Touchstone Editor vs. Catholic Harry Haters

S. M. Hutchens of Touchstone magazine has written a rejoinder in ‘Harry Potter Coda‘ to Michael O’Brien’s assertions that Harry Potter is not good reading, ‘good’ in the sense of its being well written or of its being spiritually edifying.  Mr. Hutchens is not a Harry Hallower by any means; he believes the books are dangerous and encourage unfortunate beliefs and behaviors. He insists, though that Harry’s adventures in the end reflect “the Story Upon Which All Stories Worth Hearing are based” and will foster the imagination and heart of those who do and those who do not yet know this Story.

Mr. Hutchens and I are not on the same page about such story points as the mandrakes and the Dumbledore-Snape “suicide pact.” I do think, however, that his thoughtful comments, with all its concessions to Mr. O’Brien, will be a much more effective invitation to the Harry Wary among Catholics and conservative Christians to read the books than my own efforts. And that is cause for celebration. (H/T to Perelandra!)


  1. I didn’t think anyone had an anti-Potter argument that I hadn’t heard, but his take on the mandrakes took me completely by surprise. I’ve looked up the mandrake myth, and I know the Biblical reference, but why that’s the most disturbing thing in the books… well, clearly I’m missing something.

    Props to Mr. Hutchens for a kind and reasonable response to Mr. O’Brien, though. I don’t agree with everything he says either, but at least it’s thought-through. Good article, for the most part, and thanks for the link.

  2. revgeorge says

    This is a rather simplistic way of putting it, but it seems to me that O’Brien’s main objection to the series is that Harry did not start out being a Little Lord Fauntleroy & then remain that way throughout the series.

    Mr. Hutchens’s response is good in some ways, but in other ways I think he does a disservice to Potter by exaggerating some things a bit too much or showing things in one light while not showing the other side of things, e.g. that Potter promotes rudeness or disrespect & disobedience to authorities but not showing that those things are not necessarily approved of or supported in all cases & that they sometimes have negative consequences.

  3. Perelandra says

    The mandrakes bit refers to O’Brien’s charge that “living human babies” are being cut to make potions, ala tissue from aborted babies or in vitro embryos being used for medical research. Of of course they’re plants, not humans and not used while “infants.”

  4. Thanks, Perelandra, that makes sense. Your explanation, I mean. I agree with Mr. O’Brien that abortion is a horror, but I just thought the mandrakes were funny. 😉

  5. Arabella Figg says

    Eeeeww. What a thought to have in mind during Professor Sprout’s herbology classes. I don’t think I’d be very comfortable in O’Brien’s mind; I couldn’t have come up with that thought in a zillion years.

  6. ” I couldn’t have come up with that thought in a zillion years”

    Really? Did you see the movies? The mandrakes did look like a human/plant hybrid. They also had teeth (One of them bit Draco). They replant them as “babies” but then chop them up as adults. I’m a fan of HP, but I found the mandrakes in the story disturbing.

  7. Arabella Figg says

    Well, truthfully, I just wouldn’t have made an abortion connection because they’re plants. Like Jenna I just thought them humorous. We’re not told what the mandrakes are like in the adult state when they’re cultivated.

  8. Plus, in the movie not much focus is given on the mandrakes after the initial scene in the greenhouse with them. Just some mention of how a potion will be made to restore the petrified victims. And as Perelandra mentioned, the mandrakes aren’t used until they’re mature. So, Mr. O’Brien’s reading seems to me a bit uncharitable & forced.

  9. By and large, this is a good response. But I’m curious to know how Mr. Hutchens sees that Harry Potter “attractively encourages…a gnostic pursuit of power and esoteric knowledge.” The character that seems to fit is Voldemort, and I wouldn’t call the description of how he goes about it (or what happens to him as a result) either attractive or encouraging. One of the best elements in HP, I think, is how it shows the power and beauty of incarnated and sacrificial love over against “the gnostic pursuit of power.”

  10. S. M. Hutchens says

    Having happened upon this posting and its comments, I will reply to several inquiries it contains.

    First, the striking thing about mandrakes in all the old herbologies is an appearance that associates them with man. Rowling follows this lead by actually animating them–and then having them killed for the treatment of her characters. I am surprised to find obtuseness to the analogies to certain modern medical barbarities in both Rowling and some of the readers of this blogsite–very surprised.

    How is it that Harry Potter encourages the gnostic pursuit of power and esoteric knowledge? You must read more carefully! My point is that this will happen if the novels are apprehended in a way that is not necessary.

    Best wishes,


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