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What You Need to Know About Fantasy Stories

By Richard Abanes
Author of Harry Potter, Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings

CBN.com - Shouldn’t everyone (including Christians) be allowed to read Harry Potter without being condemned?

Of course! No one should be condemning anyone. It would be wrong to criticize Christians for reading Harry Potter if that is what they want to do. Reading fantasy books, seeing R-rated movies, and watching adult-themed sitcoms on TV (such as Will & Grace) fall under the category of Christian “freedoms”—issues over which Christians are not to judge each other. Such things, in and of themselves, are not the issue.

The true issue is determining if various activities are beneficial, harmful, or neutral. Regarding Harry Potter, the issue is threefold:

1. Does Harry Potter contain positive presentations of real world occultism?

2. Does Harry Potter glamorize unethical behavior (in addition to presenting some laudable virtues like loyalty and bravery)?

3. Does Harry Potter contain enough real-world occultism and unethical behavior to adversely affect some children?

All three of these questions, I believe, have only one valid answer: yes. The applicable Scripture, then, would be, “‘Everything is permissible for me’—but not everything is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 6:12).

Why is Harry Potter so popular?

Some Christians have declared that Harry Potter’s success is directly due to its being a veiled “Christian” story that appeals to everyone’s unconscious need for God. But this is not a reasonable claim. A variety of far more plausible explanations have been given—and none of them have anything to do with religion.

First, Harry Potter is filled with the kind of gross imagery and crass humor that juveniles find entertaining: vomit candy, pus and booger references, assorted profanities, “Uranus” jokes, and a dash of bloody violence.

Second, “Harry Potter is a classic ugly duckling story, one of the great archetypes in literature. Misfit, rejected, even abused, Harry one day finds all that changed,”2 Both kids and adults can identify with this.

Third, according to one reviewer, Harry Potter is popular “because this character has the ability to uncover the eternal child we all have buried inside. A teenager’s identity crisis set amidst an epic adventure, the stories appeal to everyone who’s ever wanted to beat the odds and become a hero.”3

Fourth, corporate marketing and creation of the brand name “Harry Potter” have contributed greatly to the public’s clamor for the series.

Doesn’t Harry’s popularity prove he is an admirable character and worthy of emulation as a “good” role model for kids?

First we must ask, Who is defining “good”? J.K. Rowling defines as “good” in her stories anyone who stands against Voldemort (or horrific evil), regardless of whatever else they may do. This is not an adequate definition or representation of “good.” In fact, such a depiction of “good” actually blurs the lines between good and evil, effectively numbing young children to various forms of what might be termed lesser evil: lying, stealing, cheating, swearing, drunkenness, and disobeying authority (basically, all of the things Harry and his pals do).

Second, it is a mistake to think that our culture exalts only those icons that are good models for children. Entertainment is rife with plenty of less-than-ideal celebrities and with TV and movie characters that ridicule the values many people would consider “good”: for example, Beavis and Butt-head, Freddy Krueger from the Nightmare on Elm Street series, and Johnny Knoxville from MTV’s Jacka**.

Obviously, not everything popular that the entertainment world gives us is “good.” (Interestingly, many children have said that one of the reasons they like little Harry so much is because he and his friends are often so bad!4)

How can anyone condemn Harry, since he and other “good” characters show Christlike agape love (sacrificial love) through out the books?

The Greek term agape when used by Christians is not just an emotional feeling for persons whom we love or for those who love us—even if that love leads to sacrifice. Love for those who love us reflects phileo love (or reciprocal love).

It is phileo that we see in both the sacrifice of Harry’s mother for her son and in Harry’s life-risking deed during the Triwizards’ Tournament (see Goblet of Fire), when he attempts to save a friend from captivity. Such deeds are admirable, to be sure. But they do not qualify as agape. Why? Because many people would make great sacrifices—perhaps even of their life—for a close friend or loved one. This is a natural, albeit difficult, response that both “good” and “evil” people demonstrate.

Agape, however, is a very different kind of love. It is the extraordinary capacity to sacrifice for enemies—or at the very least, for people with whom we have little or no relationship. The apostle Paul explains the difference: “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love [agape] for us in this: “While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8).

The defrocked priest played by Gene Hackman in The Poseidon Adventure (1972) displayed such love when he sacrificed his life for fellow passengers whom he barely knew. Would Harry have made such an extra-sacrificial effort for Malfoy, Professor Snape, or a stranger? That is doubtful. Not once do we see Harry display any concern for characters other than those that show concern for him.5

Harry certainly was not showing agape love when he used his invisibility cloak to get back at fellow students who had been taunting him (see Prisoner of Azkaban). Christ taught, “If you only love those who love you, what special credit is that to you? Even evil people love those who love them. And if you only do good to those who do good to you, so what? Evil people do the same thing” (Luke 6:32-33, author’s paraphrase).

The true Christian definition of agape, biblically speaking, is sacrificial love that does not take necessarily into account the value to oneself of the other person being loved. It reaches out to those who may have little or no particular value to oneself—even an enemy. This is not what we find in Harry Potter.

If Harry Potter is so “satanic” just because it has witches and magic, then doesn’t that mean a lot of other fantasy stories anti fairy tales also are “satanic” (“Hansel and Gretel,” for example, and “Sleeping Beauty”)?

First, the most articulate and reasonable critics of Harry Potter have never said that the novels are “satanic.” The religion known as Satanism does not appear in Harry Potter, nor do the teachings of Wicca. Second, Wicca and Satanism are themselves vastly different. Third, it is the magick and occultism in Rowling’s volumes that are problematic (see chapters 7 and 8). It is this real-world occultism that separates Harry Potter from most other fantasy works and fairy tales (see chapters 3 and 4).

Why should anyone be worried about the “magic” in Harry Potter since it is no different than the high-tech devices used in science fiction?

Actually, the magick in Harry Potter is not at all like the high-tech devices we find in science fiction—which are placed into the story for the purpose of allowing things to happen that otherwise would be impossible. The main difference is that the technology in most sci-fi stories cannot be duplicated, nor does it have anything to do with occultism. In Harry Potter, however, characters go beyond such unreal “mechanical” forms of magic by delving into real-world magick and witchcraft.

It should also be noted that, although Potter fans often say that Rowling actually uses her characters to make fun of things like divination, such a claim is not entirely true. Consider Madame Trelawney, for instance, who is Hogwarts’s divination teacher. She is indeed painted as a quirky witch, whose forte is a very “imprecise” branch of magic. At the same time, though, Trelawney accurately predicts the future during a classic episode of spirit-channeling.6

Hermione, too, excels at arithmancy (a form of divination). And Harry is himself a clairvoyant, who accurately predicts that a hippogriff (named Buckbeak) will survive a scheduled execution.7

How can the Harry Potter series be condemned for occultism when its main characters do not even contact spirits, which is what the Bible really condemns?

In reality, Harry and his friends are in constant communication with spirits. These include Binns (a Hogwarts teacher), Peeves (a poltergeist, or malevolent spirit), Moaning Myrtle (a murdered Hogwarts student), and Nearly Headless Nick (Gryffindor’s resident apparition). Each student dorm, in fact, has its own house-ghost. And in Prisoner of Azkaban, Dumbledore uses these and countless other ghosts to send messages to the students. One also must not forget the episode with Trelawney (see previous question).

Shouldn’t a critic of Harry Potter also be willing to condemn A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens? After all, Scrooge talked to ghosts too.

This question has been posed quite often. However, such an analogy is flawed in several ways.

First, Scrooge did not seek out or maintain any relationships with, nor regularly commune with, the ghosts in A Christmas Carol. He also did not use them to transmit messages to others. In fact, he kept pleading with the ghost of Marley to leave! In Harry
Potter, however, spirits of the dead are consistently called upon, spoken to, welcomed as friends, and used to convey messages.

Second, and far more damaging to this argument, is the fact that the three Christmas spirits that visit Scrooge are not even spirits of the dead. They are symbolic representations (or manifestations) of Christmas time spans that come into existence yearly—that is to say, Christmas past fades into Christmas present, which in turn gives way to Christmas future. This is quite different from what is depicted in Harry Potter.

Finally, at the end of A Christmas Carol, one is left with the hinted-at possibility that Scrooge’s vision was just a nightmare that, like Marley’s apparition, resulted from “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an under-done potato.”

Isn’t Hogwarts School a perfect fantasy model to show how children need the guidance of wise and competent adults in order to get through life?

Actually, the mature characters in Harry Potter—that is to say, the “good” adults, including Dumbledore—serve minor purposes and are fairly incompetent as well as oblivious to the goings-on at Hogwarts. Even favorable reviews have noted as much: “Though Rowling’s child heroes are imperfect...they are usually smarter and braver than adults. Some of the nicest teachers at Hogwarts, though friendly and knowledgeable, often don’t have a clue to what’s going on around them. Others are weak and incompetent, or complete phonies.”8 Another reviewer writes,

Most of the adults in these books are deeply flawed, At Hogwarts the teachers drink like fish; the gentle giant, Hagrid, positively staggers through the first three books...Professor Trelawney is a New Age flake.

Professor Snape, the potions master, is a slime. Cornelius Fudge, the minister of magic, is a dithering ass. These people constantly boss the kids around. But most of the adults are knuckleheads. The kids disobey them and, as a result, save the day. In Prisoner of Azkaban, for example, everyone tells Harry not to leave the school grounds. Naturally, he immediately scampers out through a forbidden passage. By the end of the book we learn that Harry’s father, one of Hogwarts’s great mischief makers, would have been highly disappointed if his son had never found any of the secret passages out of the castle.9

Obviously, the adults in Harry Potter leave much to be desired in showing children the benefits of mature guidance. Part of the story’s attraction is how adults, especially parents, are not central to the action. They are taken out of the way, and this appeals to a child’s desire to be away from adult control (which is a natural desire). As Judith Krug of the American Library Association has said, “There’s no one always telling him [Harry] what to do, and what young person hasn’t at one point said, ‘Oh, if they’d only leave me alone.’ Or: ‘I wish that I didn’t have parents.’ They don’t mean this in a mean way. It’s just that parents get in the way.”10

Harry Potter has sparked interest in reading among children. Isn’t that a positive sign? Shouldn’t the books be applauded for pulling kids away from Xbox and PS2?

Just because a child is reading does not mean that what they are reading is good (see chapter 1). Some material is not emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually healthy. To think otherwise leaves a door open for children to read anything regardless of content, including violent, pornographic, and racist literature.

Few persons would distribute Playboy to children for its humor and interesting news articles, even though quite a few adolescent boys might appreciate the gesture and be happy to “read” the magazine. The same could be said for white supremacist literature. Novelist Michael O’Brien comments,

While it is true that the Potter books are hooking a generation on reading, I must say that this is a superficial defense of the series. Will the 100 million young fans of Harry now turn to Tolkien and Dickens and Twain? Or will they go searching for more of the thrills Rowling has whetted their appetite for? There is a lot of corrupt literature out there, well-written material that may indeed stimulate a literary habit as it speeds the degeneration of moral consciousness. A discerning literacy—the true literacy—is of very great importance in a child’s formation. But literacy alone can never be enough. Is an appetite for reading fiction a higher value than a child’s moral formation? Is any book better than no book? Would we give our children a bowl of stew in which there was a dose of poison, simply because there were also good ingredients mixed into the recipe? Of course we wouldn’t.11

The real problem today, then, is not necessarily that kids are not reading, but rather, the substance of what they are reading.

Don’t most occult experts, even Christian ones, agree that the world of wizards and spells created by Rowling is not the same as the real world of occult-type practices?

No. There exists no documentation to support the contention that a majority of “experts” on occultism believe the wizards and spells in Rowling’s novels are wholly different than actual occultism. The media has repeatedly quoted only a few so-called authorities—who, in reality, are not occult experts.

The five Christian sources regularly cited as supporters of Harry Potter are 1) John Granger, who is trained in classical languages and literature; 2) Chuck Colson, who is primarily a social commentator and an evangelist to prisoners; 3) Alan Jacobs of Wheaton College, a literature professor; 4) Connie Neal, an author specializing in the area of family and marriage; and 5) Christianity Today, which is a social—cultural magazine that specializes in covering events relating to the Christian community.

None of these sources are “occult experts,” nor have any of them received even a basic education (either academically or ministerially) in the occult field. The same can be said for the second tier of Christian authors and speakers that are regularly quoted by Potter fans and the media: John Killinger (a Presbyterian minister) and Francis Bridger (a college principal and theologian). Many true “experts” on occultism, however, have indeed voiced concerns about Rowling’s books.12

Why is there so much concern about Harry Potter, when it is obvious that a lot of kids reading the books are not suffering any psychological or spiritual problems, or being drawn into occultism?

First, “a lot” of kids do not represent all kids. Just because most children may remain unaffected by Harry Potter is no reason to completely dismiss concerns that some children might indeed be drawn into witchcraft, magick, or the occult. Second, it would take many years and numerous surveys to measure with any exactitude a correlation between Harry Potter and youth occultism. Nevertheless, there are signs that some children are gravitating toward occultism because of the books.

Isn’t it a bit paranoid to think that, just because some of the good characters in Harry Potter do a few bad things, children will be affected adversely?

Fantasy, no matter how imaginative it may be, teaches some form of morality—usually one that reflects the author’s views. Literature, in this way, can either reinforce or alter the moral universe in a child’s mind. The problem is, many children reading Harry Potter are so young (as young as six) that they still have little or no discernment about the worldview being presented to them through the books. Hence, the images and indirect lessons of the text could sway their behavior in years to come.

Children engage in seeking lessons about life from stories far more intensely than adults. Moreover, when seeking such lessons, they do so via an indirect method: rather than pondering which traits of a character they most want to adopt, they simply decide which character in total they most want to be like.

Consequently, rather than emulating just the “good” traits of a character, they end up copying a character’s entire persona—good and bad traits, mannerisms, thoughts, attitudes, and behavior. A clear delineation between good and bad, therefore, must be offered in order for children to nurture within themselves a strong moral center of being.


Taken from Harry Potter, Narnia and The Lord of the Rings by Richard Abanes; Copyright © 2005 by Richard Abanes; Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR; Used by Permission.

Notes
2 Dana Corby, “Harry Potter and the Cuckoo’s Egg,” www.witchvox.com/words words_2OO3/e_harry01.html.

3 “J.K. Rowling’s Success Story,” Mega East, www.megaeast.com/default,asp?section= main&page=rowling.com.

4 For example, a seven-year-old wrote to a newspaper in Britain, saying, “I like Harry Potter because he is rather cheeky—he isn’t always good” (Jasmine War, letter to the editor, London Times, June 29, 2000, available at www.londontimes.co.uk). And an 11-year-old in America told the New York Times that she likes reading the books because it’s “like we’re reading about ourselves…They like to do stuff like we like to do. They like to get in trouble” (Megan Campenelle. Quoted in Jodi Wilgoren, “Don’t Give Us Little Wizards, the Anti-Potter Parents Cry,” New York Times, Nov. 1, 1999).

5 In Prisoner of Azkaban he did request that the traitorous Peter Pettigrew be allowed to live. But this is not sacrificial love, it is simply deciding to not murder, which is exactly what Professor Lupine and Sirius Black (good characters) were willing to do.

6 The character of Madame Trelawney, according to J.K. Rowling herself, has made two accurate predictions. As of Book V, the first prediction had not yet been revealed. However, the second prediction occurred in Prisoner of Azkaban. The scene depicts a classic episode of spirit-channeling, also known as mediumship. Like Trelawney, spiritists claim to speak forth prophecies or words of knowledge using voices not like their own, and then afterward, do not remember what has transpired. This is precisely what Rowling describes (see Prisoner of Azkaban, p. 324).

7 Here is where people who do not have Rowling’s level of knowledge about the occult can fall woefully shy of understanding how deeply she is depicting the occult. If Goblet of Fire is read carefully, it will be seen that Harry is indeed clairvoyant to a certain degree, especially with things having to do with Voldemort. He can actually see things and hear things—accurately. What is interesting about Harry’s crystal-ball scene is how he really “sees” nothing in the crystal ball. Nevertheless, what he says actually does come to pass. This is because within the occult tradition most seers, or clairvoyants, almost always (especially when young) do not know they have such powers and can accurately make predictions. It is something they must grow into, usually after many years of simply knowing things. We see this same level of immature powers depicted when Harry releases the snake in Sorcerer’s Stone. He has no idea he made this happen. The fact that Harry is “making up” what he says in his scene with Trelawney and then that what he says just “coincidentally” comes true, is not an accident.

8 Josh London, “Harry Potter Is Great,” Dec. 7, 2001, Spintech, available at www.spintechmag.com.

9 James Morone, “What the Muggles Don’t Get: Why Harry Potter Succeeds While the Morality Police Fail,” Brown Alumni magazine, July/Aug. 2001, available at www.brownalumnimagazine.com/storydetail.cfm?ID=210.

10 Judith Krug, as quoted in “The ‘Harry Potter’ Books: Craze and Controversy,” available online at www.familyhaven.com/books/harrypotter.html.

11 Michael O’Brien, interview with Zenit News Agency, “Why Harry Potter Goes Awry,” Dec. 6, 2001, www.zenit.org/english/visualizza.phtml?sid= 13710.

12 From conversations with Marcia Montenegro (former astrologer and occultist), Douglas Groothuis (professor of philosophy, Denver Seminary), Steve Russo (occult expert), Dr. Ron Rhodes (former senior researcher at the Christian Research Institute), to name but a few.

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