For a couple of years in his late childhood, we had begun reading a series of fantasy books by a then-unknown British author, J.K. Rowling. Of course, the books were in the Harry Potter series, which have since turned into a world-wide phenomenon.
We started reading them as concession and a defense. Concession because a lot of Drew’s friends had been reading the books and they were all the buzz. Defense because we knew that the books revolved around a boy wizard and his friends, magic, and more. Many sincere Christians that we respected expressed vocal opposition to the books, and warned families against engaging them at all.
So, we prayed about the decision for our family. I read the first book in the series on my own. Paula and I discussed it, and agreed to allow Drew to engage the book on one condition: we would have to read them together. So, we began reading the books, out-loud, for awhile after dinner each night.
This was not unusual for us. When Drew was much younger, I made up an ongoing series of fantasy-adventure bedtime stories about friends Tommy and Joe, andtheir dog Spot. In his elementary years, we took a couple of years to read through all seven of Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.
So, we began reading Potter. We were immediately drawn into Rowling’s brilliant story-telling, and the world she created. We got to know Harry, Ron and Hermione. We went to Privet Lane and Hogwart’s School and Diagon Alley in London. There were Muggles and wizards of all sorts, quidditch matches, phoenix tears and Hagrid’s weird animals. We loved Dumbledore and doubted Snape and wondered about Sirius Black. We felt the creeping evil of Voldemort and the discovery of heroism beating in
young hearts. And yes, there were wands and magic spells and invisibility cloaks and more.
What happened? Well first, we enjoyed the stories tremendously. Rowling is a marvelous writer who created a fascinating world with rich characters, suspense, friendships and love, loyalty and betrayal, real threats and rescues.
But the stories also provided a wonderful opportunity for us to have conversations about what it means to think and live as a disciple of Jesus, just as Drew was entering a crucial time in his life. We used the foundation of Bible teaching we had been laying in his mind and heart for years. We talked about how what we were reading matched (or did not match) the ultimate Truth of God in His Word. We could talk about worldview, how to think Christianly about media, Christian imagination, truth and fiction, the difference between the descriptions of magic and faith, the dangers of appealing to spirits and more. (And all of this was long before Rowling herself confessed her Christian faith and conscious tracking with a long British tradition of fiction rooted in Christian images, metaphor and legend.)
Our family made a choice to use the cultural phenomenon of the Potter books as a bridge to talk about following Jesus. It was just one way among many that we used to fulfill our responsibility to train our son to know and faithfully follow Jesus. We had a firm commitment to teach him the Scriptures so fully, and to love the gospel of Jesus so passionately that he could fearlessly engage anything a secular culture might present. We don’t have to cower and withdraw into a cocoon in order to live faithfully. As a matter of fact, cowering and withdrawing is usually unfaithfulness.
We stopped reading the books out loud after about the third one, but we have continued to read and discuss them. Drew and I have seen all the movies together.
This week, the final Harry Potter movie was released. Drew is now 23-years-old and a soon to graduate college senior. But starting tonight, the two of us began a Potter movie marathon—watching all the movies consecutively until we go to the late showing of Deathly Hallows, part 2 sometime late tomorrow night.
This marathon ends a decade of history with me and my son. It’s a unique experience that is a special memory and part of the bond we will always have. It’s part of our history together that shapes our family’s heritage of living all of life for the pleasure of Jesus.