The success of the new Harry Potter movie will no doubt have some Christian parents wringing their hands.
By Jeremy Reynalds (11/24/05)
That’s because their children will no doubt want to see “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”
According to the movie synopsis (www.fandango.com/MoviePage.aspx?mid=91610&source=np_title), “Harry Potter is chosen along with three other wizards by the Goblet of Fire to compete in the dangerous Tri-Wizard tournament. Harry’s schoolmates are suspicious of the Goblet’s choice, however, as the tournament usually involves seventh-year students, and Harry is only in his fourth. With his best friends not on speaking terms, the possible return of Voldemort, and a crush on lovely Cho Chang, Harry has enough trouble navigating the murky waters of adolescence much less competing in the tournament.”
Mere mention of the Potter name polarizes the evangelical Christian community. Nobody is neutral about Potter. People either love the books or hate them. One pastor in Alamogordo, New Mexico even had a book burning ceremony (without reading the books). As a result, he got verbally “roasted” (no pun intended) in some circles.
Some time ago, I interviewed John Granger about his book, “Looking for God in Harry Potter.” With the new Potter movie being showed nationwide, I thought it was time to revisit that story.
When I talked to Granger, I was fascinated to find out that he is a strong Christian, a student of classical literature and a strong believer that parents should be very careful about what their children read.
Granger and his wife Mary (who home school their seven children) are so concerned about the influences to which their children are exposed they even refuse to own a television.
When Granger’s 11-year-old daughter was first given a Harry Potter book, Granger said he read it with the idea of being able to explain to his daughter why the books were not welcome in his house.
In a press release Granger said, “I wanted to be able to point to specific passages so she could see for herself why we don’t read such nonsense, however popular it may be.”
But after reading the book, Granger had a literary metamorphosis. In the same press release he commented that after exposure to Potter he felt that author J.K. Rowling’s first book was a story written in the vein of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
“It’s a story that resonates with the Great Story for which we are all designed … Harry is a Christian hero parents can joyfully share with their families,” Granger enthused. ” J.K. Rowling’s books are filled to the brim with Christian themes, imagery, virtues and meaning, implicit and almost explicit, and this is the reason, oddly enough, that the books are so popular. The human heart longs for experience of the Christian message, even imaginative experience, and Harry Potter smuggles the Gospel’ better than anyone!”
However, understandably mindful of the choppy waters into which they could be venturing, Salt River Publishing (an imprint of Tyndale House) still found it necessary to put a short preface in Granger’s book which reads in part, “Some may wonder why a publisher of distinctly Christian books would publish a book about the Harry Potter series, which, while phenomenally successful, has been criticized by some groups within the Christian community. The answer is really quite simple. Millions of people are reading the Harry Potter books, providing parents with a wonderful opportunity to use stories their children love to read to start discussions with them about Christian ideas and values and about how to evaluate the world view embedded in any piece of literature. We hope Looking for God in Harry Potter’ will serve as a catalyst for such discussions and as a bridge to growth in faith and spiritual understanding.”
Wanting to know more, I recently interviewed Granger by e-mail. I first asked him why so many Christian parents are so vehemently opposed to the books. He said because they have been told by people they trust that the occult poses a terrible danger to their children and that the Harry Potter novels feature witchcraft and sorcery practices clearly forbidden in the Bible.
“Because of the blue/red culture war in our country between the believing majority and the secular minority that direct the media and universities,” Granger said, “Harry has become something of a combination lightning rod, litmus strip, and battleground over issues that have little to do with the stories.”
Granger added, “The stories are as popular as they are because of the artistry of the novelist, which artistry few Americans have the education or discernment to appreciate (especially those who haven’t read the books). The good news here is that the occult is not the numerical horde it is presented to be your children are much more likely to become cultists of a Christian or eastern variety (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hare Krishna, whatever) than a pagan or Wiccan cult member. (In addition) the magic of Harry Potter is never invocational sorcery and is not forbidden by Scripture.”
Granger explained why he doesn’t feel that reading Harry Potter in any way promotes occultic behavior. He said, quite simply, because it hasn’t happened.
“The only people that are saying that Harry readers are occult followers in fact or in utero,” Granger said, “are proselytizers for the very occult groups we don’t want our children to join.”
According to Granger, a child is more likely to become an obstetrician than a witch or a warlock. However, he emphasized, he is not in any way dismissing the fears of those parents who are concerned about the dangers posed by the occult.
“I do want to point out that these dangers are much exaggerated,” Granger said, “that reading Harry is probably a good way to immunize your child against real world occultism (because the magic in the one is nothing like the magic in the other), and that, if a child is lost to the occult because she has mis-read Harry Potter, as far-fetched as that possibility is to me, it is not a reason to keep these stories from other children. The Bible has been misused and misread since it became readily available (and well before that, the truth be told); are we going to stop reading the Bible because of Jonestown?”
Granger contends that the Potter novels focus on a central understanding of good and evil.
They deal with, he said, “about choosing the right path, though it is difficult, so that love will have the victory over death and we will realize our prophesied end in God and this Christian message is delivered within a story of a war between those who believe in this ultimate victory and those who believe power and individual advantage are the greatest goods.”
From Granger’s reading of the books, Potter’s adventures take him through life, death and resurrection. He said that Rowling uses “a traditional formula of a hero/orphan in mundane setting that escapes to a mysterious and exciting place for initiation and transformation before returning home – but she adds an important twist that is unique to these tales. In every book’s climactic confrontation, Harry dies a figurative death in his battle with evil. What saves him in every book is a traditional symbol of Christ that both saves him from death and raises Harry from the underground battle ground to life in a better place. Every single book ends this way.”
The result, Granger said, of this resurrection imagery is power, meaning and popularity for Rowling’s books.
He said, “We long for experience of love’s victory over death. Those who have been immunized against the real thing enjoy it in these stories and this experience and their enjoyment prepare them for a time when they may be more open to the real world acceptance of Christ. These stories aren’t grooming readers, young and old, for the occult; they prepare the ground in their spiritual center or heart for the seed thrown by the Sower Himself so it might yield a hundred fold, in the tradition of the best English literature from Chaucer and Shakespeare to Tolkien and Lewis.”
However, I told Granger, some people see a distinct difference between the writing of Rowling and Lewis. They say that while Lewis’ motivation was Christian, the driving force behind Rowling is far from certain.
Granger called that a “pretty silly argument!” He said Lewis was not hailed as a “Christian” writer prior to his apologetic lectures on the British Broadcasting Corporation becoming the renowned “Mere Christianity.”
“That no one understood he was smuggling the Gospel,'” Granger said, “astonished Lewis who believed that readers in the UK in the late 30’s were smarter than that. They weren’t and we aren’t much better … Rowling is a professed Christian, Church of Scotland, has baptized her children (and) spoken to the Christian content of her stories. When will someone confront the Lewis fans (and) Harry Haters’ with their bearing false witness against a neighbor? With their inability to read the books and see the effect Lewis and Tolkien patented, namely, delighting while instructing and baptizing the Christian imagination with echoes of the Great Story?”
I asked Granger if he thought Christians who criticized the Potter books before reading them for themselves were intellectually lazy. He said he didn’t think so.
” An important virtue in Christian life is obedience and one that is more important is humility,” Granger said. ” If our pastors tell us that these stories are wicked, why would we read them to find out for themselves if they’re edifying or not? When I was told cocaine and heroin were bad for me, I figured my parents knew what they were talking about (though I knew they hadn’t done drugs either) and never experimented. Was this laziness? Or just prudence? If I felt I needed to read Harry despite being told not to by my priest, if I felt that way about the quality of my spiritual director’s guidance (pick and choose’ or openly skeptical and defiant), either I need to re-examine my attitude about the relationship or get a new pastor.”
Granger admitted that it’s doubtful whether he would ever have read a Potter book if his pastor had told him to avoid doing so.
“As it was, “he said, “I only read the first book to explain to my daughter why we don’t read trash like this. I find the parent in the pew’ aversion to Harry perfectly understandable; it’s the fire spewing pastors that baffle me. They’re the ones that are disguising their own ignorance of literature and desire to score culture-war points (how different our Christian priorities are from the unbelievers to circle the wagons in a Christian ghetto) in Biblical objections to story-time magic.”
I told Granger that his position of finding the good in Potter books means that parents have to read and understand the books and then have the ability to explain them to their children. I said that with so many Christian parents so busy having an already hard enough time squeezing in all of their responsibilities, isn’t it easier to point their youngsters to material that is “safer?”
Granger was forthright in his answer. He said, “I disagree that taking my position’ requires parents to be … home- schoolers who read aloud to their kids several hours a day. It is best, I think, if parents read what their children are reading, but I wrote this book so parents could either understand why these books are more than okay for their children to read (and then let them read them without supervision) or get more involved and read along with them. These stories are good for your children whether you bother to read along or explain them or not.”
And what would he say to those parents who say that his position is promoting the work of the devil?
“Have a nice day!” Granger said. “That’s pretty silly – so I’d have to be even more self-important than I am to get upset about it. I feel bad for the folks who live in communities where the Harry Haters’ have made hating Harry part of the creed for their faith group and I wrote the book in large part to reassure those battered by Christians consumed by occult fears that they were right in loving Harry and his adventures, (and they are) not apostates.”
However, Granger added, “Really, there is no harm done if Christian parents do not allow their children to read these books beyond their missing out on a great story. They have the real thing! The glory of these books, I think, is that they’re being read and loved by millions of people who are not Christians and may hate the church and what few Christians they know (if they know any). These people are being exposed to the good news of our Lord’s promise and our hope of resurrection in Him via exciting and charming stories very much like the Chronicles of Narnia.’ I am confident many of these young readers will become Christians as the seed planted by Joanne Rowling and Harry Potter grows in their hearts.”
My recommendation is that you buy Granger’s book and read it thoughtfully and prayerfully. However much we may dislike him, Harry Potter isn’t going to go away and we need to educate ourselves on activities outside our sometimes self-imposed evangelical ghetto. Whether you agree with Granger or not, you owe it to yourself to buy and read “Looking for God in Harry Potter.”
(And don’t worry. While the book deals in a serious way with important issues, it’s written in an easy to read style that won’t have you yawning by the end of the second page).
For additional information go to www.HogwartsProfessor.com
Ed: Views are those of individual authors and not necessarily those of American Daily.