LOOKING FOR GOD IN HARRY POTTER
by John Granger Tyndale House, 2004 202 pages, $16.99 Available in bookstores
Publisher's Weekly calls this book — subtitled Is there Christian meaning hidden in the bestselling books? — “easily the best examination to date of the spiritual legacy of ‘the boy who lived.’” Given the number of books for or against Harry Potter's “spiritual legacy,” that's saying something.
John Granger's book, above all the others, deserves to be taken seriously by serious Christians. As a Greek Orthodox Christian, he takes seriously the reality of Satan, demons, hell and the dangers of the occult. In fact, he read the first Potter book in order to tell his daughter why she couldn't read it. However, he not only approved the books, but they became required family reading.
What did Granger see that many others have missed? He saw J.K. Rowling's adaptation and application of themes from great literature as influenced by Christian imagery, literary tropes and symbols. He noticed it because his education was similar to Rowling's, both holding honors degrees in classical languages (Greek and Latin) and classical literature. Granger also shares a love for many of the authors Rowling claims as primary influences: Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and C.S. Lewis.
Whereas other pro-Potter books modestly claim that the Potter books are spiritually “neutral,” Granger contends they actually help “baptize” our imaginations and inoculate us against anti-Christian world-views. The spiritual messages are forged from the literary structures, themes and symbolism that Granger contends have developed during centuries of Christian artistry and literature.
This literary tradition is discussed in chapters such as “The Alchemy of Spiritual Growth.” He writes: “Alchemy, whatever it might have been, no longer exists except as a synonym for ‘magical transformation’ and as a resource for artists and authors writing about personal change. Alchemical symbols are a large part of classic English literature.”
Each Harry Potter book receives a chapter: “The Purification of the Soul” (Philosopher's Stone), “Dangerous Books and Edifying Books” (Chamber of Secrets), “Despair and Delivery” (Prisoner of Azkaban) and so on. In “The Triumph of Love Over Death,” Granger writes: “Rowling has us share in the spoils of a life spent in love and resistance to darkness by this cathartic death and resurrection — and it is the great joy, relief and lesson of each book. Death is not final. Death has been overcome by Love himself.”
The book has a modestly disarming style that makes it a pleasure to read. While too sophisticated for most young teens, it is profitable for interested older teens, though clearly geared toward adults. Parents especially will appreciate the final chapter on communicating biblical values and virtues to children through literature. Granger writes: “However individual families may differ in their approach and understanding, I commend these stories to you as you ‘train up a child in the way he should go’ (Proverbs 22:6). I believe the books are a providential help to parents in these end times to win the hearts of our children for Christ and to support us in our walk as individuals and as families.”
Offering a great deal of persuasion and not a hint of rancor, this book can — and should — be read by people on both sides of the Harry Potter debate.
Robert Trexler is editor of CSL: The Bulletin of the C.S. Lewis Society.