Yesterday I received The Mystery of Harry Potter written by Nancy Carpentier Brown of the Flying Stars Blog and pretty much set down and read it in one sitting. It is subtitled A Catholic Family Guide and that is it is exactly what it is. Over the years there has been a certain amount of controversy over whether Christian parents should let their children read the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowlings. Mrs. Brown provides a great resource for parents in prudently deciding this question and the answers and suggestions she gives should be used by all parents in deciding what literature they should allow their children to read.
Nancy Brown had originally started at the the point of a negative view towards the world of Harry Power and later revisited this because a Catholic friend of hers who she trusted recommended them and ended up reading the books and reading some of them to her children. I myself had quite a negative view of the Harry Potter book since I had read and heard commentary against them by Catholics whose views I generally trusted. Though over the years I was surprised to find that there wasn’t this anti-Potter bias in the Catholic blogosphere and in fact there was quite a positive view of the books and the movies in general. I have seen the first four movies and enjoyed them and finally got around to reading the first six books in the series earlier this year in just a two week period. I enjoyed the series and like so many others is awaiting the final book in the series. I got around the to reading the books mainly because of Nancy Brown’s blog and her entries on the books.
I really liked the advice given in The Mystery of Harry Potter in that even though she enjoys the books she does not advocate parents just going out and getting the books and giving them to her children. I also liked the fact that she encouraged parents to read the books first and then to make their own decision as to whether their children should read the books at all. She mentions that after all there are just so many good books that they could read and it certainly is not mandatory in any way that people should read these books. This advice certainly goes along with the Catholic view that parents are the primary educators. She also gives good general advice on pre-reading children’s books in general and web resources for book reviews. She also gives a general guide as to what ages each book is appropriate to and that this must be used with prudence in considering the sensitivity of each child. The books do get darker as they go since they do deal with the battle of good and evil and death. While talking about the series she is careful not to give away plot points to those who have not yet read the book.
Since Nancy Brown is a thoroughly going fan of G.K. Chesterton I was not surprised at the Chestertonian references throughout. I did find it quite interesting that through out the book she used sections of Chesterton’s Lepanto poem with sections of the HP books along with contrasts. Besides Chesterton she references C.S. Lewis, Thomas Fleming’s The Morality of Everyday Life, John Granger’s Looking for God in Harry Potter, and several other books. One section of the book starts off with Michael O’Brien’s A Landscape With Dragons: The Battle for Your Child’s Mind, though I think she should have mentioned that O’Brien (an author I really like) has written extensively against the Harry Potter books. This book was also accidentally left out of the biography at the end of the book.
I do think that Mrs. Brown did a very good job of addressing the complaints of critics and where they had valid points she agreed with them. I do think seeing these books primarily as a Fairy Tale as she and others have proposed is the best way to understand them and that they are driven by a Christian imagination and the magical elements to the stories are the background and not the primary focus. She points out that really it should be secular side that should be complaining about the series because amazingly it is so free of political correctness so often found in children’s books today. That the power of love and sacrificial love, friendships, good vs. evil morality, children needing the help of adults are the main themes of the books. I think what I enjoyed most about the book was the balance. There is no tint of "if you don’t like the books something is wrong with you" and that she doesn’t just overlook some problematic aspects of the books such as the so-called "white lies’ told by Harry and his friends at times. She puts all the impetus on the parents to judge. Towards the end she also addresses the movies in the Harry Potter franchise and cautions that Harry is much nobler in the books and the scripts in the movies sometimes inject dialogue not really fitting.
An appendix includes interviews with Dale Alquist the president of the American Chesterton Society and Regina Doman author of Angels in the Water and other children’s books on the subject of the Harry Potter books. Both of the interviews are interesting for their insights and Regina Doman was once in the anti-Potter camp. Another appendix includes discussion questions for teachers, catechists, and parents. Throughout the book there are discussion points of topics pertaining to the books to make for fruitful parent child interaction and to ensure that proper lessons are learned from the series.
This is a really good book whether you are a fan of series or have some serious questions about it.
* I would also recommend SQPN’s series The Secrets of Harry Potter podcast where Fr Roderick and Brother Giles explore the world of Harry Potter and the Christian connections throughout.