Sunday, June 03, 2007

Why Harry Potter?

BB NOTE: Occassionally the question is raised: "Why Harry Potter?" Often the question comes from visitors here at the Cafe who are not so sure about the references to witchcraft very present in the Harry Potter books. Since it doesn't take long in hanging out at the Cafe to figure out that BabyBlue is orthodox (with a lively evangelical background) - what's up? Can you be an orthodox Christian and read Harry Potter?

Recently we received one letter from a member of Truro and I wrote back to her. On reflection I thought it might be helpful for anyone else who might be wondering, "Why Harry Potter?" We've also recorded an excerpt of reading the first few page of the opening chapter of the Harry Potter Series (Harry Potter and the Socerer's Stone (or more acurately, the Philosopher's Stone in the UK Editions). Check it out by clicking here or go to the Podcast section of iTunes and search for BabyBlueOnline (you can also subscribe). There are so many hints in those first few pages of things that come later in the books, it was really fun to read it again now in preparation for the seventh book.

Dear Cafe Patron,

Thank you so much for writing! I'm very happy to try to answer your question about Harry Potter.

When I first heard about the Harry Potter books I was very very cautious. In fact, it was several years into the series until I finally read the books. What changed my mind? First of all, my brother - who is a Christian believer as well - told me he had read them and he thought I'd love the books, which really surprised me since we hold similar views on faith. But still I wouldn't read them - all the stuff about witches and magic, it just didn't sound good to me. My niece gave me the first book for Christmas - and still I didn't read it!

The years went by and I started to hear that the author, Jo Rowling, was a huge fan of CS Lewis. Now that really surprised me, but still I didn't read the books. Finally I went to see the first film and really enjoyed it, but it wasn't enough to get me to read the books. Then I saw the second film and I thought, okay, I'll read the third book.

Well, that did it. It wasn't what I expected at all - in fact, as soon as I finished the third book I went straight into the fourth book and didn't put it down until I had finished it. I then turned around and read the first two books - and then read all four again! I got the fifth book delivered from on the day it was released right to my home and didn't put it down until it was finished. I was at Borders at midnight to get the sixth book and didn't put it down until I was finished. This summer I've reserved my copy and I've planned to take the following Monday off because I plan to read it until I'm done - and sometime I'm going to have to get some sleep! What happened?

I read the books and realized that the "magic" in them was in line with the magic in Tolkien and CS Lewis and Shakespeare (i.e., The Tempest, Hamlet, Macbeth). It was a literary device and what was really astonishing were that the themes were the themes of Jane Austin and CS Lewis as well. I read a book called "Finding God in Harry Potter" (and it's earlier version called "The Hidden Keys in Harry Potter") and actually took a class from the author, John Granger which led me to be one of his readers during the writing of his latest book. His thesis is that JK Rowling is a modern-day "Inkling" (the name of the group that included CS Lewis and Tolkien as well as others) and that she is writing a Christian-inspired story. I think he's right - though we won't know for sure until we read the final book in the series which is coming out this summer.

What is spiritual warfare really like? What is the difference between the nature of good and evil? How are people redeemed? How are they saved? I could go on and on - the books are rich with Christian imagery - in fact, "Gryffindor" which is Harry Potter's "house" at his school is a Christian symbol. JK Rowling is no fan of Philip Pulman (and his books) and there are rumors that one of her characters may be based on him (it's not a very nice character). He is hostile to Christianity and is an atheist. Jo Rowling has been clear that she's a Christian (though what kind of Christian we don't yet know). The "secular left" in the UK are now very troubled by her writings - which depicts traditional family roles and historic Christian themes found in historic British Literature - themes, as I mentioned earlier, are covered by authors - Christian authors, such as Jane Austin, Charlotte Bronte, CS Lewis, and Dorothy Sayers.

The books can be read at different levels, which makes them quite fun. I thought they were children's literature which is one of the reasons I didn't read them for a long time. But it turns out that yes - they can be read that way, but there are layers and layers (which includes satire and humor) which are really aimed more at adult readers. The characterizations are fantastic. The plot is fascinating, full of twists and turns. I work in DC and the description of the Ministry of Magic - the central government for the magical community in Britain - is a maze of bureaucracy and is quite amusing satire!

I encourage you to read them - each book is written in the style of how old Harry is. So the first book is written in third person but from the perspective of an eleven year old. The last book will be from the perspective of a seventeen year old (who's been through a lot). It is a mystery and so there are things that Harry will see as an eleven year old that he won't necessarily understand but you will as you put the pieces together. This is why people - like me - read them over and over. The entire series is a Big Mystery (Jo Rowling is big fan of Dorothy Sayers, a mystery writer a close friend of CS Lewis and one of the honorary Inklings as well - a Christian woman and someone I also admire) and we are given hints and clues all through the series to solve the mysteries. Entire books have been written and are published with people guessing the solutions to the mysteries. People are tracking all those clues trying to solve the mystery before we find out for sure in July when the final book comes out.

For example, if you read the first book you will hear about a certain character in the early pages of the book and never hear about him again until later in the series. He's just mentioned once and very quickly in the first book, but he's a major -major - character that we get to know quite well and he plays a very important role in the fifth book! Well, Jo Rowling does this sort of thing through all the books and it's a pastime to try to figure out all her hints. She plotted all the books out in details before she wrote them - this has been very important to her. It's fun!

I know that some in the Christian community have been concerned about the books - but I believe that is because they haven't read them yet. Once you read them you see that the world Jo Rowling creates becomes an incredible metaphor of the life we live today. In my own journey with the Episcopal Church I have found analogies as well as respite by reading the books and so that's why you see them pop up on BabyBlueOnline - especially now as we are approaching both the release of the fifth film (and the fifth book is my favorite) and the final book.

I have published on Harry Potter with the opening essay in a book called "The Plot Thickens" which is available at Borders, Barnes & Noble and online at You can read about it here. You might want to also check out John Granger's books, including this one.

Please let me know if you have any questions - I just sort of brainstormed through this answer, but I'm happy to answer any questions or concerns you might have about the books.

Thank you again for writing me! God bless you!



Anonymous said...

I appreciate the post about Harry Potter. I have not read Rowling's books but my granddaughter loves them. I have read Pulman and they are horrifying.I plan to buy the Potter books and have a great discussion about them with my granddaughter. I also like to read Lewis, Austen and Sayers. Its like a visit to a lost home.

Mark Harris said...

OK..this is getting totally out of hand... not only do I like most of the music you post, some of the pictures you post, but now I'm actually finding something you write to be pretty good too. It's the end of the world as we know it.

Meanwhile, of course, there will be coffee on the terrace. You do wear white shoes after Memorial Day, don't you. (I will be the one in the linen jacket.)

Unknown said...

Gosh, this is what makes doing this whole blog thing fun. ;-)


Alas, BabyBlue has a "Sylvia Plath" personal dress code and has a hard time getting out of black. But we'll dig up some white shoes - there must be a pair around here somwhere. Constant Vigilance!

Anonymous said...

As a Christian of over 35 years, a biblical scholar and teacher of scripture for over 25 years in the Aglican Church, I have one reason to NOT read the Potter series; The Bible frowns greatly on anyone being a witch and/warlock much less going to a school to be trained to be a witch. You may if you like believe that the books are fine to read, but let me warn you that Matthew 24:11,25 says,"many false prophets will arise and lead many astray...See I have told you beforehand"(ESV) She may not be a false prophet in the sense that Matthew was describing however, to say you are a Chritian and have people more interested in your work of fiction than the Lord's work of Non-fiction may make her a "canidate"

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous teacher (and concerned others)
Before condemning anything based on a single term, please be careful that both actually MEAN the same thing. In the English language, we can use the exact same term to refer to two things which are not even similar (and even opposites) much less the same.
(anyone read a book refering to someone as 'gay' recently?...when was the book written and does that make a difference in the meaning?)

In the same way, please be sure that the term "witch" refers to the same thing before you condemn them for being the same.

To my knowledge, a witch as condemned in the Bible is one who actively pursues contact with the (very real) demons present in this world - making use of their power to for their own ends, such as contacting (or impersonating?) the dead for Saul.
Frankly, while I've not read the books and only seen some of the movies, a "witch" or "warlock" in HP does no such thing.

Anglican with his collar on backwards said...

Mary, God knows I'm perhaps even more conservative than you on a lot of Theological topics. But I appreciate this entry. I agree the Bible is very prohibitive against "witchcraft and wizardy." (I had to throw that word combo in...) But I wonder if we make mountains out of molehills on things like Harry Potter. I love the series. I ordered the Bloomsbury versions not the Scholastic ones. But I'm mature enough in my faith to know the difference between fact and fiction. I raise my children to know the difference between fact and fiction. As Christians we're strong enough to look at the world, and pick Godly lessons from a secular world and hold them up and say "See! All things come from God! Even the resurrected Potter!" We can reach out to people who, like the lessons and Christian imagery in these books, are immersed in a broken and disobedient world, and lift them up and say "God can clean anyone, use anyone and love anyone." When we isolate ourselves in a pure bubble of Christianity with no exposure to the world around us - we rapidly become Pharisees.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Todd, for your post. I completely agree! What is amazing about the Potter series is that evil really does exist in this post-modern world and people have choices to do evil. In the Potter series we see how those choices at work - people who started off down one road and end up choosing a different one, like Narcissa Malfoy who's love for her son outweighed her fear of Voldemort. Her love turned the course of the story, but it could happen because Harry showed mercy to Narcissa's son, Draco. Draco survived the inferno because Harry rescued him, even after everything Draco had done.

It doesn't get much better than that.