Not every reader is wild about Harry Potter

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, July 2, 2003

Reader response to last week's Harry Potter party column – and especially the "Professor Dumbledore" look-alike photo of me – has been most flattering. "I love it," wrote Cochranite Nellie Dinnebier. "You really look the part. Maybe they will ask you to play the part in the next Harry Potter film."

Some, however, were less enthusiastic. Retired educator Henry Schmidt, also of Cochrane, was mystified over my presence at a Potter party, since author J.K. Rowling's books "rely extensively on forays into sorcery, witchcraft, magic spells, etc., for their appeal."

Noting the Mosaic Law's specific condemnation of such practices (Deuteronomy 18:9-12), Henry asked:

"Does the fact that these books are immensely popular with children justify a Christian becoming a participant in the hype, and thereby adding his stamp of approval to a glorification of something that God obviously hates?"

Rowling "is certainly able to create suspense," Henry conceded, and her audience "should be able to distinguish between the 'good' characters (Harry and his friends) and the evil side." Nevertheless, her books "coincide with a growing fascination with the occult." For Rowling to sustain interest, "will the 'magic' have to be darker and more powerful?" Henry asked. "Is this a worldview we should be promoting?"

Henry is not alone in his concerns. A Red Deer coffee companion wrote:

"We are caught between children and Christian friends that will have nothing to do with Harry Potter, and our oldest son and his family that can't get enough of Harry Potter. I would love to hear how you look at it all."

So, just what is my opinion?

First of all, in no way do I want to pussyfoot around the terrible reality of evil in our world. Clearly, there are those who would attempt to manipulate the powers of Darkness to extinguish Light.

But is Potteresque fantasy inherently part of that Darkness? Christians and Jews of many stripes have struggled long and hard to reconcile fantasy literature with faith. Potter is just the latest chapter in the ongoing debate.

Bob Campbell, a conservative Protestant pastor writing in the Baptist Standard (August 6, 2001), has concluded, "The Bible has no prohibitions against fantasy and make-believe in literature or in play-acting." To object to kids reading the Harry Potter series on the grounds that it makes use of magic, witches or wizards, he said, would mean we'd have to deny them access to other fantasies, such as The Wizard of Oz, Snow White, Shrek, The Lord of the Rings, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (from C.S. Lewis's ever-popular Chronicles of Narnia series).

From a Roman Catholic perspective, Fr. Peter Fleetwood, a former official of the Pontifical Council for Culture speaking at a news conference dealing in part with Rowling and the Potter phenomenon, said:

"No one in this room grew up without images of magicians, witches, spirits and angels. These are not bad things, and I certainly don't think Harry Potter is flying some kind of anti-Christian banner." (As reported by John L. Allen, Jr., in the National Catholic Reporter, Feb. 21, 2003.)

Rabbi Noson Weisz, in "Harry Potter and the War Between Good and Evil" (, stated: "The 'Harry Potter' books are not just novels. They are modern fairy tales with predominant spiritual themes. They describe the struggle between good and evil and the ultimate triumph of the good through the courage and ingenuity of the human spirit, and the power of human love."

Although there are many who hold views to the contrary, my own are very much like the three above. I would add only that children normally do know the difference between fantasy and reality, and they do think critically.

Last fall I was a facilitator at a writers' workshop at Cochrane's Glenbow Elementary school. A question about Harry Potter came up: How was Harry able to walk through a solid brick wall at a train station to get to Platform 9¾? A Grade 3 girl blew me away with her answer:

Harry Potter could walk through that wall, she said, not because of any wizardry, but "because a writer had a great imagination!"

© 2003 Warren Harbeck

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