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What We’ve Learned from Harry (Part 1)

It’s been a weird 14 years. Way back in 1997, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone, for Americans, because Scholastic thought we were too dumb for philosophy) was released. In a few short weeks, the final film will hit the big screen. While Warner Brothers will undoubtedly attempt to keep the hype alive, and J.K. Rowling is playing her part in that, we’ve come to the end of an era. I’ve no doubt Harry Potter will live on for many years to come, both because of its fan base and the quality of the story. But as we reach the beginning of the end of the boy wizard’s pop culture hype, it’s a good time to look back at what we’ve learned from Harry – particularly what we Christians have learned from Harry.

And perhaps there’s no greater lesson at the outset than that we actually can learn from Harry. You remember the late 90s and early aughts. (I love the word “aughts.”) Christians were warned about the dangers of Harry Potter, the draw to the occult, to witchcraft, the likelihood that Satan existed in the very pages of Rowling’s novels. Some, perhaps even some reading this, still wonder whether we should be concerned about in the Potter books. I’m not intending to tread on those concerns; we should always be discerning. But at this point, reviewing the history of the debate, the content of the Potter books, and the professions of faith from their author, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion than that those of us who were once concerned about or opposed to the series were wrong. It’s edifying literature, deliberately full of Christian symbols.

Which leads to two lessons that I’ll follow up with: (1) We should probably stop believing every Christian warning spam email that comes across our inbox, and (2) We’ve lost touch with a very Christian tradition of writing and need to re-connect to it. The first one I’ll address here, the second in a later post.

I remember being a pastor of a small Baptist church in 2004 and leading the youth group. Five Harry Potter books were out. I had, without ever reading them, concluded that they must be dangerous, because I’d heard that, and because it seemed kids liked the magic a lot, and they might be drawn into witchcraft. So I read the first book. And then the second. And I barely slept as I flew through the next three. At that time, I had just enough intelligence to respond, with amazing clarity and originality of thought, “This is what people are upset about?” Profound, I know.

By the time the 6th book had come out, I’d re-read the first five and started blogging about the series. I joined John Granger in his work to demonstrate the place of Potter in the Christian fantasy tradition, where it belongs. To that, I will turn on the next post.

But to conclude this one: Let’s always be careful and responsible about the information we take in and pass around. J.K. Rowling was never a witch and did not write the books by “channeling.” These are things I was told. When we react to hype, we may just be missing out on some really great stories that point the way to Jesus.


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