Archives For Harry Potter

One Verse Hollywood Believes

Mark Beuving —  February 17, 2014 — 2 Comments

Hollywood isn’t known for its adherence to biblical truth. But in some cases, Hollywood returns repeatedly to biblical truths. As with all humanity, Hollywood can’t seem to fully move beyond Jesus, as though Jesus were a “thorn in the brain” (to borrow a phrase from Christian Wiman), a “haunting figure” (to adapt a phrase from Flannery O’Connor), or a “rock in the shoe” (from my colleague, Ryan McGladdery).

In this post, I want to highlight one verse that Hollywood believes in. A truth that Hollywood considers profound and returns to time and again:

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

As soon as I say that, I’m sure you can think of plenty of movies that feature self-sacrificing love, where a character lays down his or her life for a friend. Let me give you a brief sampling here, and then invite you to post other good Hollywood illustrations of this verse in the comments. And, by the way, spoiler alert: Don’t read any of the descriptions you don’t want to read (I shouldn’t have to say that, but someone always complains…).

 

The Lord of the Rings & The Chronicles of Narnia

I’m lumping these two together and treating them briefly because they are both adaptations from stories written by Christians. But they’re also great examples. Self-sacrifice runs throughout Lord of the Rings as Frodo and his companions risk their lives for one another and to save the world. And then Gandalf sacrifices himself so the “fellowship” can continue (and later returns—reborn—as Gandalf the White). And Aslan’s self-sacrificial death to save Edmond is so clearly Christian that I need not explain it here. But the success of these movies shows how powerful our modern culture finds such stories.

 

Harry Potter

I have written on this before, so I’ll direct you to those two posts for details (here and here). But Harry’s parents die so he can live, Harry and his friends sacrifice for one another for seven years, and finally, Harry willingly lays down his life to save everyone he cares about.

 

The Hunger Games

In the first film, Katniss willing chooses certain death in the arena when she volunteers as a substitute for her sister, Prim. In the second film, some of the other tributes throw themselves in death’s path to save Katniss. Depending on how faithfully the third film follows the book, we may see more of this later. (I’ve written more on this here, here, here, and here).

 

The Little Mermaid

I’ve written on why The Little Mermaid can be taken as absolutely horrifying or as powerfully edifying (here). But in either case, we see King Triton willingly becoming a pathetic piece of seaweed in order to take his daughter’s place and allow her to live. And Ariel and Prince Eric in turn risk their lives for one another and the good of the world.

 

Wreck-It Ralph

In this animated gem of a film, Ralph finds himself in a place where the little kid (Vanelope) for whom he has developed a big-brotherly love is going to be destroyed, along with every other character in the arcade. As King Candy (aka Turbo) holds him high in the air and tells him that it’s “game over for both of you,” Ralph says, “No, just for me,” and throws himself strategically to his death in a boiling geyser of Diet Coke and Mentos so that Vanelope and the others can be saved. Vanelope sees his sacrifice and risks her life to save him as well.

 

Gran Torino

The impossibly curmudgeonly Walt (Clint Eastwood) eventually learns to love his neighbors, and eventually gives his life for their good (see Preston’s take on it here).

 

Frozen

After the newly crowned Elsa flees into the mountains out of fear and confusion, leaving her kingdom in a perilously “frozen” state, her little sister Anna risks her life to help her sister. She is persistent in her life-risking because of her love for Elsa, and eventually she forfeits her last hope at life so that she can save her sister. It’s seriously beautiful. (You can read more here).

 

Titanic

After the horrifying events surrounding the Titanic unfold (spoiler alert: the ship crashes and sinks), Jack selflessly places Rose aboard a floating piece of debris and stays in the icy water, where he quickly freezes to death. A self-sacrificing act if there ever was one, but as many have pointed out, there was clearly room for two people aboard that piece of debris…

 

Conclusion

There are so many other examples we could look at. These are merely the first nine that came to my mind. But the point is, Hollywood seems enamored with the idea that love has no greater expression than the laying down of one’s life for the sake of another.

What does it all mean? Well, it certainly shows that non-Christians often say things that are true, profound, edifying, etc. It also illustrates that what we have in the gospel is the most compelling story in history. Perhaps the phrase “the greatest story ever told” has become cliché, but the host of Hollywood films (and keep in mind that we haven’t said anything about the world of literature or music here) focusing on this one biblical concept shows that this old cliché is far from tired.

 

Thank God for J. K. Rowling

Mark Beuving —  January 27, 2014 — 4 Comments

“Christians should thank God for J. K. Rowling and for her clear presentation of the central values that are at the core of Christian faith and practice.”

That’s not my statement, though as I’ll explain I agree with it enthusiastically. That statement comes from Jerram Barrs, in his excellent book Echoes of Eden. Barrs is not an immature culture junkie. He’s not a hipster twenty-something trying to convince teens that Jesus is cool and so is he. No, Jerram Barrs is an older gentlemen. A scholar. He’s the Resident Scholar at the Francis Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Theological Seminary, where he teaches apologetics and outreach. So one might ask how a serious scholar can honestly thank God for books that many Christians have denounced as satanic.

I’ll address the concerns about occultism in a moment. First let me explain why I love these books so much, and why a scholar like Jerram Barrs is equally enthusiastic. I read the whole Harry Potter series twice in 2013. They were good for my soul. They were entertaining, yes, and millions of children and adults lugging these lengthy volumes around and becoming passionate about reading for the first time proves this fact. But these books are deeply touching and inspiring.

I have been asked if I can honestly say that I love Jesus more after having read these books, and I don’t hesitate to answer: absolutely! The books don’t use Jesus’ name, but by living within these stories I am a better person and a greater lover of Jesus Christ.

Jerram Barrs read the last book six times in the six months following its release and says:

“I found myself weeping with joy many, many times as I read and reread this wonderful reflection on the work of Christ.”

Here’s a brief rundown of the storyline that will show why this book is more overtly Christian, in my opinion, than The Lord of the Rings series and more powerfully Christian, in my opinion, than the Narnia series. [And by the way, serious spoiler alert!]

The Dark Lord, Voldemort, rises to power, himself consumed with evil and spreading evil throughout the world, turning the wizarding world from the good use of magic to the evil abuse of it. Intriguingly, Voldemort is connected with the image of a serpent. Then a prophecy is made, declaring that a child would be born who would be Voldemort’s demise. Voldemort tries to kill this child, Harry Potter, in infancy, and in trying to destroy the child he loses his own powers.

Voldemort eventually regains his power and tries repeatedly to kill Harry, only to find that Harry is powerfully protected by the self-sacrificing love of his parents, his friends, and even the lowly and marginalized toward whom Harry directs his own self-sacrifical love.

Harry eventually discovers that the only way to destroy the Dark Lord is to willingly offer himself as a sacrifice for the sake of his friends. When Voldemort kills Harry, Harry finds (in a chapter that is entitled, remarkably, “King’s Cross”) that he can now return to put the nail in Voldemort’s coffin. He returns and defeats Voldemort—not by issuing the deadly killing curse, but with the use of a disarming spell that causes Voldemort’s own killing curse to rebound upon himself and thereby rid the world of his evil presence.

The Christian parallels are unmistakable. And this shouldn’t be a surprise: J. K. Rowling has acknowledged that she is a Christian, and she worships at the Church of Scotland. If Christians could only come to terms with their suspicions regarding the fictional presence of magic, they could find themselves greatly enriched by these wonderful stories.

I am sympathetic towards those who choose not to allow their children to read these books out of concern over the use of magic. But J. K. Rowling insists that she is not interested in the occult and had no intention of promoting it through Harry Potter. I think we should take her seriously, and I do not think these books promote the use of magic in the real world. I encourage you to take a look at my thoughts on the matter.

But here’s the point. Fiction is powerful stuff. Everyone is eating up these powerful stories. Seriously. The last of the Harry Potter books sold 11 million copies within 24 hours of its release, making it the fastest selling book of all time. The books have reportedly sold over 400 million copies. The last of the Harry Potter films also became one of the highest grossing films in box office history.

People can’t get enough of these stories. They may not know why they find Harry Potter so compelling, but we as Christians know a powerful part of the answer: at their core these stories relate integrally to the greatest story ever told. Do not violate your conscience, but if you find yourself compelled, I encourage you warmly to pick up book 1, read it eagerly and with discernment, and see if you find the Christian nature of these books as compelling as Jerram Barrs and I do.

Harry PotterI 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.

Kucherlinskoe lake, Altai mountains (#3)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.