SUPPORT GROUP FORMING: WITCHES FOR JESUS. The previous post should indicate that I don’t have much patience for the people who think any books with sympathetic witches and wizards must be anti-Christian. Sure, fantasy books can be implicitly anti-Catholic, like The Spellkey, a book that is great on many levels but cliched and annoying in its attempts to portray the Church as a conspiracy of the vile. And I haven’t read Harry Potter, so I can’t comment on what’s up with those books. But there are two different questions here: Should kids read books with magic spells in them? and, Should kids read books with anti-Christian worldviews?
My opinions are strongly colored by my own experience: The ideas I was introduced to in fantasy books were ideas that are mostly discredited in mainstream American kid culture. Honor, sacrifice, chivalry, and awe (C.S. Lewis points, rightly, to the Piper at the Gates of Dawn in The Wind and the Willows) are not much in abundance in this culture, and if you don’t believe in any of them, I’m not sure you can believe in Christ. Could you even find Him relevant? There are many places to find these ideas; but fantasy books tend to do a pretty good job with them. I’m willing to put up with a little propaganda for contraception in order to introduce my kid to complex, realistic portrayals of honorable characters.
I don’t mean to downplay the dangers. I did the usual half-assed futzing around with Wicca (although I really think that was more influenced by “nonfiction,” like the fake history of The Magic Cauldron, than fantasy). That’s very sketchy and very dangerous, and I’m glad that the priest who guided my catechism asked about it and exorcised our whole RCIA group. (That’s not as weird as it may sound, by the way. We weren’t unusually demonic or anything. I think.) Moreover, there are books whose worldviews are deeply anti-Christian. Here’s a very good essay on Philip Pullman, who’s declared his intention to write anti-Christian kids’ books. I’d also point to Susan Price, whose “ghost” series is, I kid you not, the only nihilist children’s series I know of.
But Price’s novels also contain some of the best, most vivid and powerful writing in children’s lit. Does that make them better (great art always contains beauty, and therefore some goodness) or worse (attractive evil)? I think that in the most “utilitarian” sense, the beauty of her writing will spur kids to seek other authors, who will counterbalance her nihilism. On a deeper level, I do believe that kids can intuit many aspects of the nihilist worldview–the possibility that suffering is meaningless, or that the only thing that happens after death is putrefaction. It’s better to have all the consequences of that worldview made plain, than to allow those beliefs to seep, unnoticed, into the soil of a child’s mind.