Read Harry Potter, Part Four (Objections Edition!)

Now, I figure I’d better address some common questions and objections.

Q: Doesn’t Harry Potter glorify something the Scriptures say is forbidden, namely witchcraft?

A: In short, no. The “witches” and “wizards” in the Harry Potter series bear zero resemblance to the sort of witchcraft forbidden in the Bible, which is of the sort that harnesses evil or demonic powers for personal use. (Just as a side note: both Daniel and Joseph are referred to in Scripture as “sorcerers,” and Joseph is also called a “diviner.” They used God’s power legitimately for godly ends, but even this is nothing like the Magic in HP.) The world of Harry Potter is parallel to ours, where “magic” corresponds with human ability in our world — ordinary human powers writ large, if you will — and can similarly be used either for good or evil. This is a common literary device throughout Western, and particularly English, literature since the middle ages, and does an especially good job of teaching the importance of using one’s abilities for good because of its fantastical nature.

Q: Doesn’t Harry Potter encourage young people to an unhealthy fascination with witchcraft, or even encourage them to explore Wicca or Neopaganism? I’ve heard children repeating the spells in the book or “casting” them on their friends!

A: Perhaps unsurprisingly, there have actually been studies done on this very question, and the answer is, in each study, definitive. When asked what they’ve learned from the books, children and teens nearly always point to the obvious themes of friendship, self-sacrifice and loyalty that pervade the story. Besides, it’s absolutely clear in the book that, “in-world,” people are born with all the capacity for magic they will ever have — much like how, in our world, people are born with natural skill in this or that area. In fact, one of the sub-plots in a later book deals with the absurdity of accusing people of “stealing” magic, clearly demonstrating that it’s impossible for anyone to take magic by force. In the world of Harry Potter, you’re either born a witch or wizard, or you’re not, and never the twain shall meet. Oh, and nerdily enough, most of the spells the characters use are Latin (or Dog-Latin) words or phrases that translate to what the spells do. They’re not demonic; they’re actually pretty silly and geeky. Besides, it’s a fantasy world; however much children might role-play going to Narnia after reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, how many of them actually believe in the existence of that place except in their minds?

Q: Doesn’t Harry Potter confuse children about the difference between good and evil?

A: Are you kidding? The entire series is the story of the battle between good and evil. In fact, one of the overarching themes is the obligation for the characters to choose the good, even when it would cause them harm — even when it might lead to their death! There is no confusion: good is good, evil is evil, and there can be no compromise between the two. And this is no Pollyanna-ish vision of a world where good people are always rewarded and evil is just pretend — the author fights against that idea in a sub-plot where those who would deny the reality of evil are depicted as fools, dangerous fools who are ultimately complicit in the evil one’s schemes. It’s a world much like ours, where sometimes evil seems to triumph, but where sacrificial love ultimately conquers, where mercy and compassion are stronger than greed and selfishness, where what is apparently small and insignificant matters more than what is apparently grand and powerful.

Q: Isn’t Harry Potter full of dark themes and symbols?

A: Well, what do you mean by “dark”? The series’ author has said that the theme of the books is death. Is that what you mean? If so, let me say that protecting children from reading about death means that they’ll never read the Bible, to say nothing of the Chronicles of Narnia or the Lord of the Rings books or countless other classic works of fiction. The mortality rate of human existence is 100%, and there’s no use trying to pretend otherwise. And as far as symbolism? Well, the main character is protected by the blood and sacrifice of another, which makes the evil one’s curse ineffective against him. The phoenix, the eagle, and the lion are common symbols, all of which traditionally represent Christ, and all of which, in the book, are seen as pitted against a serpent. The evil antagonist, who got to his current state of wickedness by grasping for his own power and glory, knows his downfall is certain and is systematically annihilated by the son of an old enemy. And I don’t have the space here to dedicate to all of the Christological symbols in alchemy, which is essential to the plot movements, characters’ names and significant objects in the books. Any search for hidden meaning in Harry Potter will lead inevitably to Christian themes, ideas, and symbols.

Q: Are you saying that these are Christian books or that J.K. Rowling is a Christian?

A: Depends what you mean by “Christian.” If you mean that Ms. Rowling is a believer and that she intended to write explicitly Christian books, then no. But if you mean that both the author and the series are so steeped in the lore and language and typology and symbolism of Christendom that if, like Bunyan, you prick them, they bleed Bibline, then yes, these books are “Christian” in that sense. Add to that the excellence — brilliance, really — of the storytelling and the charming prose and the beautifully-drawn characters and you have a book Christians ought to be happy to read with their children.

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3 thoughts on “Read Harry Potter, Part Four (Objections Edition!)

  1. Hmm, you have given me much to think about. I may have to give these books a try. I was one who has been pretty firmly convinced that they should at the very least be handled carefully by Christians. I read the first and was concerned with some “means justify the ends” kind of thinking.
    (BTW, I am really enjoying reading your blog, your mom recommended it to me.)

  2. If you’re still not persuaded ;), do take a look at the links roundup in Part Five. TONS of good, thoughtful stuff there. For what it’s worth, I think there is a lot of value in saying, “It’s ok for me to be convinced by the experiences of solid, mature Christians I know and trust, who have given a good defense for their opinions here,” whatever the subject is. Not as a substitute for conscience, but as an aid to the strengthening of conscience. But ultimately that’s what brought me around on Harry Potter. Several friends whose maturity I’m well acquainted with and whose judgment I trust nagged me for months to read the books, and I’m so glad I was willing to be persuaded! I read 5, 6, and 7 (a couple thousand pages) in six days. While jet-lagged. In Sydney, Australia.

    Thanks for the kind words!

  3. Thank you for writing this! I wrote a comparative essay on ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ in high school and came to a lot of the same conclusions.

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