Monday, November 17, 2008

The Hogwarts Dilemma: In Defense of Harry Potter

Back in October, I had the opportunity to attend an old-fashioned tent revival. It was a blast from the past; parking in a cow pasture, folding chairs on uneven ground, funeral home fans... the whole nine yards. And there was plenty of hellfire and damnation preaching, too. The kind that makes you squirm in your seat and take stock in how many of the Ten Commandments you might have danced around lately.

The preacher got to talking about things that were ruining today's youth and leading Christian children down the path of depravity. He started reeling off TV shows and books, and then he slammed his hand down on the podium and said "And you let your kids read that old Harry Potter! You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!" Well, I looked at my wife and she looked at me. Joyce looked a tad guilty. I didn't.

Our oldest daughter, Reilly, absolutely loves Harry Potter. The films, the books, everything that has to do with the boy sorcerer and Hogwarts academy for witches and warlocks. When she found out that Universal Studios was in the process of building a Harry Potter section in the Orlando amusement park, she was in seventh heaven. I'm sure we'll be walking the same cobblestones that young Harry has the next time we take a trip to Florida.

If I have anything to feel guilty about, it is denying my daughter the pleasure of the Harry Potter legend for several years, due to buying into the supposed evil of J.K. Rowling's magical land. Before returning to the mostly controversial genre of horror fiction, I was one of those in the amen corner, agreeing to the warnings that were being cast about... how our children would be led from God by the reading of the Potter novels or the viewing of the motion pictures, and how they would develop an interest in witchcraft and perhaps even want to dabble in the black arts.

Yes, I was blindsided by all that bull. But after deciding to return to writing in a field that most Christians regard to be questionable at best -- and abominable at worst -- I looked at the appeal of Harry Potter in a different light. Sure, Rowlings' entire fictional world is based on the practicing of witchcraft, but it is pure fantasy, not some dark snare set to sap our children of their faith and send them back-sliding toward the fiery pit. I've watched most of the movies and enjoyed them immensely, finding them to be clever and refreshing. As far as harmful is concerned, I see nothing dangerous about the content in the least. The Harry Potter legend comes across as a more hip and intelligent version of Bewitched. And, if my parents allowed me to watch that innocent, fun-loving television show about zany witches and warlocks, I certainly see no reason to deny my own kids an innocent, fun-loving series of books and movies about a bespectacled boy with a lightning bolt scar emblazoned upon his forehead.

Yes, I do consider myself to be a Christian, but I do not hold the same belief as some of my fellow believers that horror and fantasy fiction is basically evil and orchestrated by the devil. Some folks think that a writer must surely be morally bankrupt to want to write about vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and the like... and even more depraved to want to focus their work on witches and warlocks. Simply put, to write about such things does not mean that we believe in them. It simply means that we have a macabre interest in monsters and menace and things that go bump in the night. And if we have a God-given ability to write of such things convincingly -- and scare and entertain folks in the process -- then maybe the Almighty has a purpose for blessing us with such a gruesome talent. Maybe it's the old tried-and-true storytelling of good versus evil that He wants us to carry on... a theme that is plentiful within the pages of the Bible itself.

So, despite the strict conventions of organized religion and frowning-upon by my fellow churchgoers, I will continue to write about vampires, werewolves, and the darker side of man... and feel no guilt about it. And I will let my children watch that so-called black magician and misguider of youth, Harry Potter... and I'll not feel a speck of shame for doing so.

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