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 literature—even 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 very normal, except for these powers which he finds out he has. He rises above, and I think kids like that."
Anne Gowdy, assistant professor of English at Tennessee Wesleyan College, says those traits characterize effective children's literature. Harry Potter is among 25 adolescent books studied by Gowdy's teachers-in-training. Children innocently connect with Harry's schooling, broom-riding sports, and blossoming friendships. "It's a parallel universe," Gowdy says.
During reading time at St. Luke's, however, Jean-Paul goes to the library. "In the Bible it says not to do witchcraft," he explains.
His parents—lawyers who regularly read to their three children—hope Jean-Paul learns a bigger lesson. "When challenges come up in the world like drugs or premarital sex, hopefully he will be able to stand for what's right," his mother says.
Challenges to Harry Potter readings in the classroom, already reported in at least eight states, may grow as author Joanne K. Rowling ages Harry one year per book. "She has said the books are going to get darker," Waldrep says, "so it'll be very interesting to watch."
See today's related Harry Potter stories, "Why We Like Harry Potter | The series is a 'Book of Virtues' with a preadolescent funny bone, "and "Opinion Roundup: Positive About Potter | Despite what you've heard, Christian leaders like the children's books."
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