HP Question

Alright, so I've got a question for you Christian Harry Potter-reading parents out there. Yes, Greg, that means you too.

Way back in the literary prehistoric early days of the Harry Potter series there was much controversy and consternation in many Christian circles about what a horrible thing it was and how it was going to normalize the occult and how children's faith would never survive this new onslaught. But slowly along the way, those voices started getting fewer and fewer (or at least quieter) until now it seems like just about everybody I know is a Harry Potter fan.

I have always been a fence-sitter. I'm totally comfortable with the way, say, Tolkein uses wizardry, spells, and the like (although I'm not sure I can put into words what about that makes it ok for me). But in a world (and a particular part of the country) where the occult is ever-growing in popularity, how wise is it for us to trifle with these things? So for some time I have wanted to read the HP series to get a feel for it myself, but there have always been other books more interesting to me at the time, and as a result I have read less than two pages of Rowling's work. (Aside: which two pages, you ask? The last two of the last book, naturally. Next question?) Now that there is all this hype about HP7 my interest has been piqued again and I would like to get my feet wet sometime when I've got nothing else to do (ha, ha).

So finally, around to the question. Now that you have read the whole series, grasped the breadth and length and height of Potterdom, what are your thoughts on the moral and spiritual influences of HP? Particularly for you parents, what are your thoughts on your own kids reading the series when they hit that age? Any qualifications / limitations / etc? Just curious to hear some thoughts now that the final period has been put on the septilogy.


Hutch said...

Don't have time to give you my thoughts now, but here is a Bobby Grow post on the subject. Plus the comments.

I don't agree with Bobby, but more food for thought. Will comment more later.

Jeana said...

I have liked Harry Potter from the start and to be honest I have always been confused by the argument that HP teaches children to love the occult. The magic and spells in Harry Potter is, in my opinion, less scary and mysterious than Tolkiens. Most of the spells are word plays with latin roots and are easily translated. For example, "Lumos" makes their wands light up. "Ridikulus" turns something frightening into something ultra silly.

I admit that I don't know very much about Wicca or the occult. But from what I have researched and from the testimony of a couple of friends who used to be involved in all that stuff and are now Christ followers, the magic of Harry Potter has nothing to do with Wicca. One friend even suggested that Wiccans would be insulted to know that people think HP's magic is even close to witchcraft.

I think that the Harry Potter septology is actually a great discussion starter for Christian symbolism. There is the ongoing battle between the Gryffindors (lion/eagle symbol of Christ) and the Slytherins (snake/dragon symbol of Satan). There is the overarching theme of love being the greatest magic there is (Narnia uses the same principles for its deep magic). Obviously there there is the great fight between good and evil, light and dark.

I'm looking forward to sharing Harry Potter with my kids--my plan is read aloud and really get into great discussions about Harry's adventures, the word roots of the spells and character names, and the symbolism--especially the beastiology.

Since Harry is 11 years old when the books start out, I would say that around 10 or 11 is an appropriate age to introduce kids to the books. Book 4 is when the books take a darker turn with murders and such and I really think kids would need the maturity to understand the horror and significance of that without having nightmares.

I can't get the link to Bobby's post to open but I am really curious to read his thoughts and Hutch's, too when he gets around to it.

Hutch said...

Huh, don't know why the link isn't working.


Hutch said...


**grumbles to himself**

"Late at night, trying to post and Blogger goes all weird on me... need to go to bed..."

**grumble, grumble, ZZZZZZZZZZZ"

Hutch said...

1) moral/spiritual influences of HP? Jeana hit a lot of the high points, but the overarching premise does boil down to 'Love is the deepest magic of all and will kick the tar out of any dark magic you can muster.'

As far as influences aside from that theme, it's an exposure to sin just as any other piece of literature not entitled "The Bible." There are very dark parts to it. The magic may not be there, but reading 1984 isn't exactly an encouraging read. I think the uproar was because it was magic, and a lot of magic at that, and maybe there are some parallels to a supernatural instance, but boy it's a stretch to put the HP series on any sort of level with the supernatural reality of what's going on around us. Do I believe in demons doing crazy things that may or may not look like some of the results of spells in HP? Yep. Do I attribute those things to folks waving wands? Nope. Can folks call on demons to do crazy things? Yep. Do the folks in HP call on demons to do those crazy things? Nope. 'Bout the only parallel I really see between the HP fiction world and the real supernatural world is that crazy things happen.

So to sum up question 1: it's fiction, it's not meant to be spiritually encouraging, it is a good story with funny and identifiable characters, might be too much for some folks, it's a matter of conscious. BIG FAT GRAY AREA you and the Holy Spirit will have to sort out.

Question 2) Kids reading the series? Yep. When the time is right. Slothboy gave a great answer a while ago: Start at the age Harry is when he starts and go up a book a year at a time, just as Harry grows in the story. Don't know if my 14-15 year old would be ready for book four when the time comes. Parental evaluation will be required. As with most things.

Final thoughts on the series: well plotted out story. Roller coaster plot line. Nice resolution. Not the emotional significance of a Potok book, but it's not meant to be. It's meant to entrench the reader in an imaginary world to view the maturation of one particular boy. And it accomplishes its goal well. As I've said before Jed, you would enjoy this series. You've got a bagillion more important things to do other than read it, but when you get around to it, it's enjoyable fiction.

Molo said...

Quick question: Isn't there a difference in how magic would be approached in literature in which the protagonists observe how magic is around them, as opposed to protagonists actively utilizing magic?

I'd offer up most of Tolkien's works to be of the first part, while (my knowledge is limited) HP seems to fall into the second.The closer one puts the audience into the mind of the "magic-user" themselves, the less room for error .

And I don't know if I buy the whole "When Harry is 11, the audience can be 11" argument. Ender's Game is a classic sf story in which the readership would be better served to be Ender's age at the end of the novel (14? 15 maybe?) rather than the middle or beginning (11 and 6, when I belive he kills a classmate). I know, apples and oranges. However, the children in Ender's Game are pretty much written as children would behave in that environment, not just small adults who must *always* be "wise beyond their years".

Greg said...

Okay, here I am Jed. It's been a busy week, but here is goes. I'm probably saying things that have already been said, but it's a risk I'm willing to make. First, I'd treat this like anything else your kids read. Talk about it with them and use it as a starting point for teachable moments.

For one thing HP is just plain creative and fun...at least at first; it remains creative, and then gets more intense. In the first book Harry comes to Hogwarts and he is 10ish. For those of the current generation who have grown up reading, the books have gotten more mature as they have. They start as children’s book and turn to young adult. By the fourth book it takes a darker turn and a student dies (each book after there are a series of deaths).

There are a couple things that I think teach bad principles. Harry and his friends are often rewarded or have minor consequences for breaking rules. There is an underlying principle of 'the ends justify the means' throughout. In the last book the good guys (Prof. McGonagall and Harry) are seen using Unforgivable curses liberally (which are were exclusive to the really bad guys). I would've liked them to take the high road on that. As far as demonic/Satanism stuff, there was maybe two times it felt a little too real (one reminded me of an experience I had with a girl who was possessed when I was on a short-term mission) and neither involved the waiving of wands. Very isolated incidents and for how big the books got too, not enough for me to quiet.

The whole thing with HP being tied to the occult is a cop out. I think the aforementioned issue has more impact for life lessons than HP being a recruiting tool Wicca. There are great lessons about friendship, self sacrifice, and love throughout the books. In fact the power of love is one of the main themes.

Carolyn & I decided long ago as my LOR DVD collection began to mount that if our kids read the books they could watch the movies. I think attitude behind that is that some things are too violent and scary and we need to protect our kids from that. We haven't bought any of the books because I don't love them that much (I get most books from the library and I have to be sold completely before I buy).

To be honest I think most of the Christian issue with HP is blown out of proportion. But, I also thought that about The Da Vinci Code until I read it. After reading I was really thankful for Darrell Bock’s Breaking the Da Vinci Code because the book really challenged foundational aspects of Christianity. Both HP and DV Code are fictional but I’ve read that Dan Brown really believes the theories he’s writing about. Rowling set out to write a fantasy and that is what it is. I'll be interested to here your response to these responses, eventually.

Jed said...

I haven't forgotten about you guys' wonderful responses to this -- there will be a post forthcoming once school gets out this week.