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A Charmed Life

[A Charmed Life] A Charmed Life: The Spirituality of Potterworld
by Francis Bridger
Image, 2002
Amazon.co.uk: paperback
Amazon.ca: paperback
Amazon.com: paperback
Christianbook.com:paperback
Recommended by: Greg Slade

As I mentioned in my review of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, there has been a good deal of controversy over the Harry Potter books, with some accusing Rowling of leading children into the occult by making magic seem like "fun", and others defending her by arguing that, like C.S. Lewis with his Chronicles of Narnia, she is actually sneaking Christian teaching into kids under the guise of fairy tales. Therefore, it is quite refreshing to encounter a nice, balanced work like Bridger's. Avoiding both extremes, Bridger argues that the Harry Potter books have plenty of ethical content, and reflect the Christian heritage which underlies current British culture, without attempting to determine Rowling's beliefs and motivations, as so many others have done. At the same time, he points out that, like all of us, Rowling is fallible, and points to a few examples of inconsistencies in the books, without falling into the rut of nit picking.

Thus, Bridger depicts the Harry Potter books as useful to Christians, without being explicitly Christian. In chapter 3, which covers "the moral universe of Potterworld", he states:

True, the reader will search in vain for an explicitly religious ethic, since it is simply not there. Still less is there anything resembling a Christ-centred morality. For those who are willing only to accept explicitly Christian teaching, this will be a disappointment. But for myself, I am glad that Rowling expounds both the complex realism of moral decision-making and the existence of fundamental virtues while at the same time recognizing the struggle between good and evil. Compared to the stream of amoral trash which pervades our film and television screens..., the Harry Potter books are to be lauded as an unrivalled way into ethical reasoning for children who would otherwise be exposed to the cancerous relativism of our age. (p. 84)

Later on, in chapter 5, which deals with "the metaphysics of Potterworld", he argues:

Hard science of the Enlightenment sort refused to concede that truth could be found in anything that could not be indubitably proven. This effectively consigned everything except that which could be demonstrated empirically to the category of mere opinion or fancy. The metaphysics of Potterworld, however, offers a different view. Truth and reality may be found beyond the obvious physical realm, and it is possible that the two realms might coexist, even if we are not aware of it. There is much here to be welcomed by Christians, who have been making the same point for millennia. (p. 116)

In short, Bridger presents a thoughtful analysis of the Harry Potter books, and if he comes out, on balance, in their favour, he has not done so by ignoring their failings. There are some points on which I would take issue with him, but they are so minor that I can recommend this work whole-heartedly. (June, 2004)


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