A land where the trains always run on subjective time. Stories and reflections by Fred Warren.

Harry, lad, we hardly knew ye… — July 15, 2011

Harry, lad, we hardly knew ye…

So, it seems we’ve reached the end of the Harry Potter saga, with the release of the final cinematic installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. I suppose I ought to say a few words, in memoriam.

My initial reaction to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books was, “Oh, this is a school story.” Something on the order of Owen Johnson’s “Lawrenceville Stories,” or Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Ann of Green Gables books. Setting the magic aside for a moment, It takes a fairly average orphan boy living with put-upon relatives and sends him to boarding school, which opens up a whole new world of opportunities, and obstacles. He has to deal with the usual problems of getting to class on time, managing his studies, coping with a couple of teachers who hate him for no obvious reason, standing up to bullies, and playing sports. Yeah, the teachers can turn you into a newt, and the sports involve chasing homicidal soccer balls whilst perched upon flying brooms, but the basic issues are pretty much the same. 

We watch him grow up, one semester at a time. He finds a couple of true friends who stand by him in both good times and bad. He learns that lying and cheating may simplify his life short-term but always come back to bite him in the end. He finds mentors who teach him about courage, loyalty, and honor. He learns to be clever and resourceful. He discovers strengths, and weaknesses, he never knew he had. We like this kid. He reminds us of us, on our better-than-average days. We want to know more about him.

But it doesn’t end there. Harry discovers there’s evil in the world more dangerous than some bully shaking him down for lunch money, and this evil threatens him and everyone he cares about. The evil seeks power for its own sake and uses people as a means to that end. It’s a serious evil, deadly, humorless, and focused. It’s not enough for Harry to hide or run away from it. The evil has to be confronted and defeated, and he’s the only one who can put an end to it, once and for all. We know the stakes can be this high in our world, but it’s the kind of situation we might encounter in a war or a civil revolution. The sort of situation we hope never to experience. Better Harry than us. We read on.

Coming back to the magic, it’s an odd sort of magic–a technological magic based on exotic chemistry and the power of words. It’s used mostly to simplify tedious, mundane tasks and create elaborate practical jokes. Anybody looking for Witchcraft 101 here will be mightily disappointed. Substitute ray guns for the wands, and you’ve got a passable science-fiction world.

The most powerful magic in the story isn’t magic in the conventional sense at all. Love, unselfish and sacrificial, turns away the supposedly unstoppable evil without the benefit of incantations, potions, or charms. This same love sustains Harry throughout his journey, rescues him again and again against impossible odds, and is the key to his final victory.

This, for me, is what raised this series above the conventional school story or frivolous fantasy. There’s truth here, if we have eyes to see, and it clearly resonates with a culture starved for truth, even if it’s veiled in fiction. It’s the heart of the story. The Boy Who Lived, the boy evil couldn’t kill, who overcame death through the power of a love brave and generous enough to lay down its life for others.

Sounds familiar, somehow.

For additional reflections and retrospective on Harry Potter, check out E. Stephen Burnett’s posts at Speculative Faith, commentary from Andrew Peterson at The Rabbit Room, and a nice article by Sarah Pulliam Bailey at

What’s Going On, 12/17/2010 — December 17, 2010

What’s Going On, 12/17/2010

My mind is blank, so it must be time for an update.

Noveling – I’m on track to finish the first draft of The Seer, my sequel to The Muse, by month’s end, which feels pretty good. I’ve wrestled this thing all year, and I’ve learned a lot about the peculiar challenges of writing the second book in a trilogy. The biggest learning point was that starting with an established back-story and cast of characters does not make things easier, not at all. It places the writer squarely between the Scylla of tiresome historical rehash and the Charybdis of inconsistency with what has happened before. There are also expectations to be met now, modest as they are. Yes, there will be a third book, and the good news is that it’s partly written already…sigh…because it used to be the second book. I was very distressed to get a third of the way into it, only to realize that something very important had to happen first, and that something merited a novel of its own. Anyhow, I’m still a long way from the finish line, since after the initial draft comes editing, and re-writing, and critique, and re-editing, and re-re-writing…

Missing Pieces – Regular readers of this blog (I know–who am I kidding?) may have noticed I posted neither a Scribbler’s Scoreboard nor a Banner Image update at the beginning of this month. I have good excuses reasons for both. I had only one story submission in November (“The Island,” a short story inspired by a passage from Homer’s Odyssey, twisted a bit), and no other news to report. I do my year-end recap at the end of December anyhow, so there wasn’t much point in a separate post. As for the banner image, this was, I think, the first one I’ve used that didn’t have a story behind it. I found a colorful lawn ornament that fit the theme and the available space, and I plugged it in. It has a sort of Lite-Brite vibe to it that makes me feel a bit nostalgic for my misspent youth.

Accountability Counts – Although I set writing goals for myself each year, I’m usually on the honor system for living up to them, unless one of my readers (I know–who am I kidding?) calls me on it. This year, I will have the assistance of a colleague in my local ACFW writers group, Stephanie Morrill, to help me hold the line. I will in turn do my best to help her stay on pace with her goals. Stephanie writes teen fiction and is the author of a popular series published by Revell Books: Me, Just Different; Out With the In Crowd; and So Over It; known collectively as The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt. She also has two additional projects currently under consideration by Revell. I’ll post an interview here with Stephanie sometime in the next month or two.

Pop, Pop, Pop Culture – I’ve had neither the time nor shekels for much movie-going of late, but I did manage to take in the first installment of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. I won’t offer a full review, but will say that while it had some engaging moments, and the three leads are at the top of their game (I particularly enjoyed Rupert Grint’s performance this time), it didn’t grab me quite so much as previous episodes. The special effects were cool, but they evidenced a trend toward overstuffing films with CGI to the point of sensory overload–the final impression is a blur of light and motion and a feeling that you just missed several very important pieces of information. I prefer to see my favorite movies multiple times because they’re fun, not because I couldn’t absorb everything on the first viewing.


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