A World of Speculation

Steven Waldman at Slate finds essential similarities between the Harry Potter series and the Left Behind series. I think a number of them are overdrawn, but he finally has a point worth considering.

Waldman observes that people who like Harry Potter don’t like Left Behind, and vice versa; in fact, the people who like Harry Potter don’t like the people who like Left Behind, and vice versa.

I’ve read a couple of the Harry Potters and none of the Left Behinds, though I read 666 by Salem Kirban years ago (which Left Behind is reputed to be a knockoff of) and found the characters flat, the dialoge wooden and the situation laughable, the same critiques laid on Left Behind before anyone gets to the theology of it. Still, I know a man, who is no fundamentalist, who told me he’d gotten hooked into the Left Behind story and stayed up all night reading it. Any book that sells that many copies must be doing something right; I just don’t happen to know first-hand what it is.

Here are some of the correspondences Waldman found:

  • “Most obviously, in both cases, we see not a fight between individual good guys and bad guys, but a Manichean struggle between good and evil.” Sorry. This is not a correspondence between these two; it’s a convention of the science fiction and fantasy genres.
  • “The good guys are not believed.” Kids are never believed when something big is happening (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; The Client), and for adults it’s a common convention (The Matrix).
  • “The evil one cannot stand on his own two feet. In both series, the bad guy must occupy a human ‘shell.'” Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
  • “Bad guys’ wormy sidekicks.” This one’s more unusual, but Waldman points out that they may have been influenced by C.S. Lewis’s Wormwood or Grima Wormtongue in J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. And both those Medieval scholars were likely influenced by deeper themes.
  • “Corrupt authority figures.” Probably 80% of the fiction written now.
  • “Political agendas.” Steinbeck anyone?
  • “Romance cannot wait.” Every disaster movie.

His most interesting point is that Harry Potter is Catholic and Left Behind is Protestant. Harry Potter has to take right action. In Left Behind, a spokescharacter “explains that church leaders had led so many people astray because they merely ‘expected them to lead a good life, to do the best they could, to think of others, to be kind, to live in peace. It sounded so good, and yet it was so wrong. How far from the mark!'” Left Behind is Calvinistic in its pre-ordained future; in Harry Potter, “Dumbledore explicitly tells Harry that even though he carries some of the essence of Voldemort in him, he has the power to do good because he has the power of choice.”

Waldman sums up: “Both provide a roadmap for how to live a good life, but in one case the key is morality, and in the other it is faith.”

I think the comparisons must have been necessary to get the article in Slate, but the contrasts were more interesting to this reader.