Johanna Landreneau was shocked when her son's third-grade class started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone last fall. Nine-year-old Jean-Paul attends the private St. Luke's Episcopal Day School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. "I felt they shared the same values I did," Landreneau says.
She is among Christian parents nationwide arguing that classrooms are no place for Harry Potter, whose supernatural adventures make him one of the hottest characters ever in children's literatureeven among other Christians.
Harry, an 11-year-old wizard raised by abusive relatives, enrolls in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, learns magic, and confronts his parents' killer.
The first three Harry Potter books sold seven million copies before the Christmas rush, topping the New York Times bestseller lists. Four more are due by 2003, but evangelicals are not in agreement on how to respond.
Cult-watcher Bob Waldrep, Alabama director of Watchman Fellowship, says the books' mysticism does not reflect actual occult practice, noting that J. R. R. Tolkien, the King Arthur tales, and even C.S. Lewis attracted children with fantasy. "I don't think it's a strong enough case to say a book should be pulled because it has witches and wizards and violence in it," Waldrep says. "Based on that criteria, how many books would be in the schools?"
Focus on the Family cites problems such as foul language and youthful disrespect. Waldrep agrees and would limit books to older readers. Focus urges parental involvement.
St. Luke's Principal Amy Whitley says a parent recommended the books, with remarkable results. "Children are reading these books who are not typically eager readers," Whitley says. "[Harry is] not the best-looking kid around. He seems ...1