Now that the final Harry Potter movie is out of the theaters it seems a good time to evaluate the phenomenon from a Christian perspective.  Some Christians have been highly critical of the books, the author, and the movies.  I’m a Christian, and I don’t agree with them.

            The fiercest criticism came because the series is about wizards, witches, and magic, which certain Christians claim supports an evil that the Bible condemns.  Some of those who make this criticism are people that I personally admire, but I must say to them that they are completely wrong.  They’re wrong because they don’t understand literature and probably because lurking deep down inside they harbor a rationalist prejudice against the imagination.

            What J. K. Rowling did was to transform the common British boarding school into a school for witches and wizards.  The mere fact that she wrote a series of stories about wizards and witches does not mean that she is promoting witchcraft.  It is unjust and inconsistent for Christians to admire J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams and then to criticize Rowling for employing the same literary devices.

            Harry Potter belongs to the fantasy genre.  Fantasy not only entertains and attracts children and adults, but it also is a better vehicle for conveying moral lessons than any number of dreadfully preachy “realistic” children’s stories. 

            And Rowling is a moralist.  She is concerned with the plight of the down-and-out.  Dumbledore says, “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals” (Goblet of Fire).  One can easily forget that Rowling’s hero is from the marginalized.  Harry Potter is a young orphan whose parents were brutally murdered and who longs for a family.  Some of the more touching scenes in the series are when Harry encounters his parents by means of the Mirror of Erised or the Resurrection Stone.

            Rowling’s own life as a single mother on welfare has made her sensitive to the needs of society’s marginalized.  And she hasn’t just written about it.  She has backed up her concern with a commitment of time and large amounts of money to charity.  Is this the kind of woman that we Christians want to condemn merely because she wrote an imaginative story about witches?          

            Above all, Harry Potter deals with the dangers of power.  Two comments from Dumbledore highlight this concern. “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities” (Chamber of Secrets).  “It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it” (Deathly Hallows).

            Rowling’s valid warnings about power go far beyond a couple of isolated quotations.  They are central to the plot of the whole series.  Harry Potter tells the tale of a titanic struggle between good and evil.  The very effectiveness of it as a story about power derives from the fact that it deals with witches and wizards, people who have tremendous powers available to them to use or abuse.   

            Ironically, the very feature most criticized by certain Christians is the one that should make Harry Potter the most helpful to us.  The witchcraft framework gives a cosmic dimension to the novels.  In this way, Harry Potter reminds us that we are involved in a cosmic struggle between good and evil—between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan—and that to be faithful and effective soldiers for Christ we must look to powers that are far beyond those of ordinary mortals.

            In my next post I’ll take a look at some of the weaknesses in the Harry Potter novels.  Some of these weaknesses are unfortunately commonly shared by Christians in their understanding of God and his ways.

2 Responses to “Harry Potter Part I: The Good”

  • Julia S:

    Thank you for this precise summary!

  • Sandy Riley:

    This is probably the best comments I’ve read about Harry Potter. I’m afraid I was just as concerned about the properties of Rowling’s books.
    I have not read them, and probably won’t, but if/when my grandchildren read them I can understand their fascination much more and point out some of the points you have made here.
    Did you get the note from Eileen?? I hope you will contact her.
    Thanks much, Sandy

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