Focusing on Tolkien, Harry Potter and Others

Council for Culture Joins in Event on English Literature

VATICAN CITY, MAY 9, 2006 ( Writers, literary critics and Church figures are gathered in Rome to analyze 20th-century English literature and answer the question: “Is there an authentic distinction in literature between reality and fantasy?”

These and other questions will be addressed during a study day on the theme “Catholicism and Literature in the 20th Century.”

This year the meeting, promoted by the Pontifical Council for Culture, and organized with the Institute of the Italian Encyclopedia, is being held in the institute’s Igea Room, in Rome. The two-day meeting, the seventh of its kind, ends Wednesday.

“From the literary point of view, did the 1900s see the triumph of realism or the return to fantasy?” asks a press statement from the pontifical council.

“The century of Proust, Svevo and Joyce was also marked by the popular success of the sagas of Tolkien and Lewis, to say nothing of the two major literary phenomena at the dawn of the new millennium: ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘The Da Vinci Code,'” it states.

Two questions stand out among those that will be addressed at the meeting: “Is it possible to be discerning in the ‘mare magnum’ [vast sea] of fantasy writing? And how does this task connect to the spiritual and moral dimension of literature?”

The meeting was presented today by Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Focus on Newman

Among the speakers are Oxford professors and writers Leonie and Stratford Caldecott, as well as Italian literary critics Paolo Gulisano and Andrea Monda, and Jesuit Father Gerald O’Collins, professor of theology at the Gregorian University.

The meeting is highlighting in particular the writings of English Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890), whose influence was decisive on 20th-century literature. Graham Greene called him the “patron of Catholic novelists.”

Newman’s “‘children’ are those authors who have managed to combine a taste for fantasy with adherence to the Christian vision,” said the pontifical council’s communiqué. “Some are well known, such as Tolkien and Lewis, but others, such as Chesterton, who died 70 years ago, deserve more attention.”

It added that the meeting is reflecting “critically on these authors in order to shed light on the media phenomenon connected to their works.”

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