Introvigne is director of the Turin-based Center for Studies on New Religions.
Q: You say that the anti-Potter critics show a certain kind of fundamentalism. That would seem to "poison the well" regarding any serious criticism of Potter. Could it be possible that such critics are a "voice in the desert" fighting an increasingly secularized culture?
Introvigne: On "poisoning the well" -- fundamentalism is a recognized cultural category, and I do not use it as a "four-letter word." I do believe that fundamentalism, particularly in its original late 19th-early 20th century form, did serve a useful purpose in calling attention to certain neglected fundamentals.
Neo-fundamentalism is, on the other hand, overzealous and unnecessary. Neo-fundamentalists do use four-letter words themselves, such as "cult" and "occult" -- two words with very few accepted academic uses and usually avoided by most academics.
Fighting secularized culture means, in 2001 A.D., fighting culture. Ninety-nine percent of our culture, both popular and learned, is mass-produced and secularized. Fundamentalists ring a useful bell when they remind us that it makes sense to confront secular humanism as an ideology. Fighting culture in general is different: It engages us in a fight we cannot win and is largely meaningless.
Q: Do you see no important difference between the magic of the classics -- "Lord of the Rings," "Cinderella," etc. -- and the self-serving, superficial magic of Harry Potter?
Introvigne: Not really. It all depends on prevailing literary taste. If you read the few collections of academic essays on "Harry Potter" already published, you find all range of opinions. It is hailed as a future classic by some, and decried as cheap mass culture by others.
The majority of critics are quite favorable, however. If you have a look of what academics initially said about "The Wizard of Oz," "Lord of the Rings" or "Mary Poppins," you will find the same range of opinions. Academic critics were not around or did not care about popular culture when "Cinderella" was first published.
It is simply too early to tell what sort of consensus will emerge on "Harry Potter," but most critics are favorable. Others have emerged as implacable foes, such as Harold Bloom.
Regarding Harry Potter´s magic as superficial compared to, say, Cinderella, seems to me a rather bizarre conclusion if one looks, for example, at the fourth volume.