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  The Other Side of Harry Potter
by Steven D. Laib, J.D. M.S.
11 July
  2003 Harry Potter

There is more to Harry Potter than just magic.  The friendship, bravery, loyalty and manifest understanding of the nature of good and evil in J.K. Rowling's books reflect the types of values we would be proud of in our children.

A short while ago the fifth and latest in the series of Harry Potter stories by J. K. Rowling was finally released and an eager public quickly devoured essentially every copy in sight.  Fortunately, my daughter was one of those lucky enough to get to the bookstore in time, and a short while later I was able to read it myself.

Meanwhile, a few well intentioned voices were again raised in concern over the impact that Harry Potter might have in diverting young, impressionable minds away from true faith and toward attempts to practice magic instead.  Certainly, they have a point.  However, their concerns may be misdirected.  At least, I believe so. 

I didn’t set out to become interested in Harry Potter.  When I traveled to Asia in July 2000 I had not yet read any of the series and was more intrigued by the fact that there was a large display of them in a bookstore in Singapore Airport than I was by the books, themselves.  Finally I was convinced by my daughter to give them a try, and was pleased to find them well written, imaginative, entertaining, and in short everything I would suggest a young person read if they wanted to learn how to write good fiction.

Magic has never been a matter of concern to me.  Certainly, some children might like to make it a part of make-believe play, but one should be able to safely assume that they will outgrow it.  When results are not forthcoming with the wave of a wand or some sort of potion does nothing more than make them sick, the lesson should be a pretty simple one. 

But there is more to Harry Potter than magic. As I watched our DVD of The Sorcerer's Stone the other day, I was reminded at one point of something I came across in a writing by Steven Plaut on Deconstructionism. According to Plaut, "Deconstructionism argues that there do not exist any such things as facts, truth, logic, rationality, nor science." This led me to assume that within this context, good and evil do not exist either. Apparently, the assumption fits pretty well. According to Plaut, Robert Locke has stated that Deconstructionism is essentially absolute moral relativism, and moral relativism denies the absolutes of good and evil. That's fine, you might say, but what does this have to do with Harry Potter? The answer is actually fairly simple.

When Harry encounters Professor Quirrell, one of his teachers who is also seeking the stone, Quirrell informs him that, "There is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it." So, Quirrell, and the evil Voldemort who has taken control of him are, to all appearances, Deconstructionists and moral relativists. Harry, who knows the truth, that there are such things as good and evil, understands that he must oppose Quirrell and Voldemort, on principle, if for no other reason. He develops a plan, recovers the sorcerers stone and is able to foil Voldemort's intentions. Not bad for an evening's work when you are an eleven year old boy.

Before the above events, Hermione sends Harry off to enter the chamber and tells him that he is a great wizard.  When Harry points out her greater performance in their classwork, she calls it just “books and cleverness.”  She tells him that there are more important things such as friendship and bravery.  Sure enough, throughout the entire series we see Harry and his friends sticking together through thick and thin, helping each other whenever possible, and taking risks for what they know is right, even placing themselves in danger in order to win through for right against wrong.  Scholarship is sometimes secondary, Hermione’s important role in providing the technology to get certain things done shows that it is necessary. 

The friendship, bravery, loyalty and manifest understanding of the nature of good and evil certainly reflect the types of values which we would be proud of in our children and which we would hope they will demonstrate as adults.  If they can learn these values from reading J. K. Rowling, then her books have a lot to recommend them.  Certainly, we could suggest that, magic aside in some respects Harry Potter might be a pretty good role model. 

But there is one more aspect to the whole story, and it is perhaps the most important one of all.  Early on we learn how Harry’s mother sacrificed herself to save her infant son.  Her death at the hands of the evil Voldemort had conferred a form of immunity on Harry.  The residual effect of her loving sacrifice enabled him to destroy Quirrell near the end of book one, and as Professor Dumbledore explains later, the effects of her love protect him from the power of evil when he is away from school and in other ways as well. 

There is a strange symmetry here which some of us may have failed to notice.  First, the power of his mother’s love protects Harry in much the same way God’s love protects us from evil in the real world.  Second, Harry’s mother made the ultimate sacrifice, even as Christ did.  Both made this sacrifice for the purpose of defeating evil in their respective worlds.  It seems strange that this symmetry has not been commented on before.  It also seems strange that Christians have not hit upon this as a way of linking the Harry Potter books to Christian theology.  Certainly a child who can understand and appreciate a mother’s loving protection can be easily brought to understand God’s love and Christ’s love, as well. 

Today many children don’t take reading seriously, or are attracted to morally relativist social theories.  Parents should thus be more attentive to the lessons which Harry Potter provides.  In a world where values are devalued, where people don’t consider loyalty or bravery to be positives, children who learn to value these values should be praised for reading Harry Potter.

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