Monday, June 27, 2005

Harry Potter versus Aladdin

I learned something important last night about magic. There are two different kinds of magic: incantational magic and the other kind. Incantational magic was the stuff that Wiz Zumwald, Gandalf, and various Shakespearean magic-users performed. Think of Larry Niven's magic-goes-away notions that there's some kind of magical machinery that the magician can grab the levers of and turn to his will. You know, stuff like F=ma. Oops, I'm getting ahead of myself. You see, I don't believe in magic. Even the magical incantations that have familiar names, like the Sinner's Prayer.

So, I was listening to The White Horse Inn discussion of whether a Christian should let his kids read Harry Potter or not. You know, Harry Potter is a warlock and he hangs with witches and that sounds pretty unChristian on the surface at least. The guy said that Harry does stuff similar to the medieval alchemists and that's a lot different from calling upon the devil or demons or principalities or powers to get magic stuff done. Instead he says "hoc est corpus" or hocus-pocus or somesuch and a miracle happens.

This invoking of demons business got me thinking, "Yeah, that's significant."

Which brings us to Aladdin. Whereas Harry Potter is rightly rooted in some deep anglo-saxon soil what's going on with that cute blueberry colored guy in the lamp? First, you've got Aladdin, a theif. He's not an algebrist or an algorithm developer or any of the other productive vocations Arabic people pursued. Instead, he is a representative of one of the worst aspects of Arabic culture: it's disrespect for private property and the integrity of ownership. He steals a lamp containing a genie.

Now, I always thought Barabara Eden was cuter than Elizabeth Montgomery, but then I never knew exactly what a "genie" or djinn was.

It's some foreign word who's referent means what? I asked Dr. Webster just now and he said, "one of a class of spirits that according to Muslim demonology." Generally, when a spirit is described by someone's DEMONOLOGY that indicates the spirit is a member of the set of demons. Hmmm, looks like Ms. Eden was covering up more than just her navel. This makes me laugh. My sainted mom HATED "Bewitched" and fairly enjoyed "I Dream of Jeannie" because she thought the first consorted with the devil and the second was harmless fun.

This brings us back to what a Christian should do about all this? I never heard of Fundamentalist boycots and protests against the Aladdin movie about the Muslim demon and his master whose profession involves breaking the 8th commandment. But that sort of magic is a lot worse than incantational magic. Thus there should be no problem with Harry Potter.

On the other hand, now I have another reason to find Robin Williams annoying.


UML Guy said...

According to Wikipedia (Believe It At Your Own Risk (tm)), Islam sees jinn not as demons, but as people of the element of fire (while we are people of the element of earth). Since binding them takes magic and Islam strictly frowns on magic, a devout Muslim should disapprove of Aladdin and his lamp. But unlike angels and demons, jinn have free will just as we do. Though they seem to choose evil a lot, they're capable of choosing good, just like we are.

Your distinction between the two types of magic reminds me of a short series by James Blish: Black Easter and The Day After Judgment (though I only read the first one). The story told of a group of white mages battling a group of demonologists who sought to bring Hell on Earth in the modern era. The white mages used all sorts of arcane formulae based on real alchemical works, and the demonologists similarly used realistic black rites; and the whole thing was told against a backdrop of more or less mainline Christian theology (from a bit of a mystical perspective). At the climax of the first book, where the demonologists seem to be gaining the upper hand, the white mages learn that their "white" magic is every bit as Scripturally proscribed as are the rites of the demonologists. Thus, their efforts are corrupted from the start, and actually work to give the demonologists the victory. End of first book.

While I personally find nothing objectionable in Harry Potter, I suspect that if those who do were to witness the end of Black Easter, they would nod and say, "See? No difference. I told you so."

ooie32 said...

as i have told you before, i got into a row with my super conservative mom over harry potter. she saw i owned the books and movies. flipped her lid. condemned my spiritual life and told me that one of the reasons i was out of fellowship with God was because i shopped at target and read harry potter.

i waited till the heat cooled off, then innocently 'noticed' the cs lewis narnia chronicles on her shelf. i also 'noticed' the lord of the rings trilogy movie set in the dvds. then i struck home. the magic in the chronicles is very dark.

aside from the creation, the evil magic described is called 'blood magic'. it is used today in voodoo rituals and in animist ritual. now, while cs lewis had a christian worldview, can you not argue that the exposure to REAL evil magic is as dangerous as latinized FAKE magic?

same is true of LOTR--the magic used to create the twisted beings serving sauron was gene splicing. an outdated mode of alchemy--condemned by the Church as heresy. but it was a real practice and is still used in animist ritual today.

the inconsistency of the arguments against harry potter drive me nuts. i can agree that the author's worldview may be a discerning factor in choosing what form of evil to practice...but there's that other thing that niggles 'but, what about......'

there are so many more REAL dangers to deal with/protest/act on, and here we are arguing over angels on pinheads.

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