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Should Children be Allowed to Read the Harry Potter Books?

harry potter
Graphic by Kate Efird

Scores of American Christian parents believe that the Harry Potter books are a door to sorcery and the occult. Fearing that their children will turn into warlocks, witches, or sorcerers if they read the books, these parents refuse to let their children check the books out from the public or school library. My Evangelical ex-daughter-in-law is one such parent. She refuses to let her children read the books, whereas their father has no problem with them doing so. These grandchildren, ages eleven and nine, are voracious readers, as are our other grandchildren. We encourage them, as we did their parents, to read, read, read. So far, most of our grandchildren have advanced (high school, college level) reading skills. Polly and I are delighted to see their love of books.

When the Harry Potter books first came out, I was still an Evangelical pastor. I was somewhat concerned with the content of the books, so I had Polly read the books first. The books passed the Polly Test with flying colors. Our younger children read the Potter books several times over the years, and our grandchildren are now reading those very same well-worn copies.

While Polly and I were hardcore, devout followers of Jesus, when it came to what we allowed our children to read, we were indifferent liberals. Our older sons can testify to the fact that they were allowed to read books that many homeschooling Evangelical parents would have disproved of. This contradiction baffles me to this day. I don’t know why we let them read whatever they wanted to read, but we did. And, as best I can tell, they are better off because we did. Of course, a few Evangelicals likely will say that the Gerencser family’s rejection of the one true faith is directly connected to our liberal/secular reading habits. Books ruined us!

When I deconverted in 2008, I received a letter from a former parishioner that told me in no uncertain terms that books led to my loss of faith. She told me that I needed to return to reading only the Bible. If I would do so, she was sure my faith would return. I did not heed her advice.

Were you allowed to read whatever you wanted? If not, what books were on your parent’s banned-books list? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

15 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Appalachian Agnostic

    The only books I can remember ever being forbidden to read were a set of books on human reproduction which my mom ordered through the mail then inexplicably hid in the storage building after telling me not to read them. Maybe she ordered them thinking they would be useful to teach us kids about the birds and the bees but then changed her mind.

    I doubt that my parents knew much about the content of the books I read growing up. They probably would have banned many of them if they were more familiar with the authors. Thank goodness they didn’t because books were my escape.

  2. Avatar
    Becky Wiren

    I was allowed to read almost anything. Anything out in open. I remember reading the Perry Mason books and and flying through them. Tons of other books. I was reading adult books when I was in junior high.

  3. Avatar
    Geoff

    The first ‘proper’ book I ever read was The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S.Lewis, aged around six or seven. I loved it, went on to read it perhaps forty times, and went on to become an avid fan, and critic, of all the Narnia books.

    In many ways they had similar themes to Harry Potter; magic, witches, good and evil, but of course had an underlying religious theme, so are beloved of Christians. Even at the early age I started reading them, before I knew of Lewis and his religious dementia, I used to see the allegorical content, and loved discussing the books with friends, and indeed my schoolteacher, to whom I introduced the books. It helped me, amongst other things, to read critically. Lewis didn’t originally envisage writing more than the first book, TLWW, itself riddled with inconsistencies, and when he began adding sequels, he completely lost the plot; literally. Looking back I still have a fondness for the books. Overall, however, the Narnia books probably have no better literary equivalent showing the total mess that Christianity has gotten itself into as we enter an age of increasing reason.

    I’ve only ever read on Harry Potter book, but I enjoyed it, and I’ve seen most of the films. They’re fun, they’re harmless (unless you’re an evil wizard), and they don’t pretend to be something they aren’t. Evangelicals should start getting a grip on reality, let your kids read the books and make their own minds up.

    • Avatar
      Lydia

      “Lewis and his religious dementia….”

      I haven’t read any of C.S. Lewis’ stuff in many years. What do you mean by his religious dementia?

      I totally agree with your last paragraph, though.

      • Avatar
        Geoff

        C.S.Lewis was the hero of apologists. He was amazing for his ability to make nonsense appear logical. For example, he said that Jesus was either a madman or really was the son of god; no other options, especially not just a ‘great teacher’. He didn’t consider the possibility that he never existed (which personally I don’t agree with), nor just an itinerant preacher with undoubted charisma. I could go on but…well, it’s easiest just to say ‘religious dementia’.

  4. Avatar
    Lydia

    My parents were strict about keeping books about magic, witches, ghosts, and the paranormal in general out of my hands when I was very young.

    When I started attending public school in the fourth grade, I soon began checking those kinds of stories out of the school library and reading them when I thought my parents weren’t paying attention. They must have loosened up their rules without telling us because most of the books i wanted to read were approved by them.

    I was even allowed to read the Harry Potter books when they came out. That never would have happened when I was younger. Haha!

  5. Avatar
    Troy

    I wonder if fundamentalist America would have condemned Harry Potter if it wasn’t so popular? The magical world presented is so comically absurd that no one would take it as a how-to book on magic. Contrast with the Necromicon and other more studious works you’ve got flying motorcycles, cars, and most telling of all platform 9-3/4.

    I was quite a bit older than the target age of the books and picked up the first one on sale. I was not impressed, but did find the first movie a faithful adaptation with top notch acting talent (A list British actors did it for their grandchildren in many cases). Good production values and best of all glossing over some of the J.K. Rowling’s attempt at humor (humour) that elaborate to the point of tedium. (Let me add a jab at people who criticize the movies because the child actors matured…each book represented one year at Hogwarts arrgggh!)

    Should children read about magic? Absolutely. I recall a film strip shown in 5th grade about a magic marble. The assignment was to write about what you’d wish for and even now I remember my classmates . Magic and imagination go hand in hand.

    • Avatar
      howitis

      The problem with many fundies (Bruce and his family being a big exception, in my experience anyway) is that for most of them, the only thing they know about Harry Potter is what their pastor, their favorite televangelist, or their favorite christian “mommy blogger” tells them about it. And there is a very good chance that none of those people have actually read the books or seen the movies, either. At best, said pastor, blogger etc. realized that the Harry Potter books and movies were the latest craze in the secular, non-fundie world, a world they regard with great suspicion (and fear, and loathing.) A few of them might have bothered to pick up a copy of one of the books, maybe even read a chapter or two. But the minute they realized that the book referenced things like wizards, witches and spells, and said not one word about christianity, they dropped it like a hot rock and declared it “evil,” and thus something their followers should not read or watch.

      The problem with fundieland is that they view every type of entertainment as “evil,” unless it is explicitly all about constantly praising and worshipping Jesus, or bringing the “fallen” to Christ. Any book, movie, TV show etc. that isn’t all Jesus praising, all the time is automatically evil, period. As one of my cousins (raised by fundie parents who forbade her from reading or seeing anything Harry Potter) once put it: “The only way my parents would have allowed me to read Harry Potter is if he renounced his wizard heritage, traded his wand in for a bible, and set about converting everyone at Hogwarts to christianity!!!”

      I’m of the opinion that everyone should read Harry Potter, even fundie kids…especially fundie kids….

  6. Avatar
    Ross Kardon

    I have read all of the Harry Potter books and I saw all of the movies. If I graduated from Hogwarts, upon my turning 21, I would go to Las Vegas or Atlantic City and pardon the pun, beat the craps out of the casinos! Then when the muggle management tried to ban me, I would then use my magic to wipe out their memories and keep on winning.

    Bruce, what would you do if you graduated from Hogwarts?

    I am also an ex-Christian, but maybe at a later time I will write on your website about my own personal experience. I have been a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation since 1983. One of the terrible things that deeply disturbs me about Christian fundamentalists is how most of them refuse to let their children celebrate Halloween, and therefore rob their children of their childhoods, because nonsense that Halloween is “Satan’s holiday”. Did you ever see the movie “Jesus Camp” and can you relate to it? I will understand if you reply to me and inform me of how religion is lot more child abuse, than forbidding children to celebrate Halloween.

    Sincerely yours,

    Ross

  7. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    My mother allowed me to read just about anything I wanted. However, by the time I was an adolescent, she was on the road to becoming more conservative and wouldn’t allow me to go see “Return of the Jedi” when invited by my cousins despite the fact that she had taken me to see “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back”. Something about aliens being evil and demonic or something, I don’t remember for sure. And forget “E.T.” – I wasn’t allowed to see that either, and I had to wait until I was an adult to see it.

    With my own children, my mother mentioned that she didn’t think we should let them read “Harry Potter” because of witchcraft, etc. I told her that the stories were about kids growing up and facing concepts of good and evil and learning how to be loyal friends, etc. My father-in-law who was raised Catholic got involved with Fundamentalism for awhile and said he thought “Harry Potter” books were evil due to witchcraft. We actually made him watch one of the movies, and he actually liked it.

    My mom started having issues with Halloween around the time I was an adolescent too – she didn’t keep me from celebrating Halloween though, as long as I was going to church Halloween parties. She thought Halloween was becoming “too demonic” in popular culture (whatever that means). It always struck me as odd how liberal and open-minded she was when I was younger, even admitting that the Bible stories were probably just allegories and parables when as a small child I questioned their veracity (how could Jonah have breathed in the belly of the whale), yet she made an about-face a few years later. I never told her I was an atheist before she died, but she definitely suspected.

  8. Avatar
    Melody

    My parents allowed most books, but did prefer Christian ones, of course, I did not really. Books with magic or the occult in them were forbidden and sex too, in my teens. I’d taken to hiding the books and magazines I didn’t want my parents to see or read, lest they’d be taken away.

    For a long time I thought Harry Potter was really bad and extremely occult. Then I saw parts of the first movie as a student and it was just a harmless kid’s movie. A little scary but mostly just for kids, and I began to wonder about them. Later I saw the other movies and read the books too. There was nothing Satanic about it. I had been duped by Christianity (and its lies) once again….

    There were some comic books about occult things that I read that made me really fearful, so that theme did have something frightening to me. Of course, now I know that was because these things were real. Demons were real, ghosts were real, Satan was real and hell and witches and magic and so on. I was afraid of it all because I believed it was real.

    We were also forbidden to go the haunted house on fairs, or to watch horror movies, for the same reasons. I’ve been afraid of horror movies and haunted houses for a long time because I thought these things were really – these people who were mocking all that were doing so at their peril!

  9. Avatar
    Jada

    I’m also baffled at anything-coming-from-the-library-is-okay thinking. My mother was all over me all the time about everything I was doing wrong (which was everything), but she was oddly incurious about what I read. I figure that and rock music were what ‘saved’ me.;-)

  10. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    I was raised Catholic by parents who were very respectful of the written word. In kindergarten, I was sitting on my father’s lap in the evening sounding out the big words in the newspaper articles and making sense of the articles with Dad’s help. By seventh grade or so, I was reading at an adult level. I read everything I could get my hands on. I inhaled books. Periodically Dad would take me to a used book store, and buy everything in the huge stack of books I chose, without so much as looking at the titles. My Dad had a subscription to Reader’s Digest and their Condensed Books, and I inhaled those every month. A neighbor/friend who was retiring and moving gave me a whole bookcase full of science fiction books. I spent many happy hours reading those.

    This meant that I was often exposed to some pretty adult themes that went past me, to some extent (at least on the first read). But it turned out to be a really good education.

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