Harry Potter is probably the most popular book series out there today. Everyone has read it, even non-readers. J.K Rowling is a millionaire. There are movies, a theme park, and all sorts of t-shirts, collectibles, and everything you could think of out there. If you haven’t heard of these books by now…you really are living under a rock.
They could also be classified as one of the most controversial topics among Christians, as it has witches, wizards, and a school for training in magic. Should kids be allowed to read it? Is the magic in it dangerous? Countless arguments have been made for both sides of this issue.
Recently, I finally picked up the books for the first time, feeling like I needed to read them in order to form my own opinion. Having just finished the series in the last few weeks, I wanted to share my experience and thoughts with you.
Magic and the Fantasy Genre
First of all, though, there’s a question that needs to be answered: Where should Christians draw the line when it comes to fantasy and magic in books?
I think that reading fantasy is perfectly okay for Christians. I do think we have to be cautious, though; when something starts to merge from the “fantasy” genre into the “supernatural” or “paranormal” genres, it’s probably getting too far.
What are the safest types of magic?
- There is a power or source to draw on; for example, Star Wars. The hero draws on this magic for his strength and learns to use it over the course of his journey.
- The magical powers may be gifted to the hero by a higher being, often the God figure of the world the story is set in.
If the magic takes either of these forms, it’s probably safe.
We have to be careful if…
- The magic comes from a dark source that is not portrayed as evil. The book presents something that is clearly evil as a morally grey area.
- A book involves demons, Satan, or real witchcraft that is portrayed as morally grey or acceptable. (see my previous post Satan is Real (And It’s Not a Joke)).
If the source of magic is never shown, explained, or alluded to, it can be a red flag. We have to use our best judgment and the context of the rest of the series.
The biggest red flag should be if evil is portrayed as good. (This goes for all of the media we take in.) Books written about spiritual warfare from a Christian perspective should be approached differently than a book about demons and ghosts written by a secular author.
Pay attention to your gut reaction to things. If something makes you uncomfortable, you’ve probably gone too far. For me, anything relating to the actual supernatural world or involving summoning people back from the dead, etc. gives me a really funny feeling in my stomach. It bothers me, and so I know that if something makes me feel that way, I shouldn’t read it.
A good test is to ask yourself whether you know anything new about real practice of witchcraft after you finish reading a book. If the answer is no, it’s likely okay.
Magic in Harry Potter
The thing about the magic in Harry Potter is…the source isn’t really talked about. Basically, as long as there has been a world, there have been people in it that are born with magical powers.
That is important, though: they are born with magical powers. I’ve heard arguments before about the magic being bad because they go to school to learn it, like people in Biblical times or today who actually learned real witchcraft.
But as I read these books, I soon realized that not everyone could go to the school and learn magic. They had to be gifted already. That’s why they call outsiders “Muggles”; those people could not learn magic if they tried.
So my main argument against the books went out the window.
The thing about the magical system in Harry Potter is that it’s all fictional. Yes, it uses spells and wands and potions. Yes, it technically takes place in England. But really, it’s quite a different world. The magic system was completely made up by J.K. Rowling; there are no influences of real-life witchcraft anywhere.
The books also clearly portray good and evil. There are the good characters, and there are the bad characters, and there are the ones who are wavering between sides, but there is never a time when both sides are given sympathy. It is always, always the heroes portrayed as good. We are given no reason to root for Voldemort; he is pure evil, and he is shown as such. That is what is most important to me when I read a fantasy novel.
Overall, the magic in this book never bothered me. I didn’t get any funny stomach feelings. It didn’t seem that much different from the magic in many of the other fantasy books I’ve read; a hero and a villain, battling it out in a fictional, magical world.
I realize that many people may still not want to read it. I understand that it probably goes farther than some Christians are comfortable with, and you should never read anything that makes you uncomfortable. Be consistent with your standards, but for my standards, Harry Potter was fine.
Why I’m Glad I Waited
That said, I am glad that I wasn’t allowed to read it as a child. Because I waited until I could maturely evaluate the magical content, I also waited until I could fully appreciate the genius.
Having really gained an interest in writing and learned so much about it over the past few years, reading this series was like taking lessons from a master. Because these books are so good. They really, really deserve to be as popular as they are. Since I waited until I knew what good literature was, I could appreciate them as they really should be appreciated.
I also like that I will always be able to remember my experience reading them for the first time. Since I was older, I’ll remember the emotions I felt and the experience of having all of my friends (who had already read them) checking my progress every single day and teasingly hinting at things to come without spoiling anything…
(…except for my friend who gave me a fake spoiler that had me on edge right up until the end of book seven when I finally realized it wasn’t true. Aren’t friends great?)
The point is, I will have a lot of good memories from reading these books, and I can appreciate them so much because of what I know about the craft of writing. So for all of those eight, nine, and ten-year-olds out there who desperately want to read it, wait a few years. You will probably enjoy it more.
What do you think? Have you read Harry Potter? If so, do you like it? If not, why not? What are your opinions on magic in books? This is a big topic (I’m sorry the post got so long…), so share your opinions with me in the comments!