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.