No, I'm not talking about stolen nuclear secrets. I'm talking about something even more valuable--at least, to children: The latest Harry Potter book.
The publishers of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire forced bookstores to sign affidavits agreeing not to sell the book before tomorrow. But, apparently by accident, a Washington-area store put a few copies on display last week. They were instantly snatched up. Such is Potter-mania that the incident made international headlines.
Clearly, kids are wild about Harry. But some Christian wonder if he's a suitable role model for their kids.
The four Potter books trace the adventures of an 11-year-old boy who discovers that he's a wizard, endowed with magical powers. He begins attending the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He takes classes in magic and learns how to play Quidditch, an aerial game involving balls and broomsticks. The books are great fun--but should parents worry about their use of magic? It may relieve you to know that the magic in these books is purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic. Harry and his friends are born with the ability to perform magic--much as real life kids are born with musical or mathematical ability. Students at Hogwarts learn to cast spells and turn themselves into animals--but they don't attempt to contact the supernatural world.
But, you may ask, isn't it wrong to expose kids to ANY kind of witchcraft? Wheaton College professor Alan Jacobs has a wonderful response to this concern. In the journal First Things, Jacobs notes that it's only recently magic and science were viewed as occupying different realms. "For much of their existence," Jacobs writes, "both magic and experimental science were viewed as a means of controlling and directing our natural environment." It took several centuries of dedicated scientific experiment "before it was clear to anyone that the 'scientific' physician could do more to cure illness than the old woman of the village with her herbs and potions and muttered charms." Magic was gradually viewed as a false discipline.
This history helps us understand the role of magic in the Potter books. The author "begins by positing a history in which magic is NOT a false discipline," Jacobs writes. Instead, magic, like science, is "a means of controlling the physical world." In this world, Jacobs writes, "magic works as reliably, in the hands of a trained wizard, as the technology that makes airplanes fly and refrigerators chill the air."
In a sense, whether or not magic "works" in the Potter books is beside the point. At the Hogwarts School, one educational goal overrides all others: To help students develop the moral discernment to use a particular technology--in this case, magic--for the common good.
The Potter books teach children a great lesson: that they, too, must develop moral discernment about real-life technologies--such as the Internet. If these books can teach kids to harness technology for good instead of evil, then I say more power--scientifically speaking of course--to Harry Potter and his wizard friends.