Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wonderful Wizarding Worlds

A coworker of mine got me thinking about media - what we watch and read and what is a good idea and what is not. (I might have written about this before...if so I can't remember and I don't know where it is.)

I agree wholeheartedly with Mark Driscoll (at the above link) that we ought to be discerning about what we see and hear. And, just like a granny, I think a lot of what people read and watch is rotting their minds. I tend to watch only PG or G movies and read books such as Anne of Green Gables, so I'm not exactly Miss Culturally Hip. But I think that the matter is more complex than Driscoll makes it. He seems to imply that if a book has a vampire or witchcraft or [insert any number of things here] it is evil.

I haven't read the Twilight series, so I will remain silent on it and substitute the Harry Potter series. (It's comparing apples and oranges, but bear with me.) It's a timely substitution as the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has just opened in Orlando.

Many Christians say that the Harry Potter books are evil and teaching our children to practice witchcraft. I wouldn't let my young children read the Harry Potter series because I think that they are too dark for youngin's, but not on the grounds that they include witchcraft. Here is why.

Do you know many (or any) Christians that ban The Lord of the Rings trilogy from their adolescents? Most likely not. Instead we have sermon illustrations based on them and youth group gatherings to watch them and discuss brotherhood or some such topic.

Do you know many (or any) Christians who ban Sleeping Beauty from their DVD collection? We consider it a classic fairy tale.

These three stories have many things in common: They all have main characters who are witches or wizards (who practice magic through some supernatural power). They all have good magicians and evil magicians. Dumbledore and Voldemort. Gandalf and Saruman. Merryweather and Maleficient. (Doesn't matter if you call them fairies. They're doing magic.)

So why do we consider LOTR and Sleeping Beauty harmless children's tales and Harry Potter from the devil? Partly, it's popularity. Sleeping Beauty is a fine movie, but I don't think anyone's worried that children are going to start dressing like Maleficent and doing spells. (Though my sister does dress as Maleficent for Halloween every year.) So if Sleeping Beauty suddenly got really popular and kids wanted to be Maleficent and do spells, would it suddenly become evil? Perhaps. But I don't think the majority of Christians would say Sleeping Beauty is evil, so simply having a wizard in it or not (or a vampire or a werewolf) an evil book does not make.

Another thing that Harry Potter has in common with SB and LOTR is a Judeo-Christian moral foundation. Rowling isn't writing a Christian book, but she is writing in the British tradition, which is a Judeo-Christian tradition. There is good and evil. Sacrificial love is paramount. Family and friends are valued over individual achievement and glory.

But Rowling takes it one step further than traditional simplistic fairy tales and improves upon them. In traditional fairy tales (LOTR excepted) good and evil are very black and white. This person is bad. This person is good. But we all know from our own lives that people aren't just born with a label on their foreheads indicating "evil" and "good." We each make daily choices that determine our character. You aren't good simply because you're born to a nice Chrsitian family. You aren't evil simply because you're born to a mobster. Look at the Rwandan genocide - an example of a "Christian" nation who made evil choices. Or Draco Malfoy, a boy raised by a family who did evil, but who decided he didn't want to be a part of it in the end.

Is Harry Potter evil because it includes witches and wizards (or whatever fantastical creature you wish to insert here, such as werewolves or vampires)? If we decide yes, then I believe we have to throw away the vast majority of modern Western children's literature.

The Wizard of Oz
The Chronicles of Narnia
Alice in Wonderland
Peter Pan
The Hobbit
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
Beauty and the Beast
The Bible (sex, violence, witchcraft, and more!)
Much of the literature of the Middle Ages

I believe (based on my husband's information) that the Twilight series is not one I'd like my kids to read. But not because of the vampires and werewolves. Because ultimately, I don't believe the largest risk awaiting my hypothetical child is practicing witchcraft. It's highly unlikely that reading Harry Potter or Twilight is going to entice my child to perform seances.

What I think is far more likely is that my child would read Twilight and spend inordinate amounts of time obsessing about dreamy, dangerous boys. The real and present danger for the majority of young girls is not that they will become entangled with the occult but that they will become obsessed with their looks, with boys, with what other people think, and will be tempted into sexual immorality. From this standpoint, I'll take Harry Potter over the vast majority of romance any day of the week.


Elizabeth M. said...

GREAT post, Amber! I love HP and now I have validation that it will not corrupt Micah when she is...a teenager. So you don't think I should start reading her the first book now?

Amber said...

Liz, I think the first book is OK for younger audiences (it's written at 4th/5th grade level, I think. But the later books I think are more appropriate for teens.

Anonymous said...

You should also add to your banned list all books about myths, Norse and Greek and Roman gods and the study of cultural anthropology. I think that those who use such broad condemning statements sometimes do not really look into how far their remarks can be taken. NV.

Teresa said...

I can't believe I missed this post...I'm a shameless lurker on your blog and have been since I read Hope Lives - a truly wonderful book, by the way. I wanted to send you an email and tell you how much I enjoyed the book, but was never able to track down an email address and was too lazy to go through the publisher. Is that how one accomplishes such a task?
All that to say, my sister and I had an ongoing Harry Potter battle wherein I insisted that her dream nanny, Mary Poppins, was obviously a witch. Once she actually read the HP books, (it gives you a bit more credibility when you've actually read that which you are criticizing), she became an instant convert.
I enjoy your blog, Amber. You're funny and real and I always look forward to hearing what you have to say. Especially when you are talking about gelato flavors.
Well, it appears with this comment, I have now penned a book of my own!
Have a great day,