not matter. This is the way, O ye authors in service to the Light, we should do our work, if we want to gain ground lost to the pagan during the Culture Wars. Get them while they are young, and hook them by their imagination. This is the way to do it, not by means of ‘Christian fiction’ such as the LEFT BEHIND series.

6. The final and most egregious example that springs to mind is Harry Potter. The magic portrayed in the book is so far from what real occultism is and does that my considerable powers of exaggeration and overstatement fail me.

The author decided that the ‘killing curse’ which is one of the three ‘unforgivable curses’ is ‘Abracadabra.’ She decided that the witches and wizard not only zip around on broomsticks, they play aerial rugby.

Oh, come on. Do you think this would lure anyone into the arms of Anton le Vey?

Alastair Crowley is spinning in his grave. In fact, if I were the archangel in heaven assigned the task by God Almighty to lure people away from occultism, the first way I would do it was by making it seem ridiculous, such as by putting moppets in pointy hats and having them wave twigs at each other shouting ‘Expelliarmus!’; and the second way I would do it was to have the would be novice of magic practicing ruby in the air and shouting Abracadabra — a term that comes from the vaudeville world of stage magic, not from the real esoteric tradition of the Renaissance.

You are far more likely to lure the youth into the circle of Anton le Vey by having them read ATLAS SHRUGGED, which promotes a self-centered and God-scoffing worldview, than by having them read Harry Potter, which is a story about how love, self-sacrifice, and redemptive suffering can overcome the last enemy, death.

The Christian themes in this seven-volume story are so blatant that it requires truly inspired self-imposed blindness not to see them. I will not dwell on this point: the author herself has confirmed it. http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1572107/jk-rowling-talks-about-christian-imagery.jhtml

So it is far more likely that the HP book will lure your child to a theme park than to an circle of occultists.


  1. Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

    Wonderful essay. One point festers in my mind. “Men make deals with the devil not out of worship or reverence, but out of the cold calculus of a merchant seeking a deal.”. This is, I think, utterly incorrect, and approaches the level of slur (one carefully honed by the Communists, enemies of Civilization). It is not a deal between merchant and customer, nothing connected to the “Free Market”. I think an accurate metaphor would be something to the effect of a lazy man trying to get more benefits from his “case worker”. There is no honesty or respect between either. Just two corrupt agents trying to abuse a byzantine system to their own benefit. No concept of earned or “fair”, just what you can wring out of the rules…..

    • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

      I don’t think that’s right. To get something from your case worker, you convince him that you have a right to it under some rule or other. You can cheat, for example by feigning illness or madness, but you don’t, as a general rule, give him something valuable in exchange. In a deal with the devil, there is a definite quid-pro-quo: Soul for service, as one might say. Further, although you might bribe a social worker, there is no right to do so; both parties know, in such a case, that they are committing a crime. On the other hand you have presumably got every right to bargain away your soul, and the devil to buy it; the transaction may be unwise, but it is not illegal, and will be enforced by the courts. If you bribe a social worker you don’t see him whipping out a contract and writing down the terms for you to sign!

      • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

        Here you are confusing stories and Magic as It is Practiced. In the stories, true, you are selling your soul, but even in the stories, the soul is not given over at the start of the “transaction”, is it? No, ever story about “Selling your Soul” turns out to be about attempting to get something for nothing…. As opposed to Magic as it is Practiced, which is very much about “cheat codes” or manipulating corrupt bureaucrats. “I have found/followed this rule, and so you MUST do this!”…..

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I should have likened pacts with the devils to a whoremaster making deals with a john for the rental of his doxy, or a gypsy selling a stolen child, or an abortionist offering to murder a child for money: it is treating something which cannot be bargained with or bargained for as if it is merely an article of commerce.

      In other words, I agree with you that it is an insult to honest merchants to point out the mercantile nature of supernatural transactions with dark powers, but I suggest I am not one making the insult.

      The insult comes from the diabolist and the dark magician, who is willing to sell his principles and his conscience and little bits of his soul, and, in short, to sell things that are not honestly within his power to sell, to treat his living soul like cold gold.

      I will also hasten to add that the neopagan who dances naked under the trees and conjures benevolent moon powers with her athame should also be insulted by the diabolist, because the neopagan does have some elements of true worship and reverence for the unseen world in her antics, whereas the diabolist uses rites and rituals similar to hers for cold and selfish purposes. She is as mocked as the merchant when the diabolist treats the sprites and spirits of her lore as the merchant treats articles of commerce.

      • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

        I thought so to, but your comment about “cheat codes” got me to thinking, and you have changed my perspective. Merchant really doesn’t fit, because even with a corrupt merchant, you can’t force the sale. Bureaucracy seems a much stronger metaphor, and much closer to the world we observe. The huge corruption of the “Pigford Settlement”, the magic spells of “Sexual Harassment” and “Racial Discrimination” to get money from corporations and government, etc. There seems to be no awareness that these things might harm the souls of those involved. The best you are going to hear is “THEY can afford it!”…..

    • Comment by Gian:

      Honesty or respect or fairness is not demanded by Free Market principles, only Consent.
      Fairness, the theorists of Free Markets, they refuse to recognize such a thing.
      As for the cold calculus of a merchant seeking a deal, the theorists proudly call ‘enlightened self-interest’.

      • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

        Perhaps, but you overlook the fact that Honesty and Fairness and Respect are in the merchant’s “Enlightened Self Interest”. You do not steal from a customer, because you hope to have other customers. People do talk, you know, and word of mouth will kill a business far quicker then a hurricane (you can get insurance for that!). It’s why businessmen are so honest compared to bureaucrats, who coerce their “customers” at gunpoint, and can claim immunity if things go south.

  2. Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

    On the subject of whether magic is real (whether or not it is harmful), I submit that if it were, we would know by now, because someone would have used it to kill an opposing general at an opportune moment. Such a secret could not be kept forever.

    I observe that there exist pagans who consider their god and/or goddess, in its many aspects, as being in effect facets of the mind; who believe that a ritual to, let’s say, “Call up Herne the Hunter for vengeance on our enemies” is not a literal magical invocation, but a way to concentrate the mind on whatever their goal is. In effect their incantations are a form of meditation, a means of harnessing whatever subconscious resources one might have through appealing to more-or-less universal archetypes and the human desire for ritual. Considered as a technology this is, at least, not outright falsified by known facts, unlike more straightforward invocations of just plain curses; there’s such a thing as the placebo effect. (Although I have a hard time understanding how you can deliberately invoke the placebo effect on yourself. You’d think that knowing it’s not real, or at any rate is only in your head, would remove the effect.) Still, it strikes me as rather like the mainstream theists’ retreat from making claims about observable facts, the famous “separate magisteria”.

    Lewis gives good magical powers to divine stand-ins, creatures like incarnated stars or lion-shaped messiahs, and perhaps a saintly power of seeing visions in a pool to a holy hermit.

    I seem to recall that Prince Caspian’s tutor has some unspecified magic powers, if minor ones. He doesn’t teach them to Caspian on the grounds that they are not suitable for a young gentleman.

    aerial rugby

    Well, wouldn’t you, if you could fly? Although rugby is a much better-designed game than Quidditch.

    • Comment by Mary:

      You remember rightly about the tutor. He faciliates Caspian’s escape with enchanted sleeps.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “On the subject of whether magic is real (whether or not it is harmful), I submit that if it were, we would know by now, because someone would have used it to kill an opposing general at an opportune moment. Such a secret could not be kept forever.”

      Unless of course that when Elizabeth and Sir Francis Drake summon up the hurricane to sink the Spanish Armada, she also uses her same magic powers to hide the fact that she is a Witch, and mesmerizes or enchants or kills anyone who stumbles onto the truth.

      I am making a joke, but my point is that whether or not something like astrology or magic worked and whether or not it were obvious are two different things.

      Hard as it is to believe, I know of men who do not believe in life after death. On my bookshelf is a row of twenty books filled cover to cover with so-called near death experiences, the testimony of real people who don’t have any obvious reason to lie, and in some cases make statements against their personal interest. The men who don’t believe in life after death don’t read those books, or, if they do, they decide based on a priori reasoning from first principles that the testimony is fraudulent or unreliable. (Such men sometimes, ironically, call themselves empiricists.)

      I myself have no firm opinion about such books. As an attorney, I note that an eyewitness should be trusted more than the dogmatic opinion of a non-witness, and unless the witness’s statement can be impeached, merely to assume he is lying or deceived because we’d like not to believe him is not a rigorous nor correct means of reaching a just verdict.

      If one man sees a kelpie, he is a crackpot. If everyone sees the kangaroo but me, I am the crackpot.

      But what about the intermediate case? If half the people hear a voice from heaven, and half say it was just the thunder murmuring, the testimony can neither be dismissed out of hand nor accepted uncritically.

    • Comment by John Hutchins:

      “Considered as a technology this is, at least, not outright falsified by known facts, unlike more straightforward invocations of just plain curses; there’s such a thing as the placebo effect. (Although I have a hard time understanding how you can deliberately invoke the placebo effect on yourself. You’d think that knowing it’s not real, or at any rate is only in your head, would remove the effect.)”

      I think all the pageantry and incantations are designed to focus the mind and overcome the belief that it is all in the head. To make the practitioner believe that it is real at some level.

      If the magic is dependent on the belief (faith in or fear of) the magic by the practitioner, the intended target, and possibly any outside observers then what would be a good way of setting up an empirical experiment to test its effectiveness without having the experiment ruin the magic?

    • Comment by luckymarty:

      On the subject of whether magic is real (whether or not it is harmful), I submit that if it were, we would know by now, because someone would have used it to kill an opposing general at an opportune moment. Such a secret could not be kept forever.

      If magic really existed as the invocation of spirits, this would not necessarily be true: it would depend on the agenda(s) of the spirits.

      Another argument to make against western occultism is that Isaac Newton spent considerable time at it and didn’t get anywhere useful. I have occasionally said to people over-interested in the occult: do you seriously think you’re smart enough to sort the gold from the dross if Newton couldn’t do it?

      • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

        How do you know Newton got nowhere? Maybe he just never told anyone about his successes… but of course, this is exactly the difficulty with that sort of approach. It’s one thing to postulate a magician who uses the Shadow to cloud men’s minds, thus avoiding detection. It’s another to say that hundreds and thousands of people have both used magic and hidden it. Not a single one, over hundreds of years, blabbed? Every last one was somehow coerced, bribed, or intimidated into keeping quiet, and every time such tactics failed, the Committee for Magical Privacy managed to cover it up? If magic is at all widespread and powerful, then we speak of a conspiracy of at least hundreds of people managing to keep a secret for at least hundreds of years, in every nation on Earth. I’ll believe in magic before I believe any such theory as that.

        • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

          Or people blabbed and were laughed out of the room, just as the John Birch Society was……

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            Yes, that’s a plausible defense mechanism of the Committee, but I remind you that it has to work every time. James Randi, for example, will not laugh you out of the room; he’ll set up an experimental test. Many honest dowsers and other practitioners, not conscious frauds but people who genuinely believed they had some power or other, have walked out of such a test disappointed. An actually powerful magician cannot be laughed off every time, if he is determined to demonstrate his skill.

            • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

              Ah, but the John Birch Society was right, solidly correct, which still did not stop them from being laughed out of the room. Evidence is not enough for those who will not hear. As to the second part, well, we have evidence to the contrary, don’t we? No amount of evidence was enough for the Left to believe Hiss was a traitor, that the Rosenburgs were traitors. “Magic” at least has an excuse, in that the Supernatural, by definition, does not fit the experimental model. What are we to make of the half of the world who denies the Supernatural but makes icons of Che and Mao?

        • Comment by John Hutchins:

          If there were actually someone that could do magic how would you know? This is similar to if there was an actual UFO to land in someones cornfield how would you know?

          Most claims of someone doing magic are not investigated by science. If the act of observing by a highly skeptical observer disrupts the magic then it should be entirely possible for many magicians to exist without ever being discovered by science. Just like it is entirely possible for real aliens to land in cornfields fairly often without ever being noticed.

          All that is needed is the number of false positives to be high enough so that real positives are ignored. I doubt that there are scientists that are tracking all the claims of magic (or UFO’s) for irregularities that might indicate something real going on. I am sure that any real magical organization that wanted to avoid detection would first ensure that their was a very high number of false magical users when compared to real magical users. If that was combined with memory alteration then high amounts of magic could be done without raising suspicions, assuming memory alteration is possible.

          Further, even if someone did do a study and find that magic was real or UFO’s were, would it ever get published and would the researcher still have a job when whoever was over them found out about the research?

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            For that matter, suppose a man with strange powers could do things like heal the sick and raise the dead, or even come back from the dead himself, and it was attested to by witnesses unwilling to change their testimony even under torture and death, including hostile witnesses, seen by thousands, not contradicted, and had such a titanic impact the world that it changed all of history for two thousand plus years, so much so that it was not secret at all in any way: what would be the result?

            The skeptic would say that the strange powers cannot possibly exist by definition, since science proves that nothing unknown to science exists; he could say no one can come back the dead; he could say the records were doubtful, false, outright lies, despite the indications of reliability greater than any other documents of similar age and distribution; he could see the independent witnesses collaborated their false testimony; he could say the testimony where it did not agree on some trifling details proves the whole is unreliable or false; finally, he could say that human beings are so much more foolish and weak-minded and pathetic than himself, that it is merely a testament to the shame of the human race, a sign of their vulnerability to mass hysteria or mass stupidity that they could ever believe such fantastic tales, or let human history go so far off the rails; and he could also say (if he were less than perfectly concerned with the logical consistency of his argument) that human history would have turned out much the same, or even exactly the same. And when our skeptic meets modern men who are in all other respects sane and reliable and logical witnesses, not known for error or dishonesty, who have seen this strange son of man and encountered his power in their lives, the skeptic can either call the sane men insane, the honest men dishonest, or the logical men illogical, and go his merry way.

            No, if magic were real, and if happened on every street-corner, it does not necessarily follow that Uncle Andrew will see it and remember seeing it, even if the secret were rung from the steeple loud as churchbells and shouted from rooftop to rooftop.

        • Comment by deiseach:

          I don’t think magicians necessarily get the results they think they get, but I’m not quite willing to disbelieve the whole thing lock, stock and barrel, because I do think that if you sit there calling spirits, spirits will come.

          Maybe not the spirits you think you’re calling, and that’s the whole risk of it.

          Elizabeth’s pet magician, Dr. Dee, is a case in point for me. I think his accomplice, Edward Kelley, was a conman taking advantage of a gullible scholar and I think Dee was fooled by his wish to believe, but I also think they were messing about with things they didn’t quite understand, and I say that because I went into reading up about him with the attitude that he was an idiot and it was all nonsense.

          Then I read some of the Enochian Calls and the description of the Aethyrs, and got a Very Bad Feeling, which caused me to back out at light-speed. I was prepared to disbelieve that they managed to evoke angels; I now think that maybe sometimes they did invoke something that is very nasty.

          Everybody knows the scene from Henry IV, Part One, where Hotspur and Owen Glendower are exchanging their opinions on the occult (Hotspur is exceeding sceptical of Glendower’s claims):

          I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

          Why, so can I, or so can any man;
          But will they come when you do call for them?”

          Sorry, Harry, but yes. Sometimes they do come when they’re called. That’s why it’s better not to call for them, or any kind of spirit.

          To quote Chesterton from his Autobiography, of a period in 1893 when he was dabbling with such stuff:

          “What I may call my period of madness coincided with a period of drifting and doing nothing; in which I could not settle down to any regular work. I dabbled in a number of things; and some of them may have had something to do with the psychology of the affair. I would not for a moment suggest it as a cause, far less as an excuse, but it is a contributory fact that among these dabblings in this dubious time, I dabbled in Spiritualism without having even the decision to be a Spiritualist. Indeed I was, in a rather unusual manner, not only detached but indifferent.

          My brother and I used to play with planchette, or what the Americans call the ouija board; but we were among the few, I imagine, who played in a mere spirit of play. Nevertheless I would not altogether rule out the suggestion of some that we were playing with fire; or even with hell-fire. In the words that were written for us there was nothing ostensibly degrading, but any amount that was deceiving. I saw quite enough of the thing to be able to testify, with complete certainty, that something happens which is not in the ordinary sense natural, or produced by the normal and conscious human will.

          Whether it is produced by some subconscious but still human force, or by some powers, good, bad or indifferent, which are external to humanity, I would not myself attempt to decide. The only thing I will say with complete confidence, about that mystic and invisible power, is that it tells lies. The lies may be larks or they may be lures to the imperilled soul or they may be a thousand other things; but whatever they are, they are not truths about the other world; or for that matter about this world.”

  3. Comment by Pierce O.:

    While we’re on the topic of magic in literature: is the EVERNESS magic the same as the CHAOS magic but with true names instead of spirits? Or do they work entirely differently? CHAOS had what is one of the few spirit-magic systems that didn’t bug me, probably because Quentin, as a non-human and Chaoticist, seemed to have a lawful command over the spirits that humans would not.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      EVERNESS and CHAOS had two different magic systems because of the differing needs of the dramas (although, to be sure, there were some similarities. Both employed the Rule of Names, for example).

      Quentin expressly states that the spirits with whom he deals are acting unlawfully — at one point he likens them to trigger-happy mafia bosses.

  4. Comment by lotdw:

    I think there are two general cases.

    In some bargains with the devil (Goethe’s Faust, Johnny Went Down to Georgia), it’s a true bet in that one side wins it all and the other gets nothing. But these aren’t really that interesting; the devil here is not really the devil of Christian lore, just a very tricky, very powerful creature. Unsurprisingly, now that interest in theology has waned and our confidence in ourselves has waxed, this is the most common case in art & literature. But in these you truly can get something for nothing, other than the risk.

    In the more interesting ones (Marlowe’s Faust, Macbeth), it’s a deal – always about immediate satisfaction vs. long-term satisfaction. They sacrifice their soul for earthly power. It may seem to be getting something for nothing, but that’s only because the bettor is delusional about the day of reckoning ever coming. This is what most, if not all, sins are about – getting what’s mine NOW with no regard for later consequences.

    • Comment by lotdw:

      The above was supposed to be in reply to Robert Mitchell at #1, not the main post.

    • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

      Yes, but not an honest deal on either side. The Devil is not giving fair value, and the seller is not expecting to actually pay. I can’t think of any of these stories where the seller doesn’t try to “get out” of the pact. It’s built into the tale, really, when you think about it, otherwise it would be a very short story, yes? “Here’s your Earthly Power, and I’ll leave with your Soul now. Thanks for the sale, tell all your friends.” The end.

      • Comment by lotdw:

        “I can’t think of any of these stories where the seller doesn’t try to “get out” of the pact.”

        Of the second type, neither can I – although Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus has an easy way out; all he has to do is ask God for forgiveness. And while I agree it wouldn’t be much of a story without that, usually half the story or more is occupied by the seller enjoying, or trying to enjoy, his prizes whatever they may be, so there’s a little more to the usual story.

        Of the first type, I can’t think of a bettor who does try to get out, since it’s a bet; in both examples I mentioned the human being wins the bet against the devil (though in Goethe the devil’s kind of pleased with that).

      • Comment by Ed Pie:

        A short story, or a chilling one. Perhaps the devil doesn’t take the soul away, but brings Hell to the soul along with earthly power. The contractor proceeds to live a life of power and normal length in utter moral torment, possibly deprived of all the goods that the damned lack.

        Maybe that’d still be a short story. I can’t think of a way to build a whole story around describing that, except as an exercise in sadism. Maybe you could fill a tract, but who would want to read it?

  5. Comment by bibliophile112:

    Another non-avenue to occultism I should mention is historical occult books. Thanks to the internet one can read read many of these, such as Agrippa’s Three books of Occult Philosophy, the Sworn book of Honorius and the Lesser Key of Solomon. I had an interest in these things when I was younger, but was very surprised to find how little they resembled magic in the popular mind. Written in renaissance Europe as they were, they strongly reflect Christian ideas of how the universe works. They are not full of incantations and such, but special prayers and names of God.

  6. Comment by Mary:

    I remember one Catholic analysis of Harry Potter that was far more worried about the whole Muggle/wizard divide — the elitist effect of such a group. Indeed, it called the effect Gnostic.

    Personally I find the special snowflakes who can do magic trope rather annoying myself.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      My guess (and this is only a guess) is that the point of the Muggle/Wizards divide is artistic rather than philosophical.

      In the universe of DC comics, there is magician named Zatanna who is a member of the species ‘Homo Magi’ who are humanoids who live among Homo Sapiens, except they use magic.

      In the universe of the Deryni series by Katherine Kurtz, magic is an inheritable characteristic, like blue eyes. The author has a convenient chart in the back of one of her books showing the Mendeleevian properties.

      In the universe of the Lensman series by EE Doc Smith, the magicians there have way cool mind powers, and the capacity for this psychic abilities was bred into the four races involved by eugenics imposed by demigodlike superior alien beings.

      I no case does this has anything to do with Gnosticism except as an unconvincing parallel. I think it is a pragmatic writer’s solution to the problem of why, if witches and wizards are real and live on Earth, they do not teach their art to their family and friends and eventually to everyone?

      In the case of Zatanna and the Deryni and the Lensmen, the magical trait is genetic. In the case of Harry Potter, it seems to work more like musical talent. There are some families, like the Mozarts, who produce a number of skilled practitioners of their art, and others where one’s sister (who presumably has similar genetics to one’s self) is a squib or a muggle.

      The people in the Potterverse who insist on the proper wizarding bloodlines, that is, in other words, the people who treat wizarding power as a genetic trait owned by a genetic elite, are unambiguously and absolutely treated not just as bad guys, but as Nazi racist vermin and bigoted scum. Those same members of the cult of pure blood, if teleported into the world of the Homo Magi, the Deryni, or the Lensmen, would not be crackpots, but would merely be telling it like it is.

      I have read a wearisome amount of Gnostic literature. To have a character who is ‘the chosen one’ selected by God Almighty to be a prophet of His word, or a savior, or to have a character who is destined by heaven to be a leader in battle or a sacrificial lamb, this is not Gnostic or anything like Gnostic. Gnosticism preached that the Elect had different and better souls than the Hylics and the Psychics. Christians and pagans and everyone else preach that God or the gods have a plan for your life, and fate you must achieve, and for some people the fate is one of sorrow and greatness.

      I don’t see how the two ideas can be honestly conflated. Some people are born with a musical talent. Some people are born to lead Israel in battle against the Philistines. Having themes like this in a fairy story does not make it Gnostic, it makes it a fairy story.

      I am not recommending anyone make this argument, but if someone wanted to make the argument that Calvinism with his double predestination was Gnostic, that argument would hang together better logically.

      Now, the Potterverse

      • Comment by Mary:

        Yes, it’s a very common trope, and Harry Potter and many urban fantasies do have the excuse that we can tell there is no magic in our world by inspection, and they have to explain why we can’t see it, so they have more excuse than most worlds. (Except that I have read perfectly good urban fantasies that are “Magic, Inc.” updated to modern times, so no, there is no reason not to have overt magic in a modern setting.)

        Still, what artistic effect is achieved? Characters who are special little snowflakes for no particular reason? Often with the bonus of their being persecuted by meanies? I admit it has a certain kind of teenaged resonance, especially for nerds, who can often do things their schoolmates can’t, such as build robots or get good grades, but owing to the lack of aesthetic distance, I’m not sure it’s really an artistic effect.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          “Still, what artistic effect is achieved? Characters who are special little snowflakes for no particular reason? Often with the bonus of their being persecuted by meanies?”

          Secretly, in his heart of hearts, every single person (with the possible exception of John Galt) feels as if he is an exile on this earth, that he does not fit it.

          Even the people that everyone thinks to be pretty and popular feel weird and out of place at times. Even the most popular guy in school is persecuted by someone: no one is in the majority in real life, everyone is at best in a plurality. Even if your side outnumbers the guys who pick on you, everyone gets picked on.

          So, indeed, the idea that the character is a special little snowflake is the main charm and the main point not just of this book, but of all good books.

          No one can write a story where the main character is not ‘the chosen one’ and God and Fate have no plan for him, no destiny, no purpose and no point to his life. The agnostic, absurdist or atheist portrayal of man as something with no divine plan in life is not true to life and not good drama.

          No one can write a story where the main character is not special without ruining the story. Even if the world think the main character is ‘Just a guy from Brooklyn’ the readers, seeing the world through the eyes of the main character, must see him as special.

          It is not just for teenaged nerds. (Harry Potter, after all, is a jock, not a nerd: he is a Quiddich star.)

        • Comment by deiseach:

          What artistic effect? Why is Cinderella mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters? Why do folktales have the third/youngest son (who is often considered a fool by his family) be the one to achieve the quest, marry the princess, and live happily ever after?

          Why is Aladdin a street brat rather than a prince?

          Humans like stories about the underdog winning, is why.

          • Comment by Mary:

            Except that in being an underdog, having abilities that others do not is a positive hinderance.

            • Comment by fabulous_mrs_f:

              It’s to appeal to the YA audience. Young people want to feel special. Most, if not all, feel persecuted and outcast at different times and for different reasons. The idea of going from their cruddy existance–even if it doesn’t include a cubby under the stairs, they still feel life is pretty cruddy–to being part of a special group is very attractive. The desire to be different and special in a way that amkes them part of something, not outcast from it, is strong. That Harry is still persecuted and attacked once he is part of this elite group is what keeps young folk interested. Many books aimed at teens have some sort of elite group or specialness attached to the main character–especially those in the fantasy genre.

    • Comment by deiseach:

      Though in the Harry Potter books, we do have the point hammered home that the ones stuck on being “Purebloods” and who think that that makes them superior not alone to Muggles but within the wizarding world are very definitely the Bad Guys.

      Hermione is the daughter of Muggle parents, yet she (somehow) has manifested the ability to perform magic, and being born of a wizarding family doesn’t mean you automatically inherit the powers, you could be a Squib (and ironically, being a non-magical member of a magical family is considered to be much more a “second-class citizen” than being a Muggle, which can be seen as exotic and fascinating).

  7. Comment by Manwe King of the Valar:

    Great article John! It was looong, but it was worth it! That said, I have three comments to make:

    1)While I have never heard of anyone throwing accusations at Robert E. Howard’s works, I should like to point out that in his world of Hyboria (Conan), sorcery was from Hell, period. If I remember, there was only two places one could get their hands on otherworldy powers from, Hell (sorcery) or the Gods (miracles). So it was pretty straight forward in his world, bad magic came from Hell, good ‘magic’ from the Gods.

    2)Whenever the Law (order) vs Chaos (destruction) thing comes up, as it did here, it is always attributed ot Moorcock. And while it’s true that Gygax may have lifted it from him (as did the creators of the Warhammer Universe), Moorcock himself got the idea from another SF/fantasy author, the late great Poul Anderson. I can’t remember where I read it (wikipedia, maybe?) but it said that Moorcock got the Law vs Chaos idea from “Three hearts and Three lions” (or was it “Operation Chaos”?). Anderson was another one of the most “fair-minded non-Christian anyone can imagine”, as you put it. While Moorcock probably perveted the idea, Anderson’s Law vs Chaos was hardly relitivistic.

    3)Gotta love the Harry Potter debate! This is my favorite part of the whole thing, all that huffing and puffing about Harry Potter is evil/occultic/satanic, and it turns out the books are filled with intentionally Christain themes and the author herself turns out to be a professing, practicing Christian! If this is not the time to use this then I don’t know when, ROFL!!! That’s one for the books! I say this because back in the early 2000’s, fools like John Hagee had my parents thinking the worst of the Potter series! My parents even got rid of my younger brother’s HP books. My parents have long since learned of all this, and as adults, we all sit back and laugh at it! It’s a shame such a stink was made over the Potter books, when it really should have been saved for Pullman’s ruthlessly anti-God bunk and then some!

    • Comment by Mary:

      Three Hearts and Three Lions

      Operation Chaos has Heaven and Hell.

      I note that Gordon Dickson in The Dragon and the George has both Law and Chaos and the characters want to maintain the balance.

      • Comment by lotdw:

        Maintaining the balance between Law and Chaos is also a big part of the Renshai series by Mickey Zucker Reichert.

        • Comment by CPE Gaebler:

          I believe I am here obligated to mention the Amber series of Zelazny, in which it is noted that although pure chaos is destruction, pure order is stagnation.

          Also, acclaimed writer and master artist Brian Clevinger resolved a showdown involving a vile god of chaotic energy in probably the best possible way:

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            Are you sure? That does not sound like a Zelazny idea. The pattern in Amber was not order and did not create stagnation. I don’t recall any mention of ‘pure order’ in the Corwin books. I did not read the Merlin books. Was there some mention of this idea there?

            • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

              Perhaps a “filling in blanks that are not there” moment? I remember that idea in Amber, but now that you bring it up, I can’t remember it actually being mentioned. But I definitely remember the Courts of Chaos being part of the Amber Universe, and the idea that there was a spectrum going Amber to Shadows (us) to the Courts of Chaos at the “Other” end. I for one read Moorcock before Zelany, and it would be very easy to put Amber (the plane) into the “Law” hole, once you are thinking along those lines.

            • Comment by CPE Gaebler:

              Yes, it was definitely in the Merlin books. It has been a while since I have read them, though, so I cannot elucidate further. I only recall this specific idea because it struck me as a rather serious paradigm shift; whereas before the Pattern and Order were the forces that brought all realities out of the swirling chaotic void, now suddenly they were equals where balance must be preserved. Of course, Pattern 2.0 did throw things into a bit of a tizzy, so there’s that; still, I always felt the Merlin books were lacking something that the Corwin books had.

        • Comment by The OFloinn:

          Hmm. Law. Chaos. Why does this make me think of Form and Matter?

    • Comment by lampwright:

      >It’s a shame such a stink was made over the Potter books, when it really should have been saved for Pullman’s ruthlessly anti-God bunk and then some!

      So true! I was really surprised one day to find my friend’s very Christian teenage daughter reading the Amber Spyglass with no notion there was anything objectionable about it.

      On the other hand, I do know someone who does go into an occult phase every time they read a Harry Potter book, but the person is mentally ill to begin with, so may not be a good example. Still, made me slightly more respctful of the anti-Potter people, much as I think they are off the mark.

    • Comment by KokoroGnosis:

      Agreed. I remember telling my mother a couple years ago that if Satan was using Harry Potter as a tool, it was only to distract people from the truly blasphemous works of Pullman.

  8. Comment by Maestro:

    It’s just too bad that you are so full of words and so empty of experience. Seems to me, reading all this nonsense, that you’ve taken your own fantasy writing a bit too seriously. .

    I will give you this much, however: “You are far more likely to lure the youth into the circle of Anton le Vey by having them read ATLAS SHRUGGED … than by having them read Harry Potter” is probably the most accurate sentence I’ve ever read on this entire blog.

    As an side, it’s fairly obvious you haven’t read much, if anything, by “Alastair [sic] Crowley.” The two of you would get along right fabulously in many different areas (abortion, conservative morality, politics, maybe even metaphysics…). Odd that. I wonder how many of your ilk would actually recognize how close in morals they really are to the ol’man.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      The comment above assumes I have not read Alastair Crowley? I wish. Would that I could have returned to me the many weary hours I wasted in such reading.

      • Comment by deiseach:

        Aleister Crowley at least had the virtue of actually doing research and spending much time and effort in building up his system of magic. He may have been personally repugnant in much of his attitudes, and at least as much a publicity hound as a genuine occultist, but by comparison to the modern crowd who set themselves up as authorities, he was head and shoulders above the pack. The sheer air-headed fuzziness of New Age “angelologists” and the like, tripping over themselves to avoid any real consequences of these arts and acts, and assuring their readers that it’s all rainbows and unicorns and all the power resides within your higher self and there are no real deities to be appeased (the gods and goddesses are only symbolic representations of aspects of your own psyche)… bah!

        This is not, by the way, any kind of endorsement of his views or beliefs. And as an Irishwoman, I still have to laugh over how W.B. Yeats got the better of him in the tussle for control of the Golden Dawn society in London; Crowley did very impressive grandiose magickal rites in his campaign to become leader, while Yeats (as secretary of the society) calmly changed the locks and maintained possession of the premises in that fashion. Crowley’s revenge had to be taken, not in the form of calling down all the gods and daemons on his head, but in writing the novel “Moonchild” where an Irish poet by the name of “Gates”, after being roundly abused for multitudinous personal, poetic and magickal defects of character by the hero, comes to a very sticky end :-)

        • Comment by Boggy Man:

          And the Testament of Magdalene Blair never fails to make me giggle.

          • Comment by deiseach:

            That’s actually a rather good story. Even if you think the poor woman is a raving nutcase, it’s still a dreadful account of what she believes will happen to her upon and after death.

            He was a quite good ghost/horror writer, all things considered. His writings to convince the world of his occult system, on the other hand – not so much.

            • Comment by Boggy Man:

              I’m being cheeky as I have my head screwed on backwards and cosmic horror makes me all giddy. His horror fiction was indeed incredibly underrated, easily surpassing Chambers or Lovecraft in craftsmanship. However, I agree, if only he brought such clarity to his other writings. (Or actually, considering it would make magic use more popular, good thing he didn’t.)
              His book on tarot is exceedingly incomprehensible. Certainly not ill researched, but written with no attempt to communicate with the reader, simply to explore minutia.

    • Comment by lotdw:

      “It’s just too bad that you are so full of words and so empty of experience.”

      He cited many personal experiences within this post which you seem to have missed.

    • Comment by Patrick:

      What a puzzling little post.

      I wonder if Maestro is some kind of magician?

  9. Ping from magic in fantasy fiction | Jonathan Moeller, Pulp Writer:

    […] John C. Wright has an excellent post about the morality of magic in fiction. […]

  10. Comment by ibookworm:

    Is the children’s author you refer to Susan Cooper? As a kid I reread the Narnia books and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles regularly, but I only read Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising Sequence once. I enjoyed it up to the end, when, if I recall correctly, there was a “higher power” beyond both good and evil that mediated between them. Even as a kid that seemed completely off to me. How could something be higher than good and not be good? And how could something be willing to mediate on behalf of evil and not be evil? How could there be something that is neither good not evil and still have power over both? Much later I learned a bit of philosophy and realized that the reason this made no sense is that evil is not a “thing” the way good is, but a LACK. But even as a kid, yeah, it made no sense.

    And it was a very unsatisfying way to end the series. Oh, sure, they got the higher power to decide on behalf of good, but it gave you the uncomfortable feeling that this high, cold something or other could as easily have decided on evil. Putting evil on the same footing with good made fighting for good rather than evil a matter of simply choosing an allegiance, with no particular reason to choose one over the other. In the Narnia books the feeling was of fighting for truth, for reality, against darkness and void. Not that I could articulate it that way as a kid, of course. But I loved Narnia, and Susan Cooper’s books made me feel very uncomfortable. I don’t seem to recall her characters being all that jubilant at the end, either.

  11. Comment by SFAN:

    Have you read The Devil Was Sick (F&SF Apr 1951) by Bruce Elliot?

  12. Comment by Patrick:

    Something to ponder:

    It is actually strange that neo-pagans, modern magicians, wykkid whirling wymmyn, et. al., as they believe honestly in a panoply of gods and sprites and whatnot, would want to worship them, as any true believer would have to recognize that the gods of their pantheon are weak. The gods of the pagan are minor, trifling even: the faithful pagan observes them muddling over their little dominion of nature – a storm here, a frost there – like middle-managers, anxious for a little solicitude from a humankind that by and large ignores them in favor of a God who claims nothing less than omnipotence. No ancient god bore or pretended to such a title. At their best, the power of a little pagan god amount to little more than pique, their tempests and their favors and their omens and their imprecations seem frail, contingent in comparison to One “all-powerful and ever-living”.

    So, if you’re after favors or special influence with creation, why pray to weak gods? Why not look at who everybody else is worshiping and take to it as assiduously as possible? If the power of a god to command worship and direct history is an estimation of his jurisdiction, the history of the Jews and the spread of Christianity should compel any pagan worth his sacrificial blade to drop it and get in line for Communion or hit the floor at the nearest mosque, for utilitarian reasons alone. If power is the game, two billion people living can’t be wrong about Jehovah, can they?

    I think the answer to that is the essence of the success of monotheism; the fever of waned, and men, one at a time, roused themselves from their rave of wine and stinking orgies and all that cultic bloodshed and began to wander in search of their lost reason.

    I think you’re right about this sorcery business being technological. But whereas technology improves with time and drives towards efficiency, there seems to me to be no parallel with these neo-pagans. They seem to WANT their gods to be contingent, ineffective, anachronistic, and vague, less about religion as a means to Get Things Done and more about ceremony as a way to accessorize themselves with idiosyncratic… syncretism? Like desktop Linux fans or macrobiotics devotees, the first problem they address isn’t elementary, like utility or hunger – it’s The Man: be it Microsoft, or big agriculture or Yahweh, I think the reflex to object comes more about distinguishing oneself from the supposedly uneducated herd than from any desire for the material. It’s not supposed to be efficacious; it’s a costume, in the way that a costume is an “alternative” to clothing.

    • Comment by Patrick:

      Wow, that’s long.

      • Comment by Patrick:

        Re: Linux adepts and magic nerds, see


      • Comment by Manwe King of the Valar:

        “Wow that’s long”

        Long AND wise is more like it! Some excellent points you made there Patrick!
        Two I’d like to comment on:
        1) Your general thesis is correct, and I should also point out the historocity of it. There actually were REAL pagan peoples that did convert based on the “power game”. Tha Anglo-Saxons were a mighty tribe of pagan warriors that converted to Christianity because the believed Christ to be the ulitimate warrior. Yes I said that right. Why did they think as such? Because what is the ultimate foe of the warrior, the one advisary that he cannot defeat…death. And it was Christ who conquered death, who unmade it, who ended it. Hence he was more powerful than their own gods, so it only made sense to them to choose the more powerful of the two. That was basically me paraphrasing a history lesson I once recieved, ;)

        2) [It’s not supposed to be efficacious; it’s a costume, in the way that a costume is an “alternative” to clothing.] I think you nailed the head on the hammer there. That, I too, believe is at the heart of it.

    • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

      It may be worth pointing out that Yahweh specifically forbids using its name in conjuration.

  13. Comment by Sean Michael:

    “Manwe King of the Valar” made some interesting comments re Poul Anderson’s fantasies THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS and OPERATION CHAOS. I would mention as well Anderson’s THE BROKEN SWORD and HROLF KRAKI’S saga. The point I wish to especially stress is how the latter book has the narrator saying of REAL sorcerers that they “peered into things best left alone.” Real sorcery is considered dangerous and very undesirable. In fact, the eponymous hero of the book, Hrolf Kraki, becomes more and more cool towards the Norse gods. A hint of a longing for a better faith to believe in?

    Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

    • Comment by Manwe King of the Valar:

      Well of course I made some interesting points! (I am, after all, King of the Valar) ;)

      But in all seriousness, thanks for pointing out “The Broken Sword” and “Hrolf Kraki’s Saga”. I forgot to mention those in my earlier post.

      “The point I wish to especially stress is how the latter book has the narrator saying of REAL sorcerers that they “peered into things best left alone.” Real sorcery is considered dangerous and very undesirable. In fact, the eponymous hero of the book, Hrolf Kraki, becomes more and more cool towards the Norse gods. A hint of a longing for a better faith to believe in?”

      This is true, but I think there may also be something else at work here. Anderson’s Hrolf Kraki saga was basically a retelling of the real Hrolf Kraki saga, an ancient legend written down in the middle ages. So some of that may have already been a part of the story (written by medieval Christians) rather than Anderson. However it may be his own input. I think he would agree with both points you made in the aformentioned paragraph.

      Here is a link to an article that dicusses Religion in Anderson’s works, I think it may interest you Sean, or anyone else for that matter.

  14. Comment by Sean Michael:

    Hi, “Manwe King of the Valar.” Thanks for responding to me!

    Well, as long as you remember Lord Manwe was only the servant and agent of Eru Iluvatar, God All Mighty and Creator of Arda! (Smiles)

    True, Anderson’s HROLF KRAKI’S SAGA drew largely on Saxo Grammaticus’ Latin summary of the Hrolf Kraki legend, with some bits taken from other sources (including, I think, the ELDER EDDA). Yes, if I recall rightly what Anderson said in the introduction, he “filled in” gaps and missing pieces his sources did not cover.

    And I DEFINITELY think Anderson would not approve at all of actual, genuine attempts at real sorcery based on either making deals with Satan or the “technological” use of sorcery to manipulate supernatural forces or Beings for crass gains. Both THE BROKEN SWORD and HROLF KRAKI’S SAGA have certain Beings telling “sorcerers” that they were never truly at their command.

    Thanks for the link to Mr. McDavid’s essay. I read it with pleasure years ago. I also recommend, if you have not gotten a copy, Sandra Miesel’s monograph on Poul Anderson: AGAINST TIME’S ARRWOW.

    Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

    • Comment by Manwe King of the Valar:

      And thank you for responding to my comments! It’s not everyday I get to talk to a human, especially a human whoe enjoys Poul Anderson books! While Valinor is not filled with human literature, there is still enough here (compared to the denziens of the Void, who only get a choice of Moorcock books to read ;)) And yes, no need to remind me of my place in the celestial order of things, I have not forgotten my place in it. :)

      I agree that Anderson would never have approved of real attempts at sorcery. And as to the book by Sandra Miesel, I have looked into getting it before, but it’s out of print and hard to find (yes, even for a Vala!). I think if someone wanted info on Anderson, Miesel would be the place to go. Not only is she a self described expert on him, her family and his were friends, and she knew him well. It is sad that, like “Against Time’s Arrow”, many of Anderson’s works are out of print and hard to find.

      • Comment by Sean Michael:

        Greetings, Lord Manwe! Many thanks for replying!

        You mentioned having difficulty finding many of Poul Anderson’s out of print books. I respectfully suggest sending messengers to Cirdan the Shipwright at the Grey Havens to google “Fantastic Fiction” and look up the bibliography there for Poul Anderson. It’s one of the best I found in the Net. Have Cirdan order any particlar titles you desire. I’m sure your messenger can bring some gold or a few jewels for him to convert to earthly currency–enabling Cirdan to pay for those books. And you can find Sandra Miesel’s monograph at the same website.

        Reverently, Sean M. Brooks (Smiles)

        • Comment by Manwe King of the Valar:

          This information has proved very useful! I thank you Sean Michael, you are a credit to your race! As I write this, Cirdan the shipwright is already on his way to buy me a hard-to-find novel by Anderson!

          Once again, many thanks to you!

          • Comment by Sean Michael:

            Greetings, Lord Manwe!

            I am glad I was able to be of some small assistance to you. Which of Poul Anderson’s books was very hard for you to obtain? With any luck Cirdan the Shipwright won’t need much more than a week or so, Earth time, to dispatch to you via your messenger.

            Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

            • Comment by Manwe King of the Valar:

              Hail and well met Sean Michael, friend of the Valar!

              You ask which hard-to-find Anderson novel was it that I sent Cirdan the Shipwright out to purchase for me. That novel was perhaps Anderson’s best work, “The Broken Sword”. Now you may be asking yourself, why would that be hard to find? To which I respond because it simply is. The book itself has not had a reprinting or a new version of it reprinted in some time. I had already searched the usual site (like Amazon) and the only way I could get a copy was to buy a used one (I have a habit of not buying used, they never quite seem to be in the ‘good condition’ they are described as). And even then, many of the used copies were overpriced (there was a 2002 reprinting of the book, but only available ‘used’)). The site you told me of not only had a great catalog of Anderson’s works, but it linked me to a site that I had never heard of (Alibris), which sells hard to find books. On there I found that there actually WAS a recent reprinitng of the book (2008), only that it was a reprinitng outside the U.S. (which is why I had not heard of it). To top that off, it is a brand new copy of the book! The only other way I could have had a ‘copy’ of the book was to have bought the audio version which was narrated by…Bronson Pinchot (wha..?). I prefer books to audio versions anyway. I am very happy to get a copy of this book again (my original copy was destroyed long ago by a Balrog of Morgoth), it has been long since last I read it.

              Even though it is only one book now, thanks to your assistance, I now know of a site that in itself has links to other sites where I can purchase some of the other out of print works of Anderson, many thanks! Even still, Anderson’s old works need a new reprinting, some of them (even with that site’s help) are impossible to find. Books like Hrolf Kraki’s Saga and The King of Ys awhile back and have not had subsequent reprints. As to what book is next for me, only THE ONE knows.

              • Comment by Manwe King of the Valar:

                “And even then, many of the used copies were overpriced..”

                Correction: I meant to delete this line. Only some of them were overpriced, the ‘better condition’ the higher the price. Again though, I do not buy used, I never end up liking the condition they are in.

                • Comment by Sean Michael:

                  Greetings and salutations, Lord Manwe, Servant of Iluvatar!

                  Your servant is humbly grateful that the “Fantastic Fiction” website has already been so useful to you.

                  I do understand your point about preferring FRESHLY printed books to even the best quality used books. But I don’t object per se to buying used books as long as tbey are in GOOD condition. Many of the books in my Poul Anderson collection are first edition hard covers I acquired over the years. With most of them in EXCELLENT shape.

                  You mentioned THE BROKEN SWORD as being the Anderson book you were most keen to acquire recently. I have a copy of both the original 1954 hardcover and the revised edition (soft cover)of 1971. I assure you, the hard cover version is in great shape! Well worth the money I spent for it in 1980.

                  It would be wonderful if all the works of Poul Anderson were collected and republished in library quality hardcovers for an edition called, say, THE COLLECTED WORKS OF POUL ANDERSON. Alas,I doubt that will happen any time soon. So, we fans of Poul Anderson will have be content with a mix of both used books and offasional reprints of this or that title. As an ardent fan of Poul Anderson I don’t mind paying a bit more for good quality used editions. Most of the books I obtained that way fully satisfied me.

                  Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

                  • Comment by Manwe King of the Valar:

                    Ah yes, a “Collected Works of Poul Anderson” would be nice indeed! Perhaps they could split it into two parts, one for his fantasy, the other for his scifi. I agree with you though, it want happen anytime soon. I know this, for Mandos has prophesied it. ;)

                    • Comment by Sean Michael:

                      Salutations again, Lord Manwe! (Smiles)

                      I very much regret having to agree that Lord Mandos is right, there will be no COLLECTED WORKS OF POUL ANDERSON any time soon. The nearest approach to that Platonic ideal being NESFA Press’ printing of THE COLLECTED SHORT WORKS OF POUL ANDERSON, in four volumes so far. If you are interested, you might ask Cirdan the Shipwright to get you one of these NESFA Press volumes.

                      I hope your brother Vala Mandos is also fond of Poul Anderson! (Smiles)

                      Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

    • Comment by Mary:

      One notes that in Operation Chaos magic is definitely distinct from diabolical forces.

      A Midsummer’s Tempest goes for natural magic.

  15. Comment by wrf3:

    Gnostic endings are about as satisfying as ending a story by having the hero fall out of bed and realize ’twas all but a dream.

    So, are “The Great Divorce” and “Newhart” exceptions that prove the rule?

    • Comment by Mary:

      Alice also works. Then, in Alice, having her wake up explains a great deal.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Point well taken. I would draw a distinction between (1) something like THE GREAT DIVORCE or the medieval poem THE PEARL or DREAM QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH or even ALICE IN WONDERLAND where the machinery of the story is to bring the hero away from the mundane world by means of a dream-journey, and (2) a story where the resolution of the plot turns on the hero waking up and realizing that there had never been any problem or any world to begin with.

      The first is a trick of author’s as venerable and hoary as having a framing sequence where the author explains that he met the adventurer at a gentleman’s club, or inherited a strange manuscript from him. It is stage-machinery, something to allow the author to tell a fantastic tale that cannot be set here on Earth.

      The second is a cheat, where the plot cannot be resolved except by telling the reader it was all bogus from the beginning: there was never any threat.

      I hope the distinction I am proposing here is legitimate?

      • Comment by DGDDavidson:

        The distinction is good, though I think sometimes the line between the dream-as-frame story and the dream-as-cheat can become blurred. Much as I respect Lovecraft, I do think he used the frame story as an excuse to bring in the cheat at the end of Kadath, and I rather thought the same thing of Through the Looking Glass. Even when the dream is used to frame the story, the wake-up at the end can in my opinion still be a let-down.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Ah, now you touch on a point too near to my heart for me to be objective. DREAM QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH was the first fantasy novel I ever read, and it can be reread as an adult with undiminished pleasure, indeed, with that patina of nostalgia which the novel itself is concerned with.

          I would argue that Randolf Carter (obviously a nephew of John Carter, Warlord of Mars) achieves precisely what he set out to achieve, which is the knowledge of his fabulous sunset city. With perfect Chestertonian irony, her discovers that the elusive vision of this far off splendor is his own beloved Boston.

          Carter escapes from damnation by waking up in his room, it is true, but since the last paragraph show Nyarlathotep upbraiding the mild gods of Earth, it is perfectly clear that the dream realm is a real place, and that Carter was journeying there facing real dangers. Hence the lands described are not mere vapors in Carter’s private imagination, but an unearthly world or realm ‘Great Dreamers’ can visit in spirit form.

          For Carter to have escaped by waking is no more a cheat than for Doctor Strange to escape his ancient enemy Nightmare by returning from an astral voyage to the safety of his mortal body.

  16. Comment by curtjester:

    Great essay and not only because it agrees with my own point of view, but that it clarifies my own point of view.

    As for the Fantasy genre it played a role in my own conversion from life-long atheism to Catholicism. After priding myself for so long on so-called “hard SF” I started to read more and more Fantasy novels as I found I was very attracted to hero quests and virtues of these heroes. Most weren’t anti-hero, but heroes in the old mode who not only did good, but were good. I found it odd as an atheist to find myself attracted to this moral worldview so much. Especially the books of R.A. Salvatore and his hero the Drow Elf Drizzt Do’Urden. There is a Catholicity of Drizzt that drew me in before I was Catholic and able to recognize that fact.

    • Comment by Manwe King of the Valar:

      “Catholicity” in the Drizzt Do’Urden stories? I like the sound of that (especially since just last year I bought all the books in the saga, that is a very loong saga, hehe). I hope this is so, because I have to admit I was a bit turned off when I glanced over some book about the Drizzt saga in general, which stated that even though Drizzt was a worshipper of that one goddess (can’t remember her name) that “where the godly powers were concerned, he had an almost agnostic worldview”. Granted this was book was written by some other guy (not Salvatore), so it may have just been his interpretation of it, or him just pushing his own worldview on Drizzt.

  17. Comment by lampwright:

    Hey, did you see that, John! Manwe of the Valar commented! Actually elvish gods descending from Valinor to surf the net. How cool is that!

    • Comment by CPE Gaebler:

      Eh. If it’s the same Manwe who posts on TheologyWeb under the name “Manwe Sulimo,” it’s a bit too early to celebrate yet.

    • Comment by Manwe King of the Valar:

      “Hey, did you see that, John! Manwe of the Valar commented! Actually elvish gods descending from Valinor to surf the net. How cool is that!”

      Haha! I see I am still recognized on Earth, even amongst the second children of Illuvatar! Nay lampwright, I had no need to descend to Earth to ‘surf’ the ‘web’, we get it up here in Valinor. And you think the speeds are fast on Earth ;) While I spend much time with the elves here in Valinor, I do ‘surf’ the ‘web’ as you say. After all, John C. Wright’s blog is a favorite amongst the vala here in the Undying Lands!

      “Eh. If it’s the same Manwe who posts on TheologyWeb under the name “Manwe Sulimo,” it’s a bit too early to celebrate yet.”

      I do not know of this imposter “Manwe Sulimo” you speak of, and I have never been to the TheologyWeb. I do believe you have been decieved by Morgoth.

  18. Comment by Lewinna Solwing (@LewinnaBSolwing):

    From John C. Wright’s blog: Magic/myth use in fiction and the kind of worldviews that REALLY promote occultism: http://t.co/A8pd4pi

  19. Comment by Brian Killian:

    Great post. I agree with every single one of your premises, but I’ve come to the complete opposite conclusion about Harry Potter than you. The HP stories are ambiguous. I think a good case could be made (using your own premises) that there are at least some gnostic undertones running throughout HP. Here’s a basic summary of my case.


    The magic in HP is not magic in the sense of enchantment, wonder, grace, or the supernatural, as it is in Tolkien and in the Christian Fairy Tale tradition. It is just mundane power. As one national writer characterized it, it’s just the flip side of technology in our world. Now I love technology as much as the next guy, but I wouldn’t really say its enchanting and magical in the sense that, say, the gifts from Galadriel to the hobbits are. Now saying that it is just mundane technology and power, is edging it closer to your own definition of occultic magic than literary magic, especially since the HP magic is also frivolous and frightening in that it can apparently do anything to anyone. Historically, technology and magic are related in their love of technique and the quest for power. Therefore, I think the magic in HP is more in line with what C.S. Lewis called the “scientific magician”.

    In this respect, it’s interesting to note that in Tolkien, power in both its magical and technological forms are associated with the bad guys (the orcs and their wheels and machines/the ring of power). While the magic of the elves and wizards are more literary devices signifying the magic of divine grace and power.

    ********The Sneer*********

    There’s more going on than just have witches and wizards alongside regular non-magical people. The witches and wizards are glorified while the non-magical folks are derided. This is more a subtext than an explicit thing, but more than one person has noticed it.

    Who are the most put-down and derided people in HP? Answer: the Dursleys (muggles) and Filtch (a Squib–a wizard who can’t perform magic). Now add to this the fact that all the wizards treat muggles basically as cute pets, and don’t have any problem with, say, erasing their memories. What you get when you put this together is “the sneer”. People that can do the magic are implicitly better than people who can’t. Even John Granger (the most popular Christian interpreter of HP) admits that all the wizards patronize the muggles.

    BTW…I’m not saying Rowling intended any of this, but as Tolkien would say, not everyone has an equal grasp of their materials.

    ******”There is no good or evil, only power and those to weak to use it.”*****

    The cardinal rule of fantasy, according to Tolkien, was that however fantastic the world was, it must adhere to the moral universe. Moral truths are true in all possible worlds. But in HP, the hard line between good and evil are blurred.

    The Unforgivable Curses–now there’s something with the Fall written all over it! And yet, both Harry and other “good guys” use these curses quite casually alongside the bad guys. What lesson does that convey, that it’s forgivable when good guys do it?

    Remember how killing someone shattered your soul to pieces? Apparently, that’s not *always* true, at least not when you have an “advanced directive” like Dumbledore and Snape had. Maybe your soul is spared when you kill out of love?

    Also, is it not a gnostic theme that in your heart of hearts, you are divine? You are pure, no matter what you do? Good and evil are just useless terrestrial concepts, they don’t effect our truly true divine selves. Rowling has defended Harry’s moral flaws by stating that he is a flawed person just like you and me. If that’s the case, is it appropriate for Dumbledore to be assuring Harry about how pure and good he is?


    But nowhere is HP so blatantly gnostic than it’s philosophy of death. “To the *well organized* mind, death is but the next great adventure”. That is not Christian, that is gnostic to its core. The whole series is an attempt to tame death, to make it normal, to make it good.

    In Christianity, death is evil. When Christ was in his agony in the garden, do you think his reaction to death was the confident, flippant attitude that Dumbledore was always spouting? Or was it more like Voldemort and his perfectly normal, healthy, natural fear of death (because thats the reaction you’re supposed to have to something that is evil)?

    Is there not something wrong when the person who exhibits the natural and normal response to death is a character who is the epitome of evil?

    The vision of death in HP is the philosophy of death of our culture, it’s the philosophy of the hospices and the people who would kill people like Terri Schiavo.


    Maybe it would be too strong to say that HP is gnostic. But at the very least I think we must say that it is very ambiguous. Personally, I want to say that it’s a great work of Christian Gnosticism, but I”m open to argument.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      All these points are very well taken, and I am dumbfounded with doubts.

      If I may offer one weak and small counter argument: each of these things reflects the Gnosticism which I believe, and I have argued extensively previously in this space, forms forms the core of the modern Leftwing world view. In other words, I suggest that was you are detecting is indeed present, but it is not Gnosticism, or not purely so, rather these are artistic expressions of Rowlings’ modern and European world view present in her otherwise Christian background, which has some Gnosticism present in it.

      I am suggesting you are seeing Anglicanism and thinking it is not Christian.

      One other, admittedly weak, counter argument: I would say Tom Riddle’s reaction to death is the same as those people who want to experiment on prenatal babies to extract stem cells in hopes of discovering the fountain of youth, namely, the willingness to kill others and to tear your soul to bits to prolong your mortal existence. I would not call this a natural and normal response to death. Both prenatal stem cell research and the making or horcruxes is profoundly un-Christian and unnatural an attitude toward death.

      • Comment by DGDDavidson:

        I would suggest going further with that second argument: Perhaps Dumbledore’s attitude toward death is not entirely right (we seem to have an apology for assisted suicide in there, at the very least), but neither is it quite wrong. Death is an evil, but not an “absolute” evil. The HP novels recognize the difference between true immortality and the false kind; the villains in HP are the same as the villains in That Hideous Strength: they want to extend life on Earth perpetually through technological means. True immortality, however, waits on the other side of death, and death is the gateway to it. That’s why the final novel brings in a biblical quote on a tombstone and Hermione contrasts it with the view of the Deatheaters, and that’s why Harry’s godfather is not coming back as a ghost after he’s died, because unlike the ghosts haunting the school, he does not have an inappropriate fear of death. Perhaps Dumbledore’s attitude is indeed too flippant; perhaps “well-ordered mind” is a bad way to describe a man making a good death, but on the other hand, Dumbledore is talking about a guy who had lived a few hundred years by means of magic elixir, so the attitude of “It’s time to stop taking this elixir now and get on with things” might not be inappropriate.

        The description of the magic in HP as essentially technological is not wrong, but as John already pointed out the magic of HP mocks occultism–hence the silly spells and the Rugby on broomsticks. Rightly or wrongly, HP is written from the perspective of disbelief in magic, and does not take magic seriously.

        That being said, I think Brian Killian’s criticism of HP is the most reasonable–perhaps the only reasonable–one I’ve seen.

      • Comment by Patrick:

        I didn’t find this convincing at all.

        The magic in Harry Potter is technological in the sense that it’s formal, process-oriented and domesticated – it bears the analogy to technology because it isn’t ordinate yo the sensuous or transcendental dimensions of humanity. Doing magic is basically an analogy for skill or artistry, like music, not, say, mystical or a trans-personal act, like lovemaking or worship.

        But it’s also not mundane. Nowhere is it exposed that magic has a well-understood reason ‘how’, no mechanisms – Voldermort’s horcruxes are more a morbid sacrament than anything, and what is a Petronus charm in the essentials if not a call for the Holy Spirit?

        And as far as death spells and such, they’re called unforgivable curses because they require the caster to literally WILL his victim to death, and therefore be, by magic, EVERY cause of death – I thought that was rather elegantly conceived. Sort of the Thomistic / Aristotelian summary of material, efficient, final and formal destruction of a person. It’s the ultimate offense, and the spells are comprehensive act of interdiction – immobilizing torture, annihilating murder, or the confinement and suffocation of the victim’s will while they still live. How can a just society NOT call such things, in a legal sense, unforgivable?

        But how about when good guys kill people? I think we get to see the pre-dawn of a just war theory assert itself, out of their failures and ineffectiveness and mistakes. And Dumbledore’s fatal scheme always to me resembled the otherwise stalwart Winston Churchill at his exhausted, consequentialist nadir; the abstract, inhumane, quality of his last plan made me think of Dresden.

        As for the sneer, I was happy to see it; I thought it meant Rowling took original sin seriously.

        And I don’t think there is ANYTHING healthy about Voldermort’s fear of death. As Christians, our ideal for life should be to follow Christ to death, out of love.

        I actually liked that Harry, in particular and especially for a messiah-figure, is basically not that self-aware. Not a nerdy intellectual, not a sensitive philosophe, not a Sir Galahad – Rowling goes to great lengths to prove to us how undistinguished and mundane he is. Not a bad guy, just not. special. In a World of Magicians, where all the metaphysical rules are made up as you go, he’s the guy in his high school who’s really good at -rugby-. He’s average, but he can have virtue – and not, as we might expect from some dreary atheist magic story, the virtue of the Will to Power or some transcendentalist nonsense. The epilogue really nails this point home.

      • Comment by Jacob:

        There was a similar theme in Babylon 5. The character Deathwalker created a serum, that could give life to those who partook of it. The catch was, another had to die. The Vorlons did what no one else would do, and destroyed her ship (rightly, I think). Another occasion is the alien healing device designed as a method of punishment. It drained the life energy from one person, and gave it to another, resulting in eventual death. Lorien also gave of himself to restore Sheridan. I’ve always found the idea behind life in Babylon 5 interesting. Though, if one supposes entropy, it might not be as interesting as it first appears.

    • Comment by deiseach:

      I would mildly disagree with some of your points, but that’s just a difference of interpretation in the review of the books.

      As to the “sneer” (witches and wizards are seen as superior to other magical creatures and non-magical beings), yes – that does come across. But equally, there is the counter to it; I’m thinking of the sculptural group in the Ministry of Magic where the witch and wizard are surrounded by adoring magical creatures, but Harry (I think? Been a while since I read the book and haven’t it to hand) slowly comes to think of this more as propaganda/wishful thinking on the part of the Ministry, since quite evidently everything in the garden isn’t as rosy as made out.

      Madame Olympe Maxime hiding being a half-giant out of shame down to prejudice; Hagrid being half-giant; Hermione and S.P.E.W.; the whole ‘mud-blood’ slur; the fascination Arthur Weasley (and the Weasleys are definitely meant to be The Good Guys) has with the Muggle world and Muggle technology as being as exotic and marvellous to him as magic is to us – all little elements adding up to counter the view that witches and wizards are ‘naturally’ superior.

      The memory-wiping is problematic, but on the other hand, it’s the same kind of thing as the memory-wiping in “Men in Black”; keeping a secret from the general public that would only result in mass panic and attacks on the aliens/wizarding world.

      Dumbledore’s death – yes, there’s a whole canned goods shelf of worms there, but one way of reading it is that it’s as much a ‘suicide’ as a soldier who throws himself on a live grenade to save his comrades is committing suicide. He is trying to use his death to do good (now, of course, it doesn’t turn out as he’d planned, and good intentions don’t absolve us of responsibility, but while it’s going too far to call it a martyrdom, he isn’t just throwing his life away vaingloriously). Actually, the worst part of that was making Snape his killer, and that’s where the whole thing came off the rails morally.

      • Comment by DGDDavidson:

        I read Dumbledore’s death as a defense of assisted suicide and I’m still inclined to, but if memory serves, John Granger has argued that in fact it’s the opposite–Dumbledore’s attempt to decide when and how he will die turns out to be his biggest mistake, and all his plans go awry.

        • Comment by deiseach:

          It’s not quite a suicide; it strikes me as him believing that the only way this can end is with his death, and the best thing he can do is control how he dies, so that the Elder Wand will fall into Snapes’ hands rather than be stolen from his tomb. I agree that the attempt to control his death goes badly wrong, but he was not so much dying because he wanted to die, as trying to make a sacrifice of his death for the right ends (if the wrong reasons).

          This is actually more along the lines of Denethor’s flaw: lack of estel, and failure of amdir.

          • Comment by Peony Moss:

            he was not so much dying because he wanted to die, as trying to make a sacrifice of his death for the right ends (if the wrong reasons).

            I agree, and I think the analogy to the soldier throwing himself on the grenade is a good one: he’s trying to protect Snape and Draco.

            — Dumbledore might not have been sure how mastery of the Elder Wand would have worked. If he died “undefeated” because Snape had “permission” to give the coup de grâce, then the allegiance of the Wand might die with him and Voldemort would never control the Wand. Otherwise, the allegiance of the Wand would go to Snape. So even if Voldemort robbed Dumbledore’s tomb, he wouldn’t be able to use the Wand – and he wouldn’t be able to turn the Wand against its true master, Snape.

            — By allowing Voldy to think that Snape had murdered him, Dumbledore is also hoping to keep Snape and Draco on Voldy’s good list.

            — Dumbledore is also trying to keep Draco from becoming a killer, and trying to keep Snape from dying as a result of the Unbreakable Vow.

            Dumbledore’s death was so atypical of the Avada Kedavra that I wonder if Snape didn’t actually somehow “unstopper death” — the magical equivalent of stopping futile extraordinary treatment.

          • Comment by Peony Moss:

            I agree – this isn’t quite an “assisted suicide.” Dumbledore is dying and trying to make the best of his death. I think the comparison to a soldier throwing himself on a grenade is very apt – Dumbledore is trying to throw himself on the Elder Wand to save Snape.

            — If Snape gives the coup de grace with Dumbledore’s “permission”, the allegiance of the Elder Wand either dies with Dumbledore or goes to Snape. Either way, Voldemort can’t gain the allegiance of the Wand or use the Wand against Snape.

            — Dumbledore is also giving his life to save Snape from the penalty for breaking the Unbreakable Vow.

            — Finally, Dumbledore hopes to keep Snape on Voldemort’s good list and to keep Draco from becoming a killer.

    • Comment by Pierce O.:

      ”There is no good or evil, only power and those to weak to use it.”

      Dude, you realize that’s the villain you’re quoting, right? I don’t think the villain’s lines are meant to be taken as the moral of the story.

      “But nowhere is HP so blatantly gnostic than it’s philosophy of death. “To the *well organized* mind, death is but the next great adventure”. That is not Christian, that is gnostic to its core. The whole series is an attempt to tame death, to make it normal, to make it good.”

      I remain unconvinced. It sounds to me more like the Christian idea that, because Christ has conquered Death, we need no longer fear it. Death is an “adventure” in that it is the door to Eternal Life. Furthermore, the whole point of the Deathly Hallows subplot is that Harry becomes the master of death not by taming it with arcane objects (like Voldemort), but by setting aside his fear of it and accepting that he must die. This is a Stoic and Christian idea, not a Gnostic one.

      And on top of that, when Harry “dies”, it is not occult knowledge that allows him to return (nor does Dumbledore appear as some kind of Archon), but his and his mother’s sacrificial love.

      “Is there not something wrong when the person who exhibits the natural and normal response to death is a character who is the epitome of evil?”

      The natural response to death is to murder a bunch of people so you keep your soul bound to middle earth?

    • Comment by Captain Peabody:

      I cannot regard your arguments as at all conclusive. Your points, while generally insightful, seem to be misrepresenting the books on several extremely important points,. I will respond to your arguments in order.

      (1): Magic.

      The magic in the HP series is generally a stand-in for technology or natural creative ability; it is in this way more “mundane” than “divine.” It is not “divine magic” in the sense of a stand-in for the divine or supernatural; it is essentially a representation of the wonder and creativity of human artifice and ability as such. But that this representation, because it is mundane and in some ways technological (mostly in that it follows “rules”), is thus mechanistic, reductive, and oppressive, is an absurd suggestion.

      To anyone reading the books, half of the point of them is a simple sense of wonder and whimsy, wonder at the creativity, cleverness, and often absurdity of the magical feats and technologies of the Wizarding World. Paintings of fruit which you tickle to gain admittance, jars of portable flames, suits of armor that crack jokes at you as you pass, magical feasts that appear and disappear before your eyes, and a thousand, thousand other tiny creative magical details that clutter up every single book, are anything but “mundane” or “mechanistic.” The world of magic is a world of whimsy and creativity, the world of human creation and technology revealed in all its splendor.

      That these artifices can be abused by evil villains who merely abuse their abilities for power and control, binding their living souls to mechanical objects as a means of gaining power, is hardly a strike against the books. Rather, it is simply a reflection of the truth. Human technology, ability, and ingenuity has been used to create the most stunning works of wonder and benevolence…and also the Holocaust. There is no doubt whatsoever which side the books take.

      And what is more, the books also acknowledge the far deeper magic of the supernatural, the deeper magic of love, self-sacrifice, and suffering; it is this “magic” that ultimately conquers death, not the artificial, mechanical magic of the Horcruxes. One of the longest-running themes in the series is the preminence of the power of love over the sort of magic espoused by Voldemort, the power of self-elevation, hatred, and mechanical power.

      Attempting to pit Tolkien against all this is foolish, since Tolkien alike, while to a great extent using “divine magic,” also has room for technological magic. The Elves are essentially artists and architects and engineers, and most of their “magic” is merely the excellence of their craftmanship. The Noldor were essentially artists and architects, delighting in creating beautiful and clever things beyond measure; but their magic is not merely “artistic,” but also practical and even mechanical, as the Elves’ excellence for creating weapons and armor and powerful tools such as the seeing Stones or the Great Rings: in mighty citadels and fortresses, armor and weapons of impenetrable steel. That this magic is ultimately connected to the divine and taking its origin from it (as are all beautiful things and good works of sub-creation in Tolkien’s view) changes little, since this magic is still lesser and subordinate to the truly divine or supernatural, and contingent on it; in fact, it is essentially the Elves’ overweening love for their own works, their refusal to acknowledge their essentially contingent existence and secondary nature to the divine and the higher things, that is the Elves’ “original sin,” as it were. And this magic of craft and artifice can also be turned or perverted into tools of domination or destruction, as Sauron perverted the Great Rings or the Seeing Stones, or the great fortress of Cirith Ungol; and evil can use its natural artifice to create abominable “magics” of its own.

      And even beyond this, there is room in Tolkien’s world for merely “whimsical” magic, as the fireworks of Gandalf or the magical toys that he brings from Dale. Most of the Potter magic basically is equivalent to these little toys, or to the Seeing Stones or other Elven works of technological craftmanship. The fact that the Potter magic is a great deal broader and thus has to account for a lot more means that there is more overlap between good and evil in terms of methods; but there is still Dark Magic that is evil by nature, and the ends to which merely mundane tools of magic are used are still wildly different. As to certain instances of this, I will speak more later.

      In short, your attack on the magic of the Harry Potter series is without merit. I will move on now, judging my case sufficiently argued.

      (2): The Sneer.

      Muggle-Wizard relations is one of those things that is somewhat of a minor theme within the series, but is by no means unaddressed.

      Wizards are essentially gifted individuals; they can by their natural ability do things which Muggles can merely do by technology. But this by no means implies the Muggles’ inferiority; in fact, in most cases the “magical” solution is merely equivalent to or often inferior than the non-magical solution. And through men like Arthur Weasley (who is fascinated by Muggle technology as much as Harry is by magic), Rowling points out to us the true ingenuity and “magic” of ordinary, commonplace technology as well, technology which most wizards are totally incapable of comprehending.

      Besides this, essential equality of Muggles and Wizards as human beings is simply assumed by Rowling as a modern Western; those who attempt to deny this, or elevate Wizards over Muggles as masters, are universally and unequivocally evil in the series. The great Death Eater statue, with a Witch and Wizard sitting on a throne supported by hundreds of Muggle bodies, represents quite cogently this approach to their relations, and the series’ attitude towards this: all the characters are utterly horrified by it, and it is presented as the work of absolute evil. And the fact that wizards can and are born from non-magical parents mean they do not at all constitute distinct races.

      That the Dursleys are presented as stupid and wicked is more because of their Dickensian roots than their Muggle status, I think.

      Some of the ordinary wizards’ treatment of Muggles is also morally troublesome; but Wizarding society is explicitly presented in the books as morally troublesome and cruel in a lot of ways (any society that uses soul-sucking monsters of darkness as their jailors is hardly a paragon of virtue), and it seems to me that this approach is rarely glorified.

      But, sure, I’ll give you that there are some potentially troublesome subtexts here, however much I think you’ve overstated it.

      (3): Power

      Here is where it gets a little tricky, since we’re essentially dealing with questions of morality. But basically, the thing is, in morality it is sometimes licit to kill, and so sometimes licit to use the killing curse.

      Both in HP and the real world, it is MURDER, not just killing, which shatters the soul, which is an evil act. Not all acts of killing are murder.

      But to the extent Rowling, as a modern, has a plot point which might be construed as a defense of assisted suicide, I deplore it, and will not defend it.

      As for the other unforgivable curses, I will admit that it seems to me that the Imperius and Cruciatus curses are such that it is never licit to use them on another person. Harry and some others in the seventh book use the Imperius curse, with absolutely no indication that there is anything wrong with them doing so, or any justification for its use; this was from the beginning troublesome and disturbing to me. I do not defend it.

      However, this has little to do with Gnosticism; and your argument that, somehow, the fact that Rowling said that Harry is a flawed human being like us makes the books “Gnostic”? Huh? If Rowling had said instead that Harry was a perfect divine being to which human standards of morality did not apply, maybe I’d grant you something. But that’s just nonsense.
      And as for Dumbledore praising Harry for his courage, his love, and his faith, what the heck? Because someone is not perfect (and no one is) does this mean I cannot praise anyone for his virtues? Because one of the saints had a vice, I cannot praise him for his heroic virtue and hold him up to others as an example? St. Thomas More often had an overly acerbic tongue; so therefore, I cannot praise him for his heroic conscience, virtue, and martyrdom? The point here as presented in the books is that, while Harry is in many ways a flawed man whose flaws are explicitly presented as wrong, dangerous, and troublesome, in the end it is his essential and unswerving love and his faith which save him and which make him worthy of praise. “Love atones for a multitude of faults,” “Abraham was justified by faith,” and all that. To the extent that Dumbledore is more praising of Harry’s love and virtue throughout the series than critical of his faults, you could say that he is too lax on Harry. But there is absolutely no possible way to construe this as Gnostic in any meaningful sense.

      (4): Death

      There is almost no way I could disagree with you more.

      In Rowling’s own words, the HP books are primarily a work about death and dealing with it, a response to her own experience of the death of her mother. And when it comes to the essential point of the series, she points to the two scriptures quoted in Deathly Hallows: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” and “The last enemy that will be defeated is death.” Her philosophy of death is thoroughly Christian to the core.

      The absolute horror and inhumanity of death is reiterated over and over again in the series, in a hundred different ways; death is an enemy, a pitiless enemy, a cruel enemy, and a cruel horror. Dumbledore’s one remark is not his, or the series final word on death; or were the tears and anguish of the characters at Sirius’s, or Dobby’s, or Dumbledore’s deaths “flippant”? Dumbledore himself is haunted by the power of death and by the death of a family member, and so is tempted to try by illicit means to master it and overcome it himself; he too fears death.

      But once that is established, the question of how one reacts to death remains; how does one respond, how does one choose to fight the enemy? Voldemort is terrified of death, and so he does everything he can, mutilates his soul, kills and murders thousands, all to keep himself alive; for him, there is nothing worse than death. Harry, in contrast, in the end realizes that death cannot ultimately be conquered by artifice, and that death is not, in the end, the worst fate (damnation, separation from God and living without love, is explicitly presented as worse than death); the only way to truly conquer death is love. The only way for Harry to conquer death is to willingly submit himself to it in self-sacrifice for those he loves. And still, until the day when death, “the last enemy” will ultimately be defeated and abolished for good, death must still, ultimately, be submitted to as a gateway to “the next great adventure,” “on,” etc. It is a horror, a horror to be avoid and prevented(as Harry’s sacrifice saves the lives of his friends, as their deaths are presented as evil), but a horror that can be overcome by love, and that, submitted to with love, ultimately leads to greater glory; but for Voldemort, bereft of love, it leads only to greater death.

      Let’s look at these two attitudes towards death. Is the first one, as you say, natural or Christian? Did St. Paul admonish us to fear and to flee from death and to use any means to keep ourselves from it, just as Christ did? Did he tell us that the worst fate of all was natural death, and that we should commit horrible crimes rather than submit to it?

      No, of course not. The Christian response is essentially Harry’s response, in practically all respects. Death, while a great evil, is NOT the greatest evil, and it is not an evil to be avoided by any means. Fear of death, while natural, is not a virtue and must never us master us. In fact, we are all required to, in the end, submit to death as Christ did, and so come to salvation; we are saved through death. There is no Resurrection without the Cross; no sinful man comes to heaven without dieing first (if only spiritually). In the end, “Love is strong as death,” and has and will triumph over it. This is the Christian view on death, and if you don’t like it, then you don’t like Christianity.

      Calling this “Gnostic” is a slur, wrongheaded and without grounds.

      On all these points, the accusation of Gnosticism simply does not hold water.

      I think I’ve argued my points sufficiently for the moment. Hopefully, I’ve been clear enough to make sense to you.

    • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

      The Unforgivable Curses–now there’s something with the Fall written all over it! And yet, both Harry and other “good guys” use these curses quite casually alongside the bad guys. What lesson does that convey, that it’s forgivable when good guys do it?

      Wait, what? Where does Harry use an Unforgivable? It’s been a while since I read the books, but I had the impression that not using them was a major point of honour for him, and one which he never failed in, not even when despairing and tired near to death. Indeed, the Expelliarmus is his signature spell, to the point that, in a chase scene with multiple decoy Harrys, the Death Eaters are able to single out the real one because the decoys are casting curses intended to harm. (Although not the Avada Kedavra, unless my memory utterly fails me.) Even in the final, climactic duel, he defeats Voldemort precisely with an Expelliarmus, not with a deadly curse.

      Remember how killing someone shattered your soul to pieces? Apparently, that’s not *always* true, at least not when you have an “advanced directive” like Dumbledore and Snape had. Maybe your soul is spared when you kill out of love?

      I do not think this is correct. If I remember correctly, Voldemort did not shatter his soul by killing, as such, but by making Horcruxes, which incidentally required killing someone. I do not believe it is stated anywhere that killing in itself will shatter your soul.

    • Comment by Peony Moss:

      Re: the “unforgivables”, there is Wizarding World precedent for their “legal” use; during VoldeWar I, Magical Law Enforcement had been given permission to use them in combat against Death Eaters.

      • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

        That leaves the question of whether the term ‘Unforgivable’ is theological or legal. Are these spells ‘Unforgivable’ in the sense of being crimes carrying a mandatory stay in Azkaban? If so, the Ministry of Magic can, presumably, forgive them, simply by passing a law. Or are they Unforgivable in the sense of doing irrepairable damage to the caster’s soul? Then the MoM has no power to firgive their use. I don’t know whether this question is clarified in canon.

        It actually seems to me that morally speaking, the use of Dementors as a means of execution, which is said to not only kill but actually destroy the victim’s soul, is rather worse than the Avada Kedavra. The HP world is known to have an afterlife, and thus the Kedavra is not the end of all experience; the Dementor’s Kiss apparently is, unless “destroy the soul” is to be taken as a metaphor. This sort of illogic suggests to me that the ‘Unforgivables’ are a man-made category, not one built into the structure of magic.

  20. Comment by deiseach:

    I do pretty much agree with our host that if one is inclined towards magic/occultism or even the notion that one can exercise secret powers by becoming initiated into ancient wisdom, then reading fantasy may feed that appetite but does not necessarily evoke it in the first place.

    I’ve been reading skiffy/fantasy/horror all my life (literally? since the age of seven, which granted is not *all* my life, but a good chunk thereof) and I’ve never so much as sacrificed a goldfish. Aleister Crowley was brought up in the Plymouth Brethren (and in the Exclusive Brethren, the very strict ones, if I’m correct) and look how he turned out.

    If you’re really worried little Johnny or little Mary is going to grow up to run around sky-clad making a fool of themselves at Stonehenge on Midsummer’s Day, then maybe it is worth your while to keep them from watching “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”, but it’s probably much more worth your while to give them something else to be doing and to occupy their imagination in a better way than not letting them read “Harry Potter” but inculcating in them the attitude that “The only place that counts is first place! Winning is everything! There’s no such thing as a good loser, just a loser!” because frankly, that’s just as good (or as bad) at feeding the appetite for personal power and control that can lie behind occultism.

    • Comment by TheConductor:

      It’s at times like this that one sees the real value of the world’s greatest pastime: model railroading.

      Model railroading teaches its practitioners useful skills and knowledge ranging from engineering to carpentry to history to geology. It also teaches one the ability to find transcendent beauty and joy – the magic of which John speaks above – in such mundane sights as a steam locomotive switching a cut of hopper cars into a coal tipple.

      And there are no spells or incantations involved, although the level of esoterica required to become proficient could be considered excessive.

      • Comment by Manwe King of the Valar:

        That all may be true….but what does model railroading have on fantasy (or for that matter, story itself)? Nothing I would argue. Let me put it this way, with just one example: I have always felt that ‘Fantasy’ (and myth/legend, ect) has lead me to God (never away from), somehow I just don’t feel building a railroad model would do the same for me.

        And I don’t mean that as an insult either, I know well that building railroad models can be both fun and informative.

        • Comment by TheConductor:

          No insult taken. But I would argue that, even as I have probably not experienced the fantasy-novel genre to the extent you have, you have not truly experienced the sublime spiritual ecstasy that is model railroading. As far as leading one toward God (always a commendable thing, in my book): surely you must agree that railroads are God’s Own transportation system. Where, after all, could anything as ugly as a toll-highway on-ramp have arisen but from the bowels of hell?

          At my model train club, in fact, we once got into a discussion about whether we should expect the railroads in heaven to be steam-only, or whether first-generation diesels (the streamlined ones) would also be present.

          • Comment by KokoroGnosis:

            There’s a theological concept by the name of “general revelation.” (As opposed to special revelation, prophecy, the Bible, and the like.) General revelation is the idea that one can learn about the God and the Nature of the Divine by experiencing and appreciating the natural universe. (Re: Psalm 19 and other verses.) As the son of a model railroader, I heartily agree with you about the holistic appreciation of the world that model railroading fosters; and, if it can further our reception of any revelation of God, I endorse it whole heartedly.

            It’s also worth noting that theologians include the arts as being part of general revelation, which I find gratifying; scifi’s sensawunda has fostered my own awe of creation.

            –Your friendly theologian-in-training.

            (Also, obviously first gen diesels are in heaven, but they’re all in Santa Fe colors.)

  21. Comment by Manwe King of the Valar:

    Can I just say wow! 106 responses to this post and counting! I take it most posts don’t rack up that many? Only for Harry :)

    • Comment by Sean Michael:

      Greetings, Lord Manwe!

      By now, it’s more than 106 responses. And not all the discussions are about the Harry Potter books. Our own little discussion was largely about Poul Anderson. (Smiles)

      Truth to say, I’m not much attracted to the Potter books. They seem rather too young for an old guy like me!

      Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

      • Comment by Unseen Watcher .30-06:

        Hello Mr. Wright, Lord Manwe, and Mr. Michael. I want to thank Mr. Wright especially for opening my teenaged mind to the beauties of SFF, specifically when read with the insight provided by my faith. The discussion in this post has intrigued me enough to forsake my heretofore unbroken internet silence and finally comment on WP.

        My burning question to everyone, and especially Mr.Wright, is this. For people like me, who prefer rifles to swords, night vision goggles to the light cast by Gandalf’s staff, and shields of Stark industries Vibranium to those forged by Mulciber in his volcano, are there any books out there that convey even a smigen of the wonder and adventure of The Lord of the Rings and other SFF books? Frankly, I am sick of Tom Clancy, and yet I can’t help but feel bored with mere oversized kitchen knives in the hand of the heroes of a story. I thirst for both the mystical light of elfland, and the thunder of an assault rifle. Help?

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          The book that most deeply impressed me with a sense of wonder and adventure include:
          The Book of the New Sun’ by Gene Wolfe starting with SHADOW OF THE TORTURER (Wolfe is the Luis Borges of SF. but this is ‘Dying Earth’ fiction, and so may fall outside your ‘guns-not-swords’ definition)
          DINOSAUR BEACH by Keith Laumer (an author unfairly forgotten: he is the Raymond Chandler of SF)
          The ‘Planet of Adventure’ novels by Jack Vance starting with CITY OF THE CHASCH (a Planetary Romance in the style of Edgar Rice Burroughs)
          The ‘Demon Princes’ novels by Jack Vance, starting with THE STAR KING (Count of Montechristo in Space).

          Of these, only Gene Wolfe has real depth to him — the rest are light adventure stories.
          I would also recommend the short stories of Cordwainer Smith to anyone, starting with ‘Scanner Live in Vain.’

        • Comment by Sean Michael:

          Hi, Unseen Watcher!

          From your comments you seem to prefer reading “hard” science fiction im preference to fantasy. More specifically, you seem to favor what some call military science fiction. Let me say at once I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that!

          You can find early examples of “military” science fiction in the Colonel Falkenberg stories of Jerry Pournelle. A series culminating in the books he co wrote with S.M. Stirling: PRINCE OF MERCENARIES and GO TELL THE SPARTANS. You might also like the Motie books he wrote with Larry Niven set in the same time line centuries later: THE MOTE IN GOD’S EYE and THE GRIPPING HAND.

          I strongly recommend the works of S.M. Stirling, given your apparent preference to “military” science fiction. Look up Stirling’s “The General” series or his Draka books (beginning with MARCHING TRHOUGH GEORGIA). Or his “Change” books,beginning with DIES THE FIRE. Or, stand alone novels like CONQUISTADOR or THE PESHAWAR LANCERS might be a good way of starting to read Stirling.
          Or there’s THE SKY PEOPLE or IN THE COURTS OF THE CRIMSON KINGS (not fantasy, btw).

          My own most favorite science fiction writer, Poul Anderson, wrote little that could be called “military” science fiction. But, you might like his Dominic Flandry books (beginning with ENSIGN FLANDRY), or shorter works like “No Truce With Kings.” To say notning of what I consider magnificeent later works of Anderson such as HARVEST OF STARS (and its three sequels).

          I’m not sure Mr. Wright’s recommendations of Gene Wolfe’s quite fits the kind of fiction you seem to prefer. Much as I loved the Severian the Torturer books, I would not think they are quite what you seem to be looking for. And the same thought applies to Cordwainer Smith’s works, much as I would urge you to look at his stories about the Instrumentality of Mankind.

          Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            He did not ask me to recommend military SF. He asked for SF that inspires wonder.

            • Comment by Sean Michael:

              Dear Mr. Wright:

              True, Unseen Watcher asked about SF which inspires wonder. I missed that! I was focusing on this sentence of his, “I thirst for both the mystical light of elfland, and tbe thunder of an assault rifle.” With too much sress on the second part of that sentence. Hmmm, that makes it harder to think of recommendations–works combining both elements. Offhand, I can only think of Poul Anderson’s THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS, and OPERATION CHAOS and OPERATION LUNA.

              Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

        • Comment by KokoroGnosis:

          Our host has neglected to to mention his own works, specifically The Golden Age trilogy. If you have not read them, I suggest you do. Atkins should fill you with delight, and Earth of that time is about as elfy as it gets.

          I might also suggest Dan Simmons’ books Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion. Also potentially the first three books of the Dune series: Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune. (The series hits a super-low point with book 4, but I’m in a minority that did enjoy 5 and 6.) There’s also Peter F. Hamilton, who reads like Tom Clancy writing about spaceships and evolution, but while his books are satisfyingly epic, they also trend towards nastiness– though his more recent books have mellowed a little bit.

          In general, I think you are looking for space opera: Space Opera tends to be a hybrid of high fantasy themes in a (typically) military SF setting.

          In non-book things, I whole heartedly recommend the anime series RahXephon (Stick with it.)and the first four seasons of the western TV series Babylon 5.

        • Comment by KokoroGnosis:

          Also, in the anime world, there’s Gasaraki, which is so much like Tom Clancy writing about Giant Robots with a Mystical Secret that a change in the global price of wheat is a major plot point.

        • Comment by Manwe King of the Valar:

          If Sean Michael is right about your preferences (Hard Scifi-Military Scifi) then I will not be of much help to you (we don’t have rifles in the Undying Lands ;))

          However, I would second the suggestions that you have been given. Certainly I would look into Poul Anderson’s SF (like the aforementioned Flandry series). And why it may not fit into the hard/military SF genre, the “Book of the New Sun” tetralogy is very, very good! It is SF, not fantasy, but even then, still nothing like hard SF or military SF.

          • Comment by Unseen Watcher .30-06:

            Thanks for the ideas. I guess I’m just trying to find a synthesis between two almost mutually incompatible elements: military thriller fiction, and thought-provoking, awe-inspiring SFF. Are these things mutually exclusive? Or is like cowboys and aliens, where they just don’t go together very well? Can rifles and magic staffs really coexist in the same universe? Without one or the other being rendered utterly ridiculous…

      • Comment by Manwe King of the Valar:

        Hello again Sean Michael, lover of all things Poul

        Yes, now it’s much more than 106 responses :)

        While I am aware we had our own conversation about Poul Anderson going, most of the responses here were related to Harry Potter (either directly or indirectly). My point was that when the issue of Harry Potter is rasied, it seems to always draw a large amount of responses (at least in the blogosphere).

        I don’t think one can be told old for Potter, while I have never read the books, I do very much enjoy the films….and I am after quite old, ageless really seeing as how I was created before the creation of the universe ;) !

        • Comment by Sean Michael:

          Reverent Greetings to you, Lord Manwe!(Smiles)

          Oh, I agree, most of the discussions in this particular thread were about the Potter books. And one of these days I should read the first one or two Potter volumes. Maybe the fault lies with Harry Potter seeming to be too ORDINARY to atract my interest. He’s not a wandering prince is disguise like Aragorn, Arathorn’s son or an intelligence agent of an interstellar Terran Empire like Sir Dominic Flandry. From which you can easily deduce who are two of my most favorite authors!

          As a venerator of the great Poul Anderson, I admit to being so partisan I wish more people would be as passionate about his works as they are over the Potter books! (Smiles)

          True, the Valar, of which you are the chief, are ageless. Time does not affect angelic spirits as they do men and dwawrves, or even the elves. Hobbits are a subset of men, course.

          Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

  22. Comment by Maggie Melchior (@maggiemelchior):

    @Sarahbadger @jeremyjonj Long essay, but a good read. Thoughts? http://t.co/wXVFt3c

  23. Comment by Nate Winchester:

    *sniff* Thank you sir, for saying what I’ve said before more eloquently and beautifully than I did.

    And if I may quote a small bit from a rough draft I’m working on…

    “You nervous?” Alicia asked as the two ladies made their way to the front.
    “Why would I be?” replied Lenka.
    “You’re a witch. Won’t they… burn you at a stake or somethin’?”
    “That, was the Puritans.” They turned around to face the priest that had spoken. “And they didn’t burn witches, they hanged them.”
    Lenka gave a slight bow. “Father, I trust the Lord is good to you.”
    “All the time,” the priest replied with a slight smile. “And we welcome any daughter of Eve…”

    Again, while I can understand the objection of Protestants toward Popery, since in these books crucifixes repel vampires and the exorcisms expel demons, I cannot understand the objection of Christians toward a rather imaginative story where the Christian view of heaven and hell turns out to be right, and not just right but righteous, and God and His Church on Earth are unambiguously the good guys. The books are pitched to appeal to the same crowd that buys Anne Rice novels, but once the reader is hooked on the action and the supernatural horror, these little superversive elements begin to creep in.

    This is part of my affection towards the show Supernatural; though it is a bit darker. The angels can vary between evil (fallen) and apathetic (somehow worse) while the question of whether it’s good that God is “absent” is addressed head on. Even better (so far), the show has left the answers mostly up to the audience. I like viewing the show (the first 5 seasons at least, a lot of fans may end up denying the next 2) as an ultimate test of free will. But, even with some of the downsides, genuine religious folk are almost always depicted as positive, good people (major plus in my book) while the value and importance of family is stressed. They even address consorting and making deals with demons. Guess what? It always goes wrong!

    This is the way to do it, not by means of ‘Christian fiction’ such as the LEFT BEHIND series.

    I swear I may become Catholic just to hope that the authors of that series spend a few months in purgatory just for the sins they’ve committed towards fiction and narrative.

    • Comment by KokoroGnosis:

      I swear I may become Catholic just to hope that the authors of that series spend a few months in purgatory just for the sins they’ve committed towards fiction and narrative.

      That is a convincing reason to join the Catholic church… But then, I find that most “Christian fiction” is remarkably short on any sort of depth, spiritual or otherwise, as compared to books that were written by Christians. The Book of the Long Sun is a more profoundly spiritual set of books for me than any set of books sold in a Christian book store, except for maybe Narnia.

      All that to say, there’s a fair amount of Christian fiction authors who should probably join those two.

    • Comment by KokoroGnosis:

      I swear I may become Catholic just to hope that the authors of that series spend a few months in purgatory just for the sins they’ve committed towards fiction and narrative.

      That is a convincing reason to join the Catholic church… But then, I find that most “Christian fiction” is remarkably short on any sort of depth, spiritual or otherwise, as compared to books that were written by Christians. The Book of the Long Sun is a more profoundly spiritual set of books for me than any set of books sold in a Christian book store, except for maybe Narnia.

      All that to say, there’s a fair amount of Christian fiction authors who should probably join those two in atoning.

      • Comment by Nate Winchester:

        Oh I don’t doubt, but I’ve sworn off the Christian Fiction label ever since I stuck way too long with the LB series (not that I’m bitter…).

        Speaking of sets of books in Christian book stores, I realized something was very amiss when I walked into one and couldn’t find anything by Chesterton, MacDonald, L’Engle or Tolkien. The oldest work in there was Lewis and that was only Narnia.

        I think it’s one of the greatest disservices we’re guilty of.

        • Comment by KokoroGnosis:

          I grew up Evangelical, and Lewis was the only one of the bunch that got any traffic. I didn’t find out Tolkien was even a Christian until my mid teens (After my parents decided we liked LotR too much and banned it.) and didn’t read Chesterton until my mid to late 20s. It’s appalling.

          I haven’t read much in the way of mainline Christian fiction since I around the time I found out that Tolkien was a Christian. Around that time, it started to dawn on me that one’s worldview could be reflected without ruining a good story with preaching. (A lesson I wish some otherwise decent atheist writers would learn, too.)

          • Comment by Nate Winchester:

            You sir, I will have to buy a drink sometime.

            Though I take comfort from what Lewis once said (approx. “If they won’t write the books we like, we shall.”) Though as I said in my own blog post (linked way up there in comment #23), part of me is afraid they’ll still reject me. :(

            I wish parents would learn that badly done writing can drive kids away from faith as much as (if not more so) any other book can seduce away a faithful.

  24. Comment by KokoroGnosis:

    Second round’s on me, since I along with the “Catholics are idol worship pagans” evangelical programming, I also broke the “All alcohol is evil!” programming.

    One of my pet projects is to get parents more involved in what their children are doing, and thinking about what their kids do, rather than just knee-jerk reactions. I grew up contrasting my parents, who, laying aside the whole Tolkien flap and a weird incident with my 6 year old sister and Chrono Trigger, were actually pretty good at not being knee-jerk reactionaries to my friends parents who were less so. I grew up having to fend off way too many “Role playing games make people into homicidal maniacs!” arguments.

    • Comment by Nate Winchester:

      Well I’m not much one for alcohol but there’s plenty of other liquids to imbibe.

      My parents didn’t have much concern. Really it’s because 1) I came from a small town with almost no gaming presence and 2) I just wasn’t very social. Though like Spoony said, once they met the friends I did hang out and play games with, they had no worries.

      I’ve actually never been much of a fan of RPGs. Until Supernatural released their RPG book (based upon the “Cortex” system) which just hits that “spot” you know? Everything about it appeals to me.

      Unfortunately… can’t seem to find anyone to play with now. :( I blame all of you. (c’mon, I have a medic ready)

  25. Comment by fom4life:

    Great Article….

    I came accross this and thought it was an intersting thought…. I think it plays nicely with the above aritcle or I could be wrong.

    The Harry Potter series is not about Wicca per se, it has helped open doors to Wiccan books and trends. In conversations with teenagers, I have found that although some of the m read the Harry Potter books as preteens and then migrated to serious books based on Wicca as they grew older, many simply read the Harry Potter books then they read the Lord of the Rings or the Lion the Witch and the wardrobe.

    I was surprised to learn that publishers of Wicca books have field few complaints about their books or spell kits from concerned Christians , while many Christian parents have complained that J.K. Rowling is teaching their children to become witches. Although Harry Potter has little to do with Wicca, its’ popularity has obviously encouraged publishers to release more books based explicitly on neo-Paganism. -Wicca’s charm: understanding the spiritual hunger behind the rise of modern … By Catherine Edwards Sanders

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      You make a good point that my article does not even address: I spoke at length about the influence of books glamorizing magic on readers, and did not mention the glamor of booksales influencing publishers.

      • Comment by deiseach:

        Oh, lord, yes – the mystic power of sales figures to bewitch and enchant publishers!

        Like the Titania Hardie shedload of books on the topic – frankly, if that’s your introduction to Wicca, you will be left with the impression that it’s all about coloured candles and foofy ribbons.

        A far cry from Eliphas Lévi’s “Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie” (which I managed to get a reprint cheapo copy in the A.E. Waite – of Rider-Waite Tarot fame – English translation, and which is eye-crossingly tedious. Though I have a soft spot for Lévi and the Sar Péladan, mainly because as French occultists/mystics they kept wibbling between becoming/leaving/reverting to Catholicism).

  26. Comment by fabulous_mrs_f:

    Like many on here, I grew up reading fantasy and had my stint with D&D (how does anyone find time to roleplay after children?). I’m a cradle Catholic and was raised in a charismatic home (charismatic dealing with the charisms/gifts of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, prophecy, word of knowledge, healing, etc.) I don’t think HP is any more likely than Tolkien or Lewis to tempt someone to the occult. I have seen people who, raised with no real religious background, were seaching for the spiritual. If the had no guidance, they often found that in wicca, neopaganism or bastardizations of Native American spiritualism. Occult writings may be boring, but occult experiences are often sought out as thrills (oijia boards, anyone?) and they open the soul to occult influence and oppression. Mucking with the occult not only affects the person, but will affect his children, grandchilden, on down to the 4th generation spoken of in the Old Testament. Generational sin at its worst.

    Fr. John Hampch speaks and writes about this, as does Dr. Kenneth McCall, and both have documented cases where occultism in past generations held present ones captive. They also effected cures (healings, releases, whatever term you prefer) through the Mass and the Eucharist.

    If the question is whether magic is real, the answer depends on your definition of magic. The occult is real, if you define occult as searching for power or answers from a spiritual source other than the Trinity.

    The subject of whether or not fantasy writing influences peoples’ spirits in a negative way haunts me when I write. My Grandmother holds that all fantasy other than Tolkien and Lewis is the road to perdition. My brother got a tongue-lashing for sending her a Terry Pratchett novel. It’s a pity because she’s a lot like Granny Weatherwax. She even kept goats for a while. I start to worry at it, and it stalls me, and I end up looking at a blank page wondering about culpability.

  27. Comment by V:

    Where has this article been all my life?

    I spent 19 years wallowing in NeoPaganism. However, there is one point I’d like to make that seems absent for one who has such insight.

    Yes. Pagans for the most part all have that bone deep hatred of Christianity. Mostly because they resent the limitations placed on personal actions…and an erroneous view of history as well as
    ill conceived notions on the disposition and importance of personal revelation. They tend to believe that Christianity is an ill-conceived culmination of all the heresy and works that
    most Christians try to avoid.

    While I did, in my former life, practice spells and what have you, it was not, primarily to
    “cheat” reality. Most of them were done with the intention of reaching out into the metaphysical
    world, to find goodness, and see if I couldn’t interact with and bring said goodness into the world.

    Most people I knew were of the opinion that if the world worked via magic, why not use it?
    Notably, this is also the reason most thieves use for stealing.

    I was an avid reader of science fiction, fantasy, and indeed just about everything magic-related, and found most of it very frustrating in obscure ways that this article comes out and explains.

    One feature of note being that very little fiction out there relates magic with fulfillment or spiritual well-being. This, naturally is the error I made, thinking that magic rituals were prayers and communications that would somehow allow a better relationship between myself
    and the divine.

    Now… the big frustration in my former life was how I could not seem to get a relationship with any spiritual being that was a *real relationship* or fulfilling in any way.
    he only case that was “promising” asked me to do things which my moral code disallowed… that is, blood and animal sacrifice. My response was classic Rincewind. (Run Away!)

    In fact, I’d read those goetia books mostly to see how to make demons summoned by others GO AWAY. The supposed benefits of trafficking with such beings were repelling, rather than enticing.
    Not that I had a problem in any sense with getting a Liberal Arts education… but isn’t
    the fun in that actually doing it? If it’s just there… well, how do you know the value
    of what you have, I mean really?

    Also amusing to point out that even as a neo-pagan I abhorred the use of Oujia boards, and collected
    stories about them. The vast majority that I encountered ultimately spoke of the presence of evil.
    nd this is from folks who weren’t much interested in Christian morality.

    I’m making an extensive inventory of my old life. I want to see how it got me to where I am now. Also, I want to find a way to explain to my pagan friends just what happened to me, complete with whys and wherefores. I know about “Speak the Truth in Love”, but that doesn’t give one a lot of direction for specifics. I figure, how I became who I was might show clues to how to speak the Truth in ways they might stick around long enough to hear, with God’s grace.

    What has become clear so far is the results. The only true redemption for me is Catholicism. Nobody else would take me. ;)

    I would love to know what John thinks of “Johnathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach, or just about anything by Charles DeLint. Most of my pagan friends exult in DeLint. The latter does seem to be all about the sort of magic you speak of in life, but also, so many in the occult do read him
    as affirming their positions. Is that an illusion or what?

  28. Comment by V:

    Re-Reading my last post, I feel it was kind of flip.

    I was chatachised well enough to know redemption only comes through Christ.
    I also wanted to ask the fabulous Mrs. F what her grandmother thinks of G. K. Chesterton.

    His work is steeped with magic, in fact, I think he was a prime pioneer of magical realism.
    His lesser known play, “Magic”, is one of my favorites. I believe it addresses
    some of the themes here and might help you. It is all about a reformed illusionist who once summoned spirits to do his bidding, after all.

    The next time your conscience pricks you, Mrs. F, read “Magic” you’ll be glad you did.
    You can find it at archive.org. Search by author for G K Chesterton, if you haven’t already.
    Not only that, but he tickles the muse into active duty. Chesterton is the most orthodox
    remedy for scrupulosity I know.

    Also, one last thing about writing and culpability: it harms no one until you release it into
    the “wild” or distribute it. If you are worried how your work might affect souls, find
    an editor who happens to be a priest or religious. Nothing beats an unjaundiced eye steeped in theology and experience to combat fear.

    The heart can come up with a billion reasons not to write. Sending folk to hell can be a great false motive to keep active hands idle. You can’t discern writing that does not exist!

    After all, it’s just practice writing until it’s published in one form or another. You can take all of time you need to make that judgment. There is also plenty you can do about it
    before it hits the light of day. Editing is what takes most of the time in writing for a reason.

    I too am a gamer. I know gamers who have kids and still manage to host and
    plan for major campaigns. They do this even with small children! They aren’t supers themselves, but I am in awe, I admit. :) Some even host campaigns with their kids. They have to be of a certain age, and certain adult themes must be discretely handled, but it can work for the right game, and the right players. YMMV

    • Comment by fabulous_mrs_f:

      Thank you. I am sure Chesterton passes Grandma’s orthodoxy test, even “Magic”. It’s just any fantasy written in the past 60 years that is horrible, bad, and going to send us straight into the arms of Satan. Your words have been very encouraging, espcially the part about idle hands. We know what those are!

      I have three under 5 right now–I feel lucky when I have enough time to walk the dog every day, so role playing is right out of the schedule. (writing often as well, unfortunately) :D I do miss my old group and the time to play ideas off people. We go amazing little playing actually done, but lots of plotting and world-buliding and character making. It is, of course, eeeeevil, just like Harry Potter.

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  32. Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

    “To the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure.” (Albus Dumbledore at the end of HP and the Philosopher’s Stone.)
    Brian Killian says this expression is not Christian but “Gnostic to the core”. On the contrary, I think Rowling emphasizes in this phrase the use of right reason (recta ratio, orthos logos), to which she adds the excitement of entering in a world larger and better and more beautiful than this one. It is a hint to the other world which is a true Inkling device.

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