Prophetic Writing


Last month I wrote on this blog that I didn’t know whether I would reread the last four books of the Harry Potter series. I had negative feelings towards those great thick volumes, each of them twice the length of each of the first three, which I’d just finished. 


Well, I did read them again. And yes, the things that I found to be drawbacks in the early books were even more prevalent in the last four. The biggest blemish throughout the series is, I think, the fact that so much explanation, so much intricate backstory, is needed at various points, and especially at the end of each book, to make sense of the plot. Less serious, but also a blemish, is the bewildering violence of the battles, so complicated in their detail that I find it hard to follow the narrative thread. These features may be instructive for our own writing.

But far more important, to my surprise I had a profound encounter with these books. I had hardly remembered the stories at all from my first reading, fifteen years ago. They seemed to have left very little impression. It was as if, life being what it was then — relatively untroubled, relatively peaceful — the saga of Harry Potter affected me as little as any adventure story: entertaining fantasy, not especially relevant or serious, easily forgotten.

Not so this time. These books had an overpowering effect. It was impossible not to be confronted by the painful correspondence between the rising crescendo of Harry Potter’s struggle against Lord Voldemort and the era we ourselves have been living through. The growing dread engendered by Voldemort’s return to power, vividly communicated, was like a mirror to that sense of a growing moral darkness that has afflicted many people in recent years. The exploits of the inspiring array of characters who resist Voldemort were vital as a counterbalance to this dread.

For me personally that feeling of a growing darkness goes back almost six years. At a Scargill House weekend I wrote a very short story about a Christian in Nazi Germany. I had this idea years ago and I don’t know why I wrote it down then. I decided to make it my More Than Writers blog for June 2016. On uploading it to this website just before the referendum, with a photo of Brownshirts outside a Jewish store, I experienced the first stirrings of a feeling of dread. I felt as if the horrors of the 1930s and 1940s might soon return. This sense of a gathering darkness over this country and the world has got stronger year by year, and indeed, year by year increasingly terrible things have happened. The Harry Potter saga, on my second reading, strikingly echoed and reflected that experience. 

And yet it was all written by 2007. That’s why I think that J. K. Rowling’s saga, with all its faults, can meaningfully be called prophetic writing. Writing prophetically isn’t about foretelling literal events such as the date when the Great Tribulation will begin. Rather, it’s about expressing the terrible power of evil that lies just beneath the surface of so-called normality and awaits the coming of a person or group possessed of enough foolhardiness to unleash it. It’s about charting the way such evil flourishes through cruelty, lying, and mockery. It’s about portraying people in authority who would rather deny the seriousness of the crisis than lose control, wealth, or status. But, crucially, it is also about tracing the struggles of imperfect people, committed to compassion and justice, who fight back. By doing so, it gives the reader an anchor chain of hope to cling to in his or her own time of tribulation. 

Harry Potter’s ordeal ended in the seventh year. May ours do so too.

*Cover illustration from Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, © Jason Cockcroft

Post a Comment