Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fear

By Ragle, Brian | Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Summer 2005 | Go to article overview
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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fear

Ragle, Brian, Skeptic (Altadena, CA)

The Harry Potter sensation continues its march into cultural history with the latest of the now six volume series shattering sales records previously broken by earlier Potter books. That success was repeated in the four movies based on the story, the latest premiered in the United States in mid November, 2005. Though read by children and adults alike, the Harry Potter books have been variously upheld for bringing a renewed interest in reading among young people while at the same time heavily criticized for elements of the occult which feature prominently in the saga of the boy wizard.

The criticism is renewed with the release of each book or movie in the series and has even come from top Catholic officials, such as Pope Benedict XVI who, when he was still known as Cardinal Ratzinger, called the Harry Potter books a subtle seduction into witchcraft for young souls. The public reaction among even mainstream Christianity has been likened to the book burnings of Nazi Germany or the purging of Communist sympathizers by Senator Joseph McCarthy.

That comparison is not lost on Reverend Bryan Small, a priest at the St. Catherine of Siena parish in Kennesaw, Georgia. Holding a degree in psychology and a bookshelf of controversial books, such as Dan Brown's Angels and Demons, Rev. Small sees the larger issue surrounding Harry Potter to be one of parenting: "I am 31 years old. I have traveled abroad and I have read extensively," Small said, "I can tell the difference between reality and fantasy. A child is less likely to be able to do that and so that's where the parents come in.

Small has already encountered one vocal parent at the K-6 school that is annexed to his church. Upon discovering a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the school library, she complained heavily to every member of the staff. Small said he sympathizes with her concerns but sees no real difference between the Harry Potter sensation and other notable works of fantasy from the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis. The Lord of the Rings series of movies have already generated billions of dollars from worldwide sales of the books and films, and there are heavy expectations for Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series, set to open in December with the first volume, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

However, noted Christian author Richard Abanes draws a distinction between the writings of Tolkien and Lewis and those of J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter sagas. "Harry Potter contains elements of real magic, unlike the more fantasy-based powers employed in Lord of the Rings or Narnia," Abanes explained. In fact, Abanes claims it is this difference that makes the Potter stories much more likely to induce impressionable children into seeking additional information about witchcraft and the world of the occult.

That is perfectly fine with teenage witch Kathryn Elliott, a self-described "non-denominational Wiccan." She welcomes the inclusion of mystical elements and witchcraft in Harry Potter as a positive portrayal of a belief largely condemned as evil by clergy and pop culture alike. Yet, she shakes her head at the alleged reality of the magic used in Potter. According to her, real spells and divinations take long periods of preparation and meditation and even then do not always work as intended.

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