0 n being told that her latest Harry Potter book was "longer than the New Testament", JK Rowling quipped back, "Now the Christian fundamentalists are going to say I'm trying to be more verbose than God."
If you study the Internet closely you can still find the virulent attacks on Rowling, the off-beat analyses of the Harry Potter books, the long discourses on numerology which "prove" that she is the head of an international coven of witches bent on eating all our children with Tabasco sauce, etc., etc.
It would be a shame if Rowling believes that Christians in general are opposed to her, as many Catholic authorities have vociferously defended her books. My main job last week was to read her new book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, as fast as possible for The limes.
It was a tougher job than before; the book is verbose and has annoying plot holes. But the fundamental good heartedness of the series, the moral solidity which has brought it indications of approval from inside the Vatican, still shines through. The central premise of the Harry Potter story, the motor which drives the whole plot, is the idea that Harry's parents sacrificed themselves to save him; and furthermore that the power of his parents' love protected and redeemed him from being either destroyed or overpowered by the evil genius Lord Voldemort.
I find it especially touching that Rowling herself, by her own account, did not completely crystallise this idea until her own mother died of cancer, an event which took place quite close to the birth of Rowling's own first child. Rowling's mind was flooded with a variety of parent-child emotions — and as a consequence she moved the role of Harry's parents deeper into the heart of the story than she had originally planned.
It was an honest, sincere writer's act and she has been well rewarded for it. For though she may not be the world's most evocative descriptive writer, nor the most subtle creator of fictional characters, she has built a marvellous children's universe on the firm basis of the redeeming power of parental love.
Any Christian parent, Catholic or otherwise, who cannot pick this idea up and run with it to the touchline is not worth his or her place in the team, in my view. Never mind the magic: the magic is pure mechanics, it is there to advance the character and provide amusing plot points. It has no relation at all to what genuine satanists believe in — despite the people who have sidled up to her and whispered, creepily, "I've done all the spells..."
Rowling is not a Christian but curi ously enough, she often writes like one, and The Order of the Phoenix is no exception.
"Your failure to understand that there are things much worse than death has always been your greatest weakness," Harry's headmaster Albus Dumbledore cries as he confronts arch-villain Lord Voldemort. Towards the end of the book, after Harry has seen one of his close friends die, his ghost companion Nearly Headless Nick explains why not all the dead become ghosts:
"I was afraid of death," said Nick softly. "I chose to remain behind. I sometimes wonder whether I oughtn't to have...well, that is neither here nor there...I know nothing of the secrets of death, Harry, for I chose my feeble imitation of life instead," When Dumbledore tells Harry that locked in a secret room in "The Department of Mysteries" is "a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death...the most mysterious of the many subjects for study that reside there...", Rowling does not quite spell out what this force is but she hints that it is in Harry's "heart" — I am prepared to bet a galleon to a knut that this mysterious force will turn out to be love.
Rowling's essential Christian moral sense extends even down to her affection for the overcrowded, impoverished and chaotic Weasley household.
Most Catholics know at least one family exactly like the Weasleys. I know several — all homes where the unusual number of children already present seems only to make the extra one left on the doorstep all the more welcome. Harry adores the Weasley home because, despite the chaos and shouting, it is full of love. And as long as Rowling continues to write from her heart, she should be warmly welcomed by Christian parents of all churches.