Oct. 3 brings us the Left Behind film remake starring Nicolas Cage. Meanwhile, Warner Brothers hopes to charm Muggle fans with even more Harry Potter franchise magic.
The backstories of both franchises are more alike than we may think.1
Once upon a time, specifically the late 1990s, these franchises fought. One was set in a world of good wizards, a dark lord, non-magical citizens, and a global battle between light and darkness. It won over bestseller lists. This surprised readers, because this series was by a Christian thriller novelist and a Christian prophecy teacher: the Left Behind series.
At that time arose another series about a boy wizard by British author J.K. Rowling.
You may recall these novel series’ battle to top the New York Times fiction bestseller lists. Back then I was rooting for the Left Behind series. It won only because the NYT finally classified the Harry Potter series as children’s lit and moved the top-ranking titles to a separate list to make room for other books.
Please note, fellow evangelicals: Years ago I was a rabid Left Behind fan, and with some qualification, remain a more-tranquil fan.2, But now I’m more of a Potter fan, thanks to its better writing and better-plotted story. And if I could travel back in time and scandalize myself, I would say:
In the future you have all seven Harry Potter books and all eight films. But you’re not too disillusioned with your Left Behind fandom; you have 15 Left Behind books except the last one, which alone destroyed your default belief in premillennialism.
For me, the two franchises are too similar to reject one or the other. In fact, their similarities may be exactly what propelled them both to bestseller status.
Tribulations saints vs. wizard societies
- Both series started trends in their genres. Potter led a fantasy revival in both novels and film, coming soon after the film trilogy based on The Lord of the Rings. And though Left Behind gets little credit for this, that series preceded the current fad of dystopian fiction.
- Supernatural events occur to the point of normalcy. In Potter, natural-law magic is part of life. In Left Behind, God’s-law miracles bring plagues, angelic aid, and resurrections.
- Special people have destinies and separate societies. In Left Behind, “tribulation saints” predict events and fight their enemies. In Potter, magically gifted people form both a Ministry of Magic to preserve their wizarding lifestyle and the Order of the Phoenix to fight evil.
- Normal, non-magical people are often helpless yet not always wicked. In Potter they are “Muggles”; in Left Behind they are non-Christian masses whom Christians evangelize.
- Prophecy is big. Left Behind’s prophecies predict the Tribulation, the Antichrist, and Christ’s return while Harry Potter himself is prophesied to confront Lord Voldemort.
- Villains are deceptively, demonically evil. Potter’s Lord Voldemort and Left Behind’s Nicolae Carpathia both begin as charismatic leaders whose evil goals are soon exposed.
- Battles between good and evil have clearly drawn lines. However, both series make room for other characters whose allegiances and goals are often more complex.
- Good guys practice magic. Christians may balk at this about Left Behind, but it’s true: Prophets, and later appointed believers, turn water into blood and call down or rescind plagues, including some described in Revelation. The villains even refer to this as magic. (“I have tricked this wizard into breaking his spell!” Carpathia boasts in Desecration.) Of course, the magic of Potter’s heroes is well known. But rarely if ever does it cross into the real occult actions Scripture forbids.
One more comparison extends from fantasy to reality: Both of these series have dedicated fan bases of readers and/or film viewers, fandoms who wish these worlds were real.
Certainly this applies to Potter fans who yearn to get their own student-acceptance letters from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But this I-wish-I-were-there dedication also applies to many Left Behind readers. Several fans on the old Left Behind website forums even said they’d like to be “left behind” themselves—to sit out a pre-tribulation Rapture. Why? They loved the books’ camaraderie between believers united against obvious evils, and the miracles and prophecies bringing vindications of Christianity.
I would venture this desire helps lead this unique Christian end-times fandom into error.
Often out of ignorance, some Christians accuse the Potter series of endorsing unhealthy escapism, occult mysticism, and anti-biblical fantasy. But don’t we often see Christian end-times fiction and prophecy fans falling into this very trio of temptations?
Such fans also practice plain mysticism. I don’t know what else to call Christians’ attempts to divine the Antichrist or Mark of the Beast, or their apparent insistence that Bible has a secret code that reveals modern global events over and above the Word’s Gospel themes.
Finally, fans indulge in vindication or revenge fantasies such as “I can’t stand those liberals, but they’ll face the Tribulation because the end is near.” (Oddly, we may end up warning more about the Mark of the Beast and Satan than we teach about Christ’s return and judgment.)
Now, one need not blame the Left Behind authors or books for all these sins — any more than we would blame J. K. Rowling if Potter fans wanted to be “real” witches and thus joined Wicca.
Instead, individual Christians take our end-times fandoms too far. Of this we must repent.
No, we needn’t renounce Left Behind — though we might consider burning books of divination by some would-be evangelical “prophets.” And sure, we might also explore other end-times perspectives (I’m looking for one myself). Either way, let’s enjoy our fantasies for God’s glory, and not use our fandom freedoms as opportunities for the flesh.
- Original version published Aug. 5, 2013 at Christ and Pop Culture. (Time constraints and other writing commitments have prevented my finishing the Avatars of Forgiveness series; I hope to finish the series next week.) ↩
- Read more in this more-recent article, Looking Back at My “Left Behind” Fandom, July 16, 2014 at Christ and Pop Culture. ↩