I’ve been asked my opinion about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series more times than I can count. My students are curious, the parents of students are curious, and even my peers when they learn that I am a Christian, are quick to ask me about it. For the past several years, I’ve tried to be subdued in my answers, but a series of circumstances (a huge one being that I now teach a Faith and Fantasy class) have made it clear to me that now is the time for me to express my feelings in regards to this controversial series. Before I get too far into this article, let’s talk about the giraffe in the refrigerator. My name is Alysha Mitchell, and I’ve read, and enjoyed the Harry Potter series. I do, however, recognize the weaknesses, and do agree that there are elements which could be red flags for families. There are also wonderful lessons and discussion topics that could be used by Christian families to glorify the Gospel, and honor Christ.
I cannot write an article about Rowling without at least touching on the element of magic in her books. I read several articles before attempting to write this one. Some discounted Rowling’s work as evil, and not worth the time of a Christian, and others swung the opposite way, trying to make every tiny detail in the books a Christian allegory. Having read the books, both extremes made me uncomfortable, and I continued to pray that God would give me the wisdom to express myself clearly.
I try to encourage my students to not be afraid of fantasy, but to be discerning. I’ve tried to show them that being afraid is not the answer, nor is inhaling any fantasy they come across. This same concept applies to my thoughts on Harry Potter. Christian families should decide for themselves whether or not they want to delve into the series, but I do not believe that they should be afraid of it either.
Now, there is the main red flag for many readers, the element of magic. As I was preparing for this article, it occurred to me that both C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien engage in the topic of ‘magic’ in their stories. Tolkien presents the idea of the wizard of the light (Gandalf) and the wizards of darkness (Sauromon, and Sauron). Good fights against evil, and the fantastic is embedded within the story. Lewis, presents the White Witch as an antagonist of the story and is set against Aslan, the King. Both stories deal with good verses evil, light verses dark. The Harry Potter books also deal with these elements, but are condemned because of the use of magic.
As I was mulling this over, I came across an interview with J.K. Rowling that shed light on the subject to me. Elena Garcia, a reporter for The Christian Post, wrote an article in 2007 in which she discussed the themes of Christianity in Rowling’s work. Rowling herself admitted to pointing her story towards Christianity but also admitted that she did not want to reveal the Christian themes too early in case readers guessed the ending of her story too soon. In the same article Rowling admitted that she, herself, although a member of a prominent church in Scotland, still struggles with the idea of what happens to a soul after death. In the interview, Rowling states: “The truth is that…my faith is sometimes that my faith will return. It’s something I struggle with a lot,” Rowling admitted. “On any given moment if you asked me [if] I believe in life after death, I think if you polled me regularly through the week, I think I would come down on the side of yes — that I do believe in life after death. [But] it’s something that I wrestle with a lot. It preoccupies me a lot, and I think that’s very obvious within the books.”
Now, for me, that passage was key. Rowling admits that she struggles with her faith, with her beliefs, and that it is obvious in her work. Writers write about what they know. They write to help explain themselves, they write to explore concepts that are too big to explain. The Harry Potter series was an exploration of Rowling’s faith, and her conclusion was ultimately inconclusive. Worldview is portrayed through a story, no matter how the author spins it, their ideas about the world will come through. C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien both wrote from a solid position of Christian faith. Their stories contain elements of magic or the fantastic but the Christian worldview shines through. Their stories are solid, and the characters rich in their human joys, flaws, and struggles. Rowling also has a pure divide between good and evil, but her own questions about faith show through her work. This to me would present a bigger red flag than the fantasy of the story.
That being said, the stories present wonderful examples of self-sacrifice, love, courage, and taking a stand for what’s right. Darkness is overcome by the end of the series, and love overcomes hatred. Rowling gives readers insight into complex characters living through highly intense circumstances where their true nature is put to the test. Not all characters choose the path of light, and there are consequences for that. Rowling portrays a world where darkness is overcome, and light wins out in the end.
Did I enjoy the series? Yes. I also recognized the weaknesses, particularly in the worldview. The series is fun, but students, especially younger students or people young in faith should be aware of Rowling’s questioning that is present throughout the series. Her series can be used as a starting point for many wonderful discussions about faith and the assurance of Salvation in Christ.