Friday, July 15, 2011
The Rule of Storytellers
"When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one. The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it. . . . A story that is any good can't be reduced, it can only be expanded. A story is good when you continue to see more and more in it, and when it continues to escape you." -- Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners
IN THE BEGINNING
If Plato was right, that those who tell the stories rule society, then J. K. Rowling deserves more than an Order of the British Empire. She deserves a small country. To rule. Benevolently.
Eventually her little story would be translated into 67 languages, including Khmer and Ancient Greek. Her little stories have sold 450,000,000 thus far, and if the experts are right that her protagonist will achieve the eternal fame of Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse, then our children's children will quadruple that number.
One day her little stories were made into movies. So far, and we've still a stretch to go, her movie stories have grossed approximately $6,459,205,142. It appears that the words "millions"and "billions" most accurately characterize the effect that her stories have on those who experience them.
If we add the tie-in merchandise, then her little stories are worth a solid US$15 billion, which roughly equals the GDP of Honduras according to the International Monetary Fund.
Universal Studios Orlando decided to create a theme park so that all human beings could experience Ms. Rowling's little stories for themselves, could exist inside of them, could indwell their favorite characters.
"Muggle" made it into the Oxford English Dictionary, to the delight of many.
For the release of Goblet of Fire, FedEx used 9,000 trucks with no other purpose than to deliver the book.
Eight video games in addition to Cluedo, Scene it? and Lego Harry Potter have been created to entertain adults and kids from dawn to dusk.
A few devoted followers of the little stories created a convention called LeakyCon. Included in its efforts is The Harry Potter Alliance which raised more than $123,000 for the people of Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake. The Alliance has also donated 88,000 books to kids in underprivileged countries.
This is all because they read and believed in the story of Harry Potter.
A. N. Wilson praised Ms. Rowling's stories in The Times, stating: "There are not many writers who have JK’s Dickensian ability to make us turn the pages, to weep—openly, with tears splashing—and a few pages later to laugh, at invariably good jokes ... We have lived through a decade in which we have followed the publication of the liveliest, funniest, scariest and most moving children’s stories ever written."
Ms. Rowling, to bring my litany to a sharp economic point, has become the first billionaire author "thus far." It strikes me that she will be the only billionaire author far longer.
Somehow, someway, not altogether un-mysteriously, the little stories have quite literally changed the world.
IN THE END
J. K. Rowling believes that her little fictional stories have something to do with the fact that she believes in God, and not in any God either (and not because her parents were all that keen on Joanne going to church as a child). It is the God of Jesus Christ, whom the Spirit mysteriously makes to known to us, even in the secret places of the heart, that she believes.
If Stanley Hauerwas is right, that "both love and great art show us our world with a clarity which startles us because we are not used to looking at the real world at all,” then perhaps Rowling has disclosed something true about the world which God so loves that we would not have seen otherwise.
Perhaps the world has discovered something about love in the little stories which has awakened a yearning to know the source of all true loves.
It's just a little story, they say, a fictional one at that. But it's a story that will continue to rule the world, more powerfully I'm afraid than our best sermons or our most clever essays. Why? Because, like all good stories, the story of Harry Potter and the community of friends that surrounded him for seven years has captured our affections and our imaginations.
They say it all ends tonight. Yet it's really only just beginning.
Here's to going to the movie theater one last time in order to watch J. K. Rowling's final little story.