Dark. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is dark, the darkest of the Harry Potter movies. Reviewers used the adjectives to describe but also to praise. That is not unusual. I might not have even noticed except for wondering whether certain youngsters in my circle would be seeing the movie and what its impact might be. (To be sure, one certain youngster has not only read the book but could relate it scene by scene.) Dark means serious. Dark means shadows. Dark means not evading the sad and inexplicable complexities of lifeor even worse. Dark is grownup.I was mulling this when I read a short piece in the November 25 New York Review of Books about a previously unpublished confessional poem that Ted Hughes wrote but never finished before his death in 1998. It dwells on whom he was sleeping with, and where, on the weekend when his estranged wife Sylvia Plath committed suicide. Dont count me among those fascinated by either Plaths death or Hughess infidelities, any more than among those obsessed with whether the Rosenbergs were guilty. Those are special tastes.But Carol Ann Duffy, Britains current poet laureate, did get my attention by praising the poem as the darkest poem that he wrote about the death of Sylvia Plath, one that seems to touch a deeper, darker place than poem hes ever written.Actually the NYRB article, by Mark Ford, leaves a rather different impression, of a mans desperate effort to exorcise the memory of squalid, shameful behavior. Even before I read enough to entertain that conclusion, however, I was wondering how shopworn our praise of darkness has become, or how much it tells us about the conventional thinking of a post-Christian culture.Profound = deeper = darker. I understand the subterranean metaphor. But could we turn it around? What of the image of light? Though darkness is inescapable in our faith, could we write, even if somewhat paradoxically, that a poem touched a deeper, brighter place than any before it?Let us then throw off the works of darkness, Paul told us this morning, and put on the armor of light. I am sure that Harry Potter will. Maybe some reviewers will take up the challenge.
Peter Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal and religion writer for the New York Times, is a University Professor Emeritus at Fordham University and author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.