Even as our nation mourns the events of September 11, our
entertainment industry has been busy. Life continues and,
even in troubled times, we need our diversions. Children
distant from tragedy have been twitching with anticipation
for the November 16 release of the AOL Time Warner blockbuster
hopeful Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
The Potter event, which started with the 1997 print
publication of J. K. Rowling's children's fantasy, was met
with alarm in some Christian circles. As almost everyone
knows, the Harry Potter series is a boyhood journey
about an orphaned, likable wizard-in-training. His mother
died saving his life.
The book series swept as if by magic through the United
Kingdom, and then, since 1998, through North America. Harry
Potter is 10 years old at the series' outset and preteen
readers have fueled the revolution. As word spread, even
adultslots of themwere seen reading the books at beaches,
or sneaking a read from a book left lying around the house
by a youngster.
The first four of seven expected books have been best-sellers.
In both senses of the word, the books are fantastic.
That is to say, the books are both well-written and fantasy.
The film promises to be the same.
So what's the fuss? As the Potter books grew in
popularity, concern grew among fundamentalist Christians
that our children are being indoctrinated in witchcraft
To this we say, rubbish!
A 10-year-old's View
At this point we depart a bit from our typical editorial
format and introduce the words of another J.B.F., son of
this writer. Young J.B.F. has been hopelessly addicted to
the Potter series since he was in third grade two
After reading some of the fundamentalist criticism of the
books in a newsweekly, also lying around the house, he wrote:
"People, you're scaring me. Why are people making such a
huge fuss over Harry Potter? I've read each book seven times
and not once have I thought of devil worshiping.
Please, do you think J. K. Rowling was trying to draw people
to the devil?
"Let's look at the good points. 1) Starts kids reading.
Most kids wouldn't even think about reading a book that
big. It temporarily keeps kids away from the PC and TVonce
they start reading, they can't stop. 2) It's got better
quality than other books. Would you rather they read Goosebumps
[a violent horror series]? 3) Enjoyable reading no matter
what the ageadults are loving them a lot! There are
exceptions: I pity those who are trying to do magic and
worshiping the devil.
"If some people are worshiping the devil, what makes others
so sure it's because of Harry Potter? Are they going
to ban C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?
It's got magic, but it's a 'classic Christian favorite'!
"These people are looking at this with not-open minds."
As a Catholic parent, this writer put misgivings aside
when young J.B.F. passed the litmus test of faith. "If you
could use a magical spell to have all the dishes washed,
would you use it?" The reply was an easy yes. "Would you
renounce Christ if that were necessary in order to use the
spell?" Without hesitation, "Of course not!" The books remain
poised for the next rainy day and yet another read. We can't
wait to see the film.
the Catholic Imagination
We Catholics stand out among Christians for our sacramental
imagination. It's a belief in an enchanted universe, as
Friar Richard Rohr says. Today much of our world is dis-enchanted.
If we can't see it, we don't believe it.
The enchanted world that so many older Catholics grew up
in was a world where you could pray to unseen saints for
intercessory help in all manner of situations, a world where
we could believe without seeing, where we could look at
things through the "eyes of faith," accepting that much
of the cosmos is out of human sight. As we pray in our Creed,
"We believe in one God...maker of heaven and earth, of all
that is seen and unseen."
It is this worldview, what Andrew Greeley calls the "Catholic
imagination," that allows us to see that "the objects, events,
and persons of daily life are revelations of grace." In
a sense, you could say that this imaginativeness animates
Where is our sense of imagination born and nurtured? In
the stories and events of childhood, certainly including
imaginative fiction. In fact, fiction feeds the healthy
imagination, which is one reason this publication devotes
space to it. The healthy imagination opens our minds and
hearts to the possibilities of faith.
Ingenious fantasies like Harry Potter, besides being
plain fun, help develop imaginations. You might say that
is more the case with a book than with a film, but that's
The struggle between good and evil, difficult moral choices,
the surprise of finding out people we were suspicious of
are actually on our sideall of these are themes of
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
No, God isn't mentioned in this story. One doesn't look
for explicit theology in every story. But goodness and love
themes are there. Harry discovering the mystery of his mother's
self-sacrifice is one. Call it a type of "pre-evangelization"
if you must.
Better yet, as one friar here is fond of saying, "Lighten
up!" Let people enjoy the film without reading into it so
much that we fail to see it for what it is: an imaginative
fantastic adventure about a boy coming of age.J.B.F.