This essay was sparked by recent press1 surrounding the Laura Mallory controversy over campaigns to essentially ban or restrict the accessibility of the Harry Potter books in U.S. schools. Whilst this is certainly not the first movement of radical anti-Harry Potter activities, and sadly will not be the last, Mallory’s campaign seems particularly driven, reigniting every so often in order to grab media attention. I wish to make clear from the outset that this is not an attack on Christianity or Christian values, nor does this essay seek to brand all Christians as united on this issue. Rather, what this article addresses is the attempts of one group of people to ban and censor a work of literature, and justify this based on Christian values and beliefs. The arguments made by Mallory and other anti-Harry Potter campaigners will be addressed throughout this essay, with a view to rebutting statements with a combination of canonical evidence, links to myth and folklore, an analysis of Christian traditions themselves, along with pure rationality and common sense. Such an exploration highlights issues such as intellectual freedoms and free speech (on both sides of the spectrum), and therefore an examination of these matters will also take place at the conclusion of this paper.
The website HisVoiceToday.org is one of the prominent online resources and fronts for the anti-Harry Potter campaign. The website contains a number of articles and quotations2 that seek to either highlight the perceived evil and danger of the Harry Potter series or (rather ridiculously) attempt to claim that the series endorses totalitarianism, brainwashing and manipulation of youth. The site’s host of articles and quotes is too vast for every single one to be addressed individually. Therefore, this essay will focus on a number of prominent articles published on the site.
The portrayal of evil along with the bloodshed and terror in the Harry Potter books appears to be a particular concern for the anti-Harry Potter movement. I’ll address a few examples in detail.
Hogwarts is a closed world of violence and horror, of cursing and bewitching, of racist ideology, of blood sacrifice, disgust and obsession.3
One can at times truly wonder if in fact such critics have read the Harry Potter series. Even a casual reader can identify that Hogwarts exemplifies the complete opposite of what the above suggests. Hogwarts represents a place of safety and comfort. It is the one place where Harry feels truly at home. Throughout the series Dumbledore, along with many other members of staff, makes moves to ensure the safety of all students under the care of Hogwarts. For example, Dementors are forbidden within the walls of the castle,4 and in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Harry and the reader are given a glimpse into the numerous protections placed on the school5 in order to protect its inhabitants. Any violence or horror that occurs results from an invasion of the outside wizarding world, when dark forces attempt to overtake, enforce, torture and kill.
The argument that Hogwarts is a host to racial ideology is also unfair. Whether you examine this issue in relation to Muggles vs. wizarding world or Muggle-born/pure-blood/half-blood debate, J.K. Rowling offers a message of acceptance and tolerance, ridiculing the idea of basing a person’s worth on their blood or heritage.
Whilst admittedly there exists some kind of tolerance and allowance to those who adopt a racist point of view, such as some members of Slytherin, rather than seeing this as hosting racist ideology, I’m more inclined to believe that Hogwarts itself is an establishment that values free speech. That is, it allows its students to express their points of view and beliefs freely and without censorship. However, as within any democratic society, with the right to free speech comes the right to reply – an entitlement which J.K. Rowling uses in order to highlight the unreasonable logic behind racism.
Mudblood’s a really foul name for someone who was Muggle-born – you know, non-magic parents. There are some wizards – like Malfoy’s family – who think they’re better than everyone else because they’re what people call pure-blood. I mean, the rest of us know it doesn’t make any difference at all. […] It’s a disgusting thing to call someone. […] It’s mad. Most wizards these days are half-blood anyway. If we hadn’t married Muggles we’d’ve died out.6
Further, J.K. Rowling creates characters such as Albus Dumbledore and Arthur Weasley who are fascinated by and respectful of Muggles. Although Muggles, and Muggle-born wizards and witches, are treated with a fair amount of scorn by prejudiced members of the wizarding world, none of the characters that are presented by Rowling as moral subscribe to such notions.
The accusation I find most difficult to comprehend is that the Harry Potter series endorses “blood sacrifice.” In Harry Potter, blood sacrifice is portrayed as a powerful form of magic, but it is also a concept that features heavily within Christian tradition, values and writings. Lily’s blood sacrifice is a generous and selfless act of love – giving her own life to save her son. It is an ancient and revered form of magic. Similarly, the Bible portrays blood sacrifice as something sacred and reverent. Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his own son Isaac as a testament of faith.7 Christ himself offers his own life and blood in order to save humanity from their sins.8 Blood sacrifice appears as something not only powerful but an intense act of love.
While Harry Potter appears in the beginning to fight against evil, in fact the similarities between him and Voldemort […] become more and more obvious.9
The similarities between Voldemort and Harry are set out by Rowling in a very deliberate and thorough attempt to ultimately set the two of them apart. The two characters share magical ties and links but are nonetheless very obviously set on opposing sides to each other. This essay does not serve as a character analysis so I shall not delve much further; suffice to say that by having Voldemort and Harry share common characteristics – a half-blood background, orphaned from a young age, at times isolated – Rowling emphasises even more the importance of their choices in defining who they are and what they become.
“ ‘It only put me in Gryffindor,’ said Harry in a defeated voice, ‘because I asked not to go in Slytherin…’
‘Exactly,’ said Dumbledore beaming once more, ‘which makes you very different from Tom Riddle. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.’ ” 10
Rowling’s message about the importance of personal choice is one that perfectly complements the Christian values of Free Will: the belief that God allows the individual to determine his or her own path, one that is not pre-ordained.11
A (young!) reader’s power of discernment of good and evil is blocked out through emotional manipulation and intellectual confusion.12
First of all, as is the trend with a number of the arguments made in this and similar articles, the writers simply make statements alluding to fact without referring to moments in the text or even trying to analyse them. No evidence is provided of such emotional manipulation nor is it shown how intellectual confusion can result. However it is fair to accept that emotional manipulation does take place, as it does within every other novel, television show, movie or other form of media that we subject ourselves to. The goal of writing and creating is to arouse some kind of response from an audience and therefore an author must work out the best way to achieve this. However this hardly characterises a text worthy of banning.
Secondly, whilst J.K. Rowling portrays a world where shades of grey exist between good and evil, one cannot assume that this simply equates to endangering the morals of a reader. In everyday life a person is far more likely to come up against shades of grey than a definitive black or white. What Rowling presents is hardly scandalous or different from what is presented in the world today.
The irony of such statements is that after making them the article then goes on to compare Harry Potter to traditional fairy tales:
Harry Potter is no modern fairy tale. […] There is no character that endeavours consistently to achieve good.13
Even a quick Google search will reveal that the origins of traditional fairy tales were not only steeped in folklore, mythology, fairies, spells, magic, violence, witches, ghouls and many other concepts Harry Potter is admonished for, but the messages they themselves send are not as pure or good as this article implies. One need only look at tales such as “Jack and the Beanstalk” or “Puss in Boots” to see that they also contain characters which at times act with what could be classed as a dubious moral code, either for a greater good or simply for their own advancement.
Furthermore, it is Rowling’s diverse range of characters and their struggles that make the books so appealing and easy to identify with. Simply because a character is not the epitome of goodness and perfection does not mean they cannot still be striving for good. Characters who struggle against their flaws and temptations, who occasionally fail but still continue to fight for a cause are not only far more realistic but present a far stronger message to audiences.
A further concern for anti-Harry Potter campaigners is the effect that the books and movies will have on values and interpretation of Christian beliefs for the children and teens who read or watch them. Articles such as “Twelve reasons not to see Harry Potter Movies” 14 simply use rhetoric and quotations from scripture without providing any kind of causal proof or analysis as to their relevance. For example, the argument that Harry Potter leads to the weakening of beliefs and values, teaching children to “ignore or reinterpret God’s truth,” presents a number of problems. Such a statement completely disregards the notion of an intelligent consumer. An audience is able to differentiate fantasy from reality, or can be guided and educated (by parents, guardians and teachers) to do so. What should possibly be more of a concern is the fact that such campaigners appear to believe that a mere children’s book can undermine two thousand years’ worth of religious belief and tradition. The campaigners seem to have the notion that this is suddenly a new kind of trend, that ideas of wizardry and fantasy haven’t been found in books for more than a century and existed in legend and mythology for thousands of years before that.
Possibly one of the most exasperating aspects of the campaign against Harry Potter is the way the attackers scrape together so-called evidence and questionable fact without logic or intelligence in an attempt to undermine such a carefully considered and crafted work of literature. HisVoiceToday.org is blatantly guilty of this, particularly in its collection of quotations15 proving the evils of Harry Potter. There are a number of poorly quoted studies relating to the influence of television media on young children and their perception of reality, regardless of the intended age that the books are marketed to. In one case the site implies that J.K. Rowling is a member that of the Wiccan “Craft” simply based on a radio transcript in which she denies such claims to which the caller replies “you’ve done your homework quite well.” Instead of actual research, the site frequently quotes circumstantial and anecdotal pieces of evidence in which children become fascinated with witchcraft. And there are ridiculous attempts to appear scandalised with statements such as, “When the name ‘Harry Potter’ is keyed into the Scholastic.com website search engine, it returns 268 matches; ‘Jesus’ returned only 23,” 16 despite the fact that Scholastic is the U.S. publisher of the book series!
Because the Harry Potter books stimulate imagination and children become immersed in them, the site accuses the series of brainwashing youth into wanting to join cults and witchcraft organisations. Unsubstantiated “studies” are quoted without statistics or any valid social-scientific backing. To top it all off, the site lists a number of names such as Azkaban, [The Mirror of] Erised, Draco, Hermes and Slytherin that, according to a letter from an ex-witch, are demon names. Never mind that each of these names hold established places in ancient mythology, or that they have Latin meanings for that matter!
The marketing of a new pagan belief system through multinational corporations is another evil attributed by campaigners solely to the Harry Potter books and films. On lifesite.net, points 1 and 9 of the article “Ten Arguments Against Harry Potter – By a Woman who Corresponded with Cardinal Ratzinger” 17 are particularly incredible, stating that “Harry Potter is a global project to change the culture” that is “being accomplished through a gigantic corporate and multimedia blitz—one which displays elements of totalitarian brainwashing.” Not only are this and other statements incredibly generalised and sweeping, but the fears expressed about the indoctrination of messages could just as easily be reversed. That is, the movement to ban or restrict access to the books due to their supposed evil intent could just as effectively be labelled brainwashing.
HisVoiceToday.org repeats the brainwashing accusation, providing a quote from Vladimir Lenin during the Russian Communist revolution: “Give me one generation of youth, and I will transform the entire world.” 18 Readers, it appears, are meant to fill in the blanks. Yet if we must apply this quotation to the effect that the Harry Potter series has had on the world’s youth today, rather than creating some kind of worldwide satanic youth movement of witches and wizards, what we can see is Harry Potter has opened a new world of reading to an entire generation of youth and children. J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter have turned children back on to books. Her novels have inspired children to think for themselves, to be creative, to switch off the television and delve into their own imaginations. If Harry Potter has indeed transformed the entire world it has been inspiring young readers, something that can hardly be branded as evil.
Putting aside the claims about the intent of Harry Potter, what the campaign essentially boils down to are the issues of free speech and intellectual freedom. The concept of freedom of speech is the inherent human right to voice one’s opinion publicly without fear of censorship or punishment, a right enshrined in United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.19 Intellectual freedom, as defined by the American Library Association, is “the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored.” 20The two are essentially derived from one another, forming the basis of a democratic and free society. Why does it then appear that these two fundamental rights seem to be opposed by the anti-Harry Potter campaign?
Campaigners such as Laura Mallory have every right to express themselves and their views and are entitled to believe whatever they will. However, when one group seeks to impose their beliefs to such an extent that they essentially restrict the rights of others, it is damaging and dangerous. Falsely presenting beliefs as facts about the books and movies and trying to ban the books from classrooms and school libraries jeopardise the rights of other people to intellectual freedom.
Laura Mallory has recently claimed that hers is not a movement to ban Harry Potter but simply a demand that “the books be removed from the classrooms and libraries due to the extreme evil and violent content, the promotion of witchcraft (Wicca) and the age-inappropriateness. […They] need not be encouraged, assigned and read aloud in our children’s schools and classrooms.” 21 However, this is still essentially an attempt to censor and limit the access that children may have to these books. Families, parents and individuals have their own belief and value systems, something that is recognised and respected in principles of a democratic society. Rather than imposing censorship, the decision should be left to individuals and families should be left to make an informed decision for themselves, and such a campaign hinders this fundamental right.
Lastly, Mallory makes a final claim in relation to the Bible and schools. Mallory points out that students are not permitted to read the Bible in schools, suggesting that reading the Bible is religiously equivalent to reading Harry Potter. However, the Harry Potter novels are not the core or sacred text of a religion. Even if one holds the distorted view that Harry Potter is a promoter of witchcraft, the argument still does not stand. Fictional works such as C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, a series latent with both fantasy and Christian imagery and allegory, are not banned simply on the interpretation that they promote Christianity. Therefore, by such logic Harry Potter should not be banned either.
Freedom of speech holds an important place in today’s society. It encourages educated and informed citizens and epitomizes the ideals of democracy. Freedom of speech is not simply the ability for a person to stand up and state what they believe but the capacity for someone to have free access to speech. Whilst campaigners such as Mallory may be under the impression that their movement to restrict the availability of the Harry Potter series in schools is protecting children, in fact the result is intolerance and close-mindedness, contradicting the very ideals and foundations on which democratic society is based.
1. Upton, “Truth and Myth According to Laura Mallory.”
2. His Voice Today, “Harry Potter.”
3. Kuby, “Ten Arguments Against Harry Potter.”
4. Rowling, Prisoner of Azkaban, 125.
5. Ibid., Half Blood Prince, 152, 544.
6. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 89.
7. Hebrew Bible, Genesis 22.
8. New Testament, Mark 11:15–19, Matthew 21:12–17, Luke 19:45–48, John 2:12–25.
9. Kuby, “Ten Arguments Against Harry Potter.”
10. Rowling, Ibid., 245.
11. Catholic Encyclopedia,“Free Will.”
12. Kuby, “Ten Arguments Against Harry Potter.”
14. Kjos, “Twelve Reasons not to see Harry Potter Movies.”
15. His Voice Today,“Harry Potter Quotes.”
16. Chick Publications, “Making Evil Look Innocent.”
17. Kuby, “Ten Arguments Against Harry Potter.”
18. His Voice Today,“Harry Potter Quotes.”
19. United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
20. American Library Association, “Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q&A.”
21. Mallory, “Harry Potter Case – Myth vs. Truth.”
American Library Association. “Intellectual freedom and censorship Q&A.” http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/basics/intellectual.htm (accessed January 29, 2007).
The Catholic Encyclopedia. “Free Will.” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06259a.htm#arg (accessed January 30, 2007).
Chick Publications. “Harry Potter: ‘Making Evil Look Innocent’.” Battle Cry, November/December 2001. http://www.chick.com/bc/2001/harrypotter.asp (accessed 31 January 2007).
Hebrew Bible. Genesis 22.
His Voice Today. “Harry Potter.” http://www.hisvoicetoday.org/ (accessed January 27, 2007).
———. “Harry Potter Quotes.” http://www.hisvoicetoday.org/hpquotes.htm (accessed January 27, 2007).
Kjos, Berit. “Twelve reasons not to see Harry Potter movies.” Kjos Ministries, 2001. http://www.crossroad.to/articles2/HP-Movie.htm (accessed January 27, 2007).
Kuby, Gabrielle. “Ten Arguments Against Harry Potter – By Woman Who Corresponded With Cardinal Ratzinger.” LifeSite, 15 July 2005. http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2005/jul/05071508.html (accessed January 27, 2007).
Mallory, Laura. “Harry Potter Case – Myth vs. Truth.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 28 January 2007. http://www.ajc.com/news/content/metro/gwinnett/stories/2007/01/26/0128gwxmallory.html (accessed January 29, 2007).
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury, 1998.
———. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005.
———. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury, 1999.
United Nations. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948. http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html (accessed 31 January 2007).
Upton, Sue. “Truth and myth according to Laura Mallory.” The Leaky Cauldron,26 January 2007. /#article:9438 (accessed January 27, 2007).