Monday, July 29, 2013

Harry Potter conclusion

I wanted to conclude Harry Potter month by making some observations about the Harry Potter series and its Christian content.

One of the amazing and unique aspects of the Harry Potter series is how the novels change with Harry and his friends. The series begins with a ten-year-old Harry who is innocent and in many ways ignorant (in the best sense of the word) and ends with a mature seventeen-year-old Harry who is knowledgeable of the ways of the world without being influenced by what he knows, as Christians are called to be ("wily as a serpent, innocent as a dove"), and knowledgeable about greater truths such as love and sacrifice. Rowling's writing style changes and develops with Harry, as does the structure of the books. As Harry grows, the novels become longer and more mature in content. They begin as relatively simple school stories with a few interesting twists (magic, Voldemort's lurking presence) and end as complex, mature stories of the true nature of reality and of the struggle of good versus evil, with a sensible progression from one extreme to the other.

Rowling's writing style changes as Harry does. She improves tremendously as a writer through the series, becoming much less dependent on simply telling the reader what each character appears to be feeling (although this style worked extremely well for the more satirical nature of the earlier books). She tells the reader outright less and less what Harry and his friends are feeling, with the result that it is easier and easier to sympathize with their feelings, become engaged in them, and feel their emotions yourself. As Harry and his readers mature, Rowling also moves away from simply satirizing human nature to attempting to understand why characters behave the way they do. In earlier books, the Dursleys, the Malfoys, Snape, and others are portrayed simply as hilariously awful people whose antics are entertaining; by later books, the motives of these characters have been discovered and explored. While this of course does not excuse their abhorrent behavior, it does create a certain amount of compassion for what they have gone through and why they have become the people they have become.

Something that Rowling does strongly throughout the series has to do with the morals of her stories. These morals are rarely verbalized (and normally by Dumbledore); rather, the reader is left to infer for him- or herself that it is wrong to bully, oppress, torture, hate, and so on. Prejudice and oppression are strongly condemned through despised characters such as Dolores Umbridge, as well as through acquaintance with those who are oppressed even before Voldemort returns, such as Remus Lupin, Rubeus Hagrid, Dobby, Kreacher, and perhaps even Hermione. Hagrid especially may not have had much formal schooling, but he has a huge heart that is in the right place. He is always determined to see the best in everyone and every creature (no matter how spiny, scaly, toothy, hairy, or blood-thirsty), so trusting and generous with his time, and so determined to do what he wants no matter what others think in a way that is so reminiscent of God and His best warriors here on earth. Judgments based on worldly values such as appearance or societal status are invariably wrong. This rule (show rather than tell) applies to Harry's behavior as well; he often makes bad choices that are not outright condemned, but often these behaviors are subtly punished. They are not always punished, however, and sometimes his morally wrong choices are portrayed as 'right given the situation'--a weakness of the series.

Another strength of the series, which I have touched on before, is how well Rowling builds the wizarding world around us through the years. She includes incredible amounts of detail throughout the books about both the world itself and its characters, details that weren't strictly necessary but make the world much richer and easier to imagine. She also includes an incredible amount of detail that is mentioned briefly but ends up being important later (this especially comes together in Deathly Hallows), and the amount of plotting that must have gone on before writing began is impressive.

Magic per se may not be Christian, but the Harry Potter series is. It's full of Christian symbols and symbolism, such as phoenixes and unicorns and symbolic (or actual) deaths and resurrections. Harry always receives help in his final battles--he is never able to achieve anything alone. Only with help (always from either Dumbledore or a proxy of Dumbledore) is Harry able to survive and succeed, and he is only ever able to reach the end of the book well-prepared through the help of friends. It's a wonderful representation of the Church and Christian life--no one can prevail against sin without help from both God and others.

Finally, I would like to point out how impressive a feat the Harry Potter series is. I love almost every character, and I cry every time I read Deathly Hallows--something I can say of no other book or movie. I cannot recommend this series enough, perhaps especially to Christians.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Book: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling


My Thoughts: Wow. Just wow.

Deathly Hallows is such a well-written, beautiful story. It is the story of Harry and his friends changing from school-aged young adults to true adults as they are forced to deal with the horror and cruelty of Voldemort's rule while racing to destroy him. It is the story of a people faced with unimaginable darkness that chooses to fight back no matter the cost. It is a story of hope and hopelessness, trust and friendship and love, good and evil. It is a masterpiece.

You may think I'm being dramatic. Well, maybe I am. But this is by far the best-written Harry Potter book, the most complex and beautiful. It's the only book I've ever read where I cried, not only the first time I read it, but every single time I have read it. In fact, every time I cry more rather than less. It is one of those amazing books that improves and expands with rereads rather than becoming flattened and boring.

Deathly Hallows is a complex novel. As I mentioned, it is much more adult in theme than any previous Harry Potter novel. The themes are similar to those dealt with throughout the series-- friendship, love, trust, good and evil, hope, family--but they are dealt with in much more depth and maturity than ever before. Harry discovers more about his family, Voldemort, and Dumbledore (an aspect of the novel that I especially enjoyed).

Deathly Hallows is also the most overtly Christian novel of the series. Most discussions of this aspect of the novel focus on the end, where Harry willingly dies to save everyone at Hogwarts and his sacrifice prevents Voldemort from being able to enchant them in any way. Yes, it is very Christian, but what really struck me as Christian were two other aspects of Deathly Hallows. The first was the emphasis on doing what was right, no matter what, without losing hope and without fearing death. The second was Harry's struggle to come to terms with Dumbledore's mission for him (destroying Voldemort). Harry doubts Dumbledore and what he has asked him to do, despite everything that Dumbledore has done for him and shared with him in the past. Harry struggles especially after the true reality of the situation sinks in: the seeming impossibility of his task, difficulties getting along with his friends, loneliness, the reality of Voldemort's regime, worry about friends and family left behind, and physical discomforts. The first time I realized how much like it was like my relationship was God--its difficulties, my struggles, God's trust--was when Harry makes the irrevocable decision to trust Dumbledore's judgement despite his doubts and despite the many logical reasons to go against Dumbledore's wishes. It's a truly beautiful scene when he makes the final decision to trust, especially because it comes after an emotional episode where the ultimate trust and loyalty were shown by multiple people. It truly seemed as if their courage inspired Harry to make the final step of faith.

This is a book with a very stark portrayal of the results of evil, especially the emotional results. Again, Rowling shows her mastery of writing emotions that can be truly felt by the reader. There is very little graphic violence, although much is alluded to; this is the first Harry Potter novel to contain swearing, but still few, far between, and choice. However, Deathly Hallows is stark and realistic without being hopeless; in fact, I'm not sure I've ever read a more hopeful novel. Rowling acknowledges that defying evil can be difficult and painful, but shows that it is absolutely the right choice and that one should never lose hope. She does an excellent job at showing that death is not what should be feared; rather, evil and its results should be.

The final scenes of the novel are beautiful, beautiful and tragic. Almost everyone we know fights in the final battle against Voldemort and his forces, and it is one of the best battle scenes I've ever read. The sense of hopelessness, the courage of everyone who fights, everyone's determination to do what is right no matter the consequences, the losses suffered, the tragedy, the evil against which they fight--all are palpable and combine to create a truly wonderful battle scene. I cry every time.

As the conclusion of the series, many questions from earlier books are answered. Many characters who were previously seen as evil or at least unpleasant receive grace and redemption. A few of these characters have their motives and actions explained without making them more acceptable. Rowling strives for understanding of the humanity of many characters. Harry rises to the occasion every time and reaches out to offer kindness and another chance. He has truly grown into a loving human being. Although he makes mistakes, he continues to learn from his mistakes. Ron and Hermione grow much more noticeably as well, learning to trust and offer kindness and forgiveness as well.

A wonderful conclusion to the Harry Potter series that is masterfully written and plotted. It was a joy to watch Harry and his friends complete their metamorphosis into strong, caring people and their quest to destroy Voldemort. A strong call to stand against the darkness, no matter the cost, because there is always hope.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Book: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

Description: The war against Voldemort is not going well; even Muggle governments are noticing. Ron scans the obituary pages of the Daily Prophet, looking for familiar names. Dumbledore is absent from Hogwarts for long stretches of time, and the Order of the Phoenix has already suffered losses.

And yet...

As in all wars, life goes on. Sixth-year students learn to Apparate--and lose a few eyebrows in the process. The Weasley twins expand their business. Teenagers flirt and fight and fall in love. Classes are never straightforward, though Harry receives some extraordinary help from the mysterious Half-Blood Prince.

So it's the home front that takes center stage in the multilayered sixth installment of the story of Harry Potter. Here at Hogwarts, Harry will search for the full and complex story of the boy who became Lord Voldemort--and thereby find what may be his only vulnerability. (book flap)

My Thoughts: An incredible improvement over Order of the Phoenix. Harry has learned from the mistakes he made then and developed into a more mature person; although he continues to become angry and make mistakes, he also makes much more of an effort to control his emotions and to learn from what has happened to him in the past. One of the first things he says in the book, for instance, is about how he has dealt with the events at the end of Order of the Phoenix: rather than moping and fuming, as he did after the events of the fourth book, he says that he has realized that he cannot allow himself to drown in his sorrow, but must get on with his life. (Obviously this is a rough paraphrase) This is not merely something Harry says, but also something Harry acts upon on his own life, and the fact that he can talk about and have such mature attitudes shows how he has grown.

Half-Blood Prince is a fascinating book. Dumbledore plays a much larger role (and he's back to his normal self!), and he and Harry spend a lot of time exploring Voldemort's past. These journeys into the past are some of the best scenes of the book, and some of the few times where Rowling exercises her sharp wit against any particular person; as the series has become more serious and nuanced, so have her portrayals of individual characters. Perhaps the only exception to this trend is Voldemort (although he was never an object of ridicule); Voldemort's past shows him to have been consistently evil. I suppose it's in keeping with his role in the story of personifying evil. Is there ever anyone who has absolutely no glimmer of goodness inside them?

Both the beginning and end of Half-Blood Prince are great. It begins with the Muggle (non-magical) prime minister meeting with the Minister of Magic, and was a wonderful return to Rowling's satirical style. And not to give anything away about the ending, but it was fantastic. The creepiness is just palpable, the final conclusion tragic, and all is masterfully written. I cry literally every time I read it.

There's also a few really interesting side-stories. The first is about trust: Harry discovers a book that has been written in by a previous owner and begins to trust what is written in the book. As in Chamber of Secrets, the idea of trust in a book is brought up. How should we decide what books we trust? When should we stop trusting a book? The second is about Malfoy: Harry becomes obsessed with discovering what Malfoy may or may not be up to. Everyone around him tells him that it's fine, but Harry refuses to believe them. Yet his obsession accomplishes nothing, and Dumbledore had the situation under control. There were better ways for Harry to have been spending his time, but he refuses to trust Dumbledore (who tells him, several times, that it's nothing that Harry needs to worry about). How often do people do that to each other? It's also an interesting twist on earlier plots: in the first four books of the series, Harry's desire to know what was going on always led him to greater knowledge and helped save the day. However, in each of these books Harry was encouraged and supported by Dumbledore, although he often didn't know it until the end of the year.

The beginning of Rowling's wonderfully written and more mature books in the Harry Potter series. One of my favorites.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Book: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling

Description: There is a door at the end of a silent corridor. And it's haunting Harry Potter's dreams. Why else would he be waking in the middle of the night, screaming in terror?

Harry has a lot on his mind for this, his fifth year at Hogwarts: a Defense against the Dark Arts teacher with a personality like poisoned honey; a big surprise on the Gryffindor Quidditch team; and the looming terror of the Ordinary Wizarding Level exams. But all these things pale next to the growing threat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named--a threat that neither the magical government nor the authorities at Hogwarts can stop.

As the grasp of darkness tightens, Harry must discover the true depth and strength of his friends, the importance of boundless loyalty, and the shocking price of unbearable sacrifice.

His fate depends on them all. (book flap)

My Thoughts: Order of the Phoenix is a long litany of Harry's poor choices. He is angry, impatient, and entitled, which is mostly a result of his horrific experiences at the end of the fourth book and his knowledge that Voldemort has returned (although the fact that he is now fifteen probably doesn't help, either). While I would have been disappointed in Rowling if Harry hadn't reacted at all to what happened in Goblet of Fire, the reaction she chose makes Harry into a character that it is almost impossible to like (to be fair, however, this was one of my favorite books when I was a teenager. I think then I had a lot more anger than I realized, and I enjoyed reading about Harry's anger and how he actually expressed it (even if it wasn't in good ways). Perhaps I just find Harry unbearable now because I'm sick of the endless emotions in myself and find antagonism of authorities much less amusing).

I don't think Harry ever learns to control his anger in this book; he just continues to allow it to rule his emotions and his decisions, despite a series of wrong choices that he makes because of his anger. Harry absolutely has good reasons to be angry: Voldemort has returned to power and Harry saw it happen, the wizarding world has decided that it doesn't believe him and that he is unbalanced and possibly insane, and he is surrounded by cruel and unfair teachers who continue to gain power through the book despite their cruelty and/or complete lack of teaching ability. Although Harry is often punished by teachers for those decisions based on anger, it is always by the extraordinarily unlikable teachers mentioned above, and they always assign punishments that are completely out of proportion with Harry's actions. Harry's bad decisions often don't seem that bad because they're so funny and we as readers so hate those he is acting against. By the end of the book he has learned the consequence of his anger to a certain extent, as Harry's inability to control his emotions and thoughts leads to some truly awful consequences, but he has not learned control.

Order of the Phoenix does showcase Rowling's ability to write emotions well, in a way that comes across to the reader. Harry's anger is palpable, especially at the beginning of the book and a few choice events at Hogwarts where Harry becomes especially angry and various other characters become especially antagonistic. Harry's grief at various events is also palpable (I cried).

Order of the Phoenix is the longest Harry Potter book, and it would have improved significantly with more editing. Although there are some truly fantastic scenes (*spoiler alert* I am especially fond of the scene where Fudge tries to arrest Dumbledore and the scene where Dumbledore and Voldemort duel *end spoilers*) as well as some interesting ones (most of Harry's time at the Dursley's, the visit to St. Mungo's Hospital), there are also plenty of boring and pointless ones. It is the only Harry Potter book that was not that enjoyable to reread.

Finally, Dumbledore was written completely out of character for the entire book. I understand that Rowling is trying to make Dumbledore seem more human, but in Order of the Phoenix all his "human" behavior is very unintelligent, very short-sighted, and very unlike Dumbledore.

You may have noticed that this is the first Harry Potter book that I've classified as a young adult book rather than a children's book. Of course the line between the two can get fuzzy, and the entire series is always to be found in the children's section of a bookstore or library (something I think is a mistake--books six and seven especially are way too mature for a child of, say, 10 to find interesting or to understand). However, I think Order of the Phoenix is the first to touch on themes that tend to be more young adult (especially romance, but also inept governments and angry/emotional teenagers). Goblet of Fire is a close runner-up, though; the graveyard scene at the end, especially, is pretty mature (I spent about a week thinking Voldemort was lurking outside my house in the dark after I read it the first time), and it's the first book that touches on romance.

Definitely a book that tends to be either hated or loved. It has some great scenes, and although I'm not a huge fan, it's a vital chapter in Harry's development into an adult and in his story.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Book: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling

Description: Harry Potter is midway through both his training as a wizard and his coming-of-age. Harry wants to get away from the pernicious Dursleys and go to the Quidditch World Cup with Hermione, Ron, and the Weasleys. He wants to dream about Cho Chang, his crush (and maybe do more than dream). He wants to find out about the mysterious event that's supposed to take place at Hogwarts this year, an event involving two other rival schools of magic, and a competition that hasn't happened for hundreds of years. He wants to be a normal, fourteen-year-old wizard. But, unfortunately for Harry Potter, he's not normal--even by Wizarding standards.

And in his case, different can be deadly. (book flap)

My Thoughts: Goblet of Fire is another solid Harry Potter book! I'll admit that it's never been one of my favorites, but I thoroughly enjoyed it on this last reread. Harry and his friends develop during the book, the adventures they have are gripping and well-written, and the mystery of the book (what is behind all the strange, ominous happenings both at Hogwarts and in the outside world) is nicely tangled and confusing until the final reveals.

Goblet of Fire continues the trend of Prisoner of Azkaban of bringing Harry and Hogwarts more into contact with the outside wizarding world. Harry goes to the Quidditch World Cup, where he sees wizards from all over the world, and because of the Triwizard Tournament (that would be "the mysterious event" from the book flap) there are many Ministry and foreign wizards at Hogwarts. Harry also begins to find out more about the past of the wizarding world in general and what it was like when Voldemort was still in power.

The conclusion of the Triwizard Tournament was what truly gripped me during this read. It was so suspenseful and well-written--the evil of the whole situation was just dripping off the page--, and fast-paced in a way that felt truly realistic. Harry's reaction after everything had been resolved felt so perfect to me--he seemed shocked, exhausted, horrified, and so much else all at the same time.

The conclusion to the whole book also highlighted a lot of the Christian messages for me. It was very poignant (I almost cried) and very much about doing the right thing despite the costs (which were much worse this book). Dumbledore is fighting for the truth whatever the cost, and trying to encourage his students to do the same. Again, Rowling is not sugar-coating the costs of doing the right thing in the face of unspeakable evil.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Book: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

Description: For twelve long years, the dread fortress of Azkaban held an infamous prisoner named Sirius Black. Convicted of killing thirteen people with a single curse, he was said to be the heir apparent to the Dark Lord, Voldemort.

Now he has escaped, leaving only two clues as to where he might be headed: Harry Potter's defeat of You-Know-Who was Black's downfall as well. And the Azkaban guards heard Black muttering in his sleep, "He's at Hogwarts ... he's at Hogwarts."

Harry Potter isn't safe, not even within the walls of his magical school, surrounded by his friends. Because on top of it all, there may well be a traitor in their midst. (from the book flap)

My thoughts: I absolutely loved this book!! Prisoner of Azkaban has always been my favorite Harry Potter book, and it was great to reread it.

Harry and his friends are older now, and they begin to deal with more difficult situations. Friendship, loyalty, betrayal, and love are all important themes of the book, and all are dealt with in a more adult way than before. In Prisoner of Azkaban Harry and his friends have their first sustained contact with the adult world of wizardry, especially the Ministry of Magic. This is also the first book in the series where adult wizards and their problems are a huge aspect of the plot. Finally, this is the first book to not have a completely perfect ending. Harry, his friends, and his readers are all growing up and discovering that the world can be a complicated place.

Prisoner of Azkaban also introduces some of my favorite characters, Professor Lupin and Sirius Black himself (if you haven't read it yet, you'll see why. I promise). Professor Snape also has a great role; almost every time he speaks, I laughed.

Finally, this is the first book where Rowling's impressive world-building really comes up. One of the reasons many people say that the Harry Potter novels are so popular is because Rowling did an exquisite job at building the wizarding world around the reader: she references many normal aspects of wizarding life in passing, such as the crazy magical candy like Ice Mice (which jumps in your stomach--eek!), and in ways that make it seem like just another part of life. The detail she provides, without  overwhelming the reader at any one time with massive amounts of description, makes it almost laughably easy to imagine the wizarding world. Anyway, the reason that I mentioned this here is because this is the first book where passing remarks made in earlier books have been relevant; Hagrid mentioned Sirius Black in the very first chapter of Philosopher's Stone. It is not the last time that important characters are mentioned books before they ever become important.

As to the Christian aspect/suitability of these books: the flawed nature of the outside world especially, but also of some people at Hogwarts, is highlighted in these books. Harry and his friends fight to do what is right, even at great cost to themselves. Rowling shows the difficulty of these choices and the costs that they have to pay for these choices while still leaving no doubt in the reader's mind that their choices were noble and good. The dementors (dark figures who drain the happiness out of anyone who gets too close to them) are similar to the nature of the world in many ways, which attempts to drain us of our joy and swallow us in fear.

By far my favorite Harry Potter book, and the first to truly grapple with problems of the world and doing right.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Book: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling

Description: The Dursleys were so mean and hideous that summer that all Harry Potter wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he's packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature named Dobby who says that if Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike.

And strike it does. For in Harry's second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageously stuck-up new professor, Gilderoy Lockhart, a spirit named Moaning Myrtle who haunts the girls' bathroom, and the unwanted attentions of Ron Weasley's younger sister, Ginny.

But each of these seem minor annoyances when the real trouble begins, and someone--or something--starts turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects... Harry Potter himself? (book flap)

My Thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed The Chamber of Secrets. As with the first book, it is still a children's book through and through, and contains nothing too heart-rending or emotionally challenging. Again, the mystery of the year (this time who is opening the Chamber of Secrets and how) was engaging and well-plotted.

A huge part of my enjoyment of Chamber of Secrets was the characters. Dobby and Professor Lockhart especially were loads of fun to read, and I laughed out loud every time either of them showed up.

I was struck after reading the final confrontation how symbolic of spiritual warfare it was in many ways. *spoiler alert* Fawkes, Dumbledore's representative while he is absent (the Holy Spirit?), completely saves Harry from the clutches and powers of evil (Tom Riddle/Voldemort and the basilisk), but only after Harry has shown his loyalty to Dumbledore; although Harry deals the death blow to both, he could not have done it without the encouragement and actions of Fawkes. *end spoilers* Also, the worldly perceptions of Harry, Ron, and Hermione was shown to be flawed, as they were unable to see who the true perpetrator was until he revealed himself.

A solid second book of the Harry Potter series. I saw Christian influences more clearly in this book than the first; it is also better written than the first.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Book: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling*

Description: Harry Potter has never played a sport while flying on a broomstick. He's never worn a cloak of invisibility, befriended a giant, or helped hatch a dragon. All Harry knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley. Harry's room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn't had a birthday party in eleven years.

But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to a wonderful place he never dreamed existed. There he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic around every corner, but a great destiny that's been waiting for him... if Harry can survive the encounter. (from the back of the book)

My Thoughts: Philosopher's Stone was a fun read. Rowling uses satire a great deal in all of the Harry Potter books, including this one. Her descriptions of the Dursley family are hilarious and almost seem like a family that you or I could meet walking down the street. She pokes a great deal of fun at human nature in wizards and non-wizards (Muggles) alike. The wizarding world if full of quirky characters, and I love the idea of a world where being quirky is almost an advantage.

I will admit that this has never been one of my favorite Harry Potter books. Rereading it now, after a good long time away, I think that it has a lot to do with the fact that this is Rowling's first book. Her style develops for the better over the series, but in this first book it is more telling and less showing than I tend to prefer.

Philosopher's Stone is a children's book; it was odd to come back to a children's book after reading the whole series, which matures in content and style as Harry does. Harry and the other children definitely do seem like children of 11 and 12, which are their ages in this book.

*A note to the curious: Although I will be using pictures of the American covers because I think Mary Grandpré's cover designs are absolutely beautiful, I have kept Rowling's original title despite it being changed by her American publishers because they thought no child would read a book with the word 'philosopher' in the title)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Why I read Harry Potter

Many Christians argue that Christians should not read the Harry Potter books because of the magical content (obviously I'm not one of them, but two good arguments against reading it can be found here and here). God clearly condemns those who use magic: 
When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. (Deuteronomy 18:9-11)

And I am not advocating the use of magic. On the contrary, I condemn it along with all other immoral behaviors. I am, however, advocating reading books that contain magic IF the magic and the story are uplifting and godly. It is closed-minded to refuse to read books only because they contain magic. Anyone who did that would miss such wonderful books as Grimm's fairy tales, various incarnations of the King Arthur legend, the Narnia books, Lord of the Rings... The list goes on. Should Christians stop reading these as well? That seems ridiculous; the Narnia books, along with the Harry Potter books, are some of the most Christian books I've ever read.

The Harry Potter books are, ultimately, tales of good versus evil, of the power of love and friendship and loyalty even against the most impossible odds. Yes, Harry and his friends make mistakes and act immorally, but ultimately they always make the right choices. This is a series and a world that encourages readers to stand up for what is right and to stand against injustice--whether that be bullying of children in school or murderous dictators taking over the country--in any and every way they can, even if it leads to death. This is a series that never questions what is good and what is evil, a true rarity in modern literature. I find it refreshing. While Rowling--rightly--does not gloss over the costs that these decisions can have, her characters make those decisions anyway. They may not always make the right decisions, and Rowling does not hesitate to show the human brokenness of each and every character, but almost every character ultimately tries to do what is right simply because it is right. This is unbelievably refreshing in a literary world full of characters who do only what is easy, convenient, or expected of them.

These books were not meant to lead children into witchcraft or occult practices; Rowling herself said in 1999, "I absolutely did not start writing these books to encourage any child into witchcraft. I'm laughing slightly because to me, the idea is absurd." If anything, the magic of the Harry Potter world helps the characters and the readers come to know God and His nature better.

I will expand on these themes for the rest of the month; I hope this has helped clarify things for you readers. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Please know also that I whole-heartedly respect the choice of anyone who chooses to not read the Harry Potter books if she/he is concerned about how the use of magic will affect her/him. I freely admit that there are plenty of books that I don't read because of my Christianity and relationship with God! All Christians should prayerfully consider their reading choices, and ultimately God is the judge of those choices.

Note: Much of my thinking about this topic was influenced by John Granger's book Looking for God in Harry Potter. I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone who is curious about the Christian symbolism and themes in the Harry Potter books. While researching the topic, I saw that Granger has also released a second book, How Harry Cast His Spell: The Meaning Behind the Mania for J. K. Rowling's Bestselling Books, which I have not read but would imagine was just as good as the first book with the added bonus of actually including all seven books in the analysis (Looking for God... only goes up to the fifth book).