Wednesday, July 15, 2009

July 15, 2009 - A Common Story

Last night, Claire and I, along with our daughter Ania and niece Elizabeth, went to a midnight premiere of the film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It did not disappoint.

We’ve been fans of the Harry Potter books for some time, and have eagerly awaited each film as it’s come out.

I was struck by how many people showed up at our local multiplex (they were showing the film on at least two of their screens, possibly more). It’s a remarkable thing how many people of all ages have come to know and love these stories: enough to fill cinemas across the country till half-past three in the morning – and on a workday, at that. Judging from the comments we overheard, a great many of our fellow Potter-o-philes are very familiar indeed with minute details of J.K. Rowling’s teenage-wizarding yarn.

It’s a great thing to have a common story.

I was led to wonder how many people, in these days of secularism, feel such a passionate connection with the biblical story? Once upon a time, novelists, playwrights, screenwriters and other creative types could assume their audience could easily recognize biblical allusions. For example, I’ve been listening to a recording of Steinbeck’s great novel, East of Eden, as I drive around in the car. The book’s loaded with biblical symbolism. Were Steinbeck writing today, would he bother to tie his story so closely to archetypal biblical tales like that of Cain and Abel? Would his readers care?

The success of the Harry Potter oeuvre – and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings before it – speaks to this secular culture’s hunger for a common story, a deeply moral tale grounded in religious sensibilities.

Every time I attend my monthly Leukemia and Lymphoma Society support group (and it’s been several months now since I’ve been there, due to schedule conflicts), I’m impressed by the power of the common story we cancer survivors share. The details, diagnoses and treatments may differ, but there’s a deep well of common experience. In a very real way, the story of my fellow group members is my story too.

Yes, it is a great thing to have a common story.

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