"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Sunday, July 29, 2007

On Harry Potter (and Choices) - II

This post contains no spoilers.

In the previous post I acknowledged that one could chose not to read the Harry Potter series based on the fact it is not gospel focused or the fact that it focused on witches and wizards. However, if you do the former to be consistent you would reject the majority of all forms of fiction. For the latter, consistency demands you reject all fiction that depicts magic in a positive light, including Tolkein. The arguments for why I think neither of these is required is more complex than I can explore fully in a single blog post, and I'm not sure I have the passion for a series.

But if you chose to read fiction, and you're willing to accept Tolkein, Lewis, etc. then I think you have to accept Rowling as well. Given my professed and obvious love for Stephen King novels (my avatar is Roland from the Dark Tower series, King's magnum opus), I obviously don't see an issue with reading this kind of fiction.

One key question in reading fiction is the presented worldview. While I don't think we have to agree with the worldview of the novel/short story/movie, we do need to be aware of it. In the case of the Harry Potter series, it is certain worldview elements that I think make the series not just acceptable for Christians, but, rightly viewed, makes reading the series beneficial.

There are five key themes that help define the worldview of the Harry Potter series. These five are:

  1. Community
  2. Afterlife
  3. Power
  4. Death
  5. Love
Items (1) and (5) are closely related, as are items (2) and (4), but there is enough distinction I want to deal with them separately. Over the next several posts I will discuss each theme of the series, and why it is in accord with a Christian worldview.

Please note that I'm not arguing that Rowling, intentionally or otherwise, set out to create a world that had a Christian worldview. She knows her intentions and I've not heard that she has made them public. Whether the work as a whole has a Christian worldview will likely be debated for decades. But on these key elements, I think there is much in harmony with the Christian worldview.

Compared, for example, to the Dark Tower series, Harry Potter is much more in accord with the Christian worldview on death. Death, as Rowling makes clear early in the Harry Potter series, is final and people do not come back they "go on." In the Dark Tower series, death is not final as Jake Chambers and Father Callahan know too well (except on keystone earth, but that's another discussion). Which is not to say there may not be elements in the Dark Tower series that are closer to the Christian worldview than similar elements in the Harry Potter series.

All that to say that these five themes, while critical to the Harry Potter series, do not de facto give the Harry Potter universe a Christian worldview.

On final word, in the posts that follow there will be spoilers. I'm not sure how I discuss these themes without reference to how they play out in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. You have been warned.

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Blogger Chris said...

Many have said that a great work of fiction is great because the work contains themes and elements, the significance of which was unintentional on the author's part. Whether she intended to write a novel including elements that are comparable to the Christian worldview or not, I think the discussion is a worthy one, and has merit.

I think Rowling's work is simply a masterpiece of storytelling, and should be listed among the likes of Lewis and Tolkien.

It is fairly common that Tolkien and Lewis are acceptable fiction, but Rowling is not. The most consistent answer to my queries as to why this is the case has been "Tolkien and Lewis were Christians". Apparently, they feel as though anything written by someone claiming to be a Christian is completely free of doctrinal error. (Now, I'm not calling anyone's salvation into question...just the premise that the writings of Christians are always ok, while the writings of non-Christians are not.)

3:27 PM EDT  
Blogger Taliesin said...

Lewis said the Narnia chronicles did not start out as an intentional allegory for the Christian faith. He started to write a story and what he believed just became a part of the story.

While I'm not sure Harry Potter has the epic feel of Tolkien (or King's Dark Tower series) it is more accessible (in a good way). These are "children's" books, after all. The comparison to Narnia, therefore, is quite appropriate.

I agree on the subject of what makes "acceptable" (for Christians) fiction. In Alan Jacob's essay on "Harry Potter's Magic" he wonders at the end if the people who are so concerned about the effects of the Harry Potter books on children are as concerned about the effects of modern technology. Likely not, I suppose.

7:29 PM EDT  

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