Skip to comments.Defending Harry Potter
Posted on 06/23/2003 7:13:28 AM PDT by Xenalyte
If provoking others to sneer is your thing, I've got the trick: Just walk into a room of Christians and say, "I love Harry Potter!" It works like magic.
Take the case of Beliefnet writer Anne Morse, who has taken it on the chin for her support of J.K. Rowling's series of children's novels centered on the muss-haired, bespectacled boy wizard.
"Dear Ms. Morse," one reader began, "You are the handmaiden of Satan, a succubus from the pit of Hell." I suppose few folks ever win points for timidity, but isn't this going too far?
The four Potter novels I've read have been very well written. The characters have deepened and grown considerably since book 1, making their continued stories of great interest. Rowling's humor works, and her sense of pace is nearly perfect. As the plots gain complexity from book to book, this is especially important. Rowling carried off the 700-plus pages of book 4 with hardly a bump unless we're talking about "witchcraft."
Sure to trip up at least some Christian readers (Frank Sinatra did say it was "strictly taboo"), I put the term in scare-quotes because the kind of "witchcraft" you get in the Potter novels is like the stuff you get from the green lady with the warty nose in the old Bugs Bunny cartoons.
My wife, a Wiccan before converting to Christianity, can well attest to the fact that flying broomsticks, wands, magic potions and the like are all, for lack of a better term, hocus-pocus. The use of these items in the Potter novels is pure fantasy and fancy.
Rowling ties some of the "magic" to the darker arts, sure, but that is only to create the necessary evil in the story. No conflict, no story. No bad guys, snore. In the end, the type of "magic" used in Harry Potter is no more diabolical than the so-called "magic" of the Tolkien or Lewis stories. (Note also a few other great Christian novelists who use "magic" to entertaining ends: Charles Williams, George MacDonald, Stephen R. Lawhead.)
What's more, Douglas Jones, senior editor of evangelical culture-and-thought magazine Credenda/Agenda, makes an insightful argument about the general shape of worldviews and the hat-tip that Potter however unconsciously makes toward Christianity, not against it:
One of the most overlooked features of modern stories like the Potter series is their implicit confession of the triumph of Christianity. This compliment to Christianity is not just the fact that the Potter stories are decidedly Christ-figure stories an elect son, threatened at birth, who sacrifices His life for his friends and triumphs over evil in an underworld, even coming back from death for a feast. Those narrative categories are complimentary enough, but the deeper compliment is the story's use of a Christian psychology. In its generic sense, a psychology is just a worldview's characteristic way of interacting with life. There is a distinctive Christian psychology, a Hellenistic psychology, a modernist psychology, a postmodern psychology, a Wiccan psychology, and so on. The Potter characters could have been written with any of these. They could have acted like those resentful infant-adults of the Iliad; they could have had the psychology of ancient druids. But they don't. Instead, the Potter stories give us largely Christianized witches, witches who have fully absorbed Christian ethical categories: love, kindness, hope, loyalty, hierarchy, community, and more.
Young Potter and his friends learn the importance of bravery, self-sacrifice, duty and defending the weak. And the story portrays a striking moral divide.
Take just the first novel: The lie of the main antagonist, Voldemort, spoken through an enslaved professor from Potter's school, is that "There is no good or evil, there is only power, and those too weak to pursue it." Harry knows the truth and fights to the point of death to keep Voldemort from seizing the power he desires.
On a more minor scale, The Mirror of Erised ("Desire" backwards) teaches a lesson about covetousness, contentment and spending too much time wishing after things wanted instead of going out and actually doing.
Some have complained about Potter's disrespect for authority and how he is seemingly rewarded for breaking school rules. This is poppycock. Rowling puts Harry into situations that make for good storytelling: The rule says one thing, but not confronting the danger lurking around the corner is far worse than the consequences of breaking the rule. The dilemma creates the tension that motivates the character. Moral and ethical dilemmas are what make or break stories. In short, Harry isn't rewarded for breaking rules; he's rewarded for sacrificing himself, saving lives and fighting evil.
What about the danger that people will miss the obvious moral message and heroism and succumb instead to the supposed proselytizing for paganism? Jones has the blunt instrument: "Harry Potter can't be a threat. Wizardry doesn't really work. And if your kids are really tempted to join a coven, then it's not a giant leap to say that you've failed miserably as a parent."
This may be too general a statement, but I think it's generally true: The morality of the Harry Potter novels is impossible to miss; the immorality has to be blown out of proportion or imported entirely.
Perhaps instead of railing, my fellow Christians should start reading. The Potter novels certainly get many things wrong, but they get a lot of things right, and if we are discerning, we can learn from both.
Any chance I could get that on a bumper sticker?
The "magic" in the HP books isn't Wiccan or any other kind of magic practiced by real people. It's fairy tale stuff - and no more to be believed than fairy tales.
Kids do go through a stage when they wish a story were true - my best friend and I as 7 or 8 year olds kept opening closet doors hoping we would find Narnia inside. (But we always remembered, as Lewis perpetually reminds his readers in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, that "it is a very foolish thing to shut oneself into a wardrobe.") :-D
C'mon...why drag Hillary into this?
I think the problem with HP5 is that she just finally had to finish it. The sixth book is gonna have to tie up some loose ends from this one.
Can I get one saying I'm like a "butler" of Satan of something? I'd look horrible in a "handmaidens" outfit.
Sounds like Hillary.
Which pretty well guarantees that the 6th one will sell too...;-)
In time to announce the beginning of the Armageddon, brought about as a direct result of reading Harry Potter books.
(On the other hand, I always wished that I could have a genie that looked like Barbara Eden ... as a teenage boy, the opportunities would have appeared limitless!) 8')
Maybe, but there is a sports car in the chariot race in Ben Hur...
Speaking of which, how many copies of Armageddon have sold?
Well, I'll be buying, that's for sure.
My wife and kids actually went to one of the midnight openings (I couldn't -- had to get up early on Friday....)
The kids -- in their own -- worked up costumes for themselves. Middle son already bears a strong resemblance to Mr. Potter, and thus assembled a quiddich costume. Daughter decided to be Moaning Myrtle.
And of all the kids there, youngest son was the only one dressed as Malfoy. It was downright scary to see how much he resembled him....
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