This is my interview with Melissa Sleeman of ImagiCon, a convention that takes place in Birmingham, AL the weekend of May 22, 2010.
How did you first become interested or introduced to the worlds of The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter?
I have been a fan of the The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings ever since I first read those books in my childhood and adolescent years. Throughout my years of reading, these books have set the standard in fantasy literature as far as I’m concerned, with very few series coming close to their level of quality. It wasn’t until I re-read the novels of Lewis and Tolkien as an adult, however, that I fully appreciated the religious symbolism in them.
I wasn’t going to read the Harry Potter series at first, thinking they were mere children’s books and probably not very serious ones at that. Then I saw the film Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone at the theater in 2001, fell in love with the three lead characters, and then immediately wanted to read the rest of the series to find out what else happened to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I bought all of the Harry Potter books that were available at that time–the first four had been published–and devoured them in less than a week. I re-read them as soon as I got to the end of the fourth one. I was hooked.
I also noticed that Lewis and Rowling used a lot of the same sorts of mythological creatures in the creation of their imaginary worlds. Many of Lewis’s and Rowling’s fantastic beasts have symbolic significance in the history of Christian art in literature. I also noticed that Rowling was subtly hinting at some of the same profound religious themes that are found in the fiction of both Lewis and Tolkien. I was eager to see if my theories about her were correct. The publication of the next two volumes of the Harry Potter series revealed further evidence that I might be correct in my assumption that Rowling is a Christian fantasy writer in the tradition of Lewis and Tolkien. The final novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, as I had anticipated, was revealed to be a story about self-sacrificial love overcoming death. Rowling was even bold enough to include two direct Biblical quotations in her narrative. Not even Tolkien and Lewis made their intentions that obvious! I was delighted when I read the seventh installment of the Harry Potter series.
What inspired you to look at the symbolism?
Before the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I read a book called The Hidden Key to Harry Potter by John Granger. He was one of the first Christian authors to write a book defending the Harry Potter series from the Christian critics who would see the series banned or even burned so that children couldn’t read it. Granger’s theories are absolutely brilliant. I believe he was the first author to compare Rowling with C. S. Lewis, and he had me convinced that my own theories were likely very valid ones. I started to do my own research at that point and began to keep notebooks of my findings and the theories that sprang from them. One rare book on Christian symbolism that I managed to track down was The Bestiary of Christ by Louis Charbonneau-Lassay. This book has a wealth of information on the symbolic significance of the lion, unicorn, stag, phoenix, and the weasel, which definitely influenced my interpretation of the Potter books.
I read that you’re a member of the Mythopoeic Society. It sounds mysterious. Is there anything you can tell the readers about it? Has the Society influenced your writing or did you write your book before you joined.
The Mythopoeic Society is a group of scholars and fans dedicated to the study of the works of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and their friend Charles Williams. All three were Christian writers of fantastic fiction, and all three were members of the famous Oxford-based literary club known as the Inklings. I discovered Mythlore, the journal of the Mythopoeic Society, while attending Louisiana State University as an undergraduate in the late 1980’s. I became a subscriber to the journal and a member of the society many years later though. But for decades I have been aware that the Inklings’ fiction is considered serious literature in many university literary circles. Mythlore features some very fine scholarly writing on my favorite authors’ works, and I think I did consciously try to emulate the tone used by that journal’s contributors when I wrote The Lord of the Hallows.
Also note that articles on J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books have been featured in Mythlore in recent years. After the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I was thrilled to learn that Rowling had been honored with the prestigious Mythopoeic Society Award. It seems that I’m not the only person who thinks Rowling is a modern-day Inkling!
As a panelist in the Harry Potter: Whomping Willows Track, what can the attendees look forward to hearing?
I’ve got two power point lecture presentations ready for the convention. One is called “Sneaking Past the Watchful Dragons: Christian Themes in Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia.” The other is “The Lord of the Hallows: J. R. R. Tolkien and J. K. Rowling as Sub-creators of Christian Myth.”
Do you encourage questions at your panels?
Yes! I love listening to what other Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling fans have to say. People come up with some really interesting theories.
Is the panel just for Christians or does the symbolism go beyond those boundaries?
The panels are for everyone. The first time I did a lecture on Harry Potter was back in 2007 at a science fiction and fantasy convention in Baton Rouge called Babel Con. The presentation was so well-received that many of the attendees–Christian, non-Christian, agnostic, and even athiest acquaintances of mine–were saying they thought it was fascinating and afterwards they were all saying to me, “You should write a book!” And so I did. 🙂
Are the following sites the only places to get your books? www.outskirtspress.com/thelordofthehallows, www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com
Those are all good places to buy the book. Autographed copies are available from http://stores.alibris.com/SilverUnicornBooks as well. Fans can certainly bring their copies of the book to me at the convention if they want me to sign a personalized message for them.
What are your hopes that people will come away with, from your book and from your panel?
I hope that my theories will encourage readers to look beyond the surface layer of meaning of any fantasy or science fiction text that they may encounter and search for the deeper meaning of the stories which they love. For me personally, it’s not enough to be a fan of a book or movie, I want to know why I’m a fan of a particular series. What moral or theological significance does the work have and how does it resonate with my personal beliefs? Ask yourself, “Does membership in this particular fandom enrich my life? Does it make me a better person?” I believe that the really great stories have the power to change people, transform society, even change the world. Young people especially need stories about good and evil, the moral choices we must make in our lives, and the consequences of those choices.
Do you have a Web site for more information about you and the book?