Tuesday, July 19, 2011

art, harry potter, and walking on water.

“Tell me one last thing,” said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”


On the way to the Harry Potter movie on Sunday, my dad asked if the “religious right” had ever gotten over boycotting Harry Potter. I told him I didn’t know, couldn’t remember, but that I was grateful he and mom had never bought into that idea. And he wondered, out loud, why they hadn’t?

My parents, after all, boycotted many things. No drinking. No drugs. No books at the dinner table. No dinner in front of the TV. No “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” No “Rugrats.” No movies with bratty children, lest we follow suit. (I mean, The Goofy Movie was ripped out of our VCR after five minutes of play. I never saw Home Alone in its entirety until I was well into adolescence.) I believe we even wrote a family letter of protest to the executives at Converse tennis shoes when Dennis Rodman became their spokesman.

So, see? My family is no stranger to the boycott.

But books about witchcraft and wizardry? Here, my 11-year-old child! Enjoy!

Thank goodness.

As Dad sat pondering his parenting, I remembered this theme that keeps popping up in Walking on Water, this idea that Christians are somewhat terrified of art, especially art they can’t immediately discern as “Christian.”

Christian art? Are is art; painting is painting; music is music; a story is a story. If it's bad art, it's bad religion, no matter how pious the subject.... To be truly Christian means to see Christ everywhere, to know him as all in all.”

It reminds me of an argument I got into with one of my journalism professors in undergrad. I told her I wanted to be a Christian journalist. She told me I wanted to be a journalist who happens to be a Christian. To this day, I’m not quite sure who was right, since I think really, we were arguing over semantics. I didn’t want to write for Christianity Today. I wanted to be a journalist who took her faith with her everywhere she went, who showed appreciation for story and syntax, because I happen to be born of a Creator who appreciates those things.

And I told Dad that maybe the reason we never boycotted Harry Potter was because the Butterworths always investigated things for themselves, asked questions. And my parents trusted me to make responsible decisions. It didn’t hurt that Dad was reading the books right behind me. Instead of making an ill-informed judgment call (and forcing me to do things like read with a flashlight under my bed), my dad read the books, and he knew how silly all those arguments about witchcraft and wizardry were.

I’ve read lots of conflicting reports about J.K. Rowling’s beliefs, and you know what? None of them changes the fact that the Harry Potter stories are Christian. Christian because they are well-written calls to courage and loyalty and friendship and sacrifice. No, Jesus’ name is never mentioned. There is no direct reference to a lion or a lamb or a cross. But on Sunday, as I sat watching those final moments of the book play out on film, I was reminded of just how right and true those stories are.

I don’t know if somewhere out there, there’s a church still burning Harry Potter books and DVDs. But I know that there are believers out there who are scared of fiction not bought from or directly endorsed by their local Lifeway store. Others prefer not to read fiction at all. And that’s just silly.

What kind of believers are we if believe God only works through praise and worship music (which, admittedly, I enjoy) or “Christian” romance novels (hey, I’ve read and liked Redeeming Love just as much as the next person)? Why not branch out and see the power of story and art and creativity play out in other venues, in what L'Engle calls incarnational ways?

I think, really, the whole thing boils down to this, a paragraph found in L'Engle's chapter on "Names and Labels":
When another young woman told me that she wanted to be a novelist, that she wanted to write novels for Christian women, and asked me how she would go about it, I wrote back, somewhat hesitantly, that I could not tell her, because I do not write my books for either Christians or women. If I understand the Gospel, it tells us that we are to spread the Good News to all four corners of the world, not limiting the giving of light to people who already have seen the light. If my stories are incomprehensible to Jews or Muslims or Taoists, then I have failed as a Christian writer. We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.
-- Madeleine L'Engle, Walking on Water, p. 122.
I want to show, be, and recognize that light, in all possible venues and ways.


Cherry Tree Lane said...


this is writing.

Jennifer said...

“Christian art? Are is art; painting is painting; music is music; a story is a story"

Jesus never said to only read "Christian" books, listen to "Christian" music or anything else. That is just a label we slap on to make money...most of the time. (Honestly!) He did say to be in the world, but not of the world.

Harry Potter is in the same league as Lord of the Rings to me...and Tolkien was a Christian. He also happened to write about wizards and things you will find in Harry Potter.

chet said...

yep, I'm going to need to read/borrow/buy Walking on Water. I've been through these conversations with people in regards to music, art, television, literature. It be nice read it from somebody actually brilliant with words.

also, tumblr makes me never want anything ever to do with Harry Potter and then I read these posts. That Alan Rickman quote got to me and I've never read or watched any of them!

Megan Elizabeth said...

Annie! have been sneaking in on all my convos for the last week? :) my sister and I have been trying to debate why so many Christians are so against HP, without even taking the time to read it.
Yes, that bible does tell us (lev chap.9) that the Lord does not delight in things like witch craft and wizardy...but He also frowns upon everything else the secular world is throwing at us. I think it's so sad when Christians just make up their minds about the books and movies, without seeing or reading them, because they would miss that huge point (that you mentioned) about sacrifice and good triumphing over evil. Are there parts of the movies and books that are a little dark at times sure, but that's the whole point...to be able as a Christ follower to know when something is good and when something is bad.
thanks for sharing! I've already seen the movie twice. :)

mackieandryan said...


YOU write beautifully! You should probably write a book one day, I would read it :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You always challenge me, make me think and make me smile.

Have a good Tuesday!

monster cakes said...

You write so well my friend. I don't know if I've told you that. You are a journalist in my eyes. And I couldn't agree more with all of this! We should be spreading His light, even when we are not talking directly about Him. It should radiate from us no matter what we are doing. Amen to that!

Sonny Westmoreland said...

Wow, I hate to be the person against your post, but I have to be. What in common can light have with darkness?
The Antichrist spirit, is a spirit that try's to replicate Christ, but only to deceive, kill and destroy. the Antichrist will come to power one day on this earth, but the spirit of Antichrist is always here. So while you might think that the movies are harmless and have a "underlying" Christian theme, they don't. There underlying themes are fake. They aren't to spread the gospel, but only deception.

Not to call you out specifically, but this is the watered down version of Christianaity that will have our kids ending up in hell.

Betsy said...

Ooooooh, I LOVE that L'Engle quote! And great post, by the way. I had already reached the 3rd Harry Potter book in the series when my parents heard of the 'religious' controversy being stirred up. Rather than condemn the books upfront, they read through the first three books of the series and decided that they saw nothing dangerous about them. They reminded me to read with discernment (which, for the record, we should also do when reading 'Christian' novels and, gasp, even Bible studies), but felt that the conversations about faith, friendship, good/evil etc that the books inspired far outweighed the fictional 'witchcraft' element.

Whitney said...


You just made my day. Thank you for the laugh. Please find another blog to read.


Betsy said...

One more thought: breaking it down, we see that Harry Potter is, in many ways, a redemption story. It's a story about doing the 'right thing' versus taking the easy way out. It's a story about being willing to sacrifice yourself because of your love for others. It's a story about an ultimate sacrifice that breaks the chains of evil forever.

If that doesn't show humanity's innate desire for Christ (even when they don't recognize it for what it is), then I don't know what does.

Kelly Sauer said...

Brave post, Annie, especially with readers from the Christian Right.

Whitney - hilarious comment.

Sonny - my heart hurts. I cannot even begin to tell you why, not because I don't know, but because volumes can't hold years of pain and learning away from your perspective.

Rachael Lamb said...

Great post! Harry Potter is so obviously Christian influenced. Parents who boycott these books for their children are depriving them of one of the best fiction stories ever told, and so many great life lessons.

John said...

Kelly, you got grit...love your words and felt a twinge of pride in your parents for being human.

Johnny Cash expressed that same sentiment - 'I'm an artist who is a Christian, not a Christian artist.' But I've got it underlined in my copy of Madeleine as well.

Cherry Tree Lane said...


I'm not here to incite argument at all, but I am curious if you feel the same watered down message is transparent in CS Lewis' works or that of Tolkein? I would assume you also take issue with those, am I correct?

alli/hooray said...

great post to think about! And well written. I've yet to read or watch HP, but my family has always had similar discussions (and a lot of varied opinions) about this.

Hannah said...

I was never allowed to read Harry Potter...but at 22, decided that decision was mine. I'm reading them and loving them and, to my mother's shock, I've yet to travel anywhere on a broom ;) Love your words here!

Melissa Stover said...

my children were too young to read harry potter when the christians were against it. we just started reading it together this year and i'm so glad we did (not that i'm one to protest just because someone else is doing it).

i love what you have written here. i'm going to share it with my readers.

Latte said...

I don't agree with this, here is why: http://youtu.be/0JPJDTWkuf8

Julie said...

I adore this post and am bookmarking it. In past year's there has been some dispute as to whether or not Harry Potter should be allowed to stay in our school's library. This of course is like asking if the holy spirit can be found in church. Of course it can. With our town being just a short car ride to Ann Arbor there will always be support for personal point of view but support for all and not the few.

I love how you discuss how Christianity is something bigger and can be discovered in many things. I love how you note the important morale attitude of the series with truth and honor winning out over evil and lies. This is a beautiful way to look at it instead of it being a book about witches and wizards alone.