Drug Checkpoint Outrage

I was shocked and outraged to see two “Drug Checkpoint Ahead” signs this evening along Highway 36 northbound ahead of the Church Ranch exit (in Westminster, Colorado). Even worse, the police had pulled over two vehicles along Highway 36, and another four vehicles along Church Ranch, and were in the process of searching those vehicles.

I do not know which police agency or agencies were involved in this frankly fascistic violation of the civil rights of the citizens. I called the “Administration” and “Desk Officer” lines of the Westminster Police Department but got a recording. (This was at 10:21 pm; I doubted that those at dispatch would be in a position to answer my questions on the subject.)

Apparently the police were pulling over cars totally at random; they did not pull me over (as they all seemed to be occupied searching others’ vehicles).

What is especially angering about this is that the police are spending MY tax dollars for the purpose of violating people’s rights.

Ironically, I witnessed this travesty as I returned from Liberty In the Books, where we had just reviewed an extraordinary set of lectures by Ludwig von Mises on the importance of limiting government to the protection of rights. In those lectures Mises criticizes America’s first “experiment” with Prohibition; I will conclude with his commentary:

[T]he notion that a capitalist form of government can prevent people from hurting themselves by controlling their consumption is false. The idea of government as a paternal authority, as a guardian for everybody, is the idea of those who favor socialism. In the United States some years ago, the government tried what was called “a noble experiment.” This noble experiment was a law making it illegal to buy or sell intoxicating beverages. It is certainly true that many people drink too much brandy and whiskey, and that they may hurt themselves by doing so. . . . This raises a question which goes far beyond economic discussion: it shows what freedom really means. . . .

[O]nce you have admitted [that government should stop people from drinking too much], other people will say: Is the body everything? Is not the mind of man much more important? Is not the mind of man the real human endowment, the real human quality? If you give the government the right to determine the consumption of the human body, to determine whether one should smoke or not smoke, drink or not drink, there is no good reply you can give to people who say: “More important than the body is the mind and the soul, and man hurts himself much more by reading bad books, by listening to bad music and looking at bad movies. Therefore it is the duty of the government to prevent people from committing these faults.”

Voice of the Musical Saw: Interview with Natalia Paruz

My favorite scene from the film Another Earth involves the two main characters in a music hall; the composer plays the musical saw for his friend. The director skillfully weaves in scenes of space flight, and the friend (played by Brit Marling, who also cowrote the script) offers a moving response to the music. (I appreciated and enjoyed the quirky film overall despite its problems.)

After I posted my initial remarks, Natalia Paruz—the “Saw Lady”—mentioned to me via Twitter that she played the music of that scene. I’d already seen her perform the “Star Trek” theme on a YouTube video. And, when I was younger, a friend of mine played musical saw. So I figured I’d ask Paruz for an interview. She agreed, and the exchange follows. My questions are in italics.

How did you come to participate in the film Another Earth?

Director Mike Cahill saw me performing in the NYC subway and that gave him the idea to incorporate a musical saw into the film. He asked me if I would help choose music for the saw to play, and then record it for the soundtrack. He also asked me if I would coach William Mapother, the actor who was to act as if playing a saw, to do that.

Did you record the piece specifically for this film? How long of a process was it?

The piece was composed for the film by composer Scott Munson, who is probably the most prolific composer for the musical saw, inspired by the way Mike (the director) described the movie and the feel of the scene in an e-mail. I recorded what was to be a demo of the piece for Mike to hear—I was basically sight-reading the piece. We were certain we would re-record it properly later (if the piece met with Mike’s approval). It turned out that Mike loved the piece so much that he wanted to keep it exactly as is—so we never re-recorded it—what you hear in the movie is the demo! I later recorded the piece again, for my second album.

What was it like working with an actor to teach him to look like he’s playing the saw? Did he end up actually being able to play it a bit?

Working with William was a lot of fun for me because it was different from what I usually do, which is teach people how to actually play. It was challenging to come up with a system of signs that would map out the moves the music requires, for a person who doesn’t read music.

At the shoot I stood in front of William and mimed directions for him while he was “playing.” In the scene it looks as if William is looking as Brit Marling watching him play, but in actuality she wasn’t even there when we shot William “playing.” He was looking at my miming. Later, we shot Brit sitting in the audience. William wasn’t there for that—the director had me play on stage, so that the sound would inspire emotions on Brit’s face.

There is an instant when all one sees is the saw (a shot from behind)—that shot was done with me actually holding the blade. William did an excellent job pretending to play a saw—he never made a sound (he didn’t learn how to actually play) but he looks very convincing. During the shoot I had to give marks to each take, letting the director know which part of which take looked realistic and which didn’t. Editing that scene is a masterpiece of its own—it couldn’t have been easy to assemble all this separate footage, and Mike did such an amazing job!

Can you actually “tune” a saw, as the actor suggests in the film, or was that just made up for the performance?

In actuality one doesn’t “tune” the saw but rather “warms it up” before playing. That is done by bending the blade repeatedly up and down. If the air is cold (say, because of strong AC in an auditorium)—the saw wouldn’t sound good on the first try, and bending it up and down warms the metal to a temperature where it would vibrate more readily. That is what the “tuning” bit is based on.

How big of a deal was the film in terms of advancing your career?

Having a Fox Searchlight film on my bio certainly looks nice next to the other films I played for (Dummy with actor Adrien Brody, American Carny, I Sell the Dead, etc.). Also, the majority of the “Likes” on my Facebook Page are from people who saw Another Earth, so I would say the film certainly helped spread word about musical saw playing in general and myself as well.

As I watched the scene from Another Earth, I was struck by how much the musical saw sounds like a human voice. Usually the violin is described as close to the human voice; is the musical saw the closest to it?

It is amazing how a piece of steel can sound so human. So many times when people hear me playing before seeing me play, they come looking for a singer . . . and when they realize the sound is coming from the saw they find it hard to believe. They put their ears close to the blade to verify the sound is actually coming from there!

The saw’s sound is so much like that of a soprano voice that it was used in a recording of some choir, to do the high notes their sopranos couldn’t reach. I perform with opera singers often. Audience members often remark on how sometimes they cannot tell what sound is coming from the singer and what sound is coming from the saw! I recorded track #13 of my second album especially in order to show the similarity of a soprano voice to that of the saw’s.

I assume one can buy specialty “saws” for music that can’t actually saw anything. What’s the business of producing musical saws like?

About 100 years ago there were many manufacturers of saws made especially for music (see my detailed list of them). Today there are only three manufacturers of musical saws in the USA and some overseas, led by Mussehl & Westphal, which is the only manufacturer who lasted over the years. They have been selling musical saws since 1921. For a few years during the 1920s, sales averaged approximately 25,000 per year! However sales dropped significantly during the late 1930s as the art of playing music on a saw almost disappeared, especially after WWII.

So how did you get involved in this unusual pursuit? How long did it take you to become proficient?

I was introduced to the art of playing music on a saw by chance (or fate). I had mapped out my life as a dancer (I was a trainee with the Martha Graham Dance Company, and I performed with many smaller companies, in musicals, taught dance, etc.) but being run over by a car put an end to that. I searched for an alternate career, but nothing I tried filled the void the lack of dance left in my spirit. To cheer me up, my parents took me to Europe. We went to a show for tourists and part of it was a guy playing a saw, and for the first time since the accident I felt excited about something. It was as if providence pointed its finger to tell me what I was meant to do in life.

Since there was no musical saw teacher to be found, I taught myself, through trial & error (no internet tutorials back then either) how to play. At first I only thought of it as a hobby, but an invitation from a local Salvation Army Center (which heard about my playing from a neighbor of mine who could hear me practicing) changed that. When my phone kept ringing with invitations to perform, I realized that I could turn this into a career.

Anything else?

About 10 years ago I founded the NYC Musical Saw Festival which aims to promote the art form of playing music with a saw. When I started there were only five other saw players, but our numbers grew and we even established a new Guinness World Record for the “Largest Musical Saw Ensemble,” with 53 people playing saws together!

Thank you for the great questions, Ari!

Readers are invited to visit my website, where people can download my music, and my Facebook Page, where people may ask me questions about the musical saw or the movie.

Thank you very much,

all the best,
Natalia

Reviewing Ayn Rand’s ‘Anthem’

Recently a local reading group I attend reviewed Ayn Rand’s dystopian novelette Anthem. That book served as my introduction to Rand many years ago, and rereading it proved rewarding.

In our discussion, we explored a variety of topics:

* The romance between the two lead characters, Equality and Liberty, develops as Equality becomes an independent thinker and scientist. This anticipates Howard Roark’s comment in Fountainhead, “To say ‘I love you’ one must first know how to say the ‘I’.”

* The way Equality values his scientific work anticipates the relationship between the heroes and their work in Atlas Shrugged. It illustrates Rand’s view that material objects are not valuable in themselves, but only in relation to individual values and consciousness.

* For Rand, totalitarianism necessarily results, ultimately, in total economic collapse. The central reason for this is that political controls prevent individuals from acting on their own reasoned judgment, ultimately chilling reasoned thought as such. In the long run capitalism and technological progress cannot survive totalitarian controls. Contrast the primitive society of Anthem with the (in some ways) highly technical societies of other dystopias, such as Brave New World and, more recently,Hunger Games.

Now that I’ve reread Anthem, I very much look forward to reading Essays on Ayn Rand’s Anthem, edited by Robert Mayhew. I’ve read the similar compilation about Atlas Shrugged, and it is excellent.

Incidentally, I was thrilled to watch the documentary Rush: 2112 & Moving Pictures (Classic Album) and find an excellent overview of Anthemby John Ridpath. (Anthem helped inspire the story for 2112.)

Below are the review questions used for our group (and others are free to reproduce these for purposes of discussion).

1. What is the ego? (Peikoff’s 1994 introduction)

2. How do the conditions surrounding the writing and publication of Anthem relate to the book’s theme? (Peikoff’s 1994 introduction, Rand’s 1946 foreword)

3. What are the principles and laws of the story’s society, and what are the emotional consequences of Equality 7-2521 breaking them? (Chapter I)

4. What is the connection between the collectivism and the technological regression of the story? (Chapter I)

5. Why does Rand place the budding romance between the discovery of the tunnel and the Unspeakable Word? (Chapter II)

6. What is the relationship between the advancing scientific discoveries and the building romance? (Chapter III, Chapter IV)

7. Why does Equality say “our new power defies all laws?” Is he right? (Chapter IV)

8. Why does Equality think “this wire is as a part of our body?” (Chapter V)

9. Why does Equality believe the Council of Scholars will accept his gift? Why is he wrong? (Chapter V, Chapter VII)

10. What is the significance of the observation that the electric light “would bring ruin to the Department of Candles?” (Chapter VII)

11. How does Equality’s self-discovery connect to his love of the Golden One? (Chapter VIII, Chapter IX)

12. How does Equality’s independence mesh with the Golden One’s deference toward him? (Chapter X)

13. What is the “world ready to be born?” (Chapter X)

14. What does Equality mean when he writes, “I am the warrant and the sanction?” (Chapter XI)

15. What does Equality mean when he writes, “I ask none to live for me, nor do I live for any others?” (Chapter XI)

16. How does Prometheus retain his independence while learning so much from others? (Chapter XII)

17. How can one man stoke “the spirit of man?” (Chapter XII)

More on the African Roots of the Tar Baby Motif

Yesterday I wrote an article blasting the left for smearing Congressman Doug Lamborn for using the term “tar baby,” a reference to African folklore.

This morning Peter Boyles invited me on his show (630 KHOW) for an hour to discuss the matter; see the online recording.

On the air, Boyles mentioned the African “gum baby” as a precursor to the American “tar baby.” (The original sort of tar was made from pine pitch and so closely related to gum.) I thought I’d track this down.

Google pointed me to a Kansas publication The Pitch, where Gina Kaufman writes:

While coauthoring African Tales of Anansiwith her father, Mackey discovered “Anansi and the Gum Doll,” the African ancestor of Joel Chandler Harris’ “Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby.” The dialect written into the Brer Rabbit stories is actually a remnant of the oral tradition of Ghana, and the wiley Brer Rabbit is the descendant of a trickster spider…

This tipped me off to the book, Framing Identities: Autobiography and the Politics of Pedagogy. That work (by Wendy Hesford) states the following (page 170):

The tar-baby image appropriates an African folktale. The basic elements of the tale are that a trickster approaches a figure made of tar, rubber, orj some other sticky substance. The trickster speaks to the figure and holds it until it can be apprehended. Versions of this folktale have been reported from the Guinea coast area, the Congo, and Angola, and are repeated throughout Africa. See, for example, “Anansi and the Gum Doll” and “Brer Rabbit” (Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend).

I see that book remains for sale, though I’d have to buy a bound copy to read it. But, by now, the fact that the tar baby story comes from African folklore is incontestable.

How Not to Read Harry Potter

I’m in the middle of preparing my notes for a talk on the religious themes of Harry Potter. I came across some material that I thought about citing but that’s a bit too goofy to use in the talk. So consider this an outtake.

On her web page, Denise Roper quotes some material from her book, The Lord of the Hallows:

“How in the name of heaven did Harry survive?” asked Professor McGonagall at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (SS 12) This is the first of many examples of how the language of Christianity is used throughout the series. … In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Mr. Weasley asks, “Good lord, is it Harry Potter?” (CS 39) Draco refers to Harry as “Saint Potter, the Mudbloods’ friend.” (CS 223) Dumbledore even leads the Hogwarts students and faculty in “a few of his favorite carols” at Christmastime. (CS 212) In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the manager of Flourish and Blotts says “thank heavens” (PA 53)… and Remus Lupin says “My God.” (PA 363) … In these numerous references and in many others, there is evidence of a belief in the Christian God in the world of Harry Potter. (The Lord of the Hallows pages 69-70) [Various page numbers Roper cites include abbreviations for the relevant Potter book.]

My initial response to that is simply: “Oh my God.”

For good measure, Roper adds:

[T]here are jokes about a wizard being “saint-like” or “holy” (George on page 74 [of Deathly Hallows]). That George Weasley would call himself “holy” (“hole-y”) refers to his missing ear, which was cursed off during a battle with the Death Eaters. St. George was a Christian saint…”

Sorry, but that’s just silly.

To take but one example, Lupin says “My God” when he discovers that Scabbers the rat is actually Peter Pettigrew. Obviously he’s using the phrase as an expression of surprise, akin to “unbelievable.” We live in a culture with deep Christian roots, so it’s not surprising that people often use religious-sounding language in basically non-religious contexts. Tons of people say things like “God damn it,” “Jesus Christ,” “Christ Almighty,” “Lord help us,” and so on, when they don’t actually intend any religious meaning.

If religious humor is enough to indicate religiosity, then I have a few to tell you about the priest who walks into a bar.

Now, it’s true that the mere presence of words like “Christmas” in Rowling’s magical world indicates a shared religious tradition with the Muggles. That’s not surprising; the stories are set in England, and wizards do not formally segregate themselves from the non-magical Muggle world until 1689 (see page 13 of The Tales of Beedle the Bard.) But the incidental use of Christian language indicates nothing more profound than that.

Roper also makes some valid points about the religious themes in Harry Potter, but, to learn about such topics, you’d do much better to read my essay for eSkeptic“Religion in Harry Potter.” Or read my book.

***

Anonymous commented August 2, 2011 at 7:52 AM
Hi Ari,

When viewed through a strict Christian lens, Harry Potter is nothing more than black magic and witchcraft.

Ari commented August 2, 2011 at 8:02 AM
The comment by anonymous is false, for reasons I explain here:

11-07-13

Anonymous commented August 4, 2011 at 7:44 AM
Ari,

According to the Holy Bible, if it is not the Holy Spirit, it is Black Magic.

You pick where Harry gets his power.

Anonymous commented August 4, 2011 at 8:02 AM
Ari,
I followed the link you provided. I read it. You are a good writer however this is no substitute for your lack of Biblical understanding and lack of Biblical Faith. Using David Kopel, a man I know and respect, is no excuse. David’s comparison of Harry Potter and CS Lewis is a mistake by David. CS Lewis purposely used subject matter children could relate with, to spread the message of the Holy Bible. The chosen tactics of CS Lewis are questionable as he did have a past with the occult prior to conversion. To compare CS Lewis to Harry Potter implies J.K. Rowling was also using an understandable subject matter to transport the Christian doctrine. David Kopel and his comparison are irrelevant and misleading. Shame on David.
As an avid reader of the Holy bible, I can say this. God is incredibly possessive. If it does not originate with Him and glorify Him, it is from the dark one. In Gods Eyes, there is no in-between.

Ari commented August 4, 2011 at 9:21 AM
… and I think “anonymous” has successfully self-parodied!

antiplanner commented June 21, 2012 at 9:21 AM
So automobiles, computers, and refrigerators, none of which “originated with Him,” must all be from “the dark one.”

Rand, Aristotle, and the ‘Flayed Ox’

In reading Ayn Rand’s essay “The Goal of My Writing” for a reading group, I was struck by the following passage:

There is no dichotomy, no necessary conflict between ends and means. The end does not justify the means — neither in ethics nor in esthetics. And neither do the means justify the end: there is no esthetic justification for the spectacle of Rembrandt’s great artistic skill employed to portray a side of beef. …

Misery, disease, disaster, evil, all the negatives of human existence, are proper subjects of study in life, for the purpose of understanding and correcting them — but are not proper subjects of contemplation for contemplation’s sake.(The Romantic Manifesto, pages 166-167)

This got me curious; if I’ve ever seen that work before, I didn’t remember it. Wikipedia features a vivid reproduction of the work.

My own reaction to the work is that it’s disturbing, a little gross and unsettling. And, oddly, it’s bathed in light. (It is a Rembrandt, after all.)

Interestingly, just a few paragraphs later Rand paraphrases Aristotle: “It was Aristotle who said that fiction is of greater philosophical importance than history, because history represents things only as they are, while fiction represents them ‘as they might be and ought to be.'”

But, in looking up the relevant passage in Aristotle’s “Poetics,” I found another quote equally relevant (see the fourth section, page 2318 of the second volume of the Revised Oxford.) The Philosopher writes:

It is clear that the general origin of poetry was due to two causes, each of them part of human nature. Imitation is natural to man from childhood… And it is natural for all to delight in works of imitation. The truth of this second point is shown by experience: though the objects themselves may be painful to see, we delight to view the most realistic representations of them in art, the forms for example of the lowest animals and of dead bodies. That explanation is to be found in a further fact: to be learning something is the greatest of pleasures not only to the philosopher but also to the rest of mankind…

To Aristotle, then, our appreciation of “still lifes” (or deaths) derives from our love of imitation and learning.

But that pertains only to “the general origin;” what about advanced art? A bit later (section nine, pages 2322-2323) Aristotle offers the discussion invoked by Rand:

From what we have said it will be seen that the poet’s function is to describe, not the thing that has happened, but a kind of think that might happen, i.e., what is possible as being probable or necessary. … Hence poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history, since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, whereas those of history are singulars. By a universal statement I mean one as to what such or such a kind of man will probably or necessarily say or do…

I think Aristotle must be right about imitative art; early cave art often features animals. And often budding artists develop their skills by painting scenes around them or even other great works of art. But I think there’s something more to a good still life beyond the artist showing his skill and the viewer reflecting on the imitation. Instead, a well-painted apple lets us think about apples in a new way. We see a “universal apple,” a presentation of how “such or such a kind of” apple “will probably or necessarily” appear. So good art seems to cross the barrier from sheer imitation to projection.

Does Rembrandt’s ox compel us to contemplate the misery of death? Even friendly critics seem to think so. I picked out a couple more or less at random:

Rembrandt van Rijn’s butchered “Carcass of Beef” (also known as the “Flayed Ox”), 37 x 27, hangs, skinned in a dark shed, dominating the center foreground of the painting. … Rembrandt has sumptuously developed the planes and forms of what, to most people of his day -– and ours –- would be merely a dead animal of utilitarian use, a source of physical nourishment… He sees in a dead beef — turns it into — a miracle of artistic beauty, and poetic and spiritual profundity. … Rembrandt has reached his highest artistic level in this work…

The artist paints this raw and drying thing with the reverence and respect with which he painted all things, including the crucifixion of Christ. [Compare.] For, this painting of a slaughtered ox or beef, hanging upside down in a darkened storeroom, can’t help but be likened to a crucifixion, with the spreading rear legs like arms affixed to a cross. …

He does not back away from death and the idea of dying. In a way, he embraces it here, as if a means of resolving its pain and fear. He has dealt with death in the loss of his first wife, Saskia, and at least two of his children.

And…

[T]he weakness of life and possible death at any moment are linked to the idea of vanitas [emptiness or death]. This stands for ephemerality, and reminded the Dutch people in the seventeenth century of their short and meaningless lives. The motive encourages a morally correct life and shows people that earthly delights are only short lived. The time in heaven after death is all that counts and life should be lived as a preparation for that time. Rembrandt’s Slaughtered Ox could be such a vanitas symbol. His painting can clearly be placed in the tradition of paintings with dead oxes and other animals. These carcasses are often combined with the homo bulla motive or other Christian encouragements to live your life like a respectable Christian.

While I think the comparison to the crucifixion is strained, surely there’s something to the idea that Rembrandt painted the carcass to contemplate death.

I think we can look at the ox at the imitative and the universal level. At one level, it is a viscerally stunning and richly textured work; though the object is “painful to see, we delight to view” its representation in art (at least in the sense of being fascinated by it). At another level, we think, “Every living thing dies, just like this ox.”

While the “vanitas” could be taken in the Christian sense to mean the frailty and angst of a short life, it can also be taken in a more positive, this-worldly sense. As a friend put it succinctly on Facebook, “Always live like you only live once.” I think it is worth contemplating death sometimes, for it reminds us to live well.

If an artist painted nothing but works like the flayed ox, that would indicate the problem Rand describes. But a single artwork can take a narrow slice of life, and one that need not be cheery and positive. I recognize the general problem Rand is discussing, but her example doesn’t seem to illustrate it well.

Reaction to ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’

The final film based on J. K. Rowling’s novels, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, is a fabulous movie, featuring great production and effects and fine acting. I especially enjoyed the addition of Ciaran Hinds as Aberforth, Albus Dumbledore’s brother. Michael Gambon turns in his best performance as Albus, and it is wonderful to see Gary Oldman (briefly) return as Harry’s godfather.

My wife and I watched the double feature, and viewing the two parts back to back was definitely the way to go. The second part returns to Dobby’s grave, giving his death some of weight and emotional impact lacking in the first part.

We saw the film in 3D, which seemed distracting at first, but I quickly got used to it. I didn’t think I’d enjoy the 3D, but it did give the both the architecture of the castle and the interactions of the characters lifelike depth.

The rest of this review contains spoilers.

After the three leads leave the safe house on the beach, their first major test comes with breaking into Gringotts bank. Here the effects and cinematography become especially stunning with the rail ride to the vaults. Helena Bonham Carter, still dressed as Bellatrix, carries Hermione’s persona perfectly, and her misplaced courteous vulnerability creates a lot of fun. (Also, Emma Watson’s Hermione looks awesome in the black witch’s dress.)

Soon we meet Aberforth outside Hogwarts castle. Unfortunately, while Ariana Dumbledore’s image appears in a painting, we learn little about her backstory. Thus, the film leaves viewers mostly ignorant of Albus’s past mistakes and redemption, something central to the final novel. True, even a two-part film must omit some elements of a lengthy novel, but the film devotes a hefty sequence to a trivial exchange between Harry and a Hogwarts ghost.

The trio’s return to the school and reunion with the other students bear the expected excitement and triumph.

The first battle sequence plays forcefully, filled with drama and impressive effects. This transitions well into Harry’s eventual confrontation with Voldemort. Snape’s backstory, including his love for Harry’s mother, comes across exceptionally well. (Much of the last half of the film drew audible sobbing from among the audience, largely due to this sequence.) And Alan Rickman performs the part in tragic beauty; he’s perfect, really. And both the resurrection of Harry’s parents and guardians and the King’s Cross segment come across very well.

Unfortunately, I thought the film muddles the final battle a bit. For no reason that I can detect, the film alters Neville’s killing of the snake, and it totally discards the final public dialogue between Harry and Voldemort. That’s too bad, because that meaningful exchange serves to educate the partisans of both sides about the basic facts concerning Voldemort and Snape.

I really enjoyed the epilogue, except it inexplicably shortchanges the son of Lupin and Tonks, wasting the earlier setup of his appearance.

In all, it is a great movie and a deeply emotional and satisfying conclusion to the series.

For in-depth analysis of the themes of the novels, see my book, Values of Harry Potter.

Values, Religion, and Politics in Harry Potter

I’ve taken three shorter videos from my interview with Diana Hsieh about my book, Values of Harry Potter.

In the first, I discuss the basic values of the novels. Harry and his allies fight for their lives and safety, for the safety of loved ones, and for a wold in which they can live and work in peace, free from tyranny.

In the second, I discuss the religious elements of the novels. (See also my follow-up note about Ratzinger’s letter.)

Finally, I discuss the political themes of the novels, particularly the corruption of the Ministry of Magic and the rise of Voldemort’s tyranny.

Harry Potter Themes: Interviews and Articles

With the latest and final Harry Potter film opening tomorrow night (after midnight), I’ve been busily discussing J. K. Rowling’s novels and my own work of literary criticism about them, Values of Harry Potter.

Yesterday I sat down with Diana Hsieh of Noodle Food to record a 40-minute podcast. We discuss the Potter films and the basic appeal of the novels. We also talk about the novels’ values, religious themes, psychology, and politics. (Clarification: Generally one fights a dementor with a Patronus and a boggart with “riddikulus.” But, to Harry, a boggart appears as a dementor. This will make sense to you only if you’re read the books.)

Today Skeptic Magazine published my article, “Religion in Harry Potter,”for its weekly online newsletter. I review the themes of immortality, Christ-like love, free will, and faith. As readers of my book know, I recognize important religious themes in the Potter novels but don’t think they play a very large role in motivating the characters.

Last week, Boulder Weekly published my article, Harry Potter explores life’s big questions.” It begins, “Parents who take their children to see the Harry Potter films enjoy a fun family night. But unless they dig deeper into the stories, parents miss a great opportunity to explore life’s biggest issues with their children.” I touch on the psychology, politics, and basic values of the novels.

I conclude that piece, “The stories offer thrilling literature alive with dragons and magical duels. But readers miss a great deal if they ignore the rich themes of psychology, politics and philosophy. Harry never had parents able to share these discussions. Your children do.”

I hope you’ll check out the complete works!