Most of you will probably either find this post either unnecessary if you came to this conclusion long ago or may be rather opposed to what I am about to say. Recognizing both positions, I consider my effort to be worthwhile if a single person stumbles across it in browsing the web and decides to start thinking for themselves from reading this essay.
Last summer, after reading many arguments and articles online and in print for and against Harry Potter, discussing it with some of my writing friends and mentors in the CleanPlace Teen Writers’ Group, and even having one of my professors, Dr. Martin, tell me last spring (with a quirky, half-smile) that I should read it for myself (not to mention Matthew, a classmate in my Intro to Literature class during my first semester of college, express similar thoughts), I decided that I would have to read the Harry Potter series to truly form an opinion about them.
While Christians probably shouldn’t totally immerse ourselves in popular culture to the extent that we can’t separate ourselves from it, I think that we need to at least be aware of what is happening in it and have an educated opinion about books and movies that make big waves in our society. Harry Potter, I believe, is one of those elements of popular culture today that shows no sign of fading away anytime soon. Delving into the texts themselves reinforced to me the importance of evaluating and formulating my own opinions.
Shortly after I started the series, one of my friends from back in the Dallas Metroplex, Anna G., sent me this article, “Twelve Reasons Not to See Harry Potter Movies.” (http://www.crossroad.to/articles2/HP-Movie.htm).
While the article expresses many parents’ concerns, I have numerous issues with its logic. Most of the reasons and claims provided in it are null and void once you disprove one of the earlier ones. Another aspect to keep in mind is that the article was written in 2001, when the series was only halfway complete and not all of the movies had been produced.
Since this is a typical example of the fear-based articles that get circulated on the internet among conservative groups about Harry Potter and other children’s media, I answered the author’s claims blow-by-blow for my friend and am posting them in a more polished form.
Sidenote: I have encountered four general types of Christian readers in my life to date—people who believe reading all fiction is wrong (A older Mennonite lady who was a librarian in Montrose, Colorado told me once that her husband only read nonfiction, though she enjoyed fiction herself), people who believe any story with fantastical elements in it is wrong (this usually includes fairy tales, Greek mythology, as well as fantasy / science fiction), people who believe fantasy and magic is all right if a deity that corresponds allegorically to the God of the Bible is present (this would include Narnia and Donita K. Paul’s DragonKeeper series, but not Lord of the Rings), and people who think that any fantastical elements in fiction are all right, deity or not, as long as any “magic” does not involve contacting spirits or acting as a medium. Not everyone falls into these categories absolutely, but overall, it has been my experience that they generally do.
And these two blog posts are not really intended for people in the first two groups. I would have to have a different argument to first argue that reading fiction is not wrong in and of itself and that reading stories with fantasy / fairy tales are all right as well. These essays are meant to show those in the third category what the viewpoint of the fourth category is like so they can honestly consider it…and perhaps discover they already liked several stories that fall in the fourth group.
Spoiler Alert: For those who have not yet read the books, several major plot points must be revealed for the purposes of my argument. Be forewarned.
The article’s first point is this:
“1. God shows us that witchcraft, sorcery, spells, divination and magic are evil.”
Okay, I agree. The Bible verse they used, Deuteronomy 18:9-12, is correct.
Yet then the authors proceed to state:
“2. The movie’s foundation in fantasy, not reality, doesn’t diminish its power to change beliefs and values.”
Err…ok. This is partly true. Yes, fantasy can teach us values and influence our thinking—but that doesn’t mean that people who read it will believe that every element in it is real. How many people actually try to get into Narnia through a wardrobe? Or believe an apple offered to them by an old woman will harm them like Snow White? Most readers, even children, recognize the difference between reality and fantasy or fairy tales, absorbing the meaning behind the story rather than the actual elements in the story. Kids do pretend these things are real sometimes, but they are usually just doing it in an innocent way.
“3. Each occult image and suggestion prompts the audience to feel more at home in this setting.”
Hmm. Possibly. But—if the elements in Harry Potter are truly occultic, doesn’t that mean we shouldn’t read Lord of the Rings? That series has a wizard, Gandalf, who uses magical abilities. And he’s a good character. Someone we respect as readers. And maybe we shouldn’t read or watch The Wizard of Oz. That story has a couple of “good witches” in it. The fairy godmother in Disney’s Cinderella uses magic to rescue her, using a spell, “Bibbity-Boppity-Boo,” and wand while wearing robes. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvcTI3ctK8o) And what about Mary Poppins? I don’t say this in a cynical way; I mean it seriously. Logically, we would have to ban all stories with fantasical elements from children’s literature, not pick and choose the ones we like. And I know people who dislike those books / stories for those exact reasons. But to me it doesn’t make sense to say that those are okay and Harry Potter is not, when you honestly compare them. I never found a place in the series in which Harry or anyone else contacts the netherworld or demonic sources—magic in his world is like physics in our world and just happens to be there. Wizards are born with magical abilities—it is not something they choose to attain like people who practice witchcraft in our world. You either have the gift at birth, or you don’t. It’s not stated as coming from a deity or any other source, but is just a part of the fantasy world. I think we cannot conclude that the magic in Harry Potter is what the Bible describes as witchcraft if we do not have any textual evidence in the books that the magic originates from an evil source.
“4. God tells us to ‘abhor what is evil’ and ‘cling to what is good.'”
“5. Immersed in Hogwarts’ beliefs and values, children learn to ignore or reinterpret God’s truth.”
I’m not sure where the authors are getting this. Sometimes the kids in Harry Potter are mischievous. They disobey the rules sometimes and sneak around after curfew, but they usually have good intentions of trying to stop something bad from happening. (Not that this justifies their behavior, but we have all made similar mistakes). Once, in the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry sneaks out through a secret passage to a village near the school, Hogwarts. All the other people in his grade level and higher were allowed to go that afternoon, but he didn’t because he didn’t have a signed permission slip from a legal guardian. Harry wants to go to the candy shop and toy shop. In this instance, he doesn’t even have a good reason for disobeying.
But when he gets back, he very nearly gets caught by his least favorite professor, and another one of his teachers, Professor Lupin, keeps him out of trouble, yet reminds Harry that Harry’s parents died to save him as a baby, and he thinks it’s a poor way for Harry to live in light of their sacrifice: “Your parents gave their lives to keep you alive, Harry. A poor way to repay them—gambling their sacrifice for a bag of magic tricks.” Harry and his friends are human, and make poor decisions at times like all of us, but he’s usually reprimanded for it somehow. Consequences do exist in Harry’s world, despite it being a magical one.
“6. This inner change is usually unconscious, for the occult lessons and impressions tend to bypass rational scrutiny. After all, who will stop, think and weigh the evidence when caught up in such a fast-moving visual adventure? Fun fantasies and strategic entertainment has a special way of altering values, compromising beliefs and changing behavior in adults as well as in children.”
As consumers of media in so many forms, we do get caught up in any movie / book / other entertainment easily without considering the message behind the entertainment. But this applies to many things, not just Harry Potter in particular. Once we develop critical thinking skills and learn to analyze books and movies while we are being entertained by them or after we finish them, much of this danger is mitigated. Most children don’t do this, though, which is why their parents should discuss these things with them.
“7. The main product marketed through this movie is a new belief system. This pagan ideology comes complete with trading cards, computer and other wizardly games, clothes and decorations stamped with HP symbols, action figures and cuddly dolls and audio cassettes that could keep the child’s minds focused on the occult all day and into night. But in God’s eyes, such paraphernalia become little more than lures and doorways to deeper involvement with the occult.”
I believe I mostly addressed this under points #3 and #5, having stated that all of the magical elements in Harry Potter are not any different from other fairy tales and fantasy stories. Many other series/movies come with trading cards and computer games and other merchandise, too. Honestly, people can become obsessed with anything to an unhealthy extent.
“8. The implied source of power behind Harry’s magical feats tend to distort a child’s understanding of God. In the movie as in the books, words traditionally used to refer to occult practices become so familiar that children begin to apply the same terms to God and His promised strength. Many learn to see God as a power source that can be manipulated with the right kind of prayers and rituals—and view his miracles as just another form of magic. They base their understanding of God on their own feelings and wants, not on His revelation of Himself.”
I can understand how perhaps this could be a concern in how children view God—except there is no deity in Harry Potter’s world—a point many anti-Potter arguments I have read that were not as concerned with the fantasy elements have emphasized. But don’t even people who never read fantasy view God in this way? We cannot blame this inaccurate view of God on Harry Potter or even other fantasy stories in general. Even some Christians maintain a perception of God as simply the one you go to when you want something.
“9. Blind to the true nature of God, children will blend (synthesize) Biblical truth with pagan beliefs and magical practices. In the end, you distort and destroy any remnant of true Christian faith. For our God cannot be molded to match pagan gods.”
As long as children (and adults) recognize the difference between fiction and reality, they will not fall into that trap. Enough said.
“10. God tells us to ‘train up a child in the way He should go.’ It starts with teaching them God’s truths and training them all day long to see reality from His, not the world’s perspective. To succeed, we need to shield them from contrary values until they know His Word and have memorized enough Scriptures to be able to recognize and resist deception. Once they have learned to love what God loves and see from His perspective, they will demonstrate their wisdom by choosing to say ‘no’ to Harry Potter.”
Mostly true…but the children’s saying “no” to Harry Potter hinges on the books’ being classified as occult, which I do not think is accurate.
“11. While some argue that Harry and his friends model friendship and integrity, they actually model how to lie and steal and get away with it. Their examples only add to the cultural relativism embraced by most children today who are honest when it doesn’t cost anything, but who lie and cheat when it serves their purpose.”
I think I addressed this with #5. As I came to this point, I began to suspect the person who wrote this article did not actually read the books, or read them and saw what they wanted to see in them, having formulated their conclusions beforehand. And I don’t remember Harry or the others actually stealing. Sometimes they are sneaky or tell half-truths, and sometimes they do get away with it, but usually they are trying to do the right thing in the wrong way, and they are corrected in wrongdoing (as mentioned earlier about Professor Lupin’s conversation with Harry).
The kids learn from their mistakes—Harry makes a mistake in book five, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, that actually costs Harry’s godfather his life, because Harry falls prey to a trap from the Dark Lord, thinking he is rescuing his godrather Sirius. Harry chooses not to consult adults in the matter, but rushes headlong into the situation, following what Hermione calls his “saving people thing.” Sirius comes with others to rescue Harry and his friends from the trap they fall into…and Sirius dies saving Harry. Harry never forgets this, and resolves in the last book that no one else will die for him: “Dumbledore knew, as Voldemort knew, that Harry would not let anyone else die for him now that he had discovered it was in his power to stop it” and “‘I never wanted any of you to die for me.'”
“12. God has a better way. When His children choose to follow His ways, He gives them a heart to love Him, spiritual eyes that can understand and delight in His Word, a sense of His presence and a confidence in His constant care—no matter what happens around us. Harry Potter’s deceptive thrills are worse than worthless when compared to the wonderful riches our Shepherd promises those who will ignore evil and walk with Him.”
That point is also true…but again, is dependent on the previous claims that classify Harry Potter as occultic. The authors keep trapping us into agreeing with them by mixing truth with fabrication and exaggerations. Furthermore, can we be so certain that Harry Potter is diametrically opposed to the Christian worldview?
In my next post, I want to discuss more arguments commonly used to discourage reading the books and my own experience with the Harry Potter series and what I actually do see in them—themes and other elements. Analyzing one of the anti-Potter articles circulating on the web line-by-line pushes us to think critically without becoming emotionally invested in one side or the other.
Next post: Harry Potter and Me, Part 2