Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Book Review: Frodo and Harry

I'm starting something new, which I'm unofficially dubbing 'Book Review Wednesday'. I already review books on this blog, but I also talk about how to write novels, and in order to organize my own mind a little better I'm separating the two by posting them on different days. Hence, Book Review Wednesday.

So, welcome to the first Book Review on a Wednesday...let's get started, shall we?

"The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king." ~William Shakespeare

I recently read a book called Frodo and Harry: Understanding Visual Media and It's Impact on Our Lives. Fair warning, this book, and consequently my review of it, deals entirely with the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, magic, and Christianity, and how these things work for or against each other. If that's not a discussion you want to have, I suggest reading one of my other blog posts. :) I will, however, only be reviewing the book that I read, not diving into the discussion of the books/magic/themes/etc except when necessary to explain my review of the book in question.

First Impressions? The subject matter was not always laid out well. There was plenty of appeal to pathos, and certainly ethos,  but very little to logos. The science was credible and researched, but the details of the stories in question were sometimes less accurate. The book itself was also poorly organized, as you'll see in the rest of my review. My first impression was that it wasn't a great book, despite its good message.

One of my biggest complaints about this book is that it is not objective. To be fair, if someone genuinely believes something is evil it would not seem appropriate for that person to not be passionate in refuting it. Yet the lack of objectivity made it hard to read for me. The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) books are praised so highly and passionately that the authors appeared to be fangirling, for lack of a better term, and Harry Potter was simply hated on throughout the book. I would have preferred to read a less emotional comparison and defense/rejection of the books in question.

My second, much lesser, complaint about this book is that some of the details of both stories are incorrectly portrayed. Elements of both LOTR and Harry Potter are discussed in length and every time that a fact or detail from one of these stories was represented poorly or altogether falsely, I had to put the book down. I have read both series of books multiple times and know them very well, and it is possible that such details would not bother a less invested reader of this comparison book, but it bugged me. In the writers' defense, it was never anything big; just simple details that a nerd like me would notice. 

And in fairness, this book was published in 2003. LOTR and Harry Potter were only just taking the world by storm due to their movies being made. People had read Tolkien's work for years, but both series were becoming popular with the majority of culture when this book was written.

With those two complaints out of the way, I can say that it was an interesting read, and certainly made some very good points--both in defending of LOTR and in rejecting Harry Potter. The defense and rejection of the two series in question were both made from a Christian worldview and with Scripture in mind.

One of the biggest arguments for LOTR and against Harry Potter in this book is that the magic in one is entirely power given from God (Eru) while in the other it is very much elemental witchcraft. The magic users of one rely on a higher source of power while the magic users in the other can, in essence, become gods themselves. This comparison is a good one, that I hadn't considered before.

Yet I don't feel this argument was entirely written well in this book of comparison. It had the potential to be a solid argument, but I don't think the execution was there. The explanation of the magic in Harry Potter was thorough and the reader allowed to draw their conclusions based on facts presented. The explanation of the magic in LOTR was briefer, rather glossed over, and relatively ignored. The reader simply had to accept that the authors knew the truth of how Tolkien meant magic to be rather than being able to read the facts in the same way as the authors had presented Rowling's designs. This, in my estimation, was another flaw in the book.

When you get about 50 pages into the book it turns into a full-on movie review of each individual movie (those that had been released in 2003, at any rate). I did not see this coming and it felt odd, and out of place. When reviewing the movies with the same lens as the rest of the book, discussing the elements of the story that were either in line with a Christian worldview or not, I had no serious objection. But when the movie review started talking about actor portrayals of specific characters, set design, what age would be appropriate to watch the film, etc, I couldn't help but laugh. That isn't what the rest of the book is about, so, as I said, the in-depth movie review seemed out of place.

Along those same lines, towards the end of the book the authors go in-depth about what a story is; premises, themes, genres, the whole shebang. I skimmed much of these pages because I am an author, so it was all incredibly redundant to me. However, for anyone who isn't as familiar with stories as I am, this part of the book would, I imagine, serve a purpose. The premise of this comparison book is that stories can affect us for good and ill, and if you don't know what a story is then you won't understand that premise. Still, if the purpose of this section detailing what story means--down to the very detailed differences between genres--was to prepare the reader to understand the rest of the book then perhaps it should have been at the beginning, not the end. Otherwise, it is simply an odd bunny trail at the end of the book that seems to serve no purpose. 

A large part of the Frodo and Harry book is devoted to how impressionable young minds are and what children will glean, consciously and unconsciously, from both series of books in question (and the movies). This idea, which was referred to many times throughout the book, was well written and credibly backed by research. It wasn't always attached to the question of magic in the books, either. For example, early on in the book while discussing what children might learn from the heroes of both series, the authors point out that from Harry Potter children might glean that it is appropriate to break rules as Harry and his two best friends break every school rule in the book and are rarely, if ever, punished for it--and are, more often than not, rewarded for such behavior as it enabled them to defeat whatever 'bad guy' they may have been up against, rooting the idea of "the ends justify the means" into young readers' minds--and the two biggest rules-breakers (Fred and George) are glorified and glamorized. The latter trouble-makers rarely break the rules for 'the greater good' as the heroes could be defended in doing so. They simply break rules because they can, and the other characters, the author, and the readers (and yes, I am one of those people who loved Fred and George) are treating contempt for authority for no other reason than present amusement as acceptable behavior.

I greatly enjoyed the discussion on how impressionable children are. As a nanny, this is something I am acutely aware of and plays a large role in how I live day-to-day. And I do believe the entire discussion on children's minds was very well written. It was the best part of the book.

One of the sentences on the topic of impressionable minds that stood out to me in the comparison book was this: "Although he has many good qualities, Harry Potter's disobedience, lying, and propensity to break the rules and seek revenge set him against the Biblical model of a righteous hero" (pg 69, Frodo and Harry). 

Every argument that the authors made in regard to the impression each series would leave on children or the behavior that the books might encourage was perceptive, credible, and at times scary. Children soak up everything. 

This is a small complaint, and a personal one, but most of the defense of LOTR lay in a quarter that bothered me. Allegory. The authors of this comparison book fell back on that a lot. This element was Biblical allegory, that element was Biblical allegory, and that's why it is a good book to read. This bothered me personally because Tolkien himself adamantly insisted his books were not allegorical.

To be fair, it is true that Tolkien's beliefs and Christian worldview did influence his writing, and he would admit to that himself, I'm sure. It wasn't that I disagreed with the authors for saying that the themes in LOTR, particularly the moral ones, were in line with Christianity more than those in Harry Potter. That assertion on the part of the authors is certainly true. It was just the insistence that LOTR was allegorical that bothered me, because from the author himself--it wasn't meant to be.

One section of this book that I greatly enjoyed was the emphasis on Christians learning the craft of storytelling as a means of communication. Everyone in our society watches movies, and most read books as well. Stories surround every part of our lives, and they influence us deeply, whether we realize it or not. The authors of this book emphasized that because of the powerful nature of stories--which even Christ understood, telling many parables himself--one of the best ways for us to influence society for the better is to be able to tell stories as well as non-Christians do. I loved this portion of the book because I myself am a storyteller who is trying to bring joy to people's lives, encourage them to live morally, and most importantly point them towards Jesus.

Overall, Frodo and Harry was a thought-provoking book that raised a lot of good questions that every Christian parent should be asking before letting their children read any series of books, not just the two in question. There is also a great deal of time dedicated to explaining the science behind children's impressionable minds within this book, for anyone who is not aware (granted, it was 2003; there's probably more updated research somewhere...). However, it was also poorly laid out, often distracted from its purpose, and at times badly written.

Would I read this book again? I doubt it. I read it from mere curiosity, as an avid reader of both series of books in question. And it satisfied my curiosity. But the book itself is geared toward parents--and I am not one--and was also, at times, rather off-putting for me to read (for the reasons stated previously in this review). So, no. I probably won't pick it up a second time, unless for particular research on something related.

Would I recommend this book to others? Possibly. I wasn't particularly fond of it, but it did make good points and it was based in Scripture.

If you are a Christian parent who is curious about how entertainment affects your children or want to know more about how to prevent a lot of negative influence from the entertainment industry, then maybe this would be a good read for you. The discussion on children's minds was, as I said, the best part of this book.

If you are an adult Christian seeking answers to the 'should I read LOTR?' or 'should I read Harry Potter?' questions--maybe. I would say this comparison book is certainly helpful when thinking about such things. The science on the impressionable minds of children may or may not be useful to you as a grown individual--and that science makes up the majority of the book--but it is insightful. The fact that it is written to the parents' perspective and the fact that it does not represent both sides of the coin equally would lead me to suggest there are likely better works out there to answer your questions. However, it does raise good questions, it does have Scripture as its foundation, and it would be a decent place to start.

I hope you are having a lovely day and reading lots of books!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the great review! I have never heard of this book before. The subject matter is one I'm interested in, so it's too bad to hear that the arguments weren't always well laid-out; I can see how some of those things would be frustrating.


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