April 4th, 2003

A Pocket Full of Murder

21-Word Fic

Already posted this in nostalgia_lj's journal, since she was the one who started it all, but since I'm sure most of you will never see it there, here it is:

So naturally his youngest son looked like Harry Potter and made potions like Neville Longbottom. And somewhere, the Fates were laughing.

Which reminds me, there's a new Snapelets cookie that a lot of you have probably not seen yet...
A Pocket Full of Murder

Defending Harry Potter (Part 1 of 2)

It has occurred to me that after nearly a year and a half of blogging and half a year of LiveJournal use, during which a considerable number of my posts seemed to have something to do with the Harry Potter books, I might do well to explain why it is that I, a conservative evangelical Christian who is active in a local church and trying to raise my children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4), have no personal fears or misgivings about reading (and even writing stories about) the HP series.

Before I begin, I just want to say that I don't expect everybody to agree with me on this, nor is it my desire to offend anyone's conscience. If you feel uncomfortable with fantasy literature in general and prefer to stay away from it, you won't hear any argument from me (unless you come looking for one). All I mean to do here is explain why I personally feel comfortable with the books and do not believe that they promote Satanism and/or the occult and/or a spirit of law-breaking and rebellion.

First, I have always loved fantasy stories. My father read C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien's books to me when I was a child, and as I grew older I read and re-read them, and other books like them, many times. I also spent a great deal of time reading the classic fairy tales, as well as myths and legends from around the world. The idea of a world at once like and unlike our own, in which people had different abilities and faced different challenges yet the struggle between good and evil went on, had a great appeal to my fertile imagination. And yet, in all those years of reading fantasy I was never tempted to abandon my Christian faith and convictions, or to worship other gods, or to seek answers and power in the occult. In fact, the more that the system and practices of magic in a fantasy novel resembled what I knew of occultism, the less I liked the book and the more likely I was to put it down unfinished. Anything to do with summoning demons, or using "spirit guides", or being possessed, made my skin crawl.

But when I read the Harry Potter books, I genuinely felt no such misgivings.

It's often been pointed out by J.K. Rowling's detractors that the Bible makes no distinction between "good" and "bad" magic, but simply forbids the practice of witchcraft absolutely. And that is quite true. In both the Old and New Testaments, it's made plain that God's people are to have nothing to do with occult practices. However, the case against the Potter books depends on the idea that the "magic" and "witchcraft" described therein really is the same as the occultishness the Bible condemns, rather than an entirely different proposition which simply makes use of some of the same terms and labels -- and that, to me, is where the case falls down. If JKR had called her characters something other than "witches" and "wizards", or used a word other than "magic" to describe their powers, I don't believe very many people would be making a fuss about the books at all. It's only the negative associations with those words that makes it easy for people to leap to the wrong conclusion about what's in the books.

As it happens, anyone who actually reads the HP books is not going to be fooled into thinking that he or she even can, let alone should, practice magic. The magic in Rowling's books is a fantasy, a confection, a what-if proposition -- it isn't patterned on, or otherwise connected to, wicca or the occult as we know it. In the Potter books, magic is an ability that people are simply born with, or they aren't. No amount of prayers or sacrifices or study will make a "Muggle" (non-magical person) into a wizard, and not even the most deliberate rejection or negligence of their inborn powers will make a witch or wizard into a Muggle.

Also, the magic in the Potter books does not depend on or come from making contact with spirit beings, worshiping idols, making sacrifices, or any of the other elements which are integral to the occult in our world. Even those who claim to practice nothing but "good" or "white" magic in our world would not pretend that they can do so without invoking some god and/or goddess, or without the aid of spirits (even if they think those spirits are benevolent), or without some kind of sacrifice (even if it is a bloodless one). There is no equivalent of these practices anywhere in the Potter books, however. Instead, the HP witch or wizard merely waves a wand, speaks a short and simple command in Latin, and poof! A hedgehog turns into a pincushion. I'd love to see any of the supposed practitioners of magic in our world do that!

In any case, if we're going to flip out over the use of magic in the Potter books, then let's be consistent. Let's also ban "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty" because they portray certain types or uses of magic as good -- just like the Harry Potter books. In fact, nearly all the classic fairy tales are about good characters who are able to do magic, and/or are helped by magical beings, and/or who are given magical items which they use to achieve their goals -- just like the Harry Potter books. In fairyland, as in Potterland, there are potions, and wands, and magic phrases like "open sesame", and people who can change into animals or vice versa. There are mysterious prophecies and heroic quests; and a monster may be your enemy -- or he may be a friend in disguise.

The fairy tales also contain descriptions of evil sorcerers and witches who use magic to do harm -- just like the Harry Potter books. Some of these descriptions of evil characters and their deeds are quite scary and nightmarish, and the conflict between good and evil turns violent and even bloody before good finally triumphs -- just like the Harry Potter books. And there is no mention of God in many of the fairy tales; in fact, in the land of "once upon a time", religion of any kind is really not a factor -- just like the Harry Potter books.

I might not agree with those parents who are so frightened of the word or the idea of "magic", so convinced that the word "magic" always does and always must refer to the occult, that they refuse to let their children read ANY fairy tales or fantasies -- but at least they are consistent. I do have a problem with people who freak out over Harry Potter but don't apply the same standards to the classic fairy tales and other, more traditionally accepted, works of fantasy (such as The Hobbit and the Narnia series) which also describe and make use of magical people and objects.

Either we choose to ban the whole fantasy genre from our personal libraries or we don't, but either way I see no reason whatsoever to single out the Harry Potter books.