Don’t label Harry Potter merely “Christian”! That’s the loud-and-clear message from some young fans of the novels—and these are smart kids who love the series and are active in their congregation.
ReadTheSpirit inteviewed these five teenagers, who have lived with Harry Potter for many years. They’ve read the novels, in some cases multiple times. They’ve seen the movies. They plan to see “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1,” this weekend. (Note to adults working with teens and 20-somethings: This is, indeed, a generational tidal wave. Ask a group of young people this week for a show of hands on who’s going to see the new movie; you’ll feel the breeze as the arms shoot up.)
In Part 1 of our Harry Potter coverage this week, we introduced author Greg Garrett and his argument for considering the Harry Potter series as Christian literature. Greg also suggests some ways that small groups may want to discuss these books. (Note to small-group leaders: While our five teens objected to Greg labeling the novels as “Christian;” all five were eager to talk about the series!)
Young Fans Object to Calling Harry Potter “Christian”
Here are highlights of how our youthful panel responded:
JOEY, 18: “I can see where people get the idea that there’s something Christian in the series, but I’m not sure the books were intended as specifically Christian. I wouldn’t say that’s the purpose of the series.”
MICHAEL, 16: “I’ve mainly heard people say that Harry Potter is anti-Christian because of the witchcraft, wizardry and magic in the books. I didn’t think that was true. But I’ve never really thought about whether the novels were actually Christian. It’s not something that’s part of why I read them.”
BLAKE, 16: “It may be there in the books, but that wasn’t a part of my enjoyment of them. Of course, that kind of thing happened to me, too, when I first read the Narnia books. I read all seven Narnia books and never thought that there was anything about Christianity in them, then I got to thinking about what I had read and it was like: Ohhhh! Oh, snap!! (laughs) So, it may be there in Harry Potter, too, but it wasn’t really a part of my experience of reading the books.”
ALEX, 18: “I think Blake is right. I understand what people are talking about in the seventh book. I read that book on the same night it came out. I pulled an all nighter to finish it. Then, I went back and read that book several more times to enjoy more of the details. I can see what they’re talking about on the religious thing in that seventh book—because that’s really the one book that clinches the whole religious idea. But I don’t think it’s a big part of why people enjoy the books.”
How Harry Potter Is Shaping a Generation
It’s hard to judge cultural influences—when you’re in the middle of the rising-and-falling cultural ocean—but our young panel gave it a shot. They pointed out that books like the Bible and the Quran continue to rank at the top of the worldwide best-seller list. That’s true! But among series of novels, Harry Potter has far surpassed: Goosebumps, Perry Mason, Berenstain Bears, Nancy Drew, Lord of the Rings, Chicken Soup, American Girls, Chronicles of Narnia, James Bond, Twilight, Little House on the Prairie, Hardy Boys, Tarzan, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Curious George. (Note: These titles are roughly in order, based on estimates of total worldwide book sales—and Potter clearly tops all of them in sales.)
Here are highlights of what the teen panel had to say:
ALEX, 18: “These books and the memorabilia have been everywhere as we’ve been growing up. You can buy the stuff at Krogers! People dress up as Harry Potter at Halloween. I don’t know how deeply it affected people, but it’s been all around us for years.”
SARAH, 17: “The books got you reading, didn’t they? I don’t know any other books that kids stay up all night reading!”
ALEX, 18: “Yeah, that’s right. Harry Potter really got me reading and got me into fantasy. Harry Potter was the first big fantasy book I read and now that’s my favorite genre.”
SARAH, 17: “A lot of kids did start reading with these books, but I remember when I was a young kid, I was turned off by these books. I remember the days when kids thought it was cool to start reading ‘chapter books.’ I was a slower reader, but some kids in my class were reading Harry Potter. I was still reading thin books. I didn’t have a very good experience with that. I was put off by the books.”
BLAKE, 16: “I was Harry Potter a couple of years for Halloween. I had some of the memorabilia. But I have to say: That’s mostly in the past for us, I think. Like, I don’t have the posters up anymore. I’ve moved on. The last novel did come out three years ago. All that’s left for us is this last movie—and part 2 next summer.”
MICHAEL, 16: “I do think most of us have left Harry Potter behind except for the movies, now. I suppose if they came up with another book from the Harry Potter world, people would buy it and read it. But our interests have moved on, at least for a lot of us.”
JOEY, 18: “Harry Potter did seriously affect our generation. When we were kids, it seemed like every kid was reading this one set of books. Think of all the millions of copies out there—and this all is bigger than the United States. When I lived in Europe with my family for a while, Harry Potter books were in every single bookstore there, too. It’s hard to tell just how much it affected us. I do know there are lots of signs, though, like people who still wear scarves just Harry Potter.”
SPECIAL THANKS to Divine Light Media, a pioneering high-school-age class for young documentary filmmakers that has met for years at First United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor, near the University of Michigan. All five of our young panelists are veterans of the Divine Light crew, love movies and know a lot about contemporary culture.
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