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This is the fourth part of a series of blog posts entitled “Harry Potter and the Bestiary of Christ.” You may want to read parts 1-3 before reading this one.  

All the ancient peoples knew about the phoenix. The Israelites did, and the bird appears in the Bible at least once or twice.”–Mike Aquilina in Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols.

In my own nest I shall grow old; I shall multiply years like the phoenix.”–Job 29:18, translation favored by ancient rabbis.

Coin depicting a phoenix from Antioch, Syria, 4th century A. D.

 

Harry Potter and the Bestiary of Christ Part Four: Phoenix Rising

          In The Magician’s Nephew, C. S. Lewis described the guardian of the Tree of Life  as a majestic bird which was “larger than an eagle, its breast saffron, its head crested with scarlet, and its tail purple.” (MN 92) The reader can only wonder what sort of creature this majestic bird could be, for Lewis does not immediately tell us what type of bird serves as the guardian of the Apples of Immortality.

It is not until the final Narnia adventure that Lewis reveals that this creature is, in fact, a phoenix. (LB 764) As with the griffin, Lewis did not include the phoenix in his novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but film director Andrew Adamson’s version of the story includes the magnificent bird among the good creatures that fight for Narnia in Aslan’s army.

          The mythology of classical antiquity described the phoenix as a majestic bird which flew to foreign lands to gather fragrant herbs and spices to heap upon an altar, set fire to them, and then burn itself to ashes, only to rise from the pyre after three days time. The early Fathers of the Church logically saw this myth as a typological symbol of the death of Christ, who rose from the tomb on the third day.

          The phoenix was adapted by the early Christians as a symbol of the Resurrection as early as the first century A.D. Drawings of the creature appear amongst the Christian murals and “graffiti” that identify the tombs of the martyrs in the catacombs beneath the city of Rome. St.Clement of Rome, who was pope at the end of the first century, wrote of the legend of the phoenix in his First Letter to the Corinthians. He used the story of how the bird died and rose again as a new phoenix to explain the Resurrection of the Christian faithful which will occur at the end of time:

“Let us consider the strange sign which takes place in eastern lands, that is, in the regions near Arabia. There is a bird called the phoenix. It is the only one of its kind, and it lives for five hundred years. When the time for its dissolution in death approaches, it makes for itself a sepulcher of frankincense and myrrh and the other aromatics, into which, when the time is fulfilled, it enters and dies. From its decaying flesh a worm is born, which is nourished by the juices of the dead bird until it grows wings. Then, when it is strong, it takes up that sepulcher in which are the bones of the bird of former times, and carries them far from the land of Arabia to the city of Heliopolis in Egypt; and there, in the daytime, in the sight of all, it flies to the altar of the sun where it places them; and then it starts back to its former home. The priests then inspect the records of the times and find that it has come at the completion of the five hundredth year. Do we, then, consider it a great and wonderful thing that the Creator of the universe will bring about the resurrection of those who have served Him in holiness and in the confidence of good faith, when He demonstrates the greatness of His promise even through a bird?”—from the First Letter to the Corinthians by St. Clement of Rome, 80 A. D. (Jurgens 8-9)

 

Phoenix depicted in a detail of a floor mosaic from Daphne, Syria, late 5th century.

 

 The Medieval bestiaries compared the phoenix, with the power to lay down his life and take it up again, to Jesus Christ. Like the lion, griffin, unicorn, and stag, the phoenix is a Christ symbol.

Pagans saw the phoenix as a symbol of the immortality of the human soul. In Mesopotamian and Egyptian art, this was symbolized by a winged solar disk, a depiction of the sun with wings.

It is possible that this image had some influence on the Old Testament prophet Malachi who wrote: “…the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings.” (Malachi 4:2, KJV) The Sun of Righteousness or Sun of Justice referred to by Malachi was later thought by the early Christians to be the Son of Righteousness or the Son of Justice who rises, that is, Jesus Christ the Resurrected Son. The image of the sun with wings was a symbol of the immortality of the soul, a symbol of resurrection which was also portrayed by the phoenix. We have seen the symbol of the winged solar disk portrayed as a physical object in Harry Potter’s world: it is the Golden Snitch.

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in the chapter entitled “The Will of Albus Dumbledore,” the professor leaves Harry the first snitch he ever caught in a Quidditch match. The snitch is marked with the words, “I open at the close.” When Harry goes to face his death at the climax of the novel, he opens the Golden Snitch to find the Deathly Hallow known as the Resurrection Stone hidden inside of it. Thus, Rowling has presented the readers with one resurrection symbol (the stone) hidden inside of another (the winged solar disk).

"I Open at the Close" fan art by Gold Seven.

Harry is most fond of his holly and phoenix feather wand, which he chose over the all-powerful Elder Wand at the end of book seven. It contains one tail feather from Dumbledore’s pet phoenix, Fawkes, as its power source. The wand is made of holly, and like its phoenix-feather core, the wood is symbolic also. Holly is said to be one of the plants used to make the Crown of Thorns. Another legend claims that it was used as the wood of the Cross of Calvary. Holly was thought to provide protection from lightning and to ward off evil spirits. Its evergreen leaves symbolize eternal life. Christian legends claim that holly berries were originally white but they were stained red by the Blood of Christ after he was crowned with thorns. Holly was also associated with Christmas because of a tale describing how the holly tree grew leaves out of season in order to hide Jesus, Mary, and Joseph from King Herod’s soldiers. For this reason, it is miraculously evergreen. In the Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum, in the unicorn tapestry entitled “The Unicorn is Killed and Brought to the Castle,” a holly tree grows behind the creature’s head, reminding the viewer that the unicorn is a symbol of Christ.

In fact, holly appears in all but the first and last of the Cloisters’ unicorn tapestries and in all six of the unicorn tapestries in the Cluny Museum’s collection. The holly and phoenix feather wand was an important clue about Harry’s destiny that has been present from the first book onward.

The symbolism of the phoenix has been important throughout the series. Harry met Fawkes, Dumbledore’s pet phoenix, in the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Fawkes saved Harry’s life by crying healing tears to heal a mortal wound Harry received from the deadly basilisk. The tears of a phoenix are the only known cure for the basilisk’s poisonous venom.

Fawkes’s song gave Harry renewed strength and courage in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when the young hero had to face Voldemort in the flesh during the wizard’s duel in the churchyard. Dumbledore’s patronus is a phoenix, and the name of the Anti-Voldemort league that Dumbledore established is called “The Order of the Phoenix.” All of the good adult wizards that Harry admires—Dumbledore, McGonagall, Hagrid, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, Tonks, Mad-Eye Moody, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley—are members of the new Order of the Phoenix. Harry’s deceased parents, James and Lily, along with Ron’s deceased uncles, Gideon and Fabian Prewett, and Neville’s parents, Frank and Alice Longbottom, were all members of the original Order of the Phoenix during the First Voldemort War.

We even witness Fawkes the Phoenix saving Dumbledore’s life when Voldemort tries to use Avada Kedavra, the Death Curse, to defeat him: “Fawkes swooped down in front of Dumbledore, opened his beak wide, and swallowed the jet of green light whole.” (OP 815) Only the phoenix, like Christ, could take the curse of death upon himself and rise again in glory, unharmed. From the earliest days of Christianity, the phoenix was a symbol of the believer’s hope of Resurrection at the end of the world. Its ascension into the heavens, like that of the eagle, symbolized the soul’s desire for union with God.

At the funeral which concludes the sixth book, Harry saw smoke rising from the white flames around Dumbledore’s body, and “Harry thought, for one heart-stopping moment, that he saw a phoenix fly joyfully into the blue.” (HBP 645)

“If resurrection is proved by means of an irrational bird…  why do they foolishly dismiss our claims, when we profess that He who has the power to create everything out of nothing, also has the power to restore the human body, and raise it up again after its decay?”–Apostolic Constitutions, Syria, mid-fourth century.

Please subscribe to this blog so that you don’t miss the next installment of “Harry Potter and the Bestiary of Christ,” which is entitled “Weasley Is Our King.” If you would like to order a copy of  my book, The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, it can be obtained from www.outskirtspress.com/thelordofthehallows.

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The Hollywood Reporter interviewed Elijah Wood about his reprisal of the role of Frodo Baggins in the film version of The Hobbit. You can read that interview here: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/blogs/heat-vision/elijah-wood-hobbit-amazing-reunion-72205

The One Ring. net has Elijah’s interview with Collider here: http://www.theonering.net/torwp/2011/01/12/41660-elijah-wood-speaks-even-more-about-the-hobbit/#more-41660 There are lots of other great tidbits at TORn, so have a look around if you have the time. It’s a great website. 🙂

Christopher Lee will also return as Saruman. You can read about it here: http://the-hobbit-movie.com/2011/01/16/christopher-lee-back-as-saruman-the-white/ After reading that one I was wondering who should perform the voice of Smaug? Some say Leonard Nimoy, others say Alan Rickman. I love Nimoy as Spock, but Rickman (our much-loved and much-despised Professor Snape) would make a truly amazing Smaug. What do you think?

If you are on Twitter and have an interest in The Chronicles of Narnia, here’s a poll that may be of interest to you. Which Narnia film is your favorite? I really had a hard time deciding between the 2005 version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and the 2010 version of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  http://twtpoll.com/zs0wvg Which film did you vote for? I voted for LWW, but with reservations. LWW was in first place and VotDT was in second when I responded to the poll.

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I just read a fascinating interview with Daivd C. Downing, the author of the Inklings novel Looking for the King. His comments on C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Charles Williams are very insightful and exhibit Mr. Downing’s great knowledge of the Inklings’ personalities, interests, and other biographical information. I really love what he had to say about the quest for the Spear of Destiny and the theme of renunciation in The Lord of the Rings:

DOWNING: The spear of Longinus (the traditional name given to the soldier who thrust his lance into Christ’s side) is only one of many ancient artifacts associated with the Crucifixion. But it has a special aura about it because of its alleged powers. It is said that the Emperor Constantine claimed to have the spear, given to him by his mother Helena after her famous pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Legend has it that Constantine boasted he would never lose a battle so long as he possessed the spear. After that, all the conquerors seemed to lay claim to it.

Charlemagne said he had the spear, adding that it always brought him victory and even allowed him to read the thoughts of his enemies. As the fabled lance came to be known as the Spear of Destiny, it is said that both Napoleon and Hitler tried to lay their hands on it — though accounts differ widely about the veracity of these claims.

But if the Spear is seen as a talisman of power, that would make it almost the opposite of “Christ-centered.” Christ emptied himself of power on the cross, refusing to call down legions of angels to come to his aid. As Tolkien suggests in his Lord of the Rings epic, perhaps the truly Christ-like act is not to seek out such power, but to renounce it. That is a question I try to explore in Looking for the King.

Renunciation of power as a primary theme in The Lord of the Rings has intrigued me ever since I read Rendel Helms’ explanation of it in Tolkien’s World. Nearly all of Tolkien’s most noble, heroic, and admirable characters are tempted by the Ring (or some other type of power), and they exhibit their true worthiness by renouncing it. In the novel and in the films, we see that Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Aragorn, Galadriel,and  Faramir are all tempted by the power of the Ring and all of them exhibit great moral courage and strength of character by renouncing it. Another example of renunciation in The Lord of the Rings is when Eowyn renounces her “love” for Aragorn when she finally realizes her first desire was for honor and glory as a warrior and then afterwards, her desire was for power as the wife of a king. She then confesses that she no longer wants to be the Queen of Gondor when she finds true love with the humble steward, Faramir. The depressed and lonely Eowyn finds true love and happiness only when she renounces the selfishness of honor, glory, and the tempatations of power.

This Christian theme of renunciation is also found in the Harry Potter series. In the first novel of the series, Harry is able to take the Philospher’s Stone from its hiding place in the Mirror of Erised because he only wants to stop Voldemort from using it to obtain an immortal body. Harry has no desire to use the Stone for himself and gladly renounces the temptation to use it to obtain as much life and wealth as anyone could ever want. In the seventh novel Harry renounces two of the Deathly Hallows: the most powerful wand ever made–the Wand of Destiny–along with the Resurrection Stone. The uncanny similarities between the Wand of Destiny and the Spear of Destiny are described in my book, The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.

I also agreed with David C. Downing’s remarks about the recent controversial opinion voiced by actor Liam Neeson with regards to who or what Aslan represents in The Chronicles of Narnia.

LOPEZ: Could Narnia’s Aslan be Mohammed, as Liam Neeson recently suggested?

DOWNING: Neeson is a fine actor, but he is not a theologian or a Lewis scholar. Of course, Mohammed said he was a prophet of Allah; he did not claim to be divine himself. So the analogy doesn’t really work.

 I suppose what was meant is that Aslan could represent the God of any religion. That is high-minded and well-intentioned, but it doesn’t do justice to the Chronicles. You can pick up just about any guide to the Narnia books to discover how deeply rooted they are in Lewis’s Christian faith. In my book Into the Wardrobe, I argue that the Chronicles constitute Lewis’s Summa Theologica, the fullest and most comprehensive expression of his Christian worldview.

I wouldn’t presume to give Mr. Neeson any tips about acting. And I think he would do well to avoid any politically correct but puzzling remarks about the spiritual foundations of the Chronicles.

You can read the entire interview with David C. Downing here:  http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/255485/thinking-and-believing-interview?page=1

Also, I’d like to recommend this blog post to Christian fans of The Lord of the Rings. This is a link to a blog post about Samwise Gamgee made by my friend and fellow author Michelle Weston: http://www.mbwestonblog.com/2010/12/somewhat-daily-inspirations-i-am-samwise.html

Comments are welcome! 🙂

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I’ll be a guest on the next episode of “The Secrets of Harry Potter,” SQPN’s Harry Potter podcast. The topic of the show is “Christmas,” so with that in mind, I decided to share part of one of my lectures on Christian symbolism in the Harry Potter series with those of you who follow this blog.

Early in the chapter called “Godric’s Hollow,” Harry’s despair is overwhelming:

They had discovered one Horcrux, but they had no means of destroying it: The others were as unattainable as they had ever been. Hopelessness threatened to engulf him. (Hallows 313)

But it is when Harry begins to lose hope in the chapter entitled “Godric’s Hollow” that Rowling uses the strongest Christian imagery in the series thus far. Harry sees the “little church whose stained-glass windows were glowing jewel-bright” and hears the sound of Christmas carols which “grew louder as they approached the church. It made Harry’s throat constrict, it reminded him so forcefully of Hogwarts.” (Hallows 323-324)

The stained glass window design from the book Harry Potter Film Wizardry

Christ the King is depicted along with the Four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Notice the four angels hovering and the descending dove of the Holy Spirit.

      

   Then, as Harry and Hermione walk through the churchyard, they discover the gravestones of Kendra and Ariana Dumbledore, and of James and Lily Potter. The fact that these tombs are found in a churchyard means that the wizard and witches buried there were laid to rest in hallowed ground, which means the Dumbledores and the Potters were given a Christian burial.

 That James and Lily may have belonged to a church or believed in the Christian religion isn’t such a radical idea as some might think. In a 2004 interview at the Edinburgh Book Festival, J. K. Rowling was asked if Harry Potter has a godmother. Her response was:

“No, he doesn’t. I have thought this through. If Sirius had married…Sirius was too busy being a rebel to get married. When Harry was born, it was at the very height of Voldemort fever last time so his christening was a very hurried, quiet affair with just Sirius, just the best friend. At that point it looked as if the Potters would have to go into hiding so obviously they could not do the big christening thing and invite lots of people. Sirius was the only [godparent], unfortunately.”

In this interview, Rowling revealed that Harry was christened, meaning that he was baptized as an infant. Further proof that the Dumbledores and the Potters may have held Christian beliefs can be found in the quotations from the New Teastament which are inscribed on their grave markers.

Harry stooped down and saw, upon the frozen, lichen-spotted granite,  the words KENDRA DUMBLEDORE and, a short way below her dates of birth and death, AND HER DAUGHTER ARIANA. There was also a quotation: Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Hallows 325)

This inscription is from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6, verse 21, which should be examined in the context in which it appears in the Bible: This quotation is from Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount.”

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21, NRSV)

This passage warns against storing up earthly treasures, as Voldemort did by using valuable objects such as Slytherin’s ring and locket, Hufflepuff’s cup, and Ravenclaw’s diadem to create Horcruxes in attempt to cheat death and gain physical immortality. In his youth, Dumbledore did something similar by seeking the earthly treasures known as the Deathly Hallows in order to become the master of death. Unlike Voldemort, Dumbledore learned that earthly treasures can be lost or stolen. He learned not to try to escape from death, but to embrace it. Dumbledore learns that the only immortality worth having is not in this life, but in the life one receives after death.  In the graveyard scene, Harry has the notion that Albus Dumbledore may have chosen the inscription on Kendra and Ariana’s tomb himself. What we know of his experiences seems to indicate that he did.

          Later in this chapter, Harry reads the writing on his parents’ grave markers, encountering the second Bible quote Rowling used in the novel:

                   The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

Harry read the words slowly, as though he would have only one chance to take in their meaning, and he read the last of them aloud. “ ‘The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death’…” A horrible thought came to him, and with it, a kind of panic. “Isn’t that a Death Eater idea? Why is that there?”

“It doesn’t meaning defeating death in the way the Death Eaters mean it, Harry,” said Hermione, her voice gentle. “It means…you know…living beyond death. Living after death.” (Hallows 328)

Indeed, Hermione’s interpretation is closer to the truth than Harry’s. The Bible verse quoted here is St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, verse 26. Paul wrote to the Corinthians about Christ’s resurrection being an indicator that Christ’s followers would also be resurrected. In the Resurrection, death would truly be destroyed, and the faithful will “live beyond death” as Hermione described it.

Before they leave the churchyard, Hermione conjures a wreath of Christmas roses to lay upon the tomb of James and Lily. According to the tradition of Christian symbolism, the Christmas Rose is a symbol of the Nativity. The symbolism of the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus can also be found in the monument of the Potter family, a memorial sculpture that depicts James, Lily, and the infant Harry.

          This hauntingly beautiful chapter takes place on Christmas Eve. In the works of Lewis and Tolkien, the significance of Christmas cannot be overlooked. The four protagonists in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe receive gifts, weapons they will need to fight against the White Witch, from Father Christmas. They learn that Aslan is on the move and the White Witch’s reign over Narnia is soon to end.

The timeline that Tolkien devised for The Lord of the Rings shows that the nine heroes of The Fellowship of the Ring departed from Rivendell on December 25th. This was the beginning of their quest to destroy the One Ring , an event that would result in the downfall of the dark lord Sauron. According to Tolkien, Middle-earth’s future is our past and present. Tolkien chose the December 25th date to foreshadow that in Middle-Earth’s future, the Incarnation would occur that day, an event that marked the beginning of the end of mankind’s enslavement to sin and the defeat of Satan.

          The White Witch and Sauron are the “Satans” of the fictional universes they inhabit. If they knew that the events occurring at Christmastime would lead to their destruction, we could surmise that these adversaries would cry out in rage at their impending doom.

          On page 342, Harry and Hermione, disguised as a middle aged couple, make a narrow escape from the trap set for them by Voldemort.

And then his scar burst open and he was Voldemort and he was running across the fetid bedroom, his long white hands clutching at the windowsill as he glimpsed the bald man and the little woman twist and vanish, and he screamed with rage, a scream that mingled with the girl’s, that echoed across the dark gardens over the church bells ringing in Christmas Day…

Voldemort’s wail of frustration, piercing the cold night air at just the very moment the church bells proclaimed the birth of Christ, reminds me of an English Christmas tradition.

An old Christmas Eve custom called ringing the Devil’s Knell, persists in the town of Dewsbury in Yorkshire. The practice sprang up around the folk belief that the Devil dies each year at the moment when Christ is born. The Church bells still toll on Christmas Eve in Dewsbury announcing the Devil’s demise. [This is a quote from The Encyclopedia of Christmas byTanya Gulevich, page 183.]

This tradition is also found in Ireland.

Many believed spirits walked abroad on Christmas Eve and deemed it wiser not to venture outdoors after dark. About an hour before midnight, church bells all over Ireland began to ring. This tolling, known as “the Devil’s funeral” or the Devil’s Knell, announced the death of the Devil, who was believed to expire annually on Christmas Eve with the birth of Jesus Christ. (Gulevich 286)

Harry had escaped from being murdered by Voldemort once again, not on the Eve of All Hallows, but on Christmas, the holiest night of the year. Rowling brilliantly sounded the Devil’s Knell in triumphant counterpoint to the Dark Lord’s scream of rage: this event heralds the beginning of Harry’s triumph and serves as a warning to the Dark Lord that his days are numbered.

          It is on the day after Christmas that Harry and his friends begin to make real progress in accomplishing their mission to defeat Voldemort. Just as King Arthur’s knights followed the white stag through the forest to find the Grail Chapel, Harry followed the silver doe to a frozen forest pool where he saw a shape  like “a great silver cross” (Hallows 367).  It was the Sword of Gryffindor hidden beneath the ice. The sword is one of the most fundamental Christian symbols:

The Cross is God’s sword, held at the hilt by the hand of Heaven and plunged into the world not to take our blood, but to give us His.– Peter Kreeft    

      

Harry, while wearing the locket, tried to retrieve the sword, but the Horcrux around his neck began to choke him. It was when Harry began to drown that Ron returned to save his life. Proving himself to be a true Gryffindor, Ron pulled the sword from the water and severed the locket’s hold on Harry. Voldemort, like Satan the Father of Lies, made a desperate effort to claim Ron as his own, and Ron, like the weasel who strikes against the venomous serpent, was able to strike the first fatal blow against Voldemort by destroying the locket Horcrux with Gryffindor’s sword.

          In terms of Christian symbolism, this chapter gives us two sacramental images, baptism (Ron, like John the Baptist, draws Harry up from the water) and reconciliation (Ron is truly sorry for abandoning Harry and is forgiven by him).

If you liked this post, you can read more about this topic in The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, which is available from www.outskirtspress.com/thelordofthehallows.

The “Secrets of Harry Potter” podcast’s Christmas episode will be recorded on Wednesday morning, and I’ll be a guest on the show. Please watch this blog for updates about this new episode. 🙂 Meanwhile, here’s SHP’s review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One: http://secrets.sqpn.com/2010/11/26/shp-62-deathly-hallows-part-i-movie-review/ Enjoy!

Please comment on this post. I’d love to hear your thoughts about Christmas in all seven of the Harry Potter novels. 🙂

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Today I finished reading David C. Downing’s Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel and I gave it a 5-star review at goodreads.com. This is the synopsis of the novel:

Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel
“It is 1940, and American Tom McCord, a 23-year-old aspiring doctoral candidate, is in England researching the historical evidence for the legendary King Arthur. There he meets perky and intuitive Laura Hartman, a fellow American staying with her aunt in Oxford, and the two of them team up for an even more ambitious and dangerous quest. Aided by the Inklings-that illustrious circle of scholars and writers made famous by its two most prolific members, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien-Tom and Laura begin to suspect that the fabled Spear of Destiny, the lance that pierced the side of Christ on the cross, is hidden somewhere in England. Tom discovers that Laura has been having mysterious dreams, which seem to be related to the subject of his research, and, though doubtful of her visions, he hires her as an assistant. Heeding the insights and advice of the Inklings, while becoming aware of being shadowed by powerful and secretive foes who would claim the spear as their own, Tom and Laura end up on a thrilling treasure hunt that crisscrosses the English countryside and leads beyond a search for the elusive relics of Camelot into the depths of the human heart and soul. Weaving his fast-paced narrative with actual quotes from the works of the Inklings, author David Downing offers a vivid portrait of Oxford and draws a welcome glimpse into the personalities and ideas of Lewis and Tolkien, while never losing sight of his action-packed adventure story and its two very appealing main characters.”–synopsis at goodreads.com
I enjoyed this book for many reasons: the Spear of Destiny plot was intriguing, the original main characters (Tom and Laura) are likeable and interesting, and the most importantly, the Inklings dialogue was based on quotations from their published works, letters, and biographies. When reading this book I felt that I had actually met C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams. Hugo Dyson’s appearance in the novel is brief, but nearly all of his lines were really hilarious. I also enjoyed the cameo appearance by Tolkien’s daughter Priscilla. Downing’s detailed descriptions effectively captured the atmosphere of wartime England in 1940. He made so many references to places of interest to seekers of the “historical” Grail Hallows that I was compelled to search online for photos of the places he described in such fascinating detail. One such location, for example, is the cave of the Knights Templar at Royston. I was also very interested by the Celtic Cross at Gosforth and it’s link to the Spear of Destiny legend.

Look at the bottom of the fourth drawing for the figures of a crucified man, a figure holding a spear, and a figure collecting the blood. Is this ancient stone carving a link to the Spear of Destiny legend? Another interesting place that we visit in this novel is the Abbey of Malmesbury which has a stained glass window designed by Edward Burne-Jones that is described in detail.

The first figure is of St. George, and the second is of the devout king, St. Ethelbert. The third figure is supposed to be St. Longinus the Ceturion with the Spear of Destiny. Downing gives his readers a convincing story of how the legendary spear may have been hidden in England and how the lance that Hitler obtained from Austria’s Hofburg Museum in the Second World War was probably not the true Spear of Destiny.

There are many wonderful Inklings moments in this novel. At the suggestion of C. S. Lewis, Tom McCord attends a lecture on the Holy Grail legends given by Charles Williams at Oxford. After the brilliant lecture, Tom has a conversation with Williams:

“I can’t say I’m a believer,” said Tom. “It all seems like wish-fulfillment and hocus-pocus to me.”

Laura winced, but Williams didn’t seem to mind the comment at all. “Fair enough,” he said. “It is only the arrogant or the insecure who claim to know about such things, unless perhaps you are a genuine mystic. For the rest of us, all we can do is choose what to believe.” (page 58)

The line “all we can do is choose what to believe” really stood out for me. I recently blogged here about how “making the choice to believe” is a theme in Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and C. S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair. This line introduces the reader one of the story’s most important character arcs: Tom McCord’s journey from agnosticism to faith.

Another favorite moment of mine is when Tom is allowed to attend an Inklings meeting at the famous pub, The Eagle and Child (a. k. a. the “Bird and Baby”). The conversation turns to the “dying god” story of various mythologies–the Egyptian Osiris and the Norse Balder to name two examples– and the role of such mythologies in C. S. Lewis’s conversion to Christianity. Tolkien explains, “We believe that the great and universal myth, the dying god who sacrifices himself for the people, shows everyone’s inborn awareness of the need for redemption. As we understand it, the Incarnation was the pivotal point in which myth became history.” (page 144) During this conversation Tom “felt himself outnumbered, a whole tableful of believers, and every one of them a formidable intellect.” (page 145)  Tom’s main obstacle in making the “choice to believe” at this point in the story seems to be the problem of evil. If God is all-good and all-powerful, why does so much pain and suffering exist? Lewis helps Tom to understand that if God intervened every time someone did an evil act or had an evil thought, God would be taking away the Free Will of humanity.

There are also numerous references to the published works of the Inklings authors as well as hints of “future” publications. An example is when Lewis says, “We’re hoping that Tollers will favor us with the latest installment of his ‘new Hobbit’.” (page 150) The new Hobbit of course, would be published about 15 years later as The Lord of the Rings. I loved that the characters of Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, and Strider are all mentioned in the novel. Lewis also alludes to the series of novels that he is about to write when he says that he has been sheltering war evacuee children at his home: “They’re charming creatures, though they don’t know how to entertain themselves. I was thinking that there might be a story in that–children sent away from London who have a series of adventures in the country. I started something a few months ago.” (page 251) The story that Lewis was referring to, of course, would be the first book of The Chronicles of Narnia. 🙂 

Another part of the story that I loved was Tom and Laura’s visit to Tolkien’s house. Apparently “Tolkien” (the fictional character in the novel) is quite the expert on the various legends of the Spear of Destiny, and his vast knowledge helps Tom and Laura to understand all of the unsolved mysteries of their quest. (pages 163-170) I loved this part because Professor Tolkien recounts the history of the Holy Lance in great detail, and I could definitely identify with the good professor in this scene. Much of what he says in this chapter I had discovered myself from researching the history of Spear of Destiny for my book, The Lord of the Hallows. (Visit www.outskirtspress.com/thelordofthehallows for more information.)

I won’t spoil the climax of the novel’s main action, but the climax of the story’s spiritual dimension is Tom’s conversation with Lewis, in which they return to their discussion of the problem of evil. Lewis says, “If some amoral brute created the world, he also created our minds. And how can we trust moral judgments given to us by this same amoral brute? If you reject God because there is so much evil in the universe, you need to explain where you obtained your standard for discerning good and evil.” (pages 211-212) Lewis offers further proof of God’s existence in humanity’s “homesickness for heaven,” and then he quotes St. Augustine: Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee. “If the Christian view is right, we are all exiles from paradise.” (page 214) Tom then realizes that his entire quest may not have been his own, but the will of Another. He prays for the first time in the novel and by doing so, Tom makes his choice to believe. Initially, Tom went on a quest for the historical King Arthur, but did not find him. He found faith in the King of Kings instead.

This novel is a must-read for Inklings fans and is available from the publisher, Ignatius Press, at http://www.ignatius.com/Products/LFK-H/looking-for-the-king.aspx?src=iinsight. You can also find a listing of Dr. David Downing’s scholarly books on C. S. Lewis and a few short, but very positive reviews of Looking for the King at the publisher’s site. This novel was truly a delight. Please let me know if this review was helpful to you in the comments section. Thanks!

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I love the new posters from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One that have been appearing online.

Apparently Harry, Ron, and Hermione aren’t safe anywhere, not even in the Muggle world.

I like this one of the Trio on the run. It really sums up the whole movie.

Now for some local news concerning The Lord of the Hallows that may be of interest to my friends in Louisiana.

A photo of me at a recent book signing at Houma’s “Art After Dark” is in this month’s issue of Point of Vue magazine. I picked up a copy of this free Houma-Thibodaux area magazine at the Nicholls State University library today.

Baton Rouge’s latest issue of Town Favorites magazine has an interview with me concerning The Lord of the Hallows. If you live in the Baton Rouge area, please look for this free publication. Here’s a link to the magazine’s distribution locations: http://townfavorites.com/locations.htm

I’ll be giving a lecture presentation on Christian symbolism and themes in Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia on December 11, 2010 at 02:00 P. M. at the Lafourche Parish Public Library, located at 314 St. Mary St. Thibodaux, LA. The presentation will be followed by a book signing and refreshments for all the muggles and wizards who attend. 🙂

Don’t forget to enter the drawing to win a FREE copy of The Lord of the Hallows at http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/4742-the-lord-of-the-hallows-christian-symbolism-and-themes-in-j-k-rowling. The giveaway ends November 19, the day that the new Harry Potter film is released.

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Here’s a link to some really wonderful news for Narnia fans! The film series may continue after the upcoming Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Follow this link to read an interview with the film’s producer Mark Johnson and director Michael Apted, and then answer a survey. Which of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books should be made into a film next, The Silver Chair or The Magician’s Nephew?

http://www.narniafans.com/archives/9433/comment-page-1#comment-176821

For a detailed description of the September 27 preview of Voyage of the Dawn Treader including a spoiler-free summary of the film’s plot (which does differ from the book in some surprising ways), and a spoilery summary of the clips shown at the sneak preview event, click this link:

http://www.examiner.com/celebrity-q-a-in-national/michael-apted-mark-johnson-make-narnia-sequel-magic-with-dawn-treader

Scroll down at the link above to read a review of the nine film clips that were shown at the preview event and to read the interviews with Mark Johnson and Michael Apted.

The Magician’s Nephew has never been made into a film, but The Silver Chair was adapted for television by the BBC in 1990. If you are not familiar with that film, please visit this link:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098912/

Harry Potter’s own Warwick Davis (Professor Flitwick) played the Talking Owl Glimfeather in this television movie version of The Silver Chair. Davis later returned to the world of Narnia in the 2008 Prince Caspian film, portraying the wicked dwarf Nikabrik.

My favorite bit of casting in the BBC’s version of The Silver Chair was Doctor Who‘s Tom Baker as Puddleglum. The best part of the film is his confrontation with the Green Witch, who has tried to cast a spell on Jill and Eustace to make them doubt the existence of Aslan and Narnia. Puddleglum’s heroic speech in the defense of Narnia breaks the spell that has been placed on the children.

The Green Witch’s “kingdom of darkness” may be viewed as the nihilistic, Post-Christian, atheistic world in which we live. A belief in “Narnia” is analogous to a belief in the Heaven of Christianity. Puddleglum’s brave statement of faith in Aslan–his decision to “live like a Narnian even if there isn’t any Narnia”– can be viewed as Lewis’s own advice to people who are in doubt about their religious belief. His advice to them to live like a Christian even if they think they are losing their faith in Christ, and by doing so their faith may return and thus their salvation can occur. In summary, religious faith is making a choice to believe. This is one of the major themes of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that author John Granger identified in his excellent book The Deathly Hallows Lectures. J. K. Rowling’s own struggles with her faith and her “choice to believe” in Christ is mirrored by Harry’s loss of faith in Albus Dumbledore after discovering many of the shocking secrets of his former mentor. Harry Potter makes the “choice to believe” in the truth of Dumbledore’s wisdom and decides to complete the task of destroying the Horcruxes, a mission that ultimately leads Harry to a heroic self-sacrificial “death” that saves the Wizarding World.

Puddleglum’s rousing speech in The Silver Chair is followed by the Green Witch’s monstrous transformation into a great serpent, a symbol of Satan. Prince Rillian defeats her by decapitating the snake with his sword.

In my book The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, I pointed out the similarities between Prince Rillian’s and Neville Longbottom’s battles with the Great Serpent.

"Neville the Snake Slayer" by Fandarts at deviantart.com

In my previous blog post about the quest for the Grail Hallows, I identified a Christian hero, Sir Perceval, who slays the serpent by slicing off its head. The heroics of Perceval, Rillian, and Neville should all be examined in the light of Genesis 3:15: the Serpent’s head has been struck by the Son of Adam and Eve. Note that the weapon that slays the serpent in both the Grail legend and in the story of Harry Potter is a sword in the shape of a cross. The Cross is the weapon that defeated that great serpent and Father of Lies…

Philosopher Peter Kreeft said it best in Catholic Christianity:

The Cross is God’s sword, held at the hilt by the hand of Heaven and plunged into the world not to take our blood, but to give us His. “

Make the choice to believe.

As for me, I’m going to “live like a Narnian even if there isn’t any Narnia.” I’ve made my choice.

“It is our choices, Harry, that show who we truly are far more than our abilities.”–Albus Dumbledore

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