Growing up in a Christian environment, there were certain things I just didn’t get to do growing up. My parents sheltered my sister and I more than any other family I knew growing up: I didn’t go trick or treating, I didn’t have many good friends, I didn’t go to Sunday School after my eighth birthday; I didn’t see most of your standard Disney and Pixar movies, I didn’t listen or watch Adventures in Odyssey, and I rarely got to paint my nails until after I reached my mid-teens.
Now, I don’t tell you this to make you feel sorry for me, but to show you where I have come from. It gives gravity to my journey. Growing up, I didn’t get to do a lot of normal things and I saw that as just what my family did.
Although we didn’t much talk directly about big Christian taboo topics, I grew up under a strong, firm impression that magic, especially in fiction, was bad. Like, really, really bad. Magic could look good in fiction, so my parents didn’t even let me read Narnia, even though our pastor’s children were allowed to enjoy them. Magic became something that I feared, in a way, as though Aslan or the play witch’s hat in Wal-Mart at Halloween was going to hurt me with their evil-ness if I looked too long. Sadly, my family didn’t really discuss the topic heart-to-heart that much and besides, most of the time I was too afraid to even ask that many questions. This unspoken-ness lasted till up to only a couple of years ago.
When I was about sixteen or seventeen, my dad decided to read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe aloud–“for fun”. We didn’t discuss what had changed in the unspoken family rules, just of all of sudden, years waay too late, it was time to read a children’s fantasy story. It wasn’t that enjoyable; just, randomly, Narnia was “okay” with no explanation. (Mid-teens to late teens was such a confusing period of my life for so many reasons!) This was difficult because Lord of the Rings still seemed forbidden, and–oh yeah, don’t anybody even mention those two really, really, really bad words.
Harry Potter. Oooh, as a child and even as a young adult, it was such a literal “he-who-shall-not-be-named” situation. Harry Potter was our Christian community’s Voldemort.
Although I couldn’t watch Harry Potter then, I knew I would watch it at some point when I was so old nobody could stop me. That wasn’t really a super-conscious decision, though, and I didn’t go about flashing my thoughts off to people I knew: “When I grow up, I’m going to watch Harry Potter!” It was never in the plan to tell anyone even afterwards either. Of course, it took a lot of inward struggle for it to actually come about.
When my parents separated for a second time in early 2013, I didn’t immediately run to the Harry Potter series–“Dobby is free! Dobby is free!” Even though Mom had and continues to become way more relaxed about things, I still kept away…
You simply don’t walk away emotionally or mentally free from years of fear of trying to make sure people aren’t questioning your Christian conviction by what you are or aren’t avoiding. I was very afraid of what people would think of me for watching Harry Potter–from my confined social circles, I didn’t know anybody who liked Harry Potter, so I felt very outnumbered for a long time.
I was afraid of having to own my decision of choosing to watch those eight movies–especially since during my teen years, my family became very soaked in the Patriarchal culture where fathers were in complete charge of their daughters and, in my personal case, pretty much thought for them too. So, for the longest time, even though I could have investigated, I only dabbled in other shows or movies instead.
In the mean time, I started maturing. Although it had started back about 2012, my thinking process really changed gear in 2013. I slowly stopped inwardly judging other people for their own personal choices and opinions. I realized everyone’s story is different, so God takes people down different roads at different times in their lives–why should we all look the same and do the same things at the same time?
I learned people are just not going to agree over everything, so I just had to do what I felt I needed to do despite fear. That’s being courageous. I realized I was an individual soul with individual needs that needed to be voiced and that that was okay. I learned the world was not actually black and white but millions of shades of grey. I learned the no matter what, many people in my lifetime are just always going to hold up a yard stick and see how I measure out–but how they feel doesn’t need to tell me how to feel.
I learned that I was not a bad Christian for deciding that I needed to watch Harry Potter and form my own personal opinion for myself. That in and of it self was very monumental.
Finally this past year, I got to meet Harry Potter.
Harry was not at all what I imagined him–I’d always known what he’d looked like, of course, but I hadn’t known other things–what his personality was like or what his story was about. He turned out to be quite ordinary while at the same time quite extraordinary. He was an orphan, a survivor of neglect, who, through his gift of magic, was able to be who he meant to be and defend himself from abuse and evil, one new year after the other.
By the time I watched the Harry Potter series, I was tired of trying to mentally weigh EVERYTHING the movies communicated in an attempt to catch some secret agenda they may be trying to feed me. (This was something my dad pushed too hard at my family, making movie watching a chore instead of a family pastimes, and ruining initial movie glows–like after watching the first Iron Man.) In many ways, I’m still tired of having to justify myself for liking certain movies to other people or to myself. However, what with how taboo HP can be perceived, I decided I wanted to say what I thought of it–to own my own choices and let people take me or leave me for how I truly think.
The world of Harry Potter was full of magic, of course. Magic was everywhere. The fact that most of the films took place in Hogwarts, the school that taught witchcraft and wizardry, simply meant that magic was a strong part of the story. However, I didn’t come away from a Harry Potter movie feeling, “Gosh, they really think magic is something I should be seeking out in my regular life. Maybe If I join the Occult my life will get better.” I never felt that the film series actually promoted witchcraft in real life. The films themselves knew they were a made up story and magic was just a part of that story, like the characters and the made up version of London, ect.
Ultimately, in the end, magic turned out to not be a big issue for me; shocker! It didn’t really matter to me that they attended a school to learn how to control their magic (something they were born with–and isn’t it a good thing to be taught how to properly handle your gifts given to you, guided by teachers wiser than you?) used wands, and other magical items. That wasn’t the make or break element. What I thought was a big deal was the characters themselves. The fact that they actually turned out to be great heroes and role models really, really surprised me and that’s what made the series worth watching.
Harry strove to do what was right as often as he could; he tried his hardest to be respectful of teachers and fellow students, and learned to stand up for what was right, even though he made mistakes. Hermoine was a fantastic student who took her school seriously and who could hold her own ground mentally and emotionally. Ron, and his whole family, was very supportive of neglected Harry; Ron was always a friend who pulled through at the end. When it was all said and done, the cast of characters who weren’t bad guys all upheld decency, kindness, pluck, friendship, bravery, and a will to do good. It was truly surprising to walk away from each movie thinking, “These are actually great characters, why was I supposed to dislike them again?”
I can hear people of my past, saying, “But that’s what makes it so dangerous! It looks so good.” If you’re one of those people, check this article out sometime; I mostly agree with it. I mean, sure, I wouldn’t let my brother watch these till after his eleventh or twelfth birthday and he was critically thinking, but at that point I think it would be a great series he could enjoy.
At that age and up, as young people, the stronger impact comes from the characters who are of similar age. We can watch as they make mistakes and grow from them, in relate-able ways of demonstrating noble character and plucky spirit and it leaves us encouraged. The magical school is simply a unique setting for those uplifting character traits to be put on display.
Something I heard forever, and this would still capture my dad’s thinking, would be “If I want my children to have good fictional role models, I’ll give them Christian books.” Having grown up with many of those type books, I can say that I find great characters and character development strongly lacking in a lot of Christian books, and movies too–I’m sorry, but it’s true. I had a hard to time relating to many of those characters’ journeys or finding them convincing yet was inspired to stand up for myself and what I thought was right, after watching the Harry Potter franchise. The irony is ridiculous here but extremely true.
I cannot cover or defend everything on the element of magic of course, nor would I necessarily want to hash it out for days and days either, but I think you all understand what I value more from a film. To me, I decided that for the story, there was little difference between Harry pointing either a wand or a gun or heavy-duty baseball bat at Lord Voldemort. What mattered most was that he knew Voldemort was evil and needed to be stopped because he was hurting people. So, just like in any other movie I would watch, the characters were the make or break point, and I found the cast of Harry Potter characters to be the making of the series!
Now, sure, the Harry Potter series has its dark moments and it isn’t Star Wars or anything, but I enjoyed them all. The final film was especially fantastic and is still one of my top ten favorite movies of all time. The characters carried the series forward in a way that was very satisfying by the time it all ended and Harry himself is my favorite character. He could definitely make my top fifteen favorite fictional heroes. I’m often mad to think about how long I associated his name with an idea of evil, when really he’s a selfless, kind character–someone who dealt with temptation but rose above it, rallied friends together to fight evil, and eventually survived neglectful and verbal abuse.
I have come a long ways since I was a little girl who didn’t understand Narnia or watch a Disney movie that contained a little bit of magic, or couldn’t read Harry Potter like the rest of my generation. Please don’t misunderstand me; this is not me saying “HARRY POTTER IS FOR EVERYONE” because, sure, it’s maybe not, and this is not me saying real witchcraft is something to not be concerned about…but that was never the topic of this blog post anyway. This is only my story of how magic made me stronger.
Nowadays, Harry is a good friend of mine. I own seven of the eight Harry Potter films and I hope to read the books someday. In Hogwarts, I would be sorted into the Hufflepuff house (thank you, Pottermore, for making it official!) a house which I hold in high esteem. On top of it all, I still have a long ways to go in life; I’m still afraid of the dark sometimes and I’m still working on being open about myself. But that’s okay. My story of magic is a very strange one but it’s taken me to a safer place from where I started and left me encouraged in my journey to Spiritual freedom from legalism and fear. I only hope I can continue to be as brave as the little boy who lived beneath the stairs.