Fantasy, Fiction, and Faith: The Harry Potter Question
The series of children’s books is popular with kids around the world—but the British author was taking heat from the Christian community. People argued that since the books are full of witchcraft and wizardry, crystal balls and spell-casting, they weren’t fit for kids to read.
You may think I’m talking about J. K. Rowling, the author of the hugely popular Harry Potter books and the movie that opens today. But I’m not. I’m talking about C. S. Lewis. Fifty years ago, Christians charged that Lewis was teaching kids witchcraft. Yet today, most Christians—myself included—consider the Chronicles of Narnia classics and the Narnia books and movies are in most church libraries.
There are Christians who say that there’s no difference between the Narnia stories and Harry Potter. Some say both should be condemned, some say both should be praised. Other Christians love Lewis and yet have major reservations about Harry Potter. I fit into that latter category and here’s why.
There’s no denying that Lewis’s Narnia tales feature witches and werewolves; the spirits of trees, rivers, and stars; and characters who cast spells—including characters on the side of good. In this sense, there is little difference between the Narnia stories and the Harry Potter stories. And even in Lewis, these characters should not be treated lightly. Christian parents should exercise discernment with their kids.
The big differences lie in three other critical areas. First, Narnia is clearly not of this world. Lewis posits a wholly other world where the laws of nature are different from our world. Narnian magic is wrong and doesn’t work in England. Harry Potter’s world, by contrast, is this world. The divide is between the initiated—that is, wizards and witches—and everyone else, who are derisively called “Muggles.”
Second, Narnia is governed by Aslan and his Father, the Emperor Beyond the Sea. Lewis makes it very clear that he’s writing allegory. Aslan is Christ and the Emperor is God the Father. Harry Potter’s world is free from any reference to God.
Finally, the Narnia stories are allegories of the great truths of the Christian faith: the atonement, resurrection, repentance, faith, justification, sanctification, creation and redemption, and Christ’s return and our heavenly home. Book Three, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is filled with wise insights into Christian living. Harry Potter, as has been argued by many—including my friends—is a moral tale. Okay, it’s a moral tale. But that’s all it is.
It’s a simple risk/reward calculation. Both authors include fantastic and preternatural material. Both series should be handled with care—especially if your children have an unhealthy interest in the occult. Parents need to be wise and attentive to the bent of their children.
The reward with the Harry Potter books and movie is a moral tale. The reward with the Narnia books, on the other hand, is nothing less than Christian truth embedded in stories that have delighted and stirred the hearts of Christian kids for generations.
My advice? Use all the hoopla today over Harry Potter to introduce your kids to the real thing: C. S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles.
Originally presented on “BreakPoint with Chuck Colson,” 11/16/2001, Copyright © 2001 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission.