Harry Potter has not only had many fans, but also many critics. Some of the criticism has been religiously motivated. But is Harry Potter really as un-Christian as these critics suggest? Come and join Jacob Schriftman as he explores the world and worldview of J.K. Rowling’s Fantasy, drawing comparisons to Christian writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, as well as to explicitly non-Christian ones like Philip Pullman and H.G. Wells. In the process of analysis, Schriftman deals both with literary and existential questions. Should Harry Potter be understood as a parody of our own society? How does Harry Potter treat serious issues? It is common for humans to ask, “Where do we come from? What can we know? What should we do? Do we have a purpose? And how do we approach death?” These questions are woven into Harry Potter, and some of the answers take a surprising turn. A book that delights as much as it instructs, a challenge to fans and skeptics alike.
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Seven years ago, I was studying at a Christian university and had to tackle a major assignment: to write a long paper on a contemporary issue of my choice, analyze its underlying worldview and explain in what way it went against the Christian worldview. I picked Harry Potter.
The only problem was that, from the outset, I was supposed to approach Harry Potter with my Christian hunting glasses on. I was, so to speak, to take out my spiritual rifle and shoot down Harry, dissect the carcass and demonstrate what was wrong with him, to show that this creature I shot down was not a proper Biblical creature.
It is, of course, entirely possible that I misunderstood my Christian hunting guides. They might have been much more magnanimous than I make them out to be here, and I might have been the narrow-minded one. Either way, had I strictly followed their instruction as I understood it, I would have made myself guilty of what might be called bibliocide, that is, the killing of a book. I would not have allowed the letters on the pages to come alive and create their own world in my mind. I would not have cared to immerse myself in a new world, but to merely extract what I perceived to be the worldview behind Mrs. Rowling's magical pen. However, in spite of my antagonistic conditioning toward Harry Potter, I actually found myself drawn into Rowling's world.
Since my days as a Christian student, the Harry Potter series has been brought to completion. Harry's seven years at Hogwarts are over now, and I read the first book again shortly after I finished the seventh book. Knowing where the story and characters were headed, many scenes now took on new significance. It was fascinating to read a particular passage and think: "Ah! Now I know why she put that in there." I have to complement J.K. Rowling on having planned the seven books so well.
Furthermore, reading the first book from the retrospective view of the whole series also makes a difference for the moral custodians among us. It changes the "worldview" I thought I had detected at first. If you only read the first book, you might come away thinking that Harry Potter tries to justify the means by the end a little too much. Harry's magic is at first set into motion when he is "upset and angry," the toffee-nosed know-it-all Hermione turns likable by lying on Harry's behalf, and one of Harry's chief character traits is that of a rule breaker.
Aside from the point that novels--including juvenile ones--don't have to portray their main characters as saints, the series has, in fact, turned out to be of great moral depth. Given Harry's final moral choices at the end of Book Seven, Book One can now be seen as the beginning of a Bildungsroman, meaning a Coming Of Age Story in which Harry goes through all the stages of childhood and adolescence, to finally arrive at moral, social, and psychological maturity.
If that is not an ideal way of making teenagers aware of their own journey to maturity, I don't know what is.
The present book is largely the result of the long paper I wrote at the Christian university. There are several chapters that mostly address questions Christians might have about Harry Potter and Fantasy literature in general, and there are several others that analyze the world and worldview of Rowling's creation. The paper had to undergo some editing, though, because now I speak as a (still not completely uncritical) convert to Harry Potter, not as his self-appointed Christian nemesis. It is my sincere hope that I don't kill Harry off in the process of analysis. He is, after all, the Boy Who Lived.
May he live in these pages as well.
- JACOB SCHRIFTMAN (from the Introduction)
Jacob Schriftman (aka Jokim Schnoebbe) is a freelance writer, artist, and speaker. He lives with his wife and children in Ireland.
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