Sunday, July 17, 2005

Trying To Get a Handle on Potter

The new book is out. Time for the renewed debate/accusations/defenses/calls for people to be burned at the stake. It's Harry Potter time, and I'm still sitting in the chair marked "I don't get it".

Shrill voices from one part of Christendom call for the Harry Potter books to be rejected, ignored and worse. We Christian parents are warned to keep our sons and daughters away from the books, citing the use of witchcraft and spells a la demon worship. Then from the other side of the faith comes those who read, enjoy and encourage others to read the Potter series. They claim that no other books aimed at a teen reader contains so much action and unexpected plot twisting. The magic is incidental to the storyline, they say.

I'll say upfront that I haven't read one of those piles of pages by J. K. Rowling. Don't have the desire to read one. Don't have the time either. Then again, I'm hardly a teenager. I did see the first Potter movie on video. It was alright, I guess. Nothing spectacular, but I figure the movie is never as good as the book anyway. So when I look at the whole Harry Potter flap, I like to think I'm coming into it without any real bias. I'm probably biased one way or another, but I'm not perceptive enough to figure out which way I'm leaning.

I'm not one to discount the demonic. I believe in Satan. And I don't pretend that there aren't people who try to worship the Prince of Darkness or try to use evil powers. Just last month, a friend of mine was approached by a teenage girl who was looking to buy spices for some magic spells she had copied from a book. So I know it's out there. And it is something Christians must be aware of.

On the other hand, I'm old enough to have grown up watching Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. I've watched the countless Disney movies featuring magically-poisoned apples, dancing brooms, talking animals and flying carpets. I've read countless science-fiction stories, not to mention The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. This is nothing new. A bit more intense, perhaps. But new? No. So what's the fuss?

The arguments I've heard have which have moved beyond the existance of magic in the story have focused upon the ultimate character issues of the characters. They claim that Harry isn't much of a hero and that his use of magic isn't for ultimate good, as other spell-chanting protagonists have been. I really can't speak to that without reading the books, but it seems to me that all the magic Samantha Stevens performed on Bewitched was for the betterment of herself and husband Darrin, not for world peace or anything. And the current trend in literature tends to show a hero "warts and all," not simply as a knight in shining armor. But then again, my favorite book shows it's heros as having flaws. A righteous ship-builder with a penchant for wine, a patriarch who makes up stories that his wife is really his sister, a king who call fall in lust with a woman taking a bath within view of the palace, a disciple who ignores new friends so that his old friends won't get mad -- all these anti-heroes and more are running amok between Genesis and Revelation. So is this an issue to take seriously?

In my thinking on this whole issue, I've wondered if the Harry Potter books are possible tools which we can use with our kids. As I've proven, magic stories are not new. What is it that I understood about The Wicked Witch of the West and Glenda the Good Witch that kept me from looking to boil herbs and animal parts in a big cauldron under a full moon? Maybe it was the opportunity for me to distinguish between fantasy and reality; between proper behavior and improper; between good spirits and bad. Most of us have wanted, at one time or another, to twitch our noses, hear a tinka-tinka-tee and see all of our work completed in the blink of an eye. But we knew that wasn't going to happen. And we weren't going to sell our souls to make it happen. We knew better. Perhaps the best use of the Harry Potter books is to help our kids and grandkids and nieces and nephews and any other kid under our care to understand those same distinctions.

I'm willing to listen to other points of view. Like I said, I haven't read these books. Maybe there are some real problems within the pages. But for now, I still don't have a handle on the controversy.

UPDATE: On the topic of using HP to help kids understand, here is The Gospel According to Harry Potter group study! Although it was blasted by Slice of Laodicea on principle, isn't this the type of approach to get kids to deal realistically with things they can't ignore? Maybe not in the church, but how about in the home? Thoughts?


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I just stumbled onto your blog while looking. Seems to happen to me a lot since I am a knowledge mooch LOL


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