Monday, November 19, 2007

The Potter Difference

Recently I wrote about the sinister books by Philip Pullman, and the upcoming movie based on the first book. In introducing that post, I mentioned the controversy in the Christian world about Harry Potter. What I was really trying to say is that we had this huge controversy rocking the world over a book series, while another book series was being sneaked through more quietly. Is there a difference between the two series?

First of all, Philip Pullman is an avowed atheist who allegedly said in a 2003 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, “My books are about killing God.” J. K. Rowling, the Harry Potter author, on the other hand, attends the Church of Scotland and has stated what many readers had already found, that her books contain Christian imagery.

One big question I’ve been hearing now is this: How do we tell children who’ve been allowed to read the Harry Potter series that they should not read His Dark Materials (the Pullman trilogy)? I’ve heard this question from people who are adamantly opposed to Harry Potter, and it seems to me that it’s being said in an “I told you so” sort of way. But, be that as it may, my answer is a question: How do we tell our children anything? First we need to become informed, think it through, and then explain to them at their level. Here is what I would explain:

While Rowling’s books are about good fighting against evil, the Pullman books apparently turn good and evil upside down. The Pullman books include themes about fighting against “the magisterium” (Christianity, or the Church) and “the authority” (God). Rowling’s books include themes about choosing what is right rather than what is easy; loving people of all races and abilities; family values and depending on family and friends; and so much more that is right and good.

I feel that children who can understand about Santa and the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy can understand the difference between fantasy witches and real witches. (And no, personally, I don’t like the idea of younger children reading the Harry Potter books.)

Make-believe witches and wizards have been included in fantasy literature through many ages. In fantasy literature, they are a literary device of a make-believe world, just as talking animals are a literary device in fables. Witches and wizards in fantasy appear in a story as either bad characters or as good characters. In the Wizard of Oz, there was a bad witch and there was Glinda the good witch. In the Lord of the Rings, one of the heroes is the Wizard Gandalf. In Harry Potter, there are witches and wizards, some of whom are good and some of whom are bad. They go to school to learn how to use their inherited talents wisely.

In our real world, there are those who decide to follow a false religion that they sometimes call witchcraft, who play with the occult, calling on supernatural powers that are not from God. Regardless of what literature our children read, we will want them to know that it’s very dangerous, and against the commandments, to play with fortune telling and any other occult practices.

Am I trying to persuade you to let your children read Harry Potter? Actually, no; I believe that should be up to each mother and father. I’m only trying to say, please, let’s not compare apples with oranges. These two authors come from an entirely different viewpoint, with entirely different intentions.

(Note: My sources for information on Philip Pullman's books are, at least partially, the linked resources in my blog post. My source for the Potter books is myself, having read the books in their entirety.)


Ladybug Mommy Maria said...

Wonderful distinction!

Margaret Mary Myers said...

Thank you so much for your comment, Maria!

Clare Siobhan said...

Hi Margaret Mary,
Thanks for your thoughtful post. I am "okay with Haryy Potter, with reservations" (esp. since the Dumbledore is gay thing...oi...) and adamantly against the Phillip Pullman books. You did a good job of making the distinctions between the two.

I've been collecting links on Harry Potter and Phillip Pullman/Golden Compass/His Dark Materials and posted them at my place, if anyone's interested:

Phillip Pullman:

Harry Potter:

Have fun!