The End Is Here?

"My books are largely about death. They open with the death of Harry's parents. There is Voldemort's obsession with conquering death and his quest for immortality at any price. I understand why Voldemort wants to conquer death - we're all frightened of it." - J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter Books.

Lisa Jackson writing in Christian Parenting Today discusses the pros and cons of the Harry Potter books from the perspective of a Christian parent. She writes:

"You've undoubtedly heard of Harry Potter: loyal friend, expert athlete, boy wizard. For today's young readers, Harry Potter has become something of a hero, with enough charisma to force even a nonreader to turn off the TV or put down the joystick and open a book. But even though the Potter craze has turned thousands of television junkies into readers, for some Christian parents, Harry's no hero. In fact, some even claim he's "pure evil" and have called for a ban on all Harry Potter books in their schools and libraries.

Who is Harry Potter?
We first meet Harry in The Sorcerer's Stone. He's a 10-year-old orphan living with relatives who despise him. It's not until his 11th birthday that Harry learns he has magical abilities and a rather interesting past. When he was only a baby, his parents were both killed while trying to fight the most evil wizard on earth, Lord Voldemort. Miraculously, Baby Harry escaped the wicked wizard with only a lightning bolt scar on his forehead and little memory of the incident.

As a wizard, Harry is invited to enroll at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It's here that Harry realizes the significance of his past. Hogwarts is an enchanted place, invisible to Muggles (nonmagical people). Hogwarts offers classes like broomstick riding and care of magical creatures. During his first year at Hogwarts, Harry begins to develop his skills and comprehend the depth of his talent. He quickly becomes a top player of Quidditch, a game similar to soccer but played on flying broomsticks. But Harry learns more than just the mechanics of wizardry at Hogwarts. Beyond the spells and potions, Hogwarts is a place for students to learn the importance of friendship, honesty and loyalty. Here, Harry gains self-confidence as he learns to think for himself and make important decisions. He battles the class bully and eventually comes face to face with his archenemy Voldemort. In the end, with sizeable strength and courage, Harry prevails. The next three books in the series, The Chamber of Secrets, The Prisoner of Azkaban, and The Goblet of Fire take Harry on new, sometimes frightening adventures, and we are allowed a glimpse into the inner struggles he must go through to develop into a mature young man.

What's to love about Harry?
Not only are the Harry Potter books creative, insightful and well-written, they're downright funny. From portraits of people who talk and often leave their picture to wander around, to candy that tastes like earwax, to staircases that lead to different destinations on Fridays, Rowling's imagery ignites the imagination. For a generation raised on computers and quick-moving animation, Harry Potter provides creative fuel for growing minds.
Although the books aren't Christ-centered and don't promote Christianity, they still offer powerful lessons in compassion, courage, self-sacrifice and doing the right thing despite the risks. The characters are very real, experiencing real emotions and forming meaningful relationships with one another.

What's wrong with Harry Potter?
Although many educators and parents have praised the series, some Christians are still wary, claiming that children are being lured into believing in witchcraft and the occult. "They're trying to disguise things as fun and easy that are really evil," Elizabeth Mounce told school board members in Columbia, South Carolina. Mounce, the mother of two, was the first to speak out publicly against the Harry Potter books. And she's not alone. A quick search of the Focus on the Family Web site yields a host of objections and arguments against Rowling's work. The primary concern is that Harry Potter is marketed to children and presents witchcraft as something attractive. Critics are fearful of the kind of influence the books might have on impressionable minds. "By disassociating magic and supernatural evil, it becomes possible to portray occult practices as good and healthy," says John Andrew Murray in a recent issue of Teachers in Focus magazine. "This, in turn, opens the door for less discerning individuals to become confused about supernatural matters."

These are legitimate concerns. The Bible clearly condemns witchcraft and tells Christians to "avoid every kind of evil" (1 Thess. 5:22). But for the most part, Christian experts agree that the world of wizards and spells created by Rowling is not the same as the occult-type practices Scripture condemns. "The magic in these books is purely mechanical," says Charles Colson, Christianity Today magazine columnist and head of Breakpoint ministries. "Harry and his friends don't make contact with the supernatural world." The magic serves as a framework for the story, a technique used by writers as far back as Shakespeare, Tolkien and de Troyes (the creator of the King Arthur tales).

According to Italian theologian Massimo Intovigne, "Magic is the main metaphor for life in fairy tales. If one should ban Harry Potter, one should also ban Peter Pan, Cinderella and Pinocchio. Harry Potter, unlike a number of cartoon superheroes, doesn't win because he's more proficient at magic than the bad guys. He wins because he's intelligent and brave, and more human than his opponents. What the bad guys utterly lack is human feelings and basic human values." Alan Jacobs, professor of literature at Wheaton College in Illinois, even goes so far as to defend the Potter series as "a kind of spiritual warfare." "Harry Potter offers the possibility for serious moral reflection," he says. "And the question of what to do with magic powers is explored in an appropriate and morally serious way."

As with much of classic children's literature, the world of Harry Potter is a world where good and evil coexist in constant tension. There's little doubt that Harry remains on the side of right, battling the dark forces of evil. Children know that Harry is the good guy in these stories and can be confident that right will prevail in the end.

Where to be careful?
As Christian parents, it's important to be aware of the things our kids are reading, watching and listening to. The best way to determine if Harry Potter is right for your family is to read the books for yourself. Then filter their content through your own family's value system. Modern witchcraft is indeed a scary, seductive force that we must protect our children from. These books can provide a great starting point for talking to your kids about the evils of this world. Parents who decide to read the Potter books with their children should also point out ways in which the power Harry uses to defeat evil is much different from the power we have in God. "It bothers me that so much emphasis is on Harry's inner strength, his own abilities," says Sue Kramer, mother of three. "I want my kids to realize that our power comes from God, not ourselves. We read these books together and talked about how Harry might have behaved differently if he was a Christian. I think it was a good talk."

Although the Potter books are morally based, they don't always present black and white answers to life's difficult questions. Al Hsu, who's written extensively about Harry Potter for InterVarsity Press, says the books are "sometimes morally ambiguous. Though the mythology sets up the conflict between good and evil, it can be difficult to determine who is on which side." But viewed another way, says Hsu, this moral ambiguity actually strengthens the series, making it more real. As with every decision you'll face as a parent, the Harry Potter question really comes down to this: what's best for your child? You know your child better than anyone else and only you can predict how he'll be affected by these books. Whether you choose to say no to the books or read them aloud before bedtime, it's important that you make your decision based on facts, not fear."

The London Times of July 20, 2007 quoted a reviewer of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows who wrote: "Book seven is about coming to terms with death. From Plato to Descartes, our greatest thinkers have struggled with mortality and in crafting her own answer, Rowling heavily borrows from a Christian notion of resurrection and the wisdom of accepting our own inevitable disintegration and decay."

Harry Potter - good or evil?

Posted July 21, 2007

6 comments:

Helen Wright said...

Recently the Church of England put out a guide entitled Harry Potter Guide for Youth which is intended to evangelize among the youth using the “Harry Potter” phenomenon.

I see from the article that the Simpsons has also been used in this way. We did a series on the Simpsons in our own church (Presbyterian) a couple of years ago which was very successful and I think that a similar program on the Harry Potter stuff would be equally successful.

This quote from the article is particularly interesting:

From theological concepts such as sacrifice and mercy, to everyday issues such as fears and boasting, each of the guide’s 12 sessions reportedly provides a basis for an hour's discussions and activities. The sessions include Bible verses that present the Christian perspective on the theme, and prayer activities drawing on the topic. "Jesus used storytelling to engage and challenge his listeners,” Pritchard noted. “There's nothing better than a good story to make people think, and there's plenty in the Harry Potter books to make young people think about the choices they make in their everyday lives and their place in the world.”

For years now, Christians have been split on whether the Harry Potter novels have a negative influence on a person’s faith, in particular that of youth. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr, George Carey described the series as “great fun and a serious examination of good and evil.” Pope Benedict XVI, however, has taken the opposite view and lambasted the megahit fantasy series, describing it as “deeply distorting Christianity in the soul before it can grow properly.”

In his introduction, the author of the newly released guide acknowledges that some Christians have expressed concerns over the influence of Harry Potter, but argues that engagement with the phenomenal success of the series is more productive than criticizing it from the sidelines. "These sessions draw parallels between events in the world of Harry and his friends, and the world in which we are seeking to proclaim the gospel to young people," Smith writes. "The magic in the books is simply part of the magic that J. K. Rowling has created, in the same way that magic is part of the world of Christian writers such as C. S. Lewis.

Helen Wright

Avid Reader said...

Helen:

I think the Catholic church may be changing its position on Harry Potter. I came across an article in which The Mystery of Harry Potter: A Catholic Family Guide is mentioned and I quote:

In the midst of all this political correctness, this tolerant, non-judgmental, relativistic world, enters a story about a school where right and wrong are defined, rules are enforced, misbehavior comes with detention, evil is evil and must be fought and goodness is rewarded," said Brown, author of "The Mystery of Harry Potter: A Catholic Family Guide" and a former opponent of the novels. “Rowling has packaged a Christian story with a wrapping of witchcraft and magic, and through this disguise had drawn millions of children – millions of adults to read a redemptive moral story that perhaps can teach more than a religion class ever could," she added.

Ever
DM

Diana Malcolm said...

I can speak from experience that the Harry Potter books have had a vast influence on reading skills. I deal with children with learning disabilities or behavioral problems and it is very difficult to get them to do anything other that look at the pictures in sports magazines. Harry Potter is a completely different animal in which they become completely engrossed and I have been able to use the books to greatly improve their verbal skills.

Di Di

Stan Preston said...

Di Di

Want to teach a kid French, German, or Latin? Get the Harry Potter books in those languages and use chunks of them as the reading material in your class!

SP

PRD said...

SP and Di Di

You may be interested in this article which appeared in the Daily Telegraph talking about Harry Potter putting US schools under his Latin Spell.

The article says that “ Harry Potter has cast a spell on American classrooms. The use of Latin in J K Rowling's books has prompted a surge of interest in the classics among high school students. After decades of decline, the numbers taking Latin for college credits has soared by 80 per cent since the first book was published in the United States six years ago. This year, about 123,000 high school students will take the National Latin Exam - which counts towards university entry - compared with 53,000 in 1985. Teachers report that children aged 11 to 14, who previously had little interest in Latin, now choose it over French or Spanish as their foreign language. The big issue now is not lack of interest but lack of qualified teachers, as interest had fallen so far in the 1970s and '80s.”

prd

Neil said...

The Emperor Augustus is said to have uttered “Acta est fabula” just before he died.

I agree with the language suggestions!

The End is Here?

Acta est fabula! - the drama has been acted out!

What a great way to end the Harry Potter series with its possible use in teaching Latin and from what I understand there is a version in Greek being prepared.

Dominus vobiscum

Neil