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Is Harry Potter Evil?

Question: Is Harry Potter evil?

Objection 1:

It would seem that Harry Potter is evil. This is because the books portray several depictions of witchcraft and wizardry, which are harmful to the young and innocent minds of children. Objection 2:

In addition, children’s books should teach children lessons and edify their young minds, which the Harry Potter books do not do.

Objection 3:

Furthermore, they are also harmful to adults, and adults are therefore under no obligation to read them before passing judgement on them as harmful.

On the contrary:

Several Christian Groups that critique children’s literature do not see any evil in Harry Potter. Examples include Common Sense Media, Redeemed Reader and Delibris.org.

I answer that:

Most children’s stories concern themselves with depictions of fairies, witches and other magical creatures such as goblins and ogres. Some examples that come to mind include “The Wizard of Oz” by Frank Baum, “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis, and the Fairy Tales of the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Anderson (such as “Sleeping Beauty”, “The Snow Queen (popularized by Disney in the animated film “Frozen”) and “Rapunzel” (popularized by Disney in the animated film “Tangled”). Because children’s imaginations have always been captured by the possibilities that lie beyond the normal appearances of everyday appearances, by which they construct make-believe toys and stories out of ordinary things, people who tell stories geared at children will often include such make-believe elements, such as magic, in their tales.

Reply to Objection 1:

A depiction of evil in a story does not encourage the commitment of the evil by the reader of the same story. Many stories that Christians laud as being exemplary depict evil deeds, such as cautionary tales, fables and parables. When it comes to witchcraft specifically, in the Bible, we are told that Saul consulted with a witch at Endor (1 Samuel 28: 3-25). Reading that story does not lead a normal Christian to then go and do likewise, simply because that action has been depicted. A classical work of fiction that also depicts witches being consulted is Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Yet this work has never been publicly decried by Christians for its depiction of witchcraft.

Reply to Objection 2:

All great productions of the human mind and spirit are given by God, including stories that are not parables, moral lessons or allegories.  All of God’s creatures, including those whose creation He inspires through artists, show forth His beauty and goodness and truth. To measure the merit of a work of literature using the yardstick of pedagogy is to corrupt its nature as God intended it. As Jacques Maritain says in “Art and Scholasticism”,

“If you want to make a Christian work (of art), then be a Christian, and simply try to make a beautiful work (of art), into which your heart will pass; do not try to “make Christian art”… Leave distinct what is distinct. Do not try to blend by force what life unites so well. If you were to make of your aesthetic an article of faith, you would spoil your faith. If you were to make of your devotion a rule of artistic activity, or if you were to turn desire to edify into a method of your art, you would spoil your art.”

Reply to Objection 3:

To correctly judge the value, moral or artistic, of a work of literature, one must make oneself an expert in that field first, by reading or practising the skill widely and for the required amount of time. If willingness, inclination or interest to do so are lacking, then one must turn to someone who has made the necessary investment to gain expertise. As Aristotle says in The Nichomachean Ethics: “It is the mark of an educated person to search for the same kind of clarity in each topic to the extent that the nature of the matter [dictates]. Each person judges well what they know and is thus a good critic of those things. For each thing in specific, someone must be educated [to be a critic]; to [be a critic in general] one must be educated about everything.”

Such education comes about through thinking, either our own or that of others. Both types of thinking are, as Mortimer Adler put it, “hard and painful and difficult.”

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