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Deconstructing Rowling
National Review ^ | 6/9/03 | Dave Kopel

Posted on 06/20/2003 8:43:14 AM PDT by Antiwar Republican

Deconstructing Rowling
By Dave Kopel

J.K. Rowling is an Inkling. That's the well-argued thesis of John Granger's fine book The Hidden Key to Harry Potter. Granger demonstrates the absurdity of the claim that Harry Potter is anti-Christian. And even if you've never worried about charges brought by misguided fundamentalists, The Hidden Key will substantially augment your understanding of what's really at stake in Harry's adventures.

The Inklings were originally a group of Oxford dons who wrote Christian fiction. The most famous of them are J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Lord of the Rings and the Narnia series never mention Christianity overtly, and in Tolkien's books, religion itself is absent from the plot. Yet these mythopoeic books aim to "baptize the imagination" of the reader — to teach her the importance of fighting for the right, no matter how powerful the forces of evil may appear.

Rowling has confessed herself to be a great fan of C. S. Lewis, her use of "J. R." for her byline evokes "J. R. R." Tolkien, and she is a member of the Church of Scotland (that's Presbyterian, for American readers).

The most useful parts of The Hidden Key are the author's extensive discussion of symbolism. Harry lives in Gryffindor House, founded by Godric Gryffindor. "D'or" being French for "of gold," we could translate the name as "golden griffin." The griffin has a lion's body and an eagle's wings — a hybrid of the animals that are master of the sky and of the earth, the griffin was traditionally a symbol of Jesus, master of the spiritual and temporal worlds.

The unicorn, too, is a traditional Jesus symbol; pure and powerful, it could only be tamed by a virgin, as Jesus could only be incarnated by a virgin. In Sorcerer's Stone, drinking its blood brings life, and its killing is an especially hideous crime.

The phoenix (which saves Harry's life in Chamber of Secrets) rises to life from its own ashes, and is described by T. H. White as the "resurrection bird." This explains the title of the almost-released book five, The Order of the Phoenix — that is, the alliance of people who band together to fight for resurrection values. "Order" also evokes the fighting Christian religious orders of the Middle Ages, such as the Order of the Knights of Malta.

Harry's father James was nicknamed "prongs," for his ability to turn himself into a stag. In Prisoner of Azkeban, when Harry conjures a magical patronus to drive away the soul-stealing Dementors (Latin for mind-removers), the patronus appears as a stag, shining "as bright as a unicorn." The stag is also a medieval symbol of Jesus.

John Granger recaps the plots of the first four books, explaining each of them as a form of trial in which Harry's purity of heart is tested. In The Sorcerer's Stone, Harry is able to find the power of immortality (concealed in a magic mirror) only because he does not want to use it for selfish purposes.

The villain in Chamber of Secrets is Gilderoy Lockheart — the gilded, or false, king ("roi" in French) with a "locked heart." Lockhart, best-selling author of a string of false books, is, Granger suggests, modeled on Philip Pullman, the militant atheist and best-selling real-life author of the Dark Materials children's series — books that were written as a deliberate refutation of Narnia.

In the climax of Chamber of Secrets, Harry descends to a deep underworld, is confronted by two satanic minions (Voldemort and a giant serpent), is saved from certain death by his faith in Dumbledore (the bearded God the Father/Ancient of Days), rescues the virgin (Virginia Weasley), and ascends in triumph. It's Pilgrim's Progress for a new audience.

Prisoner of Azkebanrevolves around two characters (Sirius Black the magician and Buckbeak the hippogriff) who are falsely accused and condemned. Jungian and Freudian themes abound, as Harry begins by fleeing from his fears (running away from the Dursleys), confronts his hidden memories of his dead parents, forgives the man who betrayed his father, and triumphs by mastering his fear. "Expecto Patronus," invokes Harry — or in Latin, "Expect the little father." As Harry achieves identity with his father James, the luminous stag appears and drives away the soul-killing Dementors, rescuing Harry's godfather Sirius.

Granger reveals the meanings of the names of all the important characters. Draco (dragon/serpent in Latin) Malfoy (faith in evil, in French); Harry's parents James (the brother of Jesus) and Lily (the Easter flower), nasty journalist Rita Skeeter (read: a bloodsucking pest), and more.

And "Harry Potter"? Well, the name does evoke Harry Hotspur, the prince Hal of Shakespeare's histories. But if you say it with a French or Cockney accent, it also reminds us of "heir." For "Potter," Granger tells us to look to the Bible's "potter verses" (e.g., Isaiah 64:8), in which God is described as the potter who shapes man out of clay. Granger's summary of Rowling's theme is that we are all heirs of God.

The Potter books are a magical work aimed to liberate their readers from materialism and to elevate their spirits. Harry leaves the temporal world of London by entering Diagon Alley — that is, by moving diagonally, not in the lines of the ordinary material world. And Dudley's grotesque weight and surfeit of toys are an extreme case of a spiritual death from immersion in a purely material world: a world which Rowling shows can be put aside, if one can think and live diagonally.

Harry Potter fans are used to scouring the Internet for the morsels of hints Rowling has offered about the rest of the series. The last section of Hidden Key offers informed speculation about what will happen in the final books; of course, some of Granger's guesses might be wrong, but his exposition of the series' themes makes many of his ideas seem almost inevitable. For instance:

Harry will be revealed as the true heir of Godric Gryffindor and the climatic battle will be fought at Harry's birthplace, Godric Hollow. The heir of Gryffindor will confront the Heir of Slytherin (slithering, like a snake), Voldemort. Dumbledore has powers of invisibility; that is how he knew that the orphan Neville Longbottom (no-village, long at the lowest place) stood up to his friends in Sorcerer's Stone. Dumbledore will die, because Harry must defeat Voldemort himself. Snape's mixed feelings about Harry — he saves Harry's life, but is angrily jealous of Harry's fame — can be traced back to Snape's school days; then, Snape loved the green-eyed Lily (perhaps a Slytherin student, since house color is green) who rejected him for James. No matter — love and sacrifice will battle with death, at first appearing to be defeated, and then triumphing gloriously.

There's much more in Hidden Key: Rowling's extensive use of alchemical symbolism (alchemy being a process in which spiritual purification is correlated with metallurgical purification), Aristotelian and Platonic themes, and Arthurian legend. Like King Arthur, Harry was hidden as a baby, raised without knowledge of his true identify, watched over from afar by a great wizard, and proves that he is the true heir by pulling out a sword — in Harry's case, by pulling Godric Gryffindor's sword from Godric Gryffindor's sorting ("sword-in") hat.

Hidden Key can be read in an afternoon, and if you can interrupt your progress through the Order of the Phoenix for a little bit, Hidden Key will greatly add to your understanding of J. K. Rowling's magnificent work.

Dave Kopel is a contributing editor of NRO.


TOPICS: Culture/Society
KEYWORDS: christianfiction; rowling
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1 posted on 06/20/2003 8:43:14 AM PDT by Antiwar Republican
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To: Antiwar Republican; f.Christian; humblegunner; okchemyst
Heads up - FC's head may explode!
2 posted on 06/20/2003 8:45:39 AM PDT by Xenalyte (I may not agree with your bumper sticker, but I'll defend to the death your right to stick it)
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To: Antiwar Republican
Thank you for the post! My love of Harry Potter has been venerated!
3 posted on 06/20/2003 8:49:20 AM PDT by CaptainJustice
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To: Antiwar Republican
But, is John Granger is Fair and Balanced?

After all, Hermione's father! Where's Hillarity, Colmes, Press and Xlintoon when we wish to ascertain the truth of the matter?

SARCASM ALERT!

Just received my Amazon shipping notification. Doin' my lawn today since tomorrow is "Phoenix Day"!!!

4 posted on 06/20/2003 8:50:15 AM PDT by Young Werther
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To: Antiwar Republican
Good = Evil, Evil = Good.

It's later than we think.

5 posted on 06/20/2003 8:50:20 AM PDT by AmericaUnited
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To: Xenalyte
here...WE/Go==>again! *SiGh*
6 posted on 06/20/2003 8:51:33 AM PDT by TheBigB
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To: AmericaUnited
You're kidding, right?

Are you another one of those who hasn't read the books, but can form a perfectly valid argument about how awful they are with absolutely no knowledge of what they contain?
7 posted on 06/20/2003 8:52:35 AM PDT by Xenalyte (I may not agree with your bumper sticker, but I'll defend to the death your right to stick it)
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To: Xenalyte
I don't know anything about Harry Potter, but I do know its fun to say "Godric Gryffindor".
8 posted on 06/20/2003 8:54:15 AM PDT by Wolfie
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To: TheBigB
TheBigB-->BigBird...oscar/snuffleapUGus*woolly_mammoth+trashcan==>dirt

Oh, hell, I can't keep that up. My brain hurts.
9 posted on 06/20/2003 8:54:49 AM PDT by Xenalyte (I may not agree with your bumper sticker, but I'll defend to the death your right to stick it)
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To: Wolfie
You're right. That may be my new alias.

Now I gotta figure out what to do with my old alias.
10 posted on 06/20/2003 8:55:29 AM PDT by Xenalyte (I may not agree with your bumper sticker, but I'll defend to the death your right to stick it)
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To: Xenalyte
Hey, are you calling me dirt? =)P Careful or I'll call Callisto on you...
11 posted on 06/20/2003 8:57:26 AM PDT by TheBigB
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To: Antiwar Republican
All I ever thought about it is that it is a tale of the timeless battle of good over evil.

That and I will be at the bookstore at midnight.
12 posted on 06/20/2003 8:57:26 AM PDT by eyespysomething (Breaking down the stereotypes of soccer moms everyday!)
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To: Xenalyte
Forget f.Christian. For pure Potter entertainment, contact nmh. On another Potter thread, someone posted an Onion article talking about how children were becoming devil worshippers due to Rowling's books. The article contained ridiculous quotes such as, "The son of god died because he was weak and stupid". nmh took it literally.
13 posted on 06/20/2003 8:57:31 AM PDT by LanPB01
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To: TheBigB
Hey, are you calling me dirt?

I didn't intend to, but the message just kind of TOOK OVER me.

No, really, I couldn't figure out how to work Satan and Harry Potter in there.
14 posted on 06/20/2003 8:59:14 AM PDT by Xenalyte (I may not agree with your bumper sticker, but I'll defend to the death your right to stick it)
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To: LanPB01
Ooh, would you happen to know which one? That's gotta be good readin'.
15 posted on 06/20/2003 9:00:24 AM PDT by Xenalyte (I may not agree with your bumper sticker, but I'll defend to the death your right to stick it)
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To: AmericaUnited
Oh my, yes it is! Get that oil and those lamps trimmed and burning! There's a thief a-comin' in the night!

One will be taken, another left. Two men enter, one man leave! (Wait, that's Thunderdome, or is it NT?)

And JK Rowling and her evil Harry Potter set the whole thing in motion. Who'd a thunk it?

16 posted on 06/20/2003 9:00:44 AM PDT by Treebeard
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To: Antiwar Republican
It would be interesting to see if there is a difference in perspective between pentacostalist/charismatics versus fundamentalist on this issue (because the former accept figures of speech and symbolism in the Bible, the latter do not.) The argument made here is based on using symbolism, allegory, metaphor and so on in the Harry Potter books to "prove" they are not anti-Christian. Since fundamentalists tend to reject those conceptual mechanisms (in the Bible) I wonder if they would buy them here. My guess is -- NOT!
17 posted on 06/20/2003 9:02:51 AM PDT by dark_lord (The Statue of Liberty now holds a baseball bat and she's yelling 'You want a piece of me?')
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To: Young Werther
Just received my Amazon shipping notification.

Me, too. And the wife and kids are headed out to a midnight bash tonight, so it looks as if we'll end up with two copies -- not a bad thing.

18 posted on 06/20/2003 9:06:41 AM PDT by r9etb
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To: Xenalyte
I was raised on the classic fairy tales about wizards and the like, and I haven't joined any cults. And, I'm a lot older than the Potter books.
19 posted on 06/20/2003 9:14:12 AM PDT by Paul Atreides
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To: Paul Atreides
Ahhh, I was too. The difference is that Good prevails and, people, who are not into magic, are not evil.

I loved fairy tales.
20 posted on 06/20/2003 9:18:00 AM PDT by It's me
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To: Xenalyte
But But they talk about MAGIC!!! Therefore they are evil, and anyone how is even in the same room with one of these books is in extreme danger!
21 posted on 06/20/2003 9:19:23 AM PDT by Valin (Humor is just another defense against the universe.)
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To: Paul Atreides
Jeez... you ride on sandworms too.
22 posted on 06/20/2003 9:21:43 AM PDT by Tijeras_Slim (I am not a prime demographic, I am a MAN!)
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To: Xenalyte
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/932244/posts

You were already on this thread. Notice the link Oztrich Boy provides from "The Onion". Judging from nmh's later comment to Oztrich, he/she didn't get the humor.
23 posted on 06/20/2003 9:24:51 AM PDT by LanPB01
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To: It's me
I'd rather my kids read Harry Potter than watch that big purple dinosaur with the annoying voice. There's something scary about toddlers everywhere singing "I love you, you love me, we're a happy family...". ewwwwww
24 posted on 06/20/2003 9:26:54 AM PDT by bonfire
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To: dark_lord; Xenalyte
My guess is -- NOT!

My response is -- who cares?

It is a pretty safe bet none of the Potter critics have read even a single word of the novels.

Those who have, however, have visited a world where sorcerers exist, for sure, but also more traditional themes, such as good versus evil, power over powerlessness, friendship, loyalty, responsibility and, above all, love.

Anyone who reads these books and doesn't see these things are more than a little myopic.

25 posted on 06/20/2003 9:29:12 AM PDT by Houmatt (Remember Jeffrey Curley and Jesse Dirkhising!)
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To: Antiwar Republican
As much as I like the Potter books, this article seems like a load of crap, IMHO. It's a kids fairy tale, for pete's sake. What's with the constant deconstruction of it from both sides? The anti-Potters pick it apart because it's not Christian enough, the pro-Potters write things like this trying to prove everything in the book is a pro-Christian symbol.

Whatever happened to something being just entertaining, well-written fiction?

LQ

26 posted on 06/20/2003 9:44:43 AM PDT by LizardQueen
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To: bonfire
What does a purple dinosaur have to do with fairy tales?
27 posted on 06/20/2003 9:45:25 AM PDT by It's me
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To: Paul Atreides
I was raised on the classic fairy tales about wizards and the like, and I haven't joined any cults.

That you know of. Those things are pretty subversive, after all. :)
28 posted on 06/20/2003 9:47:29 AM PDT by Xenalyte (I may not agree with your bumper sticker, but I'll defend to the death your right to stick it)
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To: LizardQueen
Literary criticism is an interesting field with a long tradition. If it's not to your taste, it can seem pedantic. Rowling has definitely included this imagery intentionally. It adds to the depth of the experience for those readers who appreciate this kind of thing. She's well acquainted with word origins and linguistic mythology. One of the signs that her books are so good is that they work on multiple levels. Totally entertaining reads, but also books rich with symbolism. To each their own.
29 posted on 06/20/2003 9:47:56 AM PDT by Wordsmith
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To: Valin
But But they talk about MAGIC!!! Therefore they are evil, and anyone how is even in the same room with one of these books is in extreme danger!

I feel SO bad for the poor Barnes and Noble employees who will have to stack whole CRATES of the devil tome over the next few hours. Pray for their souls.
30 posted on 06/20/2003 9:48:31 AM PDT by Xenalyte (I may not agree with your bumper sticker, but I'll defend to the death your right to stick it)
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To: Xenalyte
I feel SO bad for the poor Barnes and Noble employees who will have to stack whole CRATES of the devil tome over the next few hours. Pray for their souls.

Please, do not forget about the Borders employees. Or the Fex Ex men who will be peddling thier evil wares door to door on Saturday.

31 posted on 06/20/2003 9:50:25 AM PDT by retrokitten
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To: Houmatt
It is a pretty safe bet none of the Potter critics have read even a single word of the novels.

And none of them will explain to me how they've managed to form such scathing yet accurate judgements. Kinda like me saying, "La Boheme sucks and is all that is vile," without having seen the opera.
32 posted on 06/20/2003 9:51:07 AM PDT by Xenalyte (I may not agree with your bumper sticker, but I'll defend to the death your right to stick it)
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To: retrokitten
Please, do not forget about the Borders employees. Or the Fex Ex men who will be peddling thier evil wares door to door on Saturday.

They are in my prayers as well.
33 posted on 06/20/2003 9:51:53 AM PDT by Xenalyte (I may not agree with your bumper sticker, but I'll defend to the death your right to stick it)
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To: Young Werther
Just received my Amazon shipping notification. Doin' my lawn today since tomorrow is "Phoenix Day"!!!

I had to go check my e-mail since everyone was saying they had recieved thier shipping notice and guess what- I GOT MINE, TOO!!! Woo-hoo!!

34 posted on 06/20/2003 9:51:59 AM PDT by retrokitten
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To: Wordsmith
I understand and appreciate the basic symbols (good vs. evil, Dumbledore as wise old man/god, Malfoy being bad ("mal"), the rescue of Virginia Weasley), and those are all timeless themes, but this article/book really pushes the envelope.
The explanations of Harry Potter's name and of Griffindor house seem nearly absurd.

With people like the author of the book, a cigar is never just a cigar.

LQ
35 posted on 06/20/2003 9:54:18 AM PDT by LizardQueen
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To: retrokitten
I just got the email now, however, obsessed by evil as I am, I've been checking my order status on the website all week and the website said a couple of days ago that it had shipped. I'm hoping to get lucky and have it waiting when I get home from work tonight, since I have to work tomorrow.
36 posted on 06/20/2003 9:55:26 AM PDT by nina0113
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To: Antiwar Republican
On the stock market today is a quadruple witching day.
The Harry Potter book comes out at midnight - the witching hour.
Coincidence? I think not!


(BTW, Weren't James and Lilly Potter both in Gryffindor?)
37 posted on 06/20/2003 9:55:34 AM PDT by null and void (Who Cries For The Krill?)
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To: Antiwar Republican
bump
38 posted on 06/20/2003 9:56:09 AM PDT by Great_Dame
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To: Antiwar Republican
Hey, let's play the game one reviewer I read a couple of years ago invented: go to the nearest bookstore, pick up a Hairy Potty book and count the clichés on the first two pages. As I recall, the reviewer found a dozen or so, while a letter to the editor writer reported a few days later finding as many as 16! Let's call it having fun with trash.
39 posted on 06/20/2003 9:56:10 AM PDT by Revolting cat! (Subvert the conspiracy of inanimate objects!)
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To: Antiwar Republican
JK Rowling...devil-worshipping, satan-loving, demon-spawn....only thing worse would be a democrat, libertarian, or a Muslim. (I learned this on freerepublic, so it's got to be true)
40 posted on 06/20/2003 9:57:29 AM PDT by stuartcr
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To: null and void
Quad witching? Jeez, I HAVE been out of the securities industry for long. How did that get by me?
41 posted on 06/20/2003 9:57:50 AM PDT by Xenalyte (I may not agree with your bumper sticker, but I'll defend to the death your right to stick it)
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To: eyespysomething
That and I will be at the bookstore at midnight.

Wimp. The party starts at 7:00 Be there or be square!

42 posted on 06/20/2003 9:58:03 AM PDT by null and void (Who Cries For The Krill?)
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To: Antiwar Republican; sheltonmac
Ah well heck, if the National Review says it's good, that means it's acceptable literature for all 'conservatives'. They've gone from backing questionable foreign policy to throwing in their support for fictional children's books. Talk about different ends of the spectrum. And then again maybe not....
43 posted on 06/20/2003 9:59:51 AM PDT by billbears (Deo Vindice)
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To: Antiwar Republican
I guess we are so lucky to live in such an enlightened age. By using occult images and practices to represent "good" we can safely disregard the word of the LORD God on the matter.

Gosh... the combination of the inventive mind of man plus "symbolism", is there anything it cannot explain away?

Deuteronomy 18:9 When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, 11 Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. 12 For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee. 13 Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God. 14 For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.

Isaiah 8:19 And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? 20 To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. 21 And they shall pass through it, hardly bestead and hungry: and it shall come to pass, that when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse their king and their God, and look upward. 22 And they shall look unto the earth; and behold trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish; and they shall be driven to darkness.

Isaiah 19:3 And the spirit of Egypt shall fail in the midst thereof; and I will destroy the counsel thereof: and they shall seek to the idols, and to the charmers, and to them that have familiar spirits, and to the wizards.

Acts 19:19 Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.
44 posted on 06/20/2003 10:00:27 AM PDT by protest1
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To: LizardQueen
As much as I like the Potter books, this article seems like a load of crap, IMHO. It's a kids fairy tale, for pete's sake. What's with the constant deconstruction of it from both sides? The anti-Potters pick it apart because it's not Christian enough, the pro-Potters write things like this trying to prove everything in the book is a pro-Christian symbol.

One of the things I find enjoyable about the series (I'm series) is all the tie ins to Latin and classic mythic tales.

45 posted on 06/20/2003 10:01:52 AM PDT by null and void (Who Cries For The Krill?)
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To: Xenalyte
Kinda like me saying, "La Boheme sucks and is all that is vile," without having seen the opera.

I would say that about opera in general. :-)

46 posted on 06/20/2003 10:07:48 AM PDT by Constitutionalist Conservative (http://c-pol.com)
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To: Xenalyte
No + no.
47 posted on 06/20/2003 10:09:52 AM PDT by AmericaUnited
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To: It's me
The purple dinosaur quite the fairy.
48 posted on 06/20/2003 10:10:18 AM PDT by bonfire
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To: Antiwar Republican
"According to the Pagan Federation of England, the interest of thousands of teens to learn more about witchcraft has been stimulated through Harry Potter and television programs like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Sabrina The Teenage Witch.

This quote speaks for its self.

http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=33175
49 posted on 06/20/2003 10:10:48 AM PDT by protest1
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To: billbears
Yes, yes, the evil David Frum actually ghost-wrote the entire series to advance the Trotskyite philosophies of the nefarious neo-cons!

Mumble...mumble...mumble...Illuminati.

Mumble...mumble...mumble...Bilderbergers.

Mumble...mumble...drool...drool...

50 posted on 06/20/2003 10:11:05 AM PDT by AmishDude
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