Harry Potter's Magical Communication (11/23/11)
Harry Potter and the Nature of Evil (9/1/11)
Religion In Harry Potter Revisited (8/15/11)
Reflections on Deathly Hallows Part I (11/22/10)
A Parent's Guide to Deathly Hallows (11/19/10)
Have a Harry Potter Christmas (12/7/09)
Movie Does Justice to Half-Blood Prince (7/15/09)
J. K. Rowling's Magical World of Values (9/30/08)
Harry Potter the Speaker
I've posted a new article with a unique angle on the Potter novels, "Harry Potter's Magical Communication." Check it out!
The Nature of Evil
What is the nature of evil as presented in the Harry Potter novels? I discuss the matter in an essay and related video:
Religion in Harry Potter Revisited
I've written a detailed new essay on the religious themes in Harry Potter. This follows my July 13 essay for eSkeptic, "Religion In Harry Potter" and an August 1 follow-up talk for Mile High Skeptics. In this essay, I review the claims of Christian themes in the Potter novels. While the works in fact feature some Christian elements, I argue, they do not fundamentally drive the story or motivate the heroes.
Read the entire essay, "Religion In Harry Potter Revisited," or view the abbreviated talk based on the same material.
Liberty In Harry Potter
On August 3 I delivered a talk for Denver's Liberty On the Rocks on the pro-liberty themes of the Potter novels. I also wrote up a blog post summarizing the talk.
The Real Religious Themes in Harry Potter
I posted another comment with my eSkeptic article responding to other comments about the religious elements of the Harry Potter novels. Mostly I reply to the poster "Jean," who wrote, "I think Ari is trying too hard to dismiss the religiosity of the novels. ... The themes of self-sacrifice, the power of love and friendship—these contrast markedly with Ari's goddess Rand, who believed that any person who valued human relationships—friends and family—over their creative work was immoral." I replied as follows:
I think it's a little humorous that, on one side, I'm lambasted for allegedly reading too much religion into the Potter novels, and on the other side for reading in too little. Of course I maintain that I find just the right amount of religion—the amount that actually exists in the novels. I include some choice quotes in the essay above, and exhaustive quotes in my book, to prove my claims.
The main problem with Jean's case is that there is nothing uniquely Christian or religious about love or friendship. The fact that most Christians love and have friends does not make love and friendship basically about Christianity, any more than the fact that most Christians drink milk makes milk-drinking essentially Christian. Love and friendship are universal among all peoples, before and after the advent of Christianity.
As for self-sacrifice, as I've noted, there is a conceptual problem with the term, in that it inappropriately mashes together many types of fundamentally different actions and motivations. Self-sacrifice is not necessarily religious; Aristotle wrote about it in a secular context (as I review in my book). Today, though, thinking about self-sacrifice tends to lean strongly Christian, and there is a particularly Christian form of self-sacrifice that I think Rowling was trying to invoke. However, Christ-like self-sacrifice doesn't actually apply to a significant degree to the motivations of the Potter heroes in the context of the stories. (I offer extensive textual evidence backing up my claims; perhaps Jean can offer some evidence backing up hers.)
As for Jean's claim that Rand is my "goddess," that's just a smear and therefore unworthy of further reply.
(As an aside, Jean distorts the meaning of Rand's views. Consider, for instance, John Galt's passionate love for Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged; near the end of the novel Galt threatens to kill himself rather than let his enemies harm Dagny.)
Incidentally, I'd like to thank Sunwyn Ravenwood for pointing me to the Asimov essay in TV Guide (May 4, 1968). It's a delightfully funny essay. However, though Asimov is making fun of those who read too much into fiction, in the case of the Potter novels, the religious elements I describe really are in there, as the text clearly reveals. You cannot get more explicit than Hermione's discussions about the immortality of the soul.
Harry Potter's Scar and Psychology
I recorded a short video about Harry Potter's scar. It is not best seen as representing some sort of innate evil or original sin, I argue, but rather as our psychological potential to let ourselves be overcome by bitterness and rage.
Podcast Interview with Diana Hsieh
On July 12 I joined Diana Hsieh for a podcast about Harry Potter and my book. The forty-minute interview covers a number of topics: the films, the basic values of the stories, the themes of religion and politics, and some personal favorites from the stories. (I should clarify something I said in the podcast. Generally one fights a dementor with a Patronus and a boggart with "riddikulus." But, to Harry, a boggart appears as a dementor, so he uses a Patronus to fight it.)
I edited three videos from the interview in which I discuss the basic values of the novels, their religious themes, and their political elements. Listen to the whole thing at Hsieh's web page.
'Religion In Harry Potter' in eSkeptic
Yesterday eSkeptic, the online publication of the Skeptics Society, published my article, "Religion in Harry Potter."
I make several basic points. The Potter novels do not promote the occult. They do, however, promote the ideas of the immortal soul and Christ-like love, though, I argue, these elements do not actually play much role in motivating the characters. The Potter novels also endorse free will, though this is not inherently religious. Finally, while some claim the novels promote religious faith, I argue they do not.
A number of readers have left comments beneath the article. One person claims that I misunderstand Christianity and "that Christian themes of love, death, suffering, sacrifice, forgiveness, and trust are deeply integrated into the characters and plot of the novels." I have two basic responses. First, the themes of immortality, blood sacrifice, and faith are in fact prominent in the New Testament, and I treat them accurately. Second, love, death, etc. are hardly uniquely Christian, so their presence in the novels do not demonstrate that the stories are deeply Christian.
Another comment claims we shouldn't care about the themes of the stories because they are merely fantastic tales, not something real that might affect us. I left the following comments:
"Some people here seem to be making the opposite error of the fundamentalist Christians. While the fundamentalists mistake the magic of the fantasy novels for reality, some of the comments here seem to totally dismiss the very-human themes of all great literature. Yes, the Potter novels, like all works of fiction, offer made-up stories from the author's imagination. But that doesn't mean there's nothing in literature that bears on real life! Quite the contrary! Do you wish to deny that the works of Shakespeare or Jane Austen or Charles Dickens or Herman Melville or Fyodor Dostoevsky tell us something interesting about the reality of the human condition? The key is to distinguish between the made-up fiction and the underlying themes that bear on real life."
In the eSkeptic article I write, "Before he became Pope, Joseph Ratzinger said the books threaten to 'corrupt the Christian faith'..." I expand on this (minor) point in a blog post, "The Pope and Harry Potter."
Values of Harry Potter in the Media
My book has received some media attention from several outlets.
On July 7 Boulder Weekly published my article, Harry Potter Explores Life's Big Questions." It begins, "Parents who take their children to see the Harry Potter films enjoy a fun family night. But unless they dig deeper into the stories, parents miss a great opportunity to explore life's biggest issues with their children." The article goes on to briefly discuss the psychology, politics, and basic values of the novels.
For May 31, the Denver Diatribe podcast invited me on the show to discuss the political themes of the Potter novels. We discussed the corruption of the Ministry of Magic and Voldemort's rise to tyrannical power. (We also reviewed a variety of other political issues.)
Jason Salzman's Big Media reviewed the book's essay on media. While Salzman worries about one of my real-life examples of corrupt media, he agrees the Potter books offer "an obvious lesson in the dangers of state control of the press here." Salzman ends his post on a somewhat pessimistic note about real-life media, while in my reply I remain much more optimistic.
Technology in Harry Potter
Last month I wrote a blog post, "Technology Catches Up with Harry Potter Magic." I mention new advances in "invisibility cloaks" and mobile computers, which seem much more "magical" to me than the newspapers of Harry's world. I conclude, "Technology will make the magic of the novels seem increasingly less magical. Thankfully, the deeper magic of the novels has nothing to do with casting spells or riding brooms."
Notes on the Horcrux
I have suggested that "Horcrux" likely means "filth cross," in contrast with the Christian cross. Mugglenet plausibly suggests that "horcrux" may also mean "essence outside the body." I still think "filth cross" fits well, though Rowling may have had more than one thing in mind.
I see that, in the 2006 edition of Looking for God in Harry Potter, John Granger comes close to my interpretation: "Hor-crux from the Latin would be 'frightening or horrible' (horreo) and 'cross' (crux); rather than finding the way to immortality in the lifesaving sacrifice of Christ, the Horcrux accomplishes the task through murder."
Regardless, "The Seven Potters," created when Harry reluctantly "splits" into seven when his loving friends drink Polyjuice, seems to directly contrast with Voldemort's hateful "split." There is a real sense in which, through love, part of us can live through our friends and loved ones and share their burdens.
Two New Reviews
Values of Harry Potter has drawn more attention around the web. The Playful Spirit writes:
I have read several supplemental analyses of the Harry Potter series and I would most recommend Values of Harry Potter... for gaining more from the books. The essays each address a different aspect and are easily scanned for your area of interest.
And Diana Hsieh writes, "In this video, Ari Armstrong of Free Colorado delves into the deeper meaning of a 'Horcrux' in Harry Potter by contrasting it with that of the Christian cross, then explaining why the latter does not represent the values in the novel. It's well-worth watching, as I'd never noticed the parallels he explains here so clearly."
Video: What's a Horcrux?
I've released a new video, "What's a Horcrux?"
Expanded Edition Released April 21
** Expanded 'Values of Harry Potter' Addresses Psychology, Government, and Media **
Colorado political writer Ari Armstrong releases the Expanded Edition of his book, Values of Harry Potter: Lessons for Muggles, April 21.
The new edition adds eight new essays to the original 2008 book. Those essays include:
* "The Psychology of Harry Potter," which compares author J. K. Rowling's personal experiences with depression to the dementors of the novels.
* "Wizard Law and Segregation," an essay that reviews the political themes of the novels and evaluates the forced separation of wizards and non-magical Muggles.
* "News Media in Harry Potter," which reviews the attitudes of Rowling's heroes and villains toward media and counters criticism of the novels.
"I am thrilled to have the opportunity to return to Rowling's magical world and review its parallels to our own world, especially in the areas of psychology, government, and media," Ari said about his work of literary criticism.
The release date marks the anniversary of Harry's use of a luck potion to obtain a crucial memory about arch-villain Voldemort.
Review copies (paperback or pdf) may be requested from Ari at ari (atsign) freecolorado (dot) com.
For more information about the book see ValuesOfHarryPotter.com.
Two New Essays on Deathly Hallows
Check out my two new essays on Deathly Hallows! The first, "A Parent's Guide to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," briefly reviews the themes of fighting tyranny, finding redemption, and dealing with death. The second offers my review of the latest Potter film: "Reflections on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I."
Epoca Magazine Interview
Earlier this month a writer from Brazil's Epoca Magazine, Alexandre Mansur, asked for an interview about the themes of Harry Potter. Of course I was happy to agree, and I only wish the magazine could have included more of what I wrote!
Here's what the magazine included from my interview: "Nem todos esses valores são novos, ou exclusivos da série de Harry Potter. Mas os personagens expressam um idealismo necessário hoje, afirma o cientista político americano Ari Armstrong, autor do livro Os valores de Harry Potter. Ele espera que Rowling ilumine a geração atual. 'Vivo a poucas milhas da escola de Columbine onde houve um massacre em 1999. Os assassinos eram niilistas, como vários de minha geração. Você vê isso com o abuso de álcool e drogas nas universidades. A obra de Rowling é um recado forte de que uma vida virtuosa vale a pena.'" (And man there are a lot of special characters in Portuguese.)
And here is the Google translation: "Not all of these values are new or unique to the Harry Potter series. But the characters express a necessary idealism today, says the American political scientist Ari Armstrong, author of Values of Harry Potter. He hopes that Rowling [can] enlighten the current generation. 'I live a few miles from Columbine High School where there was a massacre in 1999. The killers were nihilists, like many of my generation. You see this with the abuse of alcohol and drugs at universities. Rowling's work is a strong message that a virtuous life is worth[while].'"
That's a mostly reasonable summary of part of what I said, though I fear part of my intended meaning was lost in translation. Oobviously I was not likening an alcohol abuser to a mass murderer! Nor was I claiming that "many" of my generation are outright nihilists. Instead, my point was that we see a wide range of nihilistic behaviors, ranging from transient alcohol abuse (such as my own during college) all the way up to horrific murders. I noted that the villains of the Potter series also display nihilistic tendencies of various degrees.
This does provide a useful lesson: if material will be translated, write in as simple a style as possible, and try to turn every nuance into a bluntly obvious point. Better yet, get somebody you know who is fluent in the language to provide the translation. In this case there wasn't time for that.
But it worked out fine; the interview was a fun experience, and I appreciate the magazine thinking of me.
In my unpublished answers I discussed various other issues, such as the heroes' fight against bigotry, the technological "magic" of our world, the tendencies of "Generation Y," and the differences between Potter and Star Wars.
Common Sense on Harry Potter
Paul Jacob, a man I admire and the author of the "Common Sense" column, has written a couple of nice articles about the Potter series. In the first article, Jacob confesses he first looked into the series after his daughter started reading the first book and somebody said it was a "satanic textbook on witchcraft."
Nonsense, he discovered. Then he became a fan of the series himself. He writes, "The theme of the second Harry Potter book, my favorite, is about the choices we make for good or bad. The wise wizard and headmaster of the school, Professor Albus Dumbledore, tells Harry, 'It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.' A great lesson that my daughter and I can learn together." Indeed.
In a second article, Jacob claims Harry Potter supports term limits for politicians. While that may be a stretch, Jacob is right about Dumbledore's concerns with political power.
Note: Whereas previous updates were written from the third-person perspective, all subsequent updates will be written from the author's perspective.
New Essay: Harry Potter and Journalism
Ari Armstrong, author of Values of Harry Potter, has written a new article replying to a 2008 piece published by the American Communication Journal titled, "Harry Potter and Children's Perceptions of the News Media."
Armstrong argues that the article, by lead author Amanda Sturgill and two coauthors, omits important context about the novels' plot as well as explicit statements from the novel about journalism. As a result, Armstrong concludes, Sturgill's paper wrongly maligns the novels' treatment of journalism, which is much richer than the paper recognizes.
Read the entire reply, "Harry Potter Series Maligned by Media Article."
iVoices Podcast on Values of Harry Potter
Penn Pfiffner, Director of the Independence Institute's Fiscal Policy Center, interviewed Ari Armstrong on February 18 about the Harry Potter novels and Ari's book.
Penn an Ari discussed the theme of the heroic valuer, the virtue of independence, and the significance of the Unforgivable Curses, among other topics.
Penn also offered a nice endorsement of the book: "It's a great read. It's a fascinating, thoughtful read. I think people who want to do a little bit of introspective consideration of what is really a great fantasy series, but get some much better meaning and depth out of it, ought to pick up this book."
Grand Junction Free Press Publishes "Have a Harry Potter Christmas"
Armstrong Discusses Potter on Radio with Bob Glass
Earlier this year (July 17), Ari Armstrong appeared on the Bob Glass radio show to discuss Harry Potter. Now the conversation has been edited and posted online.
Read the review of the new film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince!
New Essay Highlights Love in Half-Blood Prince
In a new essay, Ari Armstrong, author of Values of Harry Potter, reviews the crucial themes of love in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Read the essay in anticipation of the release of the new movie!
Beedle the Bard Review Now Available
Ari Armstrong, author of Values of Harry Potter, has written a review of J. K. Rowling's The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Armstrong summarizes the positive moral themes of each story, though he finds that the first tale fails to develop its mixed themes well. Read the entire review!
Barbera Reviews Values of Harry Potter
Kirk Barbera reviewed Values of Harry Potter in an April 18, 2009, article republished at his Cedrac blog.
Barbera writes that the book shows "the morality of the Potter series does not promote sacrificing life on earth, but instead supports the notion of living life fully."
He concludes, "Most importantly the [Harry Potter] books can teach us how to attain the values best suited to each and every one of our lives. Ari Armstrong shows us that, through Harry, we can learn life isn't just what is; but what can and ought to be."
Westword Publishes Interview on Values of Harry Potter
Joel Warner of Westword, Colorado's largest independent weekly newspaper, interviewed Ari Armstrong about his book, Values of Harry Potter. The interview appeared online on October 28.
Warner writes, "Lately Armstrong's objectivist scrutiny has been focused on a subject even thornier than politics: the contentious and complicated world of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. In his new book, Values of Harry Potter: Lessons for Muggles, Armstrong, true to form, challenges Harry Potter theorists of all stripes. While some call the Harry Potter books anti-Christian, and others suggest they celebrate Christian principles, Armstrong argues persuasively that Harry Potter neither promotes nor rebukes Christianity, but instead advances more universal, and thought-provoking, human themes. Here are some insights gleaned from a recent conversation with Armstrong on Ayn Rand, electoral politics and Avada Kedavra..."
Armstrong Releases New Potter Essay
October 1 marks the official publication date of Values of Harry Potter: Lessons for Muggles. In anticipation of the occasion, Ari Armstrong, the book's author, released a new essay today titled, "J. K. Rowling's Magical World of Values." The essay briefly explores an important difference between the magic of Rowling and that of fantasy writers J. R. R. Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander. Over the coming weeks, Armstrong hopes to release longer essays that explore the psychology of Harry Potter and the themes of liberty within Rowling's books.
9News Broadcasts Values of Harry Potter Segment
On Sunday, September 28, 9News broadcast a segment featuring a commentary by Ari Armstrong, author of Values of Harry Potter, about the books' political lessons. The commentary was based on an article published by the Rocky Mountain News.
Harry Potter's Political Lessons
Today the Rocky Mountain News published Ari Armstrong's article, "Lessons for U.S. politicians from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."
New Article Discusses Rowling and Rand
A new essay by Linn and Ari Armstrong, titled, "Why Harry Potter Fans Should Read Ayn Rand," discusses the similarities of approach and theme between J. K. Rowling and Ayn Rand. Read the article.
Media Release for Values of Harry Potter
Ember Publishing distributed the following media release about Ari Armstrong's Values of Harry Potter:
Author Explores Values of Harry Potter
Values of Harry Potter: Lessons for Muggles
As young wizards and Muggles alike prepare for the new school year and their parents focus on education, Values of Harry Potter, a new book of literary criticism by Ari Armstrong, translates the values of J. K. Rowling's magical novels for the non-magical world.
As Armstrong reviews, the central theme of the stories is the heroic fight for life-promoting values. Harry Potter and his allies fight valiantly against the forces of Voldemort to protect their lives, their loved ones and allies, their futures, and their liberty. Armstrong then devotes chapters to the virtue of independence and the reality of free will, each essential to the hero.
In the final two chapters, Armstrong argues that the Christian themes of Rowling's novels relating to self-sacrifice and immortality clash with the central theme of the heroic valuer. Armstrong thus proposes a third alternative to the debate among Christians over the books. While some Christians denounce the stories for their allegedly anti-Christian elements, others praise them for their religious themes. Armstrong argues that the Christian themes are present but of peripheral importance. On the issue of self-sacrifice, Armstrong relies heavily on the views of Aristotle and Ayn Rand. In the final chapter on immortality, Armstrong discusses the nature of Voldemort's Horcrux and its relationship to crass materialism, the abuse of others, and a pathological fear of death.
The book is intended for readers at least 16 years of age who are familiar with the Harry Potter novels. The introduction may be read online at www.ValuesOfHarryPotter.com. Ari Armstrong is a Colorado writer whose articles have appeared in various regional newspapers and on his web page at www.FreeColorado.com. Values of Harry Potter is his first book.
Paperbacks Now Shipping
The beautiful, 112-page paperback arrived today, and the first shipments have been mailed out.
Values of Harry Potter Now Available
The book by Ari Armstrong is currently available in paperback and e-book format. The paperback is expected to ship before August 15. Click the buy now link below.
This book is a work of literary criticism. It has not been prepared, authorized, or endorsed