Theology of Hogwarts

I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time last week. The reading choice was borne more out of a sense of curiosity than anything else–what has the last ten years’ worth of hype been about, anyway?

How could one ruffled little wizard bring in so many millions in book sales and Hollywood revenue?

More importantly to me: How could one ruffled little wizard get an entire culture–that of conservative Christians–up in arms?

Yesterday evening, when I turned the last page of The Sorcerer’s Stone, I still didn’t get it.

For a book many conservatives still seem determined to stay miles from, it seems pretty tame. Magical brooms, green sparks, owls that carry messages, and an archetypal good vs. evil plot wrapped up in mystery and magic.

A few observations:

  • If children growing up in a Christian home are so corrupted/influenced by a fantasy novel that it causes them to question the doctrines of the Bible, I’d think there’s an underlying problem far more fundamental problem than the book itself. Perhaps if, instead of presenting children with a this-book-is-satanic-and-you-may-not-read-it-list, parents actually read fantasy books with their children and talked with them about it, they’d find countless (biblical!) teaching opportunities.
  • Everyone who has told me that the Harry Potter books are wrong has also admitted that they have never even read one of them. The English major within me screams–collapses–in protest at this blatantly counter-intuitive phenomenon. How can you make such weighty claims against a book if you’ve never read it? Go. Read it. Then defend your position with sources from the text.
  • Vocabulary can incite wars. Especially literary ones. I have a feeling that if, instead of hobbits, The Lord of the Rings had witches and wizards, it would have been just as incendiary. The reverse is true: What if Harry Potter had been a hobbit? Would he still be banned from thousands of conservative homes?
  • I’m even more confused now, this time as to why I’m taking the time to argue for J.K. Rowling. I’m not passionately in favor of the Potter books, though I’m planning to finish reading the series. I am, however, inexplicably passionate about people who ban books based on assumptions, catching fire at a little spark based on assumptions about mere words like “wizard” and “magic.”

Maybe I’m too naive to see satanic references in the books, but… I’m not finding it there, and I’m pretty sure a few billion (or more…or fewer) university English classes have taught me at least some critical reading skills.

I see a fantastically magical story about the good guys battling the dark side, only this time the players have wands and spells. As a matter of fact, I see more opportunities to put a biblical spin on the story than otherwise (Danielle Tumminio, who teaches a course on Harry Potter and Christian Theology at Yale, has an interesting take).

I’ll end with a quote, because I like the quote. If there’s evil indoctrination going on here, it’s hidden so deep I can’t find it.

Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no not a visible sign … to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, pg. 299

5 comments

  1. Part of knowing what you believe is knowing why you believe it. Exploring those options personally is an exceptional approach to literature, clothing, neighborhood choices and more.

    Romans 14:5 One man esteemth one day above another, another esteemth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

    The scripture continues to explain why we must not cause our brother to stumble (verse 13). Sometimes our convictions are swayed, sometimes not. Always parents should look for teachable moments. . .have you considered some children get tired of teachable moments and tune out-feeling overwhelmed by the constant presence of too many teachable moments.

    For me, Harry Potter holds no great mystery or curiosity to be uncovered through comparison to C.S. Lewis or other authors. I do not have to ingest the cocaine to grasp why people suggest it might not be wise, sometimes observation (albeit limited) is enough for me. Great post–

    By the way, I never cared must for the Lord of the Rings series either. Just me speaking no great movement involved
    . : )

  2. “Sometimes our convictions are swayed, sometimes not.” You make it sound as though our convictions are as unstable as a fisherman’s bobber and need to be carefully guarded because a question or challenge can uproot them. I’d suggest that biblically-based convictions are a little sturdier than that.

    Also, are you comparing a children’s novel to cocaine? What’s the danger in reading a book? That the things you’ve staked your eternity on being true are going to be shaken by reading it? O.o

  3. True convictions are not easily swayed, especially for me the ones that are truly convictions. My eternity is sealed, grounded in my faith in Jesus alone. But what about the baby Christian? What about the witness?

    Any “communication” can lead to a change in a person’s thought process and the danger lies in what we consider to be a danger. The point is that something designed for entertainment can provoke thoughts that might not be expedient for some people. It does not have to be as powerful as cocaine-it can be as innocuous as a simple story, even a children’s story that provokes thoughts of fantasy through magic and wizardry. At what point do we draw the line. If it is classified as a children’s story does that make it less offensive, or less Christ honoring, or less of an issue than the current episode of the latest detective series that promotes murder and mayhem?

    The act of reading or hearing negative or false information cannot remove someone’s salvation. Yet, we are cautioned to avoid gossip and filthy communication. Just reading a book or watching a TV show or listening to certain music will not undo all of the awesome blessings that Christ’s death provided. Allowing subtle things to creep into one’s mind might steal away some of the joys in daily life if that one reaches a place where they think everything is just words or just pictures and therefore has no bearing on the Christian’s life. Again, no debate here, just food for thought. I am not a proponent of book-burning and never have been. Everything that was ever created can be used to glorify God-including those teachable moments you mentioned earlier.

  4. No debate? Well, my questions about the whole Harry Potter issue have everything to do with fantasy. If, as you say, the Harry Potter books are “false information” and “filthy communication” because they contain magic, then you’d also have to rule out all literature and folk tales containing magic as potentially corruptive. That means ALL fantasy. Hans Christian Andersen. The tooth fairy. If some magic in literature allows “subtle things to creep into one’s mind,” where do you draw the line?

    I’m arguing that kids can handle magic and fantasy without questioning whether or not it’s real. I’m also arguing that, before parents or educators ban books, they read them first.

  5. If you chose to say that “Harry Potter books are ‘false information’ and ‘filthy communication’ because they contain magic” that would be your label and not mine. Although, the labels seem to apply, maybe they are my words. Wizardry and magic do not fight against evil in the real world—that would be the fantasy part—untruth. And filthy communication is literally communication that is not edifying and uplifting—I cannot see how promoting such untruths could be edifying.

    Personally, I do not see the draw the books offer-and I will admit that I have only read a few select pages from the entire series. And yes, that was my question, where do you draw the line. Is it wise to teach little ones about the tooth fairy and the legend of St. Nicholas? Are there real instances of those fantasy characters in real life to create confusion?

    Perhaps the imaginary line in the sand for some may be whether or not the subjects or villains or heroes in fiction can be replicated in reality. Unlike something that is pure fantasy—say a tin can coming to life or a dancing teapot—that can be easily explained away by a rational parent, there are real evil spirits in the world. Stop. I did not say that Harry Potter is an evil spirit. What I said was there are evil spirits at work in this world, and the devil is beguiling and subtle.

    There are real people, that choose to serve an evil force and those people will not find their way through the narrow gate as long as that is their path. There is real danger is being intrigued by the possibilities that magic and sorcery offer. And to dismiss magic as purely fictional entertainment with no potential to mislead is shortsighted.

    To touch on another point you made, I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty-based on real life experience-that some kids cannot “handle magic and fantasy without questioning whether or not it’s real.” I can tell you that some kids believe everything they read, and some kids have nightmares about things they read and some kids think everything in every book is a story . . .and. . . and. . . and. Sometimes parents, educators and Christian mentors take those things into consideration when deciding what is appropriate for children at various ages.

    One of the great freedoms of being both a grown-up and a Christian is the freedom to choose your own reading material and weigh the cogency of its value or lack thereof against your own understanding and convictions. Hopefully, measuring your feelings against the leading of the Holy Spirit.

    This dialog is about so much more than a book written for purely commercial purposes. I have never devoted much effort to discussing the book outside of my own home. It is not about shielding children from the harsh realities of real life—it is more about giving them more opportunities to hear the realities of life and the only cure for such a harsh and dangerous world.

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