A certain “holiday” is coming up, and recently I read one of the best columns I’ve ever found on the subject. This comes from alastair.adversaria and its three-year-old column to which an online friend had linked, and disarmingly titled, Of Boggarts.
I wish I could reprint the whole column here, and not just because of the Prisoner of Azkaban screencap showing Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) in a dress.
The author’s suggestion: the Harry Potter series, by virtue of its created-world and with its third book’s specific subplot about fighting against certain magical creatures, can help Christians react better to some evils.
When it comes to the accusation of witchcraft, I actually believe that Rowling can help us arrive at a more Christian view of witchcraft. The world that Rowling writes of is a world of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, self-shuffling cards, flying cars, wands hidden in umbrellas, bat bogey hexes, Whomping Willows, Quidditch, owls who deliver the mail, wizards who wear the most ridiculous garments to pass themselves off as Muggles, and the like. It is a delightfully humourous and playful portrayal of a magical world. It is not intended to be taken seriously. The fact that many Christians do take it seriously is a sign that something is badly wrong with us.
This has been long bandied about on Spec-Faith before. I’ve written columns about that myself, after finding out the wrong ideas I had about the Harry Potter series. Christians misrepresenting an author’s books, claiming she practices witchcraft, etc., is a sin, too, and those myths, coupled with failure to learn and implement Biblical discernment, have done some damage.
I’m not saying a Christian who doesn’t read Harry Potter is sinning. But such ideas about how to identify and avoid supposedly bad Things, when applied in other areas — music in church, for example — can be even more harmful, and misidentify where sin originates.
Author “Al” (I couldn’t find a last name) then quotes a scene from Prisoner of Azkaban, in which Professor Lupin, a kind instructor (with, it turns out, a secret) teaches his class about how to deal with Boggarts. These magical creatures are hostile toward humans; upon emerging from wherever dark space it has been hiding, one will shapeshift into whatever it identifies as its opponent’s worst fear. Thus, for Neville Longbottom, a Boggart will turn into Professor Snape; for Harry himself, the creature assumes the shape of a demonic, wraithlike Dementor.
But Lupin says there is one surprising way to fight a shapeshifting Boggart: laugh at it. Picture something hilarious, point your wand at the creature, and utter, “Riddikulus!”
Based on this comes what may be the best three paragraphs of the piece.
The pre-Christian world was full of dark, enclosed spaces for Boggarts to hide. People were plagued and tyrannized by fear, held in its bondage. Satan played with people’s imaginations, holding them in bondage as much (if not far more) by means of the fear within as by external demonic forces without. One of the effects of the gospel was to flood the world with light, driving the Boggarts out from their darkened lairs.
In the light of the gospel we can, like Harry and his classmates, learn to perform the riddikulus charm on our demonically-induced fears. After the gospel has taken effect we can mock things that once terrified us. This is one of the purposes of the celebration of Halloween. The gospel reveals that much of the fear that Satan excited in men prior to the advent of Christ resulted merely from the exaggerated shadows that he cast in the darkness. Now that light has come the shadows are removed and Satan is reduced to a far less terrifying stature. We can begin to laugh at the shapes that we once saw in the shadows.
Whilst there are undoubtedly evil forces at work in our world — Harry’s world contains Dementors and Death Eaters, not just Boggarts — we need to learn that many of the terrors that haunt us are merely products of our fearful imaginations. Satan loves to have the huge shadows that he tries to cast taken seriously. We will only truly defeat him when we learn to laugh at the shadows, walking through death’s shade while fearing no evil.
Al goes on to assure readers he knows real occult beliefs and practices do exist in the world. But some Christians, he says, frequently buy into the spooky shows put on by the bad guys. The power of the Gospel shows such superstitions for what they are:
There is witchcraft in our world and it is evil and dangerous and Christians should openly and strongly resist it. However, it is by no means as all-pervasive as some fevered imaginations might suggest.
And his addendum, from later in the comments:
There is a difference between mocking Boggarts and mocking Dementors. I do not recommend the latter.
So how do Christians discern between Boggarts and Dementors?
What kinds of “magic” can authors include in stories and still honor God?
What are real occult practices, and how do Christians best fight against them?
How else might even the Harry Potter series show the natures of goodness and evil?
How may riddikulus affect how our stories portray evil, or if/how we take part in Halloween?