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Looking for God in Harry Potter

[Looking for God in Harry Potter] Looking for God in Harry Potter
by John Granger
Tyndale House, 2004
Amazon.com: hardcover, audio CD
Amazon.ca: hardcover, audio CD
Amazon.co.uk: hardcover
Christianbook.com: hardcover, audio CD
Recommended by: Donna Farley

Why would Christian readers even consider "looking for God" in Harry Potter – the phenomenally successful and controversial series of books about witches and wizards? That must be somebody's wishful thinking – or worse yet, a plot hatched by C.S. Lewis's craftily deceptive demon, Screwtape. Orthodox Christian author John Granger certainly thought so when he first set out to read the books so that he could say why he didn't want his seven children reading them. But Granger got a surprise: from the very first book, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling's themes, symbols, and character names rang bells – you might say church bells – with Granger's classical and literary training.

After reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Granger quickly devoured the rest of the series then in print in big gulps, read them aloud with his family, and began discussing them with friends at local gatherings of the C.S. Lewis Society. Those friends, fascinated and enlightened by his take on the controversial books, urged him to compile his material and present it more formally. Before long, Granger's enthusiasm for Harry and the world of Hogwarts became something of a vocation, turning him into a featured speaker at numerous venues, including Nimbus 2003, a large convention of Harry Potter fans. He gathered his material into a self-published book, which sold out and was then picked up by Tyndale, a major Christian publishing house.

In the Introduction to his book, Granger writes: "My thesis is essentially this: As images of God designed for life in Christ, all humans naturally resonate with stories that reflect the greatest story ever told – the story of God who became man. The Harry Potter novels, the best-selling books in publishing history, touch our hearts because they contain themes, imagery, and engaging stories that echo the Great Story we are wired to receive and respond to."

How can stories about the training of a boy wizard possibly relate to Christianity? Far from attempting to impose some sort of Christian moral on worldly or possibly demonic stories, Granger demonstrates in profuse detail that J.K. Rowling has structured her series around the alchemical purification of the soul – a system of Christian imagery used by writers in the tradition of great literature stretching back to Shakespeare and beyond. The overarching themes of love and death bring Harry to a scene of momentous battle with evil and death at the conclusion of each volume. In each of those scenes, Granger points out, "Harry never saves himself, but is always saved by a symbol of Christ or by love."

Some of those symbols of Christ are apparent to anyone familiar with C.S. Lewis' Narnia Chronicles or with the medieval bestiary. Before the Reformation turned Christendom upside-down, resulting finally in the post-Christian world we have today, Christian writers delighted to find signs of Christ everywhere they looked. Among the traditional symbols adopted by Rowling from ancient and medieval sources are the unicorn (purest of all creatures, whose blood gives life); the phoenix (who dies and rises again); the stag (in which form Christ appeared to several different medieval saints); and the lion (whom the Apocalypse 5:5 identifies with Christ.)

But what about the magic? Before reading the Harry Potter books, Granger was highly protective of his children's minds and souls. He did not own a television, and would have no truck with anything occult. None of that changed after his discovery of Rowling's books as Christian literature. Unplugged from so much of popular culture, Granger did not know of the anti-Harry attitudes in some Christian circles until after he had read the books, and was somewhat taken aback to learn of what he calls the "sound and fury in the popular media and coming from many pulpits." To bring a little sanity amid that sound and fury, the opening chapter of his book deals with the fictional use of magic as a symbol for a spiritual worldview, opposed to the materialism that surrounds us daily, and with the difference between "invocational" and "incantational" magic.

"Invocational" magic is that practised by real pagans, wiccans, Satanists and others in the world even today, in which spiritual powers – i.e., demons – are called upon. The magic in Harry Potter, however, Granger demonstrates, is not invocational, but (like that in the Narnia Chronicles and Lord of the Rings) incantational: magic in a literary medium that symbolically "sings along" with the universe of which God is the all-wise and all-loving Creator.

As Granger's introduction puts it, his book is a "step-by-step walk through images, themes, and stories to reveal the core of the Harry Potter books and why they are so popular: they address the need (really an innate need akin to our need for physical nourishment) that we have for spiritual nourishment in the form of edifying, imaginative experience of life in Christ." Granger's book is a must-read for parents, educators and clergy. Harry Potter is a cultural phenomenon that will touch your children, your students, your parishioners, your mission field; Looking For God in Harry Potter unlocks the Christian theology smuggled into the heart of Rowling's books. (July, 2004)

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