John Granger. How Harry Cast His Spell: The Meaning Behind the Mania for J. K. Rowling’s Bestselling Books. 4th ed. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2006. 304 pp. (34-page sample PDF)
I actually read a few others, too:
- Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader
- One Fine Potion: The Literary Magic of Harry Potter
- The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy: Hogwarts for Muggles
But they weren’t as captivating as this one (at least as this one starts out—it fizzles a bit).
I didn’t plan to read to read it straight through. I checked it out via my public library’s inter-library loan, and I planned to give it about 30 to 60 minutes. But after reading the first few chapters, I bought it in Kindle format and marked it up as I read the whole thing straight through. Chapters 1–10 and 19–20 are more interesting than the others.
The book is popular, not academic, and sometimes it is a bit corny. But its insights are worth the read. I don’t follow all of the symbolic connections Granger makes in this book: some of them seem like too much of a stretch (especially when deriving hidden meanings via tenuous etymologies), but most of them make sense.
I didn’t know that there are “Potter Scholars,” but TIME calls John Granger the “Dean of Harry Potter Scholars.”
One point that Granger demonstrates very well is that all seven Harry Potter books are filled with implicit and explicit Christian themes. He begins to unpack his argument in this sample PDF, but the rest of the book relentlessly and overwhelmingly proves that argument.
Here’s a figure from chapter 2:
And here’s a table from chapter 3that illustrates that “the Harry Potter books are laid out according to a formula repeated in each story” (the table is spread over two pages so that the seven Potter books appear in seven parallel columns):
“My ‘Great Book’ test has three parts:
- Does it address the big questions of human life?
- Does the artistry of the work support the answers given to these questions?
- Are the answers about edifying relationships with God, man, and the world? (This last, in light of historic English literature being almost exclusively by Christians for other Christians, can be rephrased more simply, ‘Are the answers Christian?’)
“The Harry Potter books are classics—and not just as ‘kid-lit’ but as classics of world literature.” (p. 53)
Update: Just to clarify, I’m referring to the Harry Potter books, not the films. As I say here, “Don’t judge a book by its movie.”