Friday, July 28, 2000

Harry, Narnia, magic and faith

Student looks at contrasts in fantasy tales

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        OXFORD — Two wildly popular fantasies begin with a curiously similar view of women but diverge starkly on magic and faith, according to research by English lit senior Amy Anderson.

        The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter books use gender stereotypes, she said, despite their authors' different backgrounds:

        Belfast-born C.S. Lewis, the longtime Oxford/Cambridge bachelor scholar who wrote the Chronicles in the 1950s, was faithful to female stereotypes of early 20th century Britain, although in later Narnia books, “the girls get better.”

        “The boys are the ones who do all of the hunting and the girls are very much the comforters.” In the final book, a girl tracks and hunts and “for once, you get a girl who is in the battle.”

        J.K. Rowling, creator of Harry Potter, also indulges in some gender stereotyping even though she is a 30-something Brit and single parent.

        In the first Potter book, “women don't usually know what's going on,” whether they are students or moms; and Hermione, another student, is “annoying” like a little sister. By the third book, Hermione and Harry save the day together.

        Ms. Anderson, 20, described her findings during a break from research she did on a $2,200 Undergraduate Summer Scholar grant at Miami University.

        It was the perfect undergrad challenge: compare and contrast Narnia and Harry Potter.

        “I'm a Christian and I love children's books,” she said.

        Ms. Anderson read the 7-volume Narnia series as a child and considers author Lewis a brilliant thinker for “the way he takes Christian concepts and makes them accessible to kids.”

        When she suggested a summer project on Lewis, professors said OK but include Harry Potter for a fresher angle.

        Mr. Lewis converted to Christianity as an adult and Narnia carries an increasingly heavy Christian message, with Aslan the lion as the Christ figure trying to save the country of Narnia, she said.

        On the other hand, “there isn't room for religion” in Harry Potter's world, and the message is more humanistic: People ultimately rely on themselves, each other and, at times, magic.

        Ms. Anderson said Narnia and Harry Potter share an ingredient that will fire their continued success:

        “If a kid's book is going to be good, there has to be something in it for adults. There's stuff in them that kids don't catch.”

        These include biblical and literary allusions as well in Harry Potter, of seemingly magical statements that really are English written backwards, she said, so adults enjoy reading the books to children.


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