Belief, Books, Families, Children & Marriage

10 reasons I’m reading Harry Potter to my children

“Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, 

let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.”

– C.S. Lewis

hp books

I live between two constant tensions.

Tension # 1:  Our family currently lives in the US suburbs, in an environment of prosperity (materialism?) and peace (apathy?).  We come home, eat pizza for dinner and watch a movie on a comfy couch in an air-conditioned home together.   We go to movies and eat ice cream and spend an occasional day at the beach.  We have access to safe homes and good schools, healthy food and clean water.  While we know about the challenges much of the world faces, we don’t live them.  

Tension # 2:  My husband works in social work and I teach English as a Second language to adult immigrants and refugees.  We care deeply for the world in all of its chaos, in all of its wars and poverty and injustices, in part because we see daily how such tragedies impact people around us and in part because we know such brokenness is close to the heart of God.

Over the years, I’ve struggled to know how to introduce my children to such realities.  I don’t think it’s fair to shelter them completely, for even at a young age, they need to understand the realities of living in a fallen world.  But I also don’t want to overwhelm them with things they can’t understand.

While they can’t yet fully grasp the evil raging in the world around them, they do have an easier time processing the good they see. The fact that hope still makes more sense than despair may be one of the greatest gifts children give adults. For their sake and mine, I want to instill in them a thirst for goodness, hope, and friendship for the future moments in their lives when all might appear lost.

Enter: Harry Potter

I started reading the first Harry Potter book aloud to my nine-year-old daughter about a year ago.  Her seven-year-old brother was banned from listening because he was too young.  As little brothers do, he snuck outside her bedroom door and hung on every word.  By the time mama caught onto his scheme, he was captivated.

As a book-loving mama, I didn’t have the heart to turn him away, so I decided we would only read through book 3 because the darkness really starts to get thick when Lord Voldemort returns in book 4. But we finished book 3 and they begged to keep going like their lives would end if they had to wait years to learn what came of their beloved Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  So cautiously, we read on.

At first, I was a bit hesitant, wondering if the evil, the battle, the fear that rages in the story of good vs. evil would be too much for them.  But as we read, I grew more convinced that this was more than an entertaining story, it was food for their souls.

Here was a way we could dialog over issues of evil, of injustice, of fear.  Here we could explore the complex realities of relationships, emotional scars, power structures, and even political systems in ways that they could actually understand.  Mention the United Nation’s peace efforts and their eyes cross, but bring up Umbridge taking over Hogwarts and they’re suddenly rabid activists for peace and justice.

Every so often, I run across voices decrying the ‘dangers’ of the Harry Potter series and they mystify me, for I have found its themes offer a great deal of biblical, moral and spiritual training.  To counter some of these voices, I thought I’d offer my own reasons on why I’ve invested hundreds of hours enthusiastically reading Harry Potter to my kids:

1. It clearly distinguishes good and evil.  

One of the downsides of suburban America is that the lines between good and evil blur easily.  In urban contexts, darkness is much more difficult to hide.  The suburban distractions of materialism and entertainment speak much more loudly than the vices more common in urban contexts simply because evil is not as visibly present.  (Kathy Keller does a great job of exploring why darkness is easier to discern in the city in her article, “Why you should raise your kids in the city.”)  One of the basic truths I want my children to understand is the reality of good and evil that is present both in the world and in themselves.  If they don’t know how to recognize and respond to it, they are more likley to be caught unaware of the impact of their decisions.

2. It tells the (whole) truth.  

In a story primarily about the attempt of evil to overthrow the good, it’s difficult to sugarcoat much – life can be hard, scary, and disappointing.  People stumble over themselves, make mistakes, and sometimes don’t know what to do next.  Sometimes they have scars they are unable to overcome, even if they are ultimately good (Snape).  One of the disservices the modern Sunday School program indirectly teaches our children is that stories end perfectly, tied in neat little bows.  Mind you, the Bible doesn’t do this, just the Sunday Schools.  If you don’t believe me, read Genesis 9 about a naked and drunken Noah.  To my knowledge, no Sunday School teacher has ever included that part of the story in Noah’s ark.  For their faith to be lasting, children need to know that they may mess up, fall short, or have unanswered questions.  They need to see examples all around them of people failing – both real and fictional – who continue to pursue God, not perfect ones who never mess up and know all the answers.

3. It inspires wonder.

Let’s face it, flying on broomsticks playing quidditch outside a magical castle is pretty awe-inspiring to modern kids who ride around in mini-vans and play soccer all day.  I don’t want my children limited to the confines of suburban cookie-cutter worlds – I want them to forge creativity, to imagine possibilities beyond their wildest hopes and dreams, to believe in something bigger than what they can actually see.  This is how we grow better societies, and in the end, how we also find God.

4. It stirs up hope.

As the series grew more tense, my kids started getting a bit nervous about the outcome of all this evil-fighting-good business. They peeked ahead, glimpsed at next chapters and last pages, and breathed sighs of relief to find out that Harry would make it, if only for that particular book.  They’ve cheered and hoped for him – booing those who stood in his way and loving those who supported him.  In the process, I’m watching them experience what it means to hope, to long deeply for goodness to triumph when you’re not entirely sure what the outcome will be.  I want my children to be so familiar with this feeling that they are able to recognize it and act on it as their understanding of ‘real life’ increases.

5. It demonstrates courage.  

When Voldemort returned to power, my children cowered and cuddled close, concern burrowed in their little brows. My son’s had nightmares about death eaters and sometimes sleeps with the hall light on, ‘just in case’.  But when they play, they are never Voldemort or death eaters.  They are, of course, Harry, Ron, Ginny, Hermione, or Neville.  These are characters who, though terribly under-qualified and ill-equipped, demonstrate courage beyond their years to fight evil because 1) it needs to be fought and 2) they are friends who have each others’ backs.  Seeing this courage-in-action is formative to my own children’s future characters.  I don’t know what they’ll face in their lifetimes, but I want them to have a frame of reference rooted in courage to do the right thing, even in the face of great cost to themselves.

6. It values relationships.

In our modern, technological world, honest and committed relationships are struggling.  Our environment shouts for instant everything, and provides increasingly fewer models of genuine trust, endurance and perseverance.  Harry, Hermione, and Ron model an enduring, committed friendship – one in which they are each themselves and appreciated for who they are, not who they wish each other to be.  When Harry tells Ron and Hermione information that has the potential to threaten their very lives, they look at each other and gulp, but barely hesitate to declare their allegiance to him.  While there are times that Harry clearly wants to go his own way and fight the battle himself, his friends respond in no uncertain terms, “We will not let you go it alone, it’s too dangerous. We’re coming with you,” and refuse to back down.  How I long for my children to seek out these qualities in their own friends and to be this kind of friend in return.

7. It portrays strong male and female role models.  

The rigid gender stereo-typed models of warriors and princesses fall far short of what I hope for my children.  In Harry Potter, none of the girls are stereotypically frilly or ditzy and none of the boys are stereotypically macho or womanizing.  Hermione is a brilliant, hard-working rule-follower.  While Neville begins as a nervous and insecure boy, he matures into a spectacular symbol of courage.  Ron’s occasionally thick-headed but endearingly genuine. Fred and George are rebellious pranksters who end up both saving the day and sacrificing tremendously.  The characters are simply who they have been created to be.  They live their imperfect stories fiercely and well, refusing to fit the box their environment tries to put them in.

8. It teaches symbolism.

Perhaps the biggest critique the series has received is from those with concerns about the focus on witches and wizards.  Like many great stories, the witches and wizards are merely symbols to help children see truth (Narnia and Lord of the Rings also have strong magical themes and haven’t received near the kind of criticism on this front as Harry Potter). While witches and wizards can have other connotations, they don’t inherently represent the same thing.  Throughout history, symbols have been a powerful influence in the life of faith, and it’s helpful for children to learn that sometimes there are multiple meanings and layers to what they actually see – people and objects included.

9. It promotes the value of a keen mind.

Much of the conflict in the series is a battle of minds, of learning that often the most difficult battles rage within our own heads.  As a result, the primary content at Hogwarts isn’t braun, but brain. In many ways, the spells are symbols for the knowledge that the students acquire which prepares for adulthood.  However, knowledge isn’t entirely enough.  The students must also exercise discipline to develop their skills in useful ways, and discernment in knowing how and when to use these skills appropriately.

10. It’s awesome cuddle time.

In the later books, each chapter takes roughly an hour to read aloud, so we have lots of time for extended cuddles.  I’m quite aware that the remaining years of this sweet delight are dwindling quickly, and I’m savoring every snuggle while they last.

In spite of the naysayers, I believe Harry Potter is a story for the ages – particularly for Christians – and a symbol of how I want my children to live – authentic lives full of wonder, courage, hope, and commitment,  lives that overflow with goodness and stand against evil, lives that sacrifice to know and protect truth, lives that see and care for others well.

Of course, my kids don’t see any of this.  All they know is a compelling story that they can’t wait to read with me.  I’m ok with that too.  Some things they don’t need to understand completely.

Other books I love

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18 thoughts on “10 reasons I’m reading Harry Potter to my children”

  1. Very thoughtful and well-written post. Though I am of the Christian faith, I have always felt that labeling myself as A CHRISTIAN is a limiting and bombastic way to describe myself. I literally associated it as a child with televangelists and their ilk. Growing up, I never had any restrictions on my reading, and I was voracious. My parents were both teachers and certainly encouraged my many-book-a-day habit.

    I liked books of all kinds, from Little House on the Prairie to the Narnia books to A Wrinkle in Time, and still today tend to read Young Adult. I did, and do, love books about magic, time travel, etc. I devoured the Harry Potter series before I had a child, and still count them as in my top favorites (along with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice). I, too, read the series aloud to my daughter. She was a reader, but I knew that she would struggle with such a large book and lose interest even at 11 years old – and I knew she would LOVE it. She was too young to partake in all of the midnight book releases and the movies when they came out, but I wanted her to see the last two movies in the theater so she could have that experience. I told her we needed to read the books first. So, during the month she turned 11, we started reading every day. After we completed a book, we’d watch the movie. She LOVED it.

    There seems to be this “thing” that happens, and I am sure it is not just with Christians. It’s that thing where people are fearful of what might happen, of “bad” things, of children “knowing” or learning something different than what they are exactly taught. The solution becomes “Well, if they don’t KNOW about it, then it won’t be a problem, correct?” Let’s don’t explain other religions, because they will become tolerant and (heaven forbid [ha]) they might leave our church for it. Or not see them as the “enemy.” Or teens won’t have sex if they don’t know about it. Or let’s shield our kids so they don’t have to deal with general bad stuff. I, personally, just don’t happen to agree with this way of thinking. I believe in an inclusive Christianity, which is to say, one in which I love my fellow man PERIOD. If someone asks me about my way of life, I’ll tell them. I will let the light shine through me, not through some words. Deeds. I am not perfect and make a lot of mistakes, of course. But I am not going to tell someone that their faith isn’t real or valuable or try to “convert” them. I realize that many Christian religions heartily encourage their followers to be evangelists, but personally, the way I express the Christ is my evangelism.

    For children, working out problems in the fantasy genre can be liberating. Kids know there’s no such thing as magic, no matter how much they want to believe the opposite, but to be able to imagine a world where problems can be solved (and caused!) by the use of magic can give children the means of solving the riddles and puzzles in their own lives with critical thinking. It amazes me to hear that this black and white good vs evil series to be boiled down to something about witchcraft instead of all of the points that this blog poster made. And, sorry person above, but anyone can write a convincing blog post either pro or con Harry Potter even after reading it. Make up your own mind. And to those who lecture against reading it that haven’t read it? SHAME ON YOU.

    To finish, why is it OK to believe in Santa Claus? Is it because the magic he uses has no incantations, no wand? There’s no evil opposite (here in the US, at least, which is interesting, as many cultures have a Black Peter-type sidekick who takes the bad kids)? Sounds pretty hypocritical to me.

    Sorry this is so long. Thanks again for the great post.

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  2. hooray! i love love love the harry potter books. love them, for all of the reasons you mentioned. when i first read the first book in fifth grade my grandma expressed a little concern but my mom, never one to shelter any of us from anything, asked, “do you know magic’s not real?” i responded, “yes, duh” and that was that. gosh i’ve learned a lot from these books and have a tattoo of a dumbledore quote right my tattoo of a cross. this is starting to sound a little sacreligious, but basically, thank you for articulating the benefits of this series i love so much with more wisdom and mothering-experience than i ever could.

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  3. I, like you, read all the HP books aloud to my 4 kids, for basically the same reasons you did. I knew I couldn’t keep them from reading them eventually as all their friends had them (even in a Christian school), so I wanted to have some control and input. They have all subsequently re-read them on their own, as have I, and love them as they do Narnia, Tolkien, etc.

    I, however, gave up Harry Potter about a year ago. I had heard a lot of the Christian response, often by people who had never read them, about Satanism and the like, and had dismissed these arguments. But this time a friend loaned me a series of messages by a pastor who HAD read the books. He showed me from the Scriptures that believers really are not to have anything to do with sorcery, witchcraft, and the like. I was also influenced by his claim (backed up by friends who are public librarians) that HP has led to an uptick in interest in the occult. My one friend says they just “fly” out of her library (no pun intended) and there is always a waiting list, and of course, always new titles.

    When I was young, before I was saved but I was still k ind of “religious,” I went through a period where I too read lots of books on the occult. I esp. liked the ones about ghost-hunters and ESP. And today I am a Christian and a missionary, so it could be argued that they didn’t hurt me. (I also read books about Islam and didn’t become a Muslim either. Even before I was born again, I couldn’t get past the fact that I would have to reject Jesus as being the Son of God). But even though they didn’t “hurt” me, I still don’t like it that young people are filling their heads with things which the Scriptures forbid and which may lead to involvement in the dark arts. For Christian families like yours and mine, this is probably not a danger because of the way we exposed our kids. But for children who have no such influence, I shudder.

    Was it easy to stop reading Harry Potter? No, I LOVE THE BOOKS AND THE CHARACTERS. I told the friend who loaned me the messages which influenced my decision, “I’m sure gonna miss my friends.” She said, “Who?” I said, “Harry, Ron, and Hermione. They’ve been in my life for at least 10 years!” I think JP Rowling is an absolutely brilliant woman and I believe these books will be classics forever. Do I forbid my children to read them? Well, now that they are aged 28 to 18, I don’t have much say about what they read. But I am telling them why I made this decision and they can decide for themselves.

    I hasten to add that I am not a fanatic about this. HP will always have a place in my and my family’s lexicon. The other day my oldest daughter told me that there had been some thefts in her neighborhood and she was praying (no joke) that God would make her home like Harry’s house at No. 12, Grimmauld Place, which could not be seen by outsiders! And I compared my taxi ride here in an African capital the other day to riding the Knight’s Bus, because he squeezed through non-existent openings and my heart was in my mouth the whole time!

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to share, Jennifer! I think you have a valid point which you express well. Everyone has to work out their own conviction on this issue, and sometimes we come to differing conclusions.

      I’ve worked worked with many youth as a pubic school teacher, and from what I’ve seen, if young people are going to embrace something like the occult, Harry Potter is probably the least of the influences that would lead them there. The HP books fly off the shelves of our library too, but I would still maintain this is because children are captivated most by the reasons I list above, not the witches and wizards.

      I’ve spent time in Africa as well, and it makes me giggle to think of the taxis as the Knight’s Bus. Too funny!

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  4. I have grown children and grandchildren. In my opinion, the use of magic (even to fight evil) is not a healthy thing. How did you deal with that? Is that just part of the make-believe? I strongly believe that children should be read stories of good over evil as in most fairy tales for all the reasons you mentioned in your blog. It is good for them to know that they can have power over their fears. But I need to be convinced that the magic in Harry Potter is a good thing and that this book series is really a benefit to Christian readers.

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    1. Great question, Dianne! (and good to hear from you …glad to see you’re keeping LP’s luminosity scores afloat! 🙂 I would say that the magic falls under the realm of symbolism and represents the work, skills, practice, and discipline it takes to learn how to become a flourishing adult. I don’t feel like the book proports a ‘real’ kind of magic as much as a ‘fantasy’ kind. Series like Narnia and Lord of the Rings also have a fair amount of magic, and it seems to me to also be a symbolism of a kind of power that we tap that is beyond our own understanding (an idea quite familiar to us as Christians). Have you read the series yet?

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      1. I think that sounds reasonable… that the magic is part of the make-believe fiction. And no, I haven’t read the books. I allowed others to influence me without fully becoming informed.

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          1. While I love the magical world that Rowling has created (talking paintings, magical candy, owls as postal workers), my big problem with HP (I’m about to start Book 5), is that Harry and his friends consistently break the rules in order to “save the day.” While I believe it is valuable to teach children to think critically (“I know my Mom said I’m not supposed to leave the yard, but my little sister is about to wander into the street…”), I’m not so sure how I would feel about presenting these characters to impressionable children as heroes. Furthermore, I’ve always been uncomfortable with the Wizards versus Muggles thing–it kind of reminds me of the “don’t trust anyone over 30” attitude of the 60s.

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          2. That’s certainly a valid point to consider, especially depending on the particular make up and maturity of the impressionable children involved! I do appreciate how both Dumbledore and Hermione continually go after Ron and Harry for this very thing, and how sometimes these types of decisions go awry for them. We’ve had some long talks with my son about imitating some of the language in the books, and it’s actually been a great springboard to help him learn discernment. Not all behavior in the books is to be copied, but I do like the opportunity this provides to discuss how to discern appropriate behavior & choices with them more deeply, for I ultimately want them to understand why the rules are there, not just how to follow them.

            On the flip side, there are numerous examples of heroes throughout history who were rule-breakers: Ghandi, MLK Jr., Rosa Parks, the American founding fathers, Bonhoeffer, Harriet Tubman, Aung San Suu Kyi, Irena Sendler to name a few. I want my children to know these rebellious heroes, and to be able to tell the difference between the rule breakers who do so for the sake of good, and the ones who do so for the sake of evil.

            Can you explain a bit more about Wizards vs. Muggles? I don’t quite see the connection.

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  5. Great challenging post! We’ve been reading through the Narnian Chronicles as a family and, after reading this post, will definitely dive into Harry Potter next.

    We are probably too quick (as Christians) to try to make neat packages of everything 🙂

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      1. My older two girls, 12 & 10, devoured HP last Winter. They’ve read CS Lewis, Tolkein, and Peterson’s series… anxiously awaiting his next book. Now 13, my oldest has started Lawhead’s, Taliesen. Do you have other recommendations? I resonate and appreciate your balanced, thoughtful blog post above.

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        1. So glad they liked it. I love Peterson’s series (The Wingfeather Saga) too – that’s our next stop after we finish HP. I personally loved the Hunger Games, but think it’s intended for a slightly older audience. My niece is 13 and reads a ton of this genre (I think she’s read HP at least 10 times) and keeps a great blog with book recommendations… you should check it out for more ideas…

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