Note: no spoilers here.
“Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.”
But I do value the imagination, which is why I believe in unicorns. The power in fantasy is not really magical, however. It is the power of choices made by characters whose unique destiny or ability magnifies the consequences of their actions.
Imaginative literature opens these possibilities. And questions about them. So I agree completely with Dumbledore who tells Harry in the final book/film that just because something is happening in your head doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
Clearly many conservative Christians have had a love/hate relationship with Harry Potter, as in they love to hate him. And I understand their reasoning. Almost.
I’ve not understood why they think it’s teaching their kids to be witches. Because it’s not, regardless of what the Onion says. Not that kind, anyway. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, there is a kind of mechanical magic in fantasy that does not draw on the supernatural at all.
Nobody in Harry Potter books ever prays to a a dark power, not even Voldemort. That’s why Chuck Colson endorsed the Potter books early, as a moral fable whose heroes use love and sacrifice as their weapons of choice while the bad guys marshal power and fear.
Nobody took their clothes off or swore at me last night either.
And while it could be argued that Harry Potter puts witches in a more favorable light then we might want, I’ve also not quite understood how Narnia with its witches and The Rings with its wizards often get a pass, while Potter doesn’t. Because in the end Harry Potter is also a story about people in extraordinary circumstances doing extraordinary things.
Of course I’m not doing these books justice. Rowling is good story teller whose central character confronts fear and loneliness, risking his life over and over with courage, loyalty and love. And for that reason, many Christians have warmed up to the series over time.
But none of those Christians who like the book can refute the ultimate argument of their Christian friends who don’t, that there are better things to do with your time. That’s an argument that can not be refuted because it is no argument at all. That’s the same reason some kids don’t brush their teeth— because there is always something “better” to do.
It sounds pious though. What some people mean when they say this is that praying and fasting is better than reading fantasy, although of course some praying and fasting is pretty vain. And not every body talking about it is doing it either. In fact, many people who say this have their own ways to waste time, like watching Fox News while waiting for some politician to save us. Or watching TV at all.
Some of these critics have no time for entertainment of any sort, however. But I’m a defender of good books because they force us to think about character and calling, and that’s no waste of time. And because our creativity reflects the image of our Maker.
Some good books just happen to be fantasy.
No one finds Jesus at the end, of course, like in so much laughably bad Christian fiction. But I think Rowling managed to write books that people will go back to over and over to think about right and wrong and how to act on the distinction.
Harry is not a true Christ figure, although he is willing to lay down his life for his friends. This would require another whole post to unpack.
But he makes a passable Joseph, a man of integrity who stood in the place he was called and served the people he loved. The church has managed to overlook Joseph’s divination for a story that points us to a greater truth.
And while the Harry Potter books lack the biblical authority of Joseph’s story, they raise many of the same very human questions. Like what would you do to your faithless brothers if you were the most powerful man in Egypt? Or what would you do with the most powerful wand in the world?
More people today have heard Harry’s story than Joseph’s, unfortunately. But you have to start the conversation somewhere:
“You know, Harry kind of reminds me of Joseph, who also had strange dreams and struggled with power.
Would you like to hear the choices that he made? And talk about the reasons he made them?
Good. Why don’t you start. Tell me what you liked about Harry Potter.”
Listening is always a good place to start.
And faith is often where it ends.
See also More Magic, on L’Engle vs. Rowling.