What You Need to Know About Fantasy
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
2 Dana Corby, “Harry Potter and the Cuckoo’s Egg,”
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.
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
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=
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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