Harry Potter Mania
Every so often a device, a book, or an idea comes along that so captures people's imagination that it becomes a fad, or even a mania. It's an interesting phenomenon that is sometimes difficult to explain. It isn't necessary that the focus of the mania be something extraordinary. Sometimes an ordinary thing becomes extraordinary simply because of all the attention it gets. The Harry Potter books have certainly captured the imagination of many, many people, raising the question of why they have become a mania. Is it because the books are very good, or is this just another instance of that strange phenomena of a public mania? Perhaps, there is something truly magical about the books.
Despite their widespread popularity, I had not read any of the Harry Potter books until the first six books were in print. Harry Potter has been promoted by the publisher as a children's fantasy story about a boy wizard who goes to wizard school. Since I didn't have any interest in either books for children or books on witchcraft I ignored both the books and movies.
My attitude changed and I began to read Harry Potter as a result of the controversy the books ignited. I was browsing through the religion section in a used bookstore and found a book by Connie Neal, What's a Christian to do With Harry Potter? I knew that there are some Christians who think the Harry Potter books are leading children into the occult and portray poor moral ideals. Scanning through the Neal book, I discovered there are other Christian writers who do not believe Harry Potter promotes or encourages an interest in the occult and also believe the books express good moral ideals that are consistent with Christianity. That got me interested and I decided to read the Harry Potter books. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
Reading Sorcerer's Stone, right away I found myself laughing a lot and discovered that it was a very entertaining story, filled with satire and humor alongside more serious elements related to an archetypical struggle between good and evil. It wasn't at all what I expected. Although the book is mostly written at a reading level and in a style appropriate for young people, the inventiveness and complexity of the story makes it equally appealing to adults. Reading the books answered the question I had as to why these books were so popular. What I found is that the author, J. K. Rowling, is a masterful story teller and she has created a saga that is as entertaining for adults as is it is for teenagers.
I was also struck by the obvious reference to Christianity at the conclusion of Sorcerer's Stone. Harry's three-day coma after being attacked in an underground chamber, the rejection of the philosopher's stone as a means of immortality, and Dumbledore's explanation that Harry's survival was the result of sacrificial love point directly to a Christian message. It is not explicit evangelism, but is nevertheless an obvious allusion to the Christian gospel. Read abstractly, Sorcerer's Stone states: a person who has the blood of one who loved him enough to die in his place is protected from a death curse and brought back to life. I was surprised that others had not seen the clear reference to Christianity.
As I read the remaining books, I discovered that the Harry Potter books are not simply seven separate stories about a boy wizard. While it is true that each book in the series has its own storyline that comes to a conclusion, each book adds to a larger story. Together the books tell a single story in seven episodes, a saga over four thousand pages in length. Unlike some series books where you can pick up any book in the series and read it alone, to truly evaluate the Harry Potter books requires reading all of them in sequence.
I was surprised at how complex the story is and by the richness of the moral and ethical issues that emerge from the story. I don't know how much of this was intentional by Rowling and how much was just the typical artist's unconscious expression of her own experiences and ideals. Whatever the reason, there are a lot of moral themes in the books that can lead into interesting discussions. Harry Potter is not simply an entertaining fairy tale about a boy who goes to school to learn magic.
Like others who have been enchanted by these books, I want to discuss Harry Potter. My interest isn't motivated solely by the popularity of the books or by their possible importance as literature. The mania over Harry Potter will eventually subside, but the books will likely remain popular for a long time. These books may or may not end up being considered classics of Western literature, but that decision is one that must be left to future generations. I like reading books and discussing the books I read, especially books that I found to be interesting and entertaining. The books contain many different ideas that could be discussed. A discussion of the literary archetypes and devices used in the books would alone make for a long series of essays. However, my interest is mainly in moral themes, especially Christian themes, and how they get expressed in literature.
There is has been quite a bit of controversy among Christians over the Harry Potter series due to the use of magic as a literary device. The critics claim that the presentation of magic in a favorable way will lead children to become fascinated with the occult. In addition, the detractors feel that the moral themes in the book conflict with a Christian world view and are inappropriate for young readers. I disagree with both of these claims. The magic in Harry Potter serves a literary purpose and is quite different from the actual practice of occultists. The moral themes are definitively Christian, even though they are presented indirectly without reference to religion. However, the story is also complex, and may be too subtle, or too frightening, for children. An adult will need to understand the books and consider the maturity of the child before deciding if a child should read Harry Potter.
If you haven't yet read the Harry Potter books, it would be best if you read them before reading these essays. Of course, if you aren't sure about whether or not you want to read Harry Potter, perhaps reading these essays first will help you decide. In any case, I'm going to assume you know the basic story and I won't try to avoid spoiling the plot twists and surprises.