From the archives



Harry Potter: the good, the bad, the muggly

Even muggles (people without magical powers) know that the latest Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, flies into theaters November 19, 2010. When the Hogwarts hero first appeared, he conjured up a whole cauldron of controversy. So, here's a debate I waged with myself several books ago.

Is the Harry Potter phenomenon a force for good or evil?

Arguments, pro and con, are flying like bludgers at a Quidditch game, so here's my exclusive debate with myself:

Headmaster Dumbledore: Good evening, muggles and wizards, and welcome to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry's debate on "Harry Potter" with James Watkins and James Watkins. Jim is the author of The Why Files: Are There Really Ghosts? and Jim is a newspaper columnist. Welcome gentlemen. We'll begin first with you, Jim.

Jim: Thank you, Headmaster Dumbledore. I've never debated myself before . . . at least in public . . . but thank you for this opportunity. First, I thoroughly enjoyed the book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. It is the story of a young boy who discovers that he is the son of wizards and goes off to Hogwarts to refine his wizardry. There, J. K. Rowling conjures up a fascinating world where good and evil collide with spells, invisibility cloaks, and a three-headed monster called "Fluffy," but good always triumphs in the end.

Jim: Good points, Jim, but one of the problems of the series, at least for children, is the moral ambiguity. We're never quite sure who is good and who is evil. Eleven-year-old Harry is a good boy, but he does have several character flaws. Dumbledore observes, he has "a certain disregard for rules." For adults, this makes realistic fiction. (Even in the Bible, Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, and others had major moral lapses.) But until children reach adolescence, they have difficulty understanding this complexity, so I wouldn't recommend the books for children younger than middle school.

Jim: I agree that Harry Potter is not for younger children. But what makes this book and the Warner Brothers movie outstanding is the author's refusal to allow a simplistic division of the characters into "good" and "evil" characters. As you pointed out, the Bible is filled with godly characters who did ungodly things. Such is life and part of maturity is understanding that our heroes—whether sports, music, or political—are apt to have some less than heroic qualities.

Jim: Good points, but the element of the supernatural has stirred up a caldron of controversy. Some Christians believe that the entire series violates both Old and New Testament commands to avoid witchcraft. For instance, Deuteronomy 18:10-12 warns:

    Let no one be found among you who . . . practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft . . . . Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.

Jim: Yes, that's true, but is the "magic" in Harry Potter any different than the magic in C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or in J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings? Conservative Christian and best-selling author, Charles Colson, argues that Harry and his friends, "develop courage, loyalty, and a willingness to sacrifice for one another. Not bad lessons in a self-centered world." He refers to the practices described in the books as: "purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic. That is, Harry and his friends cast spells, read crystal balls, and turn themselves into animals - but they don't make contact with a supernatural world?. [It is not] the kind of real-life witchcraft the Bible condemns." Obviously real witches do not fly brooms or turn into cats as they do in the books.

Jim: Interesting point. J. K. Rowling's world does seem to be more "secular" than "occult-ish." The witchcraft at Hogwart's doesn't include any of the elements of modern Wicca with its worship of nature and each other. However, the books do make witchcraft seem innocent and, of course, great fun. I think that's dangerous, particularly if they become a gateway to interest in hardcore Wicca or Satanic worship.

Jim: Granted. This book series is very different from Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, where the White Witch is undeniably evil and Aslan, the Christ-like lion, is purely good. I wouldn't mind my kids imitating Peter or Susan, but I don't want my kids to have Harry Potter as a role model.

Jim: Very true. I think our debate points out that this is a very complex issue. Harry Potter provides valuable lessons about love, courage, and the victory of good over evil. In fact famous journalist G. K. Chesterton claimed that his own journey into the Christian faith began with the lessons of good and evil, as well as self-sacrifice, found in fairy tales. On the other hand, I believe the motion picture industry was wise in giving the movie version a PG rating. The moral ambiguity makes the books and the movies inappropriate for elementary school students. Even the Bible, especially Genesis and Judges, has some X-rated material that is certainly not appropriate for young readers.

Jim: I agree with you completely, which shouldn't be surprising since I am you. I mean, you're me. I mean . . . . I'm not sure debating myself was a good idea. Anyway, parents should read the books (or at least see the movie) if their children are reading them (and they probably are), as it provides opportunities to discuss the complex issues in the books which have become a very real part of youth culture.

© 2001 James N. Watkins


I have recently read your self debating Harry Potter article whilst attempting to locate information for an Assignment. I'm 16yrs old and am a devoted Harry Potter fan, posters coating my walls, all the books, movies, and cd's, i have read the books over 20 times (including the fifth book) and although this may disgust and repel some i am a happy person who is not a witch i do not find the need to drink a concuction of eyeballs and newt tongues in the mornings, i am a high level academic acheiver who is a healthy fit person who enjoys dance and drama! I went to a christian primary school so i know the bible, the lords prayer e.g. so i can understand some peoples point of view. However i beleive that if something encourages children to broaden their imaginations, read and become more creative isn't it a good thing??? so shouldn't the millions of children and teens like myself who enjoy entering the magical world of Harry Potter who arn't turning satanic be noticed in this world wide debate??? (just a thought) well onwards with my assignment wish me luck!!! (Funny yet strangly interesting self debate by the way!) (July 2004)

I have the first two movies on DVD. I also know that this series is going to get darker and darker, by the author's own design. I have already seen a review of the movie by an organization that liked the first movie. They didn't like this one. It is negligent on your part or the part of whoever posted this article to title it as a review of the present movie when in reality it is an old review with little or nothing to do with the present movie. Please go see this movie and then see if what you wrote three years ago still proves true. I don't think you will. And please pull this review until you have done so. You are doing a disservice to everyone that is reading your present posting. (June 2003)

    Yes, I have seen the third movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban, and you're absolutely right that it's much darker and certainly not for all the small children I saw in the theater! But I'm still debating myself.

My better half and I do not let our children read or watch Harry Potter, and they are fine with it. They know that Harry, like certain tv shows or computer games, is not appropriate no matter how cute he may look or how sympathetic a character he portrays. Some friends and a couple of family members think we might be "wiggy" and a bit overprotective on this, but our children are well--adjusted and happy, and would rather read about the Berenstain Bears or watch Clifford the Big Red Dog and Gumby. They also would rather go to a science museum than Chuck E. Cheeses, and they aren't even six years old yet, how cool is that? Peace!, June 2003

Thanks for your email again. Need to let you know though that I disagreed with your comical debate on the Harry Potter issue. I think it is extremely important that we shield our children from any influence of witchcraft or satanic influence. I am one of the Christian mothers who has boycotted Harry Potter from the get go and believe it or not my children eat 3 balanced meals, sleep well without nightmares and are excellent athletes and academic leaders in their schools. This has all been done without the influence of harry potter in my household. The mind warp that Warner bros. would like you to believe though is different. They would like you to believe that Harry Potter will transport you to an enchangted land. The only one who can do that is Jesus not Harry Potter. I am sure that you are well aware of that. However you can be as flippant as you want. It won't bother me one teensy bit., November, 2002

Liked your debate with yourself on the Harry Potter issue. I've had many similar debates with myself and other Christians. The result was an approach to use many of the ideas/themes in the Harry Potter books as a bridge to evangelism. Thanks for being so balanced (and beside yourself) on this heated issue!

Thank you for your honest and objective review of the Harry Potter Series. My ex-husband and I have differing opinions regarding the stories and I think your article will help to balance things out between us, at least I hope so. I feel more as you that while secularism is part of the story line, it does not attempt to promote witchcraft or devil worship. Having read the story to my son, and having watched the movie with him as well, I agree that the moral is more along the lines of dedication to family and to what one believes is right, not about the occult. Thanks again, Brenda L. Brecheen June 2002

Me name is Adrianna, and I am fourteen years old. Here is my opinion on the Harry Potter matter:

I read your article with yourself on Harry Potter. I believe that as Christians we should not be watching it. The main question we should be asking in this, and in anything else, is,"What Would Jesus Do?" Remember the old sang WWJD?, well we need to take that to heart. I honestly do not think Jesus Christ would watch movies that involve witchcraft. Yes, it is fiction, but do you think God gave J.K. Rowling that story to write, or the Devil? I know it couldn't have been God, since God teaches us to stay away from witchcraft, and other immoral things.

And remember, just because something is entertainment doesn't mean it's right. Yes, you can get some good values/morals from watching Harry Potter. But also remember there are many religions out there including witchcraft which teach to be kind and love others. Just because it has a few good points in it doesn't make it right.

I would love to know your opinion(s) on this. Let me know what you think. Thank you! God Bless You! In Christ, (July 2003)

    Good points, Adrianna. I agree with you—at least this "Jim" does.

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