What About Harry Potter?

My daughters (both of them grown) have asked me to critique the Harry Potter books. I will begin by saying that before I ever read the books, I was at an event at Central Baptist Seminary when Dr. Kevin Bauder talked about the books, and his general assessment was that they were more like junk food than poison. I agree with that statement. But I know that my daughters want something more comprehensive, so let me go into a little more depth.

I found the books an enjoyable read. They keep your attention, are very imaginative, and create an intriguing and interesting world. I had been told that they taught kids real witch-craft, and that is certainly not true. It is a fantasy world, not our world, and as such you must accept it as the author creates it, and evaluate it accordingly. It is no more this world than is Narnia or Middle Earth. But right and wrong are the same in all worlds. Love, courage, loyalty, truth, honor, friendship, and many other qualities are universal, and you will find them in both of those worlds, and in this one as well. You will also find hatred, rebellion, deceit, duplicity, and selfishness in all worlds, and this one is no exception. The fact that they exist does not make the books bad - they exist in the Bible as well. What has to be observed is how they are treated.

Let me begin with Harry's adopted family. I find them a bit un-believable. Perhaps the author intended them to be a caricature. Maybe I'm naive, but I have never met anyone who's cruelty was so useless. Most people have a reason for being cruel, even if it's a bad reason. The only reason these people seem to have is fear, and they don't seem to have a very good reason for the fear. I know we live in a culture that blames everything on fear, and it is for that reason that I doubt the premise. I know perfectly well that the things they accuse me of fearing I do not fear at all. I doubt that other people have such irrational fears either. The idea that everyone fears anyone who is different from them is a crock.

That is, however, a minor point. It is just an example of the nods to PC culture that are in the book.

I appreciate the examples of genuine friendship that are found in the story. There is much to be admired in the loyalty of the three friends, and their loyalty to Hagrid, and Dumbledore.

There is also a certain amount of insight in the situation of the house elves. They are generally willing to give up their freedom in order to gain security, and in that they are very much like people in our own world who have given up freedom for the same reason. They are quite willing for the government to tell them how to live, provide them with a pittance to live on, and then hold them in contempt, so long as they don't have to fend for themselves. I don't know if the author was trying to hint at this, but it is the first comparison that came to my mind.

I was also intrigued by another parallel I saw in the book, which I am again uncertain if the author intended. It could just be something that shows the influence of a background that is implicit, and thus the author may not have been aware of it. I am thinking of the fact that in the end, the hero of the book has to die to save his friends. This is certainly reminiscent of the Redemption story. Christ had to die in order to save mankind. He defeats Satan in His death, just as Harry defeats Voldemort by dying. In both cases, it turns out to be voluntary, since Harry discovers that this is what is going to happen before it does, and goes ahead anyway.

The primary negative I saw in the book is that breaking rules seems to be regarded as a good thing. Now before anyone starts telling me that Jesus and the Apostles broke rules too, I want to make something clear. I understand that there are more than one kind of rules. There are absolute moral rules, and there are rules that are simply regulations. Absolute moral rules are given by God, regulations are man-made. Absolute moral rules should not be broken, and Christ never did break such a rule. Regulations however, are a different thing. There are times when one must break regulations in order to obey absolute moral rules. An example. There is a regulation that says that we should not trespass on other people's property. If we do we can be prosecuted. But nobody, (at least in a rational government - and ours is not always so) would fault you for trespassing on someone else's property in order to save someone's life. Another example. It is against regulations to drive over the speed limit, but nobody will fault you for driving over the speed limit in order to get a friend to the Dr. when they are having a heart attack.

So I am aware that sometimes breaking regulations is admirable. However, one should not break regulations without a good reason. Paul, in Scripture, commands us to obey those in authority over us. Harry Potter and his friends are constantly breaking regulations without a good reason, and they are applauded for doing so. How are they applauded? Simply by this device, that in the book whenever they break the rules, it turns out just fine, in fact if they hadn't broken the rules, things would have turned out very bad indeed.

But they didn't know that breaking the rules was going to have that result, so one can't say they broke the rules in order to do something good. They were just breaking the rules because they wanted to, and the fact that things turned out good because of it seems to justify it. I do not think this is teaching children the truth, and these books were written for children after all.

This seems to me the only really grave danger in these books. Other than this, they are fun and entertaining, and that is certainly a good thing.

I'm sure more could be said, both good and bad, if a person were to analyze the books carefully. I do not have the time or inclination to do that. Therefore, I will leave my essay as it is, and hope that it will be helpful.

Pastor Joel DeFord