Things My Friends are Up To

In lieu of three French hens, on this third day of Christmas, here are a few things to keep you busy during the Blogosphere's slow days:

First, my old internet buddy Chris Knight was interviewed by Bob Buckley over at the Fox network about his battle with bipolar syndrome. I learned a lot from it. It's well worth watching, especially for anyone close to someone who deals with forms of clinical depression.

Second, over at the Hogwarts Professor site, Elizabeth Baird Hardy wrote up a beautiful piece on Jane Eyre as a fairy tale. I can't recommend it enough for book- and fairytale-lovers.

Third, Mr. Pond just won a contest with an Ugly Duckling-themed story about the duck that carried Hansel and Gretel across the river. It's lovely, brief and captivating. Enjoy.

Fourth, Music of the Week: Eric Pazdziora (who has commented here a few times) composed a beautiful song, taking as its lyric a poem by George MacDonald. Eric and his wife, Carrie, are in the choir.

Text can be found at Eric's website. MacDonald and I have different ideas on Mariology, but the piece is hauntingly beautiful.

Last, Blogengamot head Travis Prinzi put up a fascinating post about magical thinking, creativity, and Santa Claus. I honestly think I'm too dreadful at acting to pull off that story with my own children, should I ever have them. The jolly old elf also seems to be a mixed and unpredictable experience that some former children remember gladly, some feel they missed out on, and others classify with growing pains. But I favor magical thinking, even if only in the context of a fairy tale that is never thought of as anything more. I don't doubt that it stretches the mind to think and believe greater things.

I hope you're all having a happy, magical Christmas season.


  1. Thanks for the link, Jenna! I'm glad you enjoyed the music. MacDonald's text is challenging in many ways, but emotionally it was very intuitive to compose. (I've worked with his lyrics before-- in undergrad I composed a song cycle of poems from Phantastes.)

  2. Thanks for the article on Santa! It was interesting.

    I think that the trouble so many people have with Santa is that they have trouble seperating Truth from Fact. Telling a child that Santa Claus is real is similar to so many other old world traditions, which allow children to understand the world around them in terms of Truth, Myth, and Magic. Not the sort of "magic" put out by the Harry Potter books, but the sort that belongs to fairy tales, sacramentals, a close relationship to nature. Creating a Santa story for your children is less about "acting" in this case than it is about believing in a particular sort of seasonal "God-magic" that infuses both man and the world around him.

    In other words, Santa only becomes problematic to children if he is told as "fact" instead of "truth," or living myth. And, children who lose out on the experience of Santa generally lose out on the ability to appreciate myth as an aspect of, and doorway to Truth.

    While the magical aspects of Harry Potter may be creatively stimulating in some ways, it lacks the ability to effect the imagination in the same way because it fails to follow the form of myth, fails to link us strongly to Truth, and is merely a story that portrays an altered understanding of magic. One of the reasons for this is that Rowling misunderstands or misrepresents many of the myths and magical aspects she incorporates in her book, and through this misrepresentation, they lose the power they might otherwise have had. Of course, this happens to Santa very often as well, but hopefully, parents will be able to direct their representation of him to avoid this error and allow him to be what he ought to be.
    (sorry to go on a bit..feel free to ignore if I got to pedantic) :)

  3. These sound like great recommendations, Jenna... I'll be checking them out pronto! I'm especially interested in reading about Jane Eyre as a fairy tale. That remains one of my favorite books, and I wrote a paper last semester about the involvement of violence and grace in it. In fact, I may blog about that soon, now that my mind is spinning wildly within the world of Jane and Mr. Rochester...

    Looking forward to the read on Santa, too. I love him, the idea of him at least, though I haven't quite figured out how to make him a part of our own {future} children's lives yet... As a child, I believed firmly in Santa as a real person, but E wasn't raised that way, so it'll be interesting to see what we do with him as a family.

  4. Just back from Jane Eyre - Brilliant!!! Funny, I just watched Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" last night (a Christmas present), so some of those comparisons to the Beast were still very vivid in my mind. Loved this link!!!

  5. Sorry it's taken me so long to respond... golly, what is it with Christmas and all the parties? :P

    Eric, thanks for putting up a great piece. :) I could see that being very intuitive to compose. The music fit the text perfectly.

    Masha, fascinating thoughts on fact and myth! I'd disagree, though, on the Harry Potter series. Rowling may have made hash out of the pagan myths, which I know less about, but I think the Christian symbolism underscoring the story is incredibly strong. It had a very powerful effect on me--I'd consider the books one of the top five reasons I still believe today.

    Carrie, I'm so glad you liked the Jane Eyre piece! Elizabeth is doing a whole series on Jane Eyre, which I didn't catch at first, and all of it is totally worth reading.

  6. Jenna,
    I'd love to hear about the Christian symbolism in HP, I didn't see it, but then, I've noticed I can sometimes get wrapped up in a particular thread within a book and lose the threads that someone else might see. Awful self-direction. :)
    I was refering more to Rowlings seeming misunderstanding, or at least flawed ability to represent properly, a true understanding of magic, which could have made the magic in HP acceptable/believable; and a similar treatment to myth and mytholigical creatures, which caused the creatures to lose their natural role and symbolism, less than any Christian lack in the books, which I didn't expect, and therefore wasn't disappointed to miss.
    I'm glad to hear HP has had some positive effects, and I think it's wonderful and interesting that they are one of the top reasons you still believe, I'd love to understand why.
    I wonder if my reaction might be because, having a very close relationship with an old-world Catho-pagan magic, and having learned to relate to Myth through this relationship, I rejected Rowlings representation simply because it was too much a part of post-modern Western thought? Not to place huge demands on you for explination, links, and defense, I'd absolutely love to read defenses of Rowlings use of myth adn magic, and her inclusion of Christian symbolism - then go back and read the books, to see if it changes my reaction.
    Ok..I wrote a lot again, Thanks for you patience, Happy New Year, and enjoy all your parties! It's such a lovely season isn't it!

  7. Masha, fascinating thoughts. As I say, I have next to no acquaintance with magic (and patchy knowledge of myth) so I went at the books with almost nothing but Christianity when I first read them years ago.

    Short version: I was a Baptist/evangelical who was teetering on the edge of outright agnosticism and no longer knew what I believed about anything. Politics, religion--it was all in confusion. I had gotten about to the point of at least choosing to believe in God when I worked up the courage to go check out the first Potter book and see if it was really excellent or evil as wildly opposing parties claimed.

    I spent a week with that book. Did not put it down. Then I immersed myself in the rest of the series--for months. And it was the right story for the time. It re-convinced me that some things truly are good, and other things truly are evil. It seemed so clearly (to me, because of my upbringing) to be about spiritual things and the battle for the human heart/soul that it gave me perspective on my own struggles.

    That was before Deathly Hallows came out, and if you ever read that one while thinking of it as possibly Christian-themed, I think you'll see the parallels. Rowling made a comment in an interview before that book came out that if people knew what she believed about God, they'd be able to see what was coming in the last book. I didn't know what she believed, but I did call Harry's big moment going in, and I think the primary reason for that is that it--as the thematic structure of the other books do, if somewhat more subtly--matched what I believe. Caveat: I'm not claiming that the books are didactically Christian, and they very much leave religious belief up to the reader, but the symbolism is strongly Christian.

    If you want to really get into what Rowling did symbolically with Christianity and alchemy, I can't recommend John Granger highly enough. His books Looking for God in Harry Potter, Unlocking Harry Potter, and The Deathly Hallows Lectures are fantastic; so is his blog. He's Eastern Orthodox, so he has a solid sacramental basis from which to work. We talk about all this sometimes at The Hog's Head too; I just posted some commentary on the King's Cross chapter of Deathly Hallows, touching on some of the ideas. Our site founder Travis Prinzi's Harry Potter and Imagination also covers some of the Arthurian and fairy tale symbolic patterns of the books.

    Okay, that was an absurdly long response. I hope it's helpful! Don't worry, you're not making huge demands... I'm a bit passionate about this. And I can totally see how the books might be less thrilling for anyone who hoped they might have more basis in pagan magic and mythology. I was up in Vancouver this week, singing wizard rock (HP-themed songs) at a ball for Potter fans, and one of the other performers mentioned surprise that a local pagan bookseller wouldn't put up a poster about her music. "They didn't think it had anything to do with what they were selling," she said. That didn't surprise me at all. With the exception of a handful of extremely sketchy websites that try to make HP into a gateway drug for the occult, most pagans I've come across might like Harry, but they don't think he has any real relation to their religion or practices, and they don't think he gains them a better understanding from the general public.

  8. Happy New Year! I hope 2011 is begining wonderfully for you.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to respond, you have a totally different perspective and background and I really appreciate getting some insight into your understanding! Thanks for being patient with my criticism of some of your favourite books as well, I know it can be really hard to respond undefensively sometimes when its "your" books under scrutiny - I once spent almost an entire semester defending Camus from a dismissive English professor. :)

    I will definately check out the sites you recommended! I'd love to read more about the Christian symbolism before trying again.

    I was very amused by the Pagan bookstore story. Not surprised at all, the last thing neo-pagans need is a bunch of angry parents accusing them of luring in kids with HP, or a bunch of HP fans who want to "be witches"! (I'm refering to the young fans, not adults ;). I'm not associated with neo-pagans anymore, but when I was, the general reaction to HP was "oh no, more 12 year olds who want to do 'magic'!" It also definately doesn't help with public understanding, especially as the sort of magic done often by both sides in HP - magic that "acts on" an individual, whether in a good or bad way, is forbidden amoung most practicing witches. They don't need to have to say again "no, I don't do that..honestly!"

    I've heard the claim that the books are a bridge to the occult..I know Rome's exorcist considers them dangerous in this way, and I know Pope Benedict, when he was Ratzinger wrote negatively on them, though I haven't actually read his letter, so I don't know if the critique was on the occult or merely literary. Having been in the occult, I personally can't see them as a direct threat, except in the way they use magic, as I mentioned. I don't think they connect with neo-pagans proper, and they're was off from old-school paganism.

    Anyway, thanks for being so responsive, and feel free to keep it up, HP isn't my passion, but myth, magic, and superstition are, so I promise, I'll stay interested. :)

  9. You're welcome, Masha, and I'm thoroughly enjoying this conversation! I don't like having outright hard-line battles over HP, but different perspectives in pleasant discussion just thrill me. :)

    I'm learning from you, as well. It's interesting to hear of the neo-pagans' difficulties with the Potter series, and I'm curious about what you currently think about myth, magic and superstition. One of the things I love about the Catholic Church (and I've only been Catholic for three years) is the room to break free of cold Enlightenment scientism and believe the perfectly Biblical idea that the physical elements of nature might have spiritual properties and meanings, even though the beautifully symbolic medieval cosmology was wrong on a few key scientific points.

    You're right about the Roman exorcist. On the other hand, Msgr. Peter Fleetwood, when on the Pontifical Council for Culture, was asked a question about whether the books should be lumped with New Age. He responded by saying the books show good and evil very clearly and that he believed the author to be Christian in belief and life and way of writing.

    Pope Benedict's statement is usually made too much of. I highly doubt he's read the books. The then-Cardinal Ratzinger's letter was simply a reply to a woman who mailed him her book about how HP is a bad influence, and he just gave her a cordial 'well, good for you for making people aware of the subtle seductions in books like these' kind of response.

    I'd like to ask you about the myth, magic and superstition, but I have no idea where to start. :) I do follow your Cyganeria blog now, so if you need something to post about...

  10. Ooh, Thanks! I'll try to work out something semi-clear and post it. Essentially, I agree with you in that I absolutely cherish the Church's ability to embrace myth and the understanding that Truth is not always fact. Catholicism allows us to play a little more, and assumes that God plays in his world more than many religions do.

    I love my freedom as a Catholic to revel in the power of the natural world, to participate in the God-magic of the sacraments and to see the world as something shimmering with different layers of being...obviously I need to put my thoughts in better order. I hope that I explained something at least! :)

    But I am very much enjoying the conversation as well. Thanks for clarifying the Pope's comments. Its another thing I love about the Church: the opportunity for diversity in opinions. The Exorcist discourages, the Monsignior permits, and we a free to chose our own path.


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