Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

While traveling recently, my wife brought along the final installment of the Harry Potter series. Having read all of the books (entirely as audio books) and watched the movies, I finally am ready to write a little bit about them. For a long time, I have heard Christians rail on the stories as being anti-God, demonic etc…. I have heard Christians proclaim that the books can be used to teach people about God (like others have done with the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars). I say they are both wrong.

Before I make comments on the series generally, I’d like to give a few observations about this specific book. For starters, Rowling did an excellent job of wrapping up the series and pulling together threads from the last few books. It would appear that the last half of the series had a much more coherent plot structure than the first couple of books. The ending was satisfying and conclusive. There were no loose ends hanging around that opened the door for a sequel.

On the flip side, there was more profanity in this book than the rest of the series combined. Rowling is no longer writing for children (her original audience is either in college or graduated now). This book has plenty of death and violence but that would fit with the nature of war. Overall, I enjoyed the conclusion to this series.

Some Christians have argued against the use of magic. I hope they also boycott the Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia for the sake of consistency. I don’t really understand that point of view and I probably only have one objection on that front. The Harry Potter books present magic in the hands of normal real-life children unlike other fantasy that sets the magical powers in a far flung world. There is a definite blurring of the edges between reality and fantasy in these books. I have been in the rooms of children and seen the Harry Potter craze; the materials encourage the children to practice “good” magic. Whatever. If children are believing this to be real, then there are other issues.

If I were to object to these books, it is because they encourage children to disobey, use profanity, and encourage general behaviors inconsistent with Christian character (think: revenge, anger, hate, theft, lying etc…). I will probably use them as training tools some day to teach my children about handling objectionable elements. But that’s me and I’ve got time before that becomes an issue so who knows? I could change my mind by then. 🙂 And those who try to use this to teach Christian values? Get your head screwed on straight. There is nothing Christian about these books. As there is nothing Christian about The Lord of the Rings.

One other negative. Rowling can’t write. Sorry. No offense meant, but she can’t. She has created excellent characters, a great plot line and an enjoyable “universe,” but that doesn’t mean she can write. Her books tend to drag along for large sections. In this book, Harry, Hermione, and Ron all sit around in a tent for months. Literally. Then occasionally, dumb luck would wander in and hand them clues to follow. After that, it was back to sitting around for weeks on end. (This goes on for chapters.) Her plots drag as if she were filling in words to make a bigger book that sells for a higher price. My wife and I were talking about Rowling and we’re not certain if she can transition to anything else. It will be interesting to see if she is successful at any new writing ventures.

Overall, I enjoyed the plot lines and would certainly recommend them to teenagers and adults. The creativeness of the stories make them worth reading. Rowling is certainly creative if she is anything. Still, there are plenty of reasons to object to the material included in these books. A parent should read them alongside their children if they choose to allow their kids to read them at all.

Your thoughts? Care to write a dissenting review?

Some earlier thoughts by Tim Taylor:
Magic and Harry Potter/
Harry Potter Continued/
Realism in Harry Potter/
Conclusion of Harry Potter Series/


4 thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

  1. Congradulations, Matt, you are the first person I know to take a “grey” stand on the books. Everyone else I know who enjoys them insists on white (possibly cream or ivory). I’m in the black camp, but I appriciate that you’re honest with what the books are saying. (And, rock on with screwing people’s heads on straight. Its no more acceptable to brush ANY series off because it contains magic than to accept ANY content just becuase its fun to read).

    I object to the same concerns you raised (only, louder). The last book may not be written for kids, but the entire series is marketed to kids and has not just a human but a kid wielding magic. The attitudes I dislike, but the overall worldview seems to me to go deeper. The kids lie, cheat, and even bully, but what’s interesting is that they don’t use those disrespectul attitudes to equals. Bullying is acceptable only if the person is weaker (muggles, the plain and boring people who don’t use magic, are fcommon targets of abuse), and lying is acceptable only to authority figures. Finally, Rowling may not be able to write per se, but she sure can make you identify with the characters (a warlock isn’t, last I checked, on the list of people I want to be like).

    Finally, Harry Potter mania has come to symbolize an acceptance of witchcraft in our society, which is only completed since its inception as a series. I don’t argue against the use of magic as a plot device per se (and people who claim to do so, like me after I read the first book and before I researched it, most likely have a negative gut reaction to Harry Potter that they don’t understand and can’t articulate. Magic is the edge of the target, and therefore easiest to hit). Also, the argument that in disapproving of Harry Potter I have to disapprove of Narina is a false delimma. (The Pevinsely children don’t wield magic of thier own inner power, and any magical powers offered them are clearly shown to be evil [Prince Caspian]. Even if they did, Lucy isn’t the question, Harry is.) Playing sports on broomstick is a concept now stuck in the volley-ball-loving child’s imagination. Witches are commonly seen in kid’s pictures drawn for the library. How much of this before parents realize their children are associating witchcraft with fun safe activites? There is a real spiritual realm, and dabbling in the occult is only temporarily fun and eternally unsafe. Even though you probably agree with that statement, this series says otherwise. And that’s my problem with it, which even the most careful explanations of why witchcraft is bad will not efface; at the end, its still attractive.

  2. Solidly gray? I might have just been complimented….

    For the record, this review isn’t supposed to be comprehensive about all the issues.

    When I commented on the Narnia books, it might have been a rash comparison, but I’m not sure on that. I seem to remember something about magical rings used by Digory to move between worlds. The lamp was created by magic. Aslan referenced ancient magic and so forth. But you are also correct in that Lewis made a clear distinction between right and wrong even with the magic.

    Rowling blurs the lines. And yeah, as I mentioned in the review, there are some distinct problems in the manner in which things are marketed at the kids. I’m still not sure that one can argue that Harry Potter has increased the attractiveness of real witchcraft.

    I recall plenty of friendly witches on the walls of the library growing up. That was years before Harry Potter was dreamed up. Yes, there is a trend toward witchcraft in this country right now: mostly by girls toward Wicca. Is this a phenomenon caused by Potter? I doubt it.

    Historically, witchcraft has had great attraction in the US. In the last century, mediums were quite common and considered acceptable in the upper crust of society (early 20th century). They were so prevalent that Hollywood made dozens of witchcraft related films throughout the 20s. Just like the 80’s were filled with slasher flicks, the 20’s were full of the occult. Houdini set about exposing the fake mediums whenever he was able. Later the Ouija board was popular and still is to some degree today. The fortune telling Magic 8 ball was another foray of the occult into daily life. Think horoscopes that are still popular.

    My only point here is to point out that one can’t really demonstrate that the popularity of Potter can be tied to a resurgence in occultic interest. This interest seems to wax and wane over decades.

    One last thought: have you read the whole series? Harry, Hermione, and Ron along with their friends, almost exclusively use magic in defense of the helpless and muggles. They defend the house elves, the muggles, the weak wizards and witches and so on. If there is one bright spot in the series, it is the emphasis on using one’s strength to defend the weak and helpless.

    If their is a weakness, it is with their “ends justifies the means” philosophy.

    I can understand why you might not like the books though. Care to review the series yourself?

  3. I only read the first book, so I can’t reveiw the series. I stopped intentionally, and while you’re right tht magic has always been a sin of humanity, I can’t believe Harry Potter has had a neutral effect. There may have been witches being drawn in your library, but did they have names? Personalities? Trademark clothing to show which warlock was which? Its not just a warlock or a witch; its Harry, our hero, winnng the homecoming game like half the boys at school dream of doing in football. And Hermoine, our heroine, cooking up a spell like a normal girl in science class. The school of witches and warlocks has its logos on real notebooks held by real kids who go to real school… and do you really think they don’t identify with witchcraft more because of it? Reading about Harry, and getting in his head… one cannot help but identify with him. In reading about Harry I think about what Harry is thinking about, in my mind I’m doing what he’s doing.

    Perhaps I don’t remember that muggle-relationships well, though I recall an inordinate amount of pranks on people who couldn’t fight back. Regardless of whether Harry is protecting the muggles or harrassing them, it still begs the question, who does the reader want to be like? The muggles, who often don’t believe in magic or understand its power or aren’t in the occult/witch world at all, and are weak and boring in the bargin? Or would one want to be like the hero, who in one’s mind one is already identified with because he’s so outwardly normal (and successful)?

    Hmm, I recall something about a magic ring in Narnia… but it wasn’t Digory’s own inner power that did anything. Dorthy’s red shoes in the wizard of oz, Digory’s ring, Aladdin’s lamp… none of those characters woke up one morning, said the right spell with the right wand and their inner magic got the job done. Its an object of forgien make and matter. Some outside source, not the human, is the magic-worker. And the object by virtue of being animated by something other than the human also represents how frail the power of that magic is (ie someone else can steal the shoes), and the character thus can’t depend on having it forever. I’m quite good with that aspect of magic (and indeed with the whole fantasy idea where there are faries etc. that are created with magical powers… as long as humans aren’t on the list of powers that be, I’m satisfied).

    By the way, Narnia is a common series for comparison with Harry Potter, (as is Lord of the Rings), and I think its because they are Christian in nature (so if they’re proven to be the same as Harry, Harry must be good too). I think Harry Potter is a unique phenomenon thus far in literature, and his success ensures it won’t be the last. Movies and television are already scrambling to imitate the Harry Potter formula… books will take longer to catch up, but they will. I’d rather not contribute to its success but buying or borrowing or otherwise helping it seem more popular in any way.

    (PS Be highly complimented. Nothing irks me more than those who would argue for an issue without any reason other than “I like it.” And its fun to talk about pop culture when everybody is being nice and reasonable about it.)

  4. Well, I don’t compare Potter to Narnia and LoTR just to make Potter acceptable. I do it to make certain that we aren’t being inconsistent.

    It is interesting to note that the humans in Narnia did not have magical powers. The witch as we recall was not human, at least not from earth. In LoTR, Gandalf was a wizard. There was fewer magicians, but humans did have and performed magic.

    I agree (and have argued plenty of times) that Potter does tend to make magic appear less threatening and more inviting. I think that is something that parents of young children should be cautious about. I don’t see teenagers making this mistake.

    I also disagree that Potter alone will drive people toward witchcraft. Witchcraft (possibly excepting wicca which appears to lean more to earth worship) is black and terrifying. Most people are scared of true magic (At least that is my impression). It is the Disneyfied magic that people are find interesting. And yeah, Harry Potter is in that category. Most of the spells are made up words based on English terms (with a Latinish twist). Not really believable.

    Look, I have performed sleight of hand off and on over the years. Christians have argued that I shouldn’t perform “magic” in front of kids cause they will think I have “real” powers and/or that I am lying to the kids. Let me tell you something: just cause adults are gullible and stupid, doesn’t mean that kids are. Kids look at me and can describe exactly what I did even while the adults are amazed and confused. The younger they are the more accurate they are as well. Kids don’t get confused that easily.

    I say all of that to say that I think this idea of children being unable to discern reality is partially bunk. There is some truth in that idea, but I think we take it further than the facts warrant.

    Still, the objectionable content is such, that I wouldn’t give these books to any child unable to discern the other problems in the book. If they’ve reached that stage then the magic is a moot point.

    Further, while Potter took the whole magical world to a new level, the fact is that these types of stories have been written before and since. Rowling was the first to make a commercial success of it, but not the first to do it.

    Finally, the entire series is a battle between good and evil. The evil are cruel to the helpless and the good lift up the weak. The first book kind of blends that a bit, but as the characters age, there is no doubt where Rowling stands on this. Good guys ALWAYS help the weak.

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