Harry Potter and The Half-Witted Media

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My family and I are fans of the Harry Potter films, so we will definitely be joining quite a few other Muggles in trekking to a theater to do our bit to make J. K. Rowling wealthy enough to buy a few smallish nations.  I have never read any of the Harry Potter books, although one of my sons and my daughter have read all of them, as has my wife, who has read them in several languages other than English.  (Yes, I did marry above my intellectual station in life.)  I don’t read any great message into the Harry Potter phenomenon, other than that there will always be a market for escapist fiction with good guys, bad guys, and a definite beginning, middle and end, laden with action, humor and sentiment.

I did find it intriguing that L’Osservatore Romano gave an overall enthusiastic review to the latest film, or rather I found the reaction to the review intriguing.  Damian Thompson  celebrates this here as a Vatican about face on Harry Potter and takes a swipe at Americans and Italians while doing so, reminding us yet again why Brits are so beloved the world over.  Robust British ethnocentrism notwithstanding, I think Mr. Thompson and much of the media are wrong as playing this as some sort of reversal in Vatican policy.  (As if the Vatican has a Harry Potter policy!)  True, L’Osservatore Romano had previously published a negative piece on Harry Potter in January of 2008.  A translation of the article is here.  However, this piece ran with a positive assessment of Harry Potter in an article which may be read in English here.   A balanced look at the current review is here.

Over the years officials at the Vatican have given varying assessments of the Potter books and films, ranging from enthusiastic to condemnatory.  (I wonder how many in either camp had ever read the books or seen the films).  The most important negative assessment was given by Cardinal Ratzinger as detailed here.   I don’t read much into these two brief notes from the Pope.  They have the feel of a busy man who has received an unasked for book from an author and is generous enough to say something  supportive and encouraging.  I have my doubts as to whether the Cardinal had ever read any of the books or seen any of the films.  He had a few more pressing responsibilities as I recall.

As is the case with most things in this world, the Vatican of course has no “policy” on Harry Potter.  If pressed by the media, or people with an ax to grind, but I repeat myself, some cleric who probably hasn’t read a kid’s book in eons will descend to the occasion and give a sound bite or write bite which will create a little media frenzy, but that is all.  The Potter books and films are just an anodyne way to pass the time, and thus simply not worth any effort or concern by the Vatican.

More to explorer

The Lord’s Supper is a Seder

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  1. Donald,

    Cardinal Ratzinger DID NOT give a negative assessment; lifesite is out of it with its story, as has been exposed many times — by many people. Indeed, Potter, for the most part, has always had good reviews from the Vatican; and the one whom Ratzinger suggested was the one to review Potter gives it an enthusiastic approval.


  2. Thank you for the additional information. As I indicated in my post the Cardinal was a busy man who probably wouldn’t know Hogwarts from a Hole in the Ground. If the Pope is even aware of the controversy, I assume he is bemused by it.

  3. Donald, I think you’re being a bit unfair to Damian Thompson. He doesn’t take a swipe at Americans in general but at American fundamentalists who attacked the Harry Potter books for being Satanic. That does not constitute anti-Americanism, just as disliking the antics of British soccer hooligans does not make one anti-British. I have no knowledge of “Italian child culture,” but Thompson’s comment seems to puzzle (but not offend) an Italian commenter on his site. The “robust British enthocentricism” in DT’s post escapes me.

    I like “Holy Smoke.” If American Catholics sometimes feel outgunned by the prevailing secular culture, imagine how British Catholics must feel.

  4. Donna, perhaps my reaction to Mr. Thompson’s post was remembrance of similar examples of his past bashing of non-Brits.

    For example, here, citing an unnamed authority on Irish affairs, he blames the abuse by some of the Irish Brothers on some of the kids in their charge to the fact that they were Irish:

    “He explained that Ireland has for centuries tolerated levels of domestic violence and alcoholism that are much higher than those in other Catholic cultures. There’s no single, neat explanation for this – but the brutality of English colonial oppression certainly rubbed off on society. Rural Ireland until the 1970s was basically a Third World country; it still had a peasantry (thanks in part to the English) that was, by definition, very badly educated. We’ll never know for sure how many fathers of families were violent drunks, but the proportion was high compared to most of Europe. And this is the culturally and intellectually impoverished class from which many of the Christian Brothers were recruited.”


    In short, what else can one expect of a bunch of drunken Irish peasants?

  5. The link Henry provides is a pretty good description of the O’Brien/Lifesite caper in regards to the pope and Harry Potter.

    Reading it, I’m pretty amused to find who a Lifesite staffer sees as the true butt of their little coup:

    But you should hear the neo-catholics screeching at us! Every time we go after Harry the Weigelites come after us with knives sharpened. They really REALLY hate to have their complacent little tea party with The World disturbed by difficult truths hey?

    Those Weigelites! Enemies of small groups of right thinking Catholics at all corners of the spectrum.

  6. *giggles* Weigelites?
    Do folks ever read what they’re writing?

    What are they talking about? Googles for ‘”harry potter” lifesite weigel’ don’t turn up anything but spam sites.

  7. Harry Potter is but an Avatar of Satan and the Weigelites are merely his minions bent on imposing a Neocon agenda upon the rest of America, if not, the whole world!

    All those who have the sheer gall and moral system so deplorably deficient that they would not only so desire but would actually go see the latest Harry Potter movie (and all or any of the previous) serve him that is Legion and, indeed, are part of the same satanic conspiracy that is Weigel.

  8. Rural Ireland until the 1970s was basically a Third World country; it still had a peasantry (thanks in part to the English) that was, by definition, very badly educated.

    The ‘British’ are not a problem; it is their journalists and public intellectuals who are so repellant.

    Pace this fellow and Mr. Derbyshire, Ireland ca. 1975 had a per capita income about 40% that of the United States, which placed it on the boundary between what the World Bank conventionally refers to as ‘middle-income countries’ and ‘high-income countries’. It was more affluent than Argentina or Uruguay or Israel and only modestly less so than Spain. I cannot refer you to any academic studies but I can refer you to this work, part of a series of travelogues issued by Time-Life. There is a discussion of the Irish school system therein where it is praised for being abnormally effective in imparting literacy all up and down the social strata. You will note the publication date.

    Title: Ireland,
    Author(s): McCarthy, Joe, 1915-1980.
    Publication: Time-Life Books
    Edition: [Rev.].
    Year: 1964
    Description: 160 p. illus. (part col.)
    Language: English
    Series: Life world library;

  9. Hilary is Hilary White, and she is definitely on the side of the angels, as it were. While she is more than capable of defending herself, I like her and am compelled to chime in lest it turn into a bash fest.

    Having read the books, I can’t say as I understand how people work themselves into firestorms about HP.

  10. I am pleased to offer my full-throated endorsement of the Time-Life series cited by Art Deco. While you can’t use them as current guides, obviously, they are pretty solid sources of info (the Great Ages of Man volumes from the same time-frame are also magnificent).

    In fact, I’ve been uniformly delighted with the quality of the T-L series across the spectrum, from history to gardening, and wish they were still in the book publishing business.

  11. Well, I think Damian Thompson is a sensible fellow most of the time, so we will have to agree to disagree.

    Interested in a few more ethnic sterotypes? The “wise Latina woman” is guestblogging at Iowahawk’s:

    Think of the Constitution as our base ingredient: a bland, tasteless broth of boiled white tripe. Doesn’t sound so tempting, does it? Now here’s where the fun comes in: all of the cooks gather in the cocina and bring their own special secret ingredients to the mix. Souter salts the pot and Roberts adds Wonder Bread and mayonnaise; Breyer the lox and cream cheese. Thomas drops in fried chicken, and Alito and Scalia spaghetti. Now here comes Kennedy with corned beef and potatoes. Stevens adds the Metamucil. Now we’re cooking! Finally, I stir in my special picante blend of Latina legal spices. What started as a boring simple broth is now a delicious crazy justice stew — that tastes different every time!

    And after the menudo is finished, we will go out into the hot evening air of the Supreme Court plaza for drinks. Sangria and Irish whiskey, 2% milk and Colt 45 Malt Liquor. The night breeze is intoxicating, no? Now it is time for the music of justice! The instruments will be taken out, like the Buena Vista Social Club. Carribean drums and mazurkas, the blues guitarra and the bagpipes, creating the caliente salsa beat of la ley! Bailando en la calle, everybody! What’s that Justicio Juan Roberto? You are too white and do not have the ritmo to do the dance? Let wise Latina Justicia Sonia show you the steps! Meringue, samba, macarena! ¡Andele! Yes, yes! Lose yourself in the rhythm, Perito Breyer! Together we make the beautiful Constitutional musica together!

  12. Thank you Donna. I’ve been a bit busy today and I hadn’t had an opportunity to read Iowahawk and that piece is well worth reading!

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