Why Harry Potter?

BB NOTE: Occassionally the question is raised: “Why Harry Potter?” Often the question comes from visitors here at the Cafe who are not so sure about the references to witchcraft very present in the Harry Potter books. Since it doesn’t take long in hanging out at the Cafe to figure out that BabyBlue is orthodox (with a lively evangelical background) – what’s up? Can you be an orthodox Christian and read Harry Potter?

Recently we received one letter from a member of Truro and I wrote back to her. On reflection I thought it might be helpful for anyone else who might be wondering, “Why Harry Potter?” We’ve also recorded an excerpt of reading the first few page of the opening chapter of the Harry Potter Series (Harry Potter and the Socerer’s Stone (or more acurately, the Philosopher’s Stone in the UK Editions). Check it out by clicking here or go to the Podcast section of iTunes and search for BabyBlueOnline (you can also subscribe). There are so many hints in those first few pages of things that come later in the books, it was really fun to read it again now in preparation for the seventh book.

Dear Cafe Patron,

Thank you so much for writing! I’m very happy to try to answer your question about Harry Potter.

When I first heard about the Harry Potter books I was very very cautious. In fact, it was several years into the series until I finally read the books. What changed my mind? First of all, my brother – who is a Christian believer as well – told me he had read them and he thought I’d love the books, which really surprised me since we hold similar views on faith. But still I wouldn’t read them – all the stuff about witches and magic, it just didn’t sound good to me. My niece gave me the first book for Christmas – and still I didn’t read it!

The years went by and I started to hear that the author, Jo Rowling, was a huge fan of CS Lewis. Now that really surprised me, but still I didn’t read the books. Finally I went to see the first film and really enjoyed it, but it wasn’t enough to get me to read the books. Then I saw the second film and I thought, okay, I’ll read the third book.

Well, that did it. It wasn’t what I expected at all – in fact, as soon as I finished the third book I went straight into the fourth book and didn’t put it down until I had finished it. I then turned around and read the first two books – and then read all four again! I got the fifth book delivered from Amazon.com on the day it was released right to my home and didn’t put it down until it was finished. I was at Borders at midnight to get the sixth book and didn’t put it down until I was finished. This summer I’ve reserved my copy and I’ve planned to take the following Monday off because I plan to read it until I’m done – and sometime I’m going to have to get some sleep! What happened?

I read the books and realized that the “magic” in them was in line with the magic in Tolkien and CS Lewis and Shakespeare (i.e., The Tempest, Hamlet, Macbeth). It was a literary device and what was really astonishing were that the themes were the themes of Jane Austin and CS Lewis as well. I read a book called “Finding God in Harry Potter” (and it’s earlier version called “The Hidden Keys in Harry Potter”) and actually took a class from the author, John Granger which led me to be one of his readers during the writing of his latest book. His thesis is that JK Rowling is a modern-day “Inkling” (the name of the group that included CS Lewis and Tolkien as well as others) and that she is writing a Christian-inspired story. I think he’s right – though we won’t know for sure until we read the final book in the series which is coming out this summer.

What is spiritual warfare really like? What is the difference between the nature of good and evil? How are people redeemed? How are they saved? I could go on and on – the books are rich with Christian imagery – in fact, “Gryffindor” which is Harry Potter’s “house” at his school is a Christian symbol. JK Rowling is no fan of Philip Pulman (and his books) and there are rumors that one of her characters may be based on him (it’s not a very nice character). He is hostile to Christianity and is an atheist. Jo Rowling has been clear that she’s a Christian (though what kind of Christian we don’t yet know). The “secular left” in the UK are now very troubled by her writings – which depicts traditional family roles and historic Christian themes found in historic British Literature – themes, as I mentioned earlier, are covered by authors – Christian authors, such as Jane Austin, Charlotte Bronte, CS Lewis, and Dorothy Sayers.

The books can be read at different levels, which makes them quite fun. I thought they were children’s literature which is one of the reasons I didn’t read them for a long time. But it turns out that yes – they can be read that way, but there are layers and layers (which includes satire and humor) which are really aimed more at adult readers. The characterizations are fantastic. The plot is fascinating, full of twists and turns. I work in DC and the description of the Ministry of Magic – the central government for the magical community in Britain – is a maze of bureaucracy and is quite amusing satire!

I encourage you to read them – each book is written in the style of how old Harry is. So the first book is written in third person but from the perspective of an eleven year old. The last book will be from the perspective of a seventeen year old (who’s been through a lot). It is a mystery and so there are things that Harry will see as an eleven year old that he won’t necessarily understand but you will as you put the pieces together. This is why people – like me – read them over and over. The entire series is a Big Mystery (Jo Rowling is big fan of Dorothy Sayers, a mystery writer a close friend of CS Lewis and one of the honorary Inklings as well – a Christian woman and someone I also admire) and we are given hints and clues all through the series to solve the mysteries. Entire books have been written and are published with people guessing the solutions to the mysteries. People are tracking all those clues trying to solve the mystery before we find out for sure in July when the final book comes out.

For example, if you read the first book you will hear about a certain character in the early pages of the book and never hear about him again until later in the series. He’s just mentioned once and very quickly in the first book, but he’s a major -major – character that we get to know quite well and he plays a very important role in the fifth book! Well, Jo Rowling does this sort of thing through all the books and it’s a pastime to try to figure out all her hints. She plotted all the books out in details before she wrote them – this has been very important to her. It’s fun!

I know that some in the Christian community have been concerned about the books – but I believe that is because they haven’t read them yet. Once you read them you see that the world Jo Rowling creates becomes an incredible metaphor of the life we live today. In my own journey with the Episcopal Church I have found analogies as well as respite by reading the books and so that’s why you see them pop up on BabyBlueOnline – especially now as we are approaching both the release of the fifth film (and the fifth book is my favorite) and the final book.

I have published on Harry Potter with the opening essay in a book called “The Plot Thickens” which is available at Borders, Barnes & Noble and online at Amazon.com. You can read about it here. You might want to also check out John Granger’s books, including this one.

Please let me know if you have any questions – I just sort of brainstormed through this answer, but I’m happy to answer any questions or concerns you might have about the books.

Thank you again for writing me! God bless you!