The Way of the Wizards vs. The Wise Man
"All books are divisible into two classes: the books of the hour, and the books of all time." -John Ruskin
As a general rule, the more a book is hyped, the less I want to read it. I don't give bestseller lists much credibility. If a book depends on mass-market appeal to sell it, it's probably not as good as everyone thinks it is. R. L. Stine's Goosebumps series was immensely popular, yet they were mediocre books written in poor taste. Some people feel it doesn't matter what kids read, as long as they're reading something. But wouldn't it be so much better to read high quality literature that is both morally and spiritually edifying and teaches godly examples? I did read the first Harry Potter book to see what all the fuss was about, but I must admit that I did not read the entire series. This is because once I understood what the storyline was about, it would be against my principles to read the rest. In spite of this, with all of its publicity, I still learned more about Harry Potter than I ever wanted to know! Consequently, I can't resist giving my own two cents' worth.
Harry Potter is published by Scholastic, which is well-known for the quantity - not necessarily the quality - of their publications. Scholastic books need to be pre-screened for politically correct, liberal bias. The life of British author J. K. Rowling is a perfect example of this. Divorced, living on public assistance in a tiny flat with her infant daughter, Rowling wrote Harry Potter at a table in a café during her baby's naps. An Exeter University graduate, a teacher, then an unemployed single parent, Rowling admits that she wrote Harry Potter when "I was very low…." Given those circumstances, I can understand why Rowling would want to escape to a fantasy world of her own creation. The author's background may also explain the angry tone of her books. Harry's relatives are disrespectful, mean-spirited, and have bad attitudes. They are even cruel and abusive at times.
The books do have exciting action and imaginative detail. They include lessons about unconditional love, courage, loyalty, friendship, and even self-sacrifice. However, the series contains too many other aspects that most Christian parents will find unacceptable. For example, there is some gratuitous profanity, and occasional alcohol use is excused. Harry Potter's plot of good vs. evil is nothing new, but these books have a serious tone of hate, violence, and death. Blood is mentioned excessively. There is talk of murder and suicide. The third volume contains psychological warfare that is sinister and frightening. Rowling hints that the final books will turn even darker and potentially disturbing. She also suggests that the plot line will become more mature as well, which may lead to age-inappropriate content.
Children who read the books are confronted with two distinctly non-Christian worldviews: secularism and occultism. Rowling told the Washington Post, "I positively think they are moral books." But it is not so much true morality, as it is moral relativism. For example, Rowling glorifies the fact that Harry often does the wrong thing (lying, cheating, or disobeying authorities) for the right reason. This morally ambiguous mindset also affects the way her wizardry is portrayed--not as a supernatural power, but as stereotypical magic. The books are full of magical beings of all kinds, some which are obviously bad, while others are portrayed positively. A witch, for example, is considered working on the side of good. Unfortunately, in the real world evil often hides behind a smiling mask.
The fact is, witchcraft is real and the holy spirit is real. In a culture that already tends toward paganism and New Age beliefs, there is a danger that children who become fascinated by the idea of crystal balls, spells and potions could eventually be drawn into witchcraft and the occult, which is neither harmless nor imaginary. As parents we are responsible for training our children, which includes helping them to discern between God's truth and Satan's lies. Until a child is capable of such discernment, he should be protected from moral ambiguity. Yes, older children and adults can enjoy reading books without adopting any of the beliefs, values, or morals portrayed in them. But Harry Potter is geared for elementary school students who, even though they may know the difference between real and make believe, still have immature and impressionable minds. And many children nowadays are not taught the difference between right and wrong, so they don't have any moral foundation to fall back on.
Rowling and her supporters argue that there have always been stories about magic, witches and wizards. Much of children's literature, from traditional fairy tales to famous classics, have to do with these themes. However, great authors such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien wrote their stories from a Christian perspective. The witch in The Chronicles of Narnia was seen as evil, not as good or helpful. The children didn't perform any magic themselves, either, like they do in Harry Potter.
One unfortunate reason why so many kids like the Harry Potter books may be that too many kids identify with Harry. I think that a lot of children these days probably feel sad, lonely, and unloved. They can relate to Harry because they also have miserable childhoods, parents who aren't there (Harry's parents were killed when he was a baby), and relatives who don't care about them. Harry is an orphan who, like many children today, longs for someone who will truly love him. When Harry is befriended by a gentle giant who invites him to join Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry is accepted into a magical world where he becomes popular and famous.
The Harry Potter books allow readers to escape to a fantasyland where they're in control. The stories deal with common issues that a child faces--the school bully, the teacher who plays favorites, and the insecurities of youth. However, Harry gets revenge on his enemies and controls people through the use of magic. Real children need to learn how to deal with their real-life problems in a constructive way. More importantly, children should be finding comfort in the reality of Jesus' love and sacrifice, not in false fantasies.
Did You Know...? Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling's favorite holiday is Halloween!
Considering all of the above, my opinion is that her books are not suitable for a Christian homeschool family bookshelf. Instead, allow your children to explore the following wholesome fantasy classics:
Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)
"There are believers, there are non-believers, and there are make-believers." -Dr. J. Vernon McGee
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A Personal Testimony
I recently received an e-mail from someone regarding my Harry Potter article. It said "Your judgmental attitude on something you know nothing about is ridiculous and your remarks about Rowling are even more ludicrous." Well, if you think I'm being silly, believe me, I do know what I am talking about. I didn't want to have to tell everyone this, but if you must know... even with my Christian upbringing, during high school I dabbled very briefly in witchcraft. (Believe it or not, I became curious about it after writing a report on witches when we were studying Shakespeare's Macbeth in literature class! So just imagine how many kids are interested in it nowadays.) I had purchased a witchcraft book in the bookstore at the local mall. It contained simple spells for ordinary things like obtaining money, making people like you, getting back at your enemies, and foretelling the future. As a shy girl who wished she was more popular in school, such possibilities were appealing and intriguing to me. However, during the first spell that I tried, while I was following the directions and reciting the chant exactly as it was written, something strange happened when I was in that darkened room peering into a bowl of water colored with black ink. You can make fun of me and say that it was just my imagination, but I know what I saw and felt. It was like I was about to cross over to the dark side and a hand was reaching out to me. I was so scared that I went running out of the room, never to try that again! I don't know if it really was an evil presence, or if it was just God's way of warning me. But whatever it was, it made me realize what I was getting myself into, and that witchcraft is not to be taken lightly. It is real and can be harmful (not necessarily physically, but definitely spiritually), so it certainly should not be promoted as something entertaining and fun for children. Looking back, I believe it was the grace of God that saved me from straying too far, but other children may not be so lucky. For a unique perspective on this subject from an ex-witch, go to www.exwitch.org/harrypotter.html.
For additional opinions, please read the following:
"Let no one be found among you who makes his son or daughter pass through 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. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord." (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)
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