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The Christian Harry Potter

11.1. 2010

Mediaculture: Reflections on the effect of media and culture on our faith

Remember Harry Potter? It’s been three years since the last book in J.K. Rowling’s seven-volume opus of 4,100-plus pages was published.

Now books are coming out evaluating the series as Christian literature. Two of the newest ones are One Fine Potion: The Literary Magic of Harry Potter by Greg Garrett (Baylor University Press) and Baptizing Harry Potter: A Christian Reading of J.K. Rowling by Luke Bell (Paulist Press).

Both books laud Rowling as a writer who employs Christian themes throughout the series though without much overt Christian language. As each of them points out, only two Bible verses are referred to in the books, Matthew 6:21 and 1 Corinthians 15:26, though these are significant and point to major themes in the novels.

Garrett notes how popular the Harry Potter series is, that it “is one of the three most popular literary works in history, outsold to date only by the Bible and Mao’s Little Red Book.” It has also been controversial, as many Christians have denounced the books as “promoting witchcraft, Satanism and antisocial behavior.” They have also been attacked by conservative Muslims and others and banned from many libraries and schools.

These two books counter such criticism, though Garrett gives it more attention. He tells of an interview he did with an evangelical British radio station in 2008. At one point the radio host said he didn’t understand why Garrett had written positively about the Harry Potter films when “everyone knows that Harry Potter is Satanic.” Garrett referred him to an interview Rowling gave to Time magazine, after the final book came out, in which “she talked about how her Christian faith had informed the entire Harry Potter story.”

He told the host that Rowling is an active member of the Church of Scotland and that when you look at the Potter story, “you can see how it has the same shape as the gospel story: sacrifice, death, resurrection, redemption.”

Rowling herself, in response to such criticism, has said: “I’m not a witch. I’m a writer of children’s fantasy. … I don’t believe in magic. It’’s a device in my stories, nothing more.”

Garrett sums it up thus: “A responsible reading of the element of magic in Harry Potter shows that ultimately it is about power—how it is employed and how it should not be employed.”

These two books go to great lengths to show the many Christian themes present in the Potter saga. Garrett, a professor of English at Baylor University, concentrates on four major themes (with these labels): (1) magic, power and the fantastic; (2) community, diversity and formation; (3) heroism, good and evil; (4) faith, hope and the world to come.

Bell, a Benedictine monk at Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight, in his 10 chapters, looks at the structure of the series, going beyond the normal, good against evil, life and death, power and weakness, love and sacrifice, freedom and determination, the hidden and the ostentatious, the struggle for truth, and purity of heart and purity of blood.

While the insights in these books are helpful, they sometimes overreach, for example, when Garrett tries to relate certain characters to the Holy Trinity or when both authors relate Dumbledore to God. And the lengthy discussion of the Christian themes in the books can detract from the enjoyment of a tale well told, which is really what the Harry Potter books are.

The Harry Potter series is primarily a story, not a lesson. But its themes clearly resonate with the gospel.

Gordon Houser is associate editor of The Mennonite.

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