Perhaps one of the most frequent complaints I’ve gotten concerns the amount of time one must invest in Harry Potter, not only to read the books in the first place, but also to discover its meaning. The questions come in the following forms:
~ If it’s so hard to discover the Christian meaning that you allege exists, is it really going to beneficial for the average reader, who does not understand all the symbolism, to read the series?
~ Why read Harry Potter when there’s better literature out there? We can find the same themes in Narnia, Lord of the Rings, etc. Why not read those, which we know are blatantly Christian?
~ Wouldn’t it be better to spend all that time reading the Bible instead of Harry Potter?
I’ll try to answer this line of questioning here. The third question is easy for my intended purposes. If I have to debate with you whether or not the pursuit of literature and the arts is acceptable and advantageous for the Christian, then you hold a form of fundamentalist cultural escapism that is neither biblical nor profitable for the Christian message.
As for the other questions, my answer is a resounding, “Yes. Harry Potter is worth the effort.” Here’s why:
Lack of understanding and appreciation of literature is a bad thing in our society. It hurts the depths of our ability to think, imagine, and rejoice. As creative as television can occasionally be, it is not and never will be literature, and it does not promote the kind of creative thinking of which human beings are capable.
The result is that often we are not getting the quality literature we may have seen in years past. After all, literature is still an industry, and it must sell. Terry Brooks tells us in his book, Sometimes the Magic Works, that he does not write in the same way as he did in the 70s. Quick-paced action is in; lengthy description is out. TV’s fast pace is to blame, in my opinion.
Yet the Harry Potter novels are wildly popular. They are, indeed, fun and fast-paced. But they also stand in a great tradition of English literature, employing rich symbolism and an alchemical framework. To miss this would be to miss much of the greatness of the books. Furthermore, for those of us who recognize it, it would be a shame to pass up the opportunity to seek out the great literary aspects of Harry Potter and use them to point modern readers back to the classics. Rowling cites as influences Dickens, Austen, Shakespeare, Lewis, and a host of other great authors. What a tremendous opportunity for lovers of literature to look at Harry Potter and point its audience back to these giants! So from a literary standpoint, yes, Harry Potter is worth the effort. I’ve already tried to connect my readers to the Athurian Legends, C.S. Lewis, and (non-British) Dostoevsky, and I will continue to make this a goal of the site. Harry has been a doorway to tremendous literature for me, and I hope it will be for you as well.
But what about the Christian meaning? If it’s so hard to find the meaning, is it really edifying to read? Why not read C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, whose Christian themes are quite evident? I mean, how can you mistake a dying and rising lion? It’s obviously a Christ symbol!
Ah, but Lewis’ books were not recognized as Christian by his contemporaries, either. I’ve written recently about the positive inclusion of pagan deities in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. John Granger reminded us that
Lewis was not hailed as a “Christian” writer prior to his apologetic lectures on the British Broadcasting Corporation becoming the renowned “Mere Christianity.”
And this was much to Lewis’ surprise, just as it is much to the surprise of Rowling that anyone thinks she’s promoting or encouraging Wicca for children.
So as far as the Christian meaning goes, yes, Harry Potter is worth the effort. If indeed Harry Potter contains explicit and implicit Christian themes, is it not our duty to engage the culture with the gospel? And isn’t Harry Potter a widespread cultural phenomenon? Then by all means, let us expoud on the meaning of the phoenix, the sacrifice of Harry’s mother, Harry’s figurative dying-and-rising in each book, and the many other great themes of the novels.