Note: the following is a parody of sorts, having a little fun with the fear in some quarters that Harry Potter should lead children toward the occult.
It’s grown fashionable in recent years to write books — silly ones like Jesus Potter, Harry Christ, or God and Harry at Yale — that piggy-back on the success of the Potter series, pirouette around complicated theological issues and perform a full-twisting double-gainer dismount into big piles of cold hard cash. I have no book to sell, but I don’t see why book-writers should have all the fun. I have my own Harry Potter story to tell, I have a blog to tell it on, and publishers can contact me through my agent.
For many years, I was uninitiated into the mysteries of the Potterverse. Of course, I had seen the news stories that accompanied the book releases, which mostly consisted of long lines of nerdy boy and girls waiting outside of bookstores with black glasses and striped ties. Since Harry bears a marked resemblance to the title character of Where’s Waldo?, for some time I assumed these were Where’s Waldo? conventions — which, it seemed to me, were exactly contrary to the spirit of the entire Where’s Waldo? experience. But no sooner had I begun to separate Harry and Waldo in my mind than I was informed by these reports that I, as a Christian, was supposed to be concerned that Harry Potter might inspire children to start sacrificing virgins and painting pentagrams on their bedroom floors.
I had never met any such Christians, but they were out there in droves, because that was all these reporters talked about. Apparently the county franchise of Gravely Concerned Christian Parents® was keeping constant surveillance over the local goat populations, fearing bands of children might be roaming the countryside with broomsticks between their legs in search of sacrifices for someone whose name sounded like Lord Value Mart. They had not yet caught any such nefarious bands of prepubescent children — which was surprising, because it’s not easy for ten-year-olds to run with goats slung over their shoulders and broomsticks clutched between their legs — but the local Value Mart got lots of free publicity and the cow-tipping clubs nearly went out of business for all the parents standing watch in the fields.
These reports and their solemn warnings still lingered in my memory when, on Thanksgiving 2002, I first heard Harry Potter read aloud. I had been invited to the home of a Christian theologian, a veritable half-giant who was closer to seven than six feet in height. This professor discussed football and beer with the same dry, languid world-weariness that characterized his lectures, but he grew animated, even giddy, when he read Harry Potter to me and to his children. He could not get over how hilarious it was that J. K. Rowling likened Hagrid’s hands to garbage-can lids.
I became Gravely Concerned myself when I saw goats and pigs watching nervously from a neighbor’s yard. But I was anxious to make a good impression, and his children did not have that look in their eyes (you know the one) that children get when they’re about to sacrificed hoofed mammals. So I sat and did nothing while this man whom I had previously admired endangered the spiritual welfare and eternal destiny of his children, the safety of the local goat herds and the future of mom-and-pop stores that cannot compete with Value Mart.
It was not difficult to see why his better judgment was overpowered. Rowling has crafted every stone at Hogwarts finely and lovingly. Filled though it is with satanic rituals like Quidditch, and with the rampant underage drinking of butterbeer, Rowling’s world is clearly the product of an endlessly fertile creativity. (Can you say deal with the devil? Judas K. Rowling can. And so can your children!) Some of her characters are archetypes, some caricatures, yet those who occupy the emotional heart are so familiar you might have known them in school. Rowling expands the sphere of the imagination with dragons and dementors, gryphons and grindylows, yet the center always holds in universally human experiences of growing up, falling in love, facing fears, confronting death, and what it feels like to have an army of slugs erupting from your throat.
So, with my moral reflexes dulled by tryptophan and a bottle of Guinness, I relaxed the spiritual musculature that protects the Christian from demonic influence. In retrospect it’s clear Satan was at work, for even my intellectual pride softened its usual protest. I was exchanging Kierkegaard for Kreacher, Levinas for Longbottom, Camus and Sartre for Crabbe and Goyle — and I felt no shame. I now know I was under some sort of Confundus charm, for even Dobby seemed like the height of comic genius. But I was led astray. If this renowned theologian could delight in Harry Potter, then certainly I could do the same with no loss of self-respect. Right?
Thus began my terrifying descent into Potter-mania.
The downward spiral sloped gently at first. Like Eve tempting Adam, I told my wife that my seminary professor had read Harry Potter — approvingly! — and I even purchased the book and gave it to her. We began to read the latest volumes of Harry Potter together at night. It was a scene straight out of Norman Rockwell — if Norman had been a Satanist! Picture it: the New England snow drifting past the window, the lamp shedding its light in a soft golden cone, a young couple huddled together beneath a book — as, unbeknownst to both, the fates of their stinking souls plunged downward into the belching pits of hell. But we enjoyed following Harry, Ron, and Hermione through all the travails of adolescence. Since my wife is of the Chinese persuasion, we laughed at Harry’s “yellow fever” crush on Cho Chang. We laughed at all the horny Hogwartians, especially Ron and Hermione. We even supported the entire roster of S.P.E.W. candidates in the 2006 midterm election.
Yet the downward spiral is steepest near its end. In the summer of 2007, while conducting dissertation research at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, I hit rock bottom. The final book in the septet was about to be released. You might recall the frenzy of anticipation. Children were holding séances in the streets, spray-painting pentagrams on church doors and summoning the legions of hell during their school recesses. Reporters interviewed the Gravely Concerned Christian Parents® every night. Farmers hired security guards, and goat’s milk hit $20 a bottle.
But in the days before the release, I was so desperate to know how the story ended that I downloaded a bootlegged copy onto the St. Olaf library computer and spent hours squinting at the hastily-scanned pages. Soon I was suffering a Hagrid-sized headache and wandering the book stacks crying for Madame Pomfrey. At night I clambered back into my chair and kept reading, hoping beyond hope that Harry and Hermione would survive. (Ron could eat it, as far as I cared.)
Yet I still had plenty left to read on the day the book was released. A giggling horde of Girl Scouts had taken possession of the campus for a conference, and the bookstore announced it would stay open until midnight in order to sell the concluding volume to the girls.
And so it was that I stood in line that night — the only person in the building taller than Flitwick and the only one sporting a Y chromosome — to receive my copy alongside hundreds of squealing little girls in pajamas and pigtails. Now, of course, it grieves me that the Girl Scouts were in the service of He Who Shall Not Be Named. Since Christians are called to speak the truth in love, I should have told the girls something compassionate like: “We’ll see how fresh your Thin Mints taste in hell!” But instead I actually felt that we were all a part of something special together.
When I reached the cash register, the woman looked at me askance. “You don’t look like a Girl Scout.”
“Polyjuice potion,” I lied.
Even as I paid $6.66 for the book, I knew I would never tell my professors that I had fallen to impersonating Girl Scouts. But it comforted me to imagine that perhaps my gigantic theologian friend was out there somewhere too, pretending to be a Girl Scout with a severe hormonal imbalance.
Yet finally my eyes were opened. In a crowd of Girl Scouts as we headed out the door, I saw one girl OMG’ing her BFF on her cell phone:
“U got it 2? I’m totally siked!” wrote the girl beside me.
The reply came swiftly. “U wanna meet up to read it 2gether?”
“Totes!” The girl smiled sweetly. “And then we can summon Beelzebub. Maybe burn some Bibles.”
“Eggzactly. I mean, all Jesus needed was a simple Stupefy spell and he could’ve avoided the whole cross thing.”
“A little Wingardium Leviosa and he could have floated right up outta there. Can you imagine if he’d given Judas a Tarantallegra hex? ROFL.”
This began a Battle of Hogwarts in my soul. Finally I resolved that I would never read another page of Harry Potter — except for the 253 pages I had left to read. I had to find out which side Snape was on. Two days later, I completed the Epilogue, set the book down, and quit cold turkey.
Now, my name is Tim, and I’m a Potter-holic. I’ve been Potter-free for years now. I understand why parents wish to protect them from malign influences like Satan, Lord Value Mart, and Ryan Seacrest. But we should all oppose Harry Potter, parents or not, if only for the safety of the local goat populations.
Do it for the goats, and then do it for the children. Children don’t need HP. They need JC. ASAP.