Narnia vs. Harry Potter: What’s the Big Deal?

A while back, I encountered a question on Yahoo Answers where someone inquired as to why some people have a negative attitude toward the magic displayed in Harry Potter but seem to have no problem with the magic displayed in the Chronicles of Narnia. I decided to submit an answer for this question, but as it happened, my answer turned into more of an essay, and the topic was closed before I submitted it. However, for those of you who have wondered the same thing, I decided to post it here with some minor modifications. Just my two cents, but I think there’s some food for thought.

To begin, despite some claims from other posters on Yahoo Answers, C.S. Lewis was a Christian and the similarities between Narnia and items in the Bible was intentional. They are not strictly allegory, where one thing in Narnia equals something else in the Bible. They are called “supposals.” The basic idea was that Lewis wondered what would happen if God had created another world and chose to die and rise again to save that world as He did ours. Note that the magic in the Chronicles is almost always coming directly from Aslan if it portrayed as good (There are a few exceptions to this), so it could be considered a metaphor for the miracles of God. The witch and her magic are depicted as evil.

On to Harry Potter. These books are very well written and J.K Rowling’s style is fun and witty. They are definitely entertaining books…but I do have some difficulty with them, and only part of it has to do with the magic they contain. The difficulty is actually threefold:

1: The Magic:

The difficulty with the magical elements in the Harry Potter books is that the magic is being portrayed as being a skill that can be learned by children in our world, if they possess the predisposition for it (Yes, I know this statement is vastly simplified). In the Chronicles, the children almost never practice magic themselves, and once when Lucy tries to, in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, she ends up probably destroying one of her friendships. Humans aren’t meant to practice magic.

2. The Violence:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone, in England) started out mildly enough. The final confrontation is a bit eerie, but nothing too horribly violent, though we do have an instance of a human being possessed by a malevolent spirit (but that fits more into category #1). By Book Two, Chamber of Secrets, we have a young girl (also possessed) killing chickens (not to eat), and quite a bloody confrontation in the climactic scene. Skip on to Book Four, Goblet of Fire, and any semblance of these being child-appropriate books seems to be lost. We have a teacher casting illegal spells, including murder and torture (albeit on a spider) in a classroom, apparently with the benevolent headmaster’s consent. We have the murders of several characters, one another student from the school; Harry’s blood being taken for a foul piece of magic (which, at least, is depicted as being evil in the scene); a servant cutting off his hand as part of the same piece of sorcery…the violence in this book keeps getting worse..and books Five and Six don’t ease up on it much (In Six Harry accidentally casts a spell that essentially has the same effect as repeatedly stabbing another student.). At the time of this article, Book Seven has yet to be released. Is there violence in the Narnia books? Yes, but you will notice it is tempered. Possibly the most terrifying scene in the series is the sacrifice of Aslan, but you will note that the girls look away at the moment the witch actually kills him.

3. The Morality

Quite apart from magic or violence in either story, is the morality that is being taught in either series. I have heard the Harry Potter series heralded as books with incredibly strong morals, but a quick examination of the books reveals this statement to be patently false. Harry consistently lies, to his teachers, to his friends, to Dumbledore, the headmaster. He and his friends steal potions ingredients from Professor Snape (But who cares? We don’t like Snape, so it’s ok, right?). In fact, he’s rewarded for the first rule he breaks. When the entire class is told they will be expelled if they try to fly on their broomsticks without a teacher present, Harry takes off on his broom after Draco Malfoy, who has stolen something from a friend (But hey, it’s ok for a kid to risk life and limb for a noble cause, yes?). Not only is he not expelled, he’s REWARDED, given a prestigious place on one of the school sports teams.

Not convinced? Well, how about Professor Lupin, who neglects to mention to the headmaster that a convicted murderer is quite possibly sneaking into the school disguised as a dog? Why doesn’t Lupin say anything? Because it would be EMBARRASSING to him, and lose him some of the headmaster’s trust (which he doesn’t actually deserve because he’s been lying to the man for years anyway). But hey, it’s only Harry’s life and the lives of other students that’s at stake, and the convict has only gotten into the school twice already…so no big deal.

So what’s the difference? Don’t kids in the Narnia books get up to mischief, too? Of course they do. Digory, one of the children, does something incredibly foolish, awakens an evil witch, and brings her into Narnia with him, ruining the newly creating world before it’s a day old. But there are consequences. He has to face Aslan and explain exactly what happened. He’s required to complete a task to help mend the damage. When Edmund sides with the White Witch against his family, he’s almost killed for it (They left that bit out of the movie, but the concept was there.), and Aslan has to die in his place. The kids in Narnia make mistakes, but there are always consequences, consequences which are frequently and curiously lacking in the Harry Potter stories.

When I have kids, I want them to know that God is the only acceptable source of supernatural power in this world. I don’t want to expose them to violent scenes before they’re old enough to deal with them. And I want them to know that there are consequences to the choices they make.