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You have to make the choice between what is right and what is easy, because often what is easy is not right.


With the appearance of the latest Harry Potter book and the accompanying media hype and ‘Pottermania’, attention has again turned to the works of J.K. Rowling’s imagination. The secular world greets it with an almost obsessive interest, but some religious voices, of Protestant fundamentalists, of several Orthodox bishops, mainly in the Balkans, protective of their simple flocks, and most recently, of Pope Benedict XVI, have been raised against it. What can we say?

Let me first of all say that I have not read any of the Harry Potter books. I have neither the time, nor the inclination. However, as an observer of the world around me, I do know something about the subject and have read in some detail about their extremely talented author. (To discover the biography of any creative artist is much more instructive than to read their works, for their biographies always contain the key to understanding their art). Therefore, I cannot help having a view, which I have again been asked to express here. I do so reluctantly, because I know from past experience that I will be attacked from both sides of the debate. However, I stand in the middle and here I remain, seeing no reason to veer to either left or right in this discussion, for not all the Harry Potter books have yet been published. Therefore, all conclusions are premature.

I know Orthodox, clergy and laity, by no means modernistic in mentality, who consider that Harry Potter is a profoundly Christian work, similar to the ‘Lord of the Rings’ of the devout Roman Catholic, J.R.R. Tolkien, or ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ of the devout Anglican C.S. Lewis. Such Orthodox support their views, citing the fact that Rowling herself is a practising member of the Church of Scotland.

They bring forward interpretations, such that the name ‘Potter’ refers to ‘the potter’s field’, bought with the thirty pieces of silver that Judas threw down, in order to bury the dead. They suggest that the names of the hero’s parents, James and Lily, refer to the ‘Brother of the Lord’, St James, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, and to the Mother of God. They argue that Harry Potter is a biting critique of the materialistic values of modern society, of ‘muggles’, mugs who are manipulated and deceived by the mass media. To modern society these books oppose the mysterious otherworldly universe of Harry Potter. And so on.

Such quite intellectual individuals, it is clear, are well-versed in mythology, allegory and other literary forms. They would argue that if we are to reject Harry Potter, then we must also reject all fairy tales, with their witches, magic, giants, fairies, spells, wizards etc. As examples, we only have to think of Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Jack and the Beanstalk and a host of other children’s stories. Such individuals are able to read into Harry Potter and find in it depths of the Christian Faith.

However, this is not the case of many other Orthodox. Those of a much simpler and more literal frame of mind see in Harry Potter danger, even satanic danger. Clearly, any Puritan fundamentalist, hearing the word witch, will immediately go on a witch-hunt. However, it would be wrong to suggest that the Orthodox detractors of Harry Potter are Puritan fundamentalists. After all, suppose that some simple people read Harry Potter and then become interested in magic, spells, want to become witches or wizards in the neo-pagan movements of the modern Western world. Suppose, some people actually become involved in ouija boards, the occult and then satanism, as a direct result of reading Harry Potter. As far as I know, this is only speculation, but I am sure that some reader of this article will tell me that they know someone to whom this has happened. In such a case, concern with the effects of Harry Potter is quite legitimate.

Certainly, this is the view of several Orthodox bishops, especially in Greece, Bulgaria and Cyprus, who must have excellent reasons to have warned literal-minded people in their flocks against the possible dangers of Harry Potter. Suppose some people decide that if we can do magic (through the work of demons), then why bother with the ascetic practices and sacrifices that the Church asks of us? Is not this fictional world of fantasy and imagination a great distraction from the reading of the Lives of the Saints, from prayer and fasting, from liturgical life, from the practice of Christian virtue, from the life in Christ?

If this is the case, then Harry Potter is evil. But even such a strong argument against Harry Potter can be countered by saying that Harry Potter is not responsible for demonic obsession or possession. Those who have read Harry Potter and then been taken in by the occult would have entered satanism in any case, but by some much more direct and obvious route; Harry Potter could only be a catalyst for interest in the occult. Individuals attracted to the occult would be such fertile ground for satanism in any case, that they would always find another route to it, regardless of Harry Potter. If people have a predisposition to the occult, Harry Potter would not be the cause of their obsession, merely a trigger.

In such a case, perhaps we can conclude that different people can read Harry Potter and come to quite different conclusions. Some can find in it a wonderful modern fairy-story, a modern myth about the duel between good and evil and the triumph of the former over the latter. Others find in it a temptation to lapse from the practice of the Christian Faith and the path to demonic danger. If Harry Potter can be read in a state of innocence, then it presents no danger. But if Harry Potter leads readers into temptation, then it should remain unread.

It is clear that the essence of the Harry Potter stories is the author’s secret sorrow, the fact that J.K.Rowling lost her own father so young and then her mother, so becoming an orphan. In contrast, the essence of Orthodox Christianity is not death, but the Truth of Christ’s Paschal victory over death through the Resurrection, in which, unfortunately, the Non-Orthodox world only weakly believes.

It remains to be seen if J.K.Rowling knows this great Truth, and will express it in the last book of her cycle, which will not appear for another year or two. If she does not express the Truth of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead, then I will be very sad for her. If she does, then she will be greeted as a (somewhat unconventional) Christian author. Above all, she will also at last find welcome relief for her secret sorrow, her sense of irretrievable loss, caused in her childhood by the death of her father, and later by the death of her mother. As yet the authorship of a Hymn to the Resurrection by J.K. Rowling seems very far off, but let us wait and see.

Fr Andrew


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