Why do Christian critics love Lord of the Rings and not Harry Potter?
Harry Potter has magic. Lord of the Rings has magic. Harry Potter has wizards, dark evil, and an unlikely hero who overcomes obstacles with friendship and courage. So does Lord of the Rings. Yet reactions from conservative Christian critics have not been so similar.

Yesterday, The Boston Globe picked up on the dichotomy:

"The world of Christian conservatives that shuddered at the wizardry and witchcraft of J.K. Rowling's wildly popular fantasy works about boy wizard Harry Potter is now rejoicing at the revival of interest in the sorcery-packed The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien," staff writer Michael Paulson reports.

The Harry Pottermovie (and the books before it) met with hesitation and condemnation from evangelicals last month while many of the same critics are now offering little caution and much praise about Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.

As a pastor in The Boston Globe article said, "Tolkien has been much more accepted in the evangelical community." So much so, according to the article, that some theologians and pastors have taught themselves Tolkien's made-up elfish language. Meanwhile, Harry Potterbooks are burned in church parking lots.

For the last three weeks, Christianity Today's Film Forum has cataloged the raving praise for Fellowship of the Ring from religious and mainstream critics. The only red flags religious critics have raised concern the film's frequent and sustained violence.

So why are the reactions to two magical fantasies so different? The Globe found a crucial difference: Who the authors are.

"Tolkien was a devout convert to Catholicism whose religion informed his writing, while Rowling, a member of the Church of Scotland, has not emphasized her religion as a central part of her biography," the article says.

There are no explicit references to God in Tolkien's fantasy, but he did confirm later in his life that religious themes are embedded in Lord of the Rings's symbolism and characters.

Another factor, the article says, could be the depiction of the world around the heroes. Tolkien celebrates the ordinary folk who rise up to save the day. On the other hand, critics say, Harry Potter exists in a world where wizards are superior to regular people who Rowling calls "muggles."

Still another difference is the target audience: Harry is aimed at children while Frodo's tale is adult fare.

Obviously, not all Christians hate Harry Potter. Much of the criticism is largely media hype. Many Christian leaders like the boy wizard. He is used in Bible studies, sermons, and in couple-counseling classes. In 1999, Christianity Todayrecommended reading the books to your children.

Article continues below

Likewise, some film reviewers have found little fault. Christianity Today's Douglas LeBlanc said "an evangelical viewer must be rather stubborn to find Sorcerer's Stone worthy of contempt."

However, most Christian recommendations of the film include a caveat that it could open a door to evil. The U.K.'s Evangelical Alliance urges Christians to see the movie but not to "ignore the potential dangers of the stories as an unintended apologetic for the occult; particularly among children."

In his review of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, LeBlanc wrote that the boy wizard will continue to inspire debate in evangelical circles. But that can be a good thing: "Ultimately, this conflict is a gift, an opportunity for vigorous discussion on what we believe about good and evil, storytelling, and our faith."

Give me that online religion
A recent Pew Internet and American Life Project study on "CyberFaith" (pdf) has found that one in four adult Internet users has gone online for religious purposes—a total of about 28 million people.

Not only is this a 8-million person jump from last year, but it is also more than the number of people who said they had visited gambling, auction, or stock Web sites.

Report author Elena Larsen told Reuters that those who go online for religious reasons do so for solitary purposes and not as a replacement for fellowship or communal activities. Those most active online are also very involved in their congregations, Larsen said. In fact, Internet religion seekers are more likely to be regular church attendees. Eighty-six percent say they also pray or meditate every day.

Most online religious time is for research, she said. The study found most religious surfers search for educational or reference material (69 percent) or research other faiths (50 percent). Some offer spiritual advice through e-mail (35 percent) or seek it out (21 percent). However, those who do not belong to a denomination or are not near a church of their denomination are likely to find community online.

Last week, The New York Times reported on another Internet trend: sites for religious singles to meet.

The magazine scene
'Tis the season to see what Christians are all about. Shortly before Christmas, The San Diego Union-Tribune's "Magazine Scene" took a look at "what Christians … might be saying to one another."

Article continues below

The article focuses on the "Time and Newsweek of Christian America:" Christianity Today and Christian Century.

It is a friendly attempt that works for what it is. Writer Janet Saidi sets herself up as an outsider looking in on what "the others" are doing. She seems surprised that Christians could have such normal and engaging publications. And she is impressed that they don't mirror the normal view she thinks many have of Christianity, namely that given them by Jerry Falwell.

However, Saidi is also confused. Though the column was set up to be a look at both publications, only one of 13 paragraphs discusses Christian Century. Some facts are fuzzy, and she frequently mixes Christianity Today online content with the print publication.

The article leaves out some facts. She references a recent CT birth control article "written by a woman" but leaves out the fact that there were two "point, counter-point-style" articles in the same issue. The one she is actually citing was written by a woman and a man, Bethany and Sam Torode.

And does columnist Philip Yancey really look like Rasputin? Weblog doesn't think so.

More Articles:

The Toronto Star's youth of faith series:
Politics & Law:
Pop culture:
Article continues below
Inter-faith relations:
  • A coming together we must take on faith | That growing intimacy between parts of Christianity and Judaism is sadly contrasted with the deepening estrangement between Islam and its fellow monotheistic faiths. (Yossi Klein Halevi, The Washington Post)
  • Muslims, Christians bridge gap in Palos | A community accused of being hostile toward Muslims is now the home of a successful peace experiment. (Chicago Tribune)
Nazareth mosque controversy:
Missions and ministry:
Other stories of interest:

Related Elsewhere:

See our past Weblog updates:

December 27 | 26
December 21| 20 | 19 | 18 | 17
December 14 | 13 | 12 | 11 | 10
December 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3
November 30 | 29 | 28 | 27 | 26
November 21 | 20 |19
November 16 | 15 | 14 | 13 | 12
November 9 | 8 | 7 | 6 | 5