I've overdosed on children's cinema over the past few weeks:
The Corpse Bride, Wallace and Gromit:
The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. For entertainment value, it's
got to be The Corpse Bride. But for moral education, there is nothing
to beat Harry Potter.
"Dark times lie ahead," says Professor Dumbledore to Harry. "Soon we are
going to have to choose between what is good and what is easy." He didn't say
we would have to choose between good and evil, which one might have expected.
No, the choice is between the good and the easy: brilliant.
There were many things I disliked about
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. First, there is its manipulative
use of sentimentality. Then there's its offensively right-wing politics and
warmongering - all sugar-coated for camouflage. But, above all, I hated its
unremitting Manichaeism - that dualistic philosophy that proposes the eternal
battle between good and evil. Like the cosmology of the heretical Manichees,
the world of Narnia is divided into the nice and the nasty, the warm and the
frozen, the light and the dark. The goodies are recognisably good, and the
Harry Potter doesn't patronise my children with such simplistic moral
fantasies. The question of good and evil is not as might be expected. As new
characters are introduced, the audience is left asking itself whether they are
goodies or baddies. And, not as in Narnia, at Hogwarts appearances can be
deceptive. Sirius Black looks and sounds like a baddie, but he isn't. Tom
Riddle looks and sounds like a goodie, but he isn't. After a while, the kids
get it: you can be a good person even if you look weird, scary, or just plain
ugly. Likewise, sometimes the nice-looking ones are the real bastards. You've
got to work it out yourselves.
Mr Olivander the wand-maker is puzzled that the wand that is right for Harry
is the same wand that is used by Lord Voldemort. Good and evil have some
strange and uncomfortable connection. Most of the people in the story don't see
it yet. Only Harry and Dumbledore are ever able to name evil honestly.
Everybody else is too scared to use Lord Voldemort's name.
I'll wager that it'll turn out that what makes the very ordinary Harry so
special and courageous has nothing to do with his having super magical powers,
and everything to do with his being deeply loved by parents who sacrificed
their lives for their beloved son. Love defeated Voldemort the first time, and
that's what'll get him again. Forget Aslan. This is the better lesson for
The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney, and lecturer in
philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford.