Last weekend saw an event, a very unusual event. The release of the seventh and last Harry Potter book caused a very big stir. A friend of mine went to a book store close to midnight, and his description of the size of the crowd waiting for midnight to purchase the book was that it was huge--lines, not one but several, stretching over a hundred yards from the store entrance, the mall parking lot was filled, with people parking in a nearby theater and another store, and they were still coming.
Probably few books have caused the stirs these books have, at least in recent times. No doubt in other eras there have been books that have caused more severe reactions, but I can't recall one that has caused so much nowadays.
Of course, the stirs have been good and bad. In Christian circles, the books have been more then a little controversial.
On the one hand, there are those who condemn the books. They are, after all, about witches and wizards, with magical spells and curses, and not only that, but they portray those things in positive lights. Although they are obviously works of fantasy fiction and do not necessarily portray things realistically, they still glorify the training in and use of magic, and that makes them dangerous. Call it a gateway, or a slippery slope.
On the other hand, are those who seem them simply as literature. They are very well-written books, with characters that are well-developed and easy to care for. The magic in them is so cartoonish and unrealistic that it is hard to believe it can be taken seriously.
One of my first memories of the stories wasn't really about the books, at least in a direct sense. I was in Tennessee, and one evening I went to a nearby book store, to get some coffee and hang out for a bit. I think it was a Friday evening. It also happened to be the day leading up to the release of a Harry Potter book, I don't know which one, but as it was roughly seven years ago, it was probably towards the middle of the series. The store was more crowed then usual, with kids in costume, and I was unaware of what was going on until I was there for a while. The one thing I remember from that evening was something that didn't sit well with me--whether serious or not, there was someone doing palm reading for some of the kids.
So for some time, I wasn't really interested in the books. I wasn't necessarily against them, but I wasn't really for them, either. I did see the movies, which I thought were well-made.
It wasn't until late last year that I started reading the books, and went through the first six very quickly. I enjoyed them, and read through them as I haven't often read books, and I've read a lot. I liked the stories and the characters, and at times there were parts of it that were among the most moving I had read.
So, I suppose that explains where I stand on the books, more or less--I like them, and think they're fine. Much of my recent reading, in fact, has been in fantasy fiction--Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance, for example, not to mention the occasional reading or rereading of Tolkien.
Where the more-or-less comes in, is that I understand why people don't like them, and I can respect their caution. But I have some thoughts for them, too.
How long and how many stories do we have that involve some kind of magical element? I write as someone from the US and from the west. How many of us were raised on stories of, say, Jack and the magical beanstalk, or Snow White and the dwarves and her witch step-mother, or Cinderella and her fairy god-mother who waves her wand and makes pumpkins into coaches. Magic is a major element in many children's fairy tales--even the fact that they are called 'fairy' tales tells us of their magical elements.
And our movies. Even disregarding the Disney fairy tale animated movies, what about, say, the Shaggy Dog--a guy gets a piece of jewelry which magically turns him into a dog. Or The Wizard of Oz, "Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?".
Shall I go on? Literature would be a good place. Several of Shakespeare's works have magical elements in them. Again, we could point to the Wizard of Oz as a literary example, even before the motion picure example.
And to really add to the things to think about, there are Tolkien, Lewis, Lawhead, and Hicks and Weisman who have written fantasy with a Christian message.
Perhaps these examples do not prove Potter is ok. Maybe they only show how subtly error has crept in over time. Maybe Lewis wasn't correct in using magical elements in his Narnia stories, no matter his intentions.
That is a fair position, and may be correct. But I don't want to go into such a debate for now. But it is something those both for and against the books need to consider, just how much magic is in our stories of various kinds. HP is only one of the latest in a long line, not really anything new.