So, it finally happened.
After years—and years—of not bothering to read them, I caved and read… the first of the Harry Potter books. I resisted for a long time, not because I have categories like “good C.S. Lewis magic” vs “evil Harry Potter magic”, but because everyone else was reading them. And I didn’t really want to go along with the crowd.
Did I miss anything by waiting so long? Well, the book itself was fairly well written—strong pacing, and it is generally unpretentious. The plot itself was interesting, but certainly had the standard trappings of youth fiction: everything turns out all right at the end (even if there are lingering bits in the background). There are lots of places for Christians to identify and engage with in meaningful discussion, but which are also ripe for hamfisted co-opting.
So why did I finally decide to read it? For the same reason I’m reading a lot of different books right now: I have a daughter who is its target audience, and sooner or later she’s probably going to wind up wanting to read it. Therefore, if I’m going to be a responsible parent, I should see if it’s worthwhile.
Emily and I don’t take the approach of only exposing our kids to explicitly Christian books, movies, TV shows, and music. We have some things that we do avoid—for example, we don’t engage with Monster High stuff because the characters look like zombie prostitots, and we don’t watch The Princess and the Frog because of all the voodoo that figures in so prominently (which is a different category than “bippity boppity boo” magic)—but we do want our kids to be able to learn how to be discerning about popular books and media. To learn what is both valuable and worthy of being embraced, while also recognizing what is untrue and should be rejected.
With a book like the first Harry Potter, right away themes of belonging and loyalty, love over force, and the challenge of trying to live up to others’ expectations jump out as subjects worth discussing in a positive light. At the same time, vengeance is another theme worth talking about, even on a small scale (like Harry wanting to taunt his brute of a cousin after years of bullying). This first one, at the very least, is not a book that Christians should actively be boycotting (which is not saying they should actively promote it either). It’s not ungodly to the same degree as 50 Shades of Grey. (And it’s probably not fair to assume that reading one will necessarily lead to reading the other.) It’s a pleasant story, though not without its problems, and the beginning of a larger tale with some fascinating elements.
So am I saying my daughter should read it? Nope. I’m saying I’m reading it in the event she decides she wants to read it. And although there are elements I disagree with, and some that are out of step with the Christian worldview, without question. (But then again, any book or show that has a “rely on yourself” message falls into that camp.) Ultimately, what I want my kids to be able to walk away with from reading popular books—particularly if they’re good ones—is an appreciation for what we often call “common grace” (though really, there’s nothing common about grace). Christians and non-Christians alike are equally gifted in creating wonderful works of art—whether it be music, books, painting, or anything else you can think of. We are all made in the image of God, and are all creative because he is creative (even if we don’t all use our creativity to glorify him). I want my kids to grasp that, to not be creatively stifled because they fail to see what is lovely and worth appreciating in the wider world around us. But to do that, it means I’m going to have to be highly engaged with what they’re reading. And if that means caving and reading things like Harry Potter, well, I think I can take one for the team on that.