Harry Potter Controversy

Almost as soon as the British author, J.K. Rowling, published the first in her series of seven Harry Potter books in June 1997, there has been controversy over whether the fantasy tales of a boy wizard encourages children to become involved in occultism and witchcraft. The Potter books' millions of fans around the world, including many parents, see them as inspiring and adventurous children's tales, with Harry Potter a good role model, his character is associated with human values such as love, family, bravery, self-reliance and tolerance. Critics of the books say that the novels show evil and horror to children, and that the main theme in the series is death. Banned in one Arabian emirate, one Christian church group denounced the books as "satanic."

The books tell the story of the young wizard Harry Potter and his friends, as they grow up while studying at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and their quest to defeat dark wizard Lord Voldemort. The subtexts of the books, and their fascination with witchcraft, has seen protestant, catholic and orthodox Christians join together in protest.

Evangelical Christian groups in America were among the most severe critics of Harry Potter, considering the books' pagan imagery dangerous to children. Some Shia and Sunni Muslims banned the novels.

The books inspired a very successful series of Hollywood movies, which further promoted and popularized the books among young readers. But in the making of the films, there was additional controversy. When, in 2000, film producers approached Canterbury Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the worldwide Anglican church, for permission to use ancient building for a location shoot, the Dean of the cathedral refused because the church could not be used to promote pagan imagery, he said.

Supporters of Rowling's work state that her books cover similar themes as those of Oxford scholars J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, a noted Christian author. They see in Harry Potter the same fantasy and magic as in the Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings. Some suggest the notion that the Harry Potter series contains Christian symbols and values. The author said that her religious faith could be seen in the books, although she has stressed that Hogwarts is a multi-faith school.

In 1999 in an interview with CNN, Rowling denied witchcraft and religious motives being part of her works, saying: "I absolutely did not start writing these books to encourage any child into witchcraft. I'm laughing slightly because to me, the idea is absurd. I have met thousands of children and not even one time has a child come up to me and said, ‘Ms Rowling, I'm so glad I've read these books because now I want to be a witch'."

The Harry Potter series has not only caused controversy on religious issues. The author, her publishers and the owners of the film rights have been accused of plagiarism and copyright infringement. In 1999, the American author Nancy Stouffer accused Rowling of copying aspects of her 1984 book The Legend of Rah and the Muggles, and of borrowing heavily from her book Larry Potter and His Best Friend Lilly.

Superficially, there appeared to be many similarities beyond just the name. Larry Potter, like Harry Potter, is a bespectacled boy with dark hair, and Stouffer's books also feature a castle on a lake. Parts of Stouffer's stories were originally published in booklet form by Ande Publishing Company in 1986, a company founded by Stouffer, some friends and family. Ande folded in 1987 without selling any of its booklets. Rowling defended herself by stating that she had never seen any of the books, and had only first visited the United States in 1998.

In 2002, Rowling, her U.S. publishers Scholastic Press and film rights-holders Warner Bros. took legal action of their own over the status of Stouffer's works. The court found in favor of Rowling's side. The trial proved "by clear and convincing evidence, that Stouffer has perpetrated a fraud on the Court through her submission of fraudulent documents as well as through her untruthful testimony." Her case was dismissed and she was fined $50,000 for her "pattern of intentional bad faith conduct."

The Harry Potter series is now itself targeted by plagiarists. In 2002, an unauthorized Chinese-language sequel titled Harry Potter and Bao Zoulong appeared on the Chinese market, but Rowling took actions to prevent its sale.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Much Ado about Harry: Harry Potter and the Creation of a Moral Panic
Soulliere, Danielle M.
Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Vol. 22, No. 1, Spring 2010
Harry Potter and the Witch Hunters: A Social Context for the Attacks on Harry Potter
Cockrell, Amanda.
Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), Vol. 29, No. 1, March 2006
CHILDREN'S MORAL READING OF HARRY POTTER: Are Children and Adults Reading the Same Books?
Whitney, Mary P.; Vozzola, Elizabeth C.; Hofmann, Joan.
Journal of Research in Character Education, Vol. 3, No. 1, January 1, 2005
Witch Hunt: Why the Religious Right Is Crusading to Exorcise Harry Potter Books from Public Schools and Libraries
Boston, Rob.
Church & State, Vol. 55, No. 3, March 2002
Religious Right Groups Take Aim at Popular `Harry Potter' Books. (People & Events)
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Church & State, Vol. 54, No. 11, December 2001
Not Wild about Harry: FOF's Dobson Attacks Popular Potter Series
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Church & State, Vol. 60, No. 8, September 2007
Is Harry Potter Christian?
McVeigh, Dan.
Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature, Vol. 54, No. 3, Spring 2002
Banned in the U.S.A: A Reference Guide to Book Censorship in Schools and Public Libraries
Herbert N. Foerstel.
Greenwood Press, 2002 (Revised edition)
Librarian’s tip: "The Harry Potter Books" begins on p. 180
Texts: Contemporary Cultural Texts and Critical Approaches
Peter Childs.
Edinburgh University Press, 2006
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "Popular Novel: The Ethics of Harry Potter Approach: Ethical Criticism"
What American Schools Can Learn from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Booth, Margaret Zoller; Booth, Grace Marie.
Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 85, No. 4, December 2003
Books Debunk Evils of Potter; Christian Authors See Enchanting Tales as Gospel springboard.(NATION)(CULTURE, ET CETERA)
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The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 31, 2002
Federal Court Foils Arkansas School's Effort to Restrict Harry Potter. (People & Events)
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Church & State, Vol. 56, No. 6, June 2003
Opposing Censorship in the Public Schools: Religion, Morality, and Literature
June Edwards.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "The Censorship Debate regarding Public Schools"
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