10 January 2013

The awesomeness of Jo Rowling

Evanna Lynch, with a signed copy of Harry Potter

Mark Shea has a piece up over at Catholic and Enjoying It! on the charitable and volunteer work of Jo Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels. The story of Evanna Lynch and her battle with anorexia, and how she was aided in that battle by her mail correspondence with Ms Rowling, is truly an inspirational one. It is exemplary of Ms Rowling’s broader work in philanthropic and humanitarian causes, devoted to battling poverty (particularly child poverty), multiple sclerosis and illiteracy. As Mark Shea eloquently puts it, she is a true class act.

I think Ms Rowling’s place in the literary world, too, is significant, and adds further depth and context to the charitable work she does. Though she would likely rankle at being placed alongside CS Lewis in the annals of fantasy and speculative fiction (and though she was never heavily involved with the Inklings and their work), the Harry Potter books (particularly the last two which dwell heavily upon the traditionally Christian themes of death, resurrection, sin and redemption) do seem to have one foot firmly in the world of the Inklings. As she herself admitted, her Presbyterian beliefs directly contributed to her writing of the books, though (as any good author would) she didn’t want to tip her hand until the series was over.

In her books, too, there is a fairly obvious antifa streak, ideologically speaking. The Death Eaters and their ideology of magical ‘purity’ carry fairly obvious parallels with fascism, and the story of the Blacks very closely mirrors that of the Mitford family (Ms Rowling is on record as being a fan of the good Mitford sister, Jessica). It is arguable that the subtle class commentaries in Harry Potter (focussed primarily around the Weasley and Malfoy families and their places in the wizarding world, contrasted with the aggressively bourgeois Dursleys), along with the more broad-stroked critique in The Casual Vacancy, stands firmly (and deliberately) in the tradition of social criticism most commonly associated with Charles Dickens (the historical author Jo Rowling most wanted to meet, up there with Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette and PG Wodehouse). She has been, to her credit, a great friend of Gordon Brown (and a critic of Blair, both for the right reasons), though her taste in American politicians (particularly the Kennedys and the Clintons) is rather questionable to say the least.

Ms Rowling is a remarkably talented and kind-hearted human being, but in order to fully do her justice as a story-teller we have to take account both of her religion and of her politics (which seem to be informed by her religion). The religious themes of her books hint at a deep-seated Pauline orthodoxy rooted in an unflinching (yet at the same time nuanced) understanding of the nature of death and sin, but it is a generous, vivacious orthodoxy which always manages to find room for the misfits, the geeks, the oddballs, the kids from poor families, the ones who generally just never quite manage to fit in.

We need more Jo Rowlings in the world.

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