Should we potter around with Harry?

In Minnesota, Michigan, New York, California, and South Carolina, parents who feel the books promote interest in the occult have called for their removal from classrooms and school libraries. Which books? Harry Potter, of course. God’s World Book Club, a division of the organization that owns World, has withdrawn the Harry Potter books from its catalogue. Their statement of withdrawal said that ‘evidence that they are not written from a perspective compatible with Christianity’ had led them to retract the books.

For the uninitiated, Harry Potter is the orphaned son of parents (a witch and a wizard) murdered by an embodiment of evil in the form of a certain Lord Voldemort. Harry is mysteriously spared, and Voldemort comes close to dying when his spell against Harry backfires. Raised by his nonmagical uncle and aunt who hate all things magical, Harry suffers through a Dickensian childhood of sleeping in the cupboard under the stairs and never receiving a birthday present. All this changes when Harry turns 11 and discovers he is a wizard, famous in the magical world for defeating Voldemort, and attends boarding school at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Each volume of Ms Rowling’s books covers a year in Harry’s life at Hogwarts, where with friends he struggles against plots to ‘do him in’ amid his school and extracurricular activities.

What are Christians actually complaining about when they critique Rowling? Three issues have been raised for Christian parents to grapple with: 1) readers may be desensitized to witchcraft, 2) the books don’t ‘acknowledge any supernatural … moral authority at all’, and 3) there is ‘lots of gore and fright.’ Reading Harry Potter may produce curiosity (in witchcraft) and it is what readers do with that curiosity that is the issue of concern. Another cited danger lies in any impression that may be picked up from the books that there are two equal forces, one good and one evil, and that choosing between the two is purely a matter of personal opinion.

To be fair, the author in question, J.K. Rowling, has been quoted from a CNN interview as saying: ‘I don’t believe in magic.’ However, as a literary device it has been hugely successful for Ms Rowling, and may raise for others the issue of allegiance to dark supernatural powers.

Not all reviewers have been negative, however. Some are dismissive, saying:

‘[It’s not] the kind of real-life witchcraft the Bible condemns.’

Others go even further, advocating the virtue of promoting:

‘a kind of spiritual warfare…. a struggle between good and evil…. there is in books like this the possibility for serious moral reflection.’

Interestingly, there is a case of book-burning recorded among early Christian believers at Ephesus. Acts 19:19 describes a bonfire of books of magical arts:

‘many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.’ Acts 19:19

The appropriateness of this action is easily seen when viewed against scriptures like Deuteronomy 18:10,11:

There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.

Does that mean Christian parents should be modern ‘book-burners’ when it comes to the likes of the Harry Potter series? Some will feel it is their protective duty to be so. Others, recognizing that access to the material may come via friends or school – not to mention any literary merit felt to be present in the books – may choose rather to engage in actively and openly debating the issues with their offspring and their peers. Such a debate, of course, would have to acknowledge the same ‘bottom line’ of Deuteronomy 18:10,11.