grew up in a house where my dad was adamantly against magic. While he did let me read The Lord of the Rings, I wasn’t allowed to read the Harry Potter series. My introduction to Hogwarts came in my first year of university when I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for my English class. I was enraptured, drawn in because of how clever the book was. As someone who enjoys textual analysis, I was delighted by how much there was to discover in the book, like the Mirror of Erised, which shows the viewer their heart’s desire, and the fact that “erised” is “desire” spelled backwards.
After that first reading of Philosopher’s Stone, I blew through books two through six and then joined the rest of the fandom in waiting for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to come out. I’ve been a fan ever since.
So how have I, a Christian, embraced Harry Potter?
I think it’s important to understand where the magic comes from. In other fantasy books or TV shows, there’s usually an indication of the original source of the magic. For example, the source of magic in Middle-earth is Eru Ilúvatar, the creator of all things (see the “Ainulindalë” in The Silmarillion). In the BBC’s re-imagining of Arthurian legend, Merlin, magic is woven into the fabric of the earth, and Merlin himself is a being of magic, created by Destiny to help and guide Arthur, the Once and Future King. In both cases magic is very much a tool that can be used for good or evil.
It is the same in Harry Potter. Rowling herself has said that she invented the magic in the Harry Potter universe by borrowing from folklore (“Harry Potter and Me,” BBC, 28 December 2001), but that there are many unknowns; while most magical folk have at least one magical parent, there are anomalies like Hermione Granger who are Muggle-born.
Michael Ostling likens the magic in Harry Potter to technology that can break down, citing the case of “Priori Incantatem” as an example. At the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Voldemort and Harry duel and their spells connect, causing the visages of Cedric Diggory and Harry’s parents to appear. The apparitions distract Voldemort, giving Harry enough time to escape. Dumbledore later explains this phenomenon as “Priori Incantatem,” in which two wands that share the same core, as Harry and Voldemort’s do, will not work against each other: “The miracle is explained away as, essentially, a software incompatibility, a known and predictable consequence of the known properties of magical technology. Harry is saved from a gruesome death… all because of a bug in the system,” (“Harry Potter and Disenchantment,” 15).
The magic in Harry Potter is simply a tool that most often acts as a plot device. Harry Potter itself is about so much more. The themes of love, friendship, self-sacrifice, and standing up against prejudice are much more central to these stories. Studies have found that children who read Harry Potter are more likely to recognize and respond negatively to examples of bigotry, according to the Pacific Standard. These books have also seen the development of The Harry Potter Alliance, which engages in social justice and activism worldwide. Just this month, The Washington Post reported that the HP Alliance won a campaign against Warner Bros. to make sure all chocolate sold at Warner Bros. outlets would be Fair Trade Certified and free of child labour.
Fans of Harry Potter are not turning to the occult, as many Christians argue, but are instead using it as a platform from which to affect real social change.
This is why I, as a Christian, read and love the Harry Potter books. I see too much good in them to do otherwise. ♦