Thursday, September 23, 2004
In his lecture on Regent Radio a few days ago (on the subject of C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia), J.I. Packer claims that the charges of paganism that are levelled against the Harry Potter books are for the most part a result of the fact that moderns in general and Americans in particular don't know how to read 'school stories'. Packer claims that Americans do not have the same pattern of 'school stories' in the Tom Brown's Schooldays mould. Whereas 'school stories' are an established genre in English literature, the most closely related American literature tends to follow different patterns. He gives The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Little Women as examples. Packer believes that this is why the objections to Harry Potter have been raised chiefly in the United States. Packer describes the pattern of the 'school story' as follows: An unformed young child goes to a school. In his new community (the school) we follow the formation of the child's character through a series of tests (e.g. bullying). At the end of the story the hero or heroine demonstrates their virtue by achieving something in the school that is celebrated. Packer claims that Harry Potter is merely the latest in a long line of these types of stories. Rowling has merely added witchcraft to the established 'school story' pattern. Packer stresses that we need to distinguish between that which is part of a story, although the emphasis lies elsewhere, from that which is central and intended to catch your sympathy and mould you in its shape. If you know how to read school stories you will realize that the witchcraft and wizardry is not the central point of the Harry Potter stories; the central point of the story is supposed to be the formation of Harry Potter's character. Interesting.