Thursday, May 18, 2006

Harry Potter

This is one of those comments to someone else's blog that got out of hand, and so I decided to post it here too. For context, please see the original post at The IBEX Scribe's blog. I also want to stress that I completely respect the opinions of others who have looked at the same things and come to different conclusions. My sister talked me into reading the first Harry Potter book, and I was instantly hooked. What was it that hooked me? Was it some giddy excitement and curiosity about witchcraft? No. [In fact, the Harry Potter books don't ever come close to discussion or description (much less glorification) of real witchcraft. There are no seances, no offering of one's self to spirits, no spirit guides or familiars, no psychotropic drugs or gnostic "secret knowledge" that one attains to. It's just candyland fantasy magic: no different from A Midsummer Night's Dream, Mary Poppins, and Peter Pan. I think it's the word "witch" that gets it into so much trouble, but "wizardess" doesn't roll off the tongue so well.]0 The Harry Potter books are not about witchcraft or magic at all. Those are merely the backdrop. They allow the author to engage in creativity constructing the universe of the books, but ultimately that universe is made of the same moral fiber as our own. Magic is not the point, it is means to an end. The point of the books is that in this fantastical world, these kids are thrown into surprisingly recognizable moral dilemmas and forced to make decisions. The kind of decisions that, on a smaller scale, we are all forced to make each day. Love vs. power; who are my friends and how do I treat them? How do I treat people who don't matter to my social group? What do I want to do with my life? What is worth living for? What is worth dying for? The Harry Potter books, amid all the broomsticks, potions, wands, and snogging, are about righteousness, and it is righteousness that is upheld through the force of Professor Dumbledore's character, and the lessons that Harry is in the process of learning. That process, just like in real life, is a messy one. Neat, tidy moral lessons are not for children: they are for cowards. Why do you think the book of Judges exists? No, they are not for children who cannot distinguish fantasy from reality. This distinction is not strictly one of age, but of temperament and maturity. Yes, that's right: children have unique personalities.1 One thing that makes the books appealing is that they treat children as people, not things. When I was little, I always considered myself a rational being. I did not like being talked down to. I did not like it when books portrayed children in one dimension. I was not a paper doll: I was a person, and I was alive, and it was refreshing to find a world in which my little life, or one like it, was taken seriously. Harry Potter provides an opportunity for children to realize that their decisions, even though they are "just a kid" are no less important than the ones made by everyone else. It matters to God: it should matter.
0 This paragraph was not in the original comment 1 I added the words "and maturity" to this paragraph.


  1. It was a great comment, Tim, and well worthy of posting on your own blog. Thanks for the free publicity, by the way. :) I am tempted to republish my comment re your comment here, but I won't. You'll just have to visit my blog again. ;)

  2. I haven't actually read any of the Harry Potter books, but it's not because I object to them, it's because I haven't had time. I've got so many other books I want to read too! I do completely enjoy the movies (but I still haven't seen the fourth one, oh my!).

    Anyway, I do agree completely with you. One of the big differences between Harry Potter world and our world is that in Harry Potter world, people are born with magic abilities. It is something that is natural to them and it's, well, it's pretty much a genetic thing. That's the way things are in the world they live in. They're not trying to grasp some outside (Satanic) force and use it at all. They're doing what was built into them.

    My only objection to Harry Potter is that I've noticed that he tends to disobey/disrespect adults. It is not a very good example for young children. It can teach that it's okay to do bad things and break the rules, as long as the the end result is good. Within the Christian worldview, that's not really the way things work. The ends do not justify the means. This isn't real an issue for older readers, we can understand these things a bit better than a 10-year-old can.

    Generally speaking, Harry Potter does teach very good and very postive lessons.

  3. I agree that Harry & friends tend to be a bit cavalier with the rules, and tend to get away with it quite a bit. There is sort of a "father knows best" thing going on, because he always ends up opening a can of worms, but you're right, it's always okay, (wink wink) in then end.

    In general, though, and more so in the books as he gets older, I believe he is slowly learning the reasons behind the rules. To respect them, but also to understand that they are not there for their own sake. For children, there are just rules and rule-breaking is bad (and this is as it should be), but part of maturing is understanding why those rules are there in the first place, and making tough moral decisions based on those principles, not just the rules.

    There is only one perfect book.

  4. Yes, you're right, it usually is that way, but I'm thinking for example . . . what movie . . . (I think the movies are as relevant to this discussion as the books) . . . the one with the phoenix . . . and Harry his hiding something. I can't recall precisely what. But anyway, Dumbledore asks him to his office and basically asks him if there's something that he wants to tell him or something like that. Harry Potter is keeping a secret that he should tell Dumbledore but he doesn't. In lots of these sorts of things, there are no consequences. They get a pat on the head and say "well, it all turned out okay."

    Repeatedly, the kids are portrayed as smarter than the adults, that they know better than the adults what to do. I think this sort of thing can undermine parents' authority.

    I still want to read the books though! I already undermine my parents' authority. Mwahahhaha!

  5. That scene is an excellent example of what I'm talking about. Dumbledore wants to help Harry, and he knows he's hiding something, but in stead of confronting him on it, he gives Harry the space he needs to decide that Dumbledore is trustworthy enough to be told. It is an act of utmost respect on Dumbledore's part. He has every right to demand that Harry tell him, but he refrains because he values Harry as a person, and as a friend: he meekly condescends to him without violating the reality of their respective positions.

    Harry is not being portrayed as smarter than Dumbledore: this has nothing to do with intelligence. In fact, it would have been very wise and much grief could have been avoided had Harry shared his secret with Dumbledore (and later Harry feels the weight of this). Dumbledore is being portrayed as loving, respectful to Harry: the perfect person to trust, but because Dumbledore is an authority figure for Harry, he cannot bring himself to trust him.

    The moral lesson here is not that kids know better than adults, but that too many times kids don't think an adult will understand, or will judge them, or will interfere, or get them in trouble, when in fact the adult is reaching out, prepared to love, support, and offer council. Dumbledore really does know best, but he is not going to force his will upon Harry.

    As an extension of this thought, how many times do we behave to God exactly how Harry behaves to Dumbledore. It must have hurt him, after all that he had invested into his relationship with Harry, to be spurned this way, but he accepts Harry where he is at, and keeps on loving him. Then when he finally does tell him, there is no thought of "you should have told me earlier: look at all the mess you caused by not doing that." Nothing at all. Just love.

  6. This really was a winner of a topic! I have 26 comments on the original post now. That's almost a record for me! It does show that people have opinions, however, and that we can discuss things reasonably. Your continuation of the conversation over here is really good stuff.

  7. Yeah. Totally. Exactly.