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Howlers, Heresies, Hoaxes, Hexes and ‘Harry Potter’

After reading through the first three books in the Harry Potter series during 1.5 weeks, I’m still wondering where all the absolutely repugnant parts are. Then it came to me: perhaps I had accidentally retrieved the Cliffs Notes version from […]
| Jan 24, 2007 | No comments |

After reading through the first three books in the Harry Potter series during 1.5 weeks, I’m still wondering where all the absolutely repugnant parts are.

Then it came to me: perhaps I had accidentally retrieved the Cliffs Notes version from the library instead. After all, the more-recent books in the series, which are stacked 12 and 16 deep on stores’ cardboard display cases, are about double the thickness of your standard copy of The Fountainhead.

But no. These are the real books. I double-checked and they haven’t been edited in any way.

So why are the first three books so, to me anyway, seemingly non-offensive?

Maybe it’s because they aren’t so wicked. Or maybe it’s because I’m compromising. You decide.

Of course I’m speaking of the (in)famous Harry Potter series.

Literary wizardry

Balk if you wish, but frankly, if it weren’t for Harry Potter, the rest of us, fantasy writers, would be getting even less attention than usual. This genre is big again. The speculative is big. The Chronicles of Narnia likely wouldn’t have made it to the big screen without Harry being forerunner. Eragon would still be obscure (some would say fortunately so). Also, Bridge to Terebithia is finally onscreen.

Of course, the Lord of the Rings film trilogy might have resurrected fantasy, solo, but who knows?

J.K. Rowling is brilliant. Another rabble-rousin’ author’s book, Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, got all kinds of credit for being such an adrenaline-laced yarn — credit that it didn’t deserve at all. It was boring and predictable. But say what you will about Harry, those stories and characters are wonderfully crafted and four-dimensional. Pardon the expression: Rowling knows well how to cast literary spells.

But what about the witchcraft? What about all that witchcraft? Argh!

To me, Harry Potter is merely a severely souped-up Bewitched, only without the laugh tracks and the character of Darrin Stevens being magically adjusted in height, face and voice halfway through the show. Also, neither Darrin nor Samantha nor even Endora ever had to tangle with a possessed professor, or a giant snake, or needed to jump back in time to save a captured prisoner from having his entire emotions sucked out by creatures called “dementors.”

Ergo, if Bewitched doesn’t seem like the genuine occult to you — neither will Harry.

Subcreated separate worldviews?

But perhaps Bewitched does reek of the occult to you — as it does to many Christians who opposed the 1960s show during its run, and who even now do not at all like the statue of Samantha Stevens riding her broom in Salem, Mass.

Perhaps any story that seems to include “magic” as some neutral force, limited to certain individuals and useful for good or bad causes — is inherently negative, opposed to the Christian worldview.

However, that would mean we must get rid of Peter Pan, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast and all of those fairy tales.

No, they do not contain any Aslan-like Christ-figure, who is clearly in charge of all “magic” altogether. They are not set in another world where the rules are different and any “magic” is pretty much akin to our natural laws. They contain little Christian worldview elements beyond basic moral values: courage, inner beauty, kindness to the poor, etc.

So, should we renounce any story like this that is not intrinsically Christian in worldview? Or, to tweak a typical skeptic question about the Creator, is God “big enough” to create people, who can subcreate stories and imagined worlds in which He doesn’t exist?

E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor of a nonfiction book about parenting and popular culture (title TBA), to release spring 2020 from New Growth Press. He also explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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