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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Now that everyone in the world has read the entire Harry Potter series whether it was evil to do so or not, I'll weigh in with my two cents.

I haven't read a word of it. I did see a moment or two of one of the films when I went to deliver some chicken soup to the neighbor's children when they had chicken pox. Sister St. Aloysius made the soup, but she's never had chicken pox, so I had to go. I had chicken pox when I was five. I remember an enjoyable 10 days away from the rigors of kindergarten, although I was thrilled to return to school. One can only color so much.

It seemed awkward giving people chicken soup for chicken pox. If they would have gotten the joke I would have shouted merrily at them, "Hair of the dog!"

What was I talking about?

Oh, yes. This question we got some time back:
I was wondering if I could ask you a question from the comment area? I'm a thirteen yr. old Catholic and my parents are letting me read Harry Potter. I am wondering what you think of that whole controversial topic.

I say, enjoy your book! Honestly, my dear young person, I have no patience for the entire argument. To be perfectly frank, I feel that if reading Harry Potter could turn you to the dark side (which is what the argument is all about), you already have much bigger issues than what goes on at Dumbelldorf, or whatever it's called.

I just don't have a problem with children, or adults for that matter, having a fantasy life as long as they realize it's fantasy. We don't want to do away with fantasy. I don't anyhow. I really can't stand to listen to all the whining about 'witchcraft'. There are no witches. Is everyone afraid of leprechauns, too?

There are people who think they are witches. They have a mental problem. Mental problems come from having terrible parents, bad wiring, chemical imbalances, traumatic experiences...not from the Harry Potter book series, even if you read them all twice, see the movies at the theater and then see them again at home on video tape. Possibly there are better things you could do with your time, like delivering soup to sick people who are watching Harry Potter on DVD.

Should we dump "The Wizard of Oz", too? He was after all, a wizard. Okay, he wasn't a wizard. But there were some powerful witches in that story. I don't remember anyone ever being worried that a Scarecrow stuffed with straw that could walk and talk...and actually dance pretty well...would drag anyone to Satan's embrace. If that was the case, Buddy Ebsen sure dodged a bullet.

And while we're at it let's dump anything magical: unicorns and giants, Carebears (please, let's dump them!), Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Snow White...all the fairy tales with witches in them.....and Alice better not go to a place called "Wonderland". Goodbye, Middle Earth.

On Halloween we'll dress as the food groups. What fun!

Enjoy your book, my dear. We're so glad you like to read. No doubt that's due to your solid Catholic upbringing.


Unknown said...

I so look forward to your blog, Sister. Thank you for yet another LOL moment!


Anonymous said...


While we're at it, how's about we deep six my number one pick for "scariest to children", Cruella deVil?

As a child, she scared the deVil out of me, not into me.

Amy said...

If it helps, my priest actually quoted Harry Potter at his homily for the Assumption... well, he was quoting the Bible which Jk Rowling quoted in Book 7.
Ok, now I am confused. I better start sewing that milk carton costume.

Lucia said...

Thank you so much for answering my question, and making me laugh! You're very good at doing that.

Anonymous said...

HA HA! This post really made my day! I'm one who thinks Adam and Eve RUINED IT for EVERYBODY whenever it's too hot for clothes! (((((HUGS))))) sandi

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a brilliantly composed and funny response to this kids question about reading this book series. I'm more concerned about my kids reading People and US (the teen versions, as well) than fantasy literature. Besides, I've read the entire series, seen all the films along side my kids so we can DISCUSS it objectively at any given time. I home school with Seton and we are a solid, traditional Catholic family. I think not being too scrouplous (sp)and living a balanced existence is a good approach to living.

Blessings to you, Sister,


Elena LaVictoire said...

As some one who has listened to the entire series on audiobooks and thoroughly enjoyed them with my family and husband, I thank you!

Anonymous said...

I think a better post would have been one on the assumption. But, since this is the topic, my advice is to not give advice about books you haven't read. Since I haven't read any of the books, I have no advice on them. I saw part of a couple of the movies, what i saw appeared fine for kids.

Barbara said...

I respectfully disagree on this subject. I think you should read the books before you decide whether or not they should be enjoyed by Catholic children.

Harry Potter is not at all in the same category at The Wizard of Oz.

Nancy C. Brown said...

I respectfully disagree with scmom.

The issue is fantasy, and whether or not people like or understand it. Sister's post is great because it gets to the heart of the issue. Is Harry Potter fiction or is it not? If it is fiction, and you don't like fiction, that is your preference.

Many adults don't understand fantasy. They think children shouldn't read it. If they have children, they can have a preference for their children not to read fantasy, if they like. But telling the world that fantasy is bad isn't really going to do much good, because some people like to read fantasy, and understand that fantasy is, well, fantasy.

Anonymous said...

Even C. S. Lewis wrote fantasy. The Narnia books are Christian & fantasy. Imagine that ;-)

Anonymous said...

Not all mental problems come from the parents..unless genetically...

Anonymous said...

Sister, thanks for your pragmatic response.

Yes, there is literature I wouldn't want my kids reading. Or reading until they get to a certain age. There is literature I hope they never read . But seriously, parents who are so uncertain in their judgment about literature they need to go to their priest or a nun for guidance?

They aren't ready to be parents. Not saying a priest or nun couldn't give guidance, but...they are their kids, not the clergy's.

Sister Mary Martha said...

Mrs. Jackie Parks MJ....did you stop reading after the word parents? I listed a few things that can cause mental problems.

Sister Mary Martha said...

scmom, once a witch uses her tremendous power to control people and nature it puts her in the same category as Harry Potter.

Sister Mary Martha said...

Mary, here's my post on the assumption:

Barbara said...

Dear Sister,
If the issue were just witches I would agree that HP and Oz are in the same category, but HP is much darker. To my knowledge there are no parallel features distinctive to Satan in Oz.

And I agree that fantasy is just that. But HP is marketed to children, and I don't know if we can safely say when a child is mature enough to know the difference bwteen fantasy and reality.

chestertonian said...


There are no parallel features distinctive to Satan in Harry Potter either, but so long as we're misrepreseting what's in it, why quibble?

If being "dark" is enough to condemn a story, then let's look at the Bible for a second: if we excized from the Bible all references to murder, adultery, sexual perversion, war, murder, torture, greed, suicide, sexual perversion, idolatry, the devil, and, hm, the slow torture-to-death of the Son of God in not just one, but four books, would that make it more palatable to you?

True, Oz is nowhere near as dark as Harry Potter, but neither is it anywhere near as bright and glorious in its conclusion.

PraiseDivineMercy said...

Though I have great respect (and agreement) with Sister's general advice, I would like to offer my "two cents" as someone who has read all the novels.
While some Fundies may rage against the fantasy aspects, there are also elements of realism that others find equally troubling.
The books gain in complexity as the series progresses, with each book corresponding to the age level of young Harry (11 yrs in the first book, 17, in the last).
The first book has the feature of an Oz-like fairy tale, But as the story continues, moral ambiguities and complications creep in. In the final book Harry faces adulthood and laments how very little his world is the fairy tale he once believed.
That said, there are also themes of good vs. evil, redemption, and self sacrifice.
I would recommend to parents that they read the books with their children and discuss the moral questions that arise. In this way the books can be a venue for discussion on Catholic moral teaching.

Anonymous said...

Yes, a parent has to keep in mind their child's age and maturity when considering which books their kids read. The difficulty with this series is that it is meant for ages 8 and up (maybe even 12). Any kid of 8 can read the words, but they do not have the maturity and knowledge to understand it. So, if the kids aren't reading the books, there are the movies. The problem I have is seeing the theaters packed to the gills with under-8's for these films. I am appalled at how many under 13's parents are taking into R-rated films. I have seen people take 2-year-olds into the Potter films and these kids can say they liked it all they want, but they can't make sense of what they are seeing.

As parents we must be responsible. I have friends on both sides of this "debate". My take is, before you decide to let your kids read the series, read the series. Read it with them. Talk about it. Kids rarely go theologically deep when reading fantasy! They are in it for the entertainment and would probably forget about it if the hype and controversy surrounding it wasn't making to read it or not such a big deal.

I started reading the series because some talk show host kept running her mouth about how great it was . . . so, I read it and liked it. I think back then, with the first book, the author was saying the book would progressively get darker (and, by darker, I think she meant characters we would come to love would actually have to die).

I think it is also safe to say that too many kids are in on adult conversations. These kids should just be able to enjoy a book for the books sake - they wouldn't get caught up in Biblical comparisons and such things, usually. And, for those few kids who decided being a witch would be cool, and started googling sites and found the real darkness . . . Parents: get involved! Educate your children in your Christian faith. Teaching them why they believe is so important (catechism); teaching them how to pray.

Pray. Balance. Make your decision based on REASON, not media or hyperbol.

Anonymous said...

The Harry Potter books are a great and entertaining series which do teach that pursuing the "Dark" side of things injures yourself more than your enemies. If there's no big overt JESUS SAVES! connection, it's not Christian?

Lord Voldemort feared death so much he destroyed his own soul in the process of trying to preserve his life.

Professor Snape, through his blind, self-serving ambitions, unwittingly gave Voldemort the idea to murder the only person Snape had ever loved.

Harry, on the other hand, never hesitated to defend his friends. He wasn't sinless, but he behaved decently even to the relatives who abused him (something even I thought was above and beyond...).

In Harry's world, magical ability is genetic. You can want to be a witch or wizard all you want. It can't be learned.

There is no religious element to his magical world at all. So, there are no witch tenets, rituals, or sacraments for a kid to "learn" or
be led toward.

Traveling Man said...

As for there not being any Witches, thousands of Wiccans would disagree with you Sister. After all, the pentagram was just approved by the V.A. as a grave marker for service people of that Faith.

Sister Mary Martha said...

I think the Wiccans are covered under 'people who think they are witches."

Traveling Man said...

So they would have "mental problems"? It seems strange that several hundred thousand Americans would have "mental problems". Odd too that Sgt. Patrick Stewart could serve his country with a "mental problem" and die in Afghanistan.

Wicca is a sincerely held religious belief and has been recognized as such by the IRS and the Army Chaplains manual.

While you are certainly entitled to your point of view, I find it unfortunate. If this is the pervaisive view of other Faiths on the part of the Catholic Church, it no boubt hinders their efforts in gaining converts.

As for the Harry Potter series, or any other book for that matter, if readig a book could "turn" someone toward belief, then by extension all it would take to "turn" someone toward Catholicism would be reading the Baltimore Catechism.

Be Well,

Traveling Man

Anonymous said...

The trick is to teach your child the difference between fantasy and reality. The first lesson is dear old Santa Claus. Santa is an effective marketing tool, as was the 'controversy' over Harry Potter. A man in a red suit breaking into our home once a year to leave gifts. Sounds good kids. Eventually, the child reaches an age where things just don't add up. When the child reaches the age to ask about the reality of Santa, we asked them "what do you think?". Then led them to think through Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. NOW is the time to reinforce the REALITY that Christ did live, die and come back to life. We stressed with our children to enjoy the life God gave us. Having fun in fantasy, (plays, dress up, Halloween) is great. Live in Christ.

Anonymous said...

I am a Catholic homeschooling mom of 8 and I am afraid I will no longer be checking in with you, Sister Mary Martha. I find you very flippant on some important issues. While I find your humor amusing, the Harry Potter conflict should not so easily be dismissed. If anyone is interested in comparing C. S. Lewis to Harry Potter, try reading Michael O'Brien's book "A Landscape with Dragons: Christian and Pagan Imagination in Children's Literature."

Anonymous said...

I was so lucky: the first volume of Harry Potter was published just when my daughter was in third grade, and we read it together and loved it. As she grew up, the series grew les appropriate for little kids and more appropriate for older ones --in fact, each book has been age-appropriate for a kid of Harry's age in the book. Which my daughter has always been "a litle younger ten years ago; now a little older).

So we loved them, read them together & talked about them at length and noticed the Christian and moral themes & mistakes. We are in the waiting-up-til-midnight gang, and have been since the line for volume 2 barely reached out the door of the bookstore.

This summer we read the last one, and in two days she starts college.

But if she were nine now there's no way we'd be reading the third or later volumes. They just are not appropriate for little kids. They are disturbing and if they were fascinating it would be corrupting --for a little one.

I feel sorry for parents who don't get to have the experience of reading one a year or so. I guess when I have grandchildren I'l recommend a book on each birthday or similar.

The next time I have something to offer up it will be for parents trying to ration Harry Potter --and TV, and magazines, and popular culture generally-- to shield their children as necessary.

Anonymous said...

PS: Sorry about all those typos. Got excited. Sister, have you got your ruler?

PraiseDivineMercy said...

I would bet my favorite black straw hat that Ms "homeschooling Catholic mom" had not actually read the books herself.

Lisa- Agreed, kids should read one book a year if they start reading them young. Personally, I think the long length of each volume supports this approach.

Therese said...

My three older children have all read Harry Potter and I certainly haven't seen it attract them to the dark side or anything evil.

Anonymous said...

Some parents don't give their kids much credit. I was about 10 when my mother wouldn't let my grandmother take me to see Peter Pan because she thought I would "jump off the garage, trying to fly". Kids understand fantasy.

Anonymous said...

Sister, I hope you can help me with a moral dilemma. We have satellite tv at our house and a DVR (Digital Video Recorder). We recently purchased a new HDTV and I wanted to upgrade our satellite receiver to HD also. The satellite company offers specials deals and discounts to new subscribers only. We had an unrelated problem and called for a technician to come fix it. While he was here my husband asked him if there are any "deals" for existing customers. The technician stated that he had an HD-DVR in his truck that he could sell us at half price. When my husband came and told me this (I was busy in my sewing room and had left tv matters to the menfolk) I was delighted and got out the checkbook and gave it to my husband so he could pay for the HD-DVR. Several minutes later my husband came back and said the technician can only take cash. I thought that was odd but, since there is an ATM at the corner, not a problem. After the technician left my husband told me the technician explained that his boss had given the HD-DVR to him and he didn't want it so he was selling it to us. My husband thinks the technician stole the HD-DVR (he also charged us for the service call and we later noticed the receipt he gave my husband said "N/C", so we know he is dishonest). Now my husband wants to "make it right". My question is: How? Call the police and turn ourselves in for receiving stolen property? Turn in the technician? My husband wants to give the satellite company a money order for the full price amount without explanation. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Forget the 'fantasy' vs reality stuff. Real moral problem here. First, you didn't intentionally receive stolen property so no sin as there was no intent to sin. Second, your aren't sure it is stolen. Third, you may find his boss is ok with this and you have opened a can of worms for yourself. Do you really want enemies at the satellite company? Keep in mind the company doesn't really make their money on the sale of equipment or technician set up charges, they make their money on your monthly fees. My brother is the local cable/phone technician. It isn't uncommon for guys to do a little side business nor does the company care. As long as you are under contract to pay the company a monthly fee they are happy. I doubt it is stolen, most likely it was repossessed or refurbished so you have no warranty. If you feel you must pay full price for something that has no warranty, guarantee or even a receipt of sale give the remaining amount of money to the poor. God will understand. Let Him judge the technician. As for the mental frustration like Sister says 'offer it up'.

Unknown said...

The Devil doesn't exist either...right?

You don't have the patience for the whole argument regarding Harry Potter...that's because you don't care. You don't care! Maybe if you had children, whose souls were given specifically to your charge, you would care, but you don't. You were kind to bring some soup to sick kids...how about a little soup for the soul?

Well you know what...I'm sick and tired of "so-called" religious spouting off about something they have no clue about. You haven't read a word of Potter, so keep your mouth shut before you give advice that could be detrimental to the soul. That's right , the soul. The soul, the soul, the soul. Sorry for my disrespect to your position of authority, but please quit misusing it.

Anonymous said...

s, that's a little harsh.

i think it's good to remember in this discussion, that children and adults see fantasy very differently. i think adults read alot more into fantasy then children do. children are able to see fantasy simply and the point of fantasy is usually to develop strong evil characters and situations and then even stronger good characters and situations and have the good after much struggle and strife (usually exaggerated to make a great story) win out over evil. this is supposed to symbolically represent our own struggles with evil in the world which sometimes don't come in as exaggerated and clear a package but are definitely there. a very simple example of this kind of writing would be little red riding hood. i generally steer clear from alot of fantasy writing. but, i realize this is because i am judging it with the eyes of an adult. i didn't LOVE the harry potter series (i don't judge it morally, i just didn't think it fabulous writing) i would prefer Lord of the Rings or Narnia to it. BUT, not withstanding my own personal preference, fantasy is not inherently destructive to the soul by any means. in fact, one could argue, it helps by giving children a clearly defined sense of evil, which as we get older becomes more and more subtle and harder to grasp. (take the stealing cable example)
anyway, thats my 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

Read Michael O'Brien's book??? I heard some bad reviews of that book, and would NEVER pick it up, or let my children read it. I haven't read it myself but am absolutely opposed to anyone reading it.


Anonymous said...

I'm another homeschooling mom and I find Michael O'Brien a bit too fundamentalistic in his approach to fantasy. Was he a convert? Because he really doesn't sound Catholic when he gets into the magic/witchcraft symbolism stuff. He's got some vestiges of fundamentalistic thinking he didn't quite shake!

I let my kids read Harry Potter. I think it is an archetypal tale of good vs. evil. I think it has loads of Christian symbolism in it. And I think J.K. Rowling is a saint to have so graciously for so many years put up with the terrible, sinful things that supposed Christians have said about her. (Of course, it probably helped her attitude to also be so popular and rich!).

The homeschooling mother of eight might do well to read Nancy Brown's new book on Harry Potter (wish I could remember the title!), just to get an equally Catholic but opposite take on HP.

I love your flippancy, Sister! You have the same sense of humor as my Irish grandmother, God rest her soul.

chestertonian said...

Michael O'Brien is a total puritan and, as such, is totally worthless as a guide to anything.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for good, old fashioned common sense. You are a delight.


Kelly said...

Sister, you are so awesome!

We are a devout homeschooling family with 5 kids, and we have read all the Harry Potter books, thoroughly enjoyed them, and we couldn't agree with you more.

Thank goodness for common sense! :)

I enjoy your blog so much and I'm sending it out to every Catholic I know!

Anonymous said...

The things people get their panties in a twist about. Without fantasy, we would have no religion, although that's not reason enough to pass on all fantasy.

As a kid growing up, I learnt that Santa wasn't real, that good didn't always triumph in life, and eventually that God was up there with Santa as a pleasant fantasy for kids but something for adults to outgrow. And Harry Potter hadn't even been written yet.

This always boils down to parents who are afraid their kids will one day think something the parent doesn't, or believe something the parent doesn't, or not believe something the parent does. But if they didn't, we'd still be back in The Dark Ages. If I hadn't moved beyond my parent's Christian Science delusions, over Mother's most strenuous efforts to control my thinking, I'd be dead.

But she did give me Baum's whole OZ series to read, as she at least wasn't a ninny who thought the Wicked Witch if the West would lure me into Satanism. She did worry that Tennessee Williams would give me ideas she didn't approve of, and she was right, fortnately.

Now, in my 50s, I'm just starting the Harry Potter books, since you apparently can't live in the 21st Century and not know the whole damn series.

Hope I don't become a Satanist.

Anonymous said...

Even if you've had Chicken Pox, you can still get Shingles. I got it in my spine. Don't recommend it.

Ebeth said...

I am a homeschooling mom of 3, I have read all 7 books along with my 12 year old, she liked it, my 10 year old doesn't, so decided not to read them. Their brother listened to a few of them on tape and lost interest.

Michael O'brien, yeah, I read his dragons book....didn't like his over critically picking things apart. He leaves the reader thinking they are stupid and he knows everything enough to explain it away as being bad. Won't pass it on to anyone else...........
I'm smarter! (The Grinch quote)

I absolutely LOOK FORWARD to reading your posts...thanks to Esther in Hawaii, I found you and have been giggling ever since!

God speed your wisdom to us!!

squeek, squeek, squeek!
(regulation sneakers)

Etrangère said...

I'm a practicing Catholic who grew up devouring sci fi and fantasy, eventually learning myself that there's a difference between C.S. Lewis and Tamora Pierce (card carrying Wiccan). I devoured books 1-6 and loved them. The fantasy elements never really seemed cause for concern to me- They aren't quite the same as Lewis (there's a good discussion of this on the Decent Films website) but the magic elements are definitely fantasy, and people in the HP books using anything close to "real" magic are almost always evil.


That being said, I'm surprised no one has mentioned what book 7 seems to be saying about euthanasia. Dumbledore can order someone to kill him, as long as he's going to die anyway? Wouldn't it tear your soul apart to "relieve and old man of his suffering?" (not a direct quote- my paraphrase) Isn't that what mortal sin does?

If you're going to worry about magic elements in books, worry about books written by actual Wiccans, books that actively put down religion (ie Pullman's His Dark Materials, major motion picture coming out in December) or books where magic is primarily conjuring demons and getting them to do what you want (ie the Bartimeus Trilogy, though as a caveat I only got halfway through the first one). But be willing to discuss issues in all books that go with popular culture against Catholic beliefs...

my 2 cents.