Monday, October 14, 2019

In Defense of Harry Potter

                   person holding wand on top of bowl

Hello Friends!

First off, I just want to announce that the Gorgeous Illustrated Edition of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling is out now! This is book 4 of 7, so in just a couple more years, we'll have the entire series illustrated by the talented Jim Kay, and I am So Excited. Look Look Look!

                                     Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: The Illustrated Edition (Harry Potter Series #4)

If you've never read Harry Potter, or if you're someone who tends to feel that Harry Potter is not for Christians, then I'm going to try, in the following paragraphs to talk you out of your position. But if I can't, I still respect you and support you in your conviction.

Okay. Let's get into it. Let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time when I was a little girl, a bunch of mainstream pastors started preaching against J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, and my parental figures, like a great many members of the Christian community at the time, took their word for it. This was an understandable life choice as the alternative for taking their word for it would have been reading thousands of pages of supposedly-evil children's literature. But I think it is valuable to note that we Christians have a way of doing this: of taking the advice of our spiritual super-leaders without doing much personal research. And while sometimes we have to take this route for lack of time or energy or resources, it's not the optimal way to make life choices or come to spiritual conclusions.

I first began to read Harry Potter soon after my 18th birthday, and finally finished the series around this time last year. It starts out as a working-hard-and-making-friends-at-school story with a battle between good and evil thrown in for good measure. But it grows into a coming-of-age story with that battle between good and evil threatening everyone's ability to grow up at all. It's really good, guys. Really Good. And there's a part of me that's a little heartbroken that younger-me didn't get to face life with these stories of courage and friendship and personal growth in my back pocket. I know my parents--now proud possessors of the entire movie series--also have regrets.

                                  Image result for harry potter books

Harry Potter, as I think we all know, is set primarily at a boarding school for witches and wizards, called Hogwarts, and this is the reason why all those pastors said it was bad to let your kids read it.

And in truth, if Harry Potter was a book set in the Real World and glorified a school that taught Wicca and Satanism to young people, then yeah...that would have been pretty messed up. But that's not even a little bit what it is.

Harry Potter is set in a fantasy world in the same way that The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia is. This fantasy world has people in it who either are or are not wizards (male) or witches (female). Anyone who is not genetically (for lack of a better term) a wizard (or witch) is known as either a muggle (regular old human) or a squib (a child of wizard parents, yet without magic). I think this is important to note for two reasons: Witchcraft in the Real World is condemned by the Bible because it is something people Do not something that they Are, and it is a reaching into the spiritual world for spiritual (read: demonic) energies through things as benign as incense burning and as not-benign as ritual sacrifices of goats inside pentagrams.

No goats are sacrificed in Harry Potter. No pentagrams are drawn in Harry Potter. All the magic in Harry Potter is inherent to the Witch or Wizard or Magical Creature or Plant in the same way that superpowers in Marvel movies are inherent to the superhero. The wizarding world has its own laws which include Not using your magic to commit crimes, and Not terrorizing muggles with your magic, and just generally being an upstanding citizen of both the magical and non-magical world.

                                     Image result for harry potter illustrated

In order to create atmosphere, J.K. Rowling used a lot of the trappings of cartoon-y witchcraft: pointy hats, cauldrons, flying broomsticks, friendly ghosts, and Halloween-y foods such as pumpkin juice. These elements can further the discomfort parents feel toward the Harry Potter stories, but your typical Satan worshiper does not use a cauldron, and in all my many hours working with a practicing witch at a local pie shop, I never saw her mount a broom and fly around. My point is, generally when you see the word "witch" or the word "wizard" in a fictional story--it is so far from being a reference to real world witchcraft as to be not worth comparing, in my opinion. If a book does glorify real-world witchcraft or occult practices then I naturally choose to read other things.

However, I would argue that there is no similarity of any substance between the wizards of J.K. Rowling's fantasy world and the witchcraft that the Bible condemns, and that equivocating the two is just that: the logical fallacy known as equivocation. The bad characters, the antagonists, the ones who practice "dark magic" are the only ones who dabble in anything that could really be called unBiblical, and even that is mostly just killing people. It's certainly not summoning demons. There are no demons in the world of Harry Potter, only people and more or less scary magical creatures.

Now, if Harry Potter was just another book series that dealt with magic, I wouldn't belabor this point, but it's not. Harry Potter is one of the cleanest middle-grade to young adult book series out there. It's got no sex. Only the mildest and most British of swear words. Strong friendships. Well-rounded, dynamic characters, who grow massively over the course of the series--each dealing with a fatal flaw or two. The series features and celebrates an incredibly strong family unit: the Weasleys, and uses them as a foil for some of the more broken and disfunctional families such as Harry's guardians. The series deals a lot with bullying, both how to deal with it and how to not do it. It advocates working hard at your schoolwork and hard at your hobbies. It celebrates strong, respectable adult figures: both parental and elder. It celebrates siblings and friendships and delves deeply into the highs and lows and complications therein. It even tackles a set of monsters that J.K. Rowling wrote as a metaphor for depression. What I'm trying to say is: It's Very Family Friendly and Super Uplifting.

                                            Image result for harry potter illustrated azkaban

Harry Potter is ultimately a years-long struggle of the good against the evil, as well as the good against the complacent who would deny the evil's strength. It shares a lot of similarities in broad plot line with Winston Churchill's The Gathering Storm and other accounts of the lead-up to World War II. The characters in Harry Potter deal with fear and prejudice and difficult subjects in school and opposing sports teams and grief and betrayals and secrets and tempers and jealousies and crushes and corrupt authority figures and strict-but-just authority figures and generational wrongs and so. much more. Harry Potter is right up there with The Chronicles of Narnia and A Series of Unfortunate Events in my book as a fictional-handbook-for-kids-on-how-to-face-the-world-and-grow-up-brave.

A Caution on Age Range: There are seven books, and each corresponds to a school year beginning with nine-year-old main characters. The stories each have a certain amount of peril and violence especially as the series progresses, and the challenges certainly age as the characters do, so this is just something to be aware of. I have personally decided to either hand the series to my kids when they turn thirteen, or else read one per year aloud to them beginning at age nine. As far as the movie adaptations go, just look to the ratings. The first three are rated PG, and the rest are PG-13.
                                                      Image result for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Ultimately, it is up to you as an individual to determine if you're morally comfortable reading the series. I have one or two close, respected friends, who feel it's not for them, and I deeply respect that. Each person has different needs and sensitivities. I'm not advocating taking my word for it and handing it to your kids without a second thought. The series does deal with very grown-up things and features characters who face great darkness. I think that's what makes it so powerful. To others, that's what makes it so inappropriate. I encourage you to read it for yourself: at least the first one or two, preferably the Illustrated Editions because those are Delightful, and tell me what you think!

Do you agree? Disagree? Have Further Questions? Leave a Comment Down Below.


  1. My parents still think it's evil, but I've watched the movies and was surprised about how normal it was due to all the controversy about it.
    I plan on reading the books, they sound really good.

    1. I do strongly recommend the books as they have so many threads and elements that the movies simply had no time for. The family dynamics in particular are much richer in the books!

  2. I definitely agree. My parents were adamantly against HP (and sorta still are). I've seen the movies last year or so, and they aren't any different than other fictional fantasy worlds depicting magic? I've read a few of the books, and as you said, they're actually very clean children's books. And they show some realistic coming-of-age moments. They have a lot of great lessons for kids without being super overt and while being a ton of fun. I really like how each book/movie progresses in content. So it feels like the characters are growing/maturing along with its audience. Love this post!

    1. Thank you so much! Yeah, I hear this same story over and over "My parents believed it was evil, without having read it, I decided to check out the movies/books at some point in my adult life and realized they weren't evil and it was all a misunderstanding." I find this sad...that so many Christian kids missed out on this really wholesome story based on misinformation.

  3. I am very lucky in that my mom heard the books were bad so I wasn't allowed to read them for many years (thank goodness as I was a scary cat young child and wouldn't have been able to get through them) but she eventually picked up one or two of the movies and figured they weren't that bad after all. Now everyone in my family loves the stories (except dad, but to be fair sometimes I wonder if he's actually literate).

    I've never understood what the problem was with fictional magic and Christians. Why are Christians okay with LOTR but not Harry Potter? I have a friend who's not allowed to read Artemis Fowl, only my favourite series ever, because it has magic in it and it's even less "demonic" (if you can call it that) than HP. Like I /understand, but also I don't /understand.