The "Harry Potter Wars" that raged for a few years awhile ago between Catholics who like and approve of the books and movies versus those who see them as dangerous and to be avoided (I myself am among the latter group) may likely flare up again with the release of a new book on the subject by the preeminent Catholic fiction author and artist Michael O'Brien (Father Elijah). I have known Michael personally for 15 years and can say without reservation that I admire and respect him tremendously and have learned a great deal from his gentle wisdom. (If you've never read any of his books, I'd suggest starting with his excellent Father Elijahand his new one [see below]).
Some years ago, Michael and I recorded our detailed discussion of the Harry Potter phenomenon and what we saw (and see) as the particular problems and dangers inherent in it. After its release on CD, I received a fair bit of reaction from people who strenuously objected to our negative take on HP, as well as others who shared our apprehensions. What struck me by these reactions was how strident, emotional and, at times, downright obstreperous some of Catholic supporters of Harry Potter could be. Not all of them reacted this way, to be sure, in fact most did not, but there were those whose snide and dismissive comments about those who see big problems with Harry Potter were eye-opening. (I hope we don't see another outbreak of that unpleasantness in the comments of this post.)
Anyway, whether or not you have made up your mind about Harry Potter, pro or con, I do recommend spending some time reading and thinking about Michael's eye-opening insights into this controversial issue. Here's his introduction to a new book explaining why he believes that Harry Potter is not good, why it is pretty poison, and why Catholic parents should see that their children avoid it.
Preface to Harry Potter and the Paganization of Culture
by Michael D. O'Brien
[published May, 2010]
This book grew out of a series of articles which were written over a ten-year period for various Christian periodicals. At first, I had no interest in reading the Harry Potter novels, and indeed felt that I had already expended considerable time researching the field of fantasy literature when writing a book on the subject in the mid-1990’s. Moreover, the constant reviews of the Potter series had given me a general sense about the stories and the popular opinions. Oceans of spilled ink and electronic text seemed to cover the pros and cons well enough. No need for me to add my opinion.
However, the first volumes were often recommended to our family by well-meaning people, and seemed to be read in so many homes we knew, that I could hardly ignore the phenomenon. Then came letters and phone calls from friends wanting to know what I thought about the series, all describing their initial uneasiness about it. I replied that I really couldn’t offer an opinion without reading the books for myself, and besides, there was such a tsunami of neo-pagan fantasy novels, films, and e-games pouring into young people’s lives it would be a lifetime’s work just to keep abreast of it all, let alone thoughtfully discern each one. They agreed, but suggested that since this particular series was fast becoming the biggest best-selling publishing phenomenon of all time, it might be worth reading. They added that some writers whom they admired said that these books were seductive and potentially damaging; other opinion-shapers said they were harmless and got children reading, in fact were getting a whole generation of young people burying their noses in books!
Nevertheless, I still declined to read them. But then came a curious 24 hour period in which I spoke with three different people (in two telephone calls that came out of the blue and one chance meeting face-to-face). All three described a personal experience in very much the same words. I did not initiate the subject, nor did I prompt their thoughts on the matter. None of them knew each other. All were parents of healthy, happy families, and as far as I knew were emotionally and mentally well-balanced. These were people I respected for their mature stability as well as their gifts of wisdom and goodness. They had strong faith in Christ, were neither superstitious nor suspicious by nature, were not alarmists, and did not tend to hysteria or paranoia. They had provided a thriving cultural life for their families, books were treasured in each of their homes, and among their collections were many fantasy novels for the young. Yet, that day each of them said something like the following:
“I heard so much about the Harry Potter books, and very good people told me they’re great. So we bought one [or were given one] and I started to read it. At first I had no problems with it. Then something strange happened. In the middle of a chapter I was suddenly overwhelmed by nausea.”
“Nausea?” I asked.
“Yes, a kind of spiritual nausea. I didn’t see it coming because I wanted to like these books. The whole world’s in love with them, even a lot of good Christians, so I felt they were probably healthy enough to give to our kids. I just wanted to check it out first. I’m glad I did.”
Unknown to each other, these three spiritually awake parents were speaking about a “spiritual nausea.” All three encouraged me to read the books and write an assessment. Was it a coincidence, or was it one of those moments when the Holy Spirit was speaking, sending a nudge in triplicate?
Even so, I hesitated taking part in any kind of public response to the series. I simply had no time or energy for it. Yet I had learned to pay attention to such “coincidences,” and so took it to our Lord in prayer.
I prayed and listened and prayed—and didn’t like what I was “hearing.”
So I prayed more and listened more, hoping to hear something else, but to no avail. . . . (continue reading)