Harry Potter and the Problem with Online Community
by Ken Brown
Thursday, July 16, 2009 at 03:22 AM EDT
Thoughts on a couple items of interest that I ran across today:
First, after reading Steven Greydanusâ€™ review of the new Harry Potter (which Iâ€™m dying to see, but donâ€™t know when Iâ€™ll find the time), I noticed a link at the bottom to an older post he wrote comparing Rowlingâ€™s presentation of magic with that in Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. I trust my own love for the series is well enough established (and see the excellent series of reflections at Non-Modern), but of all the criticisms of the series Iâ€™ve read, I think Greydanusâ€™ is the most sensible. Though a few of his complaints have been dispelled by the later books in the series, on the whole he offers some good reflections, especially concerning seven â€œhedgesâ€ he notes Lewis and Tolkien both employ (but Rowling does not) to set magic in its own separate and clearly fictional world. For instance:
This is a legitimate criticism, but I think it skates too quickly over the fact that for Rowling magic is simply a (fictionalized) corollary for technology. It is a metaphor, not a real-world possibility. Those in the story who have access to magical powers, like we who in real life have access to technological power, are not inherently better or worse for it, and they are no more â€œsavedâ€ by magic than we are saved by technology. Both magic and technology present a range of opportunities and dangers that would not otherwise arise, but Rowlingâ€™s world is filled with the same heroes and villains as the real worldâ€“with or without magic. There, as here, â€œIt is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices,â€ as Dumbledore so well puts it (recently quoted by Carmen). And there, as here, it is not esoteric knowledge and secret power that save, but self-sacrificial love.
Second, and speaking of the importance of love, and the unique dangers of technology, Donâ€™t Eat the Fruit has a thoughtful post on one important way online community differs from real-life community that Iâ€™d never thought much about. Whereas in real life an important part of community is learning to simply be present, the new social media can sometimes make this more difficult in online communities:
This really resonates with me. I frequently wish blogging could be more like such a community, were one can simply be most of the time, only speaking up when one truly has something meaningful to say, but too often it feels more like a burden to constantly have something to add. I feel like I need to post something of substance now or no one will be around when I do finally write something worthwhile. Some days Iâ€™d rather just be online, enjoying what other people have to say without feeling a need to speak up for fear of being forgotten.
Other days, I wonder if I ought to spend less time on the internet altogether, and focus my attention on building real community in the real world. Funny thing, though, I think that would take just as much intentional action as anything online doesâ€¦
This article originally appeared on C. Orthodoxy.