Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince raked in $104 million on its opening day. Besides entertaining moviegoers, the film gives Harry Potter fans an insight into what many scholars say is a huge cultural change we’re living through right now. We are entering, they say, a postmodern paradigm.
There’s a line delivered by one of the sage characters, Albus Dumbledore, which states, “We not only teach students how to use magic. We teach them how to control it.”
When I was in grade school in the 1950s, there was this unquestioned belief that science and technology were going to solve every problem. Science had created antibiotics and a vaccine for polio. We were watching this new electronic gadget called a TV and were able, for the first time, to fly coast to coast on jet airliners.
People who think in a postmodern way acknowledge that science has created marvels that have made life better. The problem, they argue, is that science and technology have created many of the issues confronting us today. Climate change has been triggered by that technological wonder we call the automobile.
In the movie, when a giant pet spider dies, Harry participates in a funeral for the arachnid and sympathized with the spider’s master, Hagrid. Postmodernism is reacting against the tendency of modern folks to treat nature like an object to be studied, analyzed, controlled, and exploited.
Those we call “tree huggers” talk about having relationships with oaks and maples and redwoods. They don’t think of how many board feet of lumber they can get out of a tree in the forest, but how they can befriend it. If more people had that attitude, they contend, we wouldn’t have to worry about clear cutting in national forests or deforestation in Brazil.
The movie ends on a note of uncertainty. Harry Potter no longer has Dumbledore as a living mentor and ally. He looks out from a tower and is unsure if he has the wisdom and strength to defeat the evil he must fight.
There is a certain humility in the postmodern way of looking at the world. World War II was supposed to be the war to end all wars. A few years ago Alan Greenspan was canonized as a genius if not a saint. Now, my 30-year-old daughter has accepted the fact that she will be less well-off financially than I, and is doubtful if not cynical about the possibility of peace in the world.
The whole movie is a fantasy, but that doesn’t mean that everyone who is into Harry Potter is looking for an escape. What they are into is the conviction that reason has limits regarding its ability to discern what is true and what is false, what is good and what is bad. For some, Harry Potter has more to say about ending the epidemic of violence on our streets than do either members of the NRA or gun control advocates.
I am in my 60s and have therefore officially become a grumpy old man who tends not to like change, but I have to say that I am attracted to a lot of what postmodernists are saying. One of the hymns we sing at my church has the line “grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the facing of this hour.” That, more than magic … and certainly more than blind trust in technology, is what Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is about. I can say amen to that.
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.