The Doubt, the Faith, and the Satanic Origins of Harry Potter (Egads!)

As a follow-up to Phil Sinitiere's posting last week about novels in history classrooms and related heresies, here's the beginning of a pre-press book review in Literature and Theology from RIAH's real literature scholar, Everett Hamner. The book in question is Conversations with American Writers: The Doubt, the Faith, the In-Between, by Dale Brown, published last year by Eerdmans.

by Everett Hamner

ABOUT A decade ago, I walked into my local Family Christian Store®. This US chain’s website claims to represent ‘the largest brand in the Christian retailing market,’ and I was curious about its literary wares. After a half an hour in the fiction section—in which themes of apocalypse, sexual purity and political insularity figured heavily—I carried a book entitled something like
The Satanic Origins of Harry Potter to the front desk. Upon politely inquiring as to criteria by which books were selected, I was told with equal politeness, ‘whatever sells’.

Herein lies the apparent dilemma for US novelists like many featured in Dale Brown’s most recent book of interviews, Conversations with American Writers—which might just as well be subtitled, The Inseparability of Faith and Doubt. In pursuing wide audiences for stories with theological elements, how does one reach both (i) the dominantly secular and liberal market catered to by most US booksellers and (ii) the dominantly religious and conservative market served by ‘Christian’ suppliers? Some might immediately reply that this is an impossible or even unworthy goal; an author may choose (i) or (ii), but not both. However, Brown’s book may be most valuable for the way it deconstructs the binary itself. Again and again, we hear from authors who cross such perceived boundaries without hesitation. If categories were necessary, most of Brown’s interviewees would be more easily filed as religious liberals or secular conservatives than as straightforward fundamentalists or atheists, and many of them are managing to straddle the ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ markets described above.

Taken as a whole, Brown’s book of conversations offers what could be a startlingly diverse collage of perspectives on US Christendom—particularly its more evangelical regions—and on lived experiences of the faith–doubt dynamic.

Continue the review here, including its engagement with such tantalizing subjects as epistemology, literary mysticism, Jan Karon, and David James Duncan (whose The Brothers K, despite its length, really should be added to the many comment-recommendations affixed to Phil's post).


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