I’m not going to lie, I’m really excited to write this article.
I am part of the generation that grew up alongside Harry Potter. I began the series when a teacher in my seventh-grade class read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for us during the reading hour after lunch. My interest was immediately piqued. I watched The Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets a year and a half later, the only two films that were already available for purchase at Wal-Mart at the time. Upon finishing the Chamber of Secrets, I craved more, reading every book that had been published in the series up to that point, eagerly checking every so often to see when the next movie and book would be out.
I remember shedding my first tears over the death of a fictional character as I read The Goblet of Fire. I remember being in college, staying up until midnight just to get the movie of the same title when it was released. My mother gave me Order of the Phoenix as a Christmas gift, and I began reading it immediately, not finishing until the following morning. The Half-Blood Prince was the first book I purchased at a midnight release, and I went to the theater with my husband when the movie came out on our honeymoon. I was visiting my dad for the summer as a teenager when The Deathly Hallows (book) was released, and he, at my incessant requests, waited in line for over an hour just to make sure I got a copy that night. I finished it just as the sun began to rise the next morning. I still remember sitting on the bed smiling to myself and staring at the cover, in awe of the epic conclusion. I went back and read the last three chapters right away because once did not feel like enough. I was there for the midnight film premieres of the Deathly Hallows parts one and two. I rewatched the entire series in the couple days preparing for the birth of my daughter, and took the first book with me to the hospital, both of which were to help distract me and settle my nerves.
I was fortunate, because though I grew up in a Christian family, I was still allowed to follow a series that most Christian families and churches prohibit. I can tell you from a sincere heart that I will forever be grateful for this: not only did the Harry Potter series leave lessons that resonate with me even to this day, but it taught me to love reading. Perhaps even more importantly, it made me want to be a writer. I am almost certain that if it weren’t for the masterful storytelling and, not just reading wonderfully developed characters, but experiencing them as if they were my very own friends, I would not have been influenced to strive for the same for my own readers.
There are really only two things I cannot wait to talk to my daughter (and any future children) about: Jesus and Harry Potter.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying here that Harry Potter is the same as Jesus. One is the Son of God, and the other is a fictional character thought up by J.K. Rowling. Though we talk about Jesus and I read my daughter Harry Potter (here and there), she’s not old enough to really comprehend or communicate regarding either yet. It excites me to think about my daughter asking questions someday about Jesus, hopefully welcoming Him into her heart, and watching what He does with her life. It also excites me to think that she may experience the same magic through books that I did with the Harry Potter series.
I always wonder if some of my anti-Potter Christian friends find my affection for Harry hypocritical, as if it is some exception I have made that is in defiance of God—as if the Harry Potter series is somehow equivalent to Game of Thrones (another article for another time). Well, I’d LOVE to tell you why it’s not.
I have witnessed the resistance, fear even, of certain fictional subject matter in churches over the years. I remember watching The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring with my mom when it came out. I’d never heard of it before—had no idea it was an epic literary achievement. I researched it (to find out when the subsequent films in the series were coming out) and discovered it was written by a Christian man. Upon reading this, the idea of resisting the power of the one ring as a representation of sin made sense to me, as did the clear line between good and evil. The elves pray, and in my opinion, Aragorn has always symbolized a real man—what a godly man is supposed to be. (Once again, another article for another time). You can imagine my surprise, my dissent, even, upon hearing a pastor in the church I was attending at the time slam Lord of the Rings. I sat in disbelief, listening as he said he didn’t have time for those “boogers” (the orcs), that it was Satanic, and that instead of watching a film with demon-like creatures for entertainment value, we should be reading our bibles.
Well, I could write an entire essay on why I disagree (and probably will someday), but really, I just sat there in embarrassment. This was coming from a guy who obviously had never watched the movie, read the books, or even researched it for that matter. I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t read our bibles, by the way (of course we should). I’m arguing against the flawed opinions and misunderstanding of fictional characters.
So what does this mean for Harry?
The biggest argument against Harry Potter in Christian circles is its use of “witchcraft”. I put that word in quotation marks because it is my personal opinion that what the bible condemns is completely different from the magic in the Harry Potter series.
The reason being is actually very simple and quite plain once you think about it. The source of Harry’s powers, along with his friends’ and every other magical character in the series, does not come from outside of themselves. It comes from what is already within them. They do not drink virgin’s blood for strength. Demons are not summoned (or even mentioned) and spells are not cast for the sole purpose of revenge. They do not worship Satan or draw their powers from him. They are wizards, just like Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. I think the confusion comes in since the term “witch” is used in the Harry Potter series. Think about this: if Rowling had used “wizard” as a broader term to envelop all, she might have redefined the whole meaning and genre of what it is to be a wizard (the way some vampire-loving authors who shall remain nameless have redefined what a vampire is). “Wizard” is generally a word used to describe a male with magical powers, so what is the opposite? Or rather, a term that describes a female with magical powers? The only one that comes to mind is “witch”. So instead of Rowling creating a completely foreign label for “females with magical powers” that might have left some of us confused or even rolling our eyes, she used a word that already existed.
Honestly, (and I think any Potterhead would agree), the magic isn’t even why we love Harry and his friends. The wizarding and witchcraft comes secondary when it comes to what has resonated with us as children and into adulthood. It’s something that touched us on a much more relatable level, and inspired us to acknowledge our flaws while embracing the heroic qualities inside ourselves that we love so much about Harry and his friends:
(“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecc. 4:12)
Harry, the arrogant, headstrong boy with unshakable courage. Ron, the youngest boy in a large, poor family with fierce loyalty. Hermione, the bushy-haired, rabbit-toothed girl with the brightest mind of her age. Neville, the boy with poor wizarding skills and a devastating family history with a strong moral compass. Luna, the girl that is relentlessly teased with the ability to see the good in everyone. Ginny, the youngest and only girl in her family, with strength and wisdom beyond her years.
Though the series focuses primarily on the friendship between Harry, Ron and Hermione, they are still a part of a larger group of friends. What binds them together is not a web of interdependent relationships, but the fact that they accept one another for who they are, inadequacies and all. As a result, with every book and movie, we see them flourish, little by little, until the end, where we see them do great things when faced with insurmountable odds in spite of their shortcomings. Harry’s friends are the only ones who stand by him unapologetically while he’s telling truths no one wants to hear; they hold him accountable when he tries to take people and situations on alone. We see Ron overcome his deep-seated insecurities and become a hero in his own right. Hermione makes tough decisions at her own cost to protect her parents and to help Harry defeat Lord Voldemort once and for all. We see Neville—a meek, fearful boy—become a protector and a warrior, drawing his wand and a sword in battles he knows he cannot win because he believes in what is good. What Rowling has done here is something incredible. It’s not about Harry; as a reader or viewer, we realize he is the only one who can stop Lord Voldemort, yes, but his friends are not mere sub-characters to support him. We care for them, and we identify with them. What Harry and his friends have taught us is that everyone has a part to play, and it’s important.
A Distinct Line Between Good and Evil:
(“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21; “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Tim. 1:7).
Any literary aficionado will tell you that writing a character or novel where good and bad is in black and white does not make for unforgettable literature. What makes literature a classic is where morals are lost in a murky gray and we find ourselves making exceptions for characters’ bad decisions because of who they are or what they’ve been through. Not with Rowling. With the Harry Potter series, there is good, and there is evil. An oft-repeated point communicated to Harry by the wise Professor Dumbledore is, it is not where you come from or what your abilities are that define who you are, it is your choices that define who you are. (“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”) You are responsible for how you treat others, and if your decisions are for good or for evil. This series is filled with instances of the main character making difficult choices because they are right, even when he’s being ostracized, slandered and mocked. That speaks volumes, and as Christians, is something our children can definitely identify with someday.
I’m not going to elaborate on this, as I do not want to give anything away, but I am going to at least plant a seed of curiosity and thoughtfulness here. Despite being a Christian, I am guilty of something when I read stories such as this: perhaps this is a result of vicariousness, but when the hero encounters someone he knows has no good inside him—someone without mercy—I think, “Kill him. Just get it over with and kill him so no one else will get hurt.” That is a “greater good” mentality. After reading the Harry Potter series, I immediately realized…
Not once do Harry or his friends use a deadly curse on someone who is unquestionably evil. Once, in a moment of weakness where he loses someone he loves, Harry uses what Rowling calls an “Unforgivable curse” on Bellatrix (Voldemort’s right-hand woman). It is a torture curse that is virtually ineffective, though, and Voldemort sadistically explains to Harry that he has “to mean it.” There is a battle segment at the end of the series where perhaps killing curses are implied, but we as the reader or viewer do not see them. Many of our heroes in this series have perfect reasons to hate Voldemort’s followers, or Death-Eaters, because of the damage and loss they precipitated when Voldemort was in power the first time. So yes, some of them wrestle with wanting revenge. But they never follow through with it. When it comes down to it, they use spells to shield themselves or disarm their opponents, protecting themselves or their friends.
The Harry Potter fangirls vs. The Twilight fangirls:
(“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Prov. 31:30; “A gracious woman gets honor…” Prov. 11:16; “…when we acknowledge God’s supreme role in our life and set our mind on Him, He enables us to be women of hope.” –Elizabeth George)
Harry Potter vs. Twilight. Okay, I won’t go there. But let’s look on a much smaller scale, such as the standards of the women in these two series. As good parents, this is a very unnerving time for us regarding our daughters. We live in a time where our little girls are being exposed to sexualization at an alarmingly young age. We live in a time where Bella Swan is more appealing than say, Anne of Green Gables. We live in a time where a relationship and dependency on a boy is sought over self-discovery and an identity in Christ. Well, let me assure you: there are examples to be made out of the women in Harry Potter.
Hermione Granger is very unlike the beautiful and elegant Emma Watson in the movies. Physical beauty is not a description of Hermione in the series. She has bushy, wild hair and buck teeth that Draco Malfoy exaggerates with a spell in order to humiliate her. Funnily enough, while I read the books, never once did I pity Hermione for her lack of physical beauty; quite the opposite. To me, it added to her charm. On more than one occasion, we hear Hermione described as “the brightest witch of her age.” She is smart, she is disciplined, and she is independent. Her knowledge is what gets Harry and Ron out of a lot of tight spots, or helps them further their quest to defeat Lord Voldemort. Do you hear me? What makes her exceptional (and what everyone notices) is not her physical beauty, but her brain. This is literally a series where the reader or viewer is more captivated by a female hero’s brain than her beauty! To me, that is quite an accomplishment.
But let’s take a look at some of the other women of Harry Potter: Ginny Weasley, one of my personal favorites. She is Ron’s little sister, the youngest in a family full of boys. It is evident throughout the series, however, that she knows how to hold her own. She is mentally strong, athletic, and a powerful witch. Most boys are intimidated by her. Luna Lovegood is considered airheaded and whimsical—sometimes crazy—but the beauty of her character is that she sees the good in everyone. There are times where Ron and Hermione don’t understand Harry’s pain, but Luna does. Luna commiserates, and she feels compassion for both the mistreated and the misunderstood. Mrs. Weasley—the mother of seven children—is an awesome representation of a mother. Not only has she built a splendid, beautiful home for her family, but her children respect her and she is a woman to be reckoned with. Though the Weasleys may have had little financially, they are overabundant in love and family, and Mrs. Weasley warmly accepts Harry as if he is one of her own.
(Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13)
In the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I got to say about that.”
(“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Romans 12:9; “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8; “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Prov. 22:6; “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.” Psa. 103:13; “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:10)
In the least corniest way possible, Rowling has made Love itself the most powerful magic in Harry’s world. There is power in love, and it isn’t even clearly understood how powerful love is until perhaps the very last book. One of the things about Harry Potter that makes me emotional (and many of my Potterhead friends) is the aspect of a parent’s love. Harry’s father’s infamous arrogance becomes trivial when we understand he gave his life trying to protect his wife and son from Lord Voldemort. The wizarding world as a whole mourned the loss of such a gentle spirit that was Harry’s mother, when she literally stood between Harry and the most evil wizard of all time in an attempt that took her life. Our boy Harry has been dealt a miserable hand in life, and despite the abuse he suffered by his aunt and uncle, despite feeling alone, hunted and unexceptional for most of his life, the love of his parents for him is undeniable even to himself. It’s what makes him feel worth. One of the most poignant scenes in the entire series happens toward the end, where Harry faces the ghosts of his parents and guardians. He realizes he has never been alone; that they have always been with him. It is their love that gives him what he needs to fulfill his destiny.
The Harry Potter series is not a tale about “The Boy Who Lived.” It is about the uncompromising loyalty of friendship. It is about the strength and leadership of trusted mentors. It’s about the love of a mother and father who sacrificed their lives to save their child…
It is about always choosing what is right over what is easy.
I’m not going to sit here and bash those of you who have chosen to exclude Harry from your children’s childhood. To each his own. What I hope to accomplish with this article is to shed light on why there may be some misunderstandings as to what Harry Potter is and what it teaches. If you took out the offending word “witch” and perhaps even the magic and left the lessons within the series, there would be no offense to be found for most Christians.
I would like to add here that Rowling does not shy away from death. The series starts off lighthearted but gets more foreboding and serious as it progresses. You know your child’s mental and emotional maturity better than anyone. Perhaps they do not yet have the capacity to handle the concept of death. If you’re even on the fence just a little, however, I would suggest watching it yourself first and making your own assessment.
If you’re afraid your child may be influenced by the use of magic, imagine what your child is going to discover upon finding a particularly nice looking stick outside. (First of all, kudos on making your child play outside, and bravo to him for having an imagination!) Imagine him or her waving it around, shouting spells like, “Expelliarmus! Expecto Patronum! Obliviate! Alohamora!” Do you know what they’re going to discover? That the type of fantastical magic exclusively in Harry’s world is fictional. They can’t actually wave a wand and expect light to shoot out and locks to open or a shimmering dog patronus to prance around them.
Still not good enough? You’re afraid it might influence them to seek out the Satan-worshipping witchcraft of this world? Then let me suggest something that seems to be a little radical this day in age:
TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN. The essence of Harry Potter is not the magic. It is the good. It is about doing the right thing even when it’s not easy. It’s about speaking truth even when no one believes you. It is about being loyal to your friends. It’s about forgiving your friends and asking them to forgive you. It’s about being one of the good guys.
What I look forward to is talking to my daughter about everything, especially Jesus. Jesus is noticeable in everything, as is His absence. There are many, many, many qualities exemplified in the Harry Potter series that are encouraged and required of Christ-followers, and I can’t wait to point them out to her.
And you know what magic we all have in us that Harry has? Goodness. Love. Honor. Loyalty. Courage. Sacrifice. Those ARE real. That is the kind of power your child will discover is in our world and in Harry’s.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from both the books and the movies:
“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”
“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”
“Me? Books and cleverness. There are more important things: friendship and bravery.”
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
“You think the dead we loved truly ever leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly in times of great trouble?”
“If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
“Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”
“It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.”
“Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort…”
“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”
“It is my belief…that the truth is generally more preferable to lies.”
“There is nothing worse than death, Dumbledore!” snarled Voldemort.
“You are quite wrong,” said Dumbledore, speaking as lightly as though they were discussing the matter over drinks. “Indeed, your failure to understand that there are things much worse than death has always been your greatest weakness.”
“If she could have done one thing to make absolutely sure that every single person in this school will read your interview, it was banning it!”
“You don’t understand—there are things worth dying for!”
“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”
“We Slytherins are brave, yes, but not stupid. For instance, given the choice, we will always choose to save our own necks.”
“It is not how you are alike. It is how you are not.”
“You’re the weak one…and you’ll never know love or friendship. And I feel sorry for you.”
“It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.”
“Dumbledore says people find it far easier to forgive others for being wrong than being right.”
“You are protected, in short, by your ability to love!”
“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love.”
“We’re all human, aren’t we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.”
“You’ll stay with me?”
“Until the very end,” said James.
“It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise they wear it well.”
“I’m going to keep going until I succeed—or die. Don’t think I don’t know how this might end. I’ve known it for years.”
“You think I’m a fool?” demanded Harry.
“No, I think you’re like James,” said Lupin, “who would have regarded it as the height of dishonor to mistrust his friends.”
“We’re all going to keep fighting, Harry. You know that?”
“People die everyday. Friends, family…they didn’t die in vain. But YOU will. Cause you’re wrong! [His] heart did beat for us! For all of us! It’s not over!”
What are your favorite quotes? What do you love about Harry Potter?