I've got a bunch of excited kids around tonight, wearing their homemade stenciled "HP" shirts and getting ready to go to the midnight showing of Harry Potter. And it's got me thinking about the role of fantasy and the magic world view in the lives of Mormons.
Now, most Mormons are a bit different than the brand of evangelical Christian who doesn't bother reading speculative fiction and sometimes even forbids the reading of fantasy stories, especially those containing elements of magic. I personally view fantasy literature as conducive to the building of a strong imagination. How will we learn to create worlds if we don't use our minds to imagine? Fantasy also contains strong themes of good and evil, death, humanity, heroism, and friendship. Fiction is a way of exploring the real issues of our lives in a non-threatening way.
But one of the reasons I think that Mormons do not feel threatened by fantasy and literature with magical themes is that they draw a strong delineation between this type of fiction and real life. And in this I see a giant step away from our nineteenth century religious origins.
In early Mormonism there was a strong magic world view. Everyday life was a place where buried treasure in the earth slipped away just when one was about to grasp it. It was a place where angels offered their palms for a handshake. Because the supernatural was possible, God himself could come down and reveal himself to a 14-year-old seeker. In this newly restored Church, a handkerchief or a cane could heal the sick and dying. The gift of tongues was an outpouring of glossolalia, and tongues of spiritual fire leapt from the windows of dedicated temples.
The Mormons of our century are in a strange place. With our minds steeped in the scientific method, we need to presuppose a rational explanation behind each seemingly supernatural occurrence. The gift of tongues is converted to an enhanced ability to speak and understand foreign languages. Healing is "according to the Lord's will" and assisted by modern medicine. Slippery treasure becomes a metaphor for a weakening economy. Though we hesitate to claim supernatural abilities for ourselves, we are constrained to believe the mystical experiences of our forebears. We speak and teach of the metaphysical in our lessons and testimonies of Joseph Smith and the early Mormons, but hold back from experiencing such esoteric episodes.
No, the magic of Harry Potter doesn't threaten the modern Mormon. We are too far removed from it. Not ours, the fear of the fanatical Christian who worries that reading about sorcery or the occult will give a tangible devil a foothold in the human soul. We tend to read our fantasy literature from one step away. Is that how we are reading our Church history?