(Warning: this post contains some spoilers of what happens in the Harry Potter series. If you are one of the nineteen people left in the world who has neither read the books nor watched the movies and still intends to do one or both, you may want to come back and read this later. Otherwise, please read on…)
One of my rules for this blog is that I won’t write about anything of which I have nothing to say. And so far, this rule has kept me from writing about several thoughts that have went through my mind, as well as kept my posts at a minimum. (Well, busyness has been a contributing factor too.)
One of the reasons I was so busy in June was that I dedicated my free time to reading and watching the entire Harry Potter series for the very first time. (Your opinion of Harry Potter will determine if you think this was a worthy endeavor or not.)
Ever since I have finished the series, I have wanted to write something about what I thought, but I have been reluctant since at this point I am such a Johnny-Come-Lately on the Harry Potter scene. The people who like the books have had their say, and the people who condemn the books have had their say, and the whole thing has really quieted down since the last book came out a few years back.
However, when the final movie debuted last week, I noticed on Facebook that the debate is still being fought (although it no longer rages) between Christians who have read the books and found them good and Christians who dislike the books, mostly without ever taking the time to read them. And when I realized this I realized that there were probably a bunch of Christians who are still in the same place I was a month and a half ago, having never read the books but at the same time considering them with both curiosity and caution.
I had wanted to read the books for a few years, but I had never had the time because the series is a very large undertaking, and unfortunately my education kept getting in the way. (Mark Twain would never have approved.) At the same time I kept wondering if the Christians who so opposed the series were right, or if they were making a mountain out of a molehill, which is something most of us tend to do from time to time when we want to be right.
There is no denying that in Scripture God explicitly commands his people to have nothing to do with witchcraft and sorcery. In fact, he calls such things ‘abominable.’ Many Christians who attack Harry Potter from this angle will quote verses such as Deuteronomy 18:9-14 or others that are similar. (Probably most of the controversy would have been avoided if Rowling had simply never called the female wizards ‘witches’.)
I’ll admit that these verses gave me some pause, but I also had seen how Christians had reconciled the magic in the Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings with the Bible with no problem, and obviously many Christians around me were able to do the same thing with Harry Potter. Eventually, I reasoned that most of my closest friends were tearing through the series without being consumed by darkness or being tempted to become Satan-worshipping wizards, so I resolved to read the series before the final movie came out. And I only just made it.
Now I want to share my thoughts on three things that have been on my mind since I finished the series: 1) What exactly is the nature of magic and evil in Harry Potter? 2) How should Harry Potter be viewed in comparison to the Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings? And 3) How strong of a connection is there between Harry and Christ?
1) When Cedric Diggory was killed by Voldemort near the end of Book 4, I realized immediately that the series had taken a dramatic turn from being a story of a boy wizard and his hijinks at school to one of good vs. evil.
There was no way that Harry could keep on being the same careless, quick-tempered boy he had been through his first four years at school. There was no way that the evil of Voldemort could be allowed to go unchecked. The lines had been drawn, and the battle had begun with three books to go.
At this point, I expected the books to keep getting darker and darker, with more death and more dark magic. I expected Harry to have to learn more of the dark arts and master some of the more terrible curses if he was going to be able to overcome the power of Voldemort.
But that never happened. Not only did Harry become more and more resistant to anything that was a product of darkness, but he also continued to fight that darkness with his good defensive charms and counter-curse spells…spells that were meant to protect and never harm. Harry relies on these spells to the very end, eventually defeating Voldemort, not with a killing curse, but with a simple disarming charm. Good very much triumphs over evil when all is said and done, because evil never gains control of the hero.
But, what about the magic itself? Whether it is protective magic or dark magic, isn’t it all still bad and in turn contrary to the Bible?
Here is where I think Rowling makes a stroke of genius, because in her story magic is not a power one gains by submitting oneself to the control of a malevolent being. Magic in the latter sense is clearly what God opposes in the Bible. He despises any attempt to consort with an evil spirit in order to gain power or knowledge at the cost of losing one’s own soul. His law is against magic in the real world that is gained by submitting to someone other than him as Lord.
But this is not the picture of magic we get in the perfectly fictional world of Harry Potter. Instead, magic is a talent someone is born with. Being magical in the Harry Potter series is no different from being musically talented, or being a good marksman, or being double-jointed. One may inherit the talent from one’s parents, or one may simply have the gift when others in the family don’t have it.
Also, unlike sorcery and magic in the real world, magic in Harry’s fictional world is neither good nor evil, but amoral. Chris Tomlin and Marilyn Manson are both talented musically, but they have chosen to use their gifts in radically different ways. In the same way, Harry’s magical abilities come with a choice of whether they will be used to help or to hurt, to mend or to mar. As Spiderman’s Uncle Ben has too often been quoted as saying, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and I think the responsibility that Harry and his friends have to use their powerful gifts responsibly is a picture of the responsibility each of us have to use our much more insignificant gifts rightly.
A couple of side notes:
First, I have heard many Christians claim that the spells in Harry Potter would encourage children to begin practicing magic. The spells in the series appear to be harmless, as they are simply slightly misspelled (mostly) Latin roots that are related to whatever the English spell does. (Wingardium Leviosa makes stuff fly…most of them are like this and make me laugh.) Rowling also mentions that Harry and his friends must make the correct motion with their wand when they say the spell for any of the magic to work, but these hand motions are never described. To think that real children could learn magic from these fictional books seems really quite silly to me. They are not a handbook for magic.
Second, some Christians argue that the series is especially dangerous for people who are tempted by the occult, and I think this is a valid concern. If someone is tempted to mess around with the supernatural and dark spirits, then I would advise them not to read these books. While I think the books are harmless, someone else might take the descriptions of magic in them as motivation to seek out real contact with the supernatural in this world, and I don’t want that to happen. It is important to know your limits and to protect yourself where you are vulnerable.
At the same time, it would not be right to ban this book and deprive millions from the goodness it contains which I want to write about next. (When it was discovered that the Christian bestseller Wild at Heart was being used as motivational material in a Mexican drug ring, no one called for that book to be boycotted. Understanding context is always so important.)
Third, while I expected the series to get darker and darker as it progressed, it never reached the levels I expected. In fact, it was a lot less dark than some of the Christian fiction I enjoy by authors like Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker. Even death in Harry Potter was quick and bloodless. I was pleasantly surprised that Rowling didn’t go down the dark road she could have chosen to take.
This is not to say that the series was not dark. Harry Potter touches on issues like genocide and mass murder. I wouldn’t call these light topics for a nine year old to read. Rowling investigates the darker side of human nature without delving into the darker side of spirituality.
This post is getting long, so I am going to split it up into two parts. In a few days I will finish this by telling about the joy and perspective I gained by taking the Harry Potter journey. Until then, Peace!