Commentary on Harry Potter

It remains a mystery to me how any parent could conclude that the Harry Potter books are suitable reading material for their children, as young as eight years old. In one case, the answer has been reduced to “Just because the lifestyle doesn’t match mine, doesn’t mean you throw the book out.” Certainly that statement is true as it stands, but it is an over-simplification of the issue, and demonstrates either profound ignorance, or just plain deceit.

It isn’t just the problem of “good guys” who lie, steal, cheat, disobey, hate, swear, get drunk, gamble, seek vengeance, and consider killing their enemies; nor the frequent descriptions of disgusting things or behaviours; nor the total immersion of the reader in elements of witchcraft, including detailed spells, potions, charms and symbols; nor even the regular forays into scenes which constitute “nightmare material” for many youngsters. It isn’t only the legitimizing of many occult practices including telepathy, levitation, amulets and power objects, nor the “sweetening” of such creatures as ghouls and werewolves. The casual use of Christian terminology and concepts in the context of those whose practices God has declared abomination may not sound an alarm, nor may the scenes involving “possession” of various characters by evil spirits, most notably the arch-villain, Voldemort.

Perhaps the scene in the Philosopher’s Stone of someone drinking the blood of the unicorn it has just killed does not offend, nor the demonic possession of an eight-year old girl in the Chamber of Secrets. Perhaps the Dementors (the living dead, or zombies) “sucking the soul” out of people in The Prisoner of Azkaban, is not disturbing, nor the appearance of the “Dark Mark” when Voldemort returns to reclaim power in The Goblet of Fire. These things are just “fantasy” after all.

But the final scene in the fourth book, Goblet of Fire, should put away all arguments by the adult Christians bound to defend these books as suitable for children. Voldemort, whose body was mutilated beyond recognition when he failed to kill Harry as an infant, has trapped Harry and a fellow student, with the help of his followers. In order to regain his power, and restore his body, Voldemort must perform a powerful spell. After killing the other student, the fourth or fifth murder in this book, Voldemort pronounces an incantation: “Bone of the father, unknowingly given, you will renew your son. Flesh of the servant willingly given, you will revive your master. Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken, you will resurrect your foe.” We see dust from his father’s grave, said to be his father’s bone, fly into the cauldron. We watch his servant cut off his own hand, dropping into the pot. We watch as the servant cuts Harry, bound by enchanted ropes to the headstone, with the same knife in order to collect his blood in a vial. We watch the abuse of both Harry and the servant. We watch Voldemort play a sorcerer’s version of cat-and mouse with Harry, seeking to torment him before killing him. We see the spirits of the others Voldemort has killed in this book, and of Harry’s parents, materialize to assist him in his life-and-death battle. Throughout the section, 30 pages, the reader is immersed in scenes of torture and fear.

Once this is resolved, and Harry returned to the school, another enemy lures him away. This enemy brags that he and Voldemort … “had the …very great pleasure…of killing our fathers to ensure the continued rise of the Dark Order.” He, of course is rescued by some of the “good” wizards from the school, but the severe trauma of the ordeal is evident through to the end of the book.

Any book, much less a series, which immerses its readers in evil – ugly, vulgar, and violent – defeats any benefit it may possibly effect in the overcoming of that evil by good. In the case of the Harry Potter books, there is no true good, but only a parody of it, surrounded by such evil that an undiscerning reader will come away with a twisted sense of right and wrong, and an oppressive sense of foreboding. These are not the things upon which the people of God are to think.