A PERSONAL VIEW BY CATHAL McCARTHY
OF course, it’s always a little chastening to discover a lacuna in one’s education; nobody likes to be made aware of the fact that one is profoundly ignorant about something that one should be perfectly familiar with.
And so it is with me and this gossoon, Harry Potter.
Yes, I’ve heard of the books. Yes, I realise that they were (are) extraordinarily popular. Yes, I’m aware of the hyperbole that credits J.K. Rowling and her fictional boy magician with a counter-attack on behalf of literacy that has stemmed and reversed the seemingly inexorable march of thumb-twiddling handheld gaming devices. Cry God for Harry, literacy and teenagers reading.
But I still don’t know that much about Harry and the others. And if pressed, I would have to venture the answer that Hogwarts is some form of STD picked up from unhygienic toilet seats or questionable social habits.
That comfy little bubble of ignorance has been punctured this week by the news that the Abbot of Glenstal Abbey, Patrick Hederman, thinks that Rowling is “one of the most
important influences on our world today”.
Holy Hogwarts!! Steady on there, Brother.
Speaking at a symposium that took place this week in UL, entitled ‘Magic is Might 2012’ (God bless the work everyone!), Brother Hederman opined that the seven-book cycle “is not telling us what we should do, but how we should approach the future”.
Two things will strike the interested Cork reader immediately: what are our own lads out there in UCC still doing bothering themselves with old hat like medicine and empirically proven fact-based disciplines like chemistry and physics when there’s this whole world of goblin-based academia to be accessed? That must be rectified immediately and I look forward to UCC offering a four-year course in flying broomstick engineering via the CAO for the academic year 2013-2014.
The second thing we notice is the rather different approach Brother Hederman takes to philosophical matters, like how we approach the future as compared to previous Catholic thinkers like old Thomas Aquinas.
Again, it is impossible not to notice a certain ‘gearing-down’ when we compare the plot of, say, Summa Theologica to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. But who are we to disagree with Brother Hederman in these areas? Aquinas only translated Aristotle into Christianity and put forward logically sound metaphysical proofs for the existence of God. Harry Potter can play an aerial hockey called ‘quidditch’ while flying on a broomstick. Of course, Aquinas really existed and Harry doesn’t. But still, there’s no contest there.
Some will carp at the fact that a publicly funded third level institution would find the time and money to devote to a makey-up conference about makey-up magic performed by a makey-up fictional wizard. But then,
despite the tortuous and microscopic arguments of Aquinas, there’s no empirical evidence for the existence of God.
More and more, the always thin distinction between seeing something as an article of faith and a fictional concept is disappearing. It’s still a little disconcerting to see a respected Benedictine superior seeming to imply
equivalence between a millennia-old faith and a cast of characters engineered to appeal to pubescent hormones and concentration spans.
We would also respectfully demur from Brother Hederman’s idea that ‘we’ have anything to learn about freeing our imaginations and his conviction that we need to stress that quality more in our education systems.
Some of us would maintain that we live in a fantasy existence that makes Harry Potter’s world look like an exercise in humdrum hell. For instance, is there any shred of the real in the news that Irish prisons spent more than 80,000 on footballs in the last two years?
Nearly 19,000 was spent in Cork prison in the two years 2010 and 2011. It was spending 792 per month on footballs during that period — 200 per week. Chelsea wouldn’t spend as much. Roman Abramovich would have queried the bill. But not the Irish prison service.
Not one person apparently asked how this was happening. Were the prisoners playing football with steel winklepickers? We still don’t have an explanation.
With respect to Brother Hederman, the poor, suffering taxpayers of Ireland have nothing to learn about living in faintly amusing fantasies with regular excursions into the dark side.
If Ms Rowling ever reads a report from the Public Accounts Committee or the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, she’ll realise where the bar is really set on the subject of magic and necromancy.