Myth and Magic

Magic and religion are difficult to tell apart.  Scholars have known this for some time, but don’t often say anything about it for fear of offending.  A few days ago Religion News Service ran a story headlined “How the ‘Harry Potter’ books are replacing the Bible as millennials’ foundational text.”  While many reacted with shock, to me the fact that a foundational text can be identified at all is a relief.  You see, reading is good for you.  Really, really good for you.  One of the most hopeful things I observed as a parent was the increased quality and volume of young adult literature available.  Of course it’s produced to make a profit, but the fact is it showed that reading is alive and thriving.  If the young make a habit of it, well, let’s hope that habit’s hard to kick.

My own reading doesn’t always keep pace with my desire to do more of it.  I go for a couple of weeks sometimes without finishing a book.  I begin to feel depleted.  There’s something spiritual about reading, and fiction can reach parts of your soul that are on guard when non-fiction’s your subject.  And that’s like magic.  It took a couple years for me to catch on to the Harry Potter craze.  Eventually my wife and I broke down and bought book one and read it together.  As millions of readers can attest, that first book was a fishhook.  We all really hope the world does contain some magic.  Many people find that solace met with religion.  Either way, fiction can enhance the experience.  We read the original series, hanging tensely until the final volume came out.

Many of those who believe in a magical religion protested the sale of magical fiction.  We were still in Wisconsin at the time, but we saw the protestors outside a local bookstore the release day for one of the later volumes.  Like Death-Eaters the protestors opposed Harry Potter.  The root of the problem seems to have been unique truth claims.  Whenever a religion declares itself the sole harbinger of “the” truth, every other way of looking at things becomes evil.  Even if it expressly declares itself to be fantasy fiction for young adults.  Years have passed, and Harry Potter, like other forms of pop culture, has grown to the status of a religion.  Even Nones want to believe in something.  Magic and religion are, after all, very difficult to tell apart.

3 thoughts on “Myth and Magic

  1. Jeremiah Andrews

    Hi Steve,
    I found those protesting Harry, a bit confusing. They did not like the magic, and surely they never read a word in any book published. What they seemed to loose in translation, was that Harry’s story is one of a prodigal son returning to his roots, parents who loved him and gave their lives for his safety. Admirable. The story is salvific and redemptive too. Harry’s story is one of redemption, not for him, but for those who protected him against all odds, even if we thought the opposite. Magic is but one part of the story, and innocent at that. Magic was always used for good, in Harry’s case. So why all the protestations ? I cannot stand, my way or the highway evangelicals, who believe they have the market on truth. Many of them hypocrites. just saying. I went to every book launch and spent hours upon hours reading every book. And I often return to my favorite chapters, because Deathly Hallows sits on my bedside table.

    I think if you are going to protest a book, you should be forced to read it before you shoot your mouth off in stupidity.



    • No doubt quite a bit of the protest was knee-jerk reaction; what I saw were signs saying the Bible condemns witchcraft and we should too. The interesting things is how close religion and magic really are.


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