Harry Potter humor

Despite its title, I’m trying to make sure this does not become a Harry Potter blog, and I intend for my next few posts, after this one, to have nothing to do with HP.  (For example, I’m planning to review the final David Crowder Band album, Give Us Rest, which was released last week.)  But I couldn’t resist sharing a thought I had the other day: What if every bestselling novel and series released since J.K. Rowling started writing Harry Potter was actually about Harry Potter?  Here are some hypothetical synopses.

1. A Series of Unfortunate Events. The life of Neville Longbottom.

2. The Hunger Games. An account of the brawl that inevitably ensues when a meal is served at the Weasley home.  First come, first served.

3. The Help. A socially conscious young woman named Hermione Granger meets two house-elves, Dobby and Winky, who will change her life forever.

4. The Shack. An allegorical story set in the ramshackle structure outside Hogsmeade where Remus Lupin (see Twilight below) can ride out his lycanthropic fits without hurting anyone.

5. Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Never mind, this is the one about Neville.  (I love you, Neville.)

6. The Half-Giant Man with the Dragon Tattoo. Things you didn’t know about Hagrid.

7. Eragon. A spin-off series in which the tattooed half-giant’s dream comes true: he befriends a talking Norwegian Ridgeback named Norbert.

8. Percy Weasley and the Ministry Aides. Ambitious Hogwarts grads take on stacks of paperwork of Olympian proportions.  Olympian.

9. Left Behind. What happens to Harry when he has to stay at school because he didn’t get his Hogsmeade permission slip signed.

10. Twilight. Nymphadora Tonks has to decide whether she wants to be with Remus Lupin or a nattily dressed vampire who looks like Cedric Diggory.

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We have a winner!

Congratulations to Allison, the winner of a lovely hardcover copy of A Jane Austen Devotional.  Allison, I have already sent your address to the PR representative who sponsored the contest, so you should be receiving your book in the mail soon.  Here again is the Jane Austen quotation that Allison shared as her contest entry, along with her commentary:

In which Miss Elizabeth accepts an invitation to the Lakes and consoles herself over the loss of Mr. Wickham with admirable humo(u)r:

“‘Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are young men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers, without being able to give one accurate idea of anything. We will know where we have gone—we will recollect what we have seen.’”

Having now been to the Lakes, I have a new appreciation for the heart-healing power of rocks and mountains!

Honorable mention goes to Vickie, who, I hear, has already gone out and bought her own copy of the book at Lifeway.  The Charles Dickens contest received no entries, sadly.  I do realize that C.D. is not everyone’s cup of tea, but perhaps some of you should try him out and see what you’re missing!

Review: Devotional books for classic fiction lovers

A Jane Austen Devotional and A Charles Dickens Devotional (Thomas Nelson, 2012) are beautiful books.  When I received my copies in the mail, I was delighted by the lovely, understated cover art—a pastoral scene on the Austen volume and some calligraphic quotations on the Dickens—as well as by the size, perfect for holding comfortably in one or two hands.  As a bonus, there’s a ribbon marker in each book, which is always fun.

When I opened the books, I continued to be pleased.  The layout is attractive, with a passage from one of the novels on the left-hand page and the devotional reading on the right.  I was happy to see that both books represent all of the major novels of both authors, a point on which I was particularly skeptical when I first heard about these books.  I was worried that all of the quotations would be from Pride and Prejudice and Oliver Twist and that they would be very short and taken egregiously out of context.  So far, however, during the week or so that I’ve been using these books in my personal devotions, I’ve read and enjoyed substantial quotations from less hyped works such as Northanger Abbey and Dombey and Son.

And yes, you read that right; I’m breaking a cardinal rule of book reviewing by writing and posting this review before finishing the books.  But in the case of a devotional book, which is meant to be read in small pieces and has no narrative flow, I think that rule can justifiably be broken.  Still, I’m hoping that some of the less positive observations I’m about to make may be proven wrong as I continue through the books.  If that happens, I will be sure to revisit this post and make changes in the spirit of fairness and charity, which both Jane and Charles would no doubt approve.

I said that the quotations from the novels are well-chosen, and this is true.  I am less satisfied, however, with the quality of the devotional readings.  I’m finding them a little shallow, especially in the Dickens volume.  I haven’t encountered any heretical doctrine, of course, and I’ve only run across one clearly misinterpreted Bible verse (it was removed from its context).  But when I read the devotions, I get the impression that I’m listening to a very short sermon into which the preacher is determined to incorporate as many individual scripture verses as possible.  I tend to prefer an expository style as opposed to a topical one, and these books are very, very topical.  And it’s virtually impossible to do justice to any topic in just one page, which has very wide margins.

The reasons why the Dickens volume might be a bit weaker than the Austen volume are twofold.  One is the coverage issue: Dickens wrote a lot of books, and some of them lend themselves more aptly than others to a life-lessons style of interpretation (A Christmas Carol is a gold mine; Pickwick Papers, perhaps not so much).  I’m happy that the person selecting the excerpts was determined to represent a large sampling of the Dickens canon, but sometimes that determination leads the reader into odd places.  The other reason is that unlike Austen, who was a clergyman’s daughter, Dickens wasn’t exactly an orthodox Christian.  He was often critical of the church, and his doctrines skewed a bit toward the Unitarian.  (Note: That statement is based solely upon my own observations, and I’m not a theologian.)  Dickens’s novels contain many biblical motifs and symbols, which would make a fascinating book, but it wouldn’t be a devotional book.

Conclusion: If you are a lover of Austen and/or Dickens, buy the book(s).  At the very least, they will look nice on your shelves.  You will also enjoy revisiting some of your favorite characters and locations in all of literature (if you’re like me, that is).  If you want to incorporate the books into your personal devotions, plan to use them as a jumping-off point for excursions deeper into Scripture.  For example, I’ve been looking up the verses cited in the text and reading them in their surrounding context.  I’m finding it to be a rewarding venture.  Oh, and make sure you read the introduction(s).  So far, my favorite part of either book has been a sentence toward the end of the Jane Austen introduction.

Returning

Maybe because I’ve recently spent some time back home with my family, or maybe because it’s the new year, a time when evangelicals like myself tend to talk a lot about repenting, refocusing, and returning to God.  Whatever the reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about prodigal son stories–not that I’m a prodigal in the exact sense of the word, or a son for that matter, but I can identify with the biblical pig-slop boy pretty well.  This morning in church we sang “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” and when we got to the line “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it” I wept a little bit (discreetly), and then I thought of a great blog post, based upon Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  (Would you expect anything else from me?)

I started thinking about how fitting it is that in a book that culminates with a massive high school homecoming (all those Hogwarts alumni and truant students, some coming back to be true to their school, and some coming back to destroy it), we get all these beautiful stories of return and restoration.  Ron coming back to Harry and Hermione, led by a supernatural “tiny little ball of light.”  Snape coming back to Dumbledore, on his knees, with a broken spirit.  Percy coming back to be a Weasley again.  Harry coming back to King’s Cross, where it all began–first in that bright moment of clarity between life and death, and then at the end, bringing his children to board the train to a restored Hogwarts, telling his son that it’s ok to be a Slytherin because things have changed now; broken social structures have been mended. 

This has all probably been said before (by John Granger, no doubt), but it came to me like a discovery, and it’s a discovery I’d like to pursue.  If you think of any return and restoration stories in Deathly Hallows that I’ve missed, let me know.  And I’d love to hear about some of your other favorite homecomings in literature and film.  (I’ll go ahead and state one that seems really obvious to me: The Hobbit, Or, There and Back Again.)