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Some thoughts on Harry Potter, inc. K Lindskoog's

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    Forwarded with the permission of the author WASHINGTON BUREAU: Terry Mattingly s religion column for 10/27/99. EDITOR S NOTE: The first of two columns. It was
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 4, 1999
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      Forwarded with the permission of the author

      WASHINGTON BUREAU: Terry Mattingly's religion column for 10/27/99.


      EDITOR'S NOTE: The first of two columns.

      It was the kind of proclamation that mayors sign all of the time - with a
      twist.

      "WHEREAS, Earth Religions are among the oldest spiritual systems on the
      planet; and WHEREAS, Followers of many earth-centered religions live and
      worship in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina. �"

      Thus, Asheville Mayor Leni Sitnick declared the last week of October
      "Earth Religions Awareness Week," in a rite attended by local witches and
      scores of singing children, led by a priestess in a long, black robe. A few
      days later, a witch read one of her favorite books to elementary
      schoolchildren.

      No, it wasn't a Harry Potter book, one of those supernaturally popular
      novels about a youngster at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
      But a lot of people are having troubled welcoming witches into the public
      square - period.

      "This is precisely the kind of thing that keeps happening these days and
      more people are getting concerned," said Joel Belz, publisher of World, a
      national evangelical newsmagazine based in Asheville.

      After all, Harry Potter-mania is everywhere. The books recently held the
      top three slots on the U.S. hardback fiction bestseller lists and the top two
      slots on the paperback lists. British author Joanne Kathleen Rowling's books
      have been translated into 28 languages and she has promised four more books
      in the series. Hollywood is gearing up, too.

      What's a parent or pastor to do?

      "We know that what's in the Harry Potter books is not all bad and that
      lots of Christian families will read them and enjoy them," said Belz. "No one
      wants to be reactionary. But we have to take issues of good and evil
      seriously and we just can't endorse the kind of moral ambiguity that we see
      in these books."

      Thus, the book division of God's World Publishing has stopped selling
      "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," "Harry Potter and the Secret
      Chamber" and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." Customers made their
      concerns very clear, said Belz. Also, the editors at World magazine had
      decided to reverse course.

      A May review focusing on the first Harry Potter novel said: "Magic and
      wizardry are problematic for Christian readers. Mrs. Rowling, though, keeps
      it safe, inoffensive and non-occult. This is the realm of Gandalf and the
      Wizard of Id, on witchcraft. There is a fairy-tale order to it all in which,
      as (G.K.) Chesterton and (J.R.R.) Tolkien pointed out, magic must have rules,
      and good does not - cannot - mix with bad."

      But a new cover story argues that Rowling's work has evolved and now
      resembles the "tangled terrain and psychology of Batman." While the Harry
      Potter books may seem innocent, this "safety, this apparent harmlessness, may
      create a problem by putting a smiling mask on evil. A reader drawn in would
      find that the real world of witchcraft is not Harry's world."

      Others are just as worried about the violence in the books. Earlier this
      month, the South Carolina Board of Education agreed to review the status of
      the Harry Potter books. In a quotation featured in news reports from coast to
      coast, Elizabeth Mounce of Columbia told the board: "The books have a serious
      tone of death, hate, lack of respect and sheer evil." These debates are not
      merely a Bible Belt phenomenon. Critics are speaking up in states such as
      Michigan, Minnesota and New York.

      Meanwhile, Rowling has been touring the United States and offering this
      blunt advice: Anyone who is worried about the content of her books shouldn't
      read them. But she also has repeatedly warned her readers that the tone of
      the Harry Potter books will become increasingly dark and potentially
      disturbing. She is committed to portraying evil in a serious way, with
      characters that are more complex than cardboard cutouts.

      "If you ban all the books with witchcraft and the supernatural, you'll
      ban three-quarters of children's literature," she told the Washington Post.
      "I positively think they are moral books. � I've met thousands of children,
      but I've never met a single child who has asked me about the occult."

      WASHINGTON BUREAU: Terry Mattingly's religion column for 11/2/99.


      EDITOR'S NOTE: The second of two columns about Harry Potter and religion.

      Harry Potter had just triumphed in another face-to-face showdown with the
      forces of evil -- represented, logically enough, by a gigantic serpent.

      But the young wizard also discovered darkness, as well as light, in his
      own soul. His ordeal in the Chamber of Secrets revealed that he truly was
      free to have embraced evil and the house of Salazar Slytherin, rather than
      the noble house of Godric Gryffindor.

      "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our
      abilities," says Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of the Hogwarts School of
      Witchcraft and Wizardry.

      This kind of scene is typical of the vaguely moral, "good versus evil"
      plots in many fantasy novels, said literary critic Kathryn Lindskoog, who is
      best known for her books about the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. Yet the
      Harry Potter books also specifically address the complex and confusing world
      of modern childhood. The characters are tempted to do what is wrong, as well
      as challenged to do what they know is right. They face real choices.

      "The Harry Potter books are cute and naughty in that us-versus-them sort
      of way that kids like so much and I guess it is true that they contain some
      moral ambiguities," said Lindskoog. "Welcome to the real world. � The
      question is whether these books tell children that they are supposed to
      choose good over evil. It seems to me that, so far, they are doing just that."

      One thing is certain: millions of people are choosing to invite Harry
      Potter and his friends into their homes. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's
      Stone," "Harry Potter and the Secret Chamber" and "Harry Potter and the
      Prisoner of Azkaban" recently grabbed the top three slots on the U.S.
      hardback fiction bestseller lists at the same time. British author Joanne
      Kathleen Rowling has promised four more books in the series.

      The books have their critics. Some worry that they are too violent and,
      since Rowling has said future volumes will be darker and more complex, they
      are likely to become bloodier and more distressing. Others believe that the
      books may popularize witchcraft, in an era in which the principalities and
      powers of public education and popular culture would certainly reject, let's
      say, "Harry Potter and the Rock of Ages."

      Nevertheless, evangelical activist Charles Colson and his
      radio-commentary researchers have concluded, "the magic in these books is
      purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic. That is, Harry and his friends
      cast spells, read crystal balls and turn themselves into animals -- but they
      don't make contact with a supernatural world." Meanwhile, the characters
      learn "courage, loyalty and a willingness to sacrifice for one another --
      even at the risk of their lives. Not bad lessons, in a self-centered world."

      Fantasy fiction often causes controversy, stressed Lindskoog, because it
      blends powerful emotions and messages with symbols and stories that are wide
      open to different interpretations. But there are common themes that grace the
      classic fantasy novels. In an updated edition of her book "How to Grow a
      Young Reader" - which surveys 1,800 works of children's literature --
      Lindskoog and co-author Ranelda Mack Hunsicker note that these works
      consistently:

      * Emphasize the importance of personal choices.

      * Focus on the "heroic thoughts and deeds of seemingly ordinary
      characters."

      * Recognize the "presence of evil in the world and the need for vigilance
      on the part of those who love truth."

      * Help the reader achieve a "clearer understanding of oneself and society
      without resorting to preaching."

      * Provide a sense of hope.

      The jury remains out on Harry Potter, said Lindskoog. But this frenzy is
      typical of the media fads that sweep through youth culture, including
      children's literature. Meanwhile, researchers continue to find increasing
      numbers of adolescents with cable-era television and VCRs in their rooms and,
      in 1998, 66 percent of American movies were rated R or worse.

      "There is real evil out there and parents need to stay on guard," said
      Lindskoog. "So I hope parents are out there reading the Harry Potter books
      for themselves and discussing them with their kids. Anything that pushes
      parents to get more involved in the lives of their children can't be all bad."
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