Why I don’t read Harry Potter (anymore)

The Harry Potter film series is beginning its end with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 on Friday, November 19. A cinematic journey that began in 2001, we’ve watched Harry, Ron, and Hermione grow up and battle evil for almost ten years. Well, I should say, some of us have watched them grow up. As I read Focus on the Family’s review of Part 1, I was reminded of why I stopped reading the books and watching the movies.

They are just too good.

I was in eighth grade when the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was published in the United States, in 1998. There was much turmoil in Christian families and churches about whether children should read these books. How could one argue against the blatant wizardry and witchcraft? It seemed like an easy decision: Christians don’t read Harry Potter.

Yet many did, and still do. One of my good friends, an avid Potter fan, triumphantly and frequently quoted our church’s associate pastor who once said during a sermon, “Maybe we need to read Harry Potter before we criticize it” (paraphrase). Staunch disapproval gave way to intrigued and later enthusiastic acceptance as Christian readers discovered the literary genius of J.K. Rowling.

And a literary genius she truly is. Rowling has created a fully realized world that captures the imagination. Her style is simple yet deep and emotional as she effortlessly describes scenes and characters. The mechanical task of reading the words slips into the background and you are left with simply the experience of Harry’s world. You don’t just read about Hogwarts – you go to Hogwarts. You don’t just read about the dementors and the order of the Phoenix – you live in the house with Harry and Co. Rowling is undeniably gifted as a writer. This fact is evidenced by how even children (or perhaps we should say, even adults) are able to finish the books despite the enormous page counts.

But how do I know all of this, you may be asking? Well‚ I snuck the books. I first read them in high school, keeping them quietly hidden by my bed in the basement. I whizzed through the first book and was well into the second one when my sister discovered them and told my parents. I can still remember waking up later that night and hearing my mom upstairs. I went up and talked to her, and she told me how upset she was that I had brought those books into the house. “I do not want that spirit in my house,” she said.

I submitted and stopped reading the books. At least until my freshman year in college.

I discovered that the university bookstore carried the books, and so between classes I would grab a package of strawberry Pop-tarts and a Potter book and read in the corner of the bookstore. I read The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Order of the Phoenix in this manner. (I can’t exactly remember why I skipped The Goblet of Fire. I think the bookstore was out of stock at the time.) I can still remember the feeling of the thick book in my lap, sitting next to the fake fireplace with paper flames that fluttered orange and red as Harry conjured the white Stag.

Though I read the books, I still wrestled with whether I should or not. I mean, there’s magic in Lord of the Rings, right? And in Chronicles of Narnia? Why were Harry and his fellow wizards and witches any different? I enjoyed the books too much to give them up because of an undecided conviction, so I kept reading and watching.

But there was still that feeling.

I distinctly remember what it felt like to leave the bookstore after reading for hours. I would walk outside, the winter sky dim and cold, and I would by sheer will power pull myself back to the real world. Rowling’s writing was so well-crafted and Harry’s world so intriguing that it engrossed me, pulled me in and became an imaginative world that always lingered on the edge of my mind. It always took a few minutes to bring myself back to reality, and even then my thoughts stayed at Hogwarts. I was fascinated by Harry’s world. If it came down to reading the latest book or spending time with the Lord, I most definitely would have chosen Harry.

And so I stopped. For good, this time.

The books and films have continued to come out, and they continue to be attractive in their storytelling. Many times I have thought that maybe I’ll just get the last two books from the library and finish them really fast. But always that feeling creeps back in, that fascination, whispering and luring me into another world that distracts me from rather than encourages my walk with the Lord.

Thus the Harry Potter movies come to the end without me. I still don’t know the ending of the story, whether Harry lives (I’m betting not) or with whom Hermione finally falls in love (Ron just doesn’t seem like the right fit). But as long as that feeling keeps showing up, like it did while reading Focus on the Family’s review, I think I’ll let Harry leave Platform 9 3/4 without me.

Strawberry Pop-tarts, however, are here to stay.


12 thoughts on “Why I don’t read Harry Potter (anymore)”

  1. Funny, I was just talking to someone about this the other day. Ha. Well, nicely written and well said.

  2. well written Jesse –
    I applaud you for heeding wise counsel, submitting 100% to the God you’ve chosen to serve, and following the conviction of doing what is right. You’re a good example of a maturing man!

  3. Very interesting post. A few questions, what makes you able to not fall into the Narnia books or the Lord of the Ring books? How do you think those books help you when it comes to the Lord, and the Harry Potter books detract you?

    I have read all three of those book series, and like most of the stories I read, I felt reluctant to leave their worlds. It is hard to not be consumed with good literature that introduces you to a magical worlds full of interesting characters and stories. However, good literature also gives you many good things to think about and try to understand. Things that you can take and use in real life and in your walk with God. I think the Harry Potter books and films touch up on some powerful spiritual issues, the greatest being the difference between good and evil.

    No book should be read or movie watched if you do not think you can see God in it. Even though there are some things I do not agree with in the Harry Potter books, I have found them to be quite full of biblical truths, and most of the “good” that is represented in the books I think is the kind of goodness that Jesus represented. Anyway, it is interesting to hear that you are no longer perusing that path, and honestly it is not one that is needed to be perused. But it would be interesting to hear why, you are distracted by the books. Often figuring out the “why” allows you to realize whether you are in the wrong or the actual material is in the wrong.

  4. Agreed that other works definitely pull you in. And there’s nothing I love better than to be pulled into a good story. But for me, Harry Potter is different somehow. There’s just something that is too… fascinating. A litmus test for me when I read a book or watch a movie is whether I can leave right from reading or watching and go to the prayer room or church and be able to focus on the Lord. When I read Tolkien, Lewis, and Lawhead (all incredibly captivating authors), I find that not only can I go right into the prayer room and fully engage, but I actually take language from the books and use it in my relationship with the Lord. But when I read Harry Potter, the story was always on my mind, luring me back to it rather than spending time with the Lord. I would try to worship in church, but I couldn’t focus because my mind was elsewhere, thinking about what might happen next or what might be in the next book.

    I’m not necessarily arguing about the right or wrongness of Rowling’s books, and maybe for other people it’s different. But for me, I find myself too interested, too engrossed, and too captivated by the story and characters. Thus, I don’t read or watch the stories anymore. Maybe some day I’ll be able to, but for now, I’ll satisfy my hunger for good stories elsewhere.

  5. “If it came down to reading the latest book or spending time with the Lord, I most definitely would have chosen Harry.”

    ^ Very revealing statement about how ‘fascinating’ your perspective of God is. If Rowling’s world eclipses your expectations of God’s reality and you cannot even reconcile the noble and enduring message found therein, you have put God in a box and it is that very problem that gets in the way of you being able to enjoy the literary genius and pure joy/wonder that is the world of Harry Potter.

    One other thing. Salvation and redemption are ideas. They are not exclusive to Christianity. Rowling’s story’s foundation (brought full-circle) is practically verbatim to the story and ideals of Christianity. I find it alarming (and quite unappetizing) that Christians can be opposed to their own story told with different names and settings because they are casting spells instead of casting prayers.

  6. I would like to add that I am not angered by this post or your opinion. I am just saddened that you are not allowing yourself to revel and walk within Rowling’s fantasy because of a restrictive and unnecessary mindset. Experience God in the world of Harry Potter. I sure did. I can honestly say that I have experienced God more often in fiction than fact – In metaphor rather than the literal. It makes sense. Jesus chose to communicate that way. I wouldn’t put it past Jesus to thoroughly enjoy Rowling’s creativity and passion and endearing characters. Aloha, Jesse :)

  7. John, can you clarify a bit what you mean by putting God in a box? I think I understand… it seems like you’re saying that I consider the Potter books more fascinating than God, but don’t realize that the qualities of God are in Harry Potter. Thus I’m separating the two by saying God can’t be in Rowling’s books and not realizing that my fascination with Potter is actually with who God is. Is that it?

    In regards to salvation and redemption not being ideas exclusive to Christianity, you’re right. But they do originate with Christianity. Or perhaps I should say with Christ, who obviously has been around for a lot longer than 2,000 years. God has written eternity on our hearts, and so those themes resonate with all audiences because we’re all longing for redemption. But to use the analogy from my tumblr site (through which I assume you found this post), even if a movie like Saw had salvation and redemption themes, that doesn’t mean I would watch it. I wouldn’t want to endure the gore and violence in order to glean truths I could get from personal times talking with Jesus or lots of other works of fiction minus all of the junk. Obviously Harry Potter is not Saw, and I don’t want to imply that. But that’s the idea taken to its extreme. And for me, Harry Potter is where that idea meets its extreme.

    Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know. I can’t definitively say, “Harry Potter is bad!” because I just don’t know. I keep wrestling with it and I can’t find a definitive answer either way. Some, like you, have found an answer that absolutely it’s okay. Others have found an answer on the other side. I’m still in the middle, and until I work out an answer with the Lord I’m not going to read them. Rowling is beyond a doubt a great writer, but every time I think of the books I get this feeling of weird fascination, and I don’t know if it’s right. For me, at the very least. People are different. What causes one person to stumble might not be a problem for another, and we just have to individually talk it out with the Lord.

    You also make an interesting point that Christians “can be opposed to their own story told with different names and settings because they are casting spells instead of casting prayers.” But that’s assuming that casting spells and casting prayers are the same thing.

    Definitely appreciate your thoughts, John. And thanks for adding that you’re not angered :) It didn’t come across like that.

  8. Useful info. Lucky me I found your website accidentally, and I am surprised why this accident didn’t came about earlier!
    I bookmarked it.

  9. Glad you enjoyed the post! My opinion has actually shifted in the interim years, so I’m now reading the books. I’ll hopefully write a post about it when I finish the series.

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