I am not a fan of the Harry Potter novels. I know lots of people who are, including people who are serious Catholics, but I’m uncomfortable with them for a variety of reasons.
While they’re not going to turn every kid who reads them into a practitioner of Wicca, at least some kids will be influenced by the novels into exploring the occult. That’s a risk that is taken whenever magic is explored in fiction. Lord of the Rings did the same thing.
The thing about literature (fiction or non-fiction) is that somebody in the audience is always going to go off in some crazy direction based on what they read.
Let’s take a very well-known piece of literature . . . the best-selling book in human history, in fact: The Bible.
Has anybody gone off in a crazy direction after reading that?
Well, let’s see . . . Marcion, Sabellius, Montanus, Tertullian, Arius, . . . uh, the list might get a little long, so let’s move on.
Authors can’t let the fact that somebody in the audience is going to go nuts based on what they write stop them from writing. If they did, we wouldn’t have the Bible. But authors can craft their work in a way that tries to minimize potential harmful effects, and I have sympathy for those who think that J.K. Rowling didn’t do as good a job of this in writing the Harry Potter series as J.R.R. Tolkien did in the Lord of the Rings.
And the fact is that the vast majority of kids who read Harry Potter are not going to turn into neopagans, so I can’t tell people that it’s morally impermissible for any child to read them.
There is another reason I’m uncomfortable with them: I just don’t like the way they’re written.
Now, you know what they say about disputing about tastes, and if Harry Potter is something that you really enjoy and that doesn’t challenge your faith then good for you. But I think that Rowling did not do a good job in several respects literarily, and here’s why.
I read the first novel back when there was a huge controversy about it and whether it was healthy for children, and from the opening pages I found myself not liking it. The reason is that Rowling is just too ham fisted in how she sets the plot in motion.
Harry Potter–the character, not the book series–is the most important boy in the magical world, yet he doesn’t know it.
Until chapter two. (Or whatever.)
Then, as soon as he’s introduced into the magical world, he’s suddently the center of attention, people are fawning all over him, privilege is lavished upon him, and a glorious new future is handed to him on a silver platter.
Too. Much. Wish. Fulfillment.
This is bad plotting. Harry Potter is catapulted out of ordinary life to the apex of magical society virtually instantaneously. There may be lots of interesting concepts that Rowling uses as tinsel to sparkle up her world–and this is what I think people really find attractive about the books (the tinsel, not the substance)–but you don’t slather on the wish fulfillment in this way.
Not unless you’re writing fan fic.
If you really want to have somebody be the most important boy in the world, you let this fact emerge piecemeal, a bit at a time, with the character paying his dues as his true identity becomes clear.
If you want to see that plot done right,
BTW, I recently gave this book to Steve and Janet Ray and they loved it.
Others have also commented on the ham fisted way Rowling writes–in fact the piece I’m about to link even uses the term "ham fisted."
It’s a piece by an economics reporter who looks at the bad economics in the book–and she doesn’t mean money. She means the magical economy:
If magic is too powerful then the characters will be omnipotent gods, and there won’t be a plot. Magic must have rules and limits in order to leave the author enough room to tell a story. In economic terms, there must be scarcity: magical power must be a finite resource.