Harry Potter spoilers follow. You’ve been warned. But it’s been twenty years–there’s gotta be a statute of limitations on these things.
I love Harry Potter. I am so grateful that my wife managed to get me to read the series. It has influenced me in many ways. I was surprised at how much I was influenced by Harry and his friends because the Christian community I grew up in had some weird theological reasons for avoiding it, but, to be honest, I never sorted through why. I thought getting rid of my Pokémon cards made me pure enough.
Anyway, at first, I didn’t get into Harry Potter—honestly, the text itself was too long and intimidating. And my attention span has only marginally improved since middle and high school, so I didn’t think I had the capacity. I was much more interested in Nintendo 64 and GameCube, and then eventually Volkswagen and punk rock. Shame on me. (Oh boy, shame is another part of my childhood—more later about that.)
But in some ways, I regret not experiencing it sooner. It would have taught me so much. Here’s why I hope to introduce it to my children, here on the week of its twentieth anniversary.
Let me offer this before I get to my list. I think the text should be enjoyed in community and in dialogue. The setting itself is fictional, but magic, in a certain sense, is real. I don’t think J.K Rowling makes that connection explicitly. You could leave this book thinking the entire spiritual world is fabricated or, worse, dabble into some truly wicked things yourself. Jesus is the source of our strength and might in the world, and if you’re getting it somewhere else, trouble looms. Adults probably can manage to avoid such temptations, children, on the other hand, may not. So my suggestion is to read it together, not alone.
- It’s great literature for children. Literally, the reading material itself is excellent. It’s rather brilliant. J.K. Rowling introduces new concepts and words gradually; in some cases repeating a word that exceeds the reading level of the rest of the text in order to teach the reader the word. It’s subtle (and not very noticeable to an adult), but it’s great for kids. Also, the books themselves advance in reading level and thematic intensity as Harry ages. And so if you begin the reading material at about Harry’s age and introduce a new book each year, your kid should grow naturally with Harry Potter. Things don’t really start getting real until the fourth book and then they get really real.
- It teaches children how to relate. Hermione, Harry, and Ron have such a good relationship and encounter conflict and love so regularly, it’s honestly an authentic display of what friendship can be like. It’s rather ideal in certain cases and their intimacy and vulnerability with each other is a little exaggerated, but it’s still helpful to have an example. It’s a story about relationships and why you can’t go through this world alone, and why it’s better to work out your life in community.
- It has a moral compass. It is one of the last books I have read that is appropriate for both children and adults, and has a basic moral message and an obvious protagonist and an antagonist. It is a story of redemption, reconciliation, hope, and conquering evil with good, death with life. It’s not riddled with postmodernism. There’s no anti-hero. Harry, Hermione, and Ron are good kids and it’s OK to make them your role models. They resist evil and temptation, never perfectly, and grow in understanding of the world.
- The Gospel is laid out in it. One of the reason’s I was so surprised about the fundamentalist resistance to Harry Potter is that the story is a basically an allegory for the Gospel. It seems to have borrowed a lot from Christianity (though it also has borrowed things from other faiths). And it’s not just because good triumphs over evil. I mean, literally, Harry Potter’s parents have an epitaph with 1 Corinthians 15:26 on it: the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. And Harry Potter does battle with a villain who has exploited death to extend his own life. Through the death of others, he capitalizes. It’s the opposite of Christianity. Harry, on the other hand, embraces death, seemingly resurrects, and conquers Voldemort and the Death Eaters. And then faced with collecting the power of the world, the power of the elder wand, he denies. And he breaks the wand! Sounds like Jesus to me.
- It’s has deep themes that last beyond the book. There are complex themes that children can keep returning to and learning from. Harry Potter, don’t get me wrong, is explicitly a protagonist. But after re-reading and thinking, one can begin to see where he was flawed, how his own physical and emotional development limited him. And then there are deeper mysteries and application. From whose perspective is this history written? Is Gryffindor as great as it seems? And then contemporary allegory too—who are the Death Eaters, who is Voldemort, Slytherin House, and the Ministry of Magic today? What can we learn from the text for today’s world.
I probably just showed you how much I love Harry Potter, and I am thankful that it exists. But I really am inspired by it and, even right now, I’m grinning ear-to-ear because of how it is has influenced me. Might be time to crack it open again.
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much…