I’m really late to the party, the first book in the series having been published in 1997 when I was still in high school, but I’ve been borrowing the audiobooks of the Harry Potter series from the New York Public Library and I’m really enjoying them. I think I would have loved them as a kid but I was going through a phase where I was really into church dogma and the Harry Potter series was said to be evil and demonic because it supposedly encouraged children to engage in witchcraft.
Putting aside the question of whether witchcraft is real or not, I can see how the Harry Potter series was threatening to organized religion. It provides an alternative fantasy world that presents a set of moral values in a compelling way and, even when it doesn’t conflict with the church’s vision of morality, it competes for attention. I’d guess Harry Potter is probably winning that contest too, given the success of the books and movies and the ever dwindling levels of church attendance.
I wonder how much of the church’s problems these days comes from an insistence on biblical literalism? It’s been a while since I studied the Bible, either academically or religiously, but I do recall that many of the stories have parallels in other nearby cultures. For example, the story of Moses and the flood is essentially the same story as the Epic of Gilgamesh with modifications to fit the local culture. That alone should tell us that stories in the Bible were meant to be educational rather than literal history. It makes more sense to tell someone that they should be looking at a story in the Bible for moral guidance than to tell them to take it as literal word from God history and expect that story’s relevance to endure over any length of time.
And maybe that’s why Harry Potter does so well. We know it’s not word from God and we don’t face the choice of having to either swallow it whole or throw it out. We can instead appreciate it and think about it and try to apply it to our lives if it makes sense in relation to what we understand to be good and bad.
All of these thoughts congealed in my head as I started to realize how the Weasleys were being presented in the books. They may not have fancy clothes and they may not always get along but they value what’s important in life: their kids, each other, friendship, and (in Molly and Arthur’s case) their kids’ education. In addition, even though they’re struggling they essentially adopt Harry into the family, so there’s a lot of love and charity being displayed there. They share even when there’s not much to give. They’re loyal. They do things together. It’s sort of a model for the proper behavior of a family, especially when it comes in such stark contrast to how Harry is treated by his aunt and uncle. The fact that both Harry and Hermione later marry into the Weasley family reinforces the idea that they represent an ideal family.
I’m only partway through the fourth book and I wasn’t really thinking about the story too deeply until now, but there’s really more in these books than shallow entertainment. I’m not really surprised. I don’t think they would have done so well if they didn’t have something substantive to offer readers.