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 Update (Vol. 3, No. 11).  My friend Rick Warren reprinted that Update, 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 (*for a full "Whitepaper" on Harry Potter, for use by parents, teachers and pastors, see link below).

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, Rowlings'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.