I Am Still Ambivalent About Harry Potter

Keeping some perspective on Harry Potter

Harry Potter StarsI was forwarded a recent article denouncing Christianity Today for not taking a strong Anti Harry Potter stance. While I have had my own issues with some of the writers at Christianity Today and there are things in that CT article with which I do not agree, let’s put all the hyperbole aside and take a deep breath.

If your desire is to remove magic from your kids’ reading list, some of the best literature must be taken away. Need I remind you that Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia and just about every other fantasy novel or series have magic in them? Magic is a staple of the genre. In a previous post in this blog, I made some observations about this genre which point to our need for something bigger than ourselves. There is value in using literature to explore the big questions that confront us. These are question such as, who are we, why are we here and where are we going? These are subjects that fantasy literature explores.

With the release of the first Harry Potter book, some in Christendom began predicting that J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter would team up to destroy the faith every child and convert them to occultic practice. I haven’t seen evidence of this. Before we restart the anti Harry Potter hysteria, let’s find some evidence that the predicted impact is in fact taking place. The burden of proof is on the side of the doom-sayers.

So Why Am I Ambivalent?

I am ambivalent because there are some things in the Harry Potter books that I did not like. Like real life, the good characters sometimes do things that are wrong. They break rules, are sometimes disrespectful and tell lies. In this, Rowling has done nothing more egregious than present heroes that are flawed. Yet, at times while reading the books, I wanted to shout “shame on you.”

To be fair, I should point out that heroes are what they are because they get the most important thing right in a particular situation. Pick any hero from sports, war, history, religion, science or the arts and you will find a flawed individual who did well in his chosen endeavor. While I don’t like the flaws, they are what they are and flaws in book characters are consistent with flaws in real people.

Are the Harry Potter books great literature? I’m not qualified to determine this. I can say that they present a compelling story and force the reader to examine important questions. The Harry Potter books are entertaining and engaging; they do draw you in. Yet, I can’t say that I would watch the movies or read the books again. I have lost count of the times I’ve read The Lord of the Rings but Harry Potter does not compel me back in the same way.

The Harry Potter books are here to stay, which is perhaps an indicator of their quality as literature. Since they are here to stay, why not use them as a starting point for substantive discussion as opposed to using them as a jumping off point decrying the general decline of western culture and Christian influence? The books could be a good starting point for discussion about right and wrong, what is important and the purpose of life.

What do you think?