The Hour of the Witch
by Steve Wohlberg; Destiny Image
The Gospel According to Harry Potter
by Connie Neal; Westminster John Knox Press
It has often been said that there are two sides to every story. within Christianity, there are diametrically opposed views when it comes to many issues today. Pick any hot topic — from the style of music we ought to use in worship to euthanasia to The Da Vinci Code — and you will find Christians passionately committed to opposite views. So why should it be any different when it comes to J.K. Rowling's boy wizard, Harry Potter?
The remarkably successful series of children's novels — now being made into movies as fast as Hollywood can crank them out — has long been debated among Christians. Two recently published books demonstrate this point. The Hour of the Witch contends that the series is inherently wicked, leading young readers away from Christ and into a fascination with witchcraft. Wohlberg condemns the books on nearly every point. He equates their success to a cult following (and he does not mean this in the colloquial sense of a harmless but avid popularity), denounces the humour in the books as in bad taste, argues that the darker parts in the stories are responsible for nightmares and criticizes Rowling's characters for occasionally using an off-colour word. He appears to believe that young readers should be reading their Bibles instead of Harry Potter novels.
On the other hand, The Gospel According To Harry Potter takes a more positive approach to the novels. Neal uses scenes from the first four books of the series as points of departure for spiritual teaching. In her approach, Headmaster Dumbledore is seen as a God-like figure, the letters that invite Harry to Hogwarts are related to the invitation God extends to humanity to live in relationship with him, and platform 9¾ becomes a lesson on the necessity of faith.
Neal makes the point in her introduction that people will find what they want to find in the Harry Potter series. That seems to be the very point that wohlberg completely misses.
I have to admit I tend to lean towards Neal's way of understanding Harry Potter. I have long wondered why some enterprising Christian writer has not taken the story as a whole and applied a Christian reading to it. While Neal does an admirable job with small snippets of the first four books, I long to read what someone might write about the entire series as a loose allegory. It may be that such an enterprise will soon be attempted, now that the final book has been published.
Nonetheless, I have found myself reading the series with the theory that Harry represents Christ (not that he is Christ, but that he represents Christ), that Dumbledore represents God, and that magic represents the Holy Spirit. The wizarding world represents Christianity, and the Muggle world represents those who do not know about Jesus Christ. Voldemort is so plainly Satan that it is laughable to think of him as anything else.
At the very least, this type of reading brings me to a basic point as a Christian: I believe that the holy Scriptures should inform how we read everything else we encounter. I agree with Neal that “glimmers of the gospel” are sprinkled throughout secular novels, songs, films and TV series. These glimmers are gifts to any who are seeking creative ways in which to communicate the Gospel to a world which knows the story of Harry Potter much better than that of Jesus Christ.