'A Parent's Guide to Harry Potter'
By Belinda Elliott
CBN.com - Some Harry
Potter fans have embraced the series as a valuable way to
instruct their children about faith and morality. One such fan,
author Gina Burkart, sees many parallels to Christianity in the
Potter books and argues that parents can use the series
as a teaching tool to discuss their faith and spiritual issues
with their children. I recently had the opportunity to speak with
her about her ideas and her book, A Parent's Guide to Harry
CBN.com: Why did you want to write this
GINA BURKART: I was reading the books with my
children and I found that when they were talking about Harry,
they would immediately start talking about their lives without
realizing they were doing it. So it was a window of opportunity
for me to see what was going on with them, and also a chance for
me to talk about what I went through as a child or what I’m
still going through. Harry has a lot of the same struggles that
we do. And it’s not just one struggle; it’s several.
All of the characters struggle in the book. They must choose between
good and evil, which brings in our faith.
CBN.com: Why do you think that children are
so attracted to the Harry Potter series?
BURKART: I think children’s minds think
imaginatively anyway, as do adults, and there isn’t much
out there. Narnia is coming back now. Disney is doing
a movie of The Chronicles of Narnia, but there is nothing
new out there for them to grasp onto. Harry Potter is
the first really imaginative book that has come out that has grabbed
everybody. I think it is that there is a lack of creativity. We
don’t have imagination in education anymore. Everything
is focused on thought and reality. Our minds are looking for that
fantasy world that we are drawn to, and that is what our faith
is like. Our faith is true, but it’s a spiritual realm that
you can’t measure with fact all the time. You can’t
touch the Holy Spirit. You can feel the presence, but you can’t
measure it. So I think that is what probably attracts them.
CBN.com: In the book you discuss fairy tales
and the way children can learn from them. Do you consider Harry
Potter to be a fairy tale?
BURKART: I do. It has all of the same elements
of a fairy tale, and I break that down in my book, A Parent’s
Guide to Harry Potter. And also, I found this out in my research,
a scholar has found that fairy tales help children release their
repressed fears. Their fears are already there. They are already
fearing the things that these stories are bringing to the surface,
and by reading the stories – and better yet, reading them
with an adult that they care about and trust– helps them
release and talk through them and understand them. So I go a little
bit further. This scholar was saying letting them read it will
bring them to the surface. I’m saying bring it to the surface,
and then help them work through it.
CBN.com: What is your advice to parents? How
should they approach Harry Potter?
BURKART: I think they should read it with their
children and enjoy it. I mean they are fun. They are an enjoyable
read, and it’s not something that is hard to do. Then they
should talk about it. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get
to know your child and to share a conversation with your child.
I mean how often do we have that bridge between adults and children
where we share the wonder and the joy and talk about real-life
issues? It makes them feel almost like an adult. They are being
entered into the adult world, and they can really think about
the big issues of life.
CBN.com: What are some of the parallels to Christianity
that you see in Harry Potter?
BURKART: The biggest parallel is that love saves
Harry. It was the love of his mother that leaves the mark that
saved him from Voldemort, and that is a parallel to Christ. Christ
died for us and it was His love that saved us. And God is love.
So if you look at it in that aspect, it’s not love really
that is saving Harry, it’s God. Magic doesn’t solve
his problems. But if he learned about God, instead of magic, then
this may take a whole different turn. That’s an opportunity
to enter into my children that magic isn’t making things
better. Magic isn’t bringing his parents back. It’s
kind of in the background, but the real life issues are there
despite the magic. But we have something more powerful. We have
God who loves us, and God is who saved Harry. That brings in a
wonderful discussion of our faith lives.
CBN.com: A lot of people would argue that the
Harry Potter series could open the door to the occult
or to witchcraft for young impressionable minds. What would say
to those people?
BURKART: I would say to them – and I don’t
see that as being a direct link, but if that’s how they
feel and I know there are some people out there who do –
I would tell them to look through the books and find out what
is attracting them in the book. What is it that is filling a need
for them, and then open that door and minister to that. And tell
them, “I’ve got something more powerful to tell you
about. I have Christianity. Have you met Jesus? Have you met God?
Look at what this could do for you. Magic isn’t solving
Harry’s problems, but this can.”
I think we need to realize that perhaps the attraction that is
there for witchcraft, if they are seeing that, is maybe pointing
to a need in society that isn’t being met. We are not ministering
to them as we should. And this gives us an opportunity to understand
them and understand their needs.
CBN.com: You mentioned the repressed fears that
children have. With a series like Harry Potter, which
many people consider to be scary in itself, how can horror books
help children overcome their fears?
BURKART: There are so many things that Harry
has to deal with. I think the biggest fear that our children have
is losing their parents. So right off the bat you have Harry becoming
an orphan and having to live with stepparents that are horrible.
They make him live in a cupboard and he has to deal with a stepbrother
that bullies him around. Children are dealing with this. We have
a lot of broken families, a lot of broken homes, and they are
feeling isolated. This is a way to work through that. And if you
are reading it with your child you can talk to them about the
fear they may have.
Also, one of my favorite themes is the boggarts. In order to
deal with a boggart, which takes the shape of your worst fear,
you have to picture it in a comical situation. So that was a wonderful
opportunity for me to find out what my children’s fears
were. We’ve read the book a couple of times and seen the
movie, and through the years the fears have changed. So it’s
good to see that and it’s also a way to empower our children
to deal with their fears when they do encounter them in real life
and I’m not there to work through it with them. They’ve
already talked about how to do it and they can do it on their
CBN.com: One of the chapters in your book is
titled, “The Real Issues of Harry Potter.”
What do you believe are the real issues?
BURKART: The issue of fear that we’ve
mentioned is one. There is also the issue of bullying. I don’t
think there is a child who goes to school who will not encounter
a bully. That is something that is very real, and they need to
learn how to deal with it. They may find that they are a bully
themselves. That may not be a way that they look at themselves.
That’s a way to change the way that they are acting.
Also you can take your children through the issue of choices
and consequences. Harry makes choices and sometimes the consequences
are bad. This provides a way to talk through it. Ask your child,
“What would you have done in this situation? Did he make
a good choice?” And if you stop at that point before you
find out the consequence, then it is interesting to see what the
consequence is. Children feel empowered by doing that.
There is sibling rivalry that comes through with the Weasleys,
also living in a financially-challenged family like the Weaselys
versus the Malvoys who are very, very rich and tried to use that
to buy friendship. You can look at the issue of friendship.
Another huge issue is anger. And anger, as we find in the
Star Wars series – and I link this together –
we see that fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate
leads to suffering. Harry starts down that path, and in Book five
he is very angry. And I think our children are very angry at times.
Helping them release that anger and go to the root of what that
fear is, and deal with that fear or deal with that “boggart”,
can prevent them from going down that slippery slope where they
end up in all of that suffering.
CBN.com: For parents who want to use the Harry
Potter series to start discussions with their children, what
would those conversations look like? Do you have any practical
suggestions for parents?
BURKART: In the book, I have numerous places
where I include discussion questions that they can use as a guide.
But to be honest, the come naturally as you read the book. So
you could use those to get you started, but then the best thing
to do is to draw from your own children, because they will immediately
start to tell you about themselves and their everyday lives. Then
you can go from there. You just talk to them and dialogue with
them. It is amazing how that flows into everyday conversation
as the relationship becomes stronger.
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