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OPINION

The Potter Magic

By Anne Morse

BreakPoint Online - The children began arriving at 10:30 p.m., many of them dressed in their pajamas. It was long past their bedtime, but they’d talked their parents into letting them attend one of the hundreds of Harry Potter parties taking place at bookstores all over America. Costumed clerks painted lightning bolts on their foreheads, fed them Harry’s favorite food (chocolate frogs), and led them enthusiastically through Potter-related activities: potion-making, Broomstick races, and the care of magical plants.

But everyone was waiting for the magic moment: midnight. Potter publisher Scholastic Press had forced booksellers to sign affidavits agreeing not to sell the book until Saturday, July 8; hence, the Friday night parties. At the stroke of twelve, store employees raced to the storeroom, wheeled out boxes of books, and ripped them open. As the first hefty, green and gold copies of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire appeared, the children gasped with delight—and their sleepy parents reached for their plastic.

Including me. My own two Potterheads—14-year-old T. J. and 12-year-old Travis—insisted on buying individual copies of Goblet so neither had to wait for the other to finish it. As we drove home that night, they asked me to flip on our minivan’s dome light so they could start reading immediately. They’d been given special permission to read all night, if they wished.

They almost made it. Peeking in on T. J. at 4 a.m., I found he’d finally drifted off to sleep—The Goblet of Fire open on his chest.

Clearly, with a record-breaking 4.8 million first editions of the latest Potter tome printed in America and England, kids are wild about Harry. But some Christian parents wonder if he’s a suitable role model for their kids.

The four Potter books (of a total of seven in the works) trace the adventures of an 11-year-old orphan boy who discovers that he’s a wizard, endowed with magical powers. He begins attending the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he takes classes in magic and learns how to play Quidditch, an aerial game involving balls and broomsticks.

The books are great fun—but should Christian parents worry about their use of magic? After all, the Bible strongly condemns involvement with witchcraft.

It may relieve parents to know that the magic in these books is purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic. Harry and his classmate are born with the ability to perform magic—much as real life kids are born with musical or mathematical ability. Students at Hogwarts learn to cast spells, read crystal balls, and transform hedgehogs into pincushions—but they don’t attempt to contact the supernatural world.

But isn’t it wrong to expose kids to any kind of magic and witchcraft?

Wheaton College professor Alan Jacobs has a wonderful response to this concern. In the journal First Things, Jacobs notes that it’s only recently that magic and science were viewed as occupying different realms.

"For much of their existence," Jacobs writes, "both magic and experimental science were viewed as a means of controlling and directing our natural environment." It took several centuries of dedicated scientific experiment "before it was clear to anyone that the ‘scientific’ physician could do more to cure illness than the old woman of the village with her herbs and potions and muttered charms." Magic was gradually viewed as a false discipline.

This history helps us understand the role of magic in the Potter books. The author "begins by positing a history in which magic is not a false discipline," Jacobs writes. Instead, magic, like science, is "a means of controlling the physical world." In this world, Jacobs writes, "magic works as reliably, in the hands of a trained wizard, as the technology that makes airplanes fly and refrigerators chill the air."

No less a Christian than C. S. Lewis makes the distinction between mechanical and supernatural magic in his Narnia series for children. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Father Christmas gives magical gifts to the Pevensie children. To Susan, he gives a horn, guaranteed to summon help during times of great need. To Lucy, he gives a vial containing an elixir that will heal even the deadliest injury. The magic of horn and elixir works without the need for the children to call upon supernatural beings. They are perfect examples of mechanical magic.

Like J. K. Rowling, Lewis has created a world in which magic works, and in these fictional worlds it is not magic per se that is morally troublesome.

In Prince Caspian, by contrast, Lewis describes a less innocent form of magical power. A dwarf named Nikabrik desires to bring back the long-dead White Witch to help the Narnians defeat their human enemies. When Prince Caspian realizes what he is proposing, he’s outraged. "So that is your plan, Nikabrik! Black sorcery and the calling up of an accursed spirit. And I see who your companions are—a Hag and a Wer-Wolf!" The prince and his animal allies instantly kill the three (Just, one might add, as the Old Testament commands).

In a sense, whether or not mechanical magic "works" in the Potter books is beside the point. At Harry’s Hogwarts School, one educational goal overrides all others: To help students develop the character and the moral discernment to use a particular technology—in this case, magic—for the common good.

In that sense, the Potter books teach children a great lesson: They, too, must develop moral discernment about real-life technologies—such as the Internet—along with the character to exploit them in ways pleasing to God.

If the Potter books can teach kids to harness technology for good instead of evil, then I say more power—scientifically speaking, of course—to Harry Potter and his wizard friends.


Anne Morse is associate editor and senior writer for BreakPoint.

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Articles on the BreakPoint website are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Chuck Colson or Prison Fellowship Ministries.
Prison Fellowship Ministries. 2000. All Rights Reserved.
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