(cross-posted to my other children's book review website)
Well, I've finally had enough "pushes" to actually do this, something I've contemplated for the past ... goodness... a long time. :) Here I am going to walk all who care to read through a defense of Harry Potter, and of fantasy literature in general. Here goes! Why do I care so much? Because I am passionate about two things: first) leaving people's consciences free where Christ has not bound them, and second) encouraging strong imagination in all people everywhere. There's a third reason, too. I love old stories, the myths, legends, histories so embellished they leave us wondering what actually happened, and those who so vehemently oppose Harry Potter logically have to throw those out, too. The story-teller in me just cringes at the thought of that happening.
The most-launched criticism of Harry Potter is along the lines that it "flirts with the occult," or "takes what is inherently evil and dresses it up in nice clothes that would confuse any child reading it." Scripture is clear in us avoiding even the appearance of evil, so if either allegation were true, I'd have to say "yup. Chuck the books, and don't encourage any child you know to read them."
Before I truly delve in, I'd like to ask a separate question: is any book with any bad character in it "an imitation of evil"? Well, obviously not! The Bible is full of examples of both truly wicked men, and men who made truly evil choices, though they themselves were not wholly given to evil. What the Bible does in every situation, though, is to clearly label sin as sin, and condemn it as evil. We are very seldom left to wonder God's opinion of any action His creation has done. So "bad guys" in stories cannot be inherently dangerous. Princes always have to save the Princess from SOME dangerous foe, right? (of course parents have to exercise caution and not expose their children to things that will unduly scar or terrify them) What is dangerous and unedifying is a story wherein "good" & "bad" characters were unclear or confused.
Now on to this idea of HP being an imitation of evil. Most people jump to that conclusion because they've heard that the books are about kids learning to practice witchcraft. If I were a mom and I heard that, I'd want to take a second look, too! But that's if you understand "witchcraft" as it exists in the real, factual world. Here, witches and sorcerers seek contact with real spirits-- either demonic or dead-- and seek to manipulate real, existing spiritual power. We call this "invocative magic" because it invokes a being of supernatural power. As a Christian, I know that there are indeed powerful forces at work in our world-- forces of the Devil and his minions. Real-life witchcraft is not something to play at; it is something to hate as opposed to my Father and Savior. Real-live witches and wizards are seeking to play god, and they are immersing themselves into waters deeper than they understand. Is Harry Potter about that kind of witchcraft? Anyone who's read it will say emphatically, "no!" Just like any fiction, the author has freedom to re-write the laws of his/her book's world. In some books, animals can talk. Are those animals possessed by demons or evil spirits? No. It's just a different "thing that is" in that book's world. In other tales, beans grow to the sky and there are geese who lay golden eggs. Are those beans operating by demonic forces? No. It's "magic." Think about all the fairy tales, legends and myths you have ever heard... 1001 Arabian Nights... Grimm's fairytales... Greek/Roman myths... Egyptian spinxes... Irish myths of faeries and the dangerous shape-shifting sidhe... Rapunzel... Superman... pretty much ANY culture's "fairy tales" deal with magic in some way, shape or form. There are genies, dryads, enchanters, fairy godmothers, and magical creatures (centaurs, dragons, fairies, pixies, unicorns, pegases). Are these operating by evil powers? Well, it all depends on the "rules" in their homeworlds. Those fictitious worlds have different laws, sure and abiding as gravity. It's just "the way things "are."" That's how the magic is in Harry Potter. It's part of a whole fictitional system JRR Tolkien has created, including broomsticks, wands, dragons, giants, spell words, potions and the usual ingredients of any good fairy tale. Harry and his friends don't learn to do magic by invoking the powers of demons; they learn do "do" magic. That's it. This is known as "incantational magic"- where no being is being invoked, but rather certain words (incantations) have certain effects. Nothing else about it. It's a skill that they have to hone, sure as real-live human children have to work to write, work sums and reason. So, to those of you who say "magic can't be separated from the occult," I say it can. And if you hold that it truly can't, I think you'd better start getting rid of your fairy tale books, your mythology, your legends, and all your superhero comic books.
One argument I've heard is that children can't tell the difference between the harmless "it is because it is in that world" magic of HP and Wicca. Well, my friend John tried to leap off his porch at the age of 5- wearing a bedsheet - because he thought it would make him fly like Superman. Clearly, he hadn't differentiated fact & fiction. Does that mean Superman is inherently dangerous and evil. No. It means he wasn't old enough to process it without parental guidance yet. So don't throw it out... maybe just wait until he's 9 to let him see it.
Far MORE dangerous to your child (or your)'s moral compass are shows like Avatar (which I love in spite of this...), with its clear Buddhist worldview, or Star Wars, whose Force belies a thinly disguised Buddhist/ New Age worldview. Another clear risk is Pullman's The Golden Compass, despite its original story line and very cool armored bears. Its author set out to write a story teaching children that God is dead and that the church is the source of our societal problems-- and as one who has read this story, it is clear within the series. That is a story I would keep children from reading, and would allow teenagers who wanted to read it to read it only with discussion and guidance from godly adults (aka me & Ryan as their parents).
All right, I've more to say but I need to leave the computer now. More tomorrow! 'Til then, go enjoy the imagination God gave you and some very talented story-weavers! :)