Harry Potter: A Theological Analysis
By Adrienne Mitchell and Rolanda Ward (Fall, 2001)
Ever since the first book of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series burst onto bookstore and library shelves worldwide, it has been a source of both controversy and acclaim. Most among the book’s millions of readers would say that it is great. Children love the books because of things like their comedy, the wizard sport "Quidditch," their empowerment of unlikely heroes and the magical world they presuppose. Meanwhile, parents and educators find the books valuable because they have gotten so many children reading. However, along with all of the positive aspects of the Harry Potter phenomena, there is the backlash created for some by Rowling’s use of fantasy. Many would purport that Harry Potter promotes witchcraft and by extension Satanism. This has led to many public protests of Harry Potter, which range from demonstrations trying to ban the books from school libraries, to the writing of numerous editorials warning others of Harry Potter’s dangers.
Most opponents of Harry Potter start their argument on the basis that the books are "anti-Christian," "pagan," or even "satanic" and are vehement in their accusation that the books are detrimental to children’s fledgling religious sensibilities. An example of this can be seen in an article that appeared in the January 10, 2000 issue of Christianity Today. This article tells of nine-year-old Jean-Paul Landreneau, whose third-grade class was reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. His mother, Johanna, was shocked at the idea that her son was being exposed to such material, stating, "I felt [St. Luke’s Episcopal Day School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana] shared the same values I did." She believed that Harry Potter was in fact going against the values she was trying to instill in her son at home. Jean-Luc says that, "In the bible is says not to do witchcraft." He thus started to go to the library when Harry was being read aloud."
The other side of the debate about Harry Potter’s use of fantasy and magic is equally represented, however. Even in the same issue of Christianity Today as the article about the Landreneaus, there is another commentary entitled "Why We Like Harry Potter." In opposition to the Landreneaus, this article purports that J.K. Rowling "has created a world with real good and evil, and Harry is definitely on the side of light fighting the "dark powers." Indeed, it shows that Harry Potter is in several ways pro-Christian. A similar editorial from The Christian Century would agree with this viewpoint as well. It speaks of how writer G.K. Chesterton claimed, "his own journey to Christian faith began with his childhood absorption in fairy tales." He learned from them "that the world is precious but puzzling, coherent but mysterious, full of unseen connections and decisive truths." From this standpoint then, one could defend the point of view that Harry Potter actually helps children develop their own understanding of the Christian faith. It is not pagan or satanic, but the book’s overall message is actually supportive of Christianity. It is such because it opens children’s minds to the possibility of mystery and its role in faith.
Harry Potter is not the first series of books to be questioned for its use of fantastic elements. But what is it about Harry Potter specifically that makes its worldview appear so threatening to some, so meaningful to others? One answer to this question may lie in the deeper theological issues that the Harry Potter series addresses. Discussed here will be one such issue—what is "good" versus "evil" in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It is hoped through this presentation’s section on "good" and the other section on "evil," the reader might come to rest on the conclusion that the novel is not detrimental to children, even those of the Christian faith. Some of the book’s views about these two forces actually reflect what some Christians believe. Hence, the themes in Harry Potter can actually challenge children positively to think about what they believe about good and evil.
To move through the pages in order, click:
Or go directly to the page you want:
Synopsis of the Harry Potter Stories
Good in Harry Potter as Defined by Biblical Texts
Evil in Harry Potter (in the Non-Magical World)
Evil in Harry Potter (in the Magical World)