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.