Well, I have now finished trekking through the first four Harry Potter novels and have seen the new film (released last Friday) based on the fourth novel, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Few, if any, children's books have been more controversial than J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. What is a Christian (especially a Christian parent) to think? I am still forming my thoughts, and these reflections will be somewhat random and developing, but here goes.
Probably the top concern in most parents' minds and the number one thing targeted by Harry Potter critics is the pervasive witchcraft and magic (I am using these two terms interchangeably here) in Harry Potter. Harry, who attends school at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, is routinely found in classes such as Potions, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Herbology, Divination, and Transfiguration. Talking to ghosts, flying on brooms, casting spells, using charms, and pronouncing curses are also part of Harry Potter's magical world. Add to that numerous creatures from mythological lore - centaurs, unicorns, werewolves, goblins, leprechauns, giants, trolls, and elves, and the literally thousands of inventions straight out of Rowling's creative and imaginative genius (whether you agree with Rowling or not, whether you like Rowling or not, there is no doubt that she is an amazingly talented author!) and there is no doubt that the world of Harry Potter is a magical world.
And that raises questions . . . does the magical backdrop of the Potter novels make it off-limits for Christians? Does the mention of practices like divination (condemned in Scripture as "abominable" in Deuteronomy 18) expose young readers to the influence of the occult? What is the difference between the magic in Harry Potter and the magic in The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings or Cinderella?
Well, those are all good questions and I'm honestly not sure I have satisfactory answers. But here are some thoughts . . .
First, to answer the last question, there is substantially no difference between the magic of Harry Potter and the magic of Narnia or Middle-Earth. The same criteria should be used to judge all of them, and unfortunately, sometimes is not. Don't misunderstand, there are differences between Harry Potter and Narnia and Middle Earth - important differences that must be considered. But the issue of magic is not really one of them. Practices condemned by Deuteronomy 18 are found in the world of Lewis and Tolkien as well as thatof Rowling. Are they more predominant in Harry Potter? Maybe. But that is not really the issue. If magic in one book is wrong, it is wrong in the other books as well.
So that pushes us back to another question: should we evaluate magic in a fantasy story in the same way that we evaluate magic in the real world? That is, is the use of magic within a fantasy world necessarily evil? Is it wrong, for example, for Gandalf to use his "magic" (I don't remember if Tolkien called it magic or not) to stay off the evil Balrog in the Mines of Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring? Or is Aslan's "Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time" (actual quotation) by which he is resurrected after the Stone Table breaks in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe an evil magic? Most Christian readers would probably not think of Aslan's "magic" as evil, because they understand that within the world of Narnia (as created by C. S. Lewis) Aslan is a Christ-figure, whose magic is used for good and not for evil. The magic of Aslan in the land of Narnia is not equal to the magic of Deuteronomy 18 in the real world. Lewis has set the terms, and we respect those terms. Can the same "rule" be applied to Harry Potter? This is a question that should be seriously considered. The most helpful thing I have read is an interview between Anne Moore (with Breakpoint) and Connie Neal, author of What's a Christian to Do With Harry Potter. I won't repeat Neal's reasoning here, but simply let you read and evaluate for yourself.
I am obviously revealing my general bias towards fantasy literature here. So, here's the confession: I actually enjoyed reading the first four Harry Potter novels and plan to continue through to the end of the series. But, here's the caveat: that is not necessarily a recommendation that parents should let their children read the Harry Potter books (much less see the movies, more on that later). I do think there are several other factors (beyond the magic and witchcraft) to be considered. But, alas, I am out of time. So you will have to wait until later for more . . .