Summer Reading: Harry Potter

The Dreamer awakes
The shadow goes by
The tale I have told you,
That tale is a lie.
But listen to me,
Bright maiden, proud youth
The tale is a lie;
What it tells is the truth.

— Tolkein on Fairy-stories

David and I began a quest earlier this year to finally blaze our way through the Harry Potter series. This fit in nicely with my usual pattern of exploring more fiction in the summertime, and just two nights ago I cracked open number six in the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I must say it’s been nice to delve into the series AFTER all the hoopla died down, because I know that I can be gratified with the ending relatively soon compared to all you poor suckers who waited with baited breath for the next installment. (Because I am never fanatical about things. I am measured in everything.)

Can I just ask again….what were all the ruffled feathers about in the Christian community over this series?

What a waste of time and energy over a delightful, funny series of books. The series is primarily an adventure story, with a little boy discovering his own personal history and dealing with how it affects himself and those he loves. He attends school, he excels in sports, he isn’t very good in some of his classes, he has eccentric teachers, he has loyal friends. Sounds like a pretty typical adolescent fiction series to me. The “witchcraft,” as some conservative Christians object to it, takes a back seat to questions of trustworthiness, nobility, bravery, loyalty, and truth triumphing over deception.

I am a big fan of Professor McGonagall — she reminds me of my sophomore year English teacher — and I find myself relating to Mrs. Weasley quite a bit — any guesses as to why? All in all, it has been a fun diversion and I feel more prepared to recommend these books with a clear conscience to my children when they’re a bit older.

BUT because every well-balanced review MUST have a negative paragraph, here’s mine…

Maybe it’s my chronological snobbery speaking, but anyone who states that this series rivals The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia in its genius should be beaten about the head with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (which measures around 870 pages). Truly, it is quite an accomplishment: entertaining, with broad horizons, clever details, and a quick wit. However, it lacks the subtle character-driven development of Tolkein’s masterpiece and the Narnia stories. In comparison, the main characters in Harry Potter are a bit flat, and their development is clumsy. There is also the small matter that TOLKEIN DEVELOPED AN ENTIRE STINKING LANGUAGE AND WORLD HISTORY to go with his series.

S0, there. Everyone OK? Any thoughts to share? Stones to throw?

Other thoughts on Harry:
Defending Harry Potter
Tolkein’s Fairy Story Gifts: Fantasy

13 Responses to “Summer Reading: Harry Potter”

  1. Dorci

    God has to convict everyone accordingly. My personal conviction was that I didn't want to watch something with my children that really revolved around witchcraft and which seemed to encourage a plethora of books for kids that "taught" them how to cast spells. I'm sure there were a lot of good qualities about the books and movies, but I think that's how the enemy works a lot of the time: he cloaks that which is ungodly among that which seems godly. But, like I said, the Lord speaks to each of us personally, according to His will for our lives.


  2. Joy

    I'm glad to hear your thoughts. I'll have to check them out when I have some time and a clear mind(hahahahaha).I have to admit, when the Christian community makes a big hoopla over things like this, it makes me intensely curious about all the fuss. Such as…the to-do about Susan Wise Bauer's (positive)review in Christianity Today of a book by John Stackhouse. She was viciously attacked (she, not the book) on the blogosphere, so I read the book. It was very thought provoking.


  3. Kelly

    I agree, Dorci. Each of us is convicted individually according to the Lord's work on us. Well said.Am I correct to assume that you haven't read any of the books? Your statement that the books teaches children "how to cast spells" seems a bit far afield. These books are not a how-to manual…the "magic" is a backdrop for the story. Generally — unless something is blatantly offensive and clearly a waste of time — it makes me sad when people draw conclusions about things without spending time with the source material. As a blogger, would you feel robbed if someone made up their mind about you based on hearsay without reading your material? Beyond that, I agree heartily that not everyone will feel these books are a good investment of their time.The "hoopla," as you say, Joy, got really out of control with this series! A Christian friend of mine was even told that if he read them, he might turn into a warlock without his knowledge. And if you read the comments on those article I've linked to, you'll see Andrew Peterson's comment that a fan of his gave up listening to his music because he (AP) liked Harry Potter. Fairy stories seem to be a favorite for Christians to argue about, and there was a time that it was suggested that Christians should burn Lewis' and Tolkein's books.Good thoughts, ladies. Thanks for sharing.


  4. Friend of Cirdan

    You had to know I'd probably dive in on this. I mean, look at my use-name for pity's sake. And for anyone wondering about my bona-fides on this topic, just know that I may or may not have been on line at the bookstore at midnight for both the 6th and 7th books of the HP series. With the iPod blasting in both ears. So I wouldn't have something ruined by a 13-yr old in a Quidditch outfit. Who I would then be forced to thrash.Waiting until all the books were out indeed. A plague on your patience Kelly…As the HP series wound down, I started thinking about where I would rank it in the great multi-books stories I've read and thoroughly enjoyed. I had a rough order of LotR, HP, and Narnia. But something interesting happened after I finished Deathly Hallows. I never read the series again. And I've read/listened to both LotR and Narnia again and again since then. I think it comes down to your wonderful quote of Tolkien at the beginning. All three of these "lies" tell the truth. And the depth of truth told, from a Christ-centered perspective, determines its lasting value and endurance as judged by me. That's why LotR and Narnia are now 1,2, and HP is 3. The depth of truth is simply greater in the Tolkien and Lewis writings than in Rowling. And because I have to flex my literary snobbery muscles, I must note that the gap between LotR and Narnia in my mind is huge. Like, the gap between Babe Ruth and the next greatest right fielder ever huge. A Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer, but there was only one Babe Ruth. Dude changed the entire sport. Ditto with Tolkien. The man created an entire genre!


  5. Joy

    When Peter finished reading through the LOTR series this year, he asked me who the other best authors in the world were. I gave him a short list and said that they all pretty much pale in comparison to Tolkien, though.He said, "Oh," and sat there in silence for a while as it dawned on him that it was all downhill from there.


  6. Dorci

    No, I'm sorry I wasn't clear. What I meant to say was that when the Harry Potter movies began to be very popular, I noticed a huge surge in other books at the bookstore geared especially for children, some of them for very young children, on how to cast spells. And no, I didn't read them. I won't go into all of my background, but suffice it to say that I know what I need to stay away from. Personally I think it's a very clever way to make witchcraft acceptable, even among Christians. The movies do look fascinating. And the fact that they are directed toward impressionable children is very interesting. But I won't judge anyone who wants to watch the movies or read them. You won't do that to me, either, will you? :o)And if people want to judge me or my writing based on the ungodliness that is included in them, then that's fine. My prayer is that they will find none.


  7. Dorci

    Just wanted to add that I didn't not go see the movies or read the books because someone told me I shouldn't or anything like that. I made my decision based on all that I saw about them based on their own advertising or all the clips from the movies I've seen on tv, which always include witchcraft. Even when libraries host Harry Potter storytelling times the person who reads the story is inevitably dressed in a wizard costume. Haven't heard any of the crazy stories about turning into a warlock if I watched them. Just not my thing. I wonder if they would be Jesus' thing.


  8. Rachael Starke

    Wait, you mean those spells for cleaning up the kitchen aren't real?? But I've been practicing so long!! :)I love the HP books, but your post is prompting me to 1. possibly go back and reread them with you and 2. have a good think again about the whole fantasy genre and why Narnia is okay and HP is bad.There are all kinds of questions I have like – what is it about real sorcery that makes it sinful in God's eyes? Does calling oneself a witch and putting on a long flowing back robe automatically make you a witch? What if you don't call yourself a witch and wear ordinary clothes, but very much practice witchcraft? Should we start wearing "Christian" clothing so we don't wear the same ordinary clothing as real witches?What if the Narnia books actually have a much more carefully constructed "theological system" for their magic? (I think you can argue they do, even more than LOTR.) If they do, does that make the Narnia series worse than HP??Things to think about while folding laundry. :)BTW, another really wonderful fantasy series I loved, and still reread from time to time is the Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper. Lots of allusions to British and Welsh mythology. And a whole lot of magic while wearing unconventional clothing. But on the whole clothing piece, I do forbid my kids to wear witch clothing on Halloween. Only princesses and fairy costumes. So, see? I'm completely consistent with all this. 🙂


  9. Kelly

    OK…Dorci, you said you "won't judge anyone who wants to watch the movies or read them," but that last comment felt a little judgmental…ouch! :-)So the things that you object to are…they are marketed towards childrenthey make witchcraft look good/acceptableCould the same things not be said of other pieces, say "The Wizard of Oz"? Isn't Glinda a witch? But she's a good witch, right? So it's different. Onecould even make the case that TWOO makes a joke of opium abuse! But that would be preposterous, right?I just would like to state for the record that it has always, always been my experience that Hollywood makes books (a) more sensationalized and (b) worse. That's truefor all of three of the series we're discussing here. Don't get me started on the film adaptations of LOTR. Good night! Quite a technical acheivement, but terrible on many, many levels. So I wouldn't take the commercials you're seeing as a proper representation of the books. They're very, very different mediums. And that is why we have a relatively strict "Read the book before you see the movie" rule. Even if the movie is done well (yes! Even with my beloved Jane Austen adaptations!), it usually leaves a true book fan wanting.Apart from that, I would like to take further conversation of this matter ("Should Christians read Harry Potter? Would Jesus read Harry Potter?") offline. Please feel free to email me if you'd like to talk further…with the understanding that we rebuke other Christians for the sake of restoring them to proper fellowship, not to prove that we're right. Unfortunately, some Christians have been having thisvery argument for ten-plus years now, and I can't say that we've all come to agreement. :-)Tom, excellent comments re: greater truth. I think Tolkein and Lewis would agree that the two series are in totally different categories, and they were written with different intentions. But I am lumping them together (perhaps too casually!) for the sake of saying, "Christ-reflective fairy stories." It's in the sense you captured that I think that these stories could make up a fascinating literature class. Have the kids read all three series, and discuss better/worse reflection of Gospel. My mind spins with the possibilities!!!I read an interesting comment in one of the Rabbit Room posts about how both Christians and pagans want so badly to claim JK Rowling, but they're both left dissatisfied, because in the end, "it's just a story."


  10. Rachael Starke

    Dorci,I just reread my comment and think it may appear as if I was riffing in mocking way on your comment about the story reader wearing witches costumes. That comment certainly did prompt me to think through all the list of things I mentioned, but I was actually trying to point a mocking finger back at myself for possibly being quite inconsistent by saying a witch costume at B and N is fine, but wearing witch costumes on Halloween is wrong.


  11. Dorci

    Not at all, Rachael. No offense taken.And I'm sorry if my last comment offended you, Kelly. In the grand scheme of things, none of this really matters. The enemy would love nothing more than to use them as a way to pit one believer against another, and in my own heart I will refuse to allow him to. I enjoy reading your blog, Kelly, and hope you don't mind if I continue to comment on your posts, but I promise to leave any Harry Potter posts alone. :)Love and God bless,Dorci


  12. Kelly

    Dorci, of course you are welcome to interact on any of my posts! I just felt like this was taking a turn where it might be better to address it privately :-)Rachael, as usual you make me laugh 🙂


  13. Dorci

    You would be proud of me. My 20-year old son is going tonight to the midnight showing of Harry Potter and I didn't utter a peep. ;o)


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