I know I’m over a decade late with this. But I recently read the first book in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (I plan to read them all), and I can’t help but write about it.
Harry Potter has not been well received in the Christian community as a whole. Some reject it outright as a work of the devil. Some have decided to keep a safe distance and look suspiciously at any Christians who have read the books (or watched the movies). Others enjoyed the books but feel a bit guilty about it. Still others dive in head first.
The controversy centers on one facet of the Harry Potter series: it contains magic (wizardry, withcraft, spells, potions, flying broomsticks, etc.). For many Christians, this immediately disqualifies the series. But should it?
Assess the books just a bit and you’ll discover that Harry Potter isn’t about magic. It features magic heavily, sure, but the series is about good and evil, courage and hope, friendship and goodness. These tales of good versus evil are set within a world of magic, but the Christian community needs to get beyond the faulty assumption that Harry Potter teaches kids that they ought to be witches and wizards.
We simply cannot judge a work based on its subject matter alone. The Bible contains witchcraft, after all. If that’s our sole criteria, then the Bible is out. We have to be more mature in our thinking and ask what the work says about witchcraft, or to phrase it differently, what the work uses witchcraft to say.
The Bible speaks against witchcraft because it involves turning from the true God to darker powers that try to subvert God’s rule. The characters in Harry Potter—both good and bad—use magic, but it is assumed throughout that magic is to be used for good. When a wizard goes bad and uses magic for evil, this is clearly condemned. So magic is being used in the Harry Potter books to show us something about the struggle between good and evil. I’m not saying that there are good and bad types of magic, I’m just saying that J. K. Rowling uses a magic-laden world as a literary expression of a reality we all face—good versus evil.
There are also some compelling aspects of Rowling’s use of magic. She presents us with a world laden with magic. But most of humanity refuses to believe that anything supernatural is going on (magic-folk refer to these naturalists as “muggles”). Isn’t this a lot like the Christian worldview? The supernatural surrounds us, but we are intentionally blind to it. Paul calls us to engage these supernatural realities (see Eph. 6). Again, it would seem that Harry Potter is more closely aligned with the biblical worldview than many Christians are willing to admit.
And then there are some powerful analogies within the storyline. The first book begins with a powerful wizard turned bad—Lord Voldemort—who tries to kill the baby Harry Potter, only to find that he can’t kill the child and that his powers have been stripped in the process. Is this sounding familiar? The Dark Lord is only able to work evil in the world when people “open up their minds and hearts” to do his will. Ring a bell?
Here’s my point: if we can get past the presence of magic in a book like Harry Potter and ask what the book is saying about magic and about life, then we will find much that we can affirm. I hope that my daughters grow to embody the lessons Harry Potter teaches, regardless of whether they read the books or not.
I know this is a significant issue, and I don’t want to downplay the concerns of godly parents. I don’t plan to let my girls read Harry Potter until they’re old enough to have a meaningful discussion about the things I’ve addressed above. If, as a parent, you are convinced that being exposed to the fictional witchcraft in Harry Potter will push your children toward the misuse of the supernatural that nonfictional witchcraft embodies, then you’ll need to have a good discussion with your kids and direct their imagination toward something more edifying. (Though this will be more difficult than you might think—The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The 100 Cupboards series, and many other edifying books written by Christians feature magic.)
My goal is to push you to think more deeply about things like Harry Potter. These books have captured the imagination of more than one generation already. As Christians, we should be able to think about these stories—rather than dismissing them out of hand—and help others do the same.