Thursday, July 14, 2011

Is Harry Potter Evil?

Q - Because the final Harry Potter movie is coming out, I thought I might ask what the Church teaches about the books and movies. Is Harry Potter considered evil or more accurately, should I be careful with the books and movies?

A - Thanks for the timely question. I am guessing this will create a lively discussion. I read the books just a few months ago to see if they were appropriate for my 11 year-old daughter to read. We ended up reading the entire series and talking about them and had some great discussions as a result. I am also working my way through the movies and have watched the first four.

I, unlike some other Catholics, do not believe they are dangerous to read for the average adolescent who is well-formed in their faith and is emotionally secure, for their age - as long as a parent reads and discusses the moral pitfalls with them.

There are some Catholics who believe the series is "evil". It is criticized in this manner because the books contain magic done by witches and wizards. I can see this side of the argument, but do not share such a harsh view. While magic plays a part, as long as the boundaries between the magic described in the books and real occult magic is discussed with a child, it could help a young person understand the real problems with seeking power in magic, not drive them toward it.

What I can say is the Church has no official position on these books or movies. So, we must use our best judgment as to whether or not someone should read them. Is it possible that someone could be spiritually harmful, because of magic, for some who are immature in their faith? I suppose it is possible, but I believe it is unlikely. To be quite honest I have bigger reservations over the moral decision-making of the characters than I do about the use of magic. Also, there are much more dangerous things in our culture including parts of the internet, certain video games, etc.

So, since there is no side the Catholic Church takes on this issue, I might provide some pros and cons (as I see them) and you can make the decision yourself. BTW - I HIGHLY recommend that parents read and discuss the books with their children and only allow them to read them if they are well-formed in their faith, act in a moral manner, and are emotionally secure, for their age.

CONS of Harry Potter:
  • The protagonists of the series (esp. Harry) make poor moral decisions. There is regular rule breaking and the moral decision making sometimes equals "the ends justify the means".
  • The consequences of breaking the rules and doing bad things is not always clear.
  • The only ones who really enforce the rules are the characters who are either evil or questionable. The "good" authority figures generally sweep away punishment or minimize it.
  • The use of magic might encourage some young children who do not understand the occult to think about magic or seek it out too much.
PROS of Harry Potter:
  • Several virtues are highlighted repeatedly, including courage, loyalty, and love.
  • Harry overcomes many terrible events in his life to do something very good in the end.
  • Prejudiced and oppressive leaders are shown to be what they are.
  • Voldemort, the antagonist, is clearly evil and corrupt.
  • The magic used is not occult, but more utilitarian.
  • Some compare the story to the life of every Christian and the moral drama of life that goes with it.
  • The dangers of fame and the drawbacks of power/fame are clear.
Clearly there is no clear-cut way to decide what any individual Catholic or Catholic family should do. The best thing to do is be prudent and follow your conscience.

I hope this helps.


Br. Matthias Hagge, OSB said...

Thank you for this article. I have met many parents who have asked this very question. I find it hard to believe that any book is intrinsically evil, only that the message of that book can be misconstrued in an unhealthy manner without proper parental supervision. If a parent is aware of what their child is reading and openly discusses it with them, it will almost always be a good thing. Gig 'em!

Br. Matthias Hagge, OSB

Deltaflute said...

You might have to be specific about what you mean when you say breaking of the rules. While I believe that in some cases, the character could have made a different decision (which the adult characters point out), in some situations breaking the rules is okay.

You can apply this to real life situations. The Church says in certain cases of moral imperative a citizen should/can break the rules of it's government. Standing up for one's faith against the secular state's immoral rulings are fine.

And this is applicable to Harry's situation where he often tries to warn people of potential danger and ends up being ignored. He feels in some instances (based on what he knows) that he has to protect the lives of others even if what he is doing is against the rules.

So I don't believe that it's so black and white in life and in the books. That's why the books are so great. JK Rowling has morally gray areas. Just like in certain cases the Church allows for things like double jeopardy.

Marcel said...

Certainly there are some situations that you describe in the books, there are others where it is unnecessary to break the rules, dangerous and/or just wrong to do so.

Lamar University Ed Tech Leadership - Kresta said...

These books have been part of our family life since 1999. We read them with our children, saw all the movies upon release and then purchased the DVDs (VHS for first one!), and visited the theme park before Christmas. These books were a marvelous springboard for family discussions, great way to keep the kids reading, and something we have in common with other families of various faiths. Considering everything the kids are faced with in school and in the media, I see nothing in these books for parents to fear. I highly recommend them.

C said...

You may wish to consider statements made by the chief exorcist of Rome and our current Holy Father on the topic:
Fr. Gabriele Amorth warned parents against the series in 2002 and again in 2006:
Pope Benedict XVI, warned against "subtle seductions" in the series when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger:

Mr. Aitchison said...

LOVED the pros/cons list. VERY helpful. Thanks!

Marcel said...

C - there are serious questions about the Ratzinger letters. Jimmy Akin takes them down.

C said...

Thanks, Marcel.
What I got out of the various statements is that it is prudent to be careful with the books and movies. If parents are watching them with the kids and there is discussion about it, I think that is being careful.
What wouldn't be careful is letting the kids just soak it up, watching it over and over again... (as my baby sister used to do with "The Sound of Music" - every day after school for months!!!) that much uncritical exposure might open a path to the potential for danger the exorcist of Rome saw in the stories.

LJ said...

Great post. I had this discussion with another mom the other day. I don't really see too much problem with the content of the books for someone for an older child with a well formed conscience, especially if reading with a parent. However, when reading the books, a person (including myself) seems to get sucked into the world that the author has created. I don't know if it is because of the sheer volume of the series, or because of the anticipation of what's next for those who read the books as they were published. I agree with the commenter who said don't let the kids "soak it up", but it seems hard not to with the amount of time that is spent reading the series. My kids are still to little to read the series, but I think I will let each child read it when I think they are ready.