Harry Potter and the Misplaced Terrors

Harry Potter and the Misplaced Terrors November 21, 2018

They say that history repeats itself.

As far as world events, we stand poised on the verge of cataclysms that call to mind the horrid 1930s or worse. I’m told that economically, we’re like the late 20s again and might be about to crash right into a hole.

As far as things that Moms on the Internet get nervous about, however, we’re apparently in 1997 again, because moms are upset about Harry Potter.

I just read an article put out by Catholic News Agency, written by one Jenny Uebbing, with whose work I’m not familiar. I checked to see if it was written twenty years ago, but it was only two weeks old. Mrs. Uebbing seems like a charming woman and an attentive mother with whom I might agree on all kinds of things, but I am utterly consternated by her views on J. K. Rowling’s blockbuster series.

Mrs. Uebbing describes having a gradual perceived crisis of conscience about enjoying the Harry Potter book and film series while she was at Franciscan University, starting with twinges of guilt and culminating in a nightmare after which she smashed all of her Potter DVDs and threw away perfectly good books in the middle of the night. She reports that it made her home feel “safer” for herself, her husband and her baby.

She explains that she doesn’t allow Harry Potter in her home because the series “blurs the lines between good and evil,” and because things like magic and curses really exist and “has the possibility to put you in danger.”

Uebbing claims to have deep respect for anyone who differs from her on that topic, but then launches into a diatribe on “the practice of witchcraft” being on the rise and all the dangers she supposes that entails for her children’s souls. She says respects us, but she declares that by allowing our children to read Harry Potter we are placing them in danger of losing their souls to demons. After pretending sympathetic understanding of those who disagree with her, she announces that belief that God has given her a mission to tell us that our parenting choice is dangerous and evil.

I read this article with one eyebrow raised like Spock.

I pondered.

Uebbing’s one credential for writing this article for CNA seems to be that she is a Catholic mom who went to Franciscan University.

I wish I had the kind of teaching authority that is apparently endowed on Catholic moms who went to Franciscan University.

And then I remembered: I am a Catholic mom. And I did go to Franciscan University.

I, too, am One of the Chosen.

As One of the Chosen, let me tell you: we have no special authority. Instead, let us reason together.

In my opinion Harry Potter is harmless. That’s not to say I think it’s excellent. It’s fun in its way but it’s far from my favorite fantasy because it’s so derivative and predictable, not to mention the world-building is sketchy and the characters are so flat. I honestly have similar thoughts about the Chronicles of Narnia half the time, though you can’t tell me The Silver Chair isn’t delightful. The chief educational use of texts like the Harry Potter series, or Narnia for that matter, is to get kids excited about reading and fairy stories. Then they can move on to the really excellent stuff– L’Engle, Diana Wynn Jones, Gaiman, Tolkein of course.

Does Harry Potter have some content that doesn’t mesh exactly with the worldview we’re trying to cultivate as Catholics? Sure there is. There’s content you might have to sit down and discuss with your kids, depending on their age. There is also content you have to discuss with your kids in L’Engle, Jones, Gaiman, in Grimm’s folktales, in the myths of Greece and Rome– and, yes, in Tolkein and Lewis too. There is.

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