Harry Potter vs. Gandalf

In the Harry Potter wars, a common attack by the anti-Potter forces is that the books are sometimes sold alongside occult material. A common defense by the pro-Potter troops is that that decision is made by the bookstores, not the author or publisher. Again, a common attack of the anti-Potter crowd is that some people have turned to the occult after reading the books; a common defense is that anyone who reads Harry Potter and then proceeds to the occult obviously has more serious problems than Harry Potter.

My purpose here is not to join the long debate/argument/internecine warfare over the Harry Potter books. It’s to stir it up again for no good reason. No, actually, I bring the matter up to make a point: There is a reason why nobody ever sold occult material alongside The Lord of the Rings; there is a reason why no one ever joined the occult as a result of reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

There is an assumption among many people that Harry Potter, Narnia, and Lord of the Rings are more or less the same thing, and ought to be treated more or less the same way. To call one good, and another bad, is considered hypocritical or inconsistent. Some people are convinced that Harry Potter is bad, and thus turn against Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia. Some are convinced that Lewis and Tolkien’s fantasy books are excellent Christian works, and thus have a lax attitude toward Harry Potter. I am convinced that whatever position you take on any of these, there is no need to take the same position on all of them.

Steven Graydanus wrote an excellent essay on how Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling each thought of and used magic. The short version can be found here, the extended version here. A quotation – a sample, if you will:

In principle, Christians on both sides of the Harry Potter debate ought to be able to agree on this much: According to Christian teaching, in the real world, it is wrong, potentially dangerous, and contrary to true religion to engage in any form of attempted magic (for example, the use of spells and charms, attempted astral projection, or the superstitious use of crystals), or to attempt to engage, summon, control, or otherwise interact with occult powers (as by consulting with mediums, astrologers, psychics, card readers, witch doctors, or any other kind of divination or fortunetelling).

Historic Christian opposition to practices such as these is categorical and decisive. This opposition has been most recently authoritatively restated by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2115-2117), and is found in the sources of Christian faith, sacred scripture (e.g., Deut 18:9-14) and sacred tradition (cf. Summa Theologica II-II,96,2, 96,2).

Christians have long recognized that these practices are not only based on mistaken concepts of reality, they also render the practitioner vulnerable to deception and harm by evil spirits. Furthermore, they nurture an unhealthy attraction to the gnostic lure of hidden, esoteric knowledge and power accessible only to special elites or adepts.

At the same time, many Christians on both sides of the Harry Potter debate will also be willing to acknowledge that Christians may accept and enjoy at least some fictional works that involve the depiction of magic, and even of “good” magic — magic imagined to be both real and lawful, performed by good characters specializing in good magic: good wizards, sorcerers, and the like. As noted above, many of Rowling’s sternest critics are also passionate devoteés of The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. Nor are many Christians today likely to mount campaigns against Glinda the Good Witch or Cinderella’s fairy godmother.

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