This is a report I did in high school:
The Popularity and Controversy of the Harry Potter Books
November 4, 2005
The Harry Potter books written by J.K. Rowling were an immediate success; millions of the books were sold and the movies made millions of dollars. There are many reasons why the Harry Potter books are popular, including the fact that they spans many genres, borrow many familiar ideas from famous authors, and are easy to read. While Rowling’s books are immensely popular, they are not without controversy. Many people believe that the Harry Potter books help children foster an interest in the occult, while many others believe that they are a good platform for teaching children morality, spirituality, and that good always overcome evil.
The Harry Potter books chronicle the adventures of the boy wizard who attends Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to study magic. At the school he befriends fellow students Ron and Hermione, meets half-giants, werewolves, Acromantulas (giant spiders), and centaurs, among other creatures. In nearly every book, Harry has a run-in with the wizard who killed his parents, the one whom every witch and wizard fearfully refer to as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named”, Voldemort (Rowling, 1997, p. 85).
When the British publisher Bloomsbury released J.K. Rowling’s book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997, neither they nor the author had any idea how successful it would be. In an interview with Gibb, Rowling (1997) said, “I never expected to make money, I always saw Harry Potter as this quirky little book. I liked it and I worked hard at it, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine large advances” ( n.p.).In another interview Rowling (1997) said, “My realistic side had allowed myself to think that I might get one good review in a national newspaper. That was my idea of a peak. So everything else really has been like stepping into Wonderland for me” (Treneman, 1997, n.p.).
Harry Potter was sold in the juvenile literature section of British bookstores, next to other authors like Dr. Seuss, but the fact that it was a children’s book didn’t keep adults from buying it; Rowling’s books quickly became a bestseller. It was reprinted four times in Britain by July 1997 (Thompson, 1997) and 30,000 copies of the Philosopher’s Stone were sold by November of 1997 (Treneman, 1997). Shortly after it was released to rave reviews, Rowling’s agent, Christopher Little, auctioned off the American rights to the Arthur A. Levine publishing company (an off-shoot of Scholastic, Inc.) for $105,000 (Waters and Mithrandir 2003). Because a well-known publisher bought the Harry Potter series, people began to think that Rowling’s books were good.
In 1998, the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, was released in the United Kingdom, also to become immensely popular and another bestseller. A few months later, Arthur A. Levine published the first book under the Americanized title, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The title was changed because,
in the United States the word ‘Philosopher’ conjures up images of boring, stuffy old men, while a ‘Sorcerer’ is an exciting Merlin-type wizard….The first book also was “translated” somewhat for U.S. readers because they would not have understood or related to some British terms. For instance, the British “mum” was translated to “mom” and “jumper” became “sweater.” Now, however, the texts have been “unified” by making slight adjustments only when necessary so that all words are understandable to U.S. and British readers…both versions now use “sweater” while “dustbins” (which is not difficult to figure out) is used in both editions rather than changing it to “trash cans” for U.S. readers. From now on, of course, the titles will also be the same in both countries.” (Waters and Mithrandir, 2003, p.5).
The Sorcerer’s Stone landed on the New York Times’ adult fiction list in December of 1998, the “first hard cover book to do so in Scholastic’s history…Adults, it’s clear, are reading the books as fervently as the kids.” (Glitz, 1999, n.p.). “This year also saw the marketing of a ‘black-and-white’ edition designed to appeal to adults embarrassed at sneaking the gaudier version out of bookshops for their own personal pleasure.” (Lockerbie, 1998, n.p.).
Chambers of Secrets was published in the United States in June 1999, where it was quickly snapped up and became the #1 bestseller on several fiction-books lists. It was originally scheduled to be released in the fall, but Scholastic rushed it out earlier because so many fans were buying the British version over the Internet, too anxious to wait (Glitz, 1999). This was very obvious during Rowling’s U.S. book tour in the fall of 1998. In an interview after the book tour, Rowling (1998) said: I lost count of the number of children who told me they had sent away to British bookshops and buying the book on the internet to get the sequel to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. They said they could not wait until it came out in America in a year’s time. (Walker, 1998, n.p.)It is estimated that, according to an unnamed insider, Scholastic lost out on about 20,000 sales. Because of this, Scholastic published the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, shortly after it was released in the U.K. (Glitz, 1999, n.p.). Not everybody appreciated the popularity of Rowling’s books, in particular, the publishers, because they thought that the Harry Potter books took up too much space on the bestseller lists. Gray (1999) quoted David Rosenthal (1999), publisher of Simon & Schuster as saying:
There is a big controversy stirring over whether Harry Potter should be on the New York Times bestseller list. There are a number of publishers–I don’t happen to be among them, actually, but I’ve got calls about this–who are thinking about banding together to beg the New York Times not to include the Harry Potter books on the regular fiction best-selling list, since they now take up two slots and will soon take up a third. (n.p.)
Just as Rosenthal predicted, the third installment topped the New York Times’ bestseller list when it came out in September, the previous two taking up the second and third place positions on the same list.
In 2000, with the fourth book’s (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) release due in July, the New York Times decided the time was ripe to create a separate bestsellers’ list for children’s’ books. Charles McGrath (2000), editor of the NYT Book Review, said that“…it is not coincidental that the timing corresponds to the fourth Harry Potter book. …if we were ever going to do this step, this would be the time.” (Corliss, 2000, n.p.).
Barbara Marcus (2000), the president of Scholastic, was annoyed, saying that “Nothing has ever been as popular with families, adults, children, in the history of publishing, and it should be a giant celebration. Instead, the argument is being made that they are taking up too much room on the list.” (Corliss, 2000, n.p.). Craig Virden (2000), the president and publisher of Random House Children’s Books and Scholastic’s competitor sided with Marcus on the point that if it’s a best seller, it should be on the proper list. He also thought that “3.8 million is an adult number.” (Corliss, 2000, n.p.).
Despite the protests from Scholastic and the many Harry Potter fans, by the time the Goblet of Fire came out, all four Harry Potter books were relegated to the new children’s bestseller list. The release date marked nearly 100 straight weeks the books have been on a New York Times’ list (Mclaughlin, 2000).
In 2001, J.K. Rowling published two more books under pseudonyms, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander and Quidditch Through the Ages by Kennilworthy Whisp. Rowling (2001) said that all the profits, over 80% of the cover price, went to Comic Relief, a British charity (Raincoast Books, 2001).
Rowling (2001) spoke in an interview of these two books:
They are two titles that appear in the novels – Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is a book that Harry buys to go to Hogwarts so it’s one of his school textbooks and Quidditch Through The Ages is a library title. I always write more than I need for the books so bits of them were just written for my own fun. So when Comic Relief asked me to write something I thought I would just love to write them, I just thought it would be so much fun and I was completely correct. It was more fun than I’ve had writing the others. (Raincoast Books 2001, n.p.)Later that same year, the first Harry Potter movie was released, adapted from the
Sorcerer’s Stone/Philosopher’s Stone. It was released under different titles, just like the first book, and every scene in which the Philosopher’s Stone was mentioned, was filmed again, with the actors mentioning the Sorcerer’s Stone instead. The movie brought in a record 90 million dollars in sales on opening weekend, in the United States alone, and opened on more screens (3,762) than any other movie at the time. The second movie, Chamber of Secrets also did well, bringing in 88 million dollars on opening weekend in 2002, putting it in third place behind the first Harry Potter movie and Shrek (factmonster.com n.d.).
In 2003, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth book in the series, was published. It broke a publishing record by a wide margin with a first printing of 6.4 million copies. It is also the longest book in the series (as of 2005) at 870 pages, three times longer than the Sorcerer’s Stone (factmonster.com n.d.).
The Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban movie came out in 2004, and had the third best opening weekend with 93.7 million dollars in ticket sales, placing it behind Spider-Man and Shrek 2. The next year the sixth book came out, entitled Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Again the U.S. first printing of a Harry Potter book breaks a record, with 10.8 million copies. Book 6 has a notable first; the Braille and large-print editions were released on the same day as the usual regular and audio book editions (factmonster.com n.d.).
With these numbers and facts, some people wonder why the Harry Potter books are so popular. Some people believe that all the hype is responsible for the books’ success, but “hype cannot convince people to read a 700 page book”. (wizardingworld.com, n.d., Why Are the Harry Potter Books So Popular?). The first book was published with little fanfare, in fact it was the “word-of-mouth testimonials from parents marveling that their nonreading children (even boys!) are tearing through the Potter books and begging for more.” (Gray, 1999, n.p.).
There are several explanations for the books’ popularity. One reason is that Harry Potter can be categorized into several genres, so that there is “something for everyone” (wizardingworld.com, n.d., Why Are the Harry Potter Books So Popular?). Technically, it is a young adult (or children’s) fantasy, and is found in that section in libraries, because it has magic, witches and wizards, dragons, unicorns, elves, fairies, and other similar fairy tale creatures associated with the fantasy world.
It is also an adventure (wizardingworld.com, n.d., Why Are the Harry Potter Books So Popular?), with Harry getting into one escapade after another. He explores the school secretly under his Invisibility Cloak, flies in exciting Quidditch games (a wizard game played on broomsticks with four balls and six hoops), and fights Lord Voldemort, among other adventures. .
Another major genre Harry Potter can be classified as, is as a mystery. (wizardingworld.com, n.d., Why Are the Harry Potter Books So Popular?) According to Waters and Mithrandir (2003), “the Harry Potter septology is an epic mystery and is considerably more intricate than it appears. She has challenged us readers (we call ourselves ‘HP Sleuths’) to discover them.” (p. xvii). J.K. Rowling said that “if you read carefully, you’ll get hints about what’s coming. And that’s all I’m saying!” (Scholastic.com 2000, Q and A #5). There are two types of mysteries and clues, a storyline clue and a septology clue (Waters and Mithrandir 2003). A septology is a word Waters coined to describe the seven-volume Harry Potter series, as it is “clearly an aggregate work (not just sequels)”. (Waters and Mithrandir 2003, p. xviii).
A storyline clue “is specific to the book in which it was found.” (Waters and Mithrandir 2003, p. xxi). For example, all through Chamber of Secrets, Dobby the House elf had been trying to keep Harry from attending Hogwarts, for reasons unknown. At the end of the book, readers find out that the elf was only trying to keep Harry safe from the school’s monster.
A septology mystery is “not resolved by the end of the book. This kind of clue relates to the whole seven volume mystery”. (Waters and Mithrandir 2003, p. xxi). One example is that, from the very first book, readers wonder why Voldemort wanted to kill Harry as a baby with the Avada Kedavera curse, and why Harry lived when no other witch or wizard was able survive the Killing Curse. According to Waters and Mithrandir (2003), this is “…THE mystery around which the whole Harry Potter septology revolves.” (p. 8).
Another genre Harry Potter could be is literary satire, because J.K. Rowling creates clever names and titles that give insight to the characters and other things. A Ministry of Magic (the wizarding government) department is called the Office of Misinformation, which reminds readers of George Orwell’s books. Accio, summoning charm, is Latin for “I summon” (mugglenet.com, n.d., Name Origins). Transfiguration is a class Harry has to take; it teaches students how to transfigure things, such as a pig into a desk. The Transfiguration teacher’s, Minerva McGonagall’s, shares her name with a Roman god who has a “famed reputation for being able to morph herself and others into clever disguises.” (Waters and Mithrandir, 2003, p. 11). There are so many names that Rowling created that several Harry Potter websites created dictionaries of the words with their origins or probable origins, most notably MuggleNet (mugglenet.com) and the Harry Potter Lexicon (hp-lexicon.org).
Another reason why Harry Potter is so popular is that J.K. Rowling borrows many ideas, concepts, and themes from other books and stories in literature, gives them a new reason to exist, and combines them all into an all new story (wizardingworld.com, n.d., I Thought That Sounded Familiar…). As Voltaire said, “Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed one from another.” (brainyquote.com, n.d., n.p.).
All of her ideas come from what she calls a “compost heap” of everything she’s ever read, which is a substantial amount as she studied French and Classical Languages at the University of Exeter, graduating with what would be summa cum laude in America. (Granger, 2004).
She is familiar and fluent with the languages, philosophy, and literature of the classical and medieval worlds. Her books reflect an understanding of the
truths of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas because she has read these greats—and read them as attentively as reading them in the original languages requires. (Granger, 2004, p. xvi-xvii)
J.K. Rowling is frequently compared to many other writers as well, like Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and C.S. Lewis, of which she said she are her favorite authors. She has also been compared to “William Shakespeare, Leo Tolstoy, Franz Kafka, George Orwell, J.R.R. Tolkein, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.” (Granger, 2004, p. xvii). Others have said that it is a “ripping good yarn of good verses evil that legitimately conjures up the New Testament, only with characters that recall Roald Dahl.” (Williams, 1999, n.p.). Still others believe that the Harry Potter series is reminiscent of the Star Wars films, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland books, and L. Frank Baum’s Oz series. (Gray, 1999).
Even with comparisons to authors like Tolstoy, the Harry Potter books are still very readable because of the “…sheer buoyant zest of Joanne Rowling’s storytelling…” (Lockerbie, 1998, n.p.). Rowling never condescends to her readers, giving them a well-planned story in every book (Jones, 1999), even though some critics complain that her language is not classical (Trelease, 2001). “True, her sentences are largely unadorned and, except for proper nouns, there is less or the reader [to] stumble over…Stumbling over text is a discouragement for young readers, not an incentive.” (Trelease, 2001, n.p.). Trelease also said that while classics, such as Heidi, have more intricate texts, “when was the last time you saw a kid reading Heidi in the airport?” (2001, n.p.)
Another reason why the Harry Potter books are so readable is because of “its humorous descriptions and dialogue…The awful Uncle Vernon’s face ‘went from red to green faster than a set of traffic lights’ when Harry gets his first owlergramme.” (Johnstone, 1997, n.p.). Another article says that Rowling “can be genuinely scary and consistently funny, adept at both brad slapstick and allusive puns and wordplay.” (Gray, 1999, n.p.) Jones, citing Rowling’s great writing skills, also enjoys the humor found in the Harry Potter books:
As a bonus, she’s funny: the list of things Harry is asked to bring to school includes: ‘three sets of plain work robes (black), one plain pointed hat (black) for day wear…Please note that all pupils’ clothes should carry name tags.” Anyone who reads these novels can’t help but come away with a high standard for what a good story should be… (1999, n.p.)
The readability of the books is a factor in Harry Potter’s popularity, because it is
enjoyable to re-read over and over again. As Jones (2000) says:
We affectionately remember the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, but try rereading them and their harm burns off pretty quickly. Rowling may not be as magisterial as Tolkein or as quirky as Dahl, but her books introduce fledgling readers to a very high standard of entertainment. (n.p.)
As popular as the Harry Potter books are, it has its critics. The Harry Potter detractors center on the fact that the Rowling’s books contain witches, wizards, and magic. They warn people that since the Bible in many places explicitly forbids occult practice, they should avoid reading Harry Potter. Because the Harry Potter books portray witchcraft in a positive light, it may draw kids into occultism. (Granger, 2004, p.2)
That is precisely what Beam was worried about in her review of the Chamber of Secrets book for the website pluggedinonline.com:
For many children, curiosity about things such as “parselmouths”, “shrunken heads” and “Moaning Myrtles” cannot be met in a healthy manner. And they can become enamored with what Star Wars calls “The Dark Side” and Rowling calls “The Dark Arts.” (Beam, n.d., n.p.)
Also, in 2000, an email circulated among many Christian families relating the
threat that the Harry Potter books have on children’s souls. The unknown author cited some statistics, saying that “Since 1995, open applicants to Satan worship has increased from around 100,000 to now…20 MILION children and young adults!”, quoting an article that the Onion, an online publication, posted in July 2000. (Urban Legends Reference Pages, 2001, n.p.).
The Onion article actually said that “more than 14 million children alone belong to the Church of Satan”. (Urban Legends Reference Pages, 2001, n.p.). The article also quoted Rowling praising Satan, and the High Priest Egan of the First Church of Satan in Salem, Massachusetts, as saying “Harry is an absolute godsend to our cause…and we’ve had more applicants than we can handle lately.” (Urban Legends Reference Pages, 2001, n.p.).
Yet all of these quotes and statistics are false, as the Onion publication is purely satirical. According to its masthead, “The Onion is a satirical newspaper published by Onion, Inc. The Onion uses invented names in all its stories, except in cases when public figures are being satirized. Any other use of real names is accidental and coincidental.” (The Onion, 2000, n.p.).According to the Urban Legends Reference Pages (2001):Apparently the obvious humor of a High Priest of the First Church of Satan’s calling the arrival of the Harry Potter phenomenon a “godsend” went right over more than a few people’s heads. If The Onion’s parody had demonstrated anything, it’s that we should be worrying about the adults not being ale to distinguish between fiction and reality. The kids themselves seem to have a pretty good grasp of it. (n.p.)The question still remains: “Are we contributing to our child’s intellectual andmoral degeneracy by letting him immerse himself in this fanciful world of wizardry?” (Hughes, 2000, n.p.). And the answer is “probably not”. (Hughes, 2000, n.p.). Compared to some of the other options children have, such as TV, video games, and rock music, it is actually better for them to line up at midnight parties to read the Harry Potter books, because it is such a “great yarn”. (Hughes, 2000, n.p.). Most children know the difference between fantasy and reality. Rowling’s books do no actual harm, even with a “dash of the occult” in them, when parents discuss the books with their young Harry Potter fans. (Hughes, 2000, n.p.).Though these young children may say they want to be a wizard when they grow up, Hughes reminds us that it’s “pretty standard daydreaming for children.” (2000, n.p.). After all, at that age, they also decide they want to be football players, basketball players, police officers, Olympians, and tour-trolley drivers when they grow up. (Hughes, 2000).
Also, nowhere in the Bible does it “forbid reading material with occult elements in it. As there are witches, soothsayers, and possessed prophetesses in the Bible…it would be more than odd if the Holy Writ spoke against itself.” (Granger 2004, p. 3).
Mack (1999) said:
Yes, they deal with magic and witchcraft. Their tone is dark. But no less a devout Christian than C.S. Lewis understood the power of pagan imagery in preparing the young imagination for the moral rigors and spiritual comforts of biblical religion. Indeed, if there is something wrong with a “tone of death” in children’s literature, then we might as well jettison all our volumes of fairy tales. (n.p.)
In a Comic Relief online chat transcript, Rowling (2001) said, “I think the Harry books are very moral but some people just object to witchcraft being mentioned in a children’s book unfortunately, that means we’ll have to lose a lot of classic children’s fiction.” (n.p.).
In an interview with CNN, Rowling (1999) said:
I absolutely did not start writing these books to encourage any child into witchcraft. I’m laughing slightly because to me, the idea is absurd…I have met thousands of children now, and not even one time has a child come up to me and said, “Ms. Rowling, I’m so glad I’ve read these books because now I want to be a witch.” They see it for what it is. It is a fantasy world and they understand that completely. I don’t believe in magic, either. (n.p.)
Rowling (1999) also said, “Wizardry is just the analogy I use. If anyone expects it to be a book that seriously advocates leaning magic, they will be disappointed.” (O’Malley 1999, n.p.).
Some of the books that would be missing from library shelves if all books mentioning magic was banned include J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Narnia and Ransom series by C.S. Lewis, the Alice books by Lewis Carroll, Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and the Oz series by L. Frank Baum. The last two authors’ books have come under heat themselves in a different time and place.
The Wizard of Oz was criticized in the 1920s’, 50’s, 60’s, and is still being accused today of having communist leanings and a socialist structure, and that the culture of Oz was the approximation of a Marxist dream. L. Frank Baum’s Oz series was banned from several libraries for these reasons, and because they were of no value, encouraged negativism, “misled minds to accept a cowardly approach to life”, and because they were poorly written. (Rising, 2000, n.p.). Baum’s writing was different from the style of writing popular in the 1900’s, because his main concern was telling the story, whereas other writers like Andersen and Robert Louis Stevenson embellished their story with long, descriptive passages and difficult words. (Rising, 2000, n.p.).
Trelease (2001) noted a similar complaint about Rowling’s style of writing:
Some critics have complained that Rowling’s language is not classical. True her sentences are largely unadorned, and except for proper nouns, there is less for the reader [to] stumble over. And that’s good. Stumbling over is a discouragement for young readers, not an incentive. And while classics like Heidi have heavier, more adorned text, when was the last time you saw a kid reading Heidi in the airport? (n.p.)
Judy Blume, another writer whose books have been banned, offered her opinion on the suggestion of banning of the Harry Potter books:
I knew this was coming. The only surprise is that it took so long — as long as it took for the zealots who claim they’re protecting children from evil (and evil can be found lurking everywhere these days) to discover that children actually like these books. If children are excited about a book, it must be suspect.
I’m not exactly unfamiliar with this line of thinking, having had various books of mine banned from schools over the last 20 years. In my books, it’s reality that’s seen as corrupting. With Harry Potter, the perceived danger is fantasy. After all, Harry and his classmates attend the celebrated Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. According to certain adults, these stories teach witchcraft, sorcery and satanism. But hey, if it’s not one “ism,” it’s another. I mean Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” has been targeted by censors for promoting New Ageism, and Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” for promoting racism. Gee, where does that leave the kids? (1999, n.p.)
It was only recently that magic and science were viewed as occupying different realms. “For much of their existence…they constituted a single path in a single history. For both magic and experimental science were viewed as a means of controlling and directing our natural environment.” (Jacobs, 2000, n.p.).
Magic works as reliably in Rowling’s world as science does in the real world. As Arthur C. Clarke, author of many science fiction books, said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” (brainyquote.com, n.d., n.p.). Understanding the shared history of magic and experimental science is the key to understanding magic’s role in the Harry Potter books, as Rowling places Harry in a “counterfactual history, a history in which magic was not a false and incompetent discipline, but rather a means of controlling the physical world at least as potent as experimental science.” (Jacobs, 2000, n.p.).
Star Trek technology is treated differently from Harry Potter magic, even though the two achieve similar ends. (Olson, 1999, n.p.). For example, both Star Trek’s transporter and Harry Potter’s Apparition spell transports people great distances. Einstein disliked teleportation and quantum theory because of its almost magical features. (Highfield, 2002, italics added). Olson (1999) quoted Jacobs, and the host, Meyers from the September/October 1999 issue of the Mars Hill Audio Journal (Volume 40):
If we imagine somebody stepping on to a little circle and then suddenly dissolving, and then reappearing instantly somewhere else, and we call this a transporter, and we’re told that it is a device that is created by technology, then we go “oh, that’s cool.” But if we imagine someone waving a wand and then disappearing and reappearing somewhere else, we’re much less comfortable. (n.p.)
“The fundamental moral framework of the Harry Potter books, then, is a familiar
one to all of us: it is the problem of technology.” (Jacobs, 2000, n.p.). Real schools teach people how to harness and employ technology, and the wizardry school Hogwarts teach people how to harness and employ magic, but neither one can “insure that people will use those powers wisely, responsibly, and for the common good. It is a choice…between magia and goetia: ‘high magic’ (like the wisdom possessed by the magi in Christian legend) and ‘dark magic.’” (Jacobs, 2000, n.p.).
As Jacobs pointed out, there are different kinds of magic. There’s mechanical verses occultic magic, or incantational verses invocational magic. As Morse (2004) said:
Harry and his classmate[s] are born with the ability to perform magic—much as real life kids are born with musical or mathematical ability. Students at Hogwarts learn to cast spells, read crystal balls, and transform hedgehogs into pincushions—but they don’t attempt to contact the supernatural world. (n.p.)
Invocational magic literally means “to call in” (Granger, 2004, p.4-5), and magic
of this kind is usually called sorcery. The Bible says that calling in spirits is “dangerously stupid” (Granger, 2004, p.4-5). Stories that do touch on sorcery show how it always leads to the sorcerer’s downfall. The magic in the Harry Potter books are incantational only, and incantational means “to sing along with” or “to harmonize” (Granger, 2004, p. 4-5). C.S. Lewis shows the difference between the two kinds of magic in his Narnia book, Prince Caspian. (Granger 2004).
In Prince Caspian, when a battle is going badly for Prince Caspian, a dwarf named Nikabrik found a hag who can call up the dead White Witch, whom he hopes will then help them defeat their foes. When Prince Caspian finds out, he is mad. “So that is your plan, Nikabrik! Black sorcery and the calling up of an accursed spirit. And I see who your companions are—a Hag and a Wer-Wolf!” (Lewis, 1951, p. 165).
Some Christians dislike the Harry Potter books for another reason besides magic; they think Harry is a poor role model. Harry Potter is “often at odds with some of his teachers” but these teachers are the ones who are at odds with the “wise, benevolent, and powerful Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore… But to Dumbledore, significantly, Harry is unswervingly faithful and obedient” (Jacobs, 2000, n.p.). Harry did say in the Half-Blood Prince that he was “Dumbledore’s man, through and through”. (Rowling, 2005, p.649).
Harry Potter lies, uses trickery and deception, and “breaks a hundred rules”, all poor choices. (Dooley, 2002, n.p.). Harry’s “tendency to bypass or simply flout the rules is a matter of moral concern for him: he wonders and worries about the self–justifications he offers, and often doubts not just his abilities but his virtue.” (Jacobs, 2000, n.p.).
Hogwarts is divided into four Houses, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin, into which the students are sorted for the entire time they attend the school. In the first book, during the Sorting Hat ceremony, the hat thought Harry should go into the Slytherin house. Harry, having heard enough of the Slytherin legacy—many of the students from that House went bad—told the hat not to put him there. The Sorting Hat placed him in Gryffindor instead. Harry can’t get over the fact that he was almost placed in Slytherin, and in the Chamber of Secrets confided this to Dumbledore. Dumbledore told him that: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” (Rowling, 1999, p.333).
Harry Potter is human, and he makes human mistakes, according to Rowling. On Harry’s moral sense, Rowling (2000), said in an interview with Wyman (2000):
I see him as a good person but with a human underbelly. He is vulnerable, he is frequently afraid, he has a very strong conscience, and it is my belief that with the overwhelming majority of human beings—maybe I’m a wild optimist—most people do try to do the right thing, by their own lights. (n.p.)
Another reason why some Christians dislike the Harry Potter books is because there are no instances of Christianity in the books. For without God and absolute truths, where do the characters’ concept of right and wrong come from? (Smithouser n.d.). Yet the Harry Potter books have become the subject of many books because of their connection to God, such as Looking for God in Harry Potter by John Granger, The Gospel According to Harry Potter: Spirituality in the Stories of the World’s Most Famous Seeker by Connie Neal, and God, the Devil, and Harry Potter: A Christian Minister Defense of the Beloved Novels by John Killinger. Dooley (2002) quoted Sheridan Gilley (n.d.) as saying:
Christianity is absent from the books…but to condemn this fantasy world would surely be to damn all the vast mass of fantasy literature in which such magic is commonplace. Moreover, bad or irresponsible witchcraft is condemned here, and the actual morality of the works is evangelically of the simplest sort, of good against evil. (n.p.)
Dooley (2002) also quoted Leonie Caldecott (n.d.) from “Harry Potter and the Culture of Life”:
Overall, I cannot help feeling that a writer who calls the arch-enemy of all that makes life worth living “Voldemort” can’t be a million miles away from a Pope who sums up the ills of the modern world with the term “culture of death”. (n.p.)
Caldecott is accurate in her comparison, as Rowling (2000) said that “if you’re
choosing to write about evil, you really do have a moral obligation to show what that means.” (Time, 2000, n.p.). Harry “is constantly thrown up against dark forces, particularly the ultimate evil, Lord Voldemort. So far, despite all odds, Potter and the forces of virtue and decency have triumphed. The moral significance seems clear.” (Wyman, 2000, n.p.).
Rowling didn’t write the Harry Potter books specifically to be moralizing, and they don’t have any references to God. She said in a 2005 interview that she doesn’t think that her books are “that secular. But, obviously, Dumbledore is not Jesus.” She also said in the same interview that “undeniably, morals are drawn.” (Grossman, 2005, p. 64). For comparison, Tolkein didn’t write his Lord of the Rings trilogy to consciously “defend Christian doctrine directly,” either. (The Irish Family, 1994, part II, Christianity section).
The Harry Potter books don’t need to contain explicit references to Christianity, for, as Tolkein said in Letter 142, “the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.” (The Irish Family, 1994, Part II, Section 1). Granger concurs, as Rowling’s books contain “themes, imagery, and engaging stories that echo the Great Story we are wired to receive and respond to.” (2004, p. xix). This may be the reason why so many people enjoy Rowling’s series, because their “hearts resonate with the deeper stories underlying the surface of Harry’s stories”. (Granger 2004, p. xxi).
“The magic and miracles we read about in great literature are merely reflections of God’s work in our life…the magic in Harry Potter and other good fantasy fiction harmonizes with the miracles of the saints.”(Granger, 2004, p. 5). Granger’s statements, that the Harry Potter books and other good fantasy fiction all contain some sort of link to God’s creation, are very similar to Tolkien’s claims in his essay, On Fairy-Stories. Hastings summarized the four characteristics Tolkien said that all true fairy tales have. The first requirement is fantasy; a true fairy tale needs to be internally consistent, though it is free from the restrictions of the real world. After experiencing the fantasy, readers are in the recovery stage. Readers see things from a slightly different angle afterwards, seeing them in a fresher light. Thirdly, fantasies must have escapism; it must not treat what is reality as inevitable, but it should offer alternatives, even though the alternatives are impossible. The last requirement fantasies need is the consolation, the happy ending, or as Tolkien calls it, the eucatastrophe. “This is the moment of joy at deliverance from evil.” (Hastings, n.d., n.p.). Tolkien says that the greatest eucatastrophe is the Resurrection. The escapism stage is much better explained in an article by The Irish Family, “Escape is closely linked to that of Recovery, ‘escape from’ in order to find out what we are ‘created for’.” (1994, n.p.) .Tolkien described the consolation stage in his essay, On Fairy-Stories, as:
The peculiar quality of…”joy” in successful Fantasy can…be explained eas [sic] a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. It is not only a “consolation” for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction…in the “eucatastrophe” we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater–it may be a far-off gleam or echo or evangelium in the real world. (ssf.net, n.d., n.p.)
Carpenter (1977), in J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, quoted Tolkien (n.d.):
We have come from God and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed, only by myth-making, only by becoming a “sub-creator” and inventing stories, can Man ascribe to the state of perfection that he knew before the fall. (The Irish Family, 1994, n.p.)
Even though the popular Harry Potter books has its critics, “evidently there is
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