Harry Potter

"Better to encourage imagination"

by Charley Reese (The Orlando Sentinel, October 29, 2000)


I finally did it. I read a Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. If my children were still young, I'd encourage them to read those books.

Some people have objected because the characters are wizards and witches. Well?

The characters in Winnie the Pooh are stuffed animals that move and talk. The characters in Treasure Island are pirates.

R.K. Rowling is not the writer that C.S. Lewis and his friend J.R.R. Tolkien were, but then few writers are. Nevertheless she has created an interesting set of characters and spins a good adventure yarn. I can understand why kids enjoy her books.

Harry is, in many respects, an ordinary boy, but when the crisis comes, he displays bravery and loyalty to his friends. There is a clear line between good and evil, and the author attaches no religious overtones to anything in her story.

The fact that Harry is attending a school for wizards in a world hidden from the eyes of humans, or Muggles, as they are called, just adds to the fun. Rowling is creating a separate world for her characters, just as Lewis did in his Narnia stories.

When the children in Lewis's Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe pass through the magic portal, they find themselves in a world where an evil witch has created perpetual winter, turned her enemies into stone, and where animals talk.

Imaginative literature is important for a child, in my opinion, especially these days when so much written for children is dreary pseudo-realism and nihilistic. Heroic characters teach children that there are some things more important than creature comforts and that some things are more important than life itself.

It especially surprises me that Christians would object to the Potter books. Christianity itself is full of what an atheist would call magic -- walking on water, healing terminal illnesses with the touch of a hand, resurrecting the dead, feeding the multitude with only 12 fish, dying and coming back to life.

I would offer this advice: If you hope your child's faith will survive the continuous battering from the secular world, then you had better encourage the imagination of your children, and there is no better way to do that than by encouraging them to read good literature. Imagination seems to me a crucial component of faith. If we cannot visualize what is invisible to our eyes, then we will have a harder time sustaining our belief, especially in these bleak times.

Television, movies and computer games kill the imagination. (Some argue that they can kill the soul.) Everything is supplied, and all the viewer does is turn down his brain to the passive level.

Reading, on the other hand, requires an active brain. The reader becomes the casting director, supplies the set, the costumes and the props, as well as the scenery. A good fantasy or science-fiction story can take you out of your ordinary world so that when you return, you will see it in a slightly different way. And if they can't see their world in a slightly different way than the secularists see it, Christians will lose their faith.

The Harry Potter books ought to encourage children to read Lewis's wonderful Chronicles of Narnia, and when they are older, Tolkien's The Hobbit and the magnificent trilogy Lord of the Rings.

Literature can teach either vices or virtue. There's no question that parents should supervise their younger children's reading. Unfortunately you can no longer trust either the judgment or tastes of government schools and certainly not that of the entertainment industry.

Better for children to read about wizards fighting evil than to grow up believing that nothing is worth fighting for.