Yep, I really like Harry Potter. And am enduring a minor case of HPWS: Harry Potter Withdrawal Syndrome.
Yeah, I took a while to get on the bandwagon. Three years in fact. Why would I, a Christian, waste my time reading a book that glorifies witchcraft. Dumb at best; dangerous at worse.
But I was wrong. Dead wrong. Somehow, I totally neglected the witches, wizards, and magic in Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. Even when Gandalf is one of my all time heros.
A few years ago, I really appreciated a Christianity Today editorial “Why We Like Harry.” (And I rarely “really appreciate” much from CT.) Today, Lois Nash a fellow pastor on Long Island, sent me a link to a Newsday editorial. I’m including it here in its entirety.
“Keating: Harry Potter and the Christian allegory”
Raymond J. Keating
August 13, 2007
It’s the summer of Potter. Should Christians be pleased or worried?
In July, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” hit movie theaters, and the final book in the series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” hit stores. Both have been wildly successful.
In 10 years, seven books and 4,100 pages, author J.K. Rowling has proven to be a master storyteller. She created a fictional universe that rivals what J.R.R. Tolkien accomplished with “The Lord of the Rings” and C.S. Lewis with “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
Rowling’s “Potter” series wrestles with big issues: the journey from child to adult, power, family, friendship, the fight between good and evil, and the choice between what’s right and what’s easy. And it’s all wrapped in stories featuring fascinating characters, adventure, humor and sadness.
A hundred years from now, people will still be enjoying and discussing Lewis, Tolkien and, yes, Rowling.
Lewis and Tolkien, though, integrated Christian allegory, themes and symbolism into their works. What about Rowling?
Well, some Christians – mainly fundamentalists – have attacked “Harry Potter” for featuring witchcraft. Meanwhile, in Time magazine recently, Lev Grossman argued: “If you want to know who dies in Harry Potter, the answer is easy: God. … Rowling has more in common with celebrity atheists like Christopher Hitchens than she has with Tolkien and Lewis.”
Both Grossman and the fundamentalists are dead wrong.
Holy Scripture certainly instructs against dabbling in witchcraft. But it doesn’t prohibit using imagination in writing, reading and enjoying great fantasy tales. Those viewing “Harry Potter” as a path to the occult either haven’t read the books or they’ve failed to understand them.
As for Rowling herself, she told a Vancouver Sun reporter in 2000 that she’s a Christian. She added: “Every time I’ve been asked if I believe in God, I’ve said, ‘yes,’ because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because 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.”
That’s evident in the “Deathly Hallows,” which is rich in Christian imagery and references if one pays attention. (Warning: Spoilers follow.) At one point, Harry – who, by the way, had to have been baptized, since he has a godfather – visits a graveyard behind a church in which people are singing Christmas carols.
One headstone carries the inscription: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Though not cited in the book, that’s from Matthew 6:21. The tombstone for Harry’s parents features: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” That’s in 1 Corinthians 15:26, in a section where St. Paul speaks about Jesus Christ, and how his sacrifice and resurrection conquered death.
In Christ-like fashion, Harry’s mother willingly gave her life for Harry, and later Harry chooses death to save those he loves. It is the shedding of innocent, sacrificial blood that protects against evil and overcomes death in “Harry Potter.” Meanwhile, what drives the evil Voldemort is his inability to accept death. Rowling’s unmistakable point in the “Potter” series is that there’s more. Death is not the end.
After sacrificing himself, Harry talks with Dumbledore, his deceased mentor and friend. Dumbledore advises: “Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love.”
In 1 John 4:16, we are reminded: “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
It’s possible to read “Lord of the Rings” and “Narnia” without recognizing the religious aspects. That’s even more so the case with “Harry Potter.”
But Christian themes are there nonetheless. Rowling embraces Christianity; Christians should embrace her fantastic fictional world.
Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.
I’m not going as far as to say you “should embrace her fantastic fictional world.” It’s fine to disagree.
And for what it’s worth, I intentionally laid the foundation of Narnia and Middle Earth for my kids before introducing them to Harry. I wanted them to say that Potter was like Narnia; not Narnia was like Potter!