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I'm Not Wild about Harry
By Aristea Zekios

I never had any intention of reading any of the Harry Potter books. From my perspective, the Potter-mania sweeping the country was just another temporary fad. However, after one of our church school staff meetings the director asked me what I thought of the Harry Potter books. Since I didn’t have a clue, she dumped Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone in my lap. At that time I had no idea that she dropped a literary bomb on me.

I forced myself to skim through the book, concluded it was distasteful, and returned it to her. I told her that I didn’t want to waste my time on a story about an 11-year old wizard who attends a school on witchcraft and wizardry. Just the term "witchcraft" turned me off.

Shortly thereafter the news media was buzzing with Harry publicity. At 12:01 am on July 8th, the fourth edition of the series HarryPotter and the Goblet of Fire went on sale and parents and children in Britain and North America rushed to claim their copies. (A cabbage patch doll mentality all over again?) Some bookstores even hosted pajama parties for their customers. But not everyone was enchanted with Harry. The reading of the books was challenged in 25 school districts in at least 17 states. Many parochial schools banned the books from their libraries. Parents loved Harry; parents disapproved of Harry. Newspaper and magazine articles were filled with opposing reactions.

I was intrigued and confused by the controversy that was evolving. How could four books (and three more to come) cause such turmoil? I casually expressed my own reaction to Harry at one of our planning sessions for the 2nd Annual Forum on Orthodox Christianity featuring Very Reverend Peter Gillquist as guest speaker. The result? I was "volunteered" to debate about Harry at the Forum.

Each book was loaded with intrigue, suspense and surprise.

And so it was back to the drawing board. I spoke with friends who were parents and was confused by all the different opinions. Some parents commented that Harry Potter just wasn’t their type of reading material; others were absolutely entertained by what they considered interesting and fascinating reading. Some parents forbade their children to read the books; others were reading them along with their children.

I listened intently to the news, collected newspaper articles, and downloaded material from the Internet. I also carefully reread Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone and sifted through Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. After reading these books, I discovered why the Harry series was a best seller (over 35 million copies in print in 35 different languages). I laughed at the author’s sly sense of humor and her astonishing inventiveness in describing wizardly wonders. Each book was loaded with intrigue, suspense and surprise. No wonder it was so appealing to the youth (and adults, too!) Not to pass up a golden opportunity to cash in on the hype, Warner Brothers will introduce the first Potter movie in November of 2001.

For those of you who haven’t read any of the Potter series..... at age 11 Harry finds out he is a wizard. He attends the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He had lived with an aunt and uncle because his parents had been murdered. Each book of the series covers one of Harry’s school years at Hogwarts. Classes at Hogwarts include Potions, Spells, Transfiguration, and Divination, and History of Magic. He is a daring adolescent who interacts with many fascinating characters through magical adventures. One episode was Harry’s flight with his friends in a flying car that did not belong to them. (Soundfamiliar?)

The author J.K. Rowling is truly creative. Did you ever hear of "Every Flavor Beans?" They are wizard candy like jelly beans that come in all sorts of flavors including spearmint, spinach, grass, snot, sardine,and earwax. (Baskin Robbins, take note!) And sports enthusiasts would love ‘Quidditch’ competition. That’s a soccer-like game played in the air on broomsticks. And if you’re tied up in traffic, just sprinkle "Floo Powder" on your body and you can travel from place to place.

Witchcraft is portrayed in a positive light.

However, beneath the façade of all of this fun and fantasy, there is another side to the Potter series... a side to which young readers would probably be oblivious. It is a valid concern and common complaint voiced by many Christians... witchcraft is portrayed in a positive light. These books are populated be drawn into heworld of the occult?

In my discussions with many adults, the reactions to the Potter books (as mentioned above) were diversified. Those who found the books distasteful were not only disturbed by the witchcraft, but repulsed by some of the gruesome imagery. For example, in the potions class, Harry and his classmates had to learn how to repot "mandrakes". (Mandrakes are plants used in potions to restore people who had been transfigured or cursed. It restores them to their original state.) The root of each of these plants is a small, muddy, and extremely ugly baby that bawls at the tops of its lungs. To repot the mandrake, the baby must be buried again in the dark, damp compost.

Furthermore Newsweek agreed that the 4th book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is more violent than the other books. On page 660 Harry and the evil Lord Voldemort are in a cemetery surrounded by Death Eaters (hooded masked wizards in black cloaks). "Voldemort raised his wand, and before Harry could do anything to defend himself, before he could even move, he had been hit again by the Cruciatus Curse. The pain was so intense, so all-consuming that he no longer knew where he was... White-hot knives were piercing every inch of his skin, his head was surely going to burst with pain, he was screaming more loudly than he’d ever screamed in his life."

These are just a few justifications of why critics agree that young children prone to nightmares shouldn’t have these read to them, especially before bedtime. These books may be a bit much even for the adolescent. The author herself does not recommend this book for children under 11 years of age.

So how should parents approach the Harry Potter phenomenon? If the books become a "forbidden apple," the child could be tempted to read under the covers at night with a flashlight. Most parents have no way of knowing how their child will interpret Harry Potter unless they read with their child and discuss it chapter by chapter. In this way, Christian parents can seize the opportunity to discuss all the positive attributes that Harry displayed like his sacrificial acts of courage, loyalty to friends, and strong desire to overcome evil. At the same time the parent can also make value statements about the disobedience, violence, and witchcraft that is unfortunately interwoven among the fun and fantasy.

The reader understandably sympathizes with Harry, but at the same time, can be tricked into sympathizing with witchcraft as well. In the stories ordinary, non-magical humans (called "Muggles") are considered mundane and are made to look bad. Those who oppose or don’t believe in the world of witchcraft and the occult are silly, narrow-minded, cruel, blind and biased. On the other hand, the wizards and other creatures are the good guys who have wisdom. What a subtle way to glorify the occult!

Young children prone to nightmares shouldn’t havethese read to them.

In advocating the Potter series, the media has quite cleverly linked them to C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Yes, there are superficial similarities. However Potter invites the reader to a world where witchcraft is neutral and where authority is determined solely by one’s cleverness. Lewis invited readers on the other hand to a world where God’s authority is not only recognized, but celebrated. Lewis does not endorse the occult. For the Chronicles to resurface again, they obviously made a lasting impression on those who read them as youngsters. As I read through the Potter series, I wondered what was being written in the impressionable minds of the young. After all, stories teach and influence. Stories can present ideas and endorse world views.

No, I cannot say that the Potter books are my taste. As a child, I loved reading the Bible and learning about the lives of the Saints. I am still awed by the events in the Bible and find great joy in sharing them with my Church School students. The many Bible verses I memorized have sustained me throughout my life. And the Saints provide encouragement as role models. The Potter series may simply be another fad that will be forgotten as soon as the next fad is created by profit seekers and fueled by the media. If our children are spiritually nourished with the Word of God, they will discover throughout their faith journey that, "The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord abides for ever." (1 Peter 1:25)

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