I shall always be grateful to JK Rowling and the legend of Harry Potter. My eldest child had resisted reading HP, despite the fact that I had purchased and read each of the books up to that point and raved about them. She preferred her far less challenging Rainbow Fairy and Junie B. Jones books, and even those she rarely picked up. But finally, in the summer of 2005, out of sheer boredom, she picked up the first Harry Potter book. She was so enthralled, she stayed up until late into the night, reading by flashlight. She finished the first book in three days; the second book took only two. By August, she had finished through Book 6 and had started the series over again. Thus was born my incredible book-lover child, who now reads voraciously (she checks out ten books every weekend from the library) and has tackled such classics as To Kill A Mockingbird and Pride and Prejudice as well as pop hits like the Twilight series and Meg Cabot's books.
But it all began with Harry Potter.
Naturally, as a mother, I was and am still thrilled that she is such a curious and hungry reader, but there was a hiccup along the way. I had taken my kids to the neighborhood pool and my eldest was cooling off in the shallow end with the ever-present HP book in her hand. One of the neighborhood children, seeing what my daughter was reading, volunteered as children will that her parents would not let her read Harry Potter, because it was about witchcraft and was not something a good Christian would read. Luckily, I was close enough by to be able to tell this child gently that while we respected others' beliefs, that it was MY belief that ideas are never bad things and that my children would never be prevented from reading things that interested them. I bit my tongue to keep from telling this child that the fact her parents were scared by fictional characters showed how shaky their faith must be.
Nevertheless, it began an very interesting (and ongoing) conversation with my child about censorship and fear. She sought out more information about these evangelical fears of Harry Potter, and I have to tell you, I'm so proud of how strong of mind she's grown in these four years. I've no doubt that she would be able to tell that little neighbor kid off on her own now.
But it looks like now that the book series is complete and the whole story is known, the evangelical community is having a change of heart:
Conservative Christian reviews of the new Harry Potter movie are surprisingly positive.
"As 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' opens, we are once again reminded of the characteristics that make him something of a Christ figure," Connie Neal writes for the evangelical Christianity Today.
"It is more likely that at the end of the viewing or reading, rather than the allure of magic ... what remains are the scenes that evoke values such as friendship, altruism, loyalty, and the gift of self," wrote L'Osservatore, the Vatican's semi-official newspaper.
Even Focus on the Family's pluggedin finds something redeeming: "Harry, whatever his faults, embraces such unglamorous words as 'duty,' 'responsibility' and 'sacrifice.'"
Has Harry or one of his Hogwarts cohorts cast some sort of spell over conservative Christendom?
After all, it was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) who in 2003 warned that Harry Potter books and movies "are subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly."
It was James Dobson of Focus on the Family who in 2007 denounced the series, saying that "given the trend toward witchcraft and New Age ideology in the larger culture, it's difficult to ignore the effects such stories (albeit imaginary) might have on young, impressionable minds."
And it was the American Family Association's Donald Wildmon who described the Harry Potter series as "books that promote witchcraft and wizardry."
Hardly. In fact, as more conservative Christians seem to be realizing, the "Harry Potter" series actually promotes Christian themes.
In the final book of the series, Harry reads two verses from the New Testament: The first (from I Corinthians 15) on his parents' tombstone that says, "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death"; a second (from Matthew 6) on another tombstone that reads, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
"Those two particular quotations he finds on the tombstones at Godric's Hollow, they sum up -- they almost epitomize the whole series," author and Christian J.K. Rowling told MTV in 2007.
Um, it's still fiction, guys. But I do find it so ironic that once again, the evangelical community went off in ignorance over something that once their initial fear and fearmongering was over, they found commonality in.
That's what we in the reality-based community like to call "not judging a book by its cover." You should try it more often.