The question is important. No one can deny that Harry Potter has taken the world by storm. Children are reading again. British author J. K. Rowling has captured the imagination of millions with gripping, well-written stories about a childhood hero who engages the forces of evil with his own magical powers.
Many parents are concerned especially because of the Bible’s strong condemnation of witchcraft, sorcery, and magical arts ( Jeremiah 27:9; Revelation 21:8, 15 ). Many wonder whether Harry Potter, innocent as he seems, might contribute to an acceptance of more dangerous kinds of sorcery lurking in the shadows of postmodern culture. An answer to this concern needs to be balanced between the warnings of Scripture and the legitimate use of creative imagination in fiction.
Witchcraft approaches the supernatural as a means of providing a substitute for dependence upon the one true God. The pursuit of witchcraft therefore involves a moral decision to turn away from and against God—something that seems contrary to the main thrust of the Potter series.
Like most of the things in our popular culture, the Harry Potter books contain potentially dangerous elements. But their popularity is at least partially attributable to the fact that there are many things about them that are good. Further, their popularity means that they are part of our cultural environment—whether we like it or not.
In a secularized world, believers should pick their battles carefully. In most cases, it would probably be better for Christians to be familiar with the Potter series, understanding its strengths and weaknesses, than to think they can keep their children—or others–from reading it or being interested in it. If we are familiar with these books, we can help the children we influence see their possible dangers, and use them as a means to lead unbelievers towards a Christian worldview.
With that precaution in mind, it is important to realize that the magic described in the Harry Potter books is not real. This is apparent to any adult or child who reads them. Broomsticks really don’t fly, and wands and spells with magical powers don’t exist. The fact that they do in this engaging fantasy is no more likely to make a child or adult reader believe in real magic than reading about Peter Pan would generate belief in magical pixie dust. Children who read about Aladdin and his magic lamp don’t usually end up believing in genies. Neither do Grimm’s fairy tales generally make kids believe that princes can really be transformed into frogs, that trolls lurk under bridges, or that cannibalistic witches live in marzipan houses in dark forests.
The magical world author J. K. Rowling constructs isn’t dependent on gods, demons, or other occult powers. The fantasy world Harry has entered is one of magical “science,” resembling the world our ancestors might have thought possible before alchemy, astrology, and other medieval “sciences” turned out to be scientific dead ends.1 It brings the reader back to the mindset of a less sophisticated time when technology and magic were not clearly separated. It uses folk beliefs and legends to entertain us and engage our imaginations, but it never suggests that Harry’s world is real or accessible.
Although clearly fantasy, the adventures of Harry Potter do put sorcerers and witches in a positive light. These positive portrayals could possibly encourage a belief that there are some forms of real-world sorcery that are OK. This is why we need to use these books as an opportunity to educate children about the difference between fantasy and occultism.
The supernatural in Harry’s world doesn’t seem designed to mislead the unwary into witchcraft and the occult, but to awaken readers to the non-material and spiritual aspects of their own lives. As in real life, in Harry’s world things often aren’t as they appear to be. The seemingly harmless sometimes conceals something deadly, and apparent coincidences may turn out to be important events that are part of a significant turn in life’s journey. Harry’s world makes the reader vividly aware of an underlying cosmic struggle between good and evil. These books have depth, and that is part of the reason so many readers find them delightful and emotionally gripping.
When fully perceived, real life has supernatural dimensions that make any fantasy world superficial. Life is stranger than fiction. Good fantasy makes us aware of those supernatural dimensions. Bad fantasy either deludes us (if we willfully use it as a means of circumventing a reality we can’t face) or bores us.
As with all good secular literature, Christian readers are responsible to mine its content using tools forged by their own Christian worldview. When we read secular literature, we should keep in mind Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:14-15:
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment.
The real world is marked by sin and the curse, but the Scriptures call us, in the pattern set by our Lord Jesus Christ, to use the opportunities that the world offers us to witness to the truth. Certainly, good secular writers challenge Christian thinking and require us to grapple with issues we may not have otherwise understood. Faith in Christ, however, is based on a God who is the author and source of all truth and beauty. Christians are in a position to evaluate and learn from secular artists—like J. K Rowling—without paranoia or fear.
- As Professor Alan Jacobs explained in his fine article on the Harry Potter series in First Things, the sharp distinction that now exists between the “magical” and the “technological” (or “scientific”) hadn’t yet been established at the time of the Reformation. Our Christian ancestors thought that many things that are now considered superstitious and magical were legitimate ways to unlock and utilize the power concealed in nature. Jacobs points out that Calvinists were drawn to astrology because their emphasis upon the doctrine of election fascinated them with the possibility (considered legitimate in their age) of discerning God’s plans in the stars. Even the great physicist and mathematician, Isaac Newton, a professing Christian, was fascinated with alchemy. Back To Article