A priest with an ironic name seeks to edify young adult readers with a look into the world of wizardry from a Catholic perspective.
No stranger to ancient mythology and philosophy, Fr. Harold Potter has written four books and two epic poems under the pseudonym H.G. Potter. His latest work is a collection of seven short stories titled The Fall of Nystol and Other Tales. Concerned that the occult has been replacing true religion as a new spirituality, he hopes his writings will help readers reclaim a healthy view of reality and the supernatural world.
He has a master's degree in classics — Greek and Latin — and spent a year at Loyola University in Chicago studying at the doctorate level. Father Potter spent his early career teaching at Detroit-area community colleges and a high school.
At the age of 30, Fr. Potter had a later conversion and calling to the priesthood. He studied the Traditional Latin Mass with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, finished his studies at St. John XXIII Seminary in Boston and was ordained in the diocese of Kalamazoo in 2009. He has been serving as a parochial vicar and hospital chaplain in St. Joseph, Michigan. His strong, orthodox and exhortative homilies have been welcomed by some, but not all, and he is awaiting reassignment.
Church Militant sat down with Fr. Potter to see how he was able to merge wizardry and Catholicism.
Church Militant: Why did you start writing fantasy novels? What was the inspiration for your stories?
Father Harold Potter: I originally wrote the fantasy stories for my Dungeons and Dragons games as a boy/young man. I know it sounds bad to Catholic ears but please, hear me out. Back in the 1990s, I saw the Harry Potter books becoming world-famous, and I wondered what all this could mean, given my name and the fact that I had written wizard stories. Clearly, God was indicating something for me.
I went back to my stories and started to re-write them from a Christian perspective. I was not sure why God, perhaps, wanted this, but later it was a good hobby away from the constant study of academics in Seminary. I let the seminary experience inform my writing.
CM: Can you describe the overall feel of the stories (without a spoiler)?
Fr. HP: The themes of the stories are medieval and ancient. It's a kind of compendium of wisdom and thought in the style of antiquity. These stories were meant to convey some of the Christian and pre-Christian foundations of imagination, symbols of mythology and discussions of philosophy.
They are kind of midway point meant for those obsessed with not-so-healthy fantasy worlds like Harry Potter, but they attempt to heal by means of presenting a critique of magic and offering faith as an alternative, illustrated by various biblical themes.
The stories take place on a lost continent of this, our reality of Earth, which has been colonized by the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Medievals. It was meant to be a condensation of cultural realities I had learned from my studies of the ancient world, for the benefit of those who do not have the time or ability to learn classics or ancient philosophy.
This is very important for some Christians who need a backdrop of Western civilization to support their faith.
CM: Is there any symbolism or special meanings in the names or places?
Fr. HP: Certainly there is a kind of symbolism. Certain cities on the lost continent correspond to certain civilizations. Regulum, for example, is analogous to Rome, Hermopolis to Alexandria, Vesulum is for Jerusalem. There is a mountain of God, like Sion, called Arginuzial upon which Jesus rules as king; it is a pilgrimage site for the Christian kingdoms. He is called "The Furth High King." Characters also represent biblical or historic figures, or even are prophetic.
However, I do part from J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis in my approach. The technique they used was analogy (Tolkien) or allegory (Lewis). With the downfall, now almost complete, of cultural Catholicism, young people are no longer catching Tolkien's analogy to Catholicism.
In fact, I would say that it is now almost entirely ignored and the fantasy elements have become the only attraction.
C.S. Lewis and others do not necessarily succeed in demonstrating the importance of religion for today's generation. My storytelling includes the Church as a reality counterposed to the occult and institutionalized magic. So there is not just allusions to God and issues surrounding God, but the characters actually explicitly talk about these things — about faith or the consequences of disbelief, the miraculous and the mysterious.
The Ammouric Rite of the Catholic Church and its governing arm of the Soothfold is something for the wizards to reckon with, but it is also the Medieval Church with all its secular authority and interior corruptions of clerics.
CM: You mentioned that your book the Fall of Nystol is meant for readers that are obsessed with fantasy worlds. Is it bad to sort-of "live" in fantasy worlds?
Fr. HP: Certainly, it's bad to live in a fantasy world when reality, especially creation, has so much to offer. It is the easy path for those young who have been wounded or experience a kind of melancholy or angst.
But you can see also that the disenchantment with modernism and post-modernism is driving youth not only to imaginary constructs for a kind of false emotionalism, but even to the addictive virtual reality of computer game worlds in which pseudo-relationships and violence are the supreme enjoyments. This is diabolical.
CM: Is this true for other genres?
Fr. HP: Yes, but not as much so. The genre of westerns, for example, is low fantasy and closer to real life, so it's not as bad. They do include a lot of killing, but usually the virtuous characters triumph.
The world of Harry Potter is very alluring because it is a kind of low fantasy mixed with high fantasy, but connected to our real, everyday life. Strict high fantasy is usually less popular because it does not imitate real life. Aristotle taught these concepts in his book of poetics.
CM: How can readers escape from an unhealthy obsession with a fantasy world?
Fr. HP: Well, since fantasy is a kind of escape in itself, the answer is not further escape, but acceptance of reality. For young people, this means first and foremost to accept who they are and how God made them and to have an appropriate self-love. It is impossible to love others without this.
Inordinate self-love leads to sin, but so does self-loathing. This is one of the reasons I wrote the book Never Leave Your Monastery. It is a vehicle for acceptance of self, and I think I share this in common with Tolkien.
CM: How do you balance the fantasy world with the Catholic faith?
Fr. HP: I do not want to balance it, but to contrast it by juxtaposition. Part of the tension that exists in my writing has to do with bringing the reader to a kind of realization that fantasy is derived from reality, not divorced from it.
The story-telling is a form of edification and education back into reality. What they seek is actually all around them, even within, and certainly spiritual. What they seek is already written and simply is the luminous Christian life.
CM: Isn't sorcery condemned by Scripture as a sin against the First Commandment? Do you portray magic and the like in the book as sinful?
Fr. HP: Certainly, sorcery is condemned and rightly so. It is the summoning of fallen spirits. However, this is not stopping many young people from dabbling in it.
All you have to do is walk through Barnes and Noble or turn on the TV and there are signs of the occult everywhere. Harry Potter has become the spirituality of the new generation. I knew this was going to happen when J.K. Rowling's books started getting popular in the 1990s because, by that time, I myself, as a young man, had been studying many things linked to the occult. I was Christian enough not to get deeply involved with it and rejected it as a solution.
Our Church had failed to catechize the youth, so J.K. Rowling catechized them with her occult doctrines instead. Her first scene, featuring the serpent communicating with man, says it all right there. But her stuff is fairly shallow. For anyone that knows the source material — she was also a classics major steeped in pagan mythology like me — it's obvious that she completely pillaged the 1980s Dungeons and Dragons of Gary Gygax.
The popular culture of fantasy has co-opted all the cool cultural stuff from the Medieval times, i.e. Game of Thrones, and chucked the Catholicism which gave birth to all those things. Therefore, it's basically diabolic.
My desire is to reverse this. Wizardry in my book is portrayed how it was understood in the Medieval period: not evil in and of itself when merely manipulating matter. That's just technology really, like we have today. The very computer you are reading this on would be considered magic. The magic becomes evil when sinful men utilize it for their own ends — warlock and witchcraft — and so merit the wrath of God and devouring flames.
The story includes an early form of magic — what the Church called "natural magic" — in which certain rules had to be obeyed in order not to anger God, or even transgress the old pagan piety. Even the ancient Romans of the Republic, who were pagans, condemned not magic, but witchcraft with the death penalty.
In my stories, in Nystol, the city of wizards, there is the Soothfold, a council of clerics who make certain that ethical laws are observed when magic was used. However, certain evil-minded practitioners with unsound philosophical ideas were tolerated. They became Sorcerers, summoning evil spirits, and therefore earned divine retribution for the entire city.
Unfortunately, along with all the magic scrolls were all the books of the entire continent in their libraries, and all were burned. I came up with that story way back in 1988. A great age of darkness commences for the continent in which the Christian kingdoms had to pay the price for sin, making war with the dark Lord of the North, the Dire of Melancholy. Eventually, the kingdoms begin recovery, but soon, by the mystery of iniquity that St. Paul mentions, the Antichrist comes to power and threatens to restore Nystol! Most of the kingdoms apostatize and submit to his power, save one, the Kingdom of Ael Lot under their new Christian queen — but that's all for a later book.
CM: What types of moral messages do you show in your stories?
Fr. HP: I hope this: repentance, humility, the cross, preparation for the Apocalypse and God's wrath upon the wicked. The city of wizards, Nystol, self-destructs, not on account of magic, but rather pride and religious indifference. The barbarians who destroy the city are the scourge of God. Of course, this is all very medieval morality-themes. We worship the same God today, by the way.
CM: How can readers tell if a book, movie, TV show, video game, etc. is "bad" and should be avoided as the examination of conscience tells us to?
Fr. HP: If some entertainment clearly excludes God, or somehow celebrates the indignity of man or the diabolic. A good sign is always given at the outset. If you hear the name of God being taken in vain, or anything blasphemous, immediately stop and turn it off or put it down. Satan can't help himself and always gives himself away.
CM: You've written four books and two epic poems. Which is your favorite and why?
Fr. HP: Although its not easy reading, Never Leave Your Monastery is the most Christian in its culture. I love it because I think God put more in it than I did!
CM: What is your next project?
Fr. HP: I must write the sequel and final book to Never Leave Your Monastery, in which the monk-hero returns to the monastery and restores true spirituality to the order of monks in Homeric fashion (like Homer's Odyssey), inspiring repentance, punishing the wicked and bringing about submission to the Furth High King. I imagine it will be several years before it's done.
The complete works of H.G. Potter can be found here.