In Defense of Harry Potter
By Mark Gudgel
November 16, 2005
In a matter of days, parents everywhere will be forced to respond to a universal inquiry: “Mommy, Daddy, can I go see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire?” This question will likely be asked of both Christian and non-Christian parents, guardians and grandparents the world over. For the Christian, what is the correct answer to this question? In light of the spiritual allegations many churches are making against the book and film series, “no” seems like a safe bet. (If you don’t really know anything about it, abstinence can’t hurt, right?) But perhaps the better question is this: As followers of Christ, are we accomplishing anything good or preventing anything bad by forbidding our children to read or watch Harry Potter? The answer to that question, I assure you, is “no.”
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the series’ first book by J.K. Rowling, reached America in 1998. Since that time, the books have been both highly praised as fantastic fictional literature and heavily criticized for their supposed “occult” content. As an English teacher, I will attest to the great value of these books as an educational tool. When else have so many children, as young as 5 or 6 years old, excitedly lugged around 900-page books? Clearly, Harry Potter is doing great things for the literacy of a generation infatuated with video games. But more importantly, as a Christian and theologian, I will tell you bluntly that, while the Potter books do indeed contain stories centered around witchcraft and wizardry, they are not at all dangerous, but rather a positive influence on children and adults alike.
Critics of Harry Potter have gone as far as to write books about the series, condemning it with harmful and often inaccurate allegations. In contrast, many in favor of the books have compared their dynamic fictional qualities with those of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Those who stand against the books claim that they are “occult-glamorizing” fictional nonsense, while the works of Tolkien and Lewis are clearly Christian allegory. In his book, Harry Potter and the Bible, Richard Abanes writes, “The Potter books are little more than occult-glamorizing, morally bleak marketing sensations filled with one-dimensional characters.” Yet later in his book he goes on to compare the works of Tolkien to those of Rowling by saying: “… Tolkien’s moral boundaries are clearly drawn with good and evil characters … Orcs, Trolls and Sauron are evil; Gandalf, Hobbits, Elves and Dwarves are generally good. In Rowling’s novels, however, moral ambiguity and relativism abound.”
Abanes’ allegation is false for two reasons: first, the implication that the moral fiber of Rowling’s characters intentionally remains unknown to the reader is a common literary technique which lends itself to plot twists and surprises, and second, the same technique is one employed by Tolkien on numerous occasions, the most obvious example perhaps being the inward battle faced by both his good and bad characters as to how they respond to the cursed and powerful ring. Tolkien’s hobbits, which Abanes claims are “good,” kill one another over that ring; it’s a small part of what makes the story so gripping.
Further attempts to defame the Harry Potter books have come at the expense of their creator, J.K. Rowling. Contained within his book, Abanes authors a section that is clearly meant to deceive his readers or, in the least, to reinforce their unwarranted fears. The section titled “Rowling’s Inspiration” gives a detailed synopsis of modern occult practices. However, never in the three-page section is Rowling connected to occult practices, or even mentioned. The reason for this is deceptively simple: The occult is not Rowling’s inspiration for writing her wonderful books. So then what is?
Connie Neal, John Granger and John Killinger, among numerous other Christian writers, have all authored books in favor of Harry Potter. Their insightful writings offer theories about the books and their connection to biblical stories and themes. The underlying battle between good and evil is but one of the compelling connections offered to bridge the gap between Potter and our Christian faith. The remarkable thing about the works of Granger and Neal is that both writers admittedly set out to read the Harry Potter books in order that they might explain to their children why they were not to be allowed to read them. It was through their research and diligent parenting that they came to discover that there was no harm to be found in Rowling’s works, but instead, a meaningful connection to the most significant principles of Christianity. To quote Connie Neal from an interview she gave in the Dallas Morning News, “When I got to the end, I thought that in all my years I can’t think of a better illustration of the battle we’re in against evil than of one who dies to save the one she loves.” This is in reference to Harry’s mother selflessly giving her life to save her only son in much the same way that our Savior, Jesus Christ, died to save humanity.
Yet by far the most compelling insight into Rowling’s incredible books comes from her very own mouth. Perhaps the reason that Harry and his creator fall under such heavy fire by some is that, unlike Tolkien or Lewis, Rowling isn’t so outspoken about her Christian faith. For the reason behind her silence, in an article in Faith Today, Rowling was quoted as having said: “If I talk too freely about that, I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what’s coming in the books.” In short, to understand her faith might be to understand where the Potter series is leading. I find it difficult to seek out “occult-glamorizing” themes in her stories after hearing that.
It won’t be long before the children in your life come asking you to take them to see Goblet of Fire. If you’re still unsure, read the books and see for yourself. They’re harmless fiction, yet capable of promoting in a child a sincere love for reading and literature. Even if your child doesn’t make any astute connections to Christian allegory from the Harry Potter books and movies, the literacy skills they may derive from reading them can certainly translate into valuable Christian dividends later on in life.