the obligatory Harry Potter post

In case you were wondering, yes I went to the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

And yes, I am suffering from a lack of sleep today, but not so much that I don’t want to share my experience with you. I think this is especially relevant because many of my readers come from friendships I’ve made through Catholic media. I often don’t think of myself as a “real” producer of Catholic media although I am both a practicing Catholic and a blogger and podcaster (perhaps more accurately a commentator on a couple of podcasts).

In spite of my discomfort with the label, I cannot deny that I am both Catholic and a producer of new media, so today I find myself capitalizing on both experiences to delve into the world of apologetics. It’s not what you’re accustomed to hearing about when you see the word apologetics, though. You see, I am about to launch into a defense of Harry Potter.

Yes, I am a Harry Potter Apologist. Let’s put that out there right now so you can either call me a heretic or a hero. In either case, pray for me and my on-going conversion. I can’t have enough people praying for me. That’s a good thing.

But back to Harry and his wizarding world. I love the stories. They are well-written and full of all kinds of interesting and wonderful studies of the human condition, mythological constructs, and yes, supernatural events. It’s not unlike many of the other stories that have become a part of our cultural literacy in the last couple of hundred years.

While I am sometimes hesitant to speak directly on Catholic themes because I feel ill-prepared and poorly trained in that area, I can speak from my training as a professor of literature (in fact, you can here me expound on a lot of this stuff in SQPN’s Secrets of Harry Potter, a podcast that explores the literary, mythological, historical, and religious themes of the series) and join a conversation that resurfaces in Catholic blogs and social media every time a book or movie in the series is released.

I do not believe Harry Potter is intrinsically evil, nor do I think it directly, or even indirectly, makes our children into little pagans. I do believe, however, that it is a parental right to determine what one’s children read, so I would no more label the series evil than I would call it essential reading. That is up to the individual to decide.

However, I have increasingly found myself in the position of having to defend my admiration for the series in relation to my obedience to the teachings of the Catholic Church. I’m not talking about the folks who don’t “get” the stories or who don’t like them for the simple reason that these kinds of fantasy stories are not appealing. That’s a matter of taste. I don’t like detective stories. There are enough genres to satisfy everyone’s tastes.

I’m talking about the people who label me a bad Catholic or even a heretic for enjoying the stories. Turnabout is fair play, as they say, so I automatically label them small-minded and a bunch of unoriginal tunnel-visioned lemmings. See? I can be passionate, too. 🙂

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. Anton Chekov, a 19th century Russian writer, suggests that we should read a variety of literature. In those cases where the stories challenge our value systems we have the unique opportunity to decide for ourselves what to make of it. In a brief letter to critics titled “On Morality in Fiction,” Chekov explains that it is his job as a writer to create stories and it is “entirely upon the reader to add for himself the subjective elements that are lacking in the story.” I am mature enough in my faith to recognize the elements that are compatible and contribute to thoughtful analysis, and those elements which are conflictive.

Thomas Jefferson, the American statesman best known for his part in writing the Declaration of Independence, is often paired with Chekov for holding the opposing view. Jefferson, in “On the Dangers of Reading Fiction,”  believes that reading fiction that challenges our values leads to “a bloated imagination, sickly judgment, and disgust towards all the real businesses of life.” He’s probably right, too. Certainly, reading anything without any critical thinking turns us into unoriginal thinkers, and has the potential to pick away at our sensibilities until we are desensitized, or worse, apathetic to the values we once held strongly.

I see the merits in both arguments, yet I more comfortably fit in with Chekov’s viewpoint. In defense of the series, I’d like to offer a couple of blog posts about two very important themes: love and redemption. I hope you come back tomorrow to read about the saving power of love, and later this week to read about healing and redemption. In the meantime, I’d like to know where you stand — with Chekov? or Jefferson?