I hesitated writing this post for my friend because almost every single discussion I’ve seen or been in online about HP eventually devolved into personal attacks. There are good arguments on both sides of the divide, so it pays to evaluate both and decide what approach you want for your family.
The Choice You Need to Make
If you aren’t comfortable making a decision whether you’re going to let your child read HP or not, remember that as a parent you can always just put your foot down and tell your child that whatever you says, goes. No discussion, no questions. It IS your prerogative as a parent. When you have young children, up to age 9 or so, this could work wonderfully.
It may all be fine and that’s the end of it. OR, at some point, as happens with children, they grow older and start questioning your authority. How this plays out will depend on your relationship with your child. But HP may be one of those issues that crops up again and you have to deal with it head on whether you like it or not.
In that case, the best thing you can do is to READ THE BOOKS YOURSELF. That way you can make the best informed decision.
If you can’t/won’t do that, the next best thing is to find people you trust and listen to their advice. You have two choices, not “extreme” in the way people use the word these days, but distant enough from each other when viewing things as if on a spectrum: (1) the priests/exorcists/other religious who advise us to stay far away from the books, or (2) the Catholic parents who read the books and let their kids read them too (it goes without saying that there are also Catholic priests who read HP.)
Given that exorcists are the ones out there doing the work that we aren’t qualified to do, we could simply trust their word. Of course, you are still faced with the task of explaining to your children why their authority should be trusted. I have many friends who have taken this route: I don’t question their decisions, and I applaud them for taking a stand and making an unpopular choice. We don’t have enough parents that do that any more. There ARE still children who are able to simply listen and obey. There’s no way to predict if that will be your child.
I find it necessary to point out that the claims made by exorcists sadly have not been substantiated, i.e., that the chants/spells from HP were directly taken from “black magic”. Many of us would appreciate a more thorough analysis, since those of us who study Latin know that the chants/spells are really mashed up, modified Latin words. If they mean anything beyond that, we haven’t seen any substantial proof of it. And if you’re explaining this to young folks, it would be helpful for all concerned if the claims had more teeth to them. I am not saying that we should doubt the exorcists’ claim that there are those who read HP and eventually got involved in the occult, but one does not get from Point A to Point B without other things happening in between. The books simply aren’t that powerful in themselves.
If you choose the second option, know that you might get flack from those who chose the first. But as a parent I’m sure you’ve already gotten flack for decisions you’ve made… so what’s one more?
That said, there are many books and materials which I don’t have time to preread before I hand them to my child, and yet I do. BUT. HP is definitely not one of them.
For the parent who chooses to engage the material along with their children, there are benefits that make it worthwhile. You can demonstrate to your child how to be a discerning reader, how to tease out what is essential, how to evaluate what we read through the lenses of faith, how to pick what lessons can be applied to one’s life, what behaviors and attitudes are wrong to adopt in the first place, which ones can lead to dire consequences. There are conversations to be had at and away from the dinner table.
What Worked For Us
Eldest daughter started reading HP while still in public school. It was heavily promoted when she was in 3rd grade and “everyone” was reading it. I bought the books and read along so I could discuss it with her plus I really enjoyed the books. When we got to the 4th book, however, I decided it had taken on a much darker tone, so I pressed pause and we didn’t touch the books for several years (we even got rid of our first edition hardcovers…sigh).
Fast forward to when we had already been homeschooling for several years: she was 16 or 17 at the time and quite spiritually mature for her age. We got back to reading the books and watching the movies.
The next three kids read the books in their turn, which means keeping close to the age of the protagonist as much as possible with each book. One of our kids did go through a lying phase and read the books ahead — but it’s a character flaw that we don’t attribute to HP at all. It was peer pressure combined with a streak of rebelliousness — a stage that a lot of teens go through. I happily report that that lying phase was rapidly corrected, consequences were administered, and it did not last long.
The youngest has read Books 1 and 2 so far. We will continue reading them together as he grows older and grows in his faith.
We treated HP just like any other piece of literature — take what’s true, good, and beautiful, and apply those to our lives… ignore the rest, but also be aware that there are those who do differently and take it places we don’t want to go.
In our case, ENVIRONMENT was key. The culture my kids were steeped in during their formative years was distinctly Catholic: frequent reception of the Sacraments, access to spiritual directors and good confessors, friends both young and old that were faithful, practicing Catholics. For us and for the other families in our circle who chose to read HP, it wasn’t allowed to become a preoccupation. It was just another book series, like many others.
I think that kids who receive the necessary guidance can successfully handle HP without getting influenced negatively, spiritually speaking. Our kids are still fully committed Catholics (ages 10-28). The oldest two are very much involved in Catholic ministry; our third child seriously discerned becoming a priest. They still pray the Rosary with the family, have made their Consecration to Jesus through Mary, go to Adoration, try to attend Mass on other days of the week, go to Confession regularly, observe the feasts and fasts of the liturgical year, are pro life, etc. Their reading is as varied as ever: Von Hildebrand, O’Connor, Tolkien, Lewis, Chesterton, St. JP II. All God’s grace of course. And as far as I can tell, our friends’ kids who read the books the same time we did are the same. Some even went on to pursue religious vocations or pick majors like theology and philosophy.
I do have to say that if my kids had exhibited signs of being interested in the occult or witchcraft, we would have put on the brakes without hesitation. There just wasn’t any interest in exploring those things and we thank God for that. I understand that in certain parts of the world the culture is more indifferent or even hostile to Christianity, i.e., if we lived in an area or associated with folks who are into paganism or yoga or ouija boards or “faith healing” or feng shui, or if either my husband or I, or anyone in our family had previously opened himself to demonic influences, our decision might have been very different.
Something to think about: Unlimited exposure to information on the net is a consideration especially today. There is much evil one can find online without even trying.
Addendum: I have only read Books 1-7 and cannot comment on the other books written after these.
Resources that may be helpful:
Harry Potter vs. Gandalf – a thorough analysis from Decent Films’ Steven Greydanus
The Mystery of Harry Potter: A Catholic Family Guide – written by Chestertonians Nancy Brown, Dale Ahlquist, and Regina Doman
Looking for God in Harry Potter by John Granger, Orthodox Christian, professor, and father of 7
The Mystery of Harry Potter – blog post by fellow Catholic homeschooling mom Karen Edmisten
Carrots for Michaelmas’ Harry Potter Posts (I have only read a few of these)