Harry Potter Fantasy Will Not Turn Our Kids into Wizards

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Harry Potter fantasy

I know a Catholic family as well as another Christian family in our neighborhood in which the children are not allowed to read or watch the Harry Potter series because of the witchcraft in the stories.  

Never mind the real messages they ignore of good triumphing over evil, having the courage to choose the right paths in our lives, sacrificing oneself for one’s friends, helping even our enemies, and many lessons we want our kids to learn in religion class to become enthusiastic Catholic adults.  

I am an older mom.  I grew up watching Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie.  I did not grow up wanting to be a witch or a genie.  They were just cute shows for entertainment.  I enjoyed the far-fetched fantasy as a child.  They ignited my imagination.  They did not jeopardize my faith.

Fantasy is healthy for kids.  It helps them grow their imaginations and creativity.   Harry’s frightening confrontations with Voldemort have the same kind of thrill as a scary amusement park ride.  Adventure fantasy is scary and fun and exhilarating just like a roller coaster, but with an added benefit.  It fuels children’s imaginations, which are needed for inventiveness and new innovations.

I believe that if we educate our children in their Catholic faith, adventure fantasies such as the Harry Potter books are not going to turn them towards the occult any more than watching Elizabeth Montgomery in Bewitched would have turned me to the occult when I was a child.  

Another wonderful advantage of these types of fantasy series is getting kids to read more.  The Percy Jackson book series by Rick Riordan is responsible for reigniting a love of reading in both my kids in middle school.  After suffering disappointment that they stopped reading for pleasure in favor of electronics, these books brought them back to a love of reading again.  I assure you, neither of them believe in ancient Roman or Greek gods as a result of Percy’s adventures.

My kids feel sorry for their friend who has to trick-or-treat as Bible Man every year at Halloween.  I think Bible Man is a fantastic idea.  I love Bible Man!  But it’s the message that fantasy is bad that saddens me.  It robs our kids of the childhood joy that fantasy brings to their imaginations.

Our local Catholic school no longer allows kids to dress up for their Halloween fall festival in any costume that is scary, dark or related to anything that could be interpreted as “bad”.   

However, our kids are not going to become actual vampires or choose to leave the Catholic Faith because they get to dress up scary for Halloween.  

I am all for fantasy for our kids.  I say let kids indulge in their creative imagination and have some fun being scary!  Fake wounds, pretend vampire teeth, whatever.   The kids understand it is pretend, why can’t we?  It is simply fantasy for one night, and a giant bag of candy to last several weeks!   As a mom, it’s the candy I have a problem with, not the costumes!

I respect other parents’ differing opinions for what they feel is right for their children and the message they want to teach.  I just don’t understand why there would need to be a choice between fun fantasy adventure and Christianity, as though the two could not coexist.   I feel we can have both together for an enriching childhood for our kids.  My children have no confusion about their faith due to indulging in fantasy.  

What do you think?  Do you choose between faith and fantasy, or do you believe they can coexist?

Copyright 2014, Deborah Shelby

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22 Comments

  1. Great article! I absolutely believe in our kids dressing up/fantasy for Halloween, in something other than “Bible Man”. Don’t get me wrong, their Catholic Homeschooling co-op has a “dress up” of Saints on 11/1. For Halloween though, we have Disney characters, superheroes, Jedi/Sith, you name it. What we try to do is try to show to them that those stories have the same messages of “fall/redemption”, “good overcoming evil”, just like another story they might hear about on Sunday morning. . . . that’s how they co-exist in our house, anyway. . . .

    • Thanks for commenting, Dan! I understand and admire people who want to raise their children to the best of their ability, but I think it’s so sad when that involves denying them the fun and imagination of healthy make-believe and fantasy. Where I live in the Bible belt, a lot of parents think you have to make a choice between Christianity or supernatural book and movie thrillers, like they can’t coexist. I’m so happy to hear from parents who feel like I do!

  2. Chuckling – because this is so deja vu all over again. When the first book came out, I was a parish director of religious education. A number of Catholic parents were spooked by the fear of witchcraft in the books, so I was thrilled when our bishop, who must have been deluged with inquiries, wrote a statement about Harry Potter in our diocesan newspaper. In effect, he said that any child old enough to read these books is old enough to know the difference between real and make-believe. A wise opinion.

    You are so right that there is much truth to admire and learn from in these books, just as there is in Lord of the Rings and other good fantasy.

    • I’m so happy to read your comment, Joyce! Shortly after turning in this article, I read a very strong admonition against any supernatural-type adventures for kids, Harry Potter included. It was on a Catholic website! I’ve been so nervous since then, wondering what kind of response this post would get. I really appreciate your support!

  3. You all miss the point. Fantasy is fine when it doesnt desensitize you. I love fantasy and encourage my children to read it, but I am selective in the type of fantasy. Is the fantasy making evil exciting, is the hero someone from the ‘evil’ side. Has the story started aimed at 8-10 year olds and ended up with adult rating because the story has become darker. I dont think bewtiched can be compared to Harry Potter or Twilight or Hunger Games – all dark not happy stories. To say it wont turn them into witches is silly. I am sure you agree that watching or playing violent video games or movies is bad for you – it is especially bad for children because their brains are developing. There are so many happy uplifting stories out there why let your kids watch these things. Anyway I could keep on but essentially be more selective and just because everyone else does dont follow the crowd.

    • Thanks for commenting, Janine. I was careful to read the books myself before allowing my children to hear/see/read them, and I made sure they do not glamorize evil. They champion good and condemn evil. I do encourage my children to read happy stories, but my point is that I don’t prohibit them from fantasy adventure. They enjoy both. Having experienced the books and movies myself, I can’t see what you mean about desensitizing our children, as they are all about doing the right thing, heroic actions, love and sacrifice, teamwork, friendship and loyalty.
      However, we are all different and all have differing opinions. As long as we’re all trying to raise our children to become responsible and loving adults, that’s the important point. Thank you for sharing your view.

  4. Obviously we need to be aware of what our children are reading. Fantasy is fine, as long as they are at a reasonable age for the subject matter. Parents should discuss the stories with their kids and help them to understand what the story is impying. You can always make a little book club out of it -get two copies and have a parent read it. In my opinion, if kids learn to distinguish the difference between fantasy and reality, they will be less likely as adults to fall prey to the lure of superstition and new age practices.

    By the way, Janine, while Harry Potter, Twilight and the Hunger Games are all in the Teen/Young Adult category, they are not comparable. Twilight is trashy vampire romance while The Hunger Games is a very well written, thought provoking trilogy appropriate for older teens and up. It addresses complex issues about society and revolution. It is important that we don’t throw out the good just because it is popular.

    • Wow, Mary, good point about the age-appropriateness. Yes, a lot of fantasy adventure could be too scary for kids younger than the intended audience.
      I had to giggle at your Twilight dig. Even my teenage daughter wouldn’t read those books, but she loved the Hunger Games. I’m pleased my kids already discern between books worth reading and those without any worthwhile meaning.

  5. When my boys, one of whom never read anything that I didn’t make him, asked to read “Harry Potter,” I said I would have to read it first because of the controversy surrounding the books. I found exactly what you were saying – a fantasy world where there was clear cut good vs. evil, with good winning in the end because of self-sacrificing love, a power beyond all darkness. There were so many conversations in our house because my husband and I read the books too. You are right, there were so many good lessons to be examine. In the end, Harry Potter was a wonderful teaching tool. Plus it had the added benefit of doing for my son what Percy did for yours (another series my children really enjoy).

    • That is really important, Kelly. These books foster a love of reading because the fantasy and adventure is just so much fun! Who doesn’t want to see their kids reading more? There’s so much evidence that kids who read for pleasure are more likely to excel in school, too. Thanks for commenting!

  6. Thanks for your well-written article! I absolutely believe that faith and fantasy can co-exist. For me, I think moderation is key. Harry Potter fantasy fits into what I would call “reasonable” or “moderate”. Grand Theft Auto, for example, does not- it fits into “extreme”- and places the child into a 1st person scenario- not okay. I think your article stated my feelings on the issue well- thank you!

    • Excellent point, Stacey! Moderation. What a sweet word! Grand Theft Auto on the other hand, “extreme,” as you say. You unknowingly hit on my newest tribulation with my older teen son. He wants to play that game. I looked into it with an open mind, not wanting to make a judgment based on what I heard instead of checking it out for myself. Um, yeah, it’s as bad or worse than I imagined. UGH, no!
      Thanks for commenting!

  7. Our introduction to Harry Potter was over 10 years ago when Grandma showed the first movie to our 5-year-old. Before then we only showed her G-rated movies, and I thought Harry Potter was much too scary for a 5-year-old. Unfortunately this colored our view of HP for many years. Then, when she was 11, she wanted to read the books. Only if I read them first would I allow it; then I read the first one and saw that it was the power of love that saved Harry. We kept reading, and after a while my husband decided to read them too. He follows the idea of “test everything, then keep what is good”. He has found a lot of good in the books and has used many examples from Harry Potter to talk about life issues with our daughter and now her younger brother. (We still keep the rule that you have to wait until age 11 to read them, much to the chagrin of the next kid in line.) Now they are into Lord of the Rings. I can’t say it as well as you all, but if this is the fantasy we are reading, then I am all for it. The bad guys are truly evil, the good guys are really good (even for all their “human” flaws). I resisted letting our daughter read Twilight when all her friends were; eventually we read it and she realized that it was just a poorly-written book with a main character she couldn’t admire, and she lost all interest in it. (I found a much better book at the time called The Hollow Kingdom that is a sort of romance between a goblin king and a human girl, but the attraction in this one is based on how the person acts and treats others, not how “beautiful” he appears on the outside, as in Twilight.) When she wanted to read another series that had a demon as the main character, I definitely said NO. So like any other type of book, fantasy has its place but must live up to certain standards.

    In short, faith and fantasy can definitely coexist, and when fantasy of high quality can show us clear examples of people persevering in the fight against evil, then it can actually be a help to us in our faith.

    • I love your comment, Monica. It’s too bad Grandma got the movie for your daughter before she was old enough. Five is definitely too young. I showed my son Snow White when he was five, and it was terrifying! That scene where Snow is lost in the dark woods? Holy crap, that was scary!
      My daughter had the same experience as yours with Twilight. She was disgusted and couldn’t read them. She wanted a heroine like Hermione or Katniss or Tris, not a love-sick girl with no self-worth.

  8. So, do we jettison any fantasy book written by catholics or other strongly faithful? (Thinking Screwtape Letters; The Hobbit…etc.) I love the HP series as do my 3 sons–however, we do talk about how Harry always felt that he was “on his own” and that only Hermoine & Ron showed him otherwise–no understanding of the love from God. But, it’s not written by a catholic, so why would I expect that? Even Jesus accepted those who really did sin. I don’t think evil was exciting in HP–the battle against evil was what was exciting. Don’t we want our children to be charged to fight evil in their lives???

  9. Haha, good point, Sally, about Catholic sci-fi authors! I once knew what each species in Lord of the Rings represented, but I don’t remember anymore. I almost brought that up with someone who was anti fantasy adventure, but I didn’t want to come across as argumentative with her.
    I have always wondered why protagonist characters in books and movies never call on God for help! I would think that would be the first thing anyone would do in all their situations.

  10. Hey Deborah! I originally posted this same comment on prayerfulmom.com but I feel so strongly about it I felt compelled to say it again! I completely agree with you. There are many, many worse characters for our children to want to impersonate. (Don’t even get me started on Bella from the Twilight series. I cannot think of a worse role model for young girls!) There are so many great lessons learned from the Harry Potter series. I have to believe that anyone who thinks it is inappropriate in any way just hasn’t read them. Just one more instance where people talk about things they know nothing about. It’s called fiction for a reason! Imagination and wonder are the best parts of childhood! What parent wouldn’t want their child to grow up with the same characteristics as Harry?! How many teenagers out there would be willing to sacrifice themselves for others? Harry, the boy who told Voldemort that he felt sorry for him because he would never know love or friendship! Not to mention the other great characters in the series. Harry only defeated Voldemort because he had help along the way from true and loyal friends who loved him. Hermione is the greatest role model for young girls that I can think of. So is the woman who wrote the series, JK Rowling. I saw something on Pinterest that spoke of the lessons learned from this series. Although I can’t remember it all, it spoke of never putting your career before your family (Percy), how happiness cannot be measured in gold(Weasley family), how there is no greater power than a mother’s love (Lilly Potter), how loved ones never truly leave us (Sirius), how true love is not based on appearance (Fleur/Bill), that fear is the only thing to be afraid of(Lupin), that good people may not always have been good (Dumbledore), that bad people are not always bad(Draco), that no matter how much money you have, you cannot buy true friends or respect (Lucius), that sometimes being different is a wonderful thing (Luna), to never take freedom for granted (Dobby), that hatred and prejudice can rot your mind and make beautiful people turn into monsters (Bellatrix), that you can never learn too much and that education and knowledge can turn good into great (Hermione), that believing in yourself is much better than believing in luck(Ron), that we are capable of fighting for something we believe in, even if we are terrified(Neville), that we should never EVER judge a person (Snape), that true love can conquer any obstacle(Tonks/Lupin),and that life without love and friendship is barely living(Voldemort). I could go on and on. Best children’s books ever. I think I will go read them again. Right now.

  11. “Vatican’s Chief Exorcist Repeats Condemnation of Harry Potter Novels”

    If Pope Benedict XVI opposes Harry Potter AND Vatican’s Chief Exorcist condemns it, why do parents still justify it to be a good read for children? We are in spiritual warfare here. The devil is very cunning. For me personally, when all the libraries began to showcase witch craft, magic spells, and other occult children books; that was a sign for me that the Harry Potter movie glorifies occult activity. St. Michael the Archangel, enlighten us with your light, protect us with your wings, defend us with your sword. Amen

    http://www.spiritbattleforsouls.org/id35.html

    • While I agree that we should take into account what our clergy are saying, I think it’s important to consider that even cardinals (because this was a statement made before Ratzinger became Pope) and priests have been wrong before and make mistakes. (And even popes have made mistakes). What is critical here is that Cardinal Ratzinger’s and the exorcist’s statements here are not official teachings of the church, and there are other elevated clergy who would disagree. Therefore, any Catholic is allowed to prudently discern how to apply or not apply their statements.

      I feel like I–and several of my friends–are proof that reading Harry Potter does not necessarily invite the devil into one’s home or into one’s heart and in fact can allow for fruitful, Christian discussion and development.You can read my comment below for my experience with the novels.

    • I think St. Michael is busy protecting us and defending us from actual evil. PLEASE don’t judge these books without reading them first. They are stories about FIGHTING evil…. Not glorifying it!
      Melissa

  12. Thank you! I completely agree! I was eleven when the book series came out, so I feel like I literally grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

    I think what you said about educating our children in the faith is key. I feel like I had a really solid foundation in the faith and thus, it never entered my mind to consider casting spells or to join a coven. My mom and I used to read the series out loud to each other at night before bed (she was such a fan that we broke “bedtime” many times for “just one more” chapter, haha), and we would frequently discuss the choices Harry and his friends had to make and their parallels with the Christian life.

    One thing I’ve never understood is that so many people will make out the magic in Harry Potter to be bad, but say that the magic in Lord of the Rings or in the Narnia series is just fine. I feel like it points to the same truth you were pointing to in this article: the human need for fantasy and for story-telling.

    It gives way too much glory to Satan–in my opinion–to say that the Harry Potter series is intrinsically connected to the devil. I agree with you that parents should make prudent choices for their children, but I’m so grateful everyday that my mom made the choice to let me indulge in these books and to even read them with me. They were truly a vastly positive influence on my adolescent life.

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