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Harry Potter: Controversy (Part 1)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J.K. RowlingI have a confession to make: I’m a Harry Potter fanatic.  Prior to last summer I had been enjoying each of the Harry Potter movies as they were released, but I had yet not read any of J.K. Rowling’s children’s books.

However, last summer, right before my family and I went on an extended road trip, my wife, Angela, and I saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which covers the story through the sixth of the seven Potter books.  While we enjoyed the movie, it left us desperate to know what happens next (as those of you who have seen the movie know, it ends on a more mysterious and fraught note than any of the others).  So, we checked the seventh and last book in the series out of the library—Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling—and took it on our road trip, reading it aloud to each other in the front seat (while our kids watched DVDs with headphones on in the back seat; at six and eight, they’re still too young for Potter, but their time will come…).

By the time we had returned from our road trip, we still hadn’t finished the book (it’s very long), so Angela and I continued to read it aloud to each other on the couch in the evenings.  When we finally finished it, we decided that we had enjoyed the experience so much that we would buy all the books and read them to each other starting with the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Book 1)Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone by J.K. Rowling (or Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Book 1)Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, by J.K. Rowling for you British readers).  We have just finished reading the fifth book together—Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix—and we are still going strong!  Our plan is to cycle through books 6 and 7 (book 7 for a second time!) before the release of the next movie in the fall.

The Harry Potter Controversy

However, as Christians, our fanaticism has not come without some reflection.  As many of you will remember, there was considerable controversy over Rowling’s children’s books when they first came out years ago.  Many Christians worried that the books—with their talk of wizards, witches, divination, and magic—would glamorize the occult in the eyes of children, which could be spiritually dangerous from a Christian perspective.  This worry apparently derives from Bible passages such as Leviticus 19:26 and 19:31, and Deuteronomy 18:10-11, which forbid the practices of witchcraft, sorcery, and divination, and the consultation of mediums, wizards, or sorcerers.  The narrative in 1 Samuel 28, where King Saul seeks out a medium with disastrous consequences, only strengthens these worries.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. RowlingOn the other side of the debate, many have claimed that J.K. Rowling—herself a Roman Catholic—makes wide use of Christian imagery and symbolism in her juvenile fiction, and that the Harry Potter series amounts to a kind of Christian allegory.  For example, in his book Looking for God in Harry Potter, John Granger argues of the Potter series

“that just about every name, character, and event points in some way to Christianity. He argues that the centaurs are Christian symbols because Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. He argues that Harry Potter’s name alludes to “Son of God” because the Cockney and French pronunciations of Harry are “Arry,” which sound like “heir to,” and God is described as a “potter” by Paul.” (Is Harry Potter a Christian Allegory?  Does Harry Potter Teach Christianity?)

In light of such controversy, before allowing their children to read Harry Potter Christians that take the Bible seriously should consider whether the Potter series amounts to Christian allegory, occultist juvenile fiction, or simply innocuous entertainment.

In this three-article series I will argue that the Harry Potter children’s books are a clear case of Christian allegory (and an entertaining one at that), though I hope to argue in a somewhat more sober fashion than folks like John Granger seem to.  I should warn you that in order to make this argument properly I will need to talk about the plot and characters in a way that could spoil things for people who have not read the books yet.  So, if you have not read them and are worried I will spoil the plot for you, stop reading now!  (If you are in that camp, you probably aren’t so worried about the controversy anyway…)

Alternatively, if your interest is piqued and you want to read on, click here for “Allegory in Harry Potter (Part 2)”.  If you would like to purchase the Harry Potter novels we encourage you to support our work by buying them via the links on this page, or through the Children’s Books and Reviews Online Bookstore.

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13 Comments

  1. […] second in a series about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels.  To read from the beginning, click here for the first article, “Harry Potter: Christian Allegory or Occultist Children&#821….  In this second installment of the series, I make the positive case that the Harry Potter […]

  2. […] Finally, although the Harry Potter series has been controversial in the religious community—particularly among conservative Christians—I think this book and the others in the series have the potential to be religiously edifying, particularly if parents read them to their children and use the books as a catalyst for theological conversations.  For my take on the controversy over the Harry Potter novels, and my argument that the series amounts to Christian allegory, read the article series “Harry Potter: Christian Allegory or Occultist Children’s Books?”, which starts he…. […]

  3. […] good and evil (e.g., Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Book 1); see our article series, “Harry Potter: Christian Allegory or Occultist Children’s Books?” which starts her…), and finding one’s place in the world (e.g., The Invention of Hugo Cabret; click here for our […]

  4. […] example, my wife and I have been reading the Harry Potter juvenile fiction series aloud to each other for the past seven months (I know, I know…geek alert!), and when we miss a […]

  5. […] article in a series about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels.  To read from the beginning, click here for the first article, “Harry Potter: Christian Allegory or Occultist Children&#821….  In this third installment of the series, I try to answer some objections that might arise in […]

  6. I can’t wait for the upcoming Potter premier. Not that long to wait.

  7. Aaron Mead says:

    Me too! Counting the days!

  8. Ian Webster says:

    I don’t know about allegory, because that would suggest intent, and i simply don’t know. But Christian thems of love and self-sacrifice are very clearly there.
    See (if you would) my http://wonderingpreacher.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/power-love-and-harry-potter/
    My wife and I also read the stories to each other. Glad to find someone else who does that!

  9. Aaron Mead says:

    Thanks, Ian, for the comment. Although I didn’t mention it in the articles, Rowling herself has owned up to, what seem to me, allegorical intentions in the books, particularly the last one. Here is an article that might be of interest in that regard. Let me know what you think.

    Also, I enjoyed your article. It was a very nicely-put summing up of some major themes and theological implications/parallels in the Potter books. Keep up the quality blogging!

    Best,
    Aaron

  10. […] Hallows, Part 1: A Reader’s Comments Nov 25th, 2010 by Aaron Mead. As I’ve said before, I’m a Harry Potter fanatic.  I just saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (the movie), Part 1 two nights ago, and I […]

  11. Jody says:

    I don’t think you can get away from drawing comparison between Christianity and any “good vs. evil” plot. I know that we’ve had several discussions about the Christian symbolism and the idea of Harry Potter as a Christ figure…

    I would advise anyone interested to at least read Deathly Hallows and make a determination afterward, but you can’t really get the full impression of the depth of the characters and what they actually represent without reading the entire series.

  12. […] mere imitation or knock off.  The story is unique enough to avoid direct comparison with the great Harry Potter, but fans of the series will find much to enjoy […]

  13. […] the case that Rowling has created an effective, engaging series with a clearly Christian message. (Mead) However, such arguments don’t seem to carry much weight with the would-be […]

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