|Harry Potter and the
Plight of Popularity
always comes with a price. Being one of many, or a mediocrity,
may not be extremely exciting, but it does not breed stress.
When something - be it a person, idea, or story - becomes
popular and is thrust into the limelight, it is immediately
opened up to criticism, scrutiny, jealousy and hatred. Even
though it is the majority that favor this entity and generated
its popularity in the first place, there will always be an
individual or group destined to find flaws and expose them. Such
is the plight of the Harry Potter novels; trying to defend
themselves against conservative Christians who would rather burn
the books than read them. These Christians do not understand
that the Harry Potter books are meant to entertain, open up the
imagination and encourage literacy; not to encourage individuals
to join religions or give instructions on how to do so.
how popular is Harry Potter? It truly is a phenomenon like
nothing that has come before. As of this date, six Harry Potter
novels have been released as well as four Harry Potter films.
Three of those four films are in the top ten highest grossing
films of all time. The one film that did not reach the top ten
is not far behind at number sixteen (“Worldwide Grosses”).
Each new book continues to outdo its predecessor in book sales,
but all six of them have set records: “[E]ach
title has been #1 on The New York Times, USA Today,
and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists. The sixth
title, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, set a new
world record for a first printing, with 10.8 million copies
hitting stores on July 16, 2005” (“About the Books”). Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince also
set the record for being “the fastest-selling book in
history” when 8.9 million copies of the book were sold within
the first twenty-four hours of its release in the United States
and Britain (“Sixth
Potter Book,” 2005).
popularity is not limited to children, whom it was first thought
these books were intended for. The story of Harry Potter has
captured the hearts of young and old alike. It is not merely the
child who would love to live in a world full of magic, where you
can hex a classmate that is picking on you and turn invisible
under a cloak. Adults can also appreciate cars that fly, dishes
that wash themselves and the ability to disappear and reappear
hundreds of miles away. Apart from the fantasy aspects of the
story, all age groups are drawn to the character of Harry: an
orphan child who has been abused and neglected his entire life,
just now discovering who he is and what his mission in life
then, could be so horrible about these novels, that several
Christian groups have advised steering clear of them? There are
several arguments; the first being that the books are too
violent for children and may scare them. That then begs the
question: Should children read the Harry Potter books? This
question has no right or wrong answer. Looking to professionals,
such as librarians or bookstore owners, only adds to the
confusion; the Harry Potter novels can be found in the children
section, the young adult section, and the adult section. In
Britain, two versions are printed. The content of the books is
the same, but the cover of one version is geared toward children
while the cover of the other is geared toward adults. The novels
have won awards in both children and young adult categories (“Most
Honored”). So how does one know? Books are not given a
rating, as movies are, which plainly tell concerned parents
whether or not a movie is appropriate for a particular age
group. A six year old could just as easily walk into a bookstore
and purchase War and Peace as they could Clifford the
Big Red Dog.
to the American Library Association, young adults are
“individuals between 12 and 18 years of age” (“Young
Adult”). At the beginning of the first Harry Potter novel, the
character Harry is just turning eleven years old; so that lends
to the conclusion that children below the ages of eleven or
twelve most likely should not be reading these books.
Ultimately, it is up to the child’s parent to be in tune with
their child’s developmental rate and decide whether or not
their particular child is ready for them or not; just as a child
can be admitted into a PG-13 or R rated film if they have an
adult accompanying them. Ken James of ChristianAnswers.net
agrees when he states, “Parents, whether Christian or not,
must take an active role in what their children are being
exposed to and determine what is appropriate” (2001).
that small children have been discussed, what threats do Harry
Potter novels pose to preteens, teens and adults? First, a bit
of clarification is needed. Not all Christians have come united
against the Potterverse. “Chuck Colson of Breakpoint,
the editors of World
Magazine, and Connie Neal (author of What’s
a Christian To Do With Harry Potter?)” see no problems
with the series (James, 2001). Those Christians who do have a
problem argue that the novels have the potential of pulling
impressionable individuals towards the occult. Their claim is
that the magic in Harry Potter is so alike real occult magic,
that it could be used as a stepping-stone into the real thing.
Ken James’ article, he quotes Caryl Matrisciana as saying,
“J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, has gone
through an awful lot of research. She is very accurate […].
This is a true representation of witchcraft, and the black arts,
and black magic” (2001). First of all, one would hope that an
author does his or her research before writing a novel. Would it
be prudent to read a novel on gardening that was written by
someone who had not researched the topic? Anyone who read this
gardening novel and had an ounce of knowledge about the subject
would be very upset. In that vein, no fault should be found with
J.K. Rowling for researching the topic of Witchcraft that is so
prevalent in her series. She did not research it in order to
lure individuals into real Witchcraft. She did so in order to
make a clever and interesting story. Her research guided her
into naming a wizard who can turn into a dog, Sirius, after the
dog-shaped constellation, Sirius. Did she choose this to lure
children into studying astronomy? Of course not. It’s witty
and clever. Most readers appreciate those qualities in fiction
the witchcraft in Harry Potter really as accurate as Caryl
proclaims though? Kimberly Beaupre, the “New Hampshire state
director of Witches Against Discrimination” and a practicing
Wiccan reports, “The general consensus (among Wiccans) is it
is fiction and in no way represents our true beliefs” (Roy,
2000). Peter Mather, a Wiccan priest, echoes her sentiment,
“I’ve read these books, […] and I must say that these
books no more promote witchcraft than ‘Anne of Green Gables’
promotes moving to Nova Scotia” (Roy, 2000). A female,
thirty-nine year old Wiccan even goes as far as saying that
Harry Potter could be hurting their religion as opposed to
credibility is undermined by its association with youth
subculture: it is considered a trend and the practice of magic
and everything that sounds exotic is highlighted. I would
consider the public representations of Wicca quite flimsy: TV
series like Charmed
and films like Harry Potter create the image of a powerful
occult counter-culture, not the image of religion. There is
hardly any objective information on the Wiccans’ Goddess or
worldview. (Hjelm, 2006)
Simply speaking, if a
teen were to become fascinated with Harry Potter magic and join
a group of Wiccans expecting to experience the same type of
magic, they would be sorely disappointed. Would they continue
their Wiccan walk when asked to worship a Goddess who is never
mentioned in Harry Potter? Would they be content with using
their energies only for good along with the Wiccan creed of
“harm none?” Would they get just as excited over a potion
that removes warts as the felix
felicis potion in Harry Potter that gives the drinker good
luck? Chances are, the answers would be no.
is a religion based on a deep love and respect for nature and
all living things. Followers of Wicca worship a Goddess and God
and ask for their guidance. The spells Wiccans perform do not
use wands or produce flashes of light. The “potions” they
brew do not give you the ability to transform into another
person or make someone fall in love with you. Herne of Wicca.com
explains, “The spells that we do involve healing, love,
harmony, wisdom and creativity. The potions that we stir might
be a headache remedy, a cold tonic, or an herbal flea bath for
our pets” (“What is Wicca”).
are other practitioners of witchcraft who are not Wiccan, but
they are much more difficult to find or summarize. Wicca is a
newer, widespread religion, open to all who show an interest.
Witchcraft itself is an old religion that predates Christianity.
It is very difficult to learn, understand, and practice
Witchcraft by ones self. Instead, those interested in the Craft
would need to find and join a coven; a small group of witches.
It is hardly arguable that real world magic exists. This
religion would not have stood the test of time if it yielded no
results. The decision comes when the practitioner decides to use
this magic for good, therefore becoming a witch; or for evil,
therefore becoming a Satanist (Abel, 1996).
distinction matters little to Christians though, if at all.
According to the Christian Bible, all witchcraft is an
abomination to God, whether it is used for purposes of love and
harmony or evil and sacrilege. In the Old Testament,
practitioners of witchcraft were driven out from the Lord’s
nation on His orders. Therefore, Christians should have nothing
to do with Witchcraft, Wicca or Satanism. They are to be
commended for sticking to the rules, but, in this case, they
have taken it too far.
least three book burnings have occurred in which the Harry
Potter novels were used as fuel. The first, held in New Mexico,
focused solely on the Potter series (“Church group”). The
other two, taking place in Pennsylvania and Michigan, burnt any
material that could pull a follower of Christ astray and
included Harry Potter as a contributor (Lee, Zander). A pastor
in Maine wanted to hold a burning ceremony for the series, but
could not obtain a permit, so instead chose to maim the books
with scissors (Schwartz, 2002). Also, apart from destroying and
defaming the novels, they are being challenged on a continual
basis in hopes of having them removed from libraries. According
to the American Library Association, J.K. Rowling was the fourth
most challenged author between the years of 1990 and 2004
a family who owns the books decides that the books are not right
for them due to moral reasons, getting rid of them is definitely
their best option; but burning or destroying them serves no
purpose. This is not a time where books are hand-written and
burning one destroys all of the ideas it contains. This is a
time where millions of copies are being printed during a
book’s first run alone and one destroyed copy makes no
difference. The only statements being made by burning them are
of selfishness and attention craving. In the spirit of Christian
giving, those books could be donated to a charity and given to
young adults who do not have moral issues against them. Instead,
they play games like the Pharisees of the New Testament, who
Jesus rebuked for doing things in God’s name, which were
really just for show.
are other problems with these Christian groups focusing so
sharply on the Harry Potter novels. The Harry Potter story is
not the first to incorporate “good” witches, wizards and
magic. Gandalf in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings novels is
a good wizard. The Jedi in Star Wars use a type of magic called
The Force. In the world of cartoons, there are many characters
who fit this profile: the Sorceress in He-Man, Papa Smurf of the
Smurfs and Zummi of Disney’s Gummi Bears. The Good Witch of
the North, Glenda, of Wizard of Oz fame, cannot be dismissed
either. Jennifer Baker makes a good point by asking:
does it all stop? When will we get a declaration on the
immorality of Goldilocks – a robber guilty of breaking and
entering and yet regarded as a heroine by children around the
globe? Or Snow White, who left home at an early age because of
abuse by her stepmother and avoided homelessness by living with
seven miners and becoming their slave? (2005)
Why then are these immoral
books, movies, shows, and stories not being reduced to ashes?
They simply aren’t as popular as Harry Potter.
third and final main argument made by conservative Christians
against Harry Potter is that it does not promote Christianity or
Christian ethics. The initial response to this argument by most
non-Christians is something along the lines of “well, duh!”
While the author is a church-goer, she is a secular fiction
writer, not a Christian writer; so expecting her to include
religion in her books is silly. Religion is not essential to the
story. If these Christians looked a little deeper though, they
may be surprised at the Christian references that are
made in the novels. Both the Christmas and Easter holidays are
observed at Hogwarts (the school which Harry attends). Rowling
could easily have called them “winter break” or “spring
break” if she so desired, but did not. At Christmas time, one
of the suits of armor in Hogwarts castle was found singing “O
Come, All Ye Faithful” which is not a secular Christmas song,
but a Christian one. One of the ghosts who inhabit the school is
even a Friar (Linsenmayer, 2001). These examples seem to prove
that witches and wizards in the world that J.K. Rowling has
created do recognize and may even practice the Christian
from the Christian faith being referenced in the books,
Christian morals can be found within as well. According to the
Bible, “love comes from God.
Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God”
(1 John 4:8). Love is the main theme of the Harry Potter novels.
Harry’s mother died in an attempt to save Harry. Her love
inadvertently cast a spell of protection onto Harry, which ended
up saving his life. The love in Harry’s heart for his deceased
parents and his friends was so strong that Harry’s evil enemy,
Lord Voldemort, could not physically touch him. Voldemort’s
incapability to love is seen as a weakness that could eventually
be his undoing.
strong Christian theme is that of sacrifice. Harry’s mother
has already been mentioned, but there are more examples. In the
first novel, Harry’s friend Ron was willing to sacrifice
himself in order for Harry to keep the villain from gaining back
his power. Dumbledore’s pet phoenix sacrificed himself to save
Dumbledore from a killing curse. Then in the latest novel,
Dumbledore sacrificed himself to help Harry gain knowledge that
will assist him in defeating the villainous Voldemort. Are these
not acts that the Christian faith would applaud?
is not to say that Harry and his friends are perfect. No
children (or adults for that matter) are. They do occasionally
break rules, lie and cheat; but they are also punished for these
actions, just like in the real world. When caught, professors
give detention to children who decide to disobey. Even when
their offences are not caught, there are consequences for their
actions. In the fifth Harry Potter novel, Harry makes a rash
decision that leads he and his friends into a trap, eventually
resulting in the death of his godfather. J.K. Rowling paints a
very clear picture that immoral behavior will lead to trouble.
with all of these positive points, Potter’s phenomenal book
and movie sales have erupted fear in the hearts of Christians.
If something is more popular than God, it must be of the devil,
mustn’t it? What the Christians fail to realize is that Harry
Potter is not more popular than God, is not more popular than
religion and never will be. The Bible is, and will continue to
hold the title of, the best selling book of all time
(“All-time Bestselling”). There are no churches or schools
dedicated to the study of Harry Potter. There are no
missionaries traveling the world attempting to convince people
to read Harry Potter. To
call it a fad would be a fallacy. Fads do not last this long or
create such exponential sales; but in the grand scheme of
things, Harry Potter will have no impact on Christianity or its
followers. Fifty years from now, it will most likely still be
popular, just as Tolkien’s books are still popular today; but
it will no longer be the phenomenon it is now, in its birth
years. These concerned Christians would do better to realize
this and ride out the remainder of the phenom without turning
off too many more non-believers by so vocally displaying their
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