The Harry Potter phenomenon: how should parents respond?
HOGWARTS OR HOGWASH?
by Peter Furst and Craig Heilmann
(Lime Grove House Publishing, 2001, 154pp, $19.95. Available from AD Books)
Hogwarts or Hogwash? is about the Harry Potter phenomenon and how concerned parents should respond. With four volumes in the series and a major motion picture breaking box office records, Harry Potter is on a roll. Everyone has heard of the books and film, and it looks set to continue in its quest for global cultural hegemony.
What are parents to make of all this? How should they respond? Should they allow their children exposure to these works? Are they dangerous? Are they anti-Christian? These and related questions are explored in this helpful little volume.
Written by two Sydney-based authors, Hogwarts or Hogwash? looks at the reasons why the Harry Potter books and film have been so successful, offering parents a way to assess and evaluate the content and message of the material.
The authors begin by showing why the Harry Potter books/film have been so successful. First, the stories are very good since J.K. Rowling is an accomplished writer. Second, people can relate to the characters and the situations they face. The world of magic represents something for which many yearn. Finally, people have their desires to be "special" met through empathising with Harry Potter.
Given the great popularity of the series, the authors seek to help parents respond to it - how to steer their children through its various messages. The gist of the book's emphasis is that while the issue of the occult and witchcraft is something to be concerned about, the real threat of the Harry Potter books lies in the worldview they convey.
On the fundamental questions, Harry Potter offers a very different worldview from that of Biblical Christianity. For example, while there is a clear distinction between good and evil in the books, we are never quite sure why. Evil is mainly seen as the selfish pursuit of power at all costs. While evil certainly entails this, there is more to evil, according to the Biblical worldview. At bottom, human selfishness and sin constitute evil. We are all touched by evil and in need of redemption.
Also, the solution to the problem of evil differs greatly between the two. The Biblical message is that mankind cannot save itself, and that God had to take the initiative on our behalf. A messiah was needed and a messiah came. In the books, Harry Potter is seen as a messianic figure, but we presumably await the seventh and final episode to see how he ultimately defeats the evil Voldemort.
The authors also question whether hiding from Potter is the best strategy. The truth is, the world is polluted by sin and evil on all levels. No one can escape the presence of such fallenness. Thus we need to see how we as believers can be in the world, fighting evil and sin, while not being of the world - being contaminated by it. It is a difficult balancing act, but one to which we are called.
The authors cite Daniel as an example of one who was fully involved in the world, yet managed to keep undefiled by it. He rose to power in a pagan nation, learning the best of the foreign culture while rejecting the worst. He had learned much from his host culture (Dan 1:17), and is even called the "chief of magicians" in Dan 4:9. Thus he could be fully at home in a hostile environment while remaining faithful to his God.
We are called to do the same. And this book shows parents how they can guide their way through the Harry Potter series, giving them the tools to critically evaluate these books (and film) from a Biblical worldview. The authors provide analogies in the books with Biblical themes, and show ways in which the Gospel message can be discussed at these junctures.
This, then, is a helpful resource for parents who want to keep their children strong in their Christian faith but don't want them to be totally isolated from the culture in which they live. As such it is a proactive rather than a reactive approach which helps us to fulfil the command to be salt and light in a dark and needy world.
Bill Muehlenberg, a Baptist, is National Secretary of the Australian Family Association and teaches theology at several Protestant Bible colleges in Melbourne.