When Harry Potter was first published in 1998 he created quite a frenzy. Children who had never expressed any interest in reading a book were suddenly devouring huge books and anxiously awaiting the next in the series. However, not every parent was thrilled with their child’s Harry Potter enthusiasm. Almost immediately there were calls for boycotts of the boy wizard from Christians who felt that any book dealing with the dark arts should not be part of a child’s reading. There have been book burnings and the book was banned for a short time in some school districts. So is Harry promoting evil, promoting Christianity, or can all the stories just be labeled good versus evil?
Christian leaders who oppose the Harry Potter series will typically point to Biblical passages which teach against witchcraft and sorcery. For example, Galations 5:19-21 states: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (NIV) There are also teachings in the Old Testament: Deuteronomy 18:9-11 says “When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.” (NIV) These scriptures are pretty clear that Christians are to avoid participating in these practices. The concern of parents is that these books not only introduce children to the occult, but grant approval to the practice of witchcraft as well.
The Pope expressed his opposition to Harry Potter in 2003 while he was still a German cardinal. Responding to Gabriele Kuby who criticized Harry Potter writer J.K. Rowling, the Pope said the books were not appropriate “because these are subtle seductions which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly,” Other religious figures who have criticized Rowling and her creations include Laura Mallory, Steve Wohlberg host of the radio show World News and the Bible and Speaker/Director of Endtime Insights Radio and TV Ministry, the Koinonia House, Richard Abanes, just to name a few.
These who are opposed to Harry Potter look not only at the occult depictions in the books and movies, but the general dark tone of the books. There is a great deal of destruction and violence. There is the death of many people and animals. In addition, Rowling made references to real people who were either associated with the occult or purported to be associated with the occult. For example, the creator of the Sorcerer’s stone in book 1 is Nicholas Flamel. Flamel was a real person who was considered a master in alchemy and had a wife named Perenelle, also mentioned in the book. Rowling also apparently borrowed a belief of the afterlife from Flamel. Flamel believed that death was only a transition into a better existence. Dumbeldore, the head master of Hogwarts, explains to Harry that death is “like going to bed after a very, very long day.” This is not coincidental, according to those opposed to Harry Potter. These assertions have been spread despite Rowling herself saying that she does not believe in magic or wizardry.
On the other side are some in the Christian community who have pointed out that Harry is a good guy. Not only has he survived an assassination attempt at the hands of Voldemort (who killed Harry’s parents), but has overcome other evils as well. Harry is an orphan who was raised by his rude, unfair, and unmerciful uncle and aunt. He was tormented by his cousin, and not until he is taken to Hogwarts does he ever catch a break. He makes friends and well as enemies, but remains loyal, honest and good throughout all his trials. In short, Harry’s willingness to sacrifice himself put him on the side of God.
There are Christian leaders who see Harry Potter as not just a symbol for good, but find other symbols of Christianity within the series. There is not enough space available to go over all the symbolism which some Christians have seen in the books. Suffice to say that many equate Rowlings books with Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia with their religious symbolism. All these literary pieces have elements of life, death, resurrection, sacrifice, love, family, etc. Whether or not these are present would not generally be enough for those who oppose Harry Potter to let their children read the books, as the symbolism would likely be overridden by the darkness of the books. A few places which discuss the religious elements are:
Perhaps the greatest prevailing view is that the Harry Potter books are just that – books. They are stories of adventure and friendship that are told against the backdrop of wizardry. All stories must have an interesting and character-driven premise. This opinion was best expressed by Michael London of Assist News. London points out that yes, there is sorcery in the Harry Potter books, but there is also a long tradition of English tales which involve magic, wizardry and fantasy. J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, the Legend of King Arthur are just a few examples. Rowling is traveling down a road well-taken. She has employed the rich history of classical English literature and turned it into a modern miracle. After all, the number of children who have expressed an interest in Harry Potter cannot be told.
A parent, Christian or not, who is concerned about letting their child read Harry Potter or watch the movies should consider the following: How old is your child? Can he or she clearly understand what is fact and what is fantasy? Does your child scare easily? Last, but not least, what does your conscience tell you? If you are uncomfortable with any magic or wizardry in your child’s books, then you clearly should not encourage your child to read these. Either way, read the books first. Then you can discuss with your child any element that you are concerned with or that you feel may puzzle your child.