What I Learned After Reading the Harry Potter Books

A Cultural Reality
For slightly over three months I have been immersed in the world of Harry Potter and the happenings at Hogwarts. And you don’t have to tell me; I already know that I am years behind the culture on this one. I am well aware that there are some who question the value in reading the Harry Potter series, especially as a Christian. I am also aware that many of those same people who have questioned my faithfulness to God for reading such books have never read them. After having made my way through the seven primary books, I can say that I’m glad I did and here are some thoughts why.

Let me begin first by saying I chose to read these books. I shouldn’t have to defend this decision, and yet over the last several months, I have been confronted with this a number of times. We need to know that there is great value in reading fiction and all readers need to understand that. Furthermore, there is value in reading fiction that the culture is devouring (within reasonable biblical convictions of course) because it provides an opportunity to understand the culture, including what engages them and how they think. There is also great value in reading books that you don’t agree with because it challenges you to think about your own convictions. With that said, I was curious what was so provoking about this series to both Christians and non-Christians. Furthermore, the series is so popular now that their influence may remain by the time my children are of age to get into them and so if they are faced with reading them, I wanted to be a discerning parent. As with most books, the result was illuminating and I walked away with some areas I was thankful for and some areas that I could have done without.

A Christian Reading

There are two areas that make this series quite entertaining: The first is her engagement of literacy and the second is her enlightenment of lifestyle. One thing is certain: Author J.K. Rowling is a magnificent storyteller. To read the stories was to become involved with the characters and their lives. Furthermore, the stories carried a level of complexity that, while still easy to logically follow, made them also very captivating and compelling. Her use of language and imagery makes the story come to life at a very deep level. Second to her ability to use literary devices is the way in which she opens up some worldviews. She captures that conflict of good and evil and does so in which a way that humanizes all involved. While recognizing that each is responsible for his or her own choices, one can’t help but feel remorse and sadness for those who walked the path of evil. It’s a similar mindset that should lend itself to our biblical mindset and the influence of sin.
That doesn’t mean the Harry Potter books are without a need for discernment. There are three aspects of Rowling’s writings that I found lacking:
  1. Deterioration of Literature: I first talked about her writing as literature and my appreciation for it. This is true. However, there is a clear difference in quality between the first book, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, and the last book, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. Generally speaking, the quality of writing seems to deteriorate the further you progress throughout the series. The exception to that is book four (Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire) which seems to be the worst of them all. It’s almost as though the later books were under approaching deadlines and so she had to rush through them with less attention to detail and more need for filler material.
  2. Deterioration of Language: This has a direct impact upon the deterioration of literature. Rowling digresses and suddenly as her literary style changes, she begins to insert more foul language (or perhaps her literary style changes because she begins to insert more foul language). In the midst of her artistry in the usage of words, this detracted from the work.
  3. Deterioration of Lifestyle: Finally, the series is your typical good versus evil in which good triumphs. Certainly evil sometimes has some victories, but the outcome is good wins the war. However, the characters’ convictions for good have no source. It’s just assumed that they know what good is and act accordingly. It fails to capture the depth of the soul in this regard.

Unfortunately, these areas took away from the storyline. What makes it even more unfortunate is that it clearly didn’t have to be that way. It’s clear that language and literary aspects that took away from the series overall were not present in the first three books. Instead, if the level of quality had been maintained from start to finish, those first two points would have never been included.

A Christian Response

Upon reading that, the primary question(s) that most Christians are now asking is, “Should Christians read these books?” and “Should my children read these books?” Perhaps it would be better to ask not whether they should, but instead, could they read these books. Like many things in the Christian conscience, the answer is a matter of personal conviction and I can’t tell you whether or not it’s appropriate for each individual person.
However, after reading them for myself there are two things I can say is the following. First, when one is deeply convicted by the truth of Scripture, the reading of the Harry Potter books is telling. They present a picture of others’ views of the great struggle between good and bad, they present some clarity on Christian issues and can at times advocate a Christian worldview, and they provide observation and understanding of a society without Christ. Second, I can say that we cannot condemn a person based on his decision to read or not read the Harry Potter books.
With all of that said, I think it is important to note that if you are considering the accessibility of the Harry Potter series for your children, I would offer the following areas for you to review first:
  • Age: While geared towards young adult, the books should not be for every child at any age. They need to develop some maturity and understanding first.
  • Attitude: Second is what your child’s overall attitude is. Do they lean towards the secular mindset? Perhaps it is necessary to wait until he or she has a greater conviction about the things of God.
  • Acceptance: Simply put, is your child more likely to accept all things he or she is presented with? There needs to be a level of discernment before engaging with these books.
  • Accountability: Finally, does your child have some sort of accountability with you or someone else that may help keep them guided when reading this particular series?

The reality is that any of these four factors could be meant for any of us as much as our children. Furthermore, they could be legitimate guidelines for any book our children want to read, not necessarily just this series. Perhaps a good suggestion is to read the books with your children. Some of the things mentioned above, such as needing to be firm in biblical concepts and be discerning are learned. So why not use this as an opportunity to teach your children these aspects yourself?

To be quite truthful, the books were not what I expected at all from a Christian standpoint. I remember the talk, the chastisement, and even excommunication from Christians that came about when the series gained popularity. They denounced their evil and the evil of anyone who dared read them and yet, I later learned that most of those same people who condemned the books knew very little about the books themselves. Their main point was it was contrary to being a Christian because they contained ‘dark magic.’ However, author James Hamilton made a good, specific, and noted, point in July when he said this on his own blog:

J. K. Rowling’s world is full of magic, just like the one we inhabit. (By the way, the magic in the Potter stories is just like the magic in Narnia and Middle Earth. This is not the kind of magic the Bible condemns, which seeks to manipulate demonic powers. Rather, people who do magic in these stories have gifts, abilities, and they choose to use their gifts for good or bad causes).
If you get a moment, I would urge you to read the entire article at the link below, because he says much about how the Harry Potter series actually communicates truth through her books.

The Harry Potter books are like any book, whether fiction or nonfiction. They must be read in the same way that Christians should read all books: through the lens of Scripture with discernment and conviction for the Lord’s truth. Whether you chose to read them yourself is a matter of your own conviction and not for me to say. However, I would urge you not to rule them out based on what you have ‘heard’ and I would urge you not to condemn others’ choice about the books. Finally, if you choose to read them, do so in such a way that causes you think more about God’s activities and attributes in light of our fallen nature.

(1) To read the article, “J.K. Rowling Tells the Truth . . . In Her Fiction,” by James Hamilton click here.