Dealing with Potter-mania

Dealing with Potter-mania

Living in Salem, Mass., in October is hard enough, what with every weekend packed full of people coming to town to ... what? What is it about this town that people expect to find? There are haunted houses, sure. And then there are the Wicca/Witch/spell shops where people buy potions and other magical items (really!). The dabbling in the occult is more than just dabbling. Of course, Salem is much more than witches and Halloween.

At one time it was one of the busiest and most productive seaports in the US, with Boston and New York. The first millionaire in America was Elias Hasket Derby, a famed merchant and shipowner. For decades, Salem was synonymous with the China trade, and much of the economy of the US today was built on the foundation of the economy of Salem in the early 19th century. But I’ve talked at length before about how too much focus in Salem is placed on witchcraft and Halloween.

This year the craziness has been raised a notch by The Witching Hour, an international four-day gathering of Harry Potter fans, who have come to Salem for a combination fan convention/academic symposium/dress up party. Yes, I said academic symposium. How about a session entitled, “Daddy, I want to be a death eater: Character studies based on Nature versus Nurture.” Or another one, chosen at random, “Tainted Love: Death and suffocation in Rowling’s Fantasies.”

It’s not all innocent fannishness, however, as there is definitely dabbling in the occult. For example, one of the presenters is a local Wiccan/witch. One session is entitled, “Word Magic: Elements for Crafting Poems or Spells.” Or how about two sessions, “Wicca and Harry Potter” and “Christianity and Harry Potter”?

It’s all a bit much for me. Salem in October is something I endure and I revel in November when it rolls around. It’s the downside to living in what otherwise is nice place to live.

  • I dunno.

    I always went to Salem for the skee-ball and the flavored popcorn bars.

    Maybe you can get in on the money. Get a vendor’s licence and set up a table selling black lipstick to 14yr-olds. Or perhaps, even better, sell copies of Fr. Gabriel Amorth’s An Excorcist Tells His Story.


  • It reminds me of the Dungeons and Dragons game which started from LOTR but morphed into something really not nice….

  • Makes me think of the “Bewitched” episode where Samantha and Darin vacation in Salem…

  • Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Tales of Narnia, and on and on … all about spells, spirits, and impossible feats by not-so-impressive heroes.  To my way of thinking, trying to merely comprehend world affairs – which itself has a lifetime’s worth of mystifying and complex detail – is effort enough without spending time delving into such escapism.  Though I do still remember the charge I got as a kid dressing up as a ghost – with all that magical thinking.  And I still enjoy the history of, for example, the Celt’s August festival of Samhain – when fairies and gods were beseeched, for fear of the powers of blight that the end of summer brought.  The symbology of the cauldron had a utopian desire to the ancient Celts – representing the vat of an inexhaustible supply of grain and whatever else was important for sustenance during the harsh coming winters.  So that behind all the pseudo-mythology and seemingly trite fantasy hype, there really are historically deep meanings of human struggle and yearning for a plausible teleology for existence.   

  • Woah, woah, what’s with the putting Tolkien and C.S. Lewis on the same page as J.K. Rowling? Lewis and Tolkien were good Christian authors and their works imbued with good Christian thought. And Tolkien was Catholic as well. I do not see that they are in any way comparable. They have, just to start with, a coherent system of morality, which Rowling’s world does not.

  • Sorry – was in one of those moods that moment, since I actually have enjoyed reading C.S.Lewis’s religious writings (though he was Anglican) … which have likely done a lot of good for people (A Grief Observed is a most special bereavement source).  I guess all the Hollywood takes on their fantasy stuff has made me categorize them all together.  Many persons I know enjoy reading these fantasy series – and I’m sure they serve a good purpose in getting youngsters to read (which in the Nintendo world is more challenging than ever).  And I’ve seen a biography of Tolkien – about, for instance, how ingenious his language system was for the Ring stories.  I’ve read many reviews of the Harry Potter books over these last years, which often compare them to those of Tolkien and Lewis – and there’s even a philosophy book published on Rowling’s teachings in the series … with various professors attributing highly moral lessons to the Harry Potter books (go figure).  All very confusing to me – I feel more grounded in reality reading history and even hagiography. 

  • Tom,
    Maybe you just don’t like reading fiction. Hey, that’s fine, to each his own. But I want to clear up a common misconception that you raise, cause it really bugs me.
    It’s a great misconception that Lewis and Tolkien wrote escapist fantasy. Rather than fleeing reality, they enter into the very heart of what is most real. Their vision is mythopoetic rather than the narrow modernist “realism” which doesn’t acknowledge a spiritual dimension to reality. Sadly, most people don’t understand mythopoesis and dismiss it as escapist because it uses symbolism and poetic devices to reveal its vision of Truth rather than reading like a philosophical treatise.

    Much of what you see on the shelf in the fiction section of your local bookstore is escapist drek. It has no concern for good and evil, truth and lies or the nature of reality. But for Lewis and Tolkien these are central to their projects. In fact, my sister knows a girl who was raised a firm athiest and very anti-Christisn but who loves Lewis’ Narinia tales. She said recently that if Aslan is in fact like Christ, then maybe she can believe in the Christian story after all. I pray that this may indeed be the first step in her coming home to the Church. Because Aslan the lion is indeed like Christ, his story is the Christian story of sacrifice, resurrection and redemption, it is the heart of the Christian story.

    The fact is Christianity is a story, the greatest story ever told becuase it is also true. It makes sense that one of the best ways to convey the truths of Christianity is through stories. So we use the stories of the Bible, the lives of the saints, and yes poetic stories that tell the same truths of the greatest love a man can have, to lay down his life for his friends. That is the heart of The Lord of the Rings, which is why it is a true story.

    for more on this read Stephen Greydanus’ excellent essays exploring Tolkien’s Catholic worldview:

    and contrasting Tolkien and Lewis’ use of magic with J.K. Rowling’s showing how their worldview is essentially Christian while hers is not:

  • Thanks for that thorough explanation and rejoinder-of-sorts (I deserved that, and plead ignorance to much of this topic).  I will enjoy looking at the sites you attached as well.  Thanks!

  • You’re welcome. As an English professor I hate to see people misinformed about literary matters. (And as a life-long fan of Narnia and Lord of the Rings, I hate to see my favorite books maligned.) I’m just glad my nerdiness is welcome.

  • Thanks for the sites – I will enjoy reading them … on the second one (comparing Rowling to Tolkien and Lewis) the article gets cut off at the ending – where Steve Greydanus is on ‘Hedge 7’ with the sentence ending in mid-stream “- a world in which the society of wizards and witches …”  So I thought perhaps try going to articles/2568 – but, instead, that’s a personal account of that infamous day Sep 11th, 2001.  But most of what he has to say is here – so thank you Melanie smile

  • Today’s NY Times Arts section heading: “Marketing Of ‘Narnis’ Presents Challenge” … which talks of “Disney’s tricky marketing strategy for “Narnia” – which includes aggressively courting Christian fans who can relate to the story’s biblical allegory while trying not to disaffect secular fans.”