Harry Potter: Harmless Christian Novel or Doorway to the Occult?
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Whenever a new movie rolls around, the debate about Harry Potter heats up again. Some parents have called for the books to be banned, while others – including some Christians – have embraced the fantasy series. In fact, many fans of the series have argued that the books are actually Christian novels that are valuable for children to read. Author Richard Abanes says this couldn’t be further from the truth.
In his book, Harry Potter, Narnia, and the Lord of the Rings: What You Need to Know About Fantasy Books and Movies, he discusses why the J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is vastly different from the Christian-based works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Richard about his book. Read the interview below.
CBN.com: What led you to write this book?
RICHARD ABANES: Well, this Harry Potter controversy, I thought was going to be dying down, but over the years it has continued to be talked about and there are many individual opinions on it. With the new book coming out, I felt that I needed to address these issues again since my last book, Harry Potter and the Bible. There has continued to be these myths about Harry Potter that it is not harmful at all, that it is absolutely wonderful. I felt like that needed to be addressed because there is a movement within Christianity now, within the Christian church, of a small group of people who are trying to say that the Harry Potter books are actually a Christian series just like the The Chronicles of Narnia series and the Lord of the Rings series. I felt this needed to be addressed because it is not an accurate picture of what the Harry Potter books are.
CBN.com: You discuss in the book how fantasy can be used for teaching. What is it about fantasy that you find valuable?
ABANES: I love fantasy. I’m a big fantasy fan and science fiction fan. Fantasy is a wonderful way to communicate truths to children. There are various concepts that are biblically sound, that you can put in terms that they can understand -- issues like integrity, honesty, bravery, courage, forgiveness -- and you find these things in books like The Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings. And that is why you have to be careful about fantasy as well. Even though it is great, fantasy can, like anything that is powerful, be used in a way that is detrimental to kids. That is when you have fantasy that talks about values that are not biblically sound -- disobedience, lack of respect for things, sort of a moral relativism -- and these are things that come across in fantasies like the Philip Pullman books, and the Harry Potter books. And in Philip Pullman, which many children are reading, we have very anti-Christian views being expressed, so that can be dangerous as well.
CBN.com: How can parents tell the difference and evaluate whether a book is a good type of fantasy or a bad type of fantasy?
ABANES: First, you have to know your kid. You have to know what the maturity level of your child is and how they are going to be affected by fantasy. If they tend to emulate things a lot, copy things they see on television or in books, then you know that they are very prone to that kind of influence, and you have to be very careful. One of the things you want to look at is what is the overall message that is coming forth from a book or from a movie? What are the characters doing in the movie or in the book? You can have bad characters doing bad things in any kind of fantasy, that is fine, but how does the story portray that bad behavior? Is it exalting it? Is it making it look fun? Or is it showing how that is not good? That’s one of the main ways you can do that. And when it comes to spiritual issues, how closely does something like things of the occult appear in a book that is very similar to what you find in the real world?
CBN.com: You mentioned Philip Pullman and the series of books that he has written. When did children’s fiction become so dark? Is this a new trend?
ABANES: It is. It is a very new trend for children’s fiction to be dark, to be sinister, to be anti-Christian, to be filled with occult imagery. That is something that actually started when there was a changeover in Hollywood from the classic portrayal of demons, witches, and things like that in a negative light. You started getting movies around the late 1980s and early 1990s that were starting to portray witchcraft, the occult, and the paranormal in a positive way. And that started piquing an interest of the community and of kids. You know, Hollywood targets children a lot because there is a lot of money to be made there. So that started this trend toward the popularity of that. Then you get the television shows, like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Charmed,” that presented these types of things in a very positive, fun, stimulating, exciting way, and that has caused this interest. Then there are books like the R.L. Stine books that have contributed greatly to this horror genre for children. That’s how that started.
CBN.com: In your book you discuss two types of magic found in these fantasy stories. What is the difference between the magic readers will find in The Chronicles of Narnia or the Lord of the Rings and the “magick” found in Harry Potter?
ABANES: One of the easiest ways to know whether a fantasy book or film has real world magick in it is to just ask a simple question: “Can my child find information in a library or bookstore that will enable them to replicate what they are seeing in the film or the book?” If you go to The Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings what you see in, story magic and imagination, it is not real. You can’t replicate it. But if you go to something like Harry Potter, you can find references to astrology, clairvoyance, and numerology. It takes seconds to go into a bookstore or library and get books on that and start investigating it, researching it, and doing it. In fact, that’s why real Wiccans, real witches, and real occultists are using the popularity of Harry Potter to lure kids toward real world occultism. They actually have advertisements for their own books that use Harry Potter as their appeal.
CBN.com: There are some people who say children will not be drawn to the occult just because Harry Potter practices magick and spells, but you’ve found some research that suggests otherwise. What have you found?
ABANES: Right, even J.K. Rowling has said, “Well I’ve never met anyone who has come up to me and said they want to be a witch now.” But people are forgetting a very commonly known fact that children like to copy what they see. Children like to copy what they think is cool. We already have examples of kids going out and buying white owls because that is Harry’s owl in the movie. We’ve seen boarding school registrations sky-rocketing in England because Harry goes to a boarding school. So we have numerous examples of this copycat behavior. And the obvious question is, where is that going to stop? Isn’t it possible that kids out there are also copying and wanting to redo the stuff they are seeing in the films or reading in the books? And we have examples of that too. That’s all I’m saying, is be careful and don’t think that your children might not copy what they are seeing and might not want to emulate their hero and the things he is doing. Obviously, I’m not talking about flying on a broomstick, or making a pineapple dance across a table. People often hear what I say and they think, “That is so stupid of you.” But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about real stuff that real kids can really copy, and that’s what the problem is.
CBN.com: In your book you discuss the authors of these three different series, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling. How are these authors different?
ABANES: Tolkien and Lewis, of course, were devout Christians. J.K. Rowling does not seem to be. In fact, we have no statements from her at all that would indicate that she has made a profession for Christ, that she defines God the same way that Christians define God, or that she views Jesus Christ in the same way. There is nothing.
We also have moral relativism in her books, meaning if it feels good do it, as opposed to a biblical kind of morality that is throughout the Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings. We see issues in those two series such as forgiveness, repentance, sacrifice, and these types of things. We might see some symbolism in the Harry Potter books that might be able to be interpreted -- if you pushed it -- in some sort of Christian way, but these same symbols also have occult and pagan meanings to them. Within the framework and the context of Harry Potter we see that this is probably what she is dealing with.
There is this whole movement within Christianity where people are trying to say that the Harry Potter books are Christian novels. And that is just untrue. You can’t interpret it that way. That is not the context of the story. That’s not what Rowling is in her real life and what she is trying to put across. And what is interesting is that these people who are saying that the Harry Potter books are Christian, are interpreting all these symbols in a Christian way, but in the exact opposite way that J.K. Rowling has herself explained. So they are contradicting the author herself, which is sort of silly.
CBN.com: What is your advice to parents about this? How should they approach the Harry Potter series?
ABANES: I would say first of all, I am not for book banning or book burning. I want to be really clear about that. I believe that parents need to simply have the right information before them, good solid facts about what is and what is not in the books, and then look to their kids and think about the child’s maturity level, whether the child tends to copy what they see, the age of the child, and then also how rooted and grounded that child may be in their faith. Once they get up into late teens and early adults, it is not really an issue anymore. I’m mostly concerned about kids who are as young as five and six years old who are being read these books and up into the early adolescent years. So I guess the simple answer would be that they need to know their kids and get involved and not just think here is a nice thick book that I can throw at them and have them read it for the next few hours. They need to be involved.
CBN.com: Do you think that a lot of parents are unaware at how easy it is to get books on witchcraft and spells, many of which are located right next to the Harry Potter books at bookstores?
ABANES: Absolutely. I don’t think parents understand first of all what is in Harry Potter. Secondly, I don’t think parents understand how closely what is in Harry Potter mirrors what is in the real world, and then how the real world books are being sold right up next to the Harry Potter books. There is this crossover where the Wiccans know it, the occultists know, the practitioners of all these things know it, and they are using that curiosity that kids have for all of this stuff now through Harry Potter to attract readers to their real world how-to manuals. I think many parents just don’t get that. They don’t understand.
CBN.com: What do you hope to see accomplished through this book?
ABANES: My goal is to cancel out the extremist views on Harry Potter and fantasy in general. I want people to know that there are concerns and dangers with fantasy literature, that we need to be careful, but at the same time fantasy can be wonderful for kids and is needed for kids. If we can find a middle of the road balance, that is what is most important. We need to not just cut everything out but to take care to look at what is good fantasy and what is bad fantasy. That is why I give examples of both kinds and explain them so parents can make a good decision.
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