Last Gasp of the Harry Haters? God Only Knows!

My only hesitation in posting this morning is that, by putting up a new comment, I necessarily bump Prof. Hardy’s movie review and the consequent discussion off the main stage. If you’re looking for that engaging conversation, just click here.

I post today because of the flood of e-owls I’m receiving about various Harry Haters who are putting up their fire-and-brimstone warnings about the Boy Wizard as “gateway to the occult.” What’s curious about this predictable coming-out is that there seems to be a complementary and opposite reaction from readers, believers and non-believers, excited by Harry’s Christian message.

Let’s look at the Haters first.

Pat Robertson, televangelist, had this to say on The 700 Club:

During a May “Bring It On” segment, a viewer wrote that “my pastor says we shouldn’t read the ‘Harry Potter’ series because it contains magic. But how is that different from the Narnia series, which contain the same?”

“Well, Narnia is different. It’s not glorifying magic and the occult,” Robertson replied. “The lady who wrote Harry Potter [J.K. Rowling], I understand, was deeply involved in some of the occult things.”

“You don’t need to involve yourself in witchcraft, and the occult,” Robertson later added. “It’s dangerous. It will – it is seductive. It is seductive.”

He’s misinformed about Ms. Rowling being involved with the occult. So much for the “false witness” commandment, I guess, but I’d bet he didn’t make this up himself or choose to share it knowing he was mistaken. Let’s move on then.

Berit Kjos is the cartoon version of Harry Haters; reading her collection of Potter Posts through the years is a mind-boggling immersion into Phariseeism and misreadings of Scripture, Harry Potter, and secondary critical works. She has a special place in her heart for me, the alchemy apologist, of course. Mrs. Kjos promised a review of the second movie by yesterday but has not yet come through. Here is her opinion of HP7A for a preview of coming attractions.

Dark, dismal, demonic, deadly…. There’s no sign of joy in this disturbing movie! Yet it captivates children, stirs love for evil, and arouses addictive cravings for more stimuli and ever darker thrills.[5] Why are the forces of evil so enticing?

These are dark times…” declared Rufus Scrimgeour, the Minister of Magic (rumored to be a vampire), as the movie begins. “Our world has never faced a greater threat.”[4]

He’s right in more ways than one. That solemn warning could be applied to at least three different spiritual battlefields:

1. Lord Voldemort’s murderous domain.

2. Harry Potter’s lighter, more deceptive face of the occult.

3. Today’s embattled world, where love for occult entertainment is fast becoming more acceptable than God’s Truth.

You can’t make this stuff up. And the review of Deathly Hallows Part 2 has arrived!

I had plenty of company last Saturday morning as I hurried into the movie theater to see the final film in Harry Potter series. Several families with children walked in ahead of me. One little girl couldn’t be more than three years old! How would she react to this scary movie?

For more than two hours, the audience sat immersed in a mystical world filled with frightening shrieks, explosive sounds of death and destruction, and enticing suggestions certain to appeal to power-hungry youth already attuned to the forces of evil.

If you are a parent, please don’t take your children to see this movie!

By its end, it had exposed the two sides of today’s popular evil. Like the yin-yang symbol, there is an obvious dark side and a more subtle “light” side of evil. To resist their mind-changing allure, we need to understand both.

Moving right along, at least one reader of MSM articles, Joe, was struck by the absence of Christians critical of the series.

Funny how no one interviews ANY intelligent voice who has problems with the books. Michael O’Brien is a Canadian painter and prolific novelist and a devout Catholic who has criticized the books. Never mentioned. Granger appears to make his living writing in praise of the books and suggesting those who don’t like them have a “mechanical” faith. And he is the only source? Does not seem in the least balanced, and assumes naysayers are nuts.

Joe is “spot on” in noting the absence of “balancing” comments from Berit Kjos, Michael O’Brien, and Richard Abanes in the articles written in the Wall Street Journal, Scripps-Howard papers, and Get Religion. I can say in my defense, though, that I sent the WSJ reporter links to these three critics’ websites and their contact pages to encourage her to talk with them. No one makes the case for Harry better, sadly, than his hysterical decriers.

Michael O’Brien and his friends at LifeSiteNews — they are co-religionists living in the same Canadian Catholic ghetto — were upset, I’m guessing, not only at being ignored by the bigger media outlets, but, worse, by the enthusiastic review of the movie finale that appeared in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, ‘Harry’s Last Battle.’ Mr. O’Brien, self-annointed “culture warrior,” and Star Chamber Catholic companions at LifeSite, you’ll recall, were responsible for the meme that will never die about the Pope condemning the Hogwarts Saga. Their response to the L’Osservatore review of HP7B was predictably vitrolic and aghast, calling into question the orthodoxy of the Vatican’s editorial wing.

O’Brien argues that the Vatican newspaper’s review springs from a “habit of making a split between faith and culture, and most strangely by straining to praise fundamentally disordered cultural material.”

The L’Osservatore Romano review, said O’Brien, begs the questions “Who is behind the editorial policies at the Vatican’s newspaper? Why would they posit as good a tale about a violent, morally confused sorcerer as a Christ-figure? Why, moreover, have they simply ignored Pope Benedict’s critical insight into the Potter series?”…

O’Brien, regarded around the world as an expert on children’s fantasy literature, explained the tendency for confusion. “All too often, when cultural material arrives in intense pleasure-inducing forms, and contains some positive ‘values’ mixed with highly toxic messages in its role modeling and its anti-values, we are easily seduced. To believe that the Potter message is about fighting evil is superficial. On practically every page of the series, and in its spin-off films, evil is presented as ‘bad’, and yet the evil means by which the evil is resisted are presented as good.”

O’Brien warns, “As charming as Harry may be (and in the films he is much more charming due to the persona of the actor who plays the role), he is a type or metaphor of Antichrist, mutating Christian symbols and then absorbing them into a more dangerous worldview — moral relativism saturated in the symbology of evil and various manifestations of the occult.”

“In the novels,” says O’Brien, “Harry is called ‘the Chosen One.’ He chooses to rise from the dead. He defeats evil with the instruments and gnostic powers of sorcery, wielding the ultimate instrument with which he saves the world because he has become ‘Master over Death.’ At the climax of the seven-volume Potter epic, having saved the world from evil, the resurrected Harry is treated with reverent awe, various characters pressing forward to touch him, ‘their leader and symbol, their saviour and their guide.’”

That the National Catholic Register disagrees with him and sides with the Vatican view, I suppose, is equally galling.

The Catholic friend (and Chesterton/Tolkien scholar) who sent this to me noted that Mr. O’Brien has at long last become unhinged.

There is a Monty Python sketch in all this somewhere. There just has to be.

Poor Michael O’Brien, alone with his Palantir in his White Tower, getting madder and madder by the second. He can see the black ships sailing up the Anduin, but is blind to who is actually manning the helm.

I don’t want to speculate about Mr. O’Brien’s sanity but that Lord of the Rings reference seems spot on.

For every one of these Hater pieces, though, there seems to be a note from Christians celebrating Harry Potter, notes appearing online and in my email inbox. Here are a few favorites, the first from Christianity Today‘s weblog, a piece by singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson called Harry Potter, Jesus, and Me:

Then one day about ten years ago, when I was on tour with a singer/songwriter named Fernando Ortega, I spent a few hours at a Barnes & Noble in Oregon (I think) and a guy in a bowtie was giving an author talk to a smattering of people. I slipped into the back row and listened as he lauded the virtues of the Harry Potter books, and even—gasp!—went so far as to argue that they were distinctly Christian in theme. I was fascinated, especially in light of the rumblings and grumblings I’d heard about the books from Christians. It helped me to understand why my spirit seemed to tingle when I read the books.

That day I met John Granger, bought his book The Hidden Key to Harry Potter, and was even more hooked than I was before. He pointed out so many interesting themes, archetypes, alchemical nuances, and even direct quotes from Rowling herself about the Christian content in the books that I became more frustrated and mystified than ever by the outcry from Christians against the books. As weird as it sounds, I felt bad for Rowling.

Read the whole thing. He goes on to explain his experiences as a Christian reading the series and how Harry’s adventures deepened his understanding and experience of the Christian walk.

[Just for the record, the talk at the B&N was in Bellingham, Washington, early in 2003. I only learnede this yesterday, but it turns out that it was through Mr. Peterson’s recommendation of my book to his friend Travis Prinzi that the Maven of the Hog’s Head entered the Potter reading circle. Those talks to ten people in out of the way book stores are dates authors just have to do…]

Mike Duran echoes Mr. Peterson’s witness for the Hogwarts Saga in a post called ‘How Harry Potter Made Me a Believer.’ After citing my comments quoted in last week’s Wall Street Journal, he writes (emphasis in original):

This irony that “sacrificial love conquers power, including magical power,” threw a monkey wrench into the “mechanical faith” of many opponents of the novel. As the series developed, Christians could not avoid the reality that in the story magic was secondary to other powerful, very biblical, “moral elements and symbolism.” How could a story that glorified some of Christianity’s cardinal virtues be so evil? Even the most “mechanized” Christian recognized the legs of their arguments were undermined.

This warming trend is encouraging. Of course, there may be many reasons why the criticism of Harry Potter has waned. But I can’t help but feel that the series has been a bit of a lesson to us culture warriors. We can’t approach art through a “mechanized faith.” Rather than having a knee-jerk reaction to symbols, words, images, or practices, perhaps we should look deeper, to larger thematic elements that shape a story. After all, sacrificial love is far more important than whether someone wields a wand.

It is this unfolding of Harry Potter’s enduring “message” which has silenced many of its critics. And made me a believer.

Pretty strong stuff. I hope the silence of Richard Abanes is due to this kind of transformed vision rather than because of any personal crisis.

This is the public witness for Harry. The private notes I receive are more remarkable, sometimes leaving me off-balance. Today’s inbox included this jewel:

Mr. Granger,

My father just handed me your book after a conversation between him and I about why I was one of the few born again, spirit filled, believers that absolutely loves the Harry Potter movies. I am totally sold out for Christ and yet I have all seven of the movies that are now on DVD at home and just saw the last movie for the second time today…

I appreciate your courage and just wanted to say so. Often those of us who are here to ignite a fire in the hearts of God’s children, are misunderstood, criticized, and shunned, but so was Jesus… and His message was the most unorthodox according to the ones who were claiming to be religious. Jesus will return through us and you, sir, are an inspiration for those of us who have a clue but have not yet had a platform or opportunity to expose it.

I speak blessings on you and your family and pray for your increase and abundance according to your faithfulness.

Wow. Thank you.

From the Catholic side of the house, I received this letter last week while I was at LeakyCon in Orlando:

John Granger,

I am a Harry Potter Grandma. We were un-churched by the 1980’s, the Anglican church of our childhood, and married life had left us. I attended the Methodist church to have the children Confirmed. but when my husband retired, and the children were on their own, he wanted me to spend more time with him.

I was “addicted” to the Harry Potter books, reading each one several time, awaiting each new release. The Harry Potter fans at the Book release Parties and the Movies were friends, I watched them grow up. We played Harry Potter Trivia, discussed if Shape was evil or good. My daughter and I discussed each book, anticipating the next adventure.

My favorite Trivia question, what is the color of the Golden Snitch’s wings in the Books. The Answer is Silver, Same question as what color were Dorothy’s slippers in the Wizard of Oz? answer Silver, (Red showed up better on the newly Colorized Movie screen)

In October of 2007 I had reached a breaking point, 7 x 24 news junkie, I was angry with who I had become, short tempered, angry at the sin in the world, and seeing where our nation was headed in the next election. I turned off the news and started praying. What else can a grandma do but pray? Our children were married, employed and my son and his wife were Episcopalians. My daughter, graduated from the  University of Chicago, enough said, Her husband was a fallen away Catholic but they had their daughter Baptized by a Catholic Priest. I realize now after reading your book that Harry Potter had allowed me to open a door that only has a handle on my side, to let Jesus and the Catholic Church into my life…..

Confirmed Easter Vigil 2008 I am a new person in Christ. The Holy Spirit has me by the scruff of the neck,on the path to holiness. Daily Eucharist, praying the Divine Office, and reading In Conversation with God are an important part of my joy filled day, as is keeping the constant presence of God in my life…..

I have you and yours in my prayers, and the Harry Potter’s books that they may reach a new readership with the appreciation of the presence of the Word of God they contain. Hope this wasn’t too long, but I didn’t say half what I wanted to say by way of thank yous. I had just finished reading the entire series for the last movie, now your book in hand and a magic marker 🙂 I’ll re-read the series leaving notes for my heirs.

If you wonder what the Walter Mitty life of a Potter Pundit is really like, ‘thank you’ letters from readers are near the top of the ‘plus’ column — and there’s nothing in the ‘minus’ side that approaches them in potency. Delight and wonder outstrip disappointment and bewilderment many times over.

The Harry Haters are in eclipse, though no doubt they wil live on in sects and ghettos of litmus strip faith everywhere. I am grateful to them first because, without their bizarre misinterpretations of these books, I never would have offered my thoughts on the subject. I have reason to thank them, too, because, sans their continued outcry, I doubt very much I would have the readership I enjoy in discussing the spiritual content and experience of Harry Potter specifically and imaginative literature in general. Except for their denying the obvious, who would have ever been excited about the idea of Harry as Christian Everyman?

Is this the last gasp of the Harry Haters? God only knows. But if it is their death rattle, I thank God at their repose for all the providential good they have done despite themselves.

Please share your comments and corrections below, as well as any links you have found relevant to this subject.


  1. Regarding Pat Robertson, I can’t help remarking that this is yet another reason not to trust the Daily Prophet!

  2. revgeorge says

    Well, you’ll be happy to know that Kjos is at least somewhat consistent in that she also hates Lewis & Narnia.

    Anyway, it’s unfortunate that such hysterical & outlandish responses to Harry are out there because it diminishes any valid, reasoned critical responses to Harry Potter. I mean, not everyone who has a problem with the series is as nutty or irrational as those mentioned above & not everyone who criticizes the series is a “hater.” And in my opinion, the term ‘hater’ needs to go the way of the term ‘homophobia.’ That is to say, it needs to disappear.

  3. But the alliteration!

    Sadly the ‘Hallower’ equivalent for those enamored or supportive of the Saga, equally pejorative, never caught on…

  4. revgeorge says

    I’d just be happy if people would use the term ‘pro-life’ rather than ‘anti-abortion.’

    And if we’d used the term “Harry Hallower” we’d probably be accused then of idolatry. 🙂

  5. From Today’s Washington Post, Micharel Gerson’s Harry Potter and the Power of Myth:

    In the last of the series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” and in the current movie based on it, Rowling reaches the turn. A boy who has played Quidditch, discovered girls, broken curfew and cheated death again and again discovers that he was intended for death, “marked for slaughter,” all along. A scarred hero — his birth prophesied, his character tested by the temptation of dark power — realizes he must sacrifice himself for the sake of his friends. The “chosen one,” it turns out, was not chosen for honor but for extermination. Death, he finds, can be defeated only when it is embraced. Harry’s destiny requires a “cold-blooded walk to his own destruction.”

    These are the ambitions of Rowling’s brand of children’s literature. Harry’s walk toward the Forbidden Forest gains the reflected emotional power of the walk from Gethsemane to Golgotha. It is the recycling of the greatest myth — a myth that some also regard as true. And the final delivery from death is the culmination of all happy endings.

    Rowling seems to anticipate the objections of those who dismiss myths as lies. Harry’s enemy, Voldemort, does the same. “That which Voldemort does not value,” she writes, “he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.”

    Rowling’s children’s tale — like the best that came before it — has a sliver, a glimpse, of that power, beyond the reach of magic.

  6. I have no doubt the hate will not abate. Having grown up with those kinds of folks, I can assure you that they are single-minded and persistent! 😀

  7. revgeorge says

    See, I like the rhyming scheme of your first sentence, Dave. Maybe we could have a poetry contest about Harry Haters? 😉

  8. Elizabeth says

    Hey, push me off the page for such lively stuff any day! What wonderful encouragement to hear of the power of Christ in the lives of people. That’s the gospel, and it’s why we are here. I am so thankful for those notes, as it seems to be the negative we get tossed at us (like those ugly student evals I see more than the ones about how I changed someone’s life–in a good way). Thank you to those folks who share these wonderful experiences and bless us all.

  9. Kathleen says

    As a former homeschooler and current tutor within the educational community (mostly faith based) I had to “hide ” my delight with Harry for the longest time, then when John came out with “Looking for God” I felt absolved and justified. I know several people who were vehemently opposed to having anything to do with the books, mostly because they thought they promoted the occult. I have been able to gently(reigning in my enthusiasm until they are ready for the fire hose) encourage them to read the books and see the Christian symbolism. One famous author talks about “walking across the room” to have meaningful discussions about faith with people. HP has been my bridge for that shared context and having something to talk about. This website in particular has been a huge blessing and I love knowing so many intelligent expressive readers!

  10. Michael Gerson’s piece above is well worth the full read. He grasps the eucatastrophe!

  11. Thanks for this. It probably isn’t a job *you* would want to do (nor would I, at any length) but there is an interesting story to be told about the different moral worlds portrayed in the HP books and the movies.

    It is now clear that the movies were almost wholly de-Christianized – which must have been deliberate, since it included gratuitous deletions such as the gravestone inscriptions at Godric’s Hollow – and therefore the movies are fundamentally different from the books in terms of their message.

    So, much of these errors you describe above are likely to derive from people who have either only seen the (non-Christian) movies, or have read the books quickly and inattentively and through a ‘lens’ derived from the movies.


    I have found some delightful and moving scenes and moments in the movies, including the latest; but overall I am saddened by the lost opportunity. They simply did not aim high enough.

    (By contrast, the recent Voyage of the Dawn Treader movie struck me as aiming high, really trying to include the profound message of the book. Also, the director – Michael Apted – was _far_ better at eliciting performances from children than any of the HP movie directors. The director’s role is more than usually crucial for movies with child actors.)

    The fact that JKR didn’t insist on aiming high (in the way that CSL’s stepson Douglas Gresham has clearly tried to do with the Narnian franchise movies, although this aim failed in Prince Caspian) suggests that JKR does not really take the movies seriously.

    This was probably fortunate, because it was likely necessary in terms of her mental equilibrium. IF JKR had been trying to keep the movies on the rails while finishing writing the HP novels it would 1. probably have driven her crazy, and 2. realistically, she would not have been able to focus sufficiently on the much more important job of writing. (Now the movies are over, she is now trying to restore the focus on the books with the Pottermore website.)

    Nonetheless, the series of HP movies are a lost opportunity. They needed a single director who had a belief in what lay behind the novels, and could impose a single vision. What emerged was a heterogenous collection of qualitatively different films, with some egregious errors and omissions.

    [Just for fun – here is my summary of the movie series: The first two movies were light but charming children’s films (7/10), the third showed real promise of a proper approach and was the high point (8/10), the fourth was a big step back into a distorting dependence on special effects and ‘needless peril’ (the low point) (4/10); and these same flaws affected the fifth (6/10) and sixth (5/10) (the latter also felt incomplete and unexplained). But there was a pleasing recovery for the last two-part movie – despite a disappointingly unsatisfying final half hour (7/10 overall – but a section of about 15-20 minutes from Snape’s death scene up to Harry’s self sacrific was superb – 9/10). Overall rating of the series 7/10 – greater than the sum of its parts due to the pleasure of seeing charming young actors grow and mature, the brilliant mise en scene, some scattered hints and moods, and Alan Rickman.]

  12. “But if it is their death rattle, I thank God at their repose for all the providential good they have done despite themselves.”

    For this statement I applaud you, sir! A great example of the importance of seeing the good in everything. Thank you.

  13. Here are two links to thoughts from Catholics who are not Hallowers or Haters, both with more or less serious reservations about Harry, that take on the absurdity of those faithful who use the Hogwarts Saga as a litmus strip for orthodox spirituality:

    Mark Shea, National Catholic Register, ‘Scripture Does Not Say…

    Stephen Greydanus, ‘Harry Potter vs the Pope

    I read as much of the comment boxes on the Shea piece as I could stomach — and read much further than I would have because of my finding this jewel in the dung heap in the early going:

    Posted by Tim J. on Wednesday, Jul 20, 2011 1:31 PM (EDT):

    “…we are, at long last, looking at the end of the era of self-appointed inquisitors informing us that enjoyment of Harry Potter signals either spiritual blindness or willful cooperation with the Forces of Darkness..”

    If ONLY that were true, Mark. I think the Harry Hysterics will go on beating this dead unicorn for quite a while. Or anyway, until the Next Big Thing comes along.

    The real spiritual battle is always interior, against the old, unregenerate self, but this continual, reflexive Puritan distrust of the broader culture makes it seem as if the problems all come from outside… if we could only purify the culture and purge it of every un-Christian thing, we could go on living our saintly lives in peace. Something like that.

    Three cheers for that observation!

  14. Three Highly Recommended Reads:

    Travis Prinzi, The Rabbit Room, ‘What We Have Learned from Harry Potter, Part 1

    Idem, ‘What We Learned from Harry, Part 2: The Fantasy Tradition

    Frederica Matthewes-Green, Patheos, ‘Holy Harry

  15. John, thank you for the link to the pieces by Mark Shea and Stephen Greydanus. As you probably know, I had, and have, serious reservations about these books after DH. And I am a practising Catholic. This does not mean that I want the books banned, nor that I consider all those who enjoy them deluded. But I would really like a thoughtful discussion about how these books fail, and whether there is really any Christian content in them. My sense is that anyone on this board who has such concerns will be summarily dismissed as a “Harry Hater”, which isn’t quite fair. That’s one reason I have not been back here frequently. I didn’t want to harsh anyone else’s squee, as the kids say on livejournal, and I also felt my reservations about the books weren’t taken seriously here.

    BTW, I thought describing the comment thread to one of those posts as a dungheap was also a bit harsh. Many of the posters seemed sensible and courteous enough, to me. And why castigate those who were not?

  16. Hi, Mary!

    As RevGeorge pointed out above, the term ‘Harry Hater’ is regrettable. I agree, especially as the equally pejorative and alliterative ‘Harry Hallower’ never caught on. I use it, despite its misuse to pigeon-hole all those who have criticisms of the series or concerns about their morality, because it does capture a certain profile.

    To your point about my use of the word “dungheap” to describe the NCR comment boxes, I hope we can agree to disagree. A Catholic friend wrote to Mark Shea about them (I was cc’d) and noted:

    I was just going through the comments below your NCR piece on the Harry Haters. Holy freaking shlamoly. There is just no arguing with these people. They basically condemn you to hell. When you ask them what they base such an assertion on, they reply that you are arrogant and uncharitable. My favorite has got to be this MG character: “Dear Mark, I have just proved what you cannot prove.” Mmm…yeah…

    I’m sorry, but I would never be able to bear even a minute of such people’s company. Give me boozers and hookers and junkies and any other sort of moral reprobate any day over this crowd. At least the conversation would be much more interesting.

    I’m not Catholic but I shared his impression. My “dungheap” description was certainly hyperbolic and perhaps a pointer to Job. We’ll have to agree to disagree on its appropriateness.

    To your larger point about this site’s seeming hostile to criticism of Potter and other books we are discussing, that is true and not true. Readers here certainly are dismissive of those who are dismissive of the possibility that these books have substantive meaning. I think that disregard for ignorance is appropriate, not nasty or narrow-minded.

    We are also impatient with readers that do not, will not, perhaps cannot move beyond the surface and moral layers of story to discus their allegorical and anagogical meanings or the traditional artistry that delivers the latter. Again, as there are thousands of sites that are ‘out there’ for the conventional rather than the relatively sublime, slow mining approach, which is our focus here, I think our “you’re in the wrong place” curtness to guests wanting to derail the conversation for culture war morality discussion is not uncharitable but a defense of our priorities.

    If, though, I or anyone else here is unkind in this dismissal, I apologize. Thank you for sharing your concern on this point and I’ll try to look out for excesses in this regard.

  17. Perelandra says

    As for the last gasp of the Harry-Haters, I wish they’d stop misrepresenting the supposed Ratzinger diktat, especially since the postive verdict by Msgr. Fleetwood is brushed away. But if they can’t manage that, could thgey pos-s-i-b-ly stop defaming Rowling with claims that she was a witch/occultist? Or stop claiming that the spells are “real” and “straight out of manuals of witchcraft”? (Have any of these people ever read a grimoire or even a neo-Pagan ritual text?) Or presenting Voldemort’s creed “there is only power” as the message of the author and her books? (But that technique is so well honed by success getting TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD banned as “racist.)

    John, you’re far more charitable than I am towards the Legion of Ignorance.

  18. revgeorge says

    While I can see where Mary is coming from, I think there’s been a lot of confusion on the difference between saying something has Christian themes & symbolism & saying it is a Christian book upholding in all points Christian morality & teaching. Rowling for one has never claimed to have written a “Christian” book. She has, however, woven Christian themes into it, & in some cases she could hardly help doing so because of the framework of English literature as John has so often pointed out.

    Regarding such things like Harry using the cruciatus curse, well, I think such things, while troublesome, actually open up room for debate on such questions. And I think it leads to a realization that Harry, while good, is not perfect. And I also think most people are smart enough to realize that this doesn’t thereby excuse Harry or anything like that.

    Anyway, I could posit a rationale for Harry’s unrepentant, as Mary puts it, use of the cruciatus curse based on the themes of the book & tied into Christian theology, but here & now probably isn’t the place for it.

  19. I’m going to have to agree with Perelandra about John being more charitable to the “Legion of Ignorance” though if I were being myself I would like call them the “Stupidity Squad” just cause they have had the opportunity to learn about the symbolism and content. That isn’t to say that anyone who disagrees is part of this group, if someone has taken the time to analyze the books and learn from other sources and comes to a different conclusion than I am fine with that. If we all thought the same the world would be a boring place and we wouldn’t have great the literary works that we have today, nor would we have some excellent books analyzing these great works because we would all know the meaning and it wouldn’t be necessary. It’s just when people make comments like the ones mentioned above it irks me beyond belief. I’m just glad that we have someone as eloquent as John and Travis and others that are able to defend with not only passion, but also reason. I know that I would find it hard to defend Harry Potter without being able to reference John and Travis’ works about it because I would jump quickly into verbally slapping the person rather than trying to be reasonable. Therefore I am glad for everyone who defends these books because I am able to use their arguments to keep myself from smacking people upside the head with a clue-by-four.

  20. Okay, John. I guess I’m in the wrong place, then. I am in the position of having been persuaded by your analysis of HBP and therefore feeling utterly betrayed by DH.

    My present position towards the books has been summed up in my long essay, “Harry Potter and the Mores of the 19th century”, which some here have read. I really don’t have anything more to say, I guess.

    Except this: there is no justification for torture in Christianity as I understand it. That Christians have, over the centuries, indulged in such horrors merely points to the fact that the Church is made up of sinners. My problem with the scene as written isn’t that Harry gives in to his wrath. It’s that he never, afterwards, thinks about what he has done. It’s a terrible, terrible message to send to kids.

    And my problems with the texts as Christian books are these: Harry never has to do the hard work of repenting for anything he has done. Nor does he have to do the still harder work of forgiving. (There are those who say he does, but we do NOT see the process. It’s like throwing a switch – bingo, Harry changes his mind, and never has to think about or feel sorry for anything at all!) And Snape is not redeemed.

    Had we seen forgiveness and reconciliation in these texts, I would have agreed that they were essentially Christian books. As it is, I think they are rather shallow books with a Christian veneer.

    As to the comment thread you spoke of, there were one or two people who seemed ignorant and judgemental to me. And, indeed, those people were wrong and couldn’t be argued with. But most of the commenters seemed to agree with the original posters that the Potter books were a mixed bag, and in no way promoted actual witchcraft. Which is pretty much my point of view.

  21. I can identify with the conflicted feelings some have expressed. As a member of a Harry hating church, I feel like a second-class citizen because I love HP. Our preacher seems to believe that reading fictional books which feature wizards, magic, vampires, or any other supernatural element is symonymous with practicing occultism in the real world. Last Sunday he went off on HP and Twilight in both services. I felt defensive because I know he has not read any of the books and does not understand what they are really about. For instance, I have not heard him mention Mormonism in connection with Twilight, which leads me to doubt that he even knows Stephenie Meyer is a Mormon. He is not the type who would keep quiet about it if he knew; it would be one more reason to condemn the books.

    I used to agree with all the preaching against HP until I started reading the books for myself and discovered that far from “glorifying the devil” as some said, they are actually full of some wonderful Christian themes. Then I read our professor’s excellent book How Harry Cast His Spell and learned about all the Christian symbolism I had missed. So it is certainly frustrating to me now whenever I hear some of my favorite books being condemned by people who’ve never read them or who haven’t studied them deeply enough to understand them.

    At the same time I feel equally defensive whenever I hear fundamentalist Christians being ridiculed for adhering to the doctrine of separation from the world. It is a biblical doctrine even though individual believers may interpret it differently. I know many Christians mistakenly consider that anything as widely popular as HP must of necessity be “worldy” and is therefore to be shunned. I think it is intellectually dishonest to criticize a book one has not read and that it’s wrong to judge a person’s commitment to Christ based upon different interpretations of biblical principles. But in defense of some of the Harry haters (not all, but some), they do mean well. My preacher honestly believes that by condemning the books he is helping Christians escape from worldly corruption and demonic influence. My church is alive and full of wonderful, sweet committed Christians, and our pastor is a sincere man of God and a great leader for a church. I would not presume to argue with him about HP (not that it would do any good) although I do disagree with him. I know his heart’s in the right place, and I assume the same about many other Christians who have reservations about the books. So whenever he says anything about HP or Twilight (I have not heard him mention Narnia, but I think he feels the same about all fantasy), I just let it go in one ear and out the other. Or at least I try to.

    I really appreciate all of the insights expressed on this website. It is exciting to read the various viewpoints about all my favorite books!

  22. “But I would really like a thoughtful discussion about how these books fail, and whether there is really any Christian content in them. My sense is that anyone on this board who has such concerns will be summarily dismissed as a “Harry Hater”, which isn’t quite fair.”

    I would like such a discussion, too, Mary. First I would like to know how you think the books fail and why you would question the existence of any Christian content in them. You will not be automatically denounced as a Harry Hater by me or anyone else, but you will be answered by readers who have truly read and such discoverers may not bear your interpretation if it is flawed. In short, ask away and get answers but don’t expect they will conform to your sense of betrayal for whatever reason(s).

    “I am in the position of having been persuaded by your analysis of HBP and therefore feeling utterly betrayed by DH.” You may know what you mean by this, but I do not. I cannot answer what appears to be a blanket statement about the books based on disappointment of an unspecified type.

    “My present position towards the books has been summed up in my long essay, “Harry Potter and the Mores of the 19th century”, which some here have read. I really don’t have anything more to say, I guess. ” I would take time to read it if I knew where to seek it. Link?

    “My problem with the scene as written isn’t that Harry gives in to his wrath. It’s that he never, afterwards, thinks about what he has done. It’s a terrible, terrible message to send to kids.” You want a confession scene, I take it, that satisfies your understanding. How would that be written? Literally, I mean. So that it would send a wonderful, wonderful message to kids, be adequately explicit, and advance the story line. I personally am not in favor of torture either, but there are those for whom retributive justice is the only kind of justice they can receive. So here I think it is not Harry in error so much as the inability to perceive other than one’s self-chosen limitations. That is, it illustrated the consequences of choices made and unrepented of, of the possibilities of retributive punishment, and the errors of the choices made for torture for self-advancement. All of which I think come clearly through to kids as actions – if not satisfactorily in words for you.

    “And my problems with the texts as Christian books are these: Harry never has to do the hard work of repenting for anything he has done. Nor does he have to do the still harder work of forgiving. (There are those who say he does, but we do NOT see the process. It’s like throwing a switch – bingo, Harry changes his mind, and never has to think about or feel sorry for anything at all!) And Snape is not redeemed.” I respectfully disagree. Harry is not described in stream-of-consciousness style doing a confession/receiving absolution for his actions but rather is shown having done that and changing. You cannot view Harry’s behavioural changes without acknowledging the repentance. The deed is the action you are looking for in completion. Similarly, “he who keeps my commandments, he it is who loves me” and the parable of the two brothers on the farm who either obey or disobey their father by mere lip-service would point out which mode of repentance is preferred by our Lord. The same for Snape’s redemption. It is done by his service and life of devotion to saving Harry ( a rather remarkable life of devotion to the heart of Lily and lived in monastic celibacy and cenobitic relations – all of which recall the life of a monk in an abbey in repentance for prior sins). I think your problem is as you express it “(I) do NOT see the process” described therefore it did not happen, cannot be inferred/understood/have occurred. I think you err in this precisely because the actions demonstrate the heart.

    “Had we seen forgiveness and reconciliation in these texts, I would have agreed that they were essentially Christian books. As it is, I think they are rather shallow books with a Christian veneer.” I think you have misread the texts thoroughly if you have not found forgiveness and reconciliation in the dealings with the Malfoys at the battle of Hogwarts, the enlightenment of Harry and his forgiveness of both Dumbledore and Snape in the naming of Albus Severus Potter, and in the interactions of Draco et alia on the platform as the new generation heads for Hogwarts. Again, these are actions and not explanations nor explications, so you may not think them sufficient, but all knowledge is not propositional (op. cit.).

    “As it is, I think they are rather shallow books with a Christian veneer.” You are certainly entitled to arrive at your own conclusions. I hope I have demonstrated that your stated complaints fail before the deeds of the characters which reveal their choices. Those choices necessitate the repentance and forgiveness of which you seek but which you seem to discount because not narrated to your personal level of satisfaction.

    I think children reading these books will see the actions consequent to repentance and forgiveness as more important and to be emulated, but that is my opinion.

  23. David Carlton says

    Just to add to inked’s comments: The Potter books don’t have a “Christian veneer” at all. There’s no Christianity on the surface, and Rowling intended it that way. Christian themes are part of her mythic repertory, not her whole agenda. Mary’s right: Harry is unreflective [Gryffindors not named Hermione are like that]. But he’s also struggling throughout the later books with the world’s most spectacular case of survivor guilt. His walk into the forest isn’t simply an act of self-sacrifice for those he loves; it’s also an act of atonement for the suffering he feels [rightly or wrongly] he has inadvertently inflicted on others. I, too, have problems with the scene in the Ravenclaw Common Room, which I see both as a serious moral lapse on Harry’s part and on Rowling’s part. But it’s a lapse, not the essence of either character or author. I think Harry can be forgiven for failing to reflect on it, given all that he has on his plate those last few hours. All told, Harry is a character who has repeatedly shown impressive generosity; I think we can at least be as generous to him.

  24. It’s been interesting to take a glimpse at the world of ‘Harry haters’ and also the world of ‘Harry hoverers’ (not sure about whether they should take the plunge). On trawling through a number of blog comment threads there seem to be a number of issues to consider – especially for Christian parents & carers. Some very interesting debates on blogs from Mike Duran & E. Stephen Burnett.

    1) The focus on magic when dabbling in sorcery is forbidden by the Bible.
    For most, this is a complete non-issue. The genetic, natural magical skill in the fantasy Potter world is nothing like the supernatural channeling of forces the Bible warns us against.

    However, I can see if people have had issues with real life occult practices, the Potter books may not be for them. Talking to ghosts and cursing other people may be too close to home for some.

    The risk that children/teenagers may be more interested in ‘magic’ (ie occult) in the real world after reading Harry Potter isn’t completely ludicrous. However, there’s no saying they won’t come to find out about the occult anyway. And at least the pretend magic in the Potter books gives you an opening for family discussion when the time is right to warn your children about such things.

    2) The risk of obsession
    The Potter world is a very engaging and involving world and a brilliant place to visit for a while. But it can be hard to move on and not let it take over a higher place that it deserves. With a daughter who has read, reread and read again the Potter books over the past few years we’ve struggled to get her interested in other literature. The PotterMore website concerns me a little too with people being drawn into more “facts” and “history” about a fantasy world. We won’t ban our children, but we will keep a close eye on how much time they spend on it.

    Of course, getting obsessed over something is not restricted to Harry Potter and it’s not a reason to avoid the series. But it is something Christian parents should be aware of. There was an interesting comment on a blog where someone felt Harry was getting in the way of their relationship with Jesus and they really had to put the Potterverse aside for a while. As an avid fan (spent my sick day today listening to soundtrack clips from the 8th movie!) I can relate to that. It’s important to not get so caught up in the fantasy that more important things are neglected. (I think it’s a good thing ‘Harry Hallowers’ didn’t take off!)

    3) Morality of main characters
    Seriously, who wants the perfect hero in a book? Harry was so human, so like me – tempted, making mistakes, at times hurting others unintentionally and intentionally – yet when this imperfect, scared, hurting human character chooses to give up his life for his friends it gives me goosebumps! I feel inspired and think “If only someone loved me enough to give up their life to save me.”
    Then I re-enter the real world and remember the perfect hero who already has…

  25. Inked, your response to me convinced me that there is no future – any more – in discussing these books, which, in any case, make me sad, tired and angry. I have been discussing them, online and in person, for years now, and I do not think that I am a poor reader – I have truly read! Nor do I think there is only one “right” way to read any text, which seems to be your opinion. But, though I do NOT want to get into arguments, and was regretting coming back here and commenting in the first place, I also felt bad about dropping by and then failing to respond. So here is the link to my essay.

    BTW, as I said above, I don’t think these books are Christian in any way. Nor are they witchcraft manuals. They are a pastiche – an ultimately rather mediocre hodgepodge, thrown together by an author with a great deal of talent for storytelling and a strong emotional investment in this story, but an author who has, herself, said that she does not reread and does not rewrite. She’s revealed in interviews that she thinks she’s written things (Snape’s redemption, Slytherins coming back to fight, etc.) that are simply not there in the text.

    So – if I had to describe these books with one word, I’d call them sloppy.

    My two cents!

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