I should probably confess at the outset that I have not read any of the Harry Potter books. However, it is virtually impossible to function in this culture without being exposed to some of the ideas in those books. So if I am factually mistaken, I will be glad to be corrected.

For me, the question is not whether the Harry Potter books use language which may have roots in the occult somewhere, because if we look hard enough, we will find language in anything that has its roots somewhere in the occult. I don’t care so much about arcane symbolism. What I am concerned about is what the typical reader will get from the books. What message, true or false, is being peddled?

The problem I have with Harry Potter, as I understand the phenomenon, is that Harry is essentially a “good witch.” Yes, I know the term for a male is “warlock.” The problem is that both Harry and his adversaries use the same force. Some use it for good, and some use it for bad, but it is supernatural power used by humans for their own ends.

The Star Wars franchise is frankly quite similar. There, an elite group known as the Jedi are trained in the use of The Force. The Force is also supernatural power, which can be used for good or for bad. Darth Vader famously suggests that Luke Skywalker should try “the dark side” of The Force. In both of these, supernatural power is available to be used by trained individuals, for good or for bad.

First of all, this is a kind of dualism: the belief that there are two equal powers continually contesting for supremacy–the light and the dark, the good and the bad, the ying and the yang. The problem with dualism is that it raises the devil to God’s level; they’re equal.

But that is not true. There are two powers, but they are far from equal. The struggle will not go on forever. It will end. God, good, will triumph…

The second difficulty, as I see it, with Harry Potter and Star Wars is that they send a clear message to the reader that one’s enemies can be vanquished, and good prevail, if one learns to use supernatural power. In other words, it’s an open invitation to seek that power.

In The Lord of the Rings there are definitely two forces, but they are not equal. Gandalf makes it clear that he is a servant, not a master, of the secret fire. He can only use it in harmony with its positive purposes.

By contrast, the dark power of the rings is thoroughly manipulative and evil. No one can harness or control the power of the rings. On the contrary, they control whoever thinks to possess them. Frodo’s body and spirit both suffer from the mere fact that he carries the ring. And when he foolishly attempts to use the power of the ring, it backfires badly.

Both Gandalf and Galadriel refuse the temptation of the ring, realizing that though their motivations would be good, the results would still be, in Gandalf’s words, “great evil.”

No one reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy would come away thinking that they could experiment with evil and escape harm. As has been mentioned with Frodo, even to be in its presence is damaging.

This message is repeated over and over. Those who think to use the ring for good are destroyed by it.

Another message, perhaps just as important, is that even the smallest individual can make a great difference. And the story never allows cutting moral corners.

Early on, Frodo expresses a desire that Gollum should have been killed. Gandalf cautions him about such notions. And in the end–spoiler alert–killing Gollum would almost certainly have resulted in the corruption of Frodo. Gollum, even though proven to be unreservedly evil, prevents Frodo from making a fatal mistake–keeping the ring for himself.

In the Chronicles of Narnia, while Aslan, the Christ-figure, has powers, they are part of something called the “Deep Magic,” which he will not act contrary to. Whatever powers he gives to anyone–Peter’s sword–must also be used in accord with Aslan’s will.

Whenever any of the protagonists is tempted to use any power strictly for themselves, it ends badly. There are many, many more differences, some of which I will get to next time.

But the base line is this: I believe Harry Potter and Star Wars tempt the reader/viewer to dabble in the supernatural to their own advantage. The Lord of The Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia teach that indulging in such temptations is likely to be disastrous. That alone would make me shun the former and not the latter. But there is more.

Agree, disagree, but we will face such evaluations increasingly. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, people aren’t immune from the culture around them. We need stories, and we will have them. So it is imperative that we learn to distinguish between that which aids us in our Christian journey and that which harms us.