This Friday (November 19, 2010) Harry Potter again returns to the big screen with Part One of the film version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Over the years these books have attracted millions of readers, both young and old, and the films have drawn in myriads more, but even as they have been among the most popular books and movies of the last two decades, they have had their share of controversy. For the most part the criticism has come from Christians who dislike the fact that wizards and witches are the heroes of these tomes (never mind that the same can be said about the C.S. Lewis Narnia series). Some of this is addressed in several pieces at David Crumm's blog Read the Spirit.
I probably won't be there opening night -- hate the crowds -- I shall see it soon enough. But, in the interest of stimulating the conversation I am reposting a column I wrote for the Lompoc Record in 2005 (and subsequently reposted at other intervals) about the lessons the series offers us, about such things as morality, courage, and the like.
This column appeared as part of my Faith in the Public Square series that appeared at the Lompoc Record each Sunday for nearly four years.
Earlier Published column ---
Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record/Santa Maria Times
November 20, 2005
Harry Potter hits the big screen once again this weekend, and I'm looking forward to the big event. I may be a 47-year-old pastor with a Ph.D. in theology, but I have been intrigued with Harry's story since I first read “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone” to my then 8-year-old son.
Praised by teachers, community leaders, and even some religious leaders, the series has not been without its critics. Critics from the Christian community charge the books with glorifying the occult, witchcraft and paganism.
Although the heroes may be wizards and witches, witchcraft is not the point of the books, nor is it their main attraction. They are attractive because they are imaginatively written, and they strike young and old alike with a sense of empowerment and moral courage. Instead of leading children into Satanism, the books offer important lessons about courage, loyalty, determination, and even death.
Harry Potter follows in the footsteps of other beloved fantasy stories, including C.S. Lewis' beloved “Chronicles of Narnia” and the “Wizard of Oz.”In many ways, Harry Potter may find its strongest parallels in the “Star Wars” movies. As with “Star Wars,” the intent of Harry Potter is not religious, but spiritual lessons are inherent in both series.
“Star Wars” and Harry Potter raise the question of good and evil, posing for us both the attractions and the dangers of evil, while helping us see that life is full of complex choices that are not always black and white. Harry Potter, like Luke Skywalker, is a hero who battles evil and makes choices that are at times ambiguous and even unsavory. He disobeys his elders, challenges authority, fudges the truth at times, and yet he is the hope of his community, the chosen one.Though it appeared that Darth Vader was to be the chosen one, he was lulled into evil and was redeemed by his son who resists the temptation of evil. Harry Potter also must resist the lure of evil so that he can save his own community from evil's threat.
Harry Potter is a risk taker and a questioner. He is wise beyond his years and takes a life-path that would be difficult for ones much older than he. Still, he consistently makes the right choices, and, like Luke, he goes in the company of friends who remain loyal to him, and he to them.Then there is the wise and sometimes distant figure of Dumbledore, who like Obi Wan, watches over Harry. Dumbledore gives Harry room to grow, to choose, and even to fail, but the hope of the community lies in Harry's hands and so Dumbledore is there to guide him.
There is another theme that runs through the series.Harry is marked, even protected, by the sacrificial love of his mother who had died at the hands of his nemesis Lord Voldemort. A scar on his forehead forever stands as a reminder of his mother's love that turned away the evil designs of Voldemort and continues to protect him as he matures.
Though I cannot read my own theology into Ms. Rowling's words and images, her description of an act of love does remind me of something I read in my Scriptures about one whose death serves as a sign of divine love for humanity. Even as Harry acts in response to his mother's love, I, too, seek to act in response to this expression of love given from a Roman imperial cross.
Harry Potter is not for everyone. The books become darker and more intense as the series and Harry mature, with death, disappointment, and loneliness looming larger in the later volumes. Parents of younger children may want to read and discuss the books with their children, but if you choose to read (or watch the movie), take note of the message of courage, of loyalty, of persistence, and of love that mark these books as a worthy read for people of all ages.
Dr. Bob Cornwall is Pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc.
November 20, 2005