We realize that some people may be offended to see these books on our website and perhaps believe we are caving to pressure. We want to assure you that this is NOT the case. As far as pressure goes, the fad is past and we didn't cave while we could actually profit by it, so why would we now? The series is now complete; we know the whole, and have thought through the presentation of these books. While we don't believe they are classics, they are worth reading for many. Below, we offer our reasons.
J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series may be the last truly controversial books present generations will read. That's not because other books are more tame, but because our society is rapidly moving beyond controversy to blind acceptance of any and every kind of behavior and belief. The furor caused by Rowling's novels has not surrounded the publication of other much darker and less valuable books since then because no one cares anymore: it's all been done before.
We don't want to convince anyone to read these books. If you read them, fine; if you don't read them, fine. We do want to defend the liberty of Christians to read the Harry Potter series, however—if your conscience forbids you to dabble in Rowling, by all means pay attention to your conscience. But those whose consciences make no such demands are free to read the adventures of Harry & Co. and shouldn't have to worry about castigation and censure from their brothers and sisters in the faith.
What's the big deal, anyway? Different readers have different takes, but in general the consensus is that Harry and his buddies are wizards and witches who mess with magic, both light and dark, and celebrate the occult arts. Some people have even accused Rowling of including actual spells throughout the series, designed to suck kids into the vortex of Wicca, or the New Age, or some other even darker movement that pays homage to Satan.
If you think this is merely hyped up rhetoric on our part to make opponents of the series look like fools, be assured that the rhetoric is out there. And just by way of clarification: if Rowling's books were guilty of any of this, we'd be the first to throw them on top of the burn pile. Magic, sorcery, divination, etc. are all forbidden by God, and while the New Covenant doesn't demand we burn mediums and witches at the stake, we're still beholden to stay well away from such corruptions of religious practice.
The story of Harry Potter is fairly typical of heroic fantasy. A young boy with obscure origins is summoned to a school for wizards, thus rescued from his abusive uncle and aunt's household. At the school he excels, though he becomes even more powerful in his wizarding outside the classroom: an evil wizard is out to kill him, and he provides Harry many opportunities to put his skills and knowledge into practice through self-defense.
As Harry grows in his wizarding, he also grows up. In the first book he's a shy, scared, 11-year-old with broken glasses frames, and by the seventh volume he's confident, more mature, and brave. Each book furthers the overall plot of the series, but also serves as a mystery in its own right as Harry unravels the truth about his origins and about Voldemort, the really really bad guy who heads the Deatheaters and wants Harry dead dead dead and more dead.
This leads to another objection to the series. Harry Potter and his friends snog. For North Americans who don't live in Canada and aren't addicted to British television, snogging is basically enthusiastic kissing. Rowling's descriptions are never graphic and never imply anything beyond youthful boyfriend/girlfriend kissing, but it's the point that counts—a lot of parents don't want their kids getting even to that level of intimacy before marriage, or reading about kids who do.
First, the magic. Yes, it's true that characters in the series use black magic, there are spells, the kids are wizards and witches, wands are used frequently, etc. Is it different from the magic used inThe Lord of the Rings orThe Chronicles of Narnia as is often claimed? Maybe, but that doesn't make it bad; how are we going to distinguish between different types of fantasy magic, anyway? Which is the crucial point: it's fantasy.
Rowling doesn't put her protagonist in the real world to practice his wizardry at Charing Cross or Buckingham Palace. Though he may travel London, it's a London unfamiliar to anyone. Hidden passages to the magic realm of wizards, goblins, house elves, and centaurs are everywhere, and this realm exists on a different plane from the cartoonish England that Harry knows when he's not at school or sneaking around trying to find or flee Voldemort.
Spells in the magic land are basically pidgen Latin, more humorous or blatantly descriptive than authentic or threatening. The story revolves around Harry Potter mustering love and self-sacrifice to defeat the self-absorption, hatred, and darkness of the enemy, and we see this in the names of spells used by each: the baddies use spells like the Cruciatus Curse, while Potter and his friends use ones with names like Reparo and Riddikulus.
If this is different magic than that employed by Aslan and Gandalf, it's only different in that it's less serious. Logic would indicate that this makes it even less offensive, as would the fact that these books, though dark and scary at times, are also filled with fun and absurdity. It's clear that Rowling had a good time writing the series, and overall we're more struck with the moments of light (and the blatant Christian references—i.e. book 7, pgs 325, 328, title of chapter 35) than we are with the darkness and gloom.
So, if the magic isn't a big deal, what about the teen relationships? It's true that Harry snogs his girlfriends (other couples occupy themselves similarly), and it's true that many of us don't want our kids making out before they're married.That doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Rowling never describes the kissing, never panders to teenagers' prurient desire for details; she simply says that it happens, and considering her cultural context (modern Great Britain) and Harry's, it'd be surprising if she didn't.
That doesn't mean, of course, that kids should read about everything that goes on in the culture just because it goes on in the culture. At the same time, if kids never hear about kids kissing before they're married, what's likely to happen to them the first time they find themselves away from home, at college for instance? You could make them afraid of other people so they just stay away from the opposite sex altogether, but that isn't preparing them for a healthy lifestyle.
Okay, you may say, maybe the magic and kissing aren't a big deal, but are the Harry Potter books worth it? Are they even something my kids should read on a purely literary level? Well, they certainly don't have to read the series. It isn't part of the so-called Western literary canon, and they probably aren't even modern classics. But that's not to say there's no value in reading the series that so easily captured the attention of millions of readers worldwide.
It's true that the popularity of a book often indicates its worthlessness rather than its value. Yet Harry Potter doesn't appeal just to comic book geeks, video gamers, or jocks, just to kids or just to adults. Harry Potter appeals to everybody. Why? Because it's about good conquering evil, about the humanity of the hero juxtaposed to his larger-than-life feats and attributes, about the superiority of light to darkness.
The first couple books in the series aren't particularly well written. They tell a good story, but that's about it. However, as the series progresses, so do Rowling's writing skills, so that by the last book her compelling tale is also compellingly told. And it is a compelling story, filled with mystery and imagination, selfishness and martyrdom, excitement and tenderness. It's a fantasy, but it's a fantasy that penetrates the human condition and reveals more about ourselves and those around us.
Again, you don't have to read these books. But there's enough good in them that you don't need to crusade against them, either. There are novels about magic and witchcraft that are truly evil and should not be read. But these seven books are not among them: magic for Rowling is simply a vehicle by which to tell a much larger and more human story. If you like a good story with lots of humor and adventure, you could do a lot worse than Harry Potter.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviewshere.
Did you find this review helpful?