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Saturday, November 27, 2010

To Potter or Not to Potter?

by Niki Turner

I don't have a book recommendation for you this week, but I do have a question:
Have you read J.K. Rowling's books, or shunned them as anti-Christian?

I'm a bit behind when it comes to pop culture (the seventh Harry Potter movie opened in theaters this week). For most of you, Harry Potter is pretty old news.

I've never read any of J.K. Rowling's books. I did watch her on Oprah recently and was intrigued by her explanation of writing the Harry Potter series as a sort of therapy as she came through a severe bout of depression. Hmm. THAT sounded familiar.

My kids were small when Harry first appeared on the fiction scene. I was still very much in control of what they watched, read, and listened to. Frightful warnings issued on Christian television convinced me that Harry (and Pokemon) were enemies to be avoided.

Why? Witchcraft, magic, warlocks, trolls, ogres, spells... not exactly solid Christian fare, you know? We opted to avoid Harry, Ron, and Hermione. When the movies started coming out, we didn't watch them. When the films were aired on television, we changed the channel.

Then, to resounding cheers from Christian culture, J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings opened in theaters. My boys were hooked. We've watched those three painfully LOOOOO-NGGGGG movies so many times that even an inadvertent reference to the adjective "precious" invokes automatic Gollum imitations. (shiver)

The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer triggered a more recent debate. How can -- or should -- we enjoy stories about vampires and werewolves? THEY aren't Christian, either! Or are they? Could they be? Oh, wait... imaginary creatures can't BE saved, anyway. Oh dear.

Nowadays, with my children more or less out from under my maternal filter, I'm faced with a number of questions.
  1. If Harry Potter is bad because he's a witch-in-training, does that make Gandalf, an extremely powerful wizard, even worse?
  2. If we shy away from non-human characters like vampires and werewolves because they are unnatural, why are elves (I still think Orlando Bloom is much cuter as a blond) and hobbits acceptable entertainment fare?
  3. Do we gauge the worth of a fictional work based on the message of the story, the actions of its characters, or on the author's professed spirituality (or lack thereof)?
Do you read exclusively CBA books? What about movies, television, and music?
How do you decide for yourself and/or for your family which literary and film experiences are acceptable and which ones aren't? Thoughts?

(BTW: Did anyone else notice the eerie similarity between Tolkien's wraiths and Rowling's Dementors?)

24 comments:

  1. I agree with all your thoughts and questions and just dumped my five paragraphs of rambling thoughts.

    It's a personal decision which I respect. We must guard our hearts and minds from garbage input but we can't isolate ourselves and draw the line so close that we are locked in a small, unusable circle.

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  2. Basically, at this point, my family has made a joint decision not to Twilight or Potter. We're not fanatic about it. Daughter watched one Twilight movie at a slumber party and thought it was pretty dumb.

    I think the difference, if there is a difference, is in the heart of the author. I don't feel that the Potter or Twilight authors had occult agendas. On the other hand, I don't think either had purposely Christian objectives either. I think this has left their work open to some wrong perceptions and effects.

    The day I decided no to Harry Potter was when I found a companion spell guide at the book store which did seem truly occultish. Whether or not the author would approve or support this I don't know. However, the very fact that her work spawned such a spin off truly concerned me.

    It's still possible that my youngest could be assigned to read Harry Potter at school. If that happens, I won't make a fuss, but I will read and discuss it with him.

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  3. Deb,
    I agree, it is an intensely personal thing. We all need to take time to listen to the Holy Spirit's leading, instead of just jumping into one basket or another!

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  4. Dina,
    That's definitely the right approach... read it with him and discuss it, if he's required to read it for school. It becomes an opportunity for learning and solidifying your faith, then. Of course, we probably ought to do that with Sesame Street and the evening news, as well!

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  5. We've read every HP book and seen all of the movies except the latest one, which I'm sure we'll see before year's end.

    I enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed reading The Wizard of Oz, Charlotte's Web, Bedknobs and Broomsticks or any other number of children's books that had some sort of paranormal activity. I've stayed away from any of the companion books or products, because I think anything can be twisted and perverted beyond the original intent.

    I'm not into the Twilight books, though. Haven't tried them because I'm not crazy about vampires and neither are my kids, plus I've heard too much about how poorly they were written. In general, not the kind of stories my boys would go for, whereas Harry with his Quidditch games, wizarding challenges and monsters in the woods were right up their alley.

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  6. Kids turn to supernatural stories to fill that God-space in their heart. I really believe that. The problem with fiction these days is it's fine line between fiction and fact. It's more faction now.

    If you walk into a bookstore, there is no doubt that what sells right now are supernatural stories. Christians are portrayed by media and movies as dumb rednecks. We are supposedly backward and uneducated.

    Which is why my English professor who is a Wiccan is often flummoxed by the likes of me who is able to counter arguments to the contrary.

    I personally avoided Tolkein and Harry Potter and anything with supernatural overtones in my house while the kids were growing up. As adults, so far, the kids haven't ventured into that arena very much (however, my son does take his kids trick or treating which curls my toes), but I at least know in my heart I did the best I could to expose them to stuff that passed the Philippians 4:8 test.

    There are so many good, good books out there that kids need to be exposed to. I have such fond memories of reading aloud to my kids entire classics including Robinson Crusoe, who was stranded on an island and still wrote of and served God; Hedge of Thorns by John Carrol; Boys of Grit by Archer Wallace; G.A. Henty's books, some of the old Newberry Award winners (the older are better choices than the newer in my opinion) and so many more books than I can list here. I worked hard to keep them engaged in other super good books and it helped steer them that direction instead of toward the occult.

    The problem I see is that it's a slippery slope. It gives kids a taste of something dangerous and intriguing. I'd rather they read these as adults, if they read them at all (I haven't) than as children. It was my job to keep them safe so I did all I could to also keep them spiritually safe.

    Personally, I can't get away from the scriptures in Deut. 18:10-13--There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee. Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God.

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  7. Patricia! Great to see you here. I admit I'm glad my kids were college age and not middle school when Harry Potter became so popular. Believe me by the time they were in college, Potter was the least of my worries!

    Karla, I worry that students just aren't getting enough literature now. Period. I think of the writing skills that 19th century students had compared to their modern counterparts.
    There was such a focus on reading the classics, memorizing poetry, and being able to express yourself well. I recall my kids having to read one or two classics a year in middle school. High School became all about creative writing. I'm all for that (obviously) but so much has been lost.

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  8. Patricia,
    Hi! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
    I find that pretty much no matter the story, if it has a plot and conflict, it can be used as a teaching tool somehow.
    I hadn't even thought about Charlotte's Web and the others you mentioned as having paranormal activity! All the Disney movies would fall into that category, as well, but I don't remember being concerned about my children watching Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, or Snow White... hmm.

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  9. Karla! So cool to see you here!
    Your comment brings me to what I think might just be the crux of the issue: Given the immense popularity of supernatural themes in literature and movies it's apparent that children AND adults are hungry for supernatural things.
    Every time I read or watch something that presents the supernatural realm, I long for the day when a strong, noble character will rise up in the power of the Spirit, curse the demons in the name of Jesus and cast them out, take authority over the forces of darkness, and show the world (and much of the church) the reality of the spiritual realm.
    "Cure" the curse on the vampires with the Blood of Jesus, show the werewolves the verse that says "the sun shall not harm you by day, nor the moon by night" and lift that curse, and demonstrate to the witches, warlocks, Wiccans, tarot readers and astrologists that the One who created (and loves) them has made available all grace, sufficient for every good work, and they can stop rummaging through dilapidated spell books!
    *sigh*
    Can you just imagine?

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  10. This reminded me that when my oldest son was in first grade he left class an hour a week to do religion class with a woman who came to the school and taught bible class. That was pretty progressive at the time. I thought it was great. But she made the decision to tell him that Santa was not real (I hope I'm not shocking anyone here with the revelation...Sorry Jen, you had to find out eventually).

    I knew where she was coming from, but I felt it was my decision not hers. Even though I knew it was lying to my child, and assigning magical qualities to every bit of Christmas other than the birth of Christ, I wanted to do the Santa thing with my kids. I respect people who don't. Who likes having to come clean later on about the whole truth?

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  11. I am strictly against Twilight. Harry Potter is another story I think. In Twilight the main characters are very blunt with letting you know they are the bad guys. In Harry Potter there is a very distinct good and evil theme.

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  12. Deb, no Santa? You've left my heart in little pieces on the floor ;+}

    I agree that this is a very personal decision. My thought is that if parents talk to their kids, there's little to worry about. My son read all the Potter books, and we've seen the movies together. But as they've grown increasingly darker, my son has become less enthusiastic about them. We've talked about why this is, which has lead to some interesting discussions. As for Twilight, that's not a concern at my house. My son gags at the thought, and I had a hard time getting through movie #1 without laughing. But just because they're not my cup of tea doesn't mean others can't enjoy them.

    It's interesting to me that so many folks make the point that Tolkien and Lewis were Christian, which thereby justifies their use of magic in their stories. But the majority of non-Christian readers don't know that. Think about it... if you weren't raised knowing about Christian imagery, would you equate Christian themes to The Lord of the Rings? Even Aslan in the Narnia stories isn't a slam dunk. To a non-Christian, the lion is a symbol of courage, not of our heavenly King.

    Having said that, I do think the heart of the author is important. I'm just not qualified to judge the heart of anyone other than myself :+}

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  13. I dithered about HP for many years for the reasons stated so well above. Then, with nothing to read one day while ill, I picked up the first book received as a gift and left to molder. I was hooked. What cat lover wouldn't be by a cat reading a street map? My husband and I read the whole series available then--five--together, then the last two together, and discussed them. We feel they have strong themes of good and evil, good over evil, and the dangers of trying to be God. /Whether or not JKR meant these books to have a Christian theme or not, it's there strongly for anyone to glean, right down to self-sacrifice for the lives of others, and a kind of resurrection. It's beautiful and emotionally rewarding.

    The JRRT books bored me to tears, and so did the movies. Twilight is just off the map because I hate vampires whatever the theme.

    I would never let my children read HP without talking with them about it and the symbolism, which is rife. JKR is brilliant. I like to read fantasy and science fiction. Am a huge Babylon 5 fan. The author is an atheist, yet I found myself growing as a Christian watching the series and the themes of spirituality he explored.

    So much depends on where your heart is. Oh, I also love the Temeraire series. No, talking dragons--or dragons at all--don't exist either, but if you like Napoleonic wars stuff, those books are must reads. Again, wonderful themes. Christian? Not in the least. Fun, thrilling, moving, absolutely.

    I feel more qualified to minister to people when I know what trips their trigger than if I remain aloof, and I also feel I am a strong enough Christian not to be swayed into darkness. I understand people who avoid HP.

    BTW, the first half of book seven in movie form is incredible.

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  14. Really thoughtful post Niki. You always seem to tackle the hard stuff with honesty and transparency and I appreciate that.

    I kept my kids away from the Potter gang for a number of years. I was concerned about the spiritual portals... but they got older and it didn't seem so important in the grand scheme... Three of my five have read them and loved them.

    I didn't have the energy to do the Santa Claus thing so when Rachael was about five she yelled from another room "Mom is Santa Claus real?" and I yelled back "NO." And really, that was that. Not a big deal.

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  15. Nonners - Interesting perspective on the difference between Twilight and HP! I haven't heard that before.

    Deb - Too funny. We chose not to do the Santa thing. We shared the story of St. Nicholas instead, explained the tradition, etc. Completely traumatized my parents. Would I do it differently now? Maybe.

    Jen - My kids and I did a homeschool unit study on the first Narnia book/movie that related it allegorically to Christianity. When SIL first came to us as a brand-new Christian, he was completely clueless as to why DD and I were sobbing through Aslan's self-sacrifice.

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  16. Great post and discussion today. Sorry I couldn't get online earlier! I have lots of thoughts on the topic, but my bottom line is that this is a personal issue and I respect those whose opinions differ from mine.

    But we are total HP geeks at our house. We've had the most wonderful discussions with our kids on the themes of good and evil, loyalty, bravery, life, death and love in respect to Harry Potter.

    It's not an easy issue. But I read a lot of YA so I can keep on top of what my kids are interested in and/or exposed to, and we try to just be honest with our kids and explain why some of these things/books/movies are ok in our family and some aren't.

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  17. Laurie~ That's exactly what happens to me when I'm watching movies or reading books... I pick up all these themes and parallels.
    I like what you said about finding it easier to minister to people when you understand where they are coming from!

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  18. Cheryl~ Thank you! I seem to always be in the middle of some sort of conundrum or another. Blogging is such a nice way to get input from other believers who don't have a personal agenda.
    Your Santa moment with your 5-year-old is a hoot! Kids are smarter than we think. Maybe we just don't give them enough credit.

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  19. Susie~
    You're right, it IS a personal issue, and what I'm hearing from everyone is a thoughtful consideration of the effect of what we read and watch on our own households. Whether we read HP or Twilight or stick with McGuffey readers, it's encouraging that everyone who has commented has obviously sought the Lord's direction for their own families.

    From a scriptural standpoint we would, IMHO, do well to apply Romans 14:22... "Your personal convictions [on such matters] --exercise [them] as in God's presence, keeping them to yourself [striving only to know the truth and obey His will]. Blessed (happy, to be envied) is he who has no reason to judge himself for what he approves [who does not convict himself by what he chooses to do]." AMP
    Amen?

    So Susie, when I get horribly confused as we watch the movies, I know where to find an HP geek for answers to my questions, right? : )

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  20. I enjoy the HP books - but I'm not completely enamored with the world. I recognize how children seeking to fill a void may want to dabble in witchcraft - a dangerous path to follow.
    I'm not worried about the parents who care about what their children read and watch. I'm worried for the children whose parents DONT bother with what their children consume.
    My little one is too small for HP and by the time he's old enough to read the books - I'll probably direct him to the Narnia books and others before the HP series. I plan to have much discussion with him about good and evil long before then.
    The subject is a good one and I applaud both views of people: the ones who read and the ones who avoid. The great part is that you've thought it through and are following your conscience and I believe the Lord will honor that. The big thing is that your children's spiritual welfare is first and foremost in your minds. I think that is key.

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  21. What a great post, Niki! I left like a three-page reply yesterday and must not have saved it!
    I'll try to shorten my response this time around.

    I LOVE our Holy Spirit's counseling on what film to watch, what music to hear.

    I LOVE Tozer's quote re response to secular works. “It is my own belief (and here I shall not feel bad if no one follows me) that every good and beautiful thing which man has produced in the world has been the result of his faulty and sin-blocked response to the creative Voice sounding over the earth.”
    A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God.

    I LOVE the battle raging on my CD stand between Tupac and Selah, Corinne Bailey Rae and Switchfoot.

    I LOVE Paul's admonishment to consider your choices as possible stumbling blocks to weaker bretheren.

    Oh, I just love our faith. So personal. So alive.

    So Christ.

    I love it so much, I blogged about it before I'd even read this.
    Check it out!
    www.pattilacy.com/blog

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  22. DebH~ Amen! That's just what I was thinking. What a blessing to the future that we have all these parents who are listening to the Lord concerning their little ones!
    The best parents we can be are those parents who are willing to hear from heaven.

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  23. Patti~
    THANK YOU for sharing that quote from Tozer! How appropriate. A dear ministry friend of ours calls watching television and the like, "feeding on dead men's brains." Gross, but generally accurate. Does make me think twice when I turn on the tube.

    And yes, the individuality, the originality, of our faith and our relationship with our Savior is so precious... so different from any other religion. Our God knows us inside and out, and leads us in the way WE should go.

    Glad you came back to share!
    Blessings!

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  24. Great discussion!

    I read Harry Potter book 1 with my oldest son. But then Hubby asked me not to read anymore because he didn't feel like he wanted our kids to read them. I was okay with that. Plus our kids (at that time) were at an age not to complain.

    My issue with Potter came when my older sister who knew hubby's stance on the books/movies showed the first movie to our kids without asking us if it was okay.

    I chose to not make a fit about how her action bothered me. I don't hold any animosity either. But from that experience I've decided that anytime kids are at our house watching movies, I make sure if the movie might be controversial because of content or rating the parents are okay with it.

    Regarding Santa not being real, we've told our kids the truth since they were little. When child #1 was in kindergarten he told his Sunday School classmates that Santa wasn't real. A grandmother cornered me in the parking lot and ranted at me for telling him Santa wasn't real. So I responded, "You'd rather I lie to my child?"

    From that point on, we made a point to tell our kids that some families like to pretend/to believe that Santa is real so to be nice we shouldn't say anything contrary. Or at least don't broadcast the truth...in regards to Santa...unless someone specifically asks you what you believe.

    Regarding Twilight, I've seen the first two movies, as has my oldest daughter, who also has read all the books. In fact, I willfully chose to have her read the books if she was interested because I wanted to discuss with her how love is presented in the book.

    So we talked about how Bella was basically obsessed with Edward and how there is a difference between love and obsession. We talked about what there was about Bella that caused Edward to love her, and vice versa. Plus with Jacob and his love for Bella. Then we debated real love and emotional love and how Jesus truly demonstrated perfect love.

    Finally we discussed dating and the ultimatele sexual progression of a dating relationship and the merit of waiting to date until she was out of high school.

    For me the aspect of vampires and werewolves weren't the real problems with the book. I wanted Jerah to realize for herself how Bella's love was really more obsessive than sacrificial, more selfish than selfless.

    I figure as a parent, it's my job to talk with my kids about controversial things instead of just dictating a "don't ever watch or read this" rule. I want them to understand the biblical truths that some tv shows and movies belittle while glorifying vice.

    Not to say I'm gonna expose my children to everything out there.

    Shoot, I dread receiving my RWA RWR magazine each month because I fear one of them will see the usually close-to-porn backcover or flip open the magazine and see teh close-to-porn ads inside. Wish I could elect to not receive the magazine in print format.

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