J.K. Rowling, minus her soul

nov302007 966 967 lgEntertainment Weekly is an amazing magazine. I have been reading the magazine since day one and I remember thinking to myself back then, "It takes real talent and commitment to achieve such a consistently ironic, world-weary tone in your very first issue." America is not a nation that embraces the secular, but Entertainment Weekly manages to do so. With a few exceptions (music, for example) its sections are totally tone deaf to the role of religious faith in American life. At times, the silence and/or cynicism can be quite amazing.

Take, for example, last week's entertainer of the year profile of J.K. Rowling. Now, this article had moments of real insight and it was, for EW, even rather touching and sincere. Here's the heart of the piece:

Of course, the books are skillful, went the murmurs, but really, isn't this woman merely an adept pickpocket, someone who's synthesized a little bit of Tolkien and a dash of C.S. Lewis and some Lloyd Alexander and a wealth of British-boarding-school stories into a marketable but derivative new package?

No. As it turns out, the Harry Potter books are much richer than their progression from lightness to darkness, from childhood to adulthood, from the episodic simplicity of chapter-books to the heft and sweep of epic novels, and in their constant, book-by-book recalibration of what their readers were prepared to absorb, they've proven unlike anything else in a century of children's literature. Can there be any remaining doubt that Rowling meant every word when she said, some time back, that she planned every aspect of her story ''so carefully I sometimes feel as though my brain is going to explode''?

Of course the books were carefully planned out, built on carefully researched themes and images from beginning to end. And it is now hard to deny that, at the heart of the series, is the author's own struggle with her Christian faith.

Surely someone at EW read the remarkable MTV interview that made so many headlines? You remember, the one that said:

But if she was worried about tipping her hand narratively in the earlier books, she clearly wasn't by the time Harry visits his parents' graves in Chapter 16 of "Deathly Hallows," titled "Godric's Hollow." On his parents' tombstone he reads the quote "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death," while on another tombstone (that of Dumbledore's mother and sister) he reads, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

While Rowling said that "Hogwarts is a multifaith school," these quotes, of course, are distinctly Christian. The second is a direct quote of Jesus from Matthew 6:19, the first from 1 Corinthians 15:26. As Hermione tells Harry shortly after he sees the graves, his parents' message means "living beyond death. Living after death." It is one of the central foundations of resurrection theology. ...

But while the book begins with a quote on the immortal soul -- and though Harry finds peace with his own death at the end of his journey -- it is the struggle itself which mirrors Rowling's own, the author said.

As you would expect, the EW profile included a strong reference to the "Dumbledore is gay" media storm -- which is totally valid. That discussion doesn't shed much light on the content of the actual books, but it's interesting to note that Rowling wanted to talk about her feelings about the character. She has every right to do so.

For several years now, I have been arguing that Rowling is, in fact, what her writings suggest that she is. She is a very articulate, liberal mainline Protestant storyteller (Church of Scotland, in this case) whose academic background has baptized her in ancient Christian language and symbolism. It's hard to read the coverage of the final book in the series -- heck, it's hard to read the final book itself -- without seeing evidence of both sides of this equation.

Right, EW?

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