In Praise of Harry Potter

Tonight the final Harry Potter film opens and many bloggers are commenting on the series. Never let it be sad that I too cannot jump on a bandwagon. Like many, I have read through the books many times and have thoroughly enjoyed the films (Prisoner of Azakban remains my favorite book and movie). I am too old to have “grown up” with Harry Potter, but I have watched by eldest daughter as she read the books and watched the films. One of my happiest memories is watching the Potter movies with her over and over (always skipping the Dursleys). For many years she would ask me, “if I get a letter from Hogwarts can I go?” I always said yes, believe it or not.

Since I am teaching at a youth camp at the moment, I was able to talk with some college age campers who did in fact grow up with Potter. We all remember the controversy: Should Christians read Harry Potter? Many people I know were adamant that Christians were somehow destroying their faith by reading the books (even though there is more magic in Narnia and more violence in Middle Earth). For me, the stories had redeeming value, were generally clever, and got my daughter to read at a serious level. We always talked about what was happening in the stories and she was pretty savvy at hearing Christian themes in the books, however generic they might be.

For me, Harry Potter was always about the world which exists just behind ours, if only we had the eyes to see it. Muggles do not see Platform 9 and 3/4, nor do they bother to notice the strange people who walk through a solid brick pillar. Muggles see a strange weather pattern and see a storm rather than Death Eaters flying through London. How the Muggles do not see the Knight Bus is beyond me.

In short, Muggles do not see things as they really are. They are simply blind to the reality all around them. In the world of Harry Potter, the Muggle is more interested in money and possessions than in seeing what is really going on in the world. To use the words of another favorite writer of mine (Douglas Adams), Muggles are more interested in digital watches (iPods, cell phones) than in seeing a mystical and magical world which is right before their eyes.

It is not at all hard for me to draw an analogy to contemporary culture. There are few people who see the world for what it really is. The Christian “story” is an explanation for what is wrong with humans (sin) and how God is creating a new world in which that problem is solved (redemption through Jesus). If one is really viewing the world as a biblical Christian, we see spiritual warfare; we see how the enemy blinds the eyes of people so that they do even know there is something wrong; we see God working in mysterious and often mundane ways to redeem this fallen world. What the Muggles call “coincidence,” we see as the sovereign hand of God to bring about his will.

If you think about Harry Potter in this way, it is not hard to find other analogies. Defense Against the Dark Arts? Every Christian engages in something like that. While I am tempted to draw the analogy between Hogwarts and seminary, I think that might be going too far. Maybe. There are so many archtypical themes in the books that it is easy to be inspired. Good defeats evil. Love overcomes hate. Courage is rewarded. Loyalty is a virtue to emulate. Every life is valuable and worth cherishing.

So enjoy your Harry Potter binge this week. Re-read the books, watch all the movies, proudly where your Gryffindor tie to church, raise your glass of Pumpkin Juice to J. K. Rowling. But spend some time thinking about the way the world really is, just behind the facade the world throws up to blind the Muggles.