Sarah Pulliam Bailey: How Christians Warmed to Harry Potter

“Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, a member of the Church of Scotland that has Presbyterian roots, initially avoided talking explicitly about her faith. “To me, the religious parallels have always been obvious,” Ms. Rowling said in 2007. “But I never wanted to talk too openly about it, because I thought it might show people who just wanted the story where we were going.”

Ms. Rowling is hardly the first author to face misunderstanding from a religious audience. Before C.S. Lewis became well known as a Christian, he noted that most British reviewers missed the underlying theology in his science fiction “Space” trilogy. Christian writer Madeleine L’Engle was criticized by some for the magic elements in “A Wrinkle in Time.” On the other hand, J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” appeared to escape similar scrutiny despite his characters’ use of magic.

Since the seventh Potter book came out in 2007, Ms. Rowling””who acknowledged the influence of Tolkien and Lewis on her work””has drawn more explicit religious parallels. She suggested that the two Bible verses found on tombstones in the final book almost epitomized the whole series: “And the last enemy that shall be defeated is death” and “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

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5 comments on “Sarah Pulliam Bailey: How Christians Warmed to Harry Potter

  1. Timothy Fountain says:

    The way Rowling keeps readers (viewers) guessing about some of the characters’ goodness or evil made for a good illustration of last Sunday’s Gospel, in which Jesus warned us not to “rip up the weeds” because it would risk destroying the good growing nearby.

  2. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    The way I couched conversations from people who thought Harry Potter was Satanic or whatever because it had to do with magic was to ask them they Harry Potter was different that Lewis’ [i]The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe,[/i] which is usually a literary darling to such people. The Narnia book had both a White Witch who used magic, and a savior character like Aslan who would talk about the Deep Magic from the dawn of time. Such objectors never really had a good answer for that.

  3. Teatime2 says:

    Goodness, the “sacrificial love” element that this writer says became apparent in the seventh book was there from the very first! Harry himself was never remarkable — in fact, he would give in to self-pity, anger, and arrogance. But it was the love that gave its life for him when he was a child and did nothing to merit it which protected him and kept him from death.

    If Christians can’t see the parallels there then they either haven’t read the books or they simply hate/don’t understand metaphor. Heh, it’s rather ironic that the term “hocus pocus” may have its roots in Anglican criticism of the RC doctrine of transubstantiation.

    As for the “gay Dumbledore” outrage, the televangelists should, once again, ponder what’s actually in the books. Young Dumbledore’s friendship with Grindelwald led him deeply astray
    and had serious personal consequences that haunted Dumbledore forever, which is why he remained a solitary figure thereafter. If this was supposed to be a gay relationship then it showed very damaging effects and you’d think that the evangelicals would approve of that portrayal.

  4. Ralph Webb says:

    “J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ appeared to escape similar scrutiny despite his characters’ use of magic.”

    How quickly we forget that many American (not necessarily American Anglican) evangelicals were quite suspicious of Tolkien up through the ’90s. Back in ’86, I conversed with a college student who had studied LOTR at her Christian college. When I asked her how the books had been discussed in the light of Tolkien’s Christian faith, she recounted the view presented of Tolkien only questionably being Christian and the books sadly not emanating from a Christian worldview. And from my personal experience, until the movies came out you still couldn’t mention Tolkien in some evangelical circles without distrust being voiced in response (and often that distrust extended to the entire fantasy genre in general).

    Some have opined that American evangelicals embraced Tolkien as an alternative to Rowling after Harry Potter became popular, and I think (sadly) there’s some merit to that assessment. It’s very difficult for me to imagine Focus on the Family having become as positive toward Tolkien as they did without Harry Potter having come on the scene. But on a more positive end, perhaps it took Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT, 1994) to get many evangelicals to reappraise Tolkien.

  5. MichaelA says:

    Amen to all the above.
    [blockquote] “The author put a little damper on some enthusiasm when she said that she always thought of one of her main characters, Albus Dumbledore, as gay (after which Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network called for a ban on the books.) And she did distance herself somewhat from C.S. Lewis when she told Time magazine in 2007 that “I did not set out to convert anyone to Christianity.” [/blockquote]
    As best we can tell from the books, if Dumbledore was homosexual in orientation, he remained celibate. Its hardly an issue in the stories.

    I seem to recall that Lewis also denied that his fictional works were intended to convert anyone.

    Anyway, the books are remarkable literature, and they are clearly here to stay. They may not always be as popular as they are right now, but Harry has a permanent place on the shelf of classical children’s literature, along with Alice, Peter Pan, Pooh, Toad, Bilbo etc. Christians will use them to present allegories and opportunities to spread the gospel, and they are well suited to that.

    I was always intrigued by the Potter-maniacs who blogged that Tonks would be killed off in the last book because she was named after an obscure 3rd century martyr – and they were right!