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A great deal of angst has been expressed in the Christian press and amongst conservatives over the notion that the Harry Potter books sanction magic and are, by the very nature of the story, irreligious.  Though many commentators have had great fun with this worry, feeling that it somehow shows how fundamentally silly Christians are, I'm not inclined to dismiss it so quickly.  In a society in which Wicca has begun to be taken seriously as a belief system, even receiving IRS tax-exempt status, a parent has to be concerned about the possible effects on their child of such a phenomena as Harry Potter.  But a responsible parent who reads with their child and discusses the books and their themes presumably has no more need to worry about the witchcraft within them than have preceding generations of parents needed to lose sleep over the sorcery in The Lord of the Rings.  In fact, it's hard to escape the nagging feeling that most of us simply accept that Tolkien won't warp our kids because we know him to have been a devout Christian himself, and influential in converting C. S. Lewis, whose Narnia books are too explicitly Christian-themed to worry anyone.  Presumably, if J. K. Rowling were known to be religious (I've no idea whether she is or not), and outspoken about her beliefs, many of these concerns about her writings would likewise disappear.  But this is neither a realistic nor a productive standard to hold authors to; instead we should judge them by the moral message of their works.  By this standard, the Harry Potter books should give Christians, and religious parents of all stripes, reason to be grateful, not worried.

This is the case because Harry is a quintessential example of Man's struggle to choose between good and evil.  In fact, we've reached a point in our culture where the simple acknowledgments that Evil exists, that the propensity to behave in an evil manner is an essential aspect of Man's character, that Evil is seductive, and that we are susceptible too it--the bifurcated nature of Man which is the very basis of Judeo-Christianity and, thus, of our civilization--are in themselves conservative notions.  The political and spiritual philosophies of the Left are premised on a very different conception of Man, that he is fundamentally Good and that selfish, antisocial, and antihuman behaviors are products of external factors : of faulty social institutions; political oppression; or errant belief systems.  The Left believes that if all of these artificial accretions could be stripped away Man would return to his natural state of goodness.  J. K. Rowling obviously disagrees.

Famously, or at least it will be famous to anyone who's read the books, when Harry arrived at Hogwarts the Sorting Hat hesitated over what dorm to place him in.  Eventually he was assigned to Gryffindor, but the Hat also noted that he would fit in Slytherin, the dorm associated with Salazar Slytherin and the study of the Dark Arts.  Merely noting that the capacity for evil, as well as good, resides in Harry is unusual enough, but Rowling also makes it clear that Harry will be defined by the choices he makes between the two.  At the end of Chamber of Secrets, worried about his ability to tap into skills that are usually associated with Slytherin (like communicating with snakes [note the Biblical echo]), Harry confesses his self-doubt to Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts.  Harry wonders if he really should be in Slytherin :

    '[The Sorting Hat] only put me in Gryffindor,' said Harry in a defeated voice, 'Because I asked not to go in Slytherin. . . .'

    'Exactly,' said Dumbledore, beaming once more. 'Which makes you very different from [Voldemort]. It is our choices, Harry, that show
    what we truly are, far more than our abilities.' Harry sat motionless in his chair, stunned.

Well might Harry, or any other modern child, be stunned by this revelation, that it is our moral choices in life that define who we are, that we bear the responsibility for who we become in life.  Adults hear this seldom enough, children almost never.  It is this message that makes the Harry Potter books so valuable to parents and makes their appeal to children such a welcome development.  Concerned parents--though they may obviously prefer that kids not be exposed to such themes in public schools, which antireligion activists have rendered so morally neutral and hostile to Christianity that they are incompetent to address them--should embrace the books, should read them with their kids, and, without sucking the fun out of them, should take advantage of the lessons that they teach.

Meanwhile, the popularity of the books suggests a genuine thirst among kids for the kind of moral clarity that they provide.  The Education establishment, the Left, and parents who leave such matters to the public schools to fulfill would do well to engage in some soul searching about the inadequacy of the moral education that the schools are apparently providing.  One approach that conservatives and Christians might take is to, quite disingenuously, suggest that just as these Wiccan novels have valuable non-religious lessons to teach, so might some of the great children's novels of the Christian tradition, like Swiss Family Robinson, which is usually horribly bowdlerized to strip it of religious themes.  Rather than trying to ban a worthwhile series of books, one which has kids reading enthusiastically, they should be used as a lever to get more good books into the curricula, to at least make sure that the same schools are reading Tolkien and Lewis and Madeleine L'Engle.  After all, what's good for the Wiccan goose is good for the Christian gander, right?

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A+)

  

Websites:

See also:

J. Rowling (2 books reviewed)
Children's Books
J. Rowling Links:

    -FEATURED AUTHOR: J.K. Rowling (NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: Harry Potter and the Childish Adult: Why do Harry Potter books satisfy children and--a much harder question--so many adults? (A.S. BYATT, 7/07/03, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Quidditch quaintness: The values that triumph in the Harry Potter books are those of a nostalgic, conservative Little Britain (Richard Adams, June 18, 2003, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Harry Potter and the fascist bully-boys (Rod Liddle, June 25, 2003, The Guardian)
    -ARTICLE: Countdown in Times Sq.: 3-2-1, It's 870 More Pages of Potter (N.R. KLEINFIELD, June 21, 2003, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Breaking the Spell (CHARLES McGRATH, June 22, 2003, NY Times Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, June 21, 2003, NY Times)

Book-related and General Links:
   -Harry Potter Net
    -Featured Author: J. K. Rowling : With News and Reviews From the Archives of The New York Times
    -JK (Joanne Kathleen) Rowling - Author Page (The Guardian)
    -BOOK SITE : Harry Potter: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Scholastic.com)
    -BOOK SITE : harry potter and the chamber of secrets (Harry Potter Books uk)
    -INTERVIEW: JK Rowling with Evan Solomon (CBC InfoCulture)
    -INTERVIEW :  Success of Harry Potter bowls author over (October 21, 1999, CNN)
    -INTERVIEW :  Matt Seaton meets JK Rowling (18 Apr 2001. The Guardian)
    -INTERVIEW : Harry, Jessie and me (Simon Hattenstone, July 8, 2000, The Guardian)
    -Harry Potter Special (The Guardian)
    -Family.org: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
    -LITERATURE GUIDE : Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Nancy Polette)
    -PROFILE : Of magic and single motherhood|  (MARGARET WEIR, Salon)
    -PROFILE : J. K. Rowling (Linda Richards, January Magazine)
    -SAMPLE CHAPTER (Scholastic, Inc.)
    -DISCUSSION GUIDE (Scholastic, Inc.)
    -Meet Harry Potter (Scholastic, Inc)
    -A Muggle's Guide to Harry Potter (BBC)
    -Harry Potter : Culture and Religion
    -Harry Potter Gallery
    -Harry Potter's Realm of Wizardry
    -Harry Potter Realm
    -The Leaky Cauldron : Harry Potter Weblog
    -MuggleNet
    -ARTICLE : Debut author and single mother sells children's book for  £100,000 (Dan Glaister, 8 July 1997, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY : Veni, Vidi, Voldemort (MAUREEN DOWD, December 9, 2001, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Harry Potter's Magic (Alan Jacobs, First Things)
    -ESSAY :  Why We Like Harry Potter : The series is a 'Book of Virtues' with a preadolescent funny bone (Christianity Today, January 10, 2000)
    -ESSAY : Opinion Roundup: Positive About Potter : Despite what you've heard, Christian leaders like the children's books. (Christianity Today)
    -ESSAY : Finding the Spiritual Power of Harry Potter  (Shelvia Dancy, Religion News Service, Saturday, June 30, 2001)
    -ESSAY : Harry Potter: A Wizard's Return (George F. Will, July 4, 2000)
    -ESSAY : Is Harry Potter Evil? :  In an editorial, Judy Blume says that the real danger is not in books such as Harry Potter, but in laughing off those who would ban them (Judy Blume, October 22, 1999, NY Times)
    -ARTICLE :  Don't Give Us Little Wizards, the Anti-Potter Parents Cry (JODI WILGOREN, November 1, 1999, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : The Reality of the Fantasy in the Harry Potter Stories (RICHARD BERNSTEIN, November 30, 1999, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : Besotted With Potter (William Safire, January 27, 2000, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Harry Potter's girl trouble: The world of everyone's favorite kid wizard is a place where boys come first  (Christine Schoefer, Salon)
    -ESSAY: The Playing Fields of Hogwarts (Pico Iyer, NY Times Book Review)
    -ARTICLE: Booksellers Grab a Young Wizard's Cloaktails (DOREEN CARVAJAL, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Hands off Harry Potter! First fundamentalists complained, now a feminist chimes in. Have any of them even read the books? (Chris Gregory, Salon)
    -ARTICLE: `Potter' series spurs growth in kid books (DOREEN CARVAJAL, New York Times)
    -ARTICLE: Author's Childhood Friend Says He Was Inspiration for Harry Potter Friend Ian Potter recalls playing make-believe with JK Rowling in the mid-1970s; his claim follows author Nancy Stouffer's allegation that Harry is based on her own1984 book (Helen M. Jerome and Jerome V. Kramer, Book Magazine)
    -ESSAY: Muddled Muggles :  Conservatives Missing the Magic in Harry Potter (Chris Mooney, The American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: The Subtlety of Hogwarts? Give a Wizard a Break!  Blessedly, Phase 1 of this year's Harry Potter frenzy has concluded. But hold on. Relief may be premature. For now, it seems, it is time to settle in for Phase 2: Potter deconstruction.
    -ESSAY : Troubled Harry :  Harry Potter's appeal isn't the cutesy magic but his struggle with the anxieties of pubescence; adults struggle with a childhood without innocence (DANIEL MENDELSOHN, New York)
    -ESSAY : Harry Potter and the Closet Conservative (Richard Adams, Voice of the Turtle)
    -ESSAY : Just wild about Harry (Mona Charen, July 11, 2000)
    -ESSAY :  Enchanting stories don't always need magic (Michelle Malkin, July 19, 2000)
    -ESSAY : Harry Potter Books Teach Witchcraft to Children (Chuck Morse)
    -ESSAY : "Is Harry Potter Too Wicca for Kiddies to Read?". (Rita Delfiner, New York Post, September 26, 2000)
    -ESSAY : More Clay than Potter (Anne McCain  and Susan Olasky, 10/30/99, World)
    -ESSAY : Why Harry Potter doesn't cast a spell over me (Anthony Holden, June 25, 2000, The Observer )
    -ESSAY :  A Novel That Is a Midsummer Night's Dream (STEVEN R. WEISMAN, July 11, 2000, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : Muddled Muggles : Conservatives Missing the Magic in Harry Potter (Chris Mooney, 7.11.00, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY : Cultural Phenomena: Dumbledore's Message (James A. Morone, December 17, 2001, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY : Thank You, Harry Potter! : The Harry Potter books, by depicting a world in which good triumphs over evil, give us strength to face real enemies. (Dianne L. Durante, November 5, 2001, Ayn Rand Institute)
    -ESSAY : Is Harry Potter A Harmless Fantasy Or Wicca Training Program?  (Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, August 20, 2001, ChristiansUnite.com)
    -ESSAY : Apocalyptic fundamentalists set to shove Harry Potter aside (Martin Kettle, June 9, 2000, The Guardian )
    -ESSAY : What the Muggles Donít Get : Why Harry Potter succeeds while the morality police fail. (James Morone, Brown Alumni Magazine, July 2001)
    -Charming stories,  OR a demonic plot? : Reviews, bannings, attempts at censorship, and other muggle* matters (ReligiousTolerance.org)
    -ESSAY : Moby Dick on a Broom (Gail Collins, July 7, 2000, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : 'Harry Potter,' the wizard of children's book sales (Kathy Boccella, Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -ESSAY : Magic, mystery and the quest for universal truth (Pat Kane, Sunday Herald)
    -ESSAY : Fear of Not Flying: Harry Potter and the Spirit of the Age (Lee Siegel, New Republic)
    -ESSAY : Spot the source: Harry Potter explained (Wendy Doniger, February 10, 2000, London Review of Books)
    -ESSAY : Digested read: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (August 25, 1998, The Guardian)
    -DISCUSSION : Harry Potter Message Board (Cinescape)
    -ARCHIVES : Harry Potter (Jam! Showbiz)
    -ARCHIVES : Salon.com Directory | Harry Potter
    -ARCHIVES : "Harry Potter" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : "Harry Potter" (Mag Portal)
    -REVIEW ESSAY : Iím Hookedó How I found ó and why Iím staying with ó Harry Potter Ö (Ramesh Ponnuru, November 17, 2001, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (CHARLES TAYLOR, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (Michael Winerip, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone  (EILEEN HEYES, News Observer)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Book Page)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone  by J.K. Rowling (Claire Martin, Denver Post)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Heather Mallick, Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW : of Chamber of Secrets (Sally Estes, ALA Booklist)
    -REVIEW : of Chamber of Secrets (USA Today)
    -REVIEW : of Chamber of Secrets (Audrey Schafer, Medical Humanities)
    -REVIEW : of Chamber of Secrets (Etta Wilson, Book Page)
    -REVIEW : of Chamber of Secrets (Michael Hines , Ed's Internet Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Chamber of Secrets (Sharon Galligar Chance, Book Browser)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Cathy Sova, Mystery Reader)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Gregory Maguire, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Claire Armitstead, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Linda Richards, January Magazine)
    -REVIEW : of Prisoner of Azkaban (Claire Martin, Denver Post)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Janet Maslin, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Stephen King, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling (Chris Woodhead, booksonline)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Isabel Lyman, My Right Start)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Linda Richards, January Magazine)
    -REVIEW : of JK Rowling: a biography by Sean Smith (Nicholas Tucker, Independent uk)
    -REVIEW : of THE MAGICAL WORLDS OF HARRY POTTER by DAVID COLBERT (January Magazine)
 

FILM :
    -FILMOGRAPHY : J. K. Rowling (Imdb.com)
    -OFFICIAL SITE : Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (uk)
    -OFFICIAL SITE : Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (Warner Bros, US)
    -INFO : Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (2001) (Imdb.com)
    -INFO : Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) (Imdb.com)
    -NY Times Special : Spotlight on Harry Potter
    -ESSAY : Harry Potter Takes on the Smart People (Andrew Ferguson, 11/20/01. Bloomberg)
    -ESSAY : "Harry Potter: The Storm Breaks" (John G. Nettles , 11/15/01,PopMatters)
    -ESSAY : A Time for Harry Potter : Hollywood sets to contribute to our post-September 11 culture. (Thomas S. Hibbs,  October 27-28, 2001, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (James Berardinelli's Reel Views)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (Andrew O'Hehir, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter (David Edelstein, Slate)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter (John Podhoretz, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter (Stanley Kauffmann, New Republic)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (J. Hoberman, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (Todd R. Ramlow, PopMatters)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (Scott Von Doviak, Culture Vulture)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (Elvis Mitchell, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (Claudia Puig, USA TODAY)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (Desson Howe, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (Bob Graham, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (Claire Bickley, Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian uk)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Philip French, The Observer uk)
    -REVIEW : of Harry Potter : Witchcraft Repackaged (Douglas Downs, Christian Spotlight on the Movies)

Comments:

are you an idiot, there's no way harry potter gets an A+ and Point Counter Point gets a D. I know it's difficult to judge two different books, but J.K. stole every good idea for her books, and has such frustrating storytelling.

- jesus

- Jan-10-2007, 19:16

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