It is with some trepidation that I dive into the Harry Potter controversy here. Much energy has been poured into attacking or defending Harry Potter and many have strong opinions one way or the other.
Frankly, it would be disingenuous for me to leave Harry out of this because, in a way, he’s the one who started it all. Back in my earlier days of reviewing books at Love2learn.net, I received many e-mails asking for my opinion on the Harry Potter Series. (I think there were only two or three books in print by that point.) Not otherwise terribly interested, my husband and I read the first few books. I didn’t particularly like the first one in the beginning (because of the difficult family situation). My husband got interested before I did, but the second one started to intrigue me a lot. And do keep in mind that, though there are smaller stories that are completed with each book, on the whole, it is one large story and needs to be understood as such.
As for the controversial magic part, my feeling from the beginning was that magic is used in the stories as a metaphor to explore other ideas, such as technology and the power of words.
Help will always be given at Hogwarts, Harry, to those who ask for it. I’ve always prized myself on my ability to turn a phrase. Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it. But I would, in this case, amend my original statement to this: “Help would always be given at Hogwarts to those who deserve it.” Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living. And above all, those who live without love. – Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
As more books followed the first three, we started to gobble them up with eagerness and were soon joined by our oldest daughter, Jacinta. We had many wonderful conversations about Harry and his friends and the idea and value of stories. More of our kids joined the book-readings and discussions (and eventually movie watchings!) as they were ready.
We also followed the raging Harry Potter controversies with a mixture of concern and amusement. This led to a lot of interesting conversations (and realizations) regarding faith and culture. (And a fun side note here is that our daughter Jacinta went on to write her senior thesis at Thomas Aquinas College on the Theology of Stories.)
Unlike The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter is not written by a high-level Christian scholar. And yet J.K. Rowling has a tendency to surprise in many very good and delightful ways. Also, I think it’s only fair to note that neither C.S. Lewis nor J.R.R. Tolkien were snobs in their opinions about literature. I believe that they would be the last ones to suggest that you should avoid all other fantasy literature.
By the time we read book four or five, we came to a few basic conclusions.
- The books are surprisingly, even amazingly good in many ways, though we were sympathetic to those who had concerns about them, and not so much for those who were spreading nonsense about them in a very un-Christianlike manner.
- There was a lot of nonsense going around about Harry Potter.
- There is a lot of good and applicable material in the books such that, at the very least, Youth Ministers and teachers ought to read them in order to make use of the concepts already present in these widely-read books.
Here are a few quick examples of the good concepts found therein (I hope to write more about this series in the future):
Warnings against occult-like practices.
The power and value of sacrifice and suffering.
The duty to love one’s enemies.
The wider conflicts going on in government in the bigger story are very powerful and include the bad leadership banning homeschooling when they came into power and took over the schools.
Positive spin on big families.
Dumbledore is amazing. Harry’s loyalty and trust of him in some places and frustration and confusion with him in others speak powerfully of how we relate to God.
We’re all human, aren’t we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving. ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows