Friday, October 31, 2008

How Harry Cast His Spell by John Granger



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!





Here is a special Wild Card for Halloween! The author is:


and the book:


How Harry Cast His Spell: the Meaning Behind the Mania for J.K. Rowling’s Bestselling Books

SaltRiver (August 4, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


John Granger is an author, speaker, and popular guest on talk shows and interview programs. A graduate of the University of Chicago, where he studied classical languages and literature, he uses Harry Potter to teach English literature online at HogwartsProfessor.com. He is a frequent speaker at academic and fan conferences, and has been interviewed as a “Harry Potter expert” in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the DVD of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. He and his wife, Mary, have seven children.

Visit the author's website.


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


PUBLISHER’S PREFACE

Dear Reader,

Some may wonder why a publisher of distinctly Christian books would publish a book about the Harry Potter series, which, while phenomenally successful, has been criticized by some groups within the Christian community. The answer is really quite simple.


Millions of young people are reading the Harry Potter books, providing parents with a wonderful opportunity to use stories their children love to read to start discussions with them about Christian ideas and values—and about how to evaluate the worldview embedded in any piece of literature. We hope How Harry Cast His Spell will serve as a catalyst for such discussions and as a bridge to growth in faith and spiritual understanding.


THE PUBLISHER


INTRODUCTION

Imagine yourself walking in the park with your dog in the cool of the evening. Just like in the movies, a flying saucer descends from the skies and lands gently on the empty softball field behind the vacant warehouse. A little green man drops from a metal ladder under the craft and scurries toward you. You and the dog have seen this played out so many times on late-night television that you almost yawn.


The little guy doesn’t threaten you or order you to take him to your leader. As you may have expected, the Dobby look-alike just wants to talk with you about Harry Potter. After all, doesn’t everybody?


J. K. Rowling’s seven Harry Potter novels sold more than 375 million copies and were translated into more than sixty languages between the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (the original United Kingdom title) in 1997 and the end of 2007, the year in which Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published. The first five Harry Potter movies each set records for opening box office, and the series as a whole had, by early 2008, already surpassed both the twenty-one-film James Bond series and the six Star Wars films as the most successful movie franchise of all time. The alien, like all good travelers, has done his homework about his planet vacation, and I’m betting that all the interplanetary guidebooks these days are urging earthbound tourists to talk about Harry with the natives this year. What else are they all sure to know about?


I first heard about Harry Potter and his friends in 2000. I was the homeschooling daddy to seven young children ages one to twelve years old, and I didn’t want anything to do with the young wizard-in-training. From what I had heard from a coworker (whose judgment on literature I thought was not to be trusted), I assumed the books were serial schlock on the order of R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps novels. Being something of a snob, I read the first Potter paperback just so I could explain to my oldest daughter why we don’t read trash like this.


She calls it my “green eggs and ham” moment. Overnight, I was transformed from “I do not like them in a box; I do not like them with a fox” to reading the stories aloud to the younger children and discussing them at length with the older girls. I remember in that first week of Harry excitement when another colleague at work told me that Christians “as a rule” despised the books. You could have knocked me over with a feather.


What’s Your Favorite Scene?

Back to the little green space guy in the park.


My bet is that the question his earth guidebook recommends he ask you is about your favorite scene in the books. Why would he want to know that? Because, besides being a great opening for conversation, unlike Earth’s academics, our friend from outer space probably wants to learn something he can take back to the planet Zeno. I’m betting he wants answers to the big question, the only question that really matters about Harry Potter. He wants to know what it is about these books that has made them the “shared text” of children, parents, and grandparents on every continent and

archipelago of the planet.


So why do readers young and old love Harry Potter? This is an important question, and the answer is a bit of a shocker. Before I share it with you, though, let me explain something I said earlier. I said you could have knocked me over with a feather the day I heard Christians didn’t like Harry Potter. You might recall that quite a few Christians in 2000 were, in fact, burning the books and asking that they not be allowed in public or school libraries funded with their tax dollars. Why was I so surprised by that? Because the reason I liked the Harry Potter books so much and the reason I was reading them to my children was the implicit, explicit, and very traditional spiritual, even Christian, content of the books, which I thought was as obvious as it was edifying. I was interested enough in this subject that I gave a series of lectures on it at a C. S. Lewis Society gathering and at a local library. Before I knew it, ideas that had been floating around in my head found their way to book form. And in something like a Walter Mitty transformation, I morphed from Latin teacher to Harry Potter expert and media go-to source.


How Does Harry Cast His Spell?

Someday soon, folks who track this sort of thing to write about the intellectual history of popular culture will be sitting down to put together their notes on prevalent ideas about Harry Potter. What they will find, I’m pretty certain, is an arc of change much like the one described by J. B. S. Haldane: “Theories pass through four stages of acceptance: (1) this is worthless nonsense; (2) this is an interesting, but perverse, point of view; (3) this is true, but quite unimportant; (4) I always said so.”1 The historians of popular culture tracking how people understood Harry will discover that folks thought

Harry Potter was (1) anti-Christian, even demonic; (2) anti- Christian in the sense of being an invitation to the occult; (3) not Christian, anti-Christian, or spiritual—just magic; (4) profoundly Christian, like C. S. Lewis (“I always knew it”).


As broad as the always growing consensus about the depth of the Christian content of the Harry Potter novels now is—broad enough that in a recent documentary about her work, Rowling felt it necessary to deny at length that her purpose in writing was to convert readers to Christianity2—it bears recalling that even five years ago Christian critics of the series had convinced most people (and, it seemed, all journalists) that Harry was anything but Christian and that these books were dangerous for children to read.


How could they have gotten it so wrong? And why did readers believe them?


Answering the question “Why do readers young and old love Harry Potter?” explains the others because if they had gotten that one right, they couldn’t have asserted what they thought about Harry and his author. The answer, believe it or not, is very simple, if frequently misunderstood. Readers love Harry Potter because of the spiritual meaning and Christian content of the books.


Let me explain what that doesn’t mean before I jump into what it does mean.


First, it doesn’t mean that the Harry Potter novels were written especially for Christians, with Christians in mind, or most important, for the sole purpose of evangelizing nonbelievers into accepting the Christian faith. None of those things are true, and none of them have anything to do with the answer to the important question of why we love Harry Potter.


Harry Potter is not the Left Behind series or even the Chronicles of Narnia in terms of being an in-your-face Christian drama or altar call.


Even now that J. K. Rowling has discussed the scriptural quotations in Deathly Hallows, I doubt that her readers would say they love her books because of their Christian meaning, especially her non-Christian readers in the United States, the United Kingdom, and around the world. My guess is that few if any readers, adults or children, responded to their first or last Harry Potter adventure with a whoop about the traditional Christian imagery or the literary alchemy that in many ways structures each story.


So how can the Christian content of the stories be the reason people love the books if they don’t understand this content for what it is and if evangelization wasn’t the author’s point in writing the novels?


The answer to that question is pretty straightforward, but it takes a couple of steps to get into—and the rest of this book to

explain in detail. Religion and literature have a long history, but almost none of us, even the English majors, studied that relationship in school. So let’s start with an expert.


The argument begins with Mircea Eliade, a professor at the University of Chicago. In The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion and the Significance of Religious Myth, Symbolism, and Ritual within Life and Culture, Eliade explained that “non-religious man in the pure state is a comparatively rare phenomenon, even in the most desacralized

of modern societies.”3


Eliade’s point is pretty simple. Human beings are spiritual by design, whether you believe that design is an accident of evolution or straight from God. By our very nature, humans resist an exclusively secularized world in which our faculties for perceiving a reality “saturated with being” have no play. It doesn’t matter that schools, courts, and lawmakers have made the “G word” something taboo in education, government functions, and public discourse outside of presidential elections; human beings live on myth, religion, and spirituality because we’re hardwired for it.


Modern and postmodern secular cultures that have driven the sacred from the public square are fighting the tide. Our world may be radically different from traditional, God-focused civilizations, but it is still crowded with religious elements. As Eliade wrote, “a small volume could be written on the myths of the modern man, on the mythologies camouflaged in the plays that he enjoys, in the books that he reads.”4


Even the act of reading serves an important religious or mythic function:


Even reading includes a mythological function . . . because, through reading, the modern man succeeds in obtaining an “escape from time” comparable to the “emergence from time” effected by myths. Whether modern man “kills” time with a detective story or enters such a foreign temporal universe as is represented by any novel, reading projects him out of his personal duration and incorporates him into other rhythms, makes him live in another “history.”5


Accepting Eliade’s premises that (a) humans are designed to experience the sacred and (b) humans will pursue this experience even in a culture that denies both a human spiritual faculty and a spiritual reality per se, answering the question about why we love Harry Potter is a slam dunk. The act of reading itself serves a religious function in a secular culture, but Harry gives us much more than that. Reading about Harry and the world of magic qualities is a respite from a universe without ennobling truth, beauty, or virtue. But more important, in image, character, and theme, these stories are the vehicles of spiritual meaning and specifically Christian artistry from the English literary tradition.


We love Harry Potter because we are designed for religious experience—and these books deliver religious experience the

way coal trucks used to deliver fuel into people’s basements: in a barely controlled avalanche. This isn’t an evangelistic mountain slide meant to catch you off guard and force your conversion. It is the rhetoric of great storytelling with a host of religious and mythic hooks to catch on your Velcro heart, a heart designed to capture and resonate with these hierophanies, or intrusions of the sacred.


The business of this book is to peel away the layers of that rhetoric so you can understand the various symbols J. K. Rowling uses, the themes she develops, and the many traditional devices and structures she borrows from English “greats.” Almost all these tools are Christian, but much more to the point, the English literary tradition in which she writes—twelve centuries of it, give or take a few hundred years—is exclusively Christian.


This bothers quite a few readers, so it is worth spending a moment to explain. Myth and archetype are okay to these readers, but once something becomes one specific religion, all their defenses go up. I don’t know if it is fear of being converted or simply narrow-mindedness, but the heels go in deep against the idea that Harry Potter is written in religious language that is almost exclusively Christian. Even so, there’s just no getting around this.


It is true that a phoenix, a unicorn, and a griffin are symbols found in cultures around the world. It is true, too, that these magical creatures are understood differently by different cultures compared to the way they are understood by English writers and readers. But in English stories, these symbols have specific Christian meanings (see chapter 9). Not knowing this meaning or insisting on a plurality of other meanings is not broad-mindedness or religious pluralism. It’s just ignorance and, if I may be so bold, perhaps a little Christ-o-phobic.


If Rowling were an Islamofascist, Hindu Brahmin, or Buddhist ger dweller, when writing an epic adventure in English and within English traditions, her hands would still have been essentially tied to writing a Christian story. This huge monocultural sow that is the English literary tradition cannot be butchered in such a way that gets you Parliament of Religions bacon in slabs.


My job in How Harry Cast His Spell is to act as your guide through what I assume is already familiar territory, the seven Harry Potter books, and to point out all the religious and mythical elements specific to the tradition in which J. K. Rowling did her writing. Unless you’re a very unusual reader indeed, this will be an eye-popping ride your first time through, so we give it a double pass to make sure you don’t miss anything essential.


In the first ten chapters, we’ll hit the high spots of alchemy, themes, and symbols, with a chapter-by-chapter introduction that takes a large view of the whole series, one subject at a time. We start, for example, with magic in literature because many readers don’t see how that can be “religious” in any way when every revealed tradition forbids playing with magic. After that, we take similar long-range looks at the hero’s journey, literary alchemy, and how symbols work. Then when we’ve made the first trip through and we understand what all the little marks on the Marauder’s Map mean, we’ll jump into the seven Harry Potter novels themselves one at a time to see what we can make of them. I’ll explain the religious meaning and Christian content of each book, as well as why I think readers respond to them the way they do. Your job is to grasp what I explain and to see what I missed. This is the fourth edition of this book, and every update has been improved by readers who have written me to share something meaningful I missed.


Where Does This All Come From?

Before we dive in though, I am obliged to answer three questions I am inevitably asked at public talks I give:

❖ Do I really think Rowling intentionally gave the books all this meaning?

❖ Have I ever met Rowling? Has she confirmed that this was what she was doing?

❖ How did I figure all this stuff out?


DO I REALLY THINK ROWLING INTENTIONALLY GAVE THE BOOKS ALL THIS MEANING?

This is a polite way of saying, “John, could you be imagining all this?” I have three reasons for thinking J. K. Rowling is a profound writer who writes at several levels, some of which are well below the story line.


First, the woman has a first-rate education. Many readers familiar with the Cinderella story of her being a single mum on

the dole when she wrote the first book imagine she was a welfare mother without a high school diploma who just got lucky. The truth is that she has an education and a degree equivalent to graduating from a prestigious American liberal arts college, say, Middlebury or Wesleyan, with a major in French and a minor in classics. She has said her stories come from the compost pile of books she has read, and I’m guessing this pile is several stories high.


Second, Rowling didn’t dash off these stories. She claims she first thought of Harry Potter on a train in 1990. In the seven years before the first book was published and in the ten years it took to write and publish the seven books, Rowling planned, replanned, and filled notebooks with backstory she would never use in the published novels. “Planning” is her recommendation to all young authors, and it is the signature of her genius as a writer. There is nothing accidental or off the cuff about her work; if it’s in there, she put it in there deliberately.


And third, the suggestion that Rowling didn’t mean the books to be as profound as they are misses out on something essential. A lot of the most profound meaning of the books is in the formula of how the books are written, the things that happen again and again in every book. Harry’s resurrection from the dead in the presence of a symbol of Christ could be accidental once, granted. But his doing it seven times without a variant is hard to scratch off as something unintentional. Rowling is, first and last, an accomplished storyteller—and the profound meaning of her writing is evident in the weave of the story fabric she creates.


HAVE I EVER MET ROWLING? HAS SHE CONFIRMED THAT THIS

WAS WHAT SHE WAS DOING?

In words of one syllable, no, I have not met Rowling, and no, she has not told me one thing about her books. I think these questions are also polite ways of saying something completely different from the surface meaning. Folks who ask me this, as a rule, believe that only authors understand their books, and anyone else who interprets their fiction is just guessing. Having just written that Rowling is a very intelligent and very intentional, even formulaic, writer, let me rush to add that she would be an unusual writer (perhaps the first in history) if she understood her books’ meanings comprehensively or even much better than very intelligent readers. She certainly does not have a monopoly on interpreting her books.



I like to think, in fact, as neat as it would be to talk with Rowling someday, that our conversation wouldn’t be about the meaning of Harry Potter. From what I understand of such things from reading other authors, talking about her books’ meaning would be just about the most insulting thing I could do. In other words, asking Rowling what she meant in her stories is insulting; if what she meant is not discernible to a serious reader, I would be saying implicitly that she is a poor writer. And by restricting the meaning of the works to the author’s intention and understanding of them, I would be suggesting that she as author is a god, fully conscious of her influences, prejudices, and meanings to every reader and aware of every valence and meaning of her stories’ symbols.


I admire Rowling enough as an artist and a person that I do not to want to diminish her remarkable literary accomplishment or suggest she is something more than human. Two of the themes within the Harry Potter novels are that we respect people for who they are and that we struggle to come to terms with the limits of individual understanding. Let’s avoid the celebrity school of interpretation that believes only writers understand their books; it leaves all the fun to the writers and insults them horribly in the bargain.


HOW DID I FIGURE ALL THIS STUFF OUT?

Here at last is an honest question! The answer will probably disappoint you. Not only have I not spoken with Rowling, we also grew up on opposite shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Not much common ground there, then, at least in a literal sense. Comparing and contrasting our worldviews and educations, though, I think it’s fair to say that, despite significant differences, our ways of looking at the world have been calibrated with similar prescription eyeglasses.

Examples?

❖ Rowling grew up as something of a Hermione, a nerd who studied more than her share of classical and modern languages. I studied Latin, Greek, and German in high school and was certainly a geek.

❖ She chose to go to church (Anglican Communion) even though her parents and sister did not and sought baptism and confirmation on her own as an adolescent. I was baptized as an infant into the Anglican Communion (ECUSA), and when my family stopped going to church when I was in high school, I continued to attend and was confirmed alone among my siblings.6

❖ We both read and reread C. S. Lewis, Jane Austen, and the rest of the English greats because we loved the stories and the genius of the storytellers.

❖ I became interested in esoteric and literary alchemy while still in college and have continued to study its history and place in literature since. Rowling said in 1998 that she “read a ridiculous amount” about alchemy before writing Harry and that alchemy set the “magical parameters” and “internal logic” of the series.7


I could go on, but let’s leave it at this. Both in interpreting what Rowling is saying and in the rather more bizarre field of guessing what she was going to write, my track record since 2002 has been good enough that I have been a keynote speaker at every Harry Potter conference of any size in the last five years, not to mention being interviewed by more than one hundred radio stations, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Time magazine. Odds are pretty good you’ve even seen my face as well, because I’ve been on national television to answer Harry questions on CNN and MSNBC, and for an A&E special that eventually became a DVD extra in the Order of the Phoenix movie package. I’ve taught online classes to international audiences at Barnes and Noble University, I blog daily on Harry subjects,8 and I’ve written a book about how Rowling does what she does: Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader.


But to answer your question about how I figured all this stuff out, it always comes back to that fact that we share a similar eyeglasses prescription. Same church upbringing, same kind of classical education, same nineteenth-century dinosaur reading list, same interest in—can you believe it—alchemy.


Which brings us back again to our overarching question: Why does everyone love Harry Potter? Believe it or not, the answer is that it’s the transcendent meaning of the books and, specifically, their Christian content, with which readers resonate. Go on to the next page and let’s begin our trip through the mythical and religious meaning that drives Potter-mania.


Chapter 1

MAGIC, FANTASY, AND TRANSCENDENCE

The magic in Harry Potter is traditional literary spellwork that acts as a counterspell to the materialism of our times.


More than any other book of the last fifty years (and perhaps ever), the Harry Potter novels have captured the imagination of the reading public worldwide. Hundreds of millions of copies have been sold to date. However, although the books have been wildly successful, no one as yet has been able to explain their popularity. The aim of How Harry Cast His Spell is to answer the question “Why do readers young and old love these stories?” The answer, believe it or not, is not great marketing, movie tie-ins, or product placement; it’s the transcendent meaning of the books, and more specifically, their Christian content.


The Harry Potter books, in case you have lived on the planet Zeno since 1997 or have recently come out of a coma, recount the adventures of an English schoolboy as he advances from grade to grade at Hogwarts School. Hogwarts is no ordinary boarding school, however, and Harry Potter is no typical student—the former is a school for witchcraft and wizardry, and Harry is not only a wizard-in-training, but the target of attack by the worst of evil wizards, Lord Voldemort, and his followers, the Death Eaters. Each book ends with a life-or-death battle against Voldemort or his servants and enough plot twists to make you dream of saltwater taffy.


I am convinced that the fundamental reason for the astonishing popularity of the Harry Potter novels is their ability to meet a spiritual longing for some experience of the truths of life, love, and death that are denied by our secular culture. Human beings are designed for transcendent truths, whether they know it or not, and they pursue experience of these truths and some exercise of their spiritual faculties anywhere they can. Mircea Eliade suggested that modern entertainments, especially books and movies, serve a mythological or religious function in a desacralized world.1 That the Harry Potter stories “sing along” with the Great Story of Christ in the tradition of English literature is a significant key to understanding their compelling richness and unprecedented popularity. We love these books because they satisfy our desire for religious experience in a big way.


Sound loony? I take hits from both sides of the Potter wars for this thesis—from Potter fans who are shocked by the suggestion that they have been reading “Christian” books and from Potter foes who are shocked by the thought that there could be anything “Christian” or edifying about books with witches and wizards in them. But like it or not, Harry’s Christian content and the fact that he takes us out of our materialist mental prisons are what keep his readers coming back again and again.


As the magical setting of the books has caused the most controversy in religious communities and has the most important and obvious spiritual significance, I’ll start with the setting and several formulas Rowling observes in every book to begin the discussion of what drives Potter-mania.


Magical Setting

Some Christians have objected to Harry Potter because Christian Scripture in many places explicitly forbids occult practice. Though reading about occult practice is not forbidden, these Christians prudently prefer (again in obedience to scriptural admonishments to parents) to protect their children because of the books’ sympathetic portrayal of occult practice. These Christians believe that such approving and casual exposure to the occult opens the door to occult practice.


Reading the Harry Potter books myself has convinced me that the magic in Harry Potter is no more likely to encourage real-life witchcraft than time travel in science fiction novels encourages readers to seek passage to previous centuries. Loving families have much to celebrate in these stories and little, if anything, to fear. What they have to celebrate is the traditional, edifying magic of English literature—a magic that fosters a spiritual worldview that is anything but occult oriented.


I say this without hesitation because the magic in Harry Potter is not “sorcery” or invocational magic. In keeping with a long tradition of English fantasy, the magic practiced in the Potter books, by hero and villain alike, is incantational magic, a magic that shows—in story form—our human thirst for a reality beyond the physical world around us.


The difference between invocational and incantational magic isn’t something we all learned in the womb, so let me explain. Invocational means literally “to call in.” Magic of this sort is usually referred to as sorcery. Scripture of every revealed tradition warns that “calling in” demonic principalities and powers for personal power and advantage is dangerously stupid. History books, revealed tradition, and fantasy fiction (think Dr. Faustus) that touch on sorcery do so in order to show us that the unbridled pursuit of power and advantage via black magic promises a tragic end.


But there is no invocational sorcery in the Harry Potter books.


Even the most evil wizards do their nasty magic with spells; not one character in any of the seven books ever calls in evil spirits. Not once.


The magic by spells and wands in Harry Potter is known as incantational wizardry. Incantational means literally “to sing along with” or “to harmonize.” To under stand how this works, we have to step outside our culture’s materialist creed (that every thing in existence is quantitative mass or energy) and look at the world upside down, which is to say, God-first.


For some, the distinction between invocational and incantational magic is a new idea. I’ve been asked how prayer fits. “Isn’t prayer invocational? Aren’t we calling out to God with this concept—invoking his name—when we pray? How is this ‘bad magic’?” Calling out to God isn’t bad magic, of course, and the reason helps to clarify the difference between sorcery and the “good magic” of English literature. It is the difference between the psychic and the spiritual realms.2


In a materialistic age such as the one in which we live, the distinction between the psychic and the spiritual is hard to keep straight, though it is an understanding all traditional faiths have in common. We struggle to hold on to this distinction because we have been taught that everything existent is some combination of matter and energy. Everything that’s not matter and energy, consequently, is lumped together as “peripheral stuff” or “delusion.” It’s hard to remember the differences between things thrown together in the garbage can of ideas!


The distinction between the psychic realm and the spiritual realm is critical. The psychic realm—accessible through the soul and including the powers of the soul, from the emotions and sentiments to the reason and intellect—is home to demonic and angelic created beings and is predominantly a fallen place apart from God. The spiritual realm is “God’s place”—the transcendent sphere within and beyond creation and the restrictions of being, time, and space.


Invocational magic is calling upon the fallen residents of the psychic realm. Prayer is the invocation of God’s name that we might live deliberately and consciously in his presence within time and space. Incantational magic in literature—a harmonizing with God’s Word—is the story-time version of what a life in prayer makes possible. Invoking the powers of the psychic realm is universally forbidden in both literary and revealed traditions. However, calling on the spiritual realm and pursuing graces from it are the tasks for which human beings are designed, insofar as we are homo religiosus. One function of traditional English literature, of which Harry Potter is a part, is to support us in this spiritual life.


Christianity—and all revealed traditions—believes creation comes into being by God’s creative Word, or his song. As creatures made in the image of God, we can harmonize with God’s Word and his will, and in doing so, experience the power of God. The magic and miracles we read about in great English literature are merely reflections of God’s work in our life. To risk overstating my case, the magic in Harry Potter and other good fantasy fiction harmonizes with the miracles of the saints.


C. S. Lewis paints a picture of the differences between incantational and invocational magic in Prince Caspian. As you may recall, Prince Caspian and the Aslan-revering creatures of the forest are under attack from Caspian’s uncle. Things turn bad for the white hats, and it seems as if they will be overrun and slaughtered at any moment. Two characters on the good guys’ side decide their only hope is magic.


Prince Caspian decides on musical magic. He has a horn that Aslan, the Christlike lion of these books, had given to Queen Susan in ages past to blow in time of need. Caspian blows on this divinely provided instrument in his crisis.3 By sounding a note in obedience and faith, Caspian harmonizes with the under lying fabric and rules of the Emperor over the Sea, and help promptly and providentially arrives in the shape of the Pevensie children themselves.


Nikabrik the dwarf, in contrast, decides a little sorcery is in order. He finds a hag capable of summoning the dreaded White Witch in the hope that this power-hungry, Aslan-hating witch will help the good guys (in exchange for an opening into Narnia). Needless to say, the musical magicians are scandalized by the dwarf’s actions and put an end to the sorcery lickety-split.


In the Narnia stories and other great fantasy fiction, good magic is incantational, and bad magic is invoca tional. Incantational magic is about harmonizing with God’s creative Word by imitation. Invocational magic is about calling in evil spirits for power or advantage—always a tragic mistake. The magic in Harry Potter is exclusively incantational magic in conformity with both literary tradition and scriptural admonition. Concern that the books might “lay the foundation” for occult practice is misplaced, however well intentioned and understandable, because it fails to recognize that Potter magic is not demonic.


Perhaps you are wondering, If Harry Potter magic is a magic in harmony with the Great Story, why are the bad guys able to use it? Great question. Just as even the evil people in “real” life are certainly created in God’s image, so all the witches and wizards in Potterdom, good and bad, are able to use incantational magic. Evil magical folk choose of their own free will to serve the Dark Lord with their magical faculties just as most of us, sadly, lend a talent or power of our own in unguarded moments to the Evil One’s cause. As we will see, the organizing structure of the Potter books is a battle between good guys who serve truth, beauty, and virtue and bad guys who lust after power and private gain.


Some fans of Lewis and Tolkien contrast those writers’ use of magic with Rowling’s, arguing that, unlike the world of Harry Potter, the subcreations of these fantasy writers had no overlap with the real world. They suggest that this blurring of boundaries confuses young minds about what is fiction and what is reality. But Lewis and Tolkien blurred boundaries with gusto in their stories—as did Homer, Virgil, Dante, and other authors whose works regularly traumatize students in English classes. Certainly the assertion that Middle Earth and Narnia are separate realities is questionable, at best. Middle Earth is earth between the Second and Third Ages (we live in the so-called Fourth Age). Narnia overlaps with our world at the beginning and end of each book, and in The Last Battle is revealed as a likeness with earth of the heavenly archetype, or Aslan’s kingdom. Singling out Rowling here betrays a lack of charity, at least, and perhaps a little reasoning chasing prejudgment.


That the magical world exists inside Muggledom (nonmagical people are called “Muggles” by the witches and wizards in Harry Potter), however, besides being consistent with the best traditions in epic myth and fantasy, parallels the life of Christians in the world. I don’t want to belabor this point, but C. S. Lewis described the life of Christians as a life spent “in an enemy occupied country.”4 What he meant is that traditional Christians under stand that man is fallen, that he no longer enjoys the ability to walk and talk with God in the Garden, and that the world is driven by God-opposing powers. Lewis’s Ransom novels illustrate this idea.


Why do we love the magic of Harry Potter? I think we have three big reasons to be excited by it. First, we live in a time in which naturalism, the belief that all existence is matter and energy, is the state religion and belief in supernatural or contra-natural powers is considered delusion. The incantational magic in Harry Potter, because it requires harmonizing with a greater magic, undermines faith in this godless worldview. Harry’s magic, even if only experienced imaginatively in a state of suspended disbelief, gives our spiritual faculties the oxygen our secular schools and the public square have tried to cut off. And by under mining the materialist view of our times, it can even be said that the books lay the foundation for a traditional understanding of the spiritual, which is to say “human,” life.


Next, because there is overlap between the “magical” and “Muggle” worlds of Harry Potter, there is the edifying suggestion that the prevalent bipolar worldview of Americans, in which the world is divided by an arbitrary state versus church dichotomy, not to mention the secular versus sacred illusion, is just so much nonsense. The spiritual and traditional understanding of the world is a sacramental one, in which the spiritual suffuses the material (just as the human person is a psychosomatic unity with spiritual faculties). The breakdown of the Muggle/magic divide helps readers see that existence itself (in not being matter or energy) unites all reality and that “greater being” is found only in pursuit of the sacred, not the “scientific” and profane.


And third, we love the magic in Harry Potter because it helps us exercise those atrophied spiritual powers we have (as we identify with Harry and his friends), while at the same time encouraging us to be heroic and good alongside them. This is no small thing, and we’ll be returning to it in the coming chapters.


Have you heard stories of children being sucked into witches’ covens because they want to be like Harry? Reports of rising membership in occult groups since the Harry Potter books were published inevitably turn out to be generated by proselytizing members of these groups. People who track the occult for a living explain that, despite Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter, membership in these groups in Europe and the United States are minuscule and are in decline despite a decade of Harry, Buffy, and occult milieu entertainment.5 Children are far more likely to become Hare Krishna, gynecologists, or members of a Christian cult than real-world witches or wizards.


And even if children were being seduced into the occult because of their desire to do spells, I have to hope this would be under stood by thinking people as a shameful, tragic aberration, more indicative of the child’s spiritual misformation than a danger in the books. The Dungeons and Dragons craze in the sixties and seventies and its attendant occult paraphernalia sprang from an unhealthy fascination and perverse misunderstanding of The Lord of the Rings, an epic with clear Christian under tones. If we were to avoid books that could possibly be misunderstood or whose message could be turned on its head, incidents like Jonestown would logically suggest thinking people should not read the Bible.


What about the title of the first book in the Potter series? If there’s no sorcery in these books, how come the first book and

movie are titled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? Well, because that isn’t the title of the first book. Arthur Levine, under whose imprint the books are published by Scholastic in the United States, changed the title from Philosopher’s Stone to Sorcerer’s Stone because he was sure that no American would buy a book with philosophy in the title. An Orthodox Christian bishop has noted that Harry haters “have missed the spiritual forest for the sake of their fixation on the magical imagery of the literary trees.”6 If there is anything tragic in this misunderstanding of Harry Potter by well-intentioned Christians, it is the tragedy of “friendly fire.” Just as foot soldiers are sometimes hit by misdirected artillery fire from their own troops, so Harry has been condemned by the side he is serving. Because some Christians have mistaken fictional magic for sorcery, they have misconstrued what is a blow at atheistic naturalism as, of all things, an invitation to the occult.7 If the “magical trees” in Harry Potter are of any help in retaking ground lost to those who would burn down the spiritual forest, then Rowling has done human communities every where a very good deed.


I receive e-mail from readers almost daily about the “problem” of reading Harry Potter in light of its transcendent meaning and specific Christian content. They insist that the symbols, themes, and meanings of the books are perfectly comprehensible without any reference to an imaginary Christian subtext that believers are projecting into the books.


The mistake these readers make when they insist that the symbolism of Harry Potter is not “exclusively” Christian is that they just don’t understand a disturbing fact about English literature.


I have friends who teach and write about Saudi Arabia and Arabic culture in general. Their work is not restricted to Islam, certainly, but they wouldn’t be experts in their field if they weren’t aware of the tremendous influence of the Koran and the Islamic worldview on culture, politics, and everything Arabic. This, I hope, is a no-brainer.


Unfortunately, in a post-Christian era (culturally speaking), and one in which universities are in large part overly hostile to religious meanings (mine certainly was!), the simple, disturbing fact that English literature until the last fifty years was (ahem) “exclusively” a Christian field escapes people. Christian authors writing for a Christian reading audience—and writing books, plays, and poems that would edify them in their spiritual and workaday lives as Christians—was the rule of English letters until well after the first World War.


In explaining the popularity of the Harry Potter novels as a function of the response of a spiritually deprived world for edifying, transcendent experience (even experience limited to entertainment), I am frequently accused of proselytizing and forcing Christian meaning into the text. What a hoot! No one accuses my friends who are Saudi scholars of trying to convert people to Islam because their reports on Middle Eastern current events and trends are heavy on the place of Islam in Arabic culture.


If some Harry fans are uncomfortable because other readers, Christian or not, are interpreting the Potter books in a Christian light, I beg these readers to ask themselves where the problem exists. Reading books within a Christian literary tradition (if not for an exclusively Christian audience and not in a manner that is overtly Christian in any denominational or parochial sense) invites discussion of the Christian elements of the story and of the tools from the tradition the author uses. Literary alchemy, religious symbolism, and doppelgängers, for instance, don’t make much sense outside of the tradition in which these books are written and in which these tools are used.


I have no evangelical cause or agenda here in discussing the Christian content of these books. My only hope is that readers will come to a greater appreciation of these works via the discussion of Harry Potter as traditional English literature, which, again, is an overwhelmingly Christian subject. William Shakespeare’s plays and James Joyce’s novels are impenetrable outside some appreciation of their spiritual context and the traditions of English literature. J. K. Rowling’s stories are no different.


If readers want an exclusively secular view of the books—that is, a reading of them outside of the context and traditions in which they are written—this is probably not their book. English literature (Harry Potter is undeniably root-and-branch English literature) is as Christian as Tibetan culture is Buddhist and Saudi politics is Islamic.


Denying this is not “having a broad mind” but living in a fantasy. Likewise, refusing to see the Christian elements in Harry Potter and insisting it is demonic is not a greater piety or fidelity to the faith; it is just a reflection of not understanding the place of literature in the spiritual life, of not understanding the Christian tradition of English literature, and of not understanding the popularity of Harry Potter.


Let’s move on from Harry’s edifying incantational magic to the battlefield of good versus evil in these stories.


NOTES

INTRODUCTION

1 “The Truth about Death,” Journal of Genetics 58 (1962-1963): 463–464.

2 J. K. Rowling: A Year in the Life, a documentary by James Runcie (December 30, 2007), ITV1

3 Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (New York: Harcourt, 1957), 204.

4 Ibid., 205.

5 Ibid.

6 J. K. Rowling: A Year in the Life.

7 Face to Face with J. K. Rowling (December 7, 1998), http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/1998/1298-herald-simpson.html.

8 See www.HogwartsProfessor.com.


CHAPTER 1

1 Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, 205.

2 For more on the confusion between the psychic and the spiritual realms in our time and the dangers of occultism, please see Charles Upton’s The System of Antichrist: Truth and Falsehood in Postmodernism and the New Age (Ghent, NY: Sophia Perennis, 2001), 134–137.

3 See C. S. Lewis, Prince Caspian, chapters 7 and 12. Readers of the Narnia books remember from The Magician’s Nephew that Aslan created that world with his song—as does the divinity in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

4 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Collier Books, 1960), 51.

5 “Fundamentalism Afoot in Anti-Potter Camp, Says New-Religions Expert:

Popular Culture Enjoys an Autonomy, Explains Massimo Introvigne,” Zenit News, December 6, 2001, http://www.cesnur.org/2001/potter/dec _03.htms.

6 Bishop Auxentios, Orthodox Tradition 20, no. 3 (2003): 14–26.

7 See C. S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair for this modern tragedy told in story form. The Silver Chair is a vibrant story of the confusion and modern enchantment with materialism or “life underground.” Is there any Narnia moment greater than Prince Rilian’s victory over the Emerald Witch in chapter 12?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

An Irishwoman's Tale by Patti Lacy


This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

An Irishwomans' Tale

Kregel Publications (July 8, 2008)

by

Patti Lacy



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




Patti Lacy graduated from Baylor University in 1977 with a B.S. in education. She taught at Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois, until she retired in 2006 to pursue writing full time. She has two grown children with her husband, Alan, and lives in Illinois.






ABOUT THE BOOK


Far away from her Irish home, Mary Freeman begins to adapt to life in Midwest America, but family turmoil and her own haunting memories threaten to ruin her future.

A shattered cup. Cheap tea. Bitter voices asking what's to be done with the "little eejit." Mary, an impetuous Irishwoman, won't face the haunting memories--until her daughter's crisis propels her back to County Clare. There, in a rocky cliffside home, Mary learns from former neighbors why God tore her from Ireland forty-five years earlier. As she begins to glimpse His sovereign plan, Mary is finally able to bury a dysfunctional past and begin to heal. Irish folk songs and sayings add color to the narrative.

Watch the Book Trailer:



If you would like to read the first chapter of , go HERE

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Dangerous Heart by Tracey Bateman


This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Dangerous Heart

Avon Inspire (October 14, 2008)

by

Tracey Bateman



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tracey Bateman published her first novel in 2000 and has been busy ever since. There are two other books in the Westward Hearts Series, Defiant Heart (#1) and Distant Heart (#2)

She learned to write by writing, and improved by listening to critique partners and editors. She has sold over 30 books in six years.
She became a member of American Christian Fiction Writers in the early months of its inception in 2000 and served as president for a year.


Tracey loves Sci-fi, Lifetime movies, and Days of Our Lives (this is out of a 21 year habit of watching, rather than enjoyment of current storylines.

She has been married to her husband Rusty for 18 years, has four kids, and lives in Lebanon, Missouri.


ABOUT THE BOOK

For the past seven years, Ginger Freeman has had one goal: find Grant Kelley and make him pay for allowing her brother to die. Growing up motherless with a father who leads an outlaw gang, Ginger isn’t exactly peaches and cream. So when she finally tracks down Grant on a wagon train headed west, she figured providence had stepped in and given her the chance she’s been waiting for.

On the wagon train, finally surrounded by a sense of family and under the nurturing eye of Toni Rodde, Ginger begins to lose her rough edges. She’s made friends for the first time and has become part of something bigger than revenge. Not only has her heart softened toward people in general, but God has become a reality she never understood before. And watching Grant doctor the pioneers, she’s realized she can’t just kill him and leave the train without medical care. Putting her anger aside, before long, Ginger’s a functioning part of the group.

But when the outlaw gang, headed by her pa, shows up and infiltrates the wagon train, she is forced to question her decision. Only self-sacrifice and her new relationship with God can make things right. But it might also means she loses everything she’s begun to hold dear.

If you would like to read from the first chapter of Dangerous Heart, go HERE

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How Would Jesus Vote? by D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe

The 2008 election is shaping up to be one of the most important political contests in American history. In fact, Dr. D. James Kennedy believes it will be a watershed moment that could impact our very survival as a nation under God.

Values voters—people whose political views and votes are based on their faith in God—are being targeted as never before. As the campaign season moves forward, the significant players will debate terrorism, radical Islam, nuclear threats, global warming, social issues, gay marriage, immigration, education, health care, and many other essential issues that can create sharp ideological divisions.

Into this overwhelmingly complex political situation, Dr. Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe bring a clear, compelling, and nonpartisan exploration of what God’s Word has to say on these critical matters. How Would Jesus Vote? isn’t intended to tell readers which candidates to support; rather it offers a Christ-centered understanding of the world to help readers draw their own political conclusions.

Dr. D. James Kennedy was one of the most trusted and recognized Christian leaders of our time. The senior minister of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, he is the featured preacher on television’s “The Coral Ridge Hour” and radio’s “Truths That Transform”, syndicated on over one thousand stations throughout the U.S. The founder and president of Evangelism Explosion International and chancellor of Knox Theological Seminary, he was the author of more than sixty books, including the bestselling What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?

Jerry Newcombe is senior producer for Coral Ridge Ministries television and has produced or coproduced more than fifty documentaries. The host of two weekly radio shows, he has also been a guest on numerous television and radio talk shows. He is the author or coauthor of more than fifteen books.

Diamond Duo by Marcia Gruver



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!





Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Diamond Duo

Barbour Publishing, Inc (October 1, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Marcia Gruver is a full time writer who hails from Southeast Texas. Inordinately enamored by the past, Marcia delights in writing historical fiction. Her deep south-central roots lend a Southern-comfortable style and a touch of humor to her writing.

Awarded a three book contract by Barbour Publishing for full-length historical fiction, Marcia is busy these days pounding on the keyboard and watching the deadline clock. Diamond Duo, the first installment in the trilogy entitled Texas Fortunes, is scheduled for release in October 2008.

Marcia won third place in the 2007 ACFW Genesis contest and third in the 2004 ACFW Noble Theme contest. Another entry in 2004 finished in the top ten. She placed second in the 2002 Colorado Christian Writer’s contest for new authors, securing a spot in an upcoming compilation book. “I Will Never Leave Thee,” in For Better, For Worse—Devotional Thoughts for Married Couples, was released by Christian Publications in January 2004.

She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Fellowship of Christian Writers, and The Writers View—and a longstanding member of ACFW Crit3 and Seared Hearts, her brilliant and insightful critique groups.

Lifelong Texans, Marcia and her husband, Lee, have one daughter and four sons. Collectively, this motley crew has graced them with ten grandchildren and one great-granddaughter—so far.


Visit the author's website.

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Diamond Duo by Marcia Gruver, Chapter One


Jefferson, Texas, Friday, January 19, 1877


With the tip of a satin shoe, the graceful turn of an ankle, the woman poured herself like cream from the northbound train out of Marshall and let the tomcats lap her up. In the beginning, an upraised parasol blocked her visage, but no lingering look at her features could erase the impression already established by pleasing carriage, a lavish blue gown, and slender fingers covered in diamonds.

Bertha Biddie waited with stilted breath for the moment when the umbrella might tip and give up its secret. All about her most of Jefferson had come to a halt, as if the whole town waited with her. Without warning, the woman lowered and closed the sunshade.

Enchanted, Bertha followed the graceful lines of her form to her striking and memorable face. At first sight of her, Bertha thought she was the devil’s daughter. She bore no obvious mark of evil. Just smoldering eyes and a knowing glance that said life held mysteries young Bertha had yet to glimpse.

Her hair sparkled like sunrays dancing on Big Cypress Creek. Her lashes were as black as the bottom of a hole, and her lids seemed smudged with coal. Delicate features perched below a dark halo of hair, and a pink flush lit her fair cheeks. Her expression teemed with mischief, and her full ruby lips curled up at the corners as if recalling a bawdy yarn. She turned slightly, evidently aware of the gathering horde for the first time. With a tilt of her chin and barely perceptible sway, she cast a wide net over the men in the crowd and dragged them to shore.

Bertha watched them respond to her and realized Mama had been less than forthcoming about the real and true nature of things. Forgetting themselves and the women at their sides, they stared open-mouthed, some in spite of jealous claws that gripped their arms. Even the ladies stared, the looks on their faces ranging from admiration to envy.

The reaction of the men only slightly altered when the lady’s escort stepped out of the Texas & Pacific passenger car behind her. Though his clothes were just as spiffy and he carried himself well, the man who accompanied that gilded bird lacked her allure, bore none of her charm. Yet despite her confident display of tail feathers, the bluebird at his side clearly deferred to him as though he’d found a way to clip her wings.

With great care, the porter handed down the couple’s baggage, the matched set a rare sight in those parts, then held out his hand. Her companion tipped the man, gathered the bags, and walked away from the platform without offering a single word in the bluebird’s direction. She cast a quick glance after him but stood her ground, her demeanor unruffled in the face of his rebuke.

As was the custom, The Commercial Hotel, Haywood House, and Brooks House, three reputable hotels in town, each had transport standing by to haul incoming passengers from the station. Dr. J. H. Turner, landlord of Brooks House, waited on hand in the conveyance he called an omnibus.

The woman’s friend secured passage with Dr. Turner and helped him load their belongings then turned and crooked a finger in her direction. She pretended not to notice.

“Bessie!” he barked. “For pity’s sake.”

She lifted her head, reopened the parasol, and strolled his way without saying a word—giving in but taking all the time she pleased to do so. He handed her up onto the carriage, climbed in beside her, and settled back to rest a possessive arm around her shoulders.

Dr. Turner eased onto Alley Street and trundled away from the station, breaking the spell cast over the denizens of Jefferson. In slow motion they awoke from their stupor and returned to their lives.

Bertha released the breath she’d held and gripped her best friend’s arm. “What was she, Magda? I’ve never seen anything like her.”

When Magda shook her head, her curls danced the fandango. “Me neither. And we never will again. Not around here, anyway.”

She leaned past Magda trying to catch another glimpse. “She’s no earthbound creature, that’s for sure. But devil or angel? I couldn’t tell.”

Magda laughed. “She’s human all right, just not ordinary folk.” She pressed her finger to her lips. “Could be one of those actresses from a New York burletta.”

Bertha gasped. “From the Broadway stage? You really think so?”

“She’s certainly stylish enough.”

Bertha squinted down Alley Street at the back of the tall carriage. “That man called her Bessie. She doesn’t look like a Bessie to me.”

“Further proof that beneath all her fluff, she’s a vessel of clay like the rest of us.”

“How so?”

“Who ever heard of an angel named Bessie?”

Grinning, Bertha leaned and tweaked Magda’s nose. “Oh, go on with you.”

Of all the souls wandering the earth—in Jefferson, Texas, at least—Bertha Maye Biddie’s heart had knit with Magdalena Hayes’ from the start. They were a year apart, Magda being the oldest, but age wasn’t the only difference between them. Magda easily reached the top shelves in the kitchen, where Bertha required a stool. And while big-boned Magda took up one and a half spaces on a church pew, Bertha barely filled the remaining half. Magda’s russet mop coiled as tight as tumbleweed. Bertha’s black hair fell to her waist in silken waves and gave her fits trying to keep it pinned up. Nothing fazed self-possessed Magda. Bertha greeted life with her heart.

Magda nudged Bertha with her elbow. “Earthbound or not, I can tell you one thing about her. . .”

“What’s that?”

The look in Magda’s big brown eyes said whatever the one thing was it was bound to be naughty. She leaned in to whisper. “She knows a thing or two about the fellas.”

Bertha raised her brows. “You can tell that just by looking at her, can you?”

“Not looking at her, smart britches. I can tell by the way she looks at them.” She fussed with her curls, her eyes pious slants. “No decent woman goes eye to eye with strange men in the street, and you know it.”

“I guess some decent woman told you that?”

“Bertha Maye Biddie! Don’t get fresh with me.”

Bertha tucked in her chin and busied herself straightening her gloves. “Maybe she’s fed up with their scandalous fawning. Ever think of that?”

“Any hound will track his supper.”

The words made Bertha mad enough to spit, but she didn’t know why. “A pie set out on a windowsill may be a fine display of good cooking, but not necessarily an invitation.”

Magda narrowed her eyes. “What on earth are you talking about?” Before Bertha could answer, she stiffened and settled back for a pout. “Why are you siding up with that woman anyway? You don’t even know her.”

The truth was, Bertha’s head still reeled from the first sight of Bessie. And the way men reacted to her flooded Bertha’s young heart with hope and provided an opportunity, if she played her cards right, to fix a private matter that sorely needed fixing.

She knew a few things by instinct, like how to toss her long hair or tilt her chin just so. Enough to mop the grin off Thaddeus Bloom’s handsome face and light a fire in those dark eyes. But she was done with turning to mush in his presence and watching him revel in it. If Bertha could learn a few of the bluebird’s tricks, she’d have that rascal wagging his tail. Then the shoe would be laced to the proper foot, and Thad could wear it up her front stoop when he came to ask for her hand.

One thing was certain. Whatever Bessie knew, Bertha needed to know it.

She tugged on Magda’s arm. “Come on.”

“Come on where?”

Already a wagon-length ahead, Bertha called back over her shoulder. “To the hotel. We’re going to find her.”

“What? Why?”

“Save your questions for later. Now hurry!”

Bertha dashed to the steps at the end of the boardwalk and scurried into the street.

“You planning to run clear to Vale Street?” Magda huffed, rushing to catch up. “Slow down. It ain’t ladylike.”

“Oh, pooh. Neither am I. Look, there’s Mose. He’ll take us.”

Just ahead, Moses Pharr’s rig, piled high with knobby cypress, turned onto Alley Street headed the opposite way. The rickety wagon, pulled by one broken-down horse, bore such a burden of wood it looked set to pop like a bloated tick. When Bertha whistled, the boy’s drowsy head jerked up. He turned around and saw her, and a grin lit his freckled face.

“Bertha!” Magda hustled up beside her. “If your pa gets word of you whistling in town, he’ll take a strap to your legs.”

“Papa doesn’t own a strap. Come on, Mose is waiting.”

She ran up even with the wagon and saw that the mountain of wood had blocked her view of Mose’s sister sitting beside him on the seat. They both grinned down at her, Rhodie’s long red hair the only visible difference between the two.

“Hey, Rhodie.”

“Hey, Bert. Where you going?”

“To Brooks House. I was hoping to hitch a ride.”

Mose leaned over, still grinning. “We always got room for you, Bertha. Hop on.”

Magda closed the distance between them and came to stand beside Bertha, breathing hard. When Bertha pulled herself onto the seat beside Rhodie, Magda started to follow. Mose raised his hand to stop her.

“Hold up there.” He looked over at Bertha. “Her, too?”

Bertha nodded.

Mose cut his eyes back at the wood and then shrugged. “Guess one more can’t hurt. But she’ll have to sit atop that stump. Ain’t no more room on the seat.”

Magda adjusted her shawl around her shoulders and sniffed. “I refuse to straddle a cypress stump all the way to Vale Street.”

“Suit yourself,” Bertha said. “But it’s a long walk. Let’s go, Mose.”

Mose lifted the reins and clucked at the horse. Magda grabbed the wooden handgrip and pulled herself onto the wagon just as it started to move. Arranging her skirts about her, she perched on the tall stump like Miss Muffet. “Well, what are you waiting for?” she asked. “Let’s go.”

Laughing, they rolled through Jefferson listing and creaking, ignoring the stares and whispers. When the rig pulled up across from Brooks House, even the spectacle they made couldn’t compete with Bessie and her traveling companion.

The couple stood on the street beside their luggage, the carriage nowhere in sight. They seemed at the end of a heated discussion, given his mottled face and her missing smile.

When Bertha noticed the same sick-cow expression on the faces of the gathered men and the same threatened look on the women’s, she became more determined than ever to learn Bessie’s secret.

The man with Bessie growled one more angry word then hefted their bags and set off up the path. Not until Bessie followed him and disappeared through the shadowy door did the town resume its pace.

Mose gulped and found his voice. “She looked as soft as a goose-hair pillow. Who is she?”

Bertha scooted to the edge of her seat and climbed down. She dusted her hands and smoothed her skirt before she answered. “I don’t know, but I intend to find out.”

“Roll up your tongue, Moses Pharr,” Magda said from the back, “and get me off this stump.”

Mose hopped to the ground and hurried around to help Magda.

Rhodie, twirling her copper braid, grinned down at Bertha. “What are you going to do, Bert?”

Magda answered for her. “She’s going to get us into trouble, that’s what.”

Bertha took her by the hand. “Stop flapping your jaws and come on.”

They waved goodbye to Mose and Rhodie then hurried across the street, dodging horses, wagons, and men—though their town wasn’t nearly as crowded as it had once been.

Jefferson, Queen City of the Cypress, lost its former glory in 1873, when the United States Corps of Engineers blew the natural dam to kingdom come, rerouting the water from Big Cypress Bayou down the Red River to Shreveport. Once a thriving port alive with steamboat traffic, when the water level fell, activity in Jefferson, the river port town that had earned the title “Gateway to Texas” dwindled. To that very day, in fits of Irish temper, Bertha’s papa cursed the responsible politicians.

But through it all, Jefferson had lost none of its charm. Brooks House was a prime example of the best the town had to offer, so it seemed only right that someone like Bessie might wind up staying there.

Bertha and Magda positioned themselves outside the hotel and hunkered down to wait—the former on a mission, the latter under duress. It didn’t take long for the girls to learn a good bit about the captivating woman and her cohort. Talk swirled out the door of the hotel soon after the couple sashayed to the front desk to register under the name of A. Monroe and wife, out of Cincinnati, Ohio.

The gentleman, if he could be counted as such, addressed the woman as Annie or Bessie, when he didn’t call her something worse. The two quarreled openly, scratching and spitting like cats, and didn’t care who might be listening. By the time the story drifted outside, the locals had dubbed her Diamond Bessie due to her jewel-encrusted hands, and it seemed the name would stick.

Bertha shaded her eyes with her hands and pressed her face close to the window. “I don’t see her anymore, Magda. I guess they took a room.”

“Of course they took a room. Why else would they come to a hotel?”

Bertha ignored her sarcasm and continued to search the lobby for Bessie. Still catching no sight of her, she turned around. “Isn’t she the most glorious thing? And even prettier close up.”

“That she is.”

“Did you see the way men look at her? I never saw that many roosters on the prowl at one time.”

“And all for squat,” Magda said. “That chicken’s been plucked. The little banty she strutted into town with has already staked a claim.” She grinned. “He wasn’t all that hard on the eyes himself.”

Bertha frowned. “That strutting peacock? Besides his flashy clothes, she was the only thing special about him. Don’t see how he managed to snare a woman like that. He must be rich.”

Magda arched one tapered brow. “Did you see the rings on her fingers?”

“I reckon so. I’m not blind.”

Magda stretched her back and heaved a sigh. “I guess that’s it then. Let’s go.”

Bertha grabbed her arm. “Wait. Where are you going?”

“Home. This show’s over. They’ve settled upstairs by now.”

Lacing her fingers under her chin, Bertha planted herself in Magda’s path. “Won’t you wait with me just a mite longer?”

“She’s not coming out here, Bertha. Besides, you’ve seen enough for today.”

“I don’t want to see her. I need to talk to her.”

Magda drew herself back and stared. “Are you tetched? We can’t just walk up and talk to someone like her. Why would she fool with the likes of us?”

“I don’t know. I’ll think of a way. I’ve got to.” She bit her bottom lip—three words too late.

Looking wary now, Magda crossed her arms. “Got to? Why?”

“Just do.” Bertha met her look head-on. She wouldn’t be bullied out of it. Not even by Magda.

Resting chubby fists on rounded hips, Magda sized her up. “All right, what does this have to do with Thad?”

No one knew her like Magda. Still, the chance she might stumble onto Bertha’s motives were as likely as hatching a three-headed guinea hen. Struggling to hold her jaw off the ground, she lifted one shoulder. “Who said it did?”

Magda had the gall to laugh. “Because, dearie,” she leaned to tap Bertha’s forehead, “everything inside there lately has something to do with Thad.”

“Humph! Think what you like. I am going to talk to her.”

Magda glared. “Go ahead then. I can see there’s no changing your mind. But I don’t fancy being humiliated by another of your rattlebrained schemes, thank you.”

Bertha caught hold of her skirt. “Don’t you dare go. I can’t do this on my own.”

“Let go of me. I said I’m going home.”

“Please, Magdalena! I need you.”

Magda pulled her skirt free and took another backward step. “No, ma’am. You just count me out this time.”

She turned to go and Bertha lunged, catching her in front of the hotel door. They grappled, tugging sleeves and pulling hair, both red-faced and close to tears. Just when Bertha got set to squeal like a pestered pig, from what seemed only a handbreadth away a woman cleared her throat. Bertha froze, hands still locked in Magda’s hair, and turned to find the bluebird beaming from the threshold—though canary seemed more fitting now that she’d traded her blue frock for a pale yellow dress.

“What fun!” Bessie cried, clasping her hands. “I feared this town might be as dull as dirt, but it seems I was mistaken.”

Monday, October 27, 2008

Book Review: "The Fall of Candy Corn" by Debbie Viguie



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!





Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:


The Fall of Candy Corn

Zondervan (October 1, 2008)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Debbie Viguié has been writing for most of her life. She has experimented with poetry and nonfiction, but her true passion lies in writing novels.

She obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing from UC Davis. While at Davis she met her husband, Scott, at auditions for a play. It was love at first sight.

Debbie and Scott now live on the island of Kauai. When Debbie is not writing and Scott has time off they love to indulge their passion for theme parks.


The Sweet Seasons Novels:

The Summer of Cotton Candy
The Fall of Candy Corn
The Winter of Candy Canes
The Spring of Candy Apples


Visit the author's website.

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Candace Thompson knew she was crazy. That was the only possible explanation for why, once again, she was sitting across the desk from Lloyd Peterson, hiring manager for The Zone theme park. A lot had changed since the day in June when she had been hired to operate a cotton candy machine. Still, sitting across from Lloyd, she felt self-conscious and a bit insecure.

“So,” he said, staring at her intently. “You think you can be a maze monster for Scare?”

She nodded. Scare was what they called the annual Halloween event at The Zone. Aside from putting frightening elements in traditional rides, during Scare there were a dozen mazes where monsters did their best to scare park guests as they wound their way through dark and creepy corridors.

“Then show me something scary.”

It was eleven in the morning in a brightly lit office. What on earth did he expect of her? She wanted to say something smart. She wanted to say something funny. With horror she realized she didn’t have anything to say.

“Come on, come on,” he said. “Be a monster, jump around, growl, something.”

She got out of her seat and did the best growl she could. Unfortunately, she sounded less like a monster and more like a frightened Chihuahua.

“Threaten me!”

She got closer to him than she would have liked, jumped up and down, swung her arms, and pounded her fist firmly on his desk. She could tell by the look on his face that he wasn’t impressed.

She growled again and yelled, “I’m going to get you!” She felt like the world’s biggest idiot. No one would be scared of a teenage girl, especially not one wearing a gray business suit and sensible shoes.

“Scream!” he ordered.

She threw back her head and screamed her loudest, shrillest scream. That, at least, was easy. It was a game her best friend, Tamara, and she had played when they were little. They had competitions to see who could scream louder or longer or higher.

She screamed for ten seconds and then sat back down in her chair. She expected Lloyd to laugh; she expected him to say something derisive. Instead, he looked at her thoughtfully.

“I have the perfect role for you to play,” he said. He wrote something on an orange slip of paper. “You’re going to be Candy in the Candy Craze maze.”

“Candy?” she asked questioningly. “Am I going to be dressed up like a giant Twix bar or something?”

He shook his head. “Nothing like that. You should be proud; it’s our latest maze. The lines for it will wrap halfway through the park.”

He handed her a stack of papers. “You can go fill these out. Then Saturday at nine a.m. report to the costume warehouse for your fitting and orientation. At that time you’ll also be able to pick up your badge, ID, and parking pass.”

“Saturday at nine,” she confirmed as she took the stack
from him.

“There’s a table — ”

“Out in the courtyard,” she finished for him.

Since she was a returning referee — which was the The Zone’s name for an employee — there was slightly less paperwork this time. There was, however, an entire book of rules and policies regarding Scare. She had to sign several forms stating that she had received it, she had read it, she had understood it, and she promised to abide by it. It seemed like the golden rule of Scare was “thou shalt have no physical contact of any kind with players.” Players was what they called the customers. Touching a player during Scare apparently was grounds for immediate dismissal.

Once she finished filling out and signing all her paperwork, she returned it to Lloyd Peterson.

Checking her watch, she discovered that she still had an hour before she had to meet Tamara for a late lunch. She decided to head into the theme park to see a few friends.

The first thing she noticed when she entered the park was that the Holiday Zone was closed. Temporary walls set up around the area prevented players from going inside or even getting a peek at what was going on.

The Holiday Zone was one of nine themed areas inside The Zone theme park. The theme of the Holiday Zone changed throughout the year to reflect different holidays. It was the day after Labor Day so all the Fourth of July themes from summer were now being replaced with Halloween themes for fall. The transformation would take about ten days, and then the Holiday Zone would be open again for business.

Several key attractions throughout the rest of the park were also closed, getting their Scare overlay. The Muffin Mansion was one of them, she discovered when she went there looking for her friend Becca. The Muffin Mansion was unique in the park because half of it was in the Exploration Zone and half of it was in the History Zone. The Exploration Zone half was located near most of the kitchens, which looked a lot more like laboratories. There was a small counter where they sold the muffins. The side that was in the History Zone looked like an old-fashioned mansion, and guests could eat their muffins at one of the tables scattered around the parlor. It was from the History side that it got its name. It was from the Exploration side that it got its wild concoctions of muffins and its ever-expanding menu.

She stared for a moment at the construction walls around the building and wondered what the Muffin Mansion would look like when the walls came down. She also wondered where Becca was working while the mansion was getting its Halloween makeover. She glanced at her watch and thought about who else she might be able to track down to chat with.

She knew that two of her other friends, Josh and Roger, had ended their summer jobs and weren’t there. Fortunately, both of them were going to be working Scare. They had managed to talk her into joining them. Spending time with them was one of the best perks of working the event. One of the others was that it paid slightly more than her summer job had.

Martha, her former supervisor, spent a lot of time off field in the employee-only areas. Candace wasn’t sure if Sue, one of her other friends, had already quit her summer job as a janitor or not. That left Kurt. So Candace made her way to the History Zone.

Kurt was her boyfriend. The word was still exciting and new to Candace. He worked as a mascot, a costumed character. They had met the day she first became a Zone referee and, after some rocky moments, had ended the summer as a -couple. She found him dressed like Robin Hood in the medieval area of the History Zone. She had gotten good at recognizing his dark hair and brilliant blue eyes no matter what costume or mask he was wearing.

“Hey, gorgeous!” he said, when he saw her, and he gave her a quick kiss.

“Eeeww!” a little boy holding an autograph book said.

“She’s not Maid Marion,” the boy’s sister protested.

“She’s not?” Kurt asked, feigning surprise.

“I don’t think Maid Marion has red hair,” another little girl commented.

Kurt turned back to Candace, “Away lady, for you are not my dearest love.”

Candace pretended to be crushed and put her hand to her forehead as though she might faint. The children laughed at that. “But I am! I am wearing this disguise to hide from the evil Prince John.”

“Robin will protect you!” the little girl said excitedly.

The little boy handed Candace his autograph book with great solemnity. She signed Maid Marion’s name, and he seemed immensely pleased.

After the children left, Kurt smiled at her. “Nice job.”

“Thank you. I’m practicing my acting skills for Scare.”

“You signed up?”

“Just now.”

“That’s great! What did you get?”

“Apparently it’s the new maze. I’m playing Candy.”

Kurt looked startled, but before he could say anything, he was besieged by several more children wanting pictures and autographs. Soon a line formed. Candace glanced at her watch, and Kurt shrugged and gave her a smile. She waved good-bye and headed for the front of the park.

Twenty minutes later she was sitting with Tamara in their favorite ice cream parlor.

“Want to split the turkey sandwich and a banana split?” Tamara asked.

“Split the split? You took the words right out of my mouth,” Candace said.

After the waitress took their order, they discussed the fact that they had only a few hours of freedom left before school started up in the morning.

“I can’t believe we only have two classes together this year,” Tamara complained.

“At least one of them is homeroom,” Candace said.

“Drama should be fun though,” Tamara said.

“I can’t believe I let you talk me into signing up for that.”

“Come on, you’re going to be a maze monster. What’s a little acting to you?” Tamara teased.

Candace smiled. “I am pretty jazzed about that,” she admitted. “I just hope I do a good job. I totally couldn’t pull off ‘scary’ in front of the recruiter today. I should thank you, though. I got a position based on my ability to scream.”

“You’re welcome,” Tamara said. “See, all those hours in the garage paid off.”

“You’re going to come see me in the maze, right?”

Tamara was adventurous, but she hated anything that
resembled a monster or something that went bump in the night. She couldn’t stand horror films and hadn’t even been able to make it through the old movie Jaws the year before without freaking out and vowing never to go swimming in the ocean again.

“I guess if you’re going to overcome your fear of mazes enough to work in one, the least I can do is come see you in it,” Tamara said with a heavy sigh.

“You’re the best.”

“I know.”

After lunch they did some last-minute school shopping, and each of them ended up with pencils, paper, and three pairs of shoes.

“Seriously, I don’t think I can wear these to school,” Candace said, pulling a pair of three-inch black heels out of one of the bags.

“Then you can wear them after school when you go out with Kurt,” Tamara said. “That officially makes them ‘school adjacent’ and so, school shoes.”

“You have messed-up logic, Tam, but I love it.”

“Knew you would.”

They headed back to Candace’s house so she could change clothes before youth group. While Tamara unpacked her shoes for her, Candace threw on a pair of jeans and a Zone sweatshirt she had borrowed from Kurt.

“You’re never giving him back that sweatshirt, are you?” Tamara said.

“Not if I can help it,” Candace laughed. “Besides, it’s the duty of a girlfriend to swipe some article of clothing from her boyfriend. It’s like a sacred trust. The guy carries around a picture of the girl, and the girl snags his sweatshirt.”

“You weren’t even cold the other night at the theater when you got that, were you?”

“I’ll never tell,” Candace said with a laugh.

When they left the house and headed for church, Candace was both excited and a little nervous. Because of her summer job, she had missed out on youth group all summer. Now she was returning and she was officially a senior. It would be her first senior-y thing.

Once they arrived and entered the familiar building, though, she began to relax. The youth building was large and furnished with old beat-up couches, chairs, and plenty of pillows for sprawling on the floor. Almost a hundred -people were in attendance. The freshmen were easy to spot with their wide-eyed looks of excitement. They had finally entered the major leagues, and it was a big night for them too.

Candace and Tamara staked their claim to one of the smaller couches just before the youth pastor, Bobby, called everyone together. They prayed and then sang a -couple of praise songs.

“Okay, welcome, everyone, to a new year. We’re glad to see all you freshers out there. And seniors, congratulations on being the top dogs.”

There was a weak yell from the freshmen, which was dwarfed by the shout of the seniors. The sophomores looked relieved that they were no longer freshmen, while the juniors looked enviously at the seniors.

“Make sure you take a fall schedule home tonight. We’ve got a lot of great events coming up in the next -couple of months. There’s the girls’ all-night party next Friday night. Don’t forget the annual all-church marathon the following Sunday. We’ll have a guest band at the end of the month, which I know you won’t want to miss. We’re also doing something brand new this year. The first Friday in October we’ll get on buses and head on over to Scare at The Zone!”

Cheers went up from almost everyone in the room. Candace was stunned. She knew a lot of church youth groups went to Scare, but this was the first year her youth group was planning on it. She began to rethink her employment options. It was going to be weird enough playing a monster on display in a maze without her entire youth group there to see her. Slowly, she sank down lower on the couch, willing herself to be unseen.

Tamara waved her hand in the air, and, before Candace could stop her, Bobby called, “What is it Tamara?”

“I just thought everyone would like to know that Candace is going to be a monster in one of the mazes.”

Candace could feel her cheeks burning as she glared at Tamara.

“Hear that everyone? Make sure you come with us to Scare, and you can see Candace at work!”

There were more cheers as Candace sat there in dismay.

A freshman girl raised her hand.

“Yes, what’s your name?” Bobby asked.

“Jen. How much will Scare cost?” she asked, clearly concerned.

“Well, Jen, that’s the best part. This is the perfect time to invite out all your friends — Chris-tians and non-Chris-tians. The entire event, including entrance ticket, transportation, food, and a souvenir T-shirt, is completely sponsored. So it’s free!”

And now, with the exception of Candace, there was a standing ovation. Candace just glared up at Tamara. “This is your fault, isn’t it?” she asked.

Tamara just smiled innocently. “I have to support my best friend, don’t I?”

Candace thought that maybe she could use a little less support and a lot more privacy, but she didn’t say so. Tamara’s entire family was beyond rich. Tamara and Candace had been friends before either of them even understood what was up with money. Most of the time Tamara played it casual, but every once in a while she did something generous and outrageous. This time her generosity was going to put Candace fully in the spotlight. As cool as it often was to have a friend with money, there was a downside.



“How could you do that to me?” Candace asked when she and Tamara were back in the car after youth group was over.

“I love you, Cand, but if you think I’m going through those mazes by myself, you’re crazy. I plan on putting as many bodies between me and the guys in the scary masks as possible.”

“But I’m one of the guys in the scary masks! Besides, it’s perfectly safe. They’re not allowed to touch players at all.”

“That’s what you say.”

“It’s true. It says so in the handbook.”

Tamara rolled her eyes. “Sure, and how many -people aside from you bothered to read it?”

“That’s not fair. It’s in the pamphlet too,” Candace protested.

“Oh, and because it says so in the pamphlet it must be true,” Tamara said. “Maybe if they posted it on the Web it would be doubly true.”

“Knock it off,” Candace said, still irritated and in no mood to play.

“Seriously, you’re not worried are you?” Tamara asked, doing her best to stop smiling.

“No, I love being in the spotlight,” Candace said, letting the sarcasm flow freely. “Hello! Remember me? Your best friend? I hang around with you so I can be spotlight adjacent, as in, not in but nearby.”

“Well you need the drama class worse than I thought,” Tamara said.

“I don’t want to be in the spotlight.”

Tamara pulled up in front of Candace’s house and parked. “You know,” she said, her voice suddenly very thoughtful, “for someone who doesn’t want to be in the spotlight, you seem to spend a lot of time in it lately.”

“Hello? Not my fault,” Candace said.

“I’m not saying it is,” Tamara answered, putting her hand on Candace’s shoulder. “I just think you seem to end up there no matter what you do. I mean you were a cotton candy operator all summer, and how many times did you name something at the park or win some competition or otherwise draw everyone’s attention your way?”

“Too many,” Candace muttered.

“Exactly. Stuff like that doesn’t just happen. I think maybe God’s trying to tell you something.”

“Like what?”

“Like maybe you’re not meant to live your life spotlight adjacent. Maybe you’re meant to be front and center.”

Candace was quiet for a moment while she thought about that. It seemed like such a crazy idea. She had always lived in a way that ensured she blended into the background. The thought of standing apart from it was intimidating. Yet, hadn’t she done exactly that when she and her team won The Zone Scavenger Hunt? Or the time she stood up for her rights when she was falsely accused at work? That hadn’t exactly been blending in.

She shook her head. It was a lot to think about, and the part of her brain that was already freaked out so didn’t want to go there. “Maybe it’s just coincidence,” she said.

“I don’t believe in coincidence,” Tamara said. “I believe in plans God makes and doesn’t tell you about until later.”

Candace smiled. “Any chance God plans to make it snow or something so we don’t have to go to school tomorrow?”

Tamara looked at the readout on her dashboard. “It’s nine thirty at night, and it’s still eighty-seven degrees outside. Besides, this is Southern California. When God makes it snow here, it’s not a plan; it’s a miracle.”

Candace couldn’t help but laugh at that. “Thanks, Tam,” she said after a minute.

“Hey, that’s what friends are for,” she said with a shrug. “Wanna carpool tomorrow?”

Candace nodded. “You driving or me?”

“I will. See you in the morning.”

Once in her room Candace thought about calling Kurt or her friend Josh. Reason won out, though, since she had school in the morning, and calling either of them could result in her being up way too late.

“Morning’s going to come awfully early,” she confided in Mr. Huggles, her stuffed bear.

Best Fall Job Ever


This book was even better than the first one in the series. I really liked how Candace has really changed from the first book. She now is one of the regulars and she fits in with almost everyone. She's grown up quite a bit as she's more willing to help out others. She even gives up her free time to plan the dreaded Sugar Shock event and recruits others to join her. It's quite a nice change from the indecisive snobby girl from the first book. Her relationship with Kurt is growing also in this book. While he's a nice guy, I personally prefer Josh myself. I'm hoping that somehow him and Candace might end up together. Tamara is a much better character in this story. I was pleased to see her generosity put to good use in regards to the youth group's trip. This story really made me want The Zone to exist in real life. It would be so awesome to go visit and scare myself silly throughout the park. There's some scary events that take place in the park which would have freaked me out but Candace takes them in stride. Her job is way cool and I totally envy her. This book is a fun, quick, hip read that teens will love. I am dying to read the next book in the series. It's quickly becoming one of my favorite YA series ever.

The Fall of Candy Corn by Debbie Viguie is published by Zondervan (2008)