Lord of the Rings, Good; Harry Potter, Bad; Really?

Why is it that so many Christians love Lord of the Rings (LOTR) and vilify Harry Potter (HP)? I ask the question because to my way of thinking there is no significant difference between the two works of literature. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic work we have a story of good versus evil, friendships forged in a struggle for the future of world. It is set in a world in which wizards, spells, magic, and violence abound and in which good eventually triumphs. In J.K. Rowling’s series of books we have a story of good versus evil, friendships forged in a struggle for the future of world. It is set in a world in which wizards, spells, magic, and violence abound and in which good eventually triumphs. So help me out here. Why do Christians generally approve of LOTR, even writing books and teaching seminars on it’s Christian themes, and berate HP as evil, corrupting of children and somehow part of a satanic plot to turn children into wizards and witches?

I think much of the answer has to do with Christians not using the critical thinking skills that God has given us and falling victim to some of our ugliest prejudices and fears. The first major difference between the two works is their authors. Tolkien was a known, safe, respected commodity. He was an Oxford professor and close friend of the nearly sainted C.S. Lewis. That in itself probably earns him a pass in the minds of many Christians. Tolkien simply carries an aura of respectability. Of course it doesn’t hurt that his Roman Catholic faith is seen as a backdrop to his work. Rowling on the other hand was a complete unknown, which immediately causes the conspiracy theorists among us to go searching for some deep dark plot. Her instant success, far beyond that of Tolkien, certainly caused even further hand wringing and even jealousy among some. The final ugly part of this is that as a woman writing about magic and wizards she became accused of being some sort of witch herself. After all, how could she have possibly written such a  popular book, without some sort of evil force behind her?

I think that a second factor in the differing reactions has to do with timing. Tolkien’s work came out in a time when Christians still engaged the art and literature of the culture. Christians actually read things like Dickens and Poe and Dostoevsky. They did so with eyes wide open and minds engaged, searching for the great themes of life and faith. What they found was stories of redemption, forgiveness, faith, perseverance, honor, and hope. LOR is just that kind of work. Rowling had the misfortune of writing in a time when many Christians have retreated into a spiritual ghetto. It is a place where people only read “Christian” books, listen to “Christian” music, and watch “Christian” movies, all with only your “Christian” friends. We have our own “Christian” television, radio, theme parks, schools, even plumbers and real estate agents. All one needs to do is slap a symbol of a fish on your business card and you have instant credibility in the “Christian” ghetto.

In ways that are ultimately damaging to the cause of Christ many Christians are closing their minds to the timeless truths of God that are found outside the ghetto. One example would be that most Christians have never and will never see the movie, Hotel Rwanda. Yet it may well be one of the most “Christian” movies ever made. It is about self sacrifice, forgiveness, love, redemption and struggle in the midst of a sinful, fallen world. It is a movie of hope in the heart of darkness.

The final nail in the coffin for Rowling and HP is certainly that fact that children were seen as her target market. Tolkien did not write for children in spite of the fact that LOTR is incredibly popular with adolescents. In fact, Tolkien chided his friend Lewis for writing The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, because it was aimed at children. That was a step down to Tolkien. Because HP is so much about children and for children, the conspiracy theorists had a field day. It only added to the fear that Rowling was somehow secretly looking to lure children into a life of wizardry and witchcraft and away from Jesus. It is a sad day when Christians are guided by fear, rumor, and prejudice.

I long for the day when the majority of the Christian world will once again engage the major cultural works of history with a critical and not a jaundiced eye. We need to look for those great truths and themes that the Bible teaches and that show up regularly in the best artwork, literature and film. We need to find the themes of forgiveness and redemption, of sacrifice and love, and instead of railing against the artist, use those themes and the way they touch the human heart, to point people to Jesus. Paul did this in Athens when he quoted Greek philosophers as a stepping stone to talking about the creator of the world. But of course to do that, you need to know what those Greeks said and then see how it can lead to Jesus. And that my friends means we must use the brains God has given us, to point people to Him, for His glory and honor.

I look forward to hearing about someone who came to Christ because they read Harry Potter and a Christian friend used that to point them to Jesus.

17 thoughts on “Lord of the Rings, Good; Harry Potter, Bad; Really?

  1. marionfive

    Woo hoo! Two of our children have read all seven HP books, the only series either has ever read. I can’t count how many questions and raised eyebrows I got from other moms for allowing it! I wsa thrilled they were reading with interest, and it opened up many topics for discussion within our family. I haven’t seen Hotel Rwanda yet, but I will now! Thanks for saying the unpopular thing!
    Jen Marion

  2. Pingback: The Recovery of the Christian Mind « Getting Started

  3. Janice

    I beg to differ. I see the difference in that, the Lord of the Rings, the evil is the ring and they are trying to get rid of it. He also uses several references from the Bible. The power came in a belief in the higher good. In Harry Potter the evil is the power and the children use that power. I also have seen a significant increase in children who have read Harry Potter to desire to explore more about spells, curses, and witchcraft. If you order from Scholastics you will see the demand for information on sorcery and spells etc… leaped significantly and encourages wizardry, witchcraft and Wicca… sorcery. God abhors sorcery. If children had a firm grasp of discernment I would see it differently. I see children engaging in play that shows me they think the evil portrayed is fun, exciting, desirable and that spells, curses etc are fun and expectable. I see this, especially in younger children. I think both are amazing writers, but I think Harry Potter has opened doors for this generation that we need to address. I was talking with a seven year old who clearly understood about witchcraft and referenced Harry Potter. Another child at nine wanted to cast spells on the children at recess. Is this the kind of games we want children playing? JK Rowling is a very descriptive and talented author. A person grounded in their faith can discern the differences but I do not believe most children are developmentally ready to handle this material. We should not live in a bubble and only read “Christian” literature, but there are so many other classics and great works of literature that I would rather have my children read. If we as parents are willing to invest the time to read these books with our children and helping them understand what God’s word tells us about the concepts they are reading. This could be a great opportunity to strengthen them in their understanding of God how to live in a way honors Him. My greatest concern is for the children who are left alone and have no guidance. Your comments are accurate for adults but the task of intrusting children to critically think through this without guidance seems perilous.

  4. Dan Lacich

    I completely agree that there must be discernment used by parents as to what age is appropriate for children to engage certain literature, movies, etc. My main point about LOTR and HP is that even with leaving children out of the equation, many Christians vilify HP as evil and treat LOTR as good. I see no significant reason to treat them differently.
    Your point about other classic literature is also one that I wish more Christians would follow. One of my favorite and “most Christian” stories is Tale of Two Cities. Every Christian should read it.
    Thanks for the comments. Keep them coming.

  5. Cam

    As far as the Harry Potter books go, I thought they were a fun world of fantasy but when J. K. Rowland said she had hoped people would have guessed that a character was homosexual, I felt deceived. She definitely had ulterior motives. Would you or Janice know where I can find a list of All Time Classics that would be safe yet engaging for high school Christians to read. By safe, I mean that the authors would not mislead Christians away from their biblical views.

  6. Alyssa

    This is so true! I know some christians who condem HP and really like LOTR and think it is ok. I used to like both HP and LOTR, infact like many other teens and adults I had a “normal fan obsession” (if there is such a thing), but it turned into something that turned me to the devil. I have reaccepted Christ and now see the truth of these two of many books/movies that the devil uses to decieve and break down christians and their relationship with our saviour. Many christian are blind or ignore the similarities between the two stories; both have wizards/witches, magic and spells, no mention of God at all, Life after death without the involvement of God and though the writers may have some connection to christianity they do not display the values, beliefs and techings the Bible gives us to follow. I really am happy to hear what I have seen and have tried to tell some people, it is so nice to hear that others have the same idea! Praise the Lord for He is Good!

  7. Rogue

    I think its hypocritical in every way possible for certain “Christians” to allow their children to watch or read about all other forms of sorcery, wizardry, spells, etc., but ban Harry Potter without using their brains to see that it is a simple fictional account of good against evil. Brainwashing is probably a more appropriate term. If a child willingly reads a FICTIONAL book and turns to the occult….then the child is obviously a weak minded individual who has no guidance from their parents at all. Its up to us as parents to help our children distinguish between fact and fiction, not some silly book.

  8. Komei

    I know HP and LOR contain witchcraft and magic, but what about the Chronicles of Narnia? It contains alot of magic but is written by a respected Christian author, CS Lewis, and contains many Biblical representations. Can this book be put in the same category as the others?

  9. I entirely agree with this article. I have read all of LOTR and the Simarillion, multiple times. I have read through Harry Potter Book 5, Order of the Phoenix, and Harry Potter contains overarching themes that there is objective good and evil, and those who reject this dichotomy are themselves evil.

    There are elements of natural law, in that if some man made laws do not conform to what is objectively good, then the laws are evil. During WW2, did people in lands occupied by the Nazi regime “sin” by risking their own necks and hiding Jews? It was against the law to hide Jews, and it was deceptive (lying) to keep them hidden, or to deny hiding them. We know that people did the inherently right thing, by trying to stop their slaughter. The laws authorizing the killing of Jews were laws, although they were evil laws. I know one of the criticisms of the Potter books is that he subverts established law and lies. Put into the proper context, I don’t see how anyone can be critical of that aspect.

    Frankly I am astounded at how Rowling is able to weave many different messages into these entertaining books. Messages that carry a lot of meaning in these troubled times

  10. Colton

    Before I state anything, I want to make it clear that I have nothing against either film. However, the difference is that the world of LOTR is complete fantasy, and the viewer realizes this as soon as the film begins. But, in HP, all the magic and witchcraft is set inside a world that is portrayed as very realistic, which could portray a sense of possibility to younger-aged audiences. Having said that, I can understand why some Christian parents may not want their children to watch HP.

  11. You missed a very simple yet profound difference between be two stories. Forget the sorcery for a minute and focus on be actions of the heroes. In LOTR, the heroes succeed by obeying the 10 commandments. When Borimir shows weakness and covets the power, he harms the team, the mission and pays the consequence of death. Lying and broken trust in friendships are caused by the existence of the ring and the proximity to it. Rather, in Harry Potter, there is no discernible difference between the heroes and villains. The heroes lie, cheat, and steal and in the end, succeed over evil by doing so.

    I have enjoyed watching and reading both with my kids as an instructive sources of fiction and the way in which our heroes are portrayed in literature is derived from our culture.

  12. Morgan B

    harry potter died and rose again to save the world from voldemort….. sounds like their portraying christianity to me. like both book series include magic but harry potter is hated by christians because the author isnt christian

  13. M. Little

    You say that you look forward to hearing of someone reading HP and being lead to Jesus. That is fine, but that hope will never be realized. Neither The Lord of the Rings nor Harry Potter are good, or even Christian-based. But you are right when you say that it is hypocritical to accept one and reject the other. Both are EVIL. Both treat magic-the power of the devil-as good. Anything that praises darkness does not have light. The Chronicles of Narnia are similar. C. S. Lewis wrote fine-sounding books-but did you know that in “Mere Christianity” he proposed that pagans who have no knowledge of Jesus can be saved? Tolkien and Lewis both believed in theistic evolution; both were well versed in and enjoyed ancient and medieval mythology; yet both are described as being strong Christians. Can one who doubts the authority of God’s Word be a Christian? J. K. Rowling, from my research, was a lady looking for a way to make extra money. She wrote HP because she knew they would sell. I see her as one who capitalized on the thirst for the occult that was popularized by J. R. R. Tolkien. It has nothing to do with being educated-I have read many classic works, including works by the authors you mentioned, save Dostoevsky. I have even read the Chronicles. But I will not read LOTR or HP-because of the reasons I mentioned. “For what fellowship hath light with darkness?” I leave you this thought-should a Christian associate with evil?

  14. michelle

    I believe what M. Little is true in a sense. When we indoctrinate our children without knowledge of the Truth they have no way of discerning which is right or wrong but I don’t believe we can keep everything from them. I do not see the difference between Narnia, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. All have good and evil…darkness and light and witchcraft and sorcery and do not speak of the true Lord Jesus Christ. However I don’t like how children are practicing witchcraft in Harry Potter. That being said I think we would then have to keep our children away from most Disney shows as well, cartoons and pretty much TV all together. That is not fair to shelter them because we need to teach them. If we do not teach them they will learn from the world or their friends, probably not be the truth. I was very happy when my 6 year old was watching Brave with a friend and as a “whim” or “whisp” (little blue light) lead the girl to the witch’s cottage, he had turned to his friend and said,”Those are magic and we are not suppose to follow after magic because it will lead to trouble.” I thought it was really cool that my husband and I and of course the Holy Spirit, have been able to lead him to know that and he could then tell his friend in casual conversation. Is that leading someone to Christ? I don’t think so but it hopefully lead the child to know magic and witches equal trouble. We need to teach our children not just give them whatever and hope they can understand the difference as Janice put above.

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