anovelgirl

musings of a bookworm


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Of Wizards, Wands and Wardrobes: Fantasy Literature and the Christian

This past summer I had a discussion with some dear Christian friends, who I continue to respect, on whether Christians should be reading/watching the Harry Potter books/movies.  I realized that I had never considered the issue of witchcraft in fantasy literature, even though it remains one of my favorite genres.  Magic is present in almost every fantastical realm, whether in Narnia, Middle Earth, or Hogwarts.  Since the Bible clearly condemns the practice of witchcraft, Christians should not lightly embrace the genre of fantasy literature without carefully considering the worldview which these books promote.

The Dangers of Fluff

I was raised on classic literature: Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, C.S. Lewis and the like, and it didn’t take long for me to become a voracious reader.  Fad books were to be avoided because they usually were poorly written with shallow characters (“fluffy books” as my mom would say) and many of them contained subjects that weren’t good for a Christian to dwell on—like teen romance/infatuation, occult worldviews, etc.  It was safer to just stick with the classics, so I did.  Then I attended a Christian college and discovered those who remained mature, committed Christians and read fad books—even Harry Potter and Twilight!  Not only that, they managed to find redemptive themes in them!  Needless to say, I was intrigued and considered that there might be some needles in the haystack of popular books.  After the urging of a friend whose literary taste I trusted, I read the Harry Potter series and watched the movies last summer.

To my surprise, I loved them.  The first book was entertaining and was mostly fluff, but I enjoyed Rowling’s storytelling.  As the series progressed, I gradually saw the larger themes of Rowling’s tale.  The books unfolded an epic tale of good and evil, bravery and heroism, temptation and redemption.  It wasn’t until the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, that Rowling laid the Christian symbolism on thick.  Like Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, the Deathly Hallows strongly spoke of the power of sacrificial love and the ultimate triumph of good over evil.  I also noticed several parallels to The Lord of the Rings plotwise.  While Rowling’s writing can’t compare with Lewis or Tolkien, she still is an excellent storyteller, and I was excited to discover a new author that taught truths via the medium of fantasy literature.

Oops.  I quickly discovered the controversy that Harry Potter had stirred up among the conservative Christian community, one in which I find my home. For the Potter haters, the argument is a simple one: the Bible condemns witchcraft; the Harry Potter books contain/promote witchcraft; therefore it is sin to read the Harry Potter books.  It seemed to me that they hadn’t done their research—either they hadn’t read the Potter books or hadn’t considered the witchcraft in Lewis/Tolkien.  However, I also hadn’t done my research—I’d never considered the ban on witchcraft and its relation to fantasy literature.  As a fan of the genre and of literature in general, I knew it was an issue I needed to examine.  Now that my research is done, I thought that I would share what I learned.  Also, the process of articulating my thoughts helps me to think, which is the main reason why I started this blog.

 

For Conscience’ Sake

For any Christian reading this, I’d like to remind you of Romans 14:22-23:

The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.  But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith and whatever is not from faith is sin.

Paul is talking about the eating of meat sacrificed to idols, but this could be equally applied to entertainment choices, an adiaphora of our day.  If you are convicted in your conscience that you should not do something, be it read the Harry Potter books or whatever else, don’t do it!  I am not trying to persuade anyone to violate their conscience—that would be sinful on my part.  I’m also not saying that my opinion is the only correct biblical response.  I know of sincere, mature Christians that will disagree with me.  Throughout this post and at the end, I will include links that I found helpful in my research.  I encourage any Christian that is studying this topic to conduct their own research and bible study.  The personal conviction of the Holy Spirit is what is most important in these types of discussions.

Magic vs. Magick

I found a total of 29 passages in the Old Testament and 8 passages in the New Testament that either forbid witchcraft/sorcery/divination or spoke negatively about it.  It is unanimous—God hates these practices.  (note: from now on, I will use the general term witchcraft to refer to all of its associated practices—witchcraft, sorcery, astrology & divination). In Pentateuch class, my professor pointed out that crimes that resulted in capital punishment revealed what was most valuable to the culture.  For the Israelites, these crimes were cursing/striking parents, sex outside of God’s design, child sacrifice, thieving in the night, stealing slaves, murder, letting an owner’s animal (ox) kill another person, idolatry and witchcraft.  These can be divided into roughly three categories; these laws pertain to either (1) Life, (2) Family Structure or (3) Worship.  Since these laws were all established by God, these are things that He considers as most valuable.  Idolatry and witchcraft fall into the Worship category.  When comparing verses condemning witchcraft, I noticed that most all of them associated it with idolatry.  The use of witchcraft robs God of His rightful worship.  In Deuteronomy 4:19, it warns not to “be drawn away and worship and serve” the sun, moon and stars (referring to astrology/divination as well as idolatry).  It goes on in verse 20 to remind that God has taken the Israelites out of Egypt to “be a people for His own possession.” Because the Israelites were set aside for God, they were not to seek elsewhere for spiritual fulfillment. In 13:5, it says of those that have produced signs and wonders and didn’t attribute these to the Lord have “counseled rebellion against God.”  King Saul “died of his trespass which he committed against the Lord . . . because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it and did not inquire of the Lord” (1 Chronicles 10:13, emphasis added).  Instead of going to the One who is all-knowing, King Saul sought to use another source of power to obtain the future.  The prophet Isaiah asks why people persist in using “mediums and spiritists who whisper and mutter, should not a people consult their God?” (8:19).  Witchcraft is often referred to in general terms as participating in prostitution and harlotry (Leviticus 20:6, 2 Kings 9:22, Isaiah 57:3, Nahum 3:3-5).  Those who participate in these practices are being unfaithful to their God.

So, if those that participate in witchcraft are not worshiping and serving the Lord, what exactly are they serving?  The first option is that they are worshipping a simple human creation, the “work of [their] hands” (Micah 5:11-13). They are being deceived by their own minds (Ezekiel 13:6, Jeremiah 14:14).  But there is also a possibility of involvement with other spiritual beings—demons.  Acts 16:16-24 tells the story of slave girl that had a ‘spirit of divination’ and made her masters money by her fortune telling.  When Paul and Silas cast out this spirit, her masters were angry and threw the apostles into prison.  This story is an important one, because it shows that demon spirits do have power to perform signs and wonders. Demons can also inhabit man-made idols (1 Corinthians 10:20). However, followers of the true God have nothing to fear because He rules over everything, including the spiritual realm.  There are limits to Satan’s power—Pharaoh’s magicians in Exodus 8:19 were unable to make gnats from dust, prompting them to say “this is the finger of God.”  Those who practice witchcraft are ultimately subject to God, which Balaam learned the hard way (Numbers 22:7-24:25).  The Lord “make[s] fools out of diviners . . . and turn[s] their knowledge to foolishness” (Isaiah 44:25).  Either in this world or the next, those who practice these arts will perish (Isaiah 47:8-15 and Ezekiel 13:20-23).

The remaining question is: Does ________ (The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wizard of Oz, the Harry Potter series, etc.) contain/promote the witchcraft that is prohibited in the Bible?  The answer will vary on the book or movie in question, but for the ones I’ve mentioned so far, I believe the answer is no.

As mentioned before, witchcraft in the Bible is an issue of worship.  Idolatry and practicing witchcraft was part of a religious ritual. In none of the books and movies I have mentioned has the practice of magic been an expression of worship.

There are also distinct differences between the magic in the Narnia, LOTR, and Harry Potter books and that of the “magick” (occultic magic) mentioned in the Bible.  Both of these give power to the user who can manipulate surroundings to his liking, ignoring Newtonian natural law.  The key difference is the source of the power.  In real-life magick, this power is from demons, which ultimately results in demon worship.  In the storybook magic of Disney movies, Wizard of Oz, and Hogwarts, magic is a mysterious, powerful force, much like electricity in our world.  While supernatural in the sense that it doesn’t obey the natural laws of the Newtonian worldview, fantasy magic of the sort mentioned here has nothing to do with demons.  In the Potterverse, the ability to perform magic is a physical, genetic trait; just like blue eyes or having a knack for music.  Some people have the gift (witches/wizards) and some don’t (muggles).  Christian author John Granger, distinguishes between “invocational” magic (invoking of demonic spirits) and “incantational” magic (creating magic by incantations=words).  Granger writes “not one character in any of the seven books [of the Harry Potter series] ever calls in evil spirits. Not once.” For more on the magic in Narnia and LOTR and how the authors distinguished the fantasy magic therein from real world magick, read this.

DANGER!

Warning: literature is dangerous!  See this article. (note: I disagree with one point—the Harry Potter books have quite a bit ‘underneath’ them, but this was written early in the series before Rowling’s tale was fully fleshed out).  There are several responses to the dangers of literature.  Extremes of either avoiding or accepting all literature are unhealthy for the Christian—careful discernment is the better option.  There are some books and movies I will not partake in; they are too dangerous for me.  But for many other books and movies, learning about the ideas and worldview within them can help strengthen my own worldview.  What is most important is that I am sensitive to my conscience and that I compare all ideas to that of the ultimate authority—God’s Word.  A case could be made that fantasy books are guilty by association—even though they don’t represent invocational magick, they could possibly lead to interest in other things that are occult or desensitize the reader to the real dangers of witchcraft. Because of this, it is vital that the difference between incantational fantasy magic and invocational magick is emphasized.  For Christian parents, reading books such as the Harry Potter series along with their children and discussing it with them would be a very wise course of action.  If a Christian is still uncomfortable with fantasy magic in a book or movie or finds themselves interested in other works that contain the occult, they should absolutely avoid that book or movie—it is too dangerous for them.  I personally find the genre of fantasy edifying and so far, for what I have read, the dangers are far outweighed by the benefits.

Other Issues with Harry Potter

In regards to Harry Potter specifically, there are other reasons besides the issue of witchcraft that are legitimate reasons to avoid the series:

  • the books are secular (do not mention God or Christianity)
  • the books promote the philosophy that “the end justifies the means”
  • the books are too dark for their intended audience

For more on the worldview present in the series, read this article.  Yes, the issue of secularism is present and should be considered when exercising discernment.  However, there are many other books that are equally secular, such as works by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, that I enjoy.  Just because a book doesn’t mention God or Jesus doesn’t mean it can’t teach biblical truths.   Actually, comparing and contrasting the Christian worldview to that of a book or movie can be a great way to teach biblical truths to children.  Despite the seemingly secular worldview within the Potterverse, the overarching themes of the books themselves fall within a Christian worldview—which is no surprise, since Rowling herself claims to be a Christian.  I disagree with Rowling on several things, namely what I believe is her political correctness in avoiding discussions of religion. However, I continue to enjoy and glean truths from her books.

The second problem with the Harry Potter series is that they seem to promote the idea that the “end justifies the means.”  In order to save the Hogwarts from some evil or another, Harry and his friends are not past breaking the rules to save the day.  They sometimes receive punishment, but it is often excused since they have become heroes.  Like all children, Harry and his friends need to mature.  As he matures, Harry learns that his actions do have consequences and that he should trust his elders, even when he believes they are wrong.  Yes, Harry is a flawed hero, and his shortcomings, such as his disobedience, should be discussed as part of enforcing a Christian worldview.  I don’t think that this issue alone is enough to condemn the series, though it should be taken into consideration.

I absolutely agree with the last point—the Harry Potter series is incredibly dark and should not be read by children.  While the first book is light-hearted for the most part, as the series unfolds, evil becomes much more sinister and macabre.  Rowling herself states that death is a major theme of the books. It will depend on the child, but I personally think that the Harry Potter series should only be read by teens and up.  Those that are seriously disturbed by dark themes should also avoid the Harry Potter books, no matter what age.  Rowling, like Tolkien, used storytelling to show how truly dark and destructive evil can be.  But, in both of these stories, ultimately good triumphs over evil.  Whether the Harry Potter series is edifying will depend on personal preferences and sensitivities.

The Last Word

So how should Christians treat the Harry Potter series? Well, if you have a clear conscience and you find the genre of fantasy fiction edifying; read and enjoy them!  I agree with Christian musician Andrew Peterson who wrote “. . . Jesus used [the Harry Potter series] to help me long for heaven, to remind me of the invisible world, to keep my imagination active and young, and . . . to show me his holy bravery in his triumph over the grave.”  For more on the Christian symbolism in the series, see my resources section below (warning: spoilers!) I’d love to talk about it here, but I detest spoilers, so I’ll let you read them somewhere else. :)

No matter what your ultimate decision is, in regards to fantasy literature, I challenge you to apply equal discernment in whatever you read.  By seeking after truth, you will grow closer to the author of Truth, Jesus Christ.

Resources

The following are resources that I recommend for those doing further research on this topic.  There are many more where these came from, but these are the best from what I found.  There are a variety of opinions represented here.  Just because I have a link here, doesn’t mean that I agree with it or other writings of the author.  And last warning–if you haven’t yet read the Harry Potter, Narnia or LOTR series, a good number of these links contain major spoilers!

The power and benefits of fantasy literature:

Fantasy Media by Gene Veith, Christian Research Institute

Stories are Soul Food: Don’t Let Your Children Hunger by N.D. Wilson, DesiringGod Blog

Fantasy Literature’s Evocative Power

Christian responses to fantasy literature:

Fantasy, Science Fiction and the Christian

Harry Potter vs. Gandalf: An in-depth analysis of the literary use of magic in the works of J. K. Rowling, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis by Steven D. Greydanus, Decent Films Guide

The Worldview and Witchcraft of Harry Potter

Christian symbolism in Harry Potter:

‘Harry Potter’ Author J.K. Rowling Opens Up About Books’ Christian Imagery

Harry Potter 7 Is Matthew 6 by Dave Bruno, Christianity Today

Redeeming Harry Potter by Russ Breimeier, Christianity Today

Christian Themes Abound in Potter

God, C.S. Lewis, and J.K. Rowling

Anti-Harry:

Harry Potter and Witchcraft

Twelve Reasons Not to See the Harry Potter Movies

Harry Potter, Sorcery and Fantasy

The Harry Potter Books: Just Fantasy?

Plugged In’s Review of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The Perils of Harry Potter by Jacqui Komschlies, Christianity Today

Pro-Harry:

Harry Potter, Jesus and Me by Andrew Peterson

Harry Potter’s Magic by Alan Jacobs, First Things

Harry Potter and the Christian Critics by Mark Shea, First Things

The Magic of Harry Potter

Is the Magic of Harry Potter Evil?

Musings on Harry Potter by Greg Koukl, Stand to Reason


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Far as the Curse is Found

Joy to the World has always been my favorite Christmas carol (even though to be technical, it was originally written to refer to Christ’s second coming). It epitomizes what Christmas should be and contains a great reminder of the redemption that Jesus Christ is/will be bringing. Joel Belz wrote about this several years ago in WORLD magazine.  After complaining about the brokenness of such things as the U.S. government & FBI, education  & the health care system, he reminds us that all failure ultimately originated from the fall.

How much else is similarly broken? Pick just about any venue, and as far as you’re able to look, you’ll almost certainly discover the depressing results of the fall. That’s the kind of people we are. That’s how profoundly the curse on our misbehavior reaches into our daily lives. Even some of the things we used to think we did fairly well lie in the rubbish heap of disillusionment.

Yet however far that list of brokenness extends, it’s never any longer than the reach of God’s mercy. Those of us at WORLD, because we try faithfully to reflect what’s happening every week on this wobbly globe, have to tell you about a lot of bad news and pitifully out-of-order efforts to deal with all that ugliness. But we never want to do that without also pointing clearly to a sovereign God who “comes to make His blessings flow,” as Isaac Watts reminded us almost 300 years ago, as “far as the curse is found.”

The next time you see something that’s broken, or not working as well as you think it should or wish it did, let it be God’s reminder that such brokenness is nothing but a yardstick of how far His goodness will ultimately reach.

Copyright © 2011 WORLD Magazine
December 23, 2006, Vol. 21, No. 49

As the subtitle of the article states, “All brokenness is just a yardstick for the blessings of God.”   With the second coming of Christ, we know that both the spiritual and physical effects of the fall will finally be eradicated.  Christmas is a time of joy and thankfulness: looking back upon what Christ has already accomplished (making possible a relationship between God and man) and looking forward to what is still in his plan–the redemption of our fallen world.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.
(Isaac Watts, 1719)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  May God bless you, every one!


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The Falling Man

The Falling Man by Robert Drew

I had never heard of this infamous photograph, The Falling Man, until just this week. Apparently it has been widely banned and condemned. While I have utmost sympathy for those that lost loved ones in the attacks on September 11, 2001; I don’t think it should be hidden from the public. We need to be reminded of that day and its horrors.

Journalist Tom Junod wrote a masterful column on the photograph in 2003. The entire article is poignant, but this quote brought tears to my eyes.

Is Jonathan Briley the Falling Man? He might be. But maybe he didn’t jump from the window as a betrayal of love or because he lost hope. Maybe he jumped to fulfill the terms of a miracle. Maybe he jumped to come home to his family. Maybe he didn’t jump at all, because no one can jump into the arms of God.

Oh, no. You have to fall.

Here’s the rest of the article.
Just to be clear, I’m recommending only the article. I do not recommend (or read) Esquire (I found the article via Google).

May God bless America.


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Review of Dracula by Bram Stoker

With its dark, moody atmosphere and spiritual symbolism, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is in many ways comparable to the tales of Nathanael Hawthorne. As in Hawthorne, the Devil is a powerful, malevolent being who is embodied in a particular person (in this case, Dracula). In the end, the “Devil” is destroyed by the forces of good that find their root in Christianity. I was pleasantly surprised at this deep level of spiritual imagery and feel that Dracula belongs alongside such works as The Scarlet Letter and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Works such as these have endured not only because of their literary merit, but because they deal with the nature of mankind and the forces of good and evil—themes that transcend cultures and time periods. It is a tragedy that Hollywood has extracted the mere plot of these stories and neglected the deeper themes.

The novel is written in first person, told by the main characters through their compiled journals and letters. I’ve never been a big fan of this perspective in literature for several reasons. I’ve often noticed that first person perspective is dialogue heavy and as a result, description light. It doesn’t require as much talent on the part of the author to bring the reader into the story. I also feel rather brainwashed while reading a first person account. This opinion may or may not have been influenced by a certain unnamed Agatha Christie novel where the narrator turned out to be the murderer! (I’ve always held a bad taste for first person narrative after that scarring experience) So that’s probably why Bram Stoker didn’t blow me away with his writing. The characters were also a tad flat for my taste and several times I found myself mixing up the multiple narrators. Still, it was an excellently crafted story with a wonderfully spooky, Gothic atmosphere, an area in which Stoker excels.

The particular edition that I read was a Barnes and Noble hardback edition. I liked the cover art, which I felt was worthy of the classic that it enclosed. The inside had a nice typeface and helpful, concise notes scattered both in the text and at the end of the book. The construction, unfortunately, was poor: the binding was loose and the pages were very thin (I accidentally tore a couple of them in just turning the pages). By far, the best thing about this edition was the excellent introduction by Brooke Allen, a contemporary book critic. *warning: I’m now climbing on my soapbox* NEVER eVER read the introduction before you read the book! Why? Because 1) it will most likely give away the major spoilers, ruining any chance of suspense in reading the book. And 2) it will critique the book, telling you how to think about the author/characters/themes, etc. There’s nothing wrong with critique whatsoever, but it should take place *after* you’ve read the book yourself. Then you can compare your opinions with the critique, see if you agree and even come up with your own ideas. Therefore, I only read the introduction after I read the book. *steps off soapbox* I appreciated Allen’s introduction as it gave a brief history of the author (an essential in any introduction) and offered a balanced critique of the various themes in the novel. By far, my favorite part of the introduction was the following quote:

As the twentieth century progressed, the religious elements of the vampire myth became less interesting to the public, and the vampire figure began to take on different attributes. The strangest and most perverse has been the transformation of the vampire from a figure of terror to a romantic outsider, a sexy, Byronic hero (xxviii).

Amen!

Now for the final rating:
As far as age appropriateness, I rate Dracula PG-13 for violence and thematic elements. By thematic elements I mean the dark, Gothic atmosphere plus the Freudian undertones. I personally wouldn’t recommend it for anyone under high school age. However, please note these concerns are only of a thematic nature. I would never recommend a book (or even read, if I can help it) that contained sexual descriptions. The Freudian undertones are just that—undertones. If you don’t have a moral problem with reading Shakespeare, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Wuthering Heights or The Picture of Dorian Grey, you shouldn’t have a problem with Dracula. The violence? Well duh, it’s a vampire book. You are going to have lots of bleeding and eventual deaths of live people and the Undead (it’s pretty gruesome to kill the Undead, so if you are sensitive to violence, avoid Dracula). Since I’m Protestant, I’ll just mention that the Christianity in Dracula is definitely Roman Catholic; the Crucifix and the Host—the holy bread used in Eucharist are both considered powerful weapons against the vampires. Also, the theology is skewed. Any person that falls victim to a vampire is themselves turned into a vampire, which makes them unclean and condemned in the sign of God. I would say this is parallel to the belief that Christians can be possessed by demons (which I disagree with).

For my own personal rating, I give Dracula 4 stars, meaning it wasn’t my absolute favorite, but still a very enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

I recommend Dracula for fans of classic Gothic and horror literature and those who enjoy the likes of Nathanael Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Picture of Dorian Grey.


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First Post

Hello cyberspace!  Here I am!

I am fully aware that the cyberspace does not need another blog.  I also realize that probably no one will read it (as this t-shirt reminds us).

So my purpose for beginning blogging is to:

1) learn how to blog just for the heck of it

2) have a place to write out my ideas (the process of writing helps my thought process)

3) have a place to write book reviews

4) have a place to rant and rave if the need arises

5) have a blog registered under this pretty awesome name in case I ever do want to blog regularly.

So if you, in your surfing’s across cyberspace,  have stumbled across my blog, welcome!  It may not be anything of interest of yet, but it’s a work in progress.  And I am a college student, so I post whenever I get around to it (I make no promises to post on a schedule or anything)

Random question: if it’s cyberspace, why do we surf the web?  Isn’t that mixing our metaphors?  Shouldn’t we rocket/fly through cyberspace?  Or maybe we should call it cyberocean?

I hope you enjoy!

~novelgirl

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