*This post is a reprint from July, 2007, written upon the release of the seventh and final installment in J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series. We thought it fitting to re-publish it with the release of the seventh and final film.
The hype is over. It will be available for sale on July 21, 2007. People are already forming lines, camping out at stores, money in hand.
No, not for an iPhone. This doesn’t even take batteries.
They’re waiting for a book. A 784-page book.
The release of the seventh and final installment in J.K. Rowling’s (rhymes with “bowling”) fantasy series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is poised to break publishing records by the score, not least of which is an unprecedented initial printing in the United States alone of over 12 million copies.
Let’s face it. People are mad about Harry.
Some more so than others.
The Harry Potter books, and subsequent movies, have divided Christians into two camps: those who see author J.K. Rowling’s work as dangerously occultic, and those who place the stories in the fantasy camp along with such writers as Lewis Carroll, Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Those who put Harry in the “dangerous” camp are concerned about the use of magic and the presence of certain "dark" themes and even violence. They have dismissed them as being blatantly occultic, and have forbid their children to read them. I was reminded of this anew when just a few weeks ago I released my annual “Summer Reading” list through this blog (click hereto read that entry). My friend Rick Warren reprinted that blog, as he has others in the past, through his “Ministry Toolbox” email which is sent to over 400,000 pastors around the world.
I began to see a few “Google Alerts” come my way as a handful of bloggers began to write how Rick Warren was now endorsing Harry Potter through “contemplative advocate” (huh?) James Emery White (I always thought of myself as more of a cultural apologist). My reading list, of course, is not meant to endorse the content of the books, but to recommend the importance of reading the books. For example, the list also recommended reading one of the three main “atheist” apologetics released this year, such as Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great. I am surprised a blogger or two, using the same reasoning, didn’t accuse me and Rick of endorsing atheism!
Granted, it wasn’t a firestorm. I’ve had much worse of late. But I stand by my recommendation to be familiar with Rowling’s works. This is a momentous occasion in popular culture. There have been few phenomena in modern history that have rivaled these books and the cottage industry of films, video games, and merchandise that have followed.
But beyond reading them for cultural literacy, are they also a cultural battle front?
I think not.
First, to think the books are evil and wrong and harmful – in and of themselves – is misguided. As Christian author Charles Colson, along with other Christian writers and thinkers such as Richard Mouw, Connie Neal, Alan Jacobs and Francis Bridger have noted, the magic used in the books is mechanical, not blatantly occultic. No more than the magical powers of Superman. It’s attempting to be fantasy, not reality. There is no contact with a supernatural, demonic world in the classical form of the occult.
In truth, they are simply morality tales, and the magic is used as a metaphor for power. The overarching theme is the fight between good and evil, and that evil is real, and must be resisted. The characters develop courage, loyalty, and the willingness toward self-sacrifice. In and of themselves, the Harry Potter books are best lumped with the fantasy works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, where wizards and witches and magical potions also abound, but in a fantasy framework where the author uses them to present good as good, and evil as evil. In fact, Rowling’s appreciation for Lewis runs so deep that his writing was the primary reason for seven Potter books - she wanted to match the seven in the Narnia series. Rowling herself is a professing Christian and member of the Church of Scotland, and while she doesn’t pretend the Harry Potter series are overtly Christian books, a Christian worldview is behind every page.
This does not mean that parents shouldn’t talk their children through the books – they should. As with any fantasy book – or film - you should make sure that your child is old enough to know the difference between fantasy and reality. Further, the Harry Potter books are not “kiddie” books. The later books in the series become increasingly mature (in the first book, he is eleven; by the seventh, he is seventeen). Parents should also make sure they help their children contrast the mechanical, fantasy magic in the books – and the fantasy magic in all fairy tales and children’s literature, from Snow White to Cinderella - with the real life witchcraft the Bible condemns, which encourages involvement with supernatural evil.
Yet the larger conversation can be more positive, for the Harry Potter books and films give every parent and child something to think about as Christians, such as the reality of good and evil, the critical importance of choices, and the nature of sacrificial love.
So I, for one, say pick up and read.
I know I am going to.
James Emery White
Bridger, Francis. A Charmed Life: The Spirituality of Harry Potter.
Granger, John. The Deathly Hallows Lectures
Granger, John. How Harry Cast His Spell: The Meaning Behind the Mania for J.K. Rowling’s Bestselling Books.
Granger, John, “Harry is Here to Stay,” Christianity Today, July, 2011, pp. 50-53.
Neal, Connie. What’s a Christian to Do with Harry Potter?
Neal, Connie. The Gospel According to Harry Potter.
To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.
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About Dr. James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
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